Form is Emptiness. Emptiness is Form

Spinozablue welcomes the poetry of Virginie Colline, Hilary Sideris, Changming Yuan, Kenneth Pobo, Joan McNerney, and the fiction of Shanna Perplies.

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A tip of the hat goes to nnyhav for the link to Tim Parks’ excellent article in the New York Review of Books, The Chattering Mind. While most of the article is about modern literature, there is a section on the Buddhist quest to still the mind which I found brilliantly concise and relevant to past and future discussions here. The entire article being relevant, of course . . . .

Sitting for ten days on a cushion, eyes closed, cross-legged, seeking to empty your mind of words, it’s all too evident how obsessively the mind seeks to construct self-narrative, how ready it is to take interest in its own pain, to congratulate itself on the fertility of its reflection. That chattersome voice will even be pleased with its progressively more elaborate analyses of how difficult it is to quiet the mind and empty it of the very reflections it is making. But alas, you cannot sit cross-legged without pain unless you learn to relax your body very deeply. And, as neuroscience has recently confirmed, when the mind churns words, the body tenses. As if in a laboratory one is obliged to experiment the perils and pleasures of what the Buddha called the second arrow, the mind that brings energy to its own pain.

On the way home from work the other night, I listened to the radio and caught an extended instrumental embedded in a rock song. I forced myself to listen to nothing but the music as a whole and the notes making up that music. No words. No commentary. No language. I wouldn’t let them in. This heightened the beauty of the work for me and would have been sustainable if not for the vocals that finally kicked in.

I had never heard the song before, or the band, and that may be why I can not remember the names for either right now. Though because I forced out language, I also forced out names. Both may have worked in conjunction to rob me of memory and gift me with its absence.

Could I have emptied the auditory moment of words, if I had known the song or the band? It would have been far more difficult, because I would have heard more than the song. My listening would have been layered with all the associations already in the mind, all of the images that song provoked, all of the places it took me, along with the layers of opinions of this or that layer or opinion. Folding in on itself, unfolding, multiplied, extended, repeated – what would I have heard? That moment’s song or a thousand moments before and after?

Afterwards, commentary kicked in. The music was a strange mix of CSNY, ELP and King Crimson. A jam band, turning the focus over to individual instruments, one at a time, in waves — organ, guitar, bass and drums — in swelling crescendos and spontaneous bursts of energy. I placed it in the 70s. I placed it in a bygone era.

Why do I seek emptiness in form? It is not fear of mortality. It is the hope that I can strengthen muscles and someday control the jar of life. Not that jar in Tennessee. Mine is everywhere and nowhere.


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