Spinozablue has new poetry, fiction and photography on tap for May. Valentina Cano, Emily Ramser, Christina Murphy and Ben Nardolilli grace this site with their poetry; Penelope Mermall with her fiction, and Eleanor Bennett with photography. Emily and Eleanor have something in common. They are both in their teens. Their work, however, along with those already mentioned on this fine May Day, combines future promise and present achievement.
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So, I’m reading The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau, and it’s kick-started all kinds of thought-trails. The book is quite good, though it lags at times when it shifts to interviews with adepts. Lags for me, because too many of the stories are similar. But, then I thought, so it is with life. We really do have similar tales to tell, when boiled down. There are patterns. Unmistakable. Our myths have patterns that echo across the world and through the centuries. Our novels have certain structures and tend toward similar evolution. Even our music, which is the most abstract of the arts, usually follows general guidelines we all know or sense.
Basically, our minds work pretty much the same way, for the most part. We process things using the same biological and chemical tools, which makes it harder for us to aggressively diverge from one another. And we all came from the same primordial soup. Responding to the same cues in relatively similar ways is logical, given that common genesis. So, why is it that we get impatient when faced with the reality of that sameness? Because we all want so badly to believe that we are at least exceptional, if not unique.
The thing is, while we do all inhabit the same circle of life, birth, growth, sickness and death . . . it is also true that there is enough dissimilarity between human beings to keep us guessing. There are surprises. There are shocks and moments when we are truly astounded. There are smiles and laughter when others cry. There are talents that seem otherworldly to us, gifts that make us think of gods and goddesses, if not monsters. And that is what makes life sweet and worth living, and the best art deals with those moments.
If the artist herself can not lay claim to those otherworldly talents, then he can certainly attempt descriptions within context — the context being the everyday, the humble, our common humanity. If they are, however, also among the elect, then their art itself is a demonstration, hopefully. Others can describe the differences later.
But, back to the book. The adepts interviewed often reached Satori or Kensho and described similar things. And what they described is also found in the writings of mystics throughout the centuries: an intensely concentrated vision of oneness with all things. In different religious and philosophical traditions, this vision has different names, but is essentially the same thing. Gods and goddesses are invoked, concepts incarnated, but the essentials remain pretty much constant. It is the instant, the moment, when one’s life, past, present and future, violently compresses into unity, and that unity absorbs and is absorbed by the all.
The only trick, really, is to have the discipline, the control, to make this happen at will. Most of us, without even the slightest desire to reach these altered states, reach them, often without realizing it. It may be at a concert, a sporting event, when we cheer along with everyone in elation, and hug perfect strangers in a moment of no-self. It may be the shock of seeing a newborn foal, the giddiness of witnessing an animal’s birth, and again, leaving our own self behind for an instant of joy. It may also be the sight of some glorious sunset over the sea, something no postcard could capture, or the connection made with a song, a poem, a painting, the eyes, the gait of a stranger . . .
There is a pattern behind the patterns, of course. We live in joy most often when we lose ourselves. We live and love with abandon most often when we leave our egos behind. Any art, religion, philosophy or politics that teaches this or enables this . . . is worth its weight in gold.