Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year comes to an end. Time for resolutions, getting rid of egotistical habits. But don't blame yourself, necessarily, but where it's due. It's the culture, a culture that creates a good deal of tension as it spins. So to let go of that tension and remember the Essence of the being that is within.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There are the great masters of kindness. We could recognize them for their work in the same way, or rather better, we would Beethoven or a great architect. Such arts are offshoots of the ways of great kindness anyway, so that any living art shines and trembles with this inner life, as a child’s drawing does.

The work of the great masters is not always understood so well. The work is not as appreciated for the great art that it is, as it seems unknown by being so commonplace. It is commonplace, which is a good thing, in that most people are able to share kindness with each other and strangers and people with whom we exchange money for services, such as waiters and cabdrivers and teachers. But its commonness belies its importance.

Einstein had it, wisely, that space is curved by the gravity of meaningful objects. The Earth spins rotationally in space curved by the Sun. Kindness is that same law of gravity and curved space expressed in the affairs of the conscious beings of Earth. It is a law one may try to fight, but to no avail. (Substitute the term of kindness into Einstein's universal law and it is no more metaphorical than his original.)

The great masters of kindness live, shape their world, through kindness. They put out kindness, and kindness they receive, one way or another, each a unique and interesting story of how this works and plays out. They live through their acts, and shape the world in a way harmonious with natural law. (They put it to the test every day.)

A willful individual like Hitler or Stalin may treat the law of kindness and gravity as something to be tricked and subverted, as if to manipulate the force of kindness in one direction, toward one group of people at the great expense of another. By doing so, even in a slight way, he attempts to turn the law of nature completely upside down. His act is a moment of anger sustained, the same as trying to fly when one is not a bird. He may have concocted a great rational science, but the effort will fail out of a crucial heartless flaw. And from smaller acts of the same, less historically broad, sorrowful things happen too, no less insidious, a creation of sick beings and ill ways of treating life and nature.

People will poke around curiously over acts of kindness and all its arts. They will question and study the chemistry of it. They will look at kindness from the outside, as if they stand apart from its laws, as if they don’t get it. They want to be pessimistic rational journalists about it. They wish to judge everyone, and point out flaws (which is unkind to begin with). Focusing on anomalies, they cast a fog over the light. If they really had such questions, all they would need to do is to turn around and just be, simply, kind. And then they would know the beauty of kindness, and that to be kind is to receive kindness. They would step into the light and understand that the great masters of kindness create saintly worlds accurate to the greatest and deepest laws of That Which Is.

Yes, maybe it does sound silly and childish to say, far too simple. But art is full of examples of gesture of kind reach, useful for us especially if they are habit-forming, a lesson of understanding and sympathy, the basic great human traits that one shares not just with family but potentially with all. The art, however, points to a direction, the same direction that venerable religions do. Art recedes now and then, and reveals to us the act of the artist as a scientist comprehending the great laws of nature.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Everything has a magic to it. Fill a vessel of water and you get the happy sound of the notes of an octave. (Music reflects the order of Heaven and Earth, East Asian music philosophy holds.) This is why yoga works. Well, everything you can think of from atoms on up. Bowel movements, wisely guided public opinion, you name it. It's why back surgery isn't always so great.

So, if you do something for the right reasons, and in the right amount, applying some work, but maybe not too much so as to make it overly complex, you're going to wind up with something beneficial. (This is why wine is better for you than hard alcohol.)

It also applies to writing.

Now, in the spirit of good humor, lets take the phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code. I've not read it, and I'm not going to judge. Maybe I've seen an odd end of it on TV, or maybe one of those History Channel pieces working on the public obsessions with the book. Good for Dan Brown. He's a smart guy, his good old Dad, an educator, steeped him in code work, so his books are a spiritual tribute. Plenty of good reasons why the whole phenomenon is just so. He has bravely ridden the whole trip, and I doubt if it's been so easy. Bravo. Lots of information to be gleaned from them, though maybe not all of it true but rather serving the fiction of it. (To remedy any distortions of St. Sulpice, you might read a good book by Jean-Paul Kauffmann.)

But here's a code, and maybe the public grasps for it too when reading. Done for the right reasons, spiritual, writing is a very healthy thing. But if it's done with the idea of crafting a best seller for the market place, it begins to be a bit like selling doves in the Temple. Jesus wanted direct access to matters of the spirit for everyone, free, as he knew it was truly free, in need of no money changer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

When you write something it's an exploration. It's a beginning of self-observation. It's the start of sorting through mental activity in your head and isolating a thought, a passing one, a steadier one, or otherwise. In a way to write something is to try on a voice, maybe to flesh it out, maybe to live in it for a moment, to recall an experience, maybe to see if it holds, or if it dissolves into something else.

On a deeper level, the things you write are an exploration of "I." Which is to say that the exercise is in viewing the voices of ego, observing them more carefully. It is an interesting process. Within the exploration of ego, you may well find many voices, an aggregate, as Buddhists say, of many selfish wants, needs and fears.

My hope is that getting them out on a page is a way of studying these voices, to see the implications of them as far as the personal ego-related faults we have within. Maybe to write down is a first step toward a broader perspective, hopefully a significant and deeper one.

Writing is a useful exercise.

To cut to the chase, the voices of ego and the many "I's" are selfish. And those voices are quite apart from the essence of our being. Free from such voices, the possibilities are, well, endless. Certainly broader. One no longer harbors any resentment. One is in touch with the selfless. One doesn't need anything but very basic functional stuff. Not to mention being free of vanity, fear, anger, and so forth. (It sounds too good to be true. Not to worry though.)

How many habitual errors must one go through to realize such? So many faults one must admit. Such are the beginnings of freedom. Freedom from selfishly wanting things in a way one doesn't need.

A writer makes a drama out of all this. But the ultimate aim is making that writing a useful exercise in sweeping away the superfluous and the distractions so as to find the eternal being. This is the measure of useful art. Maybe of great art, but to call it so verges on the egotistical again, or not.

One simply hopes, gains, the joy and the strength to continue on with the explorations, the ultimate goal being, with help, to eliminate all the ego voices, for which end we hope for Kundalini experiences of our selfless essence to aid us.

Once one begins, the mind develops. The mind sees what we observe as impressions, impressions which we are able to control to our own benefit and well-being.

This is Hamlet's effort, to observe the ego and personality from a distance, hopeful of banishing and disintegrating their hold before the race is over. Rather than simply being unable to make up his mind, his is an example of work we must engage in.

A long list of egos spill like cans of paint before the true prince of Denmark and his girlfriend. And the reminder, the perspective, comes from his father's essence, here a ghost, telling the truth of matters. Where does Hamlet look to a combat the egotism he sees so vividly about him? The Play. Art. Drama. Poetry.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Ted Hughes' Legacy

If anyone could have done it, it would have been him. On pagan and animal’s natural strength, Ted Hughes, Aquarian Poet, serves to bring poetry back into the fold of spirituality. Old Testament prophets have their visions and burning bushes, where Hughes has nature, the hawk in the rain, the jaguar, the fox cub. A Leo by birth, the later poetry of Birthday Letters and the related but more selective work Howls and Whispers have him coming to terms with the faults of his egotism, grievous enough, and also of forms of betrayal directed at a marriage. His work drags the sensibilities of the literature we meaningfully read back to the great primary example: It is no coincidence spirituality, like a Bible, is a written work, poetic, of the imagination, of metaphor, of faith rather than beliefs cut and dried. To mistake him for being simply egotistical would probably mask our own faults of the same. He has gone beyond that in his work.

Poetry, like gospels, is a good place to treat the consequences of life. Hughes includes us in the natural world, where we have our proclivities and habits, traces out a hawk's life for us for us to compare to our own, a world respectful of natural differences, of organic varieties of behavior.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


The influence of Saturn, ruling planet of Capricorn, according to Wikipedia, doesn’t seem a propitious thing. "Where there is light Saturn brings darkness. Where there is heat, cold. Where there is joy, sadness. Where there is life, death. Where there is luck, misfortune. Where there is unity, isolation. Where there is knowledge, fear. Where there is hope, skepticism and stalling." This is substantively a direct quote, abbreviated, from Wikipedia, under Saturn (Mythology): Astrological Beliefs.

I grew up never far away from the influence of my Sagittarius brother. Confident, optimistic, the normal rules for humanity little apply to him, as he was born smiling proudly. I did not know him as the balance that I needed so consciously, and when I went off on my own, I was less protected from my bullying pessimistic stuff, my own slow plodding seagoat way. I tried to carry on with the things of his ego, but they weren’t a good fit. In the absence of his great influence, I found a beginning to my callings, the quiet lonely works of writing and music that are ultimately a gift, a gift for the player, but also for the distant listener, another self, seeking some form of light in the darkness. I found those things to ultimately save me, by being innate talent or habits, in the face of all the misunderstandings life can offer.

Virgo, by contrast, her ruling planet is Mercury, force of intelligence, communication, a message bright and speedily delivered. Rings she runs around my poor cold planet set at the edge of the known solar system. The sun wants his light on everyone, but somehow, I don’t know, things can get messed up. Leave it to Capricorn to snatch defeat from the jaws of beauteous victory. It’s just the way the universe is, no one’s fault.

It is for Capricorn, Saturn setting us to be melancholic philosophers, scientists, writers and musicians, to go through the worst, most frustrating losses, the most lasting of sorrows, to earn, only through the hardest fight, a kind of wisdom that takes too long to gain. But wisdom nonetheless, something essential to share, and thus one's birth, to save in some small way humanity.

In pains I learned the senselessness of ego. The lesson stared me in the face, and I suffered from the work of pleasing people’s egos, though not my own, except through escapist pleasures and lusts of the private sort at the end of the night. I was trapped, in the labyrinth, a ridiculously long time. Dark stars pulled upon me when I went out of the house. Each person encountered, demanding the things I thought I liked so, hour after hour, I finally understood as my own inner demons, to be kept at arm’s length despite their charms.

The world, humanity, people, individuals, needs the lesson of limits, needs to know the senseless futility of the egotistical, the aggregate of demanding personalities within that fight each other for what they want. Forget all that, the lesson tells me. Go observe natural phenomenon. Forget all the overly-complicated terms of scientific theory, and come up with your own understanding of the essence of things. Invest yourself with the grace of self-observation to distance yourself from and ultimately defeat the myriad of claiming voices within.

I am a Capricorn. But the influence of the stars is through the ego stuff, through all the devils I let live inside me, to be pulled upon. Perhaps if I had less of an ego, maybe things would have been peaceful and happy. Even being a Capricorn, I’ll lose someday.

Maybe all true poets and music composers feel obliged to really learn something in spades before they feel honest enough to claim it, that the lesson is proper to commit to paper so as to share. There is a science to it, and so there must be experiments and theories and exhaustive testing for something somewhat accurate to emerge.

Beethoven, born Dec. 16, the traditional eve of Saturnalia, an honorary Capricorn, as is Lincoln, born Feb. 12, an Aquarius, traditionally ruled by Saturn as well. Shane MacGowan, born Christmas Day, a Capricorn. Federico Fellini, born January 20, as well. People who liked to have room for creativity.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cat versus Elephant

The cat and the elephant are relatives. One has fur, a long tail and tiny whiskered snout, whereas the other has a very short and almost insignificant tail (but to swish at flies), no fur to speak of, a very long snout to make up for it. The cat touches, announces, thinks and marks territory with tail, where the elephant does all this with a clever and tender apparatus up front. The domestic cat is small, the undomesticated elephant rather large. They pretend they don't know each other, but they don't bother each other much either. They stand about the same way, and their bodies, give or take, look pretty much the same, some differences here and there with the feet, but not much. (One stands around more, goes on proud daylight marches, where the other must sneak and prowl about cleverly, a burst of speed now and again.) One purrs and meows a tiny roar, the other trumpets largely as if with a klaxon, but really except for the matter of scale, there is not much difference. The elephant, larger, needs to be smarter, I suppose, but the cat, sly of eye, is fine with that. The bigger one, by some law of nature, is vegetarian, the smaller, a carnivore. Alike, yet different.
It's often frightened me on some deeper level to go and wait on people. People bring their egos, their collection of aggregate I's, in and throw them down noisily on the bar like a set of keys at the end of the day, announcing them all. Even the kind people. This is why people are so horribly confused when they come in, even if they might think they know what they want, all the inner arrogant voices piping their desires. I go off to work, the light brigade. "Into the valley of death, rode the six hundred." We have a few specials from the chef tonight.

My job is the find, to liberate in some way, the essence of a person, to call out the true part of themselves out of that labyrinth.

But of course my efforts must be flawed as I am providing them with what their egos are calling for in fits of pleasure and comfort seeking. And the focus on egos tends to take me down with them, as I am no stronger than they.

Beethoven's Ninth works for taking us through our egos, personified by the themes of the early movements, then finally, after the low strings somberly weigh them out for what they are one after the other, liberating that essence with the simple folkish Ode To Joy, then the quiet processional hopeful march forward, the battle never done.

Many people, though, are very sweet, their egos tame, and it gives one faith in the educational system and larger things native to humanity. I can't complain.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

author's note for Amherst College website

Lermontov knew the ephemeral quality of life. His take on human affairs is laden with distance as to how important they are. While his main character in A Hero Of Our Time is ironic in attitude, one hopes and surely knows that there are some things that are important, that are worth emotional investment. Who knows, maybe writing itself may be an appropriate reaction to life.

Anyone who has gained insight through the consciousness would consider writing as teaching, through the word itself but also by example as an act of consciousness. As I look at the world of publishing today, confused by it as I am, I am reminded of how this college was founded on charity, local farmers from the hill and valley land surrounding Amherst kicking in, with materials, effort, expertise. Perhaps they were motivated by youthful ideals, remembered in the books they had read, by the good influences on the imagination their own teachers invested in them. The effort may have struck them as something beautiful, something classical. Evidently they found pride in clearing the land and crafting bricks and building the first buildings of the College that is here today.

Life, yes, is ephemeral, in many senses. What we would write, even scrupulously attentive to real events would be a novelistic attempt to capture that which is reality, reality being ephemeral and thus subject to poetry and interpretation. This college, in the tradition of President Kennedy’s speech at the dedication of the Frost Library, is about the volunteer effort to bring knowledge and questions of learning to the forefront of daily business: "... but the men who question power make a contribution just as important." As Dickinson herself put it, the poet’s life, the writing to be done, ‘had stood a loaded gun in corners waiting.’ And it wasn’t the ‘admiring bog’ of the publishing world of her day that she concerned herself with too heavily, but the work of writing well and appropriately itself. Her appropriateness toward life is, in fact, one of our greatest models. How, therefore, could we criticize her, or treat her as irrelevant, naive, freakish, etc..

Writing represents an attempt to bring the internal states of the mind, soul and body into harmony with external events, so that we might have an appropriate response, as the farmers responded appropriately themselves to a call to raise not a barn but a place of learning. So is writing revelatory, mind-blowing, deeply encouraging, a taming of our savage wildness through careful consideration.

If one were to grasp the real purposes of writing, as a piece of writing is written consciously or not, it follows that a great energy would be released, a bringing together of intent with event, the spiritual with the actual, the practical. And if in a work one achieves even one moment of the beautiful time when things coincide, then that is something. From a tiny atom of something kind and appropriate beams out an energy and draws good things forth.

By virtue of being born, everyone deserves respect, a chance to be listened to. So may it be apprehended that one writes for the underdog, for the un-listened-to, for the local kid called upon to be involved, bringing honesty and sincerity to the overall effort and achievement of, in this case, education.

We know that societies are capable of inappropriate reaction to an event, as if to drop an atom bomb to eliminate a squirrel. Or, sometimes they do not do the things they should do. The focus on bringing the internal sense and the external event together coincident, balanced, aligned, concurrent, appropriate, works on all levels, from the tiny seemingly insignificant and perhaps embarrassing moment a novel might explore, on up to bigger more broader ranging things.

It takes a long time to know the beauty, the gentle heroic tenderness, the peace of the Essence that is a person. So we try to free the essence from the traps of egotistical concerns. This is the exploration of the novel. The sensitivity of readership allows us to understand the pains and suffering of humanity.

The farmers came together in some form of democracy to aid the college getting off the ground. Their acts of generosity pledged something of their sacred honor. So too, to this day, do we all in our own ways make our own contributions to the life of that college.

Perhaps it matters not so much whether one work is conventionally published to garner much attention, if it brings some questioning to the life of the college. Perhaps a simple farmer’s tale, of a kid from the surrounding hills, told with the simplicity of the countryside, not flashy or interesting enough to gain attention in a hyper marketplace, might too add to the intellectual and spiritual life of this college.

The character of those local farmers, amateurs at college-building, their names obscure to us now, we do not need to know about, nor about their particular human foibles, but that we might say that they were honest and forward-looking and sought to improve the local minds with earthly light. Nobly, they gave what they could, in accordance with their individual talents, and asked for little, if anything, in return. And so may we ourselves remember what’s important about ourselves, remembering their simple acts, the land cleared at the top of hill, making from cow pasture the earth of learning.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It would be wrong to divorce the purposes of writing with the ultimate goal of spiritual quest. Writing is a spiritual practice, an attempt to draw lessons from life so as to shed light on religious truths. Literature, professors should remember, is deep with meaning, and the ultimate seriousness of its attempts to delineate the deep mysteries deserve respect. To ponder the meaning of a poem is not a light matter, easily done overnight.

Moderners might sneer at the stuff of religion. Causes wars, one might mumble. We are too jaded to wait any longer in gardens on Easter morning expecting a risen Savior. However, the truth is that we have perfect divinity within, and it is anyone's humble duty to teach so, and this is what written works have been after since they came into being. Books as we know them. Novels, epics, poems. The modern short story.

Don Quixote brought us into the modern world of doubt and skepticism, a beautiful half-baked Christ no one in right mind would believe in, a courteous earthy disbeliever willing to suspend his disbelief by his side, as if so we could be made to laugh at ourselves in the act of belief and faith. Shakespeare, anticipating the coming rise and fall of the great empire, went in search of Buddhism in a time of political turmoil over belief's written laws. (These days we all live the beat-up life of Quixote, have our moments on the heath with Lear and clown.)

By law of symmetry an unexpected common wise-person, of real flesh and blood and no fancy story, will come out upon the stage of literature and claim again the ability to believe in that which is after all perfectly logical and healthy and all-round good. And so will the poor old wandering knight will be restored and recognized, as on the road to Emmaus, and literature itself shall be recognized as something wholesome and good for relationships and not just irrelevance.

A respect for the act of literature, be it reading, be it writing, the time has come for.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Whales are all about teeth and jaw.
They know what life can be like, happy and sad.
Out of all the great emotions to be found in the sea,
they keep quiet, avoid words, keep their mouths shut.
They make poetry with sounds.
They strain their sustenance out of the waters,
if they are of a certain kind.
The Sperm Whale uses his teeth in different fashion,
but with the same tight lip.
The sea is natural, offenses diffused in it,
equal to all its creatures, whereas on land
they are distributed less evenly,
passed down the line,
more individual things, unless of course
we're speaking of the divine.
For then it is the same,
as we have teeth and jaw.
And silence too, like the whale,
and poetry, made of sounds.