"I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one's center of life inside of one's self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity - to decorate one's inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone."
- Edith Wharton
"I'm frequently overwhelmed by the monotony of a typical day. Like most people, I pretend not to be excited by catastrophes. I prefer a life that won't cohere, that scrutiny might destroy, to a life the populace might approve of. To my fellow prisoners I say, Just because the escape tunnel goes on forever is no reason to stop digging. Because I've often felt what I've said, I know that nobody's problem was ever solved by feeling deeply about it. I've said the opposite of this, and stand by what I said. I am a pagan and enjoy a pagan's tragic optimism. I'll dance to almost anything, however awful, if the beat is good. I know several consolations for the letdowns and sorrows of experience, but intend to keep them to myself. Every secret I've ever told concealed another secret. I prefer relationships in which so little is asked of me I feel free enough to be generous."
- Stephen Dunn
Personal Riffs & Reciprocities
"In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be."
- Mary Oliver
This unfinished business of my
this emerald lake
from my journey's other
haunts hierarchies of heavens
a palm forest
to make room for an unwanted
fevers and swellings
turn me into a river
- Etel Adnan
from The Spring Flowers Own
The Spring Flowers Own & The Manifestations of the Voyage
"Even if you're going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you're living now, or live another one than the one you're losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you can't lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don't have?"
- Marcus Aurelius
One Source of Bad Information
There's a boy in you about three
Years old who hasn't learned a thing for thirty
Thousand years. Sometimes it's a girl.
This child had to make up its mind
How to save you from death. He said things like:
"Stay home. Avoid elevators. Eat only elk."
You live with this child, but you don't know it.
You're in the office, yes, but live with this boy
At night. He's uninformed, but he does want
To save your life. And he has. Because of this boy
You survived a lot. He's got six big ideas.
Five don't work. Right now he's repeating them to you
- Robert Bly
"What I have been thinking about, lately, is bewilderment as a way of entering the day as much as the work.
"The illuminati used flagellation, levitation and starvation as a method of accounting for the power of the invisible world over their lives. Public suffering and scars gave the evidence of hidden miseries which had begun to require daylight.
The poet uses words to do the same. From the lashes of whip and ink the secrets become common, rather than signs of individual genius.
After all, the point of art is to show people that life is worth living by showing that it isn't."
- Fanny Howe
an excerpt from a talk on the Poetics & Readings Series
Small Press Traffic at New College, San Francisco
Wallace Stevens and Mozart
Oh Wallace Stevens, dear friend,
You are such a pest. You are so sure.
You think everyone is in your family.
It is you and your father and Mozart,
And ladies tasting cold rain in Florence,
Puzzling out inscriptions, studying the gold flake.
It is as if life were a visit to Florence,
A place where there are no maggots in the flesh,
No one screaming, no one afraid.
Your job, your joy, your morning walk,
As if you walked on the wire of the mind,
High above the elephants; you cry out a little but never
As if we could walk always high above the world,
No bears, no witches, no Macbeth,
No one screaming, no one in pain, no one afraid.
- Robert Bly
"But what we call a "self" is actually just a story about our experience of life. And we construct the story because we're trying to give some order to what is actually a remarkably chaotic process. And then we get seduced by the seeming consistency of the story that we've constructed, and instead of just relating directly to our experience, we try to relate to our experience in terms of the story."
- Ken McLeod
"Just see, nothing is actually touching you when you just observe, when you don't say 'this should not be'. Pay attention to this wonderful power in you. Just witness without judgement, interference or attachment. Give it a chance."
"Imagine you are standing on the prow of a sailboat, watching a school of dolphins leaping left and right. When travelling long distances, jumping saves dolphins energy, because there's less friction in the air than in the water below. It also seems to be an efficient way to move rapidly and breathe at the same time. Typically, the animals will alternate long, ballistic jumps with bouts of swimming underwater, close to the top, for about twice the length of the leap - a spectacular, high-speed, surface-piercing display sometimes known as 'porpoising'.
These cetacean acrobatics are a fruitful metaphor for what happens when we think. What most of us still call 'our conscious thoughts' are really like dolphins in our mind, jumping briefly out of the ocean of our unconscious for a short period before they submerge themselves once again. This 'dolphin model of cognition' helps us to understand the limits of our awareness. For example, the windows of time in which these leaps into consciousness unfold (as well as subsequent 'underwater' processing) vary hugely. And similar to the way that dolphins break the surface of the water, thoughts often cross the border between conscious and unconscious processing, and in both directions. Sometimes individual dolphins are so close to the surface that they can be half in and half out of the water; you might actually be able to learn how to spot them right before they jump, just as you can learn to identify subtle, semi-conscious patterns before they manifest as full-blown thoughts and feelings. There might even be more than one dolphin: in all likelihood, there's a whole race going on between our thoughts, a continuous inner competition for the focus of attention and for what finally seizes control over our behaviour.
The point is that the mental contents available to us via introspection are nothing more than momentary flashes of automatic cognitive processing, grinding away beneath the waves of our awareness most of the time. This raises a strange question: who is the 'us', standing at the prow and watching these dolphin-thoughts scoot past?"
- Thomas Metzinger
Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.
- Denise Levertov
Sands of the Well
alive on all channels
"I wish there was more talk about soul. We've largely given up such talk, in favor of commerce, politics, the talk of people who expect answers, results. I've said in a poem, "the normal condition of the soul is to be starved." If this is true, those of us who are vigilant about our souls are trying to feed them. Save them? Faust gambled with his soul, which suggests that we should be using different currency when we gamble. But it seems to me that gambling, at its healthiest, is one way of activating the soul, nudging it from its hungry sleep. I'm speaking about gambling in its most reductive form: taking a chance. The act of taking a chance is energizing. The art of the act of taking a chance can lead to the sublime. Like the time I saw Paco Camino exhibit perfect grace - a series of slow, exact moves - with an erratic bull in Madrid. Or Miles Davis, years ago at a club, riding an impulse beyond himself. Surely those folks who play their lives and their work eminently safe don't often put themselves in the position where they can be startled or enlarged. Don't put themselves near enough to the realm of the unknown where discovery resides, and joy has been rumored to appear. The realm of the unknown is contiguous to the realm of failure. The gambler, deep down, has made a pact with failure. He'll accept it because it has interesting neighbors."
- Stephen Dunn
"The deepest level of obsession is obsession with a sense of self. A sense of self, generated as a reaction to non-referential space, lies at the core of every habituated pattern. A self is felt to be a permanent, independent unit. The feeling of permanence manifests in life as a feeling of dullness, of not being quite present. The illusion of independence arises as a feeling of separation. The feeling of being one thing arises as a feeling of incompleteness or dissatisfaction. Together, these three qualities obscure the mystery of being."
- Ken McLeod
An Old Story
We were made to understand it would be
Terrible. Every small want, every niggling urge,
Every hate swollen to a kind of epic wind.
Livid, the land, and ravaged, like a rageful
Dream. The worst in us having taken over
And broken the rest utterly down.
A long age
Passed. When at last we knew how little
Would survive us - how little we had mended
Or built that was not now lost - something
Large and old awoke. And then our singing
Brought on a different manner of weather.
Then animals long believed gone crept down
From trees. We took new stock of one another.
We wept to be reminded of such color.
- Tracy K. Smith
Wade in the Water
five branch tree
Don't go off sightseeing.
The real journey is right here.
The great excursion starts
from exactly where you are.
You are the world.
You have everything you need.
You are the secret.
You are the wide opened.
Don't look for the remedy for your troubles
You are the medicine.
You are the cure for your own sorrow.
- Jalaluddin Rumi
The Forbidden Rumi
"The Master is not trapped in opposites. His this is also a that. He sees that life becomes death and death becomes life, that right has a kernel of wrong within it and wrong a kernel of right, that the true turns into the false and the false into the true. He understands that nothing is absolute, that since every point of view depends on the viewer, affirmation and denial are equally beside the point. The place where the this and the that are not opposed to each other is called "the pivot of the Tao." When we find this pivot, we find ourselves at the center of the circle, and here we sit, serene, while Yes and No keep chasing each other around the circumference, endlessly. Mind can only create the qualities of good and bad by comparing. Remove the comparison, and there go the qualities. What remains is the pure unknown: ungraspable object, ungraspable subject, and the clear light of awareness streaming through. The pivot of the Tao is the mind free of its thoughts. It doesn't believe that this is a this or that that is a that. Let Yes and No sprint around the circumference toward a finish line that doesn't exist. How can they stop trying to win the argument of life until you stop? When you do, you realize that you were the only one running. Yes was you, No was you, the whole circumference, with its colored banners, its pom-pom girls and frenzied crowds - that was you as well. At the center, the eyes open and again it's the sweet morning of the world. There's nothing here to limit you, no one here to draw a circumference. In fact, there's no one here - not even you."
- Stephen Mitchell
The Second Book of the Tao