"Living is moving; time is a live creek bearing changing lights. As I move, or as the world moves around me, the fullness of what I see shatters. "Last forever!" Who hasn't prayed that prayer? You were lucky to get it in the first place. The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying; it is a canvas, nevertheless.
But there is more to the present than a series of snapshots. We are not merely sensitized film; we have feelings, a memory for information and an eidetic memory for the imagery of our pasts.
Our layered consciousness is a tiered track for an unmatched assortment of concentrically wound reels. Each one plays out for all of life its dazzle and blur of translucent shadow-pictures; each one hums at every moment its own secret melody in its own unique key. We tune in and out. But moments are not lost. Time out of mind is time nevertheless, cumulative, informing the present. From even the deepest slumber you wake with a jolt - older, closer to death, and wiser, grateful for breath.
But time is the one thing we have been given, and we have been given to time. Time gives us a whirl. We keep waking from a dream we can't recall, looking around in surprise, and lapsing back, for years on end. All I want to do is stay awake, keep my head up, prop my eyes open, with toothpicks, with trees."
- Annie Dillard
"The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older. Childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we're dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.
Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, 'Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,' it shrinks up."
- David Eagleman
"It starts out young - you try not to be different just to survive - you try to be just like everyone else - anonymity becomes reflexive - and then one day you wake up and you've become all those other people - the others - the something you aren't. And you wonder if you can ever be what it is you really are. Or you wonder if it's too late to find out."
- Douglas Coupland
Two truths approach each other. One comes from within,
one comes from without - and where they meet you have the chance
to catch a look at yourself.
Noticing what is about to happen, you shout desperately: "Stop!
Anything, anything, as long as I don't have to know myself."
And there is a boat that wants to put in - tries to, right here -
it will try again thousands of times.
Out of the forest's dark comes a long boat hook
that's pushed through the open window
among the party guests who have danced themselves warm.
- Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robin Fulton
"Who are we, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly reshuffled and reordered in every conceivable way."
- Italo Calvino
Six Memos for the Next Millennium
"According to the Buddhist tradition, we are on a journey whether we like it or not, because we are always in a state of transition. Sentient beings are referred to as drowa in Tibetan, which means 'migrating creatures'. This is because we can never be in a particular place without moving physically, psychologically or spiritually. Whether we are thinking or sensing or experiencing emotions, everything is constantly being propelled or drawn forward. Emotions are "emotions in motion", because even a state of agitation is a form of movement.
However, if we are not in a state of transition, we could not talk about transformation. Our life would be a closed book, but according to the Buddhist teachings, our lives are not closed books because of this constant forward movement. If we feel that we are stuck, that is only our misunderstanding of what is really going on, for something is always happening even if we do not notice it."
- Traleg Kyabgon
Making a Fist
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.
"How do you know if you are going to die?"
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
"When you can no longer make a fist."
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
- Naomi Shihab Nye
"Life is both sad and solemn. We are led into a wonderful world, we meet one another here, greet each other - and wander together for a brief moment. Then we lose each other and disappear as suddenly and unreasonably as we arrived."
- Jostein Gaarder
"A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish - but there was no diamond inside. That's what I like about coincidence."
- Vladimir Nabokov
"I never wish to be easily defined. I'd rather float over other people's minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person."
- Franz Kafka
Diaries of Franz Kafka
the vale of soulmaking
What Gorgeous Thing
I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can't and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
- Mary Oliver
"Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like 'being cool', 'being more successful than everyone else' and 'being very thin'."
- Caitlin Moran
"The art of living is based on rhythm, on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all the aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, "the dance of life" as Havelock Ellis called it.
But the point is that, by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed; the dance is an end in itself, just like life.The acceptance of the situation, any situation, brings about a flow, a rhythmic impulse towards self-expression. To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn . . . It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender."
- Henry Miller
The Wisdom of the Heart
running after my hat
I'm not so good at life anymore.
Sometimes I wake up and don't recognize it.
Houses, cars, furniture, books are a blur
while trees, birds, and horses are fine
and clear. I also understand music
of an ancient variety - pre-ninteenth century.
Where have I been?
Recounting flowers from the train window
between Seville and Granada, also bulls and olive trees.
I couldn't sleep in Lorca's room because it was haunted.
Even the wine I carried was haunted.
Spain has never recovered from this murder.
Her nights are full of the red teeth of death.
There were many who joined him. You can't count,
up and down, birds and flowers at the same time.
- Jim Harrison
"Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn't matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honored. Dying . . . or busy with other assignments. Because dying, too, is one of our assignments in life. There as well: "To do what needs doing." Look inward. Don't let the true nature of anything elude you.
Only there, delight and stillness . . . when jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don't lose the rhythm more than you can help. You'll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it."
- Marcus Aurelius
translated by George Long
The Internet Classics Archive
"The real problem here is that we're all dying. All of us. Every day the cells weaken and the fibres stretch and the heart gets closer to its last beat. The real cost of living is dying, and we're spending days like millionaires: a week here, a month there, casually spunked until all you have left are the two pennies on your eyes.
Personally, I like the fact we're going to die. There's nothing more exhilarating than waking up every morning and going 'WOW! THIS IS IT! THIS IS REALLY IT!' It focuses the mind wonderfully. It makes you love vividly, work intensely, and realize that, in the scheme of things, you really don't have time to sit on the sofa in your pants watching Homes Under the Hammer.
Death is not a release, but an incentive. The more focused you are on your death, the more righteously you live your life. My traditional closing-time rant - after the one where I cry that they closed that amazing chippy on Tollington Road; the one that did the pickled eggs - is that humans still believe in an afterlife. I genuinely think it's the biggest philosophical problem the earth faces. Even avowedly non-religious people think they'll be meeting up with nana and their dead dog, Crackers, when they finally keel over. Everyone thinks they're getting a harp.
But believing in an afterlife totally negates your current existence. It's like an insidious and destabilizing mental illness. Underneath every day - every action, every word - you think it doesn't really matter if you screw up this time around because you can just sort it all out in paradise. You make it up with your parents, and become a better person and lose that final stone in heaven. And learn how to speak French. You'll have time, after all! It's eternity! And you'll have wings, and it'll be sunny! So, really, who cares what you do now? This is really just some lacklustre waiting room you're only going to be in for 20 minutes, during which you will have no wings at all, and are forced to walk around, on your feet, like pigs do.
If we wonder why people are so apathetic and casual about every eminently avoidable horror in the world - famine, war, disease, the seas gradually turning piss-yellow and filling with ringpulls and shattered fax machines - it's right there. Heaven. The biggest waste of our time we ever invented, outside of jigsaws.
Only when the majority of the people on this planet believe - absolutely - that they are dying, minute by minute, will we actually start behaving like fully sentient, rational and compassionate beings. For whilst the appeal of 'being good' is strong, the terror of hurtling, unstoppably, into unending nullity is a lot more effective. I'm really holding out for us all to get The Fear. The Fear is my Second Coming. When everyone in the world admits they're going to die, we'll really start getting some stuff done."
- Caitlin Moran
A Child is Something Else Again
A child is something else again. Wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he's full of words,
in an instant he's humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.
A child is Job. They've already placed their bets on him
but he doesn't know it. He scratches his body
for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They're training him to be a polite Job,
to say "Thank you" when the Lord has given,
to say "You're welcome" when the Lord has taken away.
A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I'm still trembling.
A child is something else again: on a rainy spring day
glimpsing the Garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.
- Yehuda Amichai
translated by Chana Bloch
- Caitlin Moran