"The idea that just one more dollar, one more dalliance, one more rung on the ladder will leave us feeling sated reflects a misunderstanding about human nature - a misunderstanding, moreover, that is built into human nature; we are designed to feel that the next great goal will bring bliss, and the bliss is designed to evaporate shortly after we get there. Natural selection has a malicious sense of humor; it leads us along with a series of promises and then keeps saying 'Just kidding.'
Remarkably, we go our whole lives without ever really catching on.
The advice of the sages - that we refuse to play this game - is nothing less than an incitement to mutiny, to rebel against our creator.
To cultivate some indifference is one plausible route to liberation. While few of us can claim to have traveled far on this route, the proliferation of this scriptural advice suggests it has been followed some distance with some success."
- Robert Wright
Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
- Richard Wilbur
from Year's End
"I'm not personally obsessed with death. At a certain age, the light that you live in is inhabited by the shades - it 'tis," Mr. Heaney said. "I'm very conscious that people dear to me are alive in my imagination - poets in particular. There's an elegy for Joseph Brodsky, an elegy for Ted Hughes. These people are with me. It's just a stage of your life when the death of people doesn't banish them out of your consciousness. They're part of the light in your head."
- Seamus Heaney
in an interview with Jim Dwyer June 2, 2001
- Frederick Buechner
"It's good to be just plain happy, it's a little better to know that you're happy; but to understand that you're happy and to know why and how and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well, that is beyond happiness, that is bliss"
- Henry Miller
"My plan, then, in so far as the negation of all effort and purpose may be said to be a plan, is to stop evolving, to remain what I am and to become more and more only what I am - that is, to become more miraculous."
- Henry Miller
Then wherefore in these merry days
Should we, I pray, be duller?
No, let us sing some roundelays
To make our mirth the fuller.
And whilst we thus inspired sing,
Let all the streets with echoes ring;
Woods, and hills, and everything
Bear witness we are merry.
- George Wither
from A Christmas Carol
The moon darkened on Christmas eve
angels ate lemons
in illuminated churches
there was a blue rug
planted with stars
above our heads
lemonade and war news
competed for our attention
our breath was warmer than
- Etel Adnan
The Christmas Letter
Wherever you are when you receive this letter
I write to say we are still ourselves
In the same place
And hope you are the same.
The dead have died as you know
And will never get better,
And the children are boys and girls
of their several ages and names.
So in closing I send you our love
And hope to hear from you soon.
There is never a time
Like the present. It lasts forever
Wherever you are. As ever I remain.
- John N. Morris
Skating backwards tells another story -
the risky star above the freezing town,
a way to walk on water and not drown.
- Cynthia Zarin
Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It's comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing's lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.
- Timothy Steele
from Toward the Winter Solstice
I sense a certain uncertainty in the pine trees,
Pre-solstice jitters, that threatens to rattle our equilibrium.
- Charles Wright
Laugh and be Merry
Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.
Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.
So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.
Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.
- John Masefield
"What a nuisance is the friend who must have this and that, whose likes and hates are infinite, with bitter and loud voiced complaint about the whole of circumstance? How pleasant are the truly great who, wanting nothing, are content with anything. Accepting all things in a world of illusion as born of cause-effect they live in a mind above the opposites, and we call them great because they do so."
- Christmas Humphreys
The Buddhist Way Of Life
"Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that men and women are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own up to the fact that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness. Are you willing to do these things even for a day?"
- Henry van Dyke
Six Days of the Week
"What stops me from taking myself seriously, even though I am essentially a serious person, is that I find myself extremely ridiculous, not in the sense of the small-scale ridiculousness of slap-stick comedy, but rather in the sense of ridiculousness that seems intrinsic to human life and that manifests itself in the simplest actions and the most extraordinary gestures."
- Gustave Flaubert
"In certain ways I am deeply stupid. I don't say this out of modesty. I believe that I'm more intelligent than the average human being, though perhaps intelligence should not be looked at as a single gauge, like a speedometer, but as a full array of tachometers, odometers, altimeters, and the rest."
- David Benioff
"It seems to me that we are a porous material: there is a double trajectory of the world to us and from us to the world, because ultimately we are part of each other. But this belonging comes in ways that make us feel both autonomous and linked. At privileged moments, all this happens clearly. We feel that the fog needs us, and that it anticipates us, and I will go as far as to say that it can even need us in order to be. These are evidences, perceptions, perceptions of thoughts and feelings - experiences even. And of course, it's needless to say, we need the world to be, in every possible way."
- Etel Adnan
"That person who you don't like running into, that strained relationship in any unwanted moment, is not outside of you. The reason that you can't get along with other people has nothing to do with the other people. Sure, they're rude. Sure, they're cruel, spiritually asleep, aggressive, all those things, but so are you. Your feelings about the world you see, with all of its confusing colors and schemes, are all reflections of your own internal life. You meet and see only yourself wherever you go."
- Guy Finley
"Of this, I am actually certain. After collecting thousands of stories, I'm willing to call this a fact: A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We're numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick."
- Brené Brown
"To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do."
- Hermann Hesse
das ding an sich
"Let people realize clearly that every time they threaten someone or humiliate or unnecessarily hurt or dominate or reject another human being, they become forces for the creation of psychopathology, even if these be small forces. Let them recognize that every person who is kind, helpful, decent, psychologically democratic, affectionate, and warm, is a psychotheraputic force."
- Abraham Maslow
"Demographers estimate that at least half of all the human beings ever born are alive now, in this century. What a moment for the human soul! Characteristics drawn from the genetic pool have, in statistical probability, reconstituted all the best and all the worst of human life. It's all around us. Buddha and Lao-tse must be walking the earth somewhere. And Tiberius and Nero. Everything horrible, everything sublime, and things not imagined yet."
- Saul Bellow
There is no life after death. Why
should there be. What on
earth would have us believe this.
Heaven is not the American
highway, blackened chicken alfredo
from Applebee's nor the
clown sundae from Friendly's. Our
life, this is the afterdeath,
when we blink open, peeled and
ready to ache. Years ago
my aunt banged on the steering, she
insisted there had to be a
God, a heaven. We were on our
way to a wedding. I would
have to sit at the same table as the
man who saw no heaven
in me. Today I am thinking about
Mozart, of all people, who
died at 35 mysteriously, perhaps of
strep. What a strange cloth
it is to live. But that we came from
death and return to it, made
different by form, shaped again back
into anti-, anti-. On my run,
I think of Jack Gilbert, who said we
must insist while there is still
time, but insist toward what. Why we
must fill the void with light -
isn't that our human insistence? But
we drift into a distance of
distance until proximity fails, our
name lifts away with any
future concerns, the past a flattened
coin that cannot spin. I am
matter spun from death's wool - and
I bewilder the itch, I who am
I am just so happy to go.
- Natalie Eilbert
It's good to know certain things:
What's departed, in order to know what's left to come;
That water's immeasurable and incomprehensible
And blows in the air
Where all that's fallen and silent becomes invisible;
That fire's the light our names are carved in.
That shame is a garment of sorrow;
That time is the Adversary, and stays sleepless and wants for nothing;
That clouds are unequal and words are.
- Charles Wright
"When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you have to think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgement of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself. And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces. It is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life."
- Stanley Kunitz
"Often we feel time to be linear, inexorable, suffocating. At other moments we find it oceanic. We kind of swim in it. We expect physicists to come up with an explanation, but we don't find one, and come back to our intuitive use of the concept. But there are also moments when time appears to be, to say it in one way, both vertical and horizontal, both "single-minded," monotonous, unalterable, and multi-dimensional, infinite. When a few people come together, I often have wondered if each person's amount of years was not being added to the amount of years of all the others, so that we were representing together much more than our single self. And if you add up the simultaneous ages of people, animals, plants, objects, the age of celestial bodies and so on, you realize that we are living in the unfolding of the infinite. But why bother? I think because we need to keep in mind the immensity of being, in spite of our fragility and mortality."
- Etel Adnan
"To tell the truth, we should not exist. We, not any collective plural, just you and me. Let us use our imaginations to visualize for a moment the circumstances and conditions of the life of our parents, then our grandparents, then great-grandparents, thus further and further back. Back to those who are stalking through the undergrowth of a murky primeval forest with chipped stones for their only weapons, in order to split the skulls of their enemies. It would seem as if we had only parents and that's all, but those other pre-pre-predecessors exist, and with them their afflictions, manias, mental illnesses, syphilis, tuberculosis, and whatnot, and how do you know they do not continue on in you? And what was the probability that among the children of your great-great-grandparents the one survived who would beget your ancestor? And what was the probability that this would repeat itself in the next generation?
Altogether, a very slim chance that we would be born in these skins, as these, not other, individuals. The very fact that our species survived and even multiplied beyond measure is astonishing, for it had much against it, and the primeval forest full of animals stronger than humans may serve till now as a metaphor for man's precarious situation - let us add viruses, bacteria, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, but also his own works, atomic weapons and the pollution of nature. Our species should have disappeared a long time ago, and it is still alive, incredibly resistant. That you and I happen to be part of it should be enough to give us pause for meditation."
- Czesław Miłosz
"We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, 'the present century'. Interestingly, some physicists don't like the idea of a 'moving present', regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.
In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book . . . What I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you."
- Richard Dawkins
as above so below
"Man tends to regard the order he lives in as natural. The houses he passes on his way to work seem more like rocks rising out of the earth than like products of human hands. He considers the work he does in his office or factory as essential to the harmonious functioning of the world. The clothes he wears are exactly what they should be, and he laughs at the idea that he might equally well be wearing a Roman toga or medieval armor. He respects and envies a minister of state or a bank director, and regards the possession of a considerable amount of money the main guarantee of peace and security. He cannot believe that one day a rider may appear on a street he knows well, where cats sleep and children play, and start catching passers-by with his lasso. He is accustomed to satisfying those of his physiological needs which are considered private as discreetly as possible, without realizing that such a pattern of behavior is not common to all human societies. In a word, he behaves a little like Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush, bustling about in a shack poised precariously on the edge of a cliff."
- Czesław Miłosz
The Captive Mind
Horses Explain Things to Me
Today is a crash course on moving gently.
How to take a gift from someone so gingerly
they believe they still have it. If you move
soft enough through the wind or woods,
they say the sun will make a space for you.
Some of your regrets might soften. I move
terribly. I crush twigs and spiders but the horses
say nothing of it; they let me pet their long manes.
I hop on and we walk out to the end of wanting.
What is God? I ask them. They tell me, Yes.
- Brett Elizabeth Jenkins
Seeing the moonlight
through these trees,
my heart fills to the brim
- Ono No Komachi
The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown in this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It's warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwoods, transparent pale-leaved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon.
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains.
- Czesław Miłosz