“She was learning, quite late, what many people around her appeared to have known since childhood: that life can be perfectly satisfying without major achievements.” ―Alice Munro
“The most difficult thing is, always keep your beginner’s mind. There’s no need to have a deep understanding of zen. Even though you read much zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, ‘I know what zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts. Always be a beginner.” –Shunryu Suzuki
“For the unified mind in accord with the Way all self-centered striving ceases. Doubts and irresolutions vanish and life in true faith is possible. With a single stroke we are freed from bondage; nothing clings to us and we hold nothing. All is empty, clear, self-illuminating, with no exertion of the mind’s power.” –Sengcan
(Note: In a world that empowers mere celebrity, self-effacement becomes an act of rebellion.)
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
“From Pandora’s Box, where all the ills of humanity swarmed, the Greeks drew out hope after all the others, as the most dreadful of all. I know no more stirring symbol; for, contrary to the general belief, hope equals resignation. And to live is not to resign oneself.” –Albert Camus
(painting by Addie Hirschten)
“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing”
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ― Anne Lamott
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.” –Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)
“As a student with multiple disabilities, Google looks a little differently to me.” Khalil Lake, Emerald High School, South Carolina. (2016 State and Territory “Doodle 4 Google” winner, grades 10-12)
“Right after I landed, I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue, and I had to change how I was talking. I hadn’t realized that I’d learned to talk with a weightless tongue.” –Astronaut Chris Hadfield
I haven’t written since January. I’ve spent my time, instead, on family missions. I’ve been sleeping in hotels and guest bedrooms, living for weeks in exactly two pairs of jeans, six t-shirts, one bra (I wasn’t thinking), bedroom slippers passing for shoes, and a big blue cardigan/invisibility cloak. I built makeshift nests in airports, nursing homes, hospital rooms; and feathered them with cell phone, laptop, kindle, extension cord, chargers, journal, kleenex, water, coffee, nonfat yogurt, pretzels with hummus, wint-o-green lifesavers, bubblegum. I came to know the most comfortable chairs, the quietest alcoves, the most convenient electrical outlets, the closest bathrooms. (I also learned to hold out between bathroom visits, because they entailed the complete disassembly of my nests, every time. Even as it was, five or six times every day I found myself rewinding my extension cord, re-stowing my cell phone, laptop, kindle, etc., into my Mary Poppins carpetbag and hauling it with me thither and yon. For otherwise, who knew? My whole life might get hauled away by mistake.)
I’m back now, pulled home again by love and gravity. Like Chris Hadfield (who was the first Canadian in outer space, I’ll have you know), I feel a sudden new weight in my lips and tongue. I hope you’ll forgive me, for a while, as I re-learn to talk.
“I don’t have any political opinions, I just am very curious. And it’s very interesting to listen to what people say. What’s the best way to run a country and the world? Those are really profound questions. I don’t have the confidence to say that I know one way or another. Some things I think are very conservative, or very liberal. I think when someone falls into one category for everything, I’m very suspicious. It doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have the same solution to every issue.” –Louis CK
(a rough draft from Vladimir Nabokov)
“What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure.” Samuel Johnson
If only this quote worked the other way too: “If you work really hard on a book, it’s just bound to be terrific!”
My memoir, The Myth of Solid Ground (tip: if you want to be seen as “in the know,” casually refer to it as MSG, for short), is “finished” only in the usual sense–i.e., that if I died tomorrow, I guess I wouldn’t spend all of eternity wincing in the knowledge that the last thing I ever wrote was a monstrosity. But I know there’s still an awful lot of editing to do. My most reasonable hope is that this will happen soon. (My least reasonable hope is that somehow it will happen when I’m not in the room.) In the meantime, though, I have a lot of neglected family business to attend to. (Suddenly, I have to live life instead of writing about it, and the transition’s been shaky–some days I even have to wear shoes.) I’ll keep you posted. Thanks. NJC
More and more I think of the all-importance of pattern in this world. Finding the pattern, recognizing the pattern, comparing one pattern with another, finding their common sub-patterns, ur-patterns. (Wow, I’ve never used the prefix “ur” before!) Temple Grandin talks of pattern thinkers—got a quote about it somewhere.*
Metaphor and pattern—the same thing, really, just like fable and myth and archetype. It’s all about the comparison/contrast—the only way we can “understand” anything is, first, by contrasting it with what it isn’t like, then comparing it with what it is like. The contrast must automatically come first? I think so. We have an instinct to see everything as “other” until proven otherwise (and even after that). To the extent that we feel “at home” in the world, the world has ceased to be “other” and, whether we recognize it or not, has become an integral expansion of who we already believe ourselves to be—not just where we belong, but who we are, inside our skins but also outside.
Maybe this is why we fret so much about change? All these new “othernesses” to convert into “me-nesses,” “us-nesses,” over and over again. You have to become so nimble, as if you’re crossing a river by leaping from stone to stone. You have to trust life with your life, if only because you have no other choice. (You have to trust that life knows more than you do, because–geez–how could it not?)
I keep coming back to this: the purpose of dualism. It’s a construction–yes?—only that, a pattern we ourselves—with our yes-or-no minds–impose on the universe, to give us a vocabulary, a yardstick to describe things with. This is how we can imagine opposites even to things that don’t exist, or whose existence is beyond our ability to know—things like life vs death, all vs nothing, containment vs limitlessness. (We can imagine heaven, perhaps, to the exact degree we’ve known hell?) And on and on.
*Here’s the Temple Grandin quote:
“I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers.”
And then there’s this that I just found:
And while I’m at it, why not: