“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)
My latest notion
A website for Hannah,
like they put up for Santa
on Christmas Eve. We’d
track her soul’s holiday as, freed
from form, she strolls the universe.
Watch her atoms intersperse
with those of meteors!
Glimpse her changeless source!
In our old days, of course,
the web was bare. Likewise,
tools for such an enterprise—
that spectral radar—had yet
(have yet) to be invented.
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:
Are you looking for me?
I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
you will not find me in the stupas,
not in Indian shrine rooms,
nor in synagogues,
nor in cathedrals:
not in masses,
not in legs winding around your own neck,
nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me,
you will see me instantly —
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
Above: “Street Crossing” (1992) by the American artist George Segal (1924-2000)
Robert Pinsky’s “Genesis According to George Segal”
The Spirit brooded on the water and made
The earth, and molded us out of earth. And then
The Spirit breathed Itself into our nostrils—
And rested. What was the Spirit waiting for?
An image of Its nature, a looking glass?
Glass also made of dust, of sand and fire.
Ordinary, enigmatic, we people waiting
In the terminal. A survivor at a wire fence,
Also waiting. Behind him, a tangle of bodies
Made out of plaster, which plasterers call mud.
The apprentice hurries with a hod of mud.
Particulate sand for glass. Milled flour for bread.
What are we waiting for? The hour glass
That measures all our time in trickling dust
Is also of dust and will return to dust—
So an old poem says. Men in a bread line
Out in the dusty street are silent, waiting
At the apportioning-place of daily bread.
At an old-fashioned radio’s wooden case
A man sits listening in a wooden chair.
A woman at a butcher block waits to cut.
What are we waiting for, in clouds of dust?
Or waiting for the past, particles of being
Settled and moist with life, then brittle again.
Extra cool thing: Robert Pinsky reads this poem aloud here:
If we have ambitions—even if our aim is enlightenment— then there is no meditation, because we are thinking about it, craving it, fantasizing, imagining things. That is not meditation. This is why an important characteristic of shamatha meditation is to let go of any goal and simply sit for the sake of sitting. We breathe in and out, and we just watch that. Nothing else. It doesn’t matter if we get enlightenment or not. It doesn’t matter if our friends get enlightened faster. Who cares? We are just breathing. We just sit straight and watch the breath in and out. Nothing else. We let go of our ambitions. This includes trying to do a perfect shamatha meditation. We should get rid of even that. Just sit.
—Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
“I don’t think the political arena is where social change occurs. It follows. It always comes later. They’re just reactive—they’ve got pollsters in the White House. I mean, there’s the sole man in the Oval Office reading his polls to decide how to think. Which is great from our point of view. We do have an actor–we have just what we wanted. All we have to do is accept responsibility for the programming.” –Ram Dass
( from a 1980s debate between RD and Timothy Leary:
Journal excerpt from November 11, 2013:
….We seem to think we need “miracles” to support our faith in the eternal. But what we really seem to be asking for are NEW miracles: weird stuff we’ve never seen before, like, I don’t know, the Second Coming, or a talking cow. But how must it have felt, and how it must still feel to every child—oh, what a miracle FIRE must always seem to anyone first discovering it.