“Leaning into the sharp points”

Suzanne(Beckman-Filbert)Holly-suzanne-prayingman.jpeg

 

painting by Holly Suzanne

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth” – Pema Chodron

I modeled for the painting above.  It is propped beside the bed as I write.  A large painting, and heavy, maybe 4.5 feet long and 3.5 feet tall, loaded with layers of paint.  She called it “Praying Man,” but I wasn’t praying – the way it turned out I felt like a longshoreman, a hauler, tensed with the energy of pulling things out from the deeps.  I see why she called it that.

We’re reorganizing the house, and in that process I notice what’s gone, and discover things forgotten.  Today it was When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, “heart advice for difficult times.”  I’ve depended on this one before.  It’s written with the situation in mind in which a human feels there is nowhere to escape.  Suffering floods in weights that compress one toward no option.  Chodron says that “No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear…the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves…but by all means make it go away.”  “We don’t need that kind of encouragement, because dissociating from fear is what we do naturally.”  “Cheating ourselves of the present moment” according to Chodron.

Instead, she suggests, “we could step into uncharted territory and relax with the groundlessness of our situation…by inviting in what we usually avoid…adopting a fearlessly compassionate attitude toward our own pain and that of others.”  I am taking this on as the work of the “praying man.”  The longshoreman and hauler, reeling hand over hand over heart over hurt into the tumult of the pain of being.  “…getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye – not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking…having the courage to die, the courage to die continually.”  The traditions align.  “He who saves his life will lose it.”  The terror that drives the boundaries, isolates the organism.  Protectiveness cuts the supply chain.  Security stanches generative flow.

What happens when we stay?  Nailed to the present misery.  Chodron suggests that when we move into rather than away from our life-threatening pain a kind of catharsis can occur – an acceptance that we are “precious beyond measure – wise AND foolish, rich AND poor, good AND bad…and totally unfathomable.”

2013-01-22 14.36.20

another painting by Holly Suzanne, emptied of me

The trick is to keep exploring and not bail out, even when we find out that something is not what we thought.  That’s what we’re going to discover again and again and again.  Nothing is what we thought.  I can say that with great confidence.  Emptiness is not what we thought.  Neither is mindfulness or fear.  Compassion – not what we thought.  Love.  Buddha nature.  Courage.  These are code words for things we don’t know in our minds, but any of us could experience them.  These are words that point to what life really is when we let things fall apart and let ourselves be nailed to the present moment.”

Preying Man then, hunched over and hauling it out, rhythmically breathing into the present, a turbulent pain fueled by fear…searching into what I usually avoid.  Hopefully not so much as a way to solve problems, but an undoing of native ways of seeing and hearing, smelling and tasting and thinking…along with the courage to die.

-all quotations Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

Advertisements

Arrivals (cont’d, crossed over the Atlantic)

Isles from the air

Arrivals

“We may ask of our destinations, ‘Help me to feel more generous, less afraid, always curious.  Put a gap between me and my confusion; the whole of the Atlantic between me and my shame.’ Travel agents would be wiser to ask us what we hope to change about our lives rather than simply where we wish to go.”

-Alain de Botton, A Week at the Airport

I must have slumbered, unattractively and fitfully, for the plane windows were open and it was very very bright in the sky.  My glasses had fallen, my head scrunched under an arm rest, legs tightly angled and restrained from the aisle by the arm rest just one seat away.  And below, there were moments of Ireland.

I finished the book, thinking de Botton’s observations might make the arrival more profound.  But Rick Hanson’s Just One Thing helped me more.  “Find beauty, take in the good, be compassionately for yourself.  Breathe out long and the intentions (little by little) will seep out around you” (a paraphrase).  As we circled London, having skewed our arrival from delay, the clouds thickened and soon we were scuttling through the wet and the grey.

I thought: ‘Experience is like this’ (of course it is, it is my experience!) – most of it a thickened ambiguity – the swirl and swoon of our passing – when the winds are right you can make something out – particles of cloud, the edge of the wing, sometimes even a reflection.  That was the moment – clouds surrounding the wing, the wing itself, and the reflection of the scumbling clouds on the wing:  world, ourselves, and occasions where we catch our perception – our experience.

And then we touched down, wet splashing the plane, 21 hours and 41 minutes (by the clock) since I’d set out on this journey.  Customs went smoothly, my luggage arrived, and I tunneled by train to my host.  Now I’m in place at my window as the city becomes squares of lights.  de Botton states it thus: “I returned to my room at three in the morning, struck by a sense of our race as a peculiar, combustible mixture of the beast and the angel.” Assessing out from myself and this view of the city, I agree.

“We forget everything: the books we read, the temples of Japan, the tombs of Luxor, the airline queues, our own foolishness.  And so we gradually return to identifying happiness with elsewhere:  twin rooms overlooking a harbor, a hilltop church boasting the remains of the Sicilian martyr St Agatha, a palm-fringed bungalow with complimentary evening buffet service.  We recover an appetite for packing, hoping and screaming.  We will need to go back and learn the important lessons of the airport all over again soon…”

It’s good to have help on the way.  Thanks to Alain de Botton, Rick Hanson, Cees Nooteboom and David Foster Wallace for “a kind of writing that could report on the world while still remaining irresponsible, subjective, and a bit peculiar” – moving me (little by little) from a here to a there.

view from hotel window

view from hotel window

15 February 2014

 

 

 

 

 

Potent Selections from Vacation Reading

“I wondered what indeed it meant about me that I was so set against the notion of convention that I should attack it.  So, I replaced the dream with the novel, stripping the stories of my dreams of any real meaning, but causing the form of them to mean everything.”

“…the gap between the subject of enunciation and the subject of enunciating not only failed to appear to me as a place of entry, but also failed to register as something I might elide.  For me, there was no gap, as there is no gap for anyone.”

P Everett 1

“…generally, people are only inclined to speak of the past with those they believe will somehow not only share some commonality, but who will also be disposed to exhibiting sympathy.”

“Is a photograph always present tense?  I described them so…better, let the question be, is what is in the photograph always in the present, without a before, without an after?  Of course, it is.  And isn’t that actually you in the picture?”

ennuyeux

“On Ludwig Boltzman’s tombstone is carved: S=k. LogW.  S is the entropy of a system, k represents Boltzman’s Constant, and W is a measure of the chaos of a system, essentially the extent to which energy is dispersed in the world.  This equation meant little to me as I read of it the first time, but as I considered it I grew excited.  The space between S and W is the space between the living thing in front of me and stuff hidden inside beyond my observation and comprehension.  It raises the question:  How many ways can the parts of a thing be rearranged before I can see a difference?  How many ways can the atoms and molecules of my hand move and recombine before I realize that something is wrong?  Thinking about it scared me.  Certainly, I understood that natural events symbolize collapse into chaos and that events are motivated by dissolution, but the idea of such subversive and invisible change moved me.  I likened it to observing the minds of others.”

P Everett 2

ootheca

“Ezra Pound said, ‘Every word must be charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.’  Let it be the case then.  But words need no help from anyone.  Bet thew ords kneeknow hellip freeum heinywon.  Context, story, time, place – don’t these work like Bekins men, packing the words like so many trunks?  But finally, words are not cases to be packed at all, but solid bricks (and, of course, like a brick, even a word’s atoms are not motionless).”

“We do not give the creature reality enough credit, choosing to see it sitting out there as either a construct of ours or an infinitely regressing cause for the trickery of our senses.  But I claim here that the most important thing I have learned is that reality has a soul, reality is conscious of itself and of us, and further is not impressed by us or our attempts to see it.  In fact, we see it all the time and don’t know it, perhaps can’t.  It is like love in that way.”

-all quotes by Percival Everett

from his novel, Glyph

Glyph - Everett

Writing Wisdom

This turns out to be the best thing I read this week on the art of writing…

Pooh writing 2

“The friends could not agree which way to go.  Pooh looked for answers.

“Perhaps if we tell a story, the story will tell us how to get there…”

– Winnie the Pooh

struck me solidly as the way so very many of us who write

go about looking for answers.

Pooh writing

Write on…

“Acquiring an open rationality”

The best that I can do on this trip is to share some of the inputs coming my way… aside from the gorgeous lush thick greens of Oregon and Washington, there are also these gorgeous, lush, thick growths…

Edgar Morin – Paradigm of Complexity

Le Moigne – Intelligence of Complexity

The Heart and its Branches

“I do not want to know about the human heart.  I do not desire to speak at all about those indwelling, intimate reaches of the heart in which anguish is an undiminishing personal interrogation, much less to analytically enfetter those reaches.

I have the sense, the good sense, the decency, to have nothing to say.”

“Sick of all the you be’s?  Well, what do you say, you be you and I’ll be me?  What do you say?  We can fall asleep in a room full of the snoring dead.  We can sleep while an old woman twangs away on a bad piano while rain keeps time in the empty street.  We can listen to and count the closings of a child’s fist as he tries to catch a fruit fly.  We can listen to the whistling of the bombs.  We can listen to each other.

I do not want to know about the human heart.”

“I am not a man of science.  I am not proficient in any branch of nature study.  I do not know the difference between an amphibian and a reptile.  I have no yearning for hard knowledge about the hard world.  And yet I have no affinity for anything spiritual.  In fact, I have a pronounced, conspicuous, and striking absence of an affinity for anything spiritual.

I know but one hard thing about the hard world and it is this:  from the sum of all theories, as arranged in accordance with ascertained facts, we make a few assumptions, that we have actually ascertained facts, that we are actually here to ascertain them, and that there is actually a here.”

-Percival Everett-

“It is only meaningful to speak of originality where there is a tradition” – Robert Musil

“thus one could probably ‘dissect’ any writer whatever (formally, or according to subject matter, or even according to the intended meaning), and would find in him nothing but bits and pieces of his predecessors; by no means completely ‘taken apart’ and ‘newly assimilated,’ but preserved in broken shards”

“Thus in serious literature the peculiar situation emerges that the general ongoing tradition and the personal contribution of the individual cannot be separated from each other.  In this process the continuum does not grow in any dimension other than extent, nor does the personal element gain a solid position.  The whole consists of variations that randomly come to rest on each other.”

-Robert Musil, “Literati & Literature”-

Updating Margins

Greetings all you who take the time to peruse my blog.  I thank you.  Let me begin this by saying how I have missed creating blog entries that feel creative to me, that require me to a degree that is nourishing and satiating, rather than feel like marginal notes to my studies.  Thank goodness for a few projects and Friday Fictioneers that  spur me to some dedicated time spent “creating” purposively – differently from intellectual processing toward understanding.  And yet…

As I emerge into a brief pause between semesters, I find myself bewildered with experience and an oddly felt “freedom” that spawn confounding questions in me.  As I completed my final semester paper this week, my mind and body revved to the thought that fictions, essays and poems that participate in the structure of my desk – beckoning and ready as I researched away – can be grasped and delighted in, engaged at will, enter my cranial conversation…but this is also true of my researching – I have been consistently able to construct academic projects that involve and enable my immersion in those things that inspire and enthrall me – that feed my “what do I want to know?” urges.  So where this different nuance of feeling/experience in reading?

This is the question occupying me currently (or field of questions).  As I re-entered Robert Musil’s writings these past few days, while skimming and browsing an unbelievable desk laid with exquisite appetizers (Hejinian, Okri, Danto, Deleuze, Shklovsky, Creeley, Fante and so on) I recognized a feeling I can only describe as “insight.”  My preferential selections do not differ much between resources for academic work and resources for some other purpose.  I am driven to “know” what I am driven to know – it is continuous, related, dynamic.  Any sources from any genre or field or discipline that provide a certain “something” accomplish it.  What felt like “insight” was the recognition as I ranged over very different styles (Floridi, Serres, Wittgenstein, DFW, Larry Levis and so on) that what I seek consistently (and an effect that Musil invariably realizes for me) is work that I must achieve, that challenges, that invents, wrestles, requires change and adaptation, innovation and labor on my part to be ingested, understood.  That forces dialogue between my micro-world of knowledge and understanding and another.  Be it in the mode of expression, the language employed, the ideas, questions and concepts examined or points of view – it must be something that invigorates and surprises, invites dialogue and conversation toward meaning and understanding to occur.  Writing that requires change to be engaged.

At the same time I recognize that I read differently different writings.  I expect poetry, aphorisms, fragments to require percolatory time, as if the texts and spaces sprinkle my mind-lawn and will find their way to the roots in their own time.  I expect logical writings, perspectives or positions to argue with me, to have asked questions beyond what I have had the knowledge to ask, therefore pushing whatever I contain toward corrections and new formulations – adaptation and growth.  If writing asks that I be passive, within sentences it is set aside.

These are the questions I’m formulating and troubling in this margin –

  • How are freedom and restraint – affordances and constraint related (particularly in relation to my felt experience of reading selections – and to what purposes (“academic” vs. – ?)  (is there a versus? or is my criteria for reading homogenous regardless of “assignments” or artifact?)
  • Related: compositions – whether related to schoolwork or blog or journal or artistic projects – are they dissimilar in any way other than forms of expression, manifestation and items?  Or is all processing and expressing work similarly creative, inventive – processes toward meaning?
  • Can I begin to dissolve my penchant for categories and tasks, loosen a little my instinct of organizing complexity?  Do I want to?  Why?

These are my offering for today – reports from the margins, the notations always accruing and collocating in my experience – given air through a shifting of immediate responsibilities…

“To accept questions consists in immersing oneself in the search for the answers that answer them.  Furthermore, the questions specify the answers that they admit.”

-Humberto Maturana-

attached: a phenomenal recollective account of the theory of Autopoiesis – of creatively self-organizing systems like ourselves and our molecules that stuns me.  I invite you to read and differently consider your experience of the world:

Humberto Maturana – Preface to “Tree of Knowledge”

“the pursuit of knowledge does not mean conquest, but invention, the establishment of new relations, which supplement already existing ones and can transform them, make them branch out into unexpected dimensions, rather than deny them, or discredit them as manifestations of opinion, illusion, ‘culture.'”

-Isabelle Stengers-

attached:  a powerful account of “knowing” and how we conceive/relate to the acquisition of knowledge.  Again, if these sorts of things interest you and you are not familiar with her work – I highly encourage you to browse this writing:

Isabelle Stengers – Do We Know How to Read Messages in the Sand?

And again, I thank you for indulging me  in sharing some of my process of living

through this blog…