Today At Meetingbrook

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Snow is white whale.

The westering sun
Flares in the willow silk;
The river meanders far off
From the hushed pavilion.
Who, after parting,
Will comfort the weary traveler?
There is only spring wind rising
Where the road forks.

- Chiao-jan (730-799)

Snow dominates mountains and flattens concave bowl between. No chasing nor finishing this fish. He swims the slender valley into Hosmer Pond without touching water. Plows push him thither, yon, and laughably scar small segments of skin.

J.D. McClatchy says that Herman Melville made $556.37 in his lifetime from his novel Moby Dick.

"While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them by what name a whale-fish is to be called in our tongue leaving out, through ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh the signification of the word, you deliver that which is not true." (--HACKLUYT, in Moby Dick -- or The Whale, by Herman Melville, ETYMOLOGY.)

In prison yesterday we conversed the struggle of learning. We pondered a quote Jacob Bronowski used in The Ascent of Man, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." (quoting Oliver Cromwell, English general & politician, 1599 - 1658). Charlie and Michael are struggling to reframe their thoughts as representatives of the NAACP chapter so to negotiate through institutional seas. Greg, Saskia, and I joined them in Bronowski's meditation at Auschwitz.

In the chapter "Knowledge or Certainty" Bronowski says:
"I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died at Auschwitz, to stand here by the pond as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people." (in the 1973 BBC series "The Ascent of Man,")

Certainty stops thinking. Knowledge continuously explores possibilities. We spoke of the need for continual compassionate invitation of those in institutional power to actively engage those seeking to learn. Charlie said, "What I hear is that although we might not be compatible, we can be compassionate."

"If you should write a fable for little fishes, you would make them speak like great wales." --GOLDSMITH TO JOHNSON. in Moby Dick -- or The Whale, by Herman Melville, EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian).

The fable takes place in a Warren pond, with pods for men who've learned to kill. They too know snow. They are in the belly of snow. Melville and Ishmael strain to see the sea as it is, and find a way to swim away with mind and heart, life and limb, still intact.

There is no in or out. Both inmate and outmate undergo snow storm. Does each settle into separate sea? Or are we mates all? No longer in thrall -- but, partnering through a squall?

White wale -- can we faintly hear "Thar she blows!"?
["Wale" = One of the heavy planks or strakes extending along the sides of a wooden ship. Or, A mark raised on the skin, as by a whip; a weal or welt. American Heritage Dictionary]

It is a conceit to note snow, prison, concentration camp, and learning -- alongside one another.

The mistakes we make and the mistaken responses taken as result are often twisted like ropes securing us to uncertain and submerged consequences.

Snow covers everything this late winter Saturday.

Spring, they say, soon will surface.

Snow will swim to deeper place.

Water waits under all.

Retrieve "H" -- add to "elp", "oly", "ospitality", and "eaven"

We have to touch people.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The question Gale poses at the end of her new book is a good place to begin. She asks:

and
what
is

BEYOND
our
Universe,

our
Matrix
of
light?

(- Gale Albury)

If we would learn to live in this contemporary existence, we would do well to dwell awhile within this question. "What Is" is our meditation -- our inquiry, our beginning, our dwelling place, and our destination.

Looking for Immortals

At the stream’s source,
The path leads on
To gray cliffs.

Everywhere,
Among blossoming apricot trees,
Dwell immortals.

A hermit says,
“More can be found
on West Peak,

and two or three
have their home
in the clouds.”

- Chang chi (776-829)

These immortals are about us everywhere. They sit where they are, reading this. They stand to get water. They ask, "Am I an immortal?" They turn around to see if anyone else has heard them ask. They leave their house, walk across sun-bright ground-snow, and wander off into their day.

Gale has written in Memories of MU:
Once we sang to each other empathically. Once we had no names, no identities, and yet we knew each other intimately. Once we understood each others' hearts, thoughts, and emotions.

Identity was not important to us back then. We were individual; autonomous. We worked singularly and together. Our awareness' were at times singular and at times collective. All experiences were revelations. We reveled in the sights, sounds, and smells of Earth. She filled our senses to overflowing and we beamed in our happiness.

So, identity being so unimportant, we focused our attention all around us, watching carefully to see where and when our energies were needed. Our experience came from the end results of the energy influences around us. We lived to enhance the life of Mother Earth.

(from Memories of MU, By Gale Albury, c.2004, TEA Printers and Publishers, Rockland, Maine)

As spring tarries weaving her way toward Bald Mountain, chickadee, nuthatch, bluejay, and mourning dove, come for seed over deep snow through clear sunlight.

Our Matrix --
["A surrounding substance within which something else originates, develops, or is contained. The womb." (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)]

Of light.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Self and society," wrote Charles Horton Cooley, "are twin-born."

Why are hermits so few? Even those who are hermits -- why are they so suspect?

As Sherlock Holmes would say, "It is simplicity itself." (Umberto Eco points out that nowhere in the corpus of Arthur Conan Doyle is the phrase "It's elementary!" used.)

Hermits hide from mankind
Most go to the mountains to sleep
Where green vines wind through woods
And jade gorges echo unbroken
Higher and higher enraptured
On and on simply free
Free of what stains the world
Minds pure like the white lotus

- Han shan

While enjoying a measure of solitude and slow return to better health I read a play written by someone who attends conversations at the shop. It speaks of unfamiliar knowledge about history, money, power, and those who know the seldom explicated rule of how the world is negotiated and those who do it well generations apace.

That doesn't happen in this hermitage. Here, this morning, wind rattles bellchime out barnside window, nuthatch lands on screen to drink from icicle hanging in sunlight from gutter above dooryard window, and, I don't care if I ever emerge from seclusion into a more socially understandable set of occurrences. Here the world is not negotiated -- the world is seen as a river might be seen following its impulse, flowing past a hollow from which mere watchfulness blesses with noting attention what is passing enroute elsewhere.

The hermit, in this hollow, can only marvel at the breadth and enormous diversity that passes on each floe toward the far sea. Everything, in time, will reach the sea. No need board any passing ice-floe to ride the length of passage. The hermit does not make the overt trip -- he retains the hollow as his dwelling.

"Self and society," wrote Cooley, "are twin-born." This emphasis on the organic link and the indissoluble connection between self and society is the theme of most of Cooley's writings and remains the crucial contribution he made to modern social psychology and sociology.

Cooley argued that a person's self grows out of a person's commerce with others. "The social origin of his life comes by the pathway of intercourse with other persons." The self, to Cooley, is not first individual and then social; it arises dialectically through communication. One's consciousness of himself is a reflection of the ideas about himself that he attributes to other minds; thus, there can be no isolated selves. "There is no sense of 'I' without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they. (-- Charles Horton Cooley, 1864-1929)
http://www.bolender.com/Sociological%20Theory/Cooley,%20Charles%20Horton/
cooley,_charles_horton.htm

There are no isolated selves. Whether rushing headlong across some track of chosen commerce, or nestling quietly in watchful stillness -- no one is separate from another. It is noteworthy that our common experience is separation. The world of appearance seems to yield feelings of distinct and isolated existence in the world even though we exist alongside each other and engage in efforts to bridge the distance and make inroads for intimacy and community.

The hermit learns midwifery. What comes into being via hermit ministration is a new incarnation of that which is twin-born. Self and society reflect one another. What the maieutic hermit allows to emerge is a beginning embodiment that is itself a reflecting place. When we think of a reflecting place we imagine a mirror, or plate glass into which we gaze and receive back what has been given there. The hermit, as reflecting place, is not that type of image-throwing object.

The hermit is the looking-place. The hermit, watching from itself, lets pass through the singularity of each being there. Nothing is thrown back; nothing is held back. Nor is there any subject/object dispersion. Rather, the looking-place which is the hermit resembles no notion we know. Conceive, if you will, a looking-place wherein there is no looking out nor any looking in -- instead, there is only looking-itself. Looking "as" replaces looking "at."

Charles Horton Cooley said, "The mind is not a hermit's cell, but a place of hospitality and intercourse."

This is the mind of the hermit. Arrivals and departures are noted well. The hermit's mind is what is passing through this.

This. And this. Even, this.

There...is no place to go.

This is why I am staying here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Mind...World -- not two things.

If one would attain the perfection of purity,
One must purify one’s mind.
As one’s mind is purified,
So the buddha-land is purified.

- Vimalakirti Sutra

If you want to know the condition of the world, look at the condition of your mind.

Tonight in Maine howling wind, snow, and ice. A raw raging emptiness as winter nears end.

There is no saving the world. There is only clearing one's mind. When mind becomes clear, world becomes transparent.

Are we clear about this?

Willing to see this world...through?

Monday, March 07, 2005

If we wake from a bad dream, will we be willing to soon dream again?

"There is a quick reliance on the use of lethal force." That's what the man in Seattle said on the News Hour tonight about military fire at checkpoints in Iraq.

Here's the thing about this war in Iraq -- the United States military have taken to themselves the power over lives of anybody at any time in any place in that unfortunate country. It's a heady power. It is often described as arrogance, the same arrogance rife within the American administration. It reminds one of an old and antiquated notion held about God.

In my dream I saw
The spring wind gently shaking
Blossoms from a tree;
And even now, though I’m awake,
There’s motion, trembling in my chest.

- Saigyo (1118-1190)

We must wake up. We must enter a new understanding of dream.

The God of arrogant absolute power is a notion of deity falling into decay. So too, the behavior of nations -- whether in the name of dictatorship, democracy, or demagoguery -- is decadent remnant of a theological position. That position claims that whatever is done in the name of good is permissible; whatever undertaken in the name of God is right. God and good are co-opted. So now there is a choice: rehabilitate a decaying notion of God and attempt to convert believers in a corrupt interpretation to a more humane view of human existence; or allow the deterioration of a self-destructive concept of God and state to collapse under its own instability and concentrate energy on creating a new experience of human life and moral agency based on a more foundational reliance on ontological and existential ground.

Would it be too radical an experience to let all concepts and notions of God go? And turn instead to open encounter with the reality of what-is? This encounter would be completely reliant on direct intuitive experience of what is actually there, unencumbered by interpretative theological formula, yet open to careful scrutiny and intelligent investigation. Let's not call this view the substitution of theology with science. Let's think of it as a dreaming poetry of illuminative intuitive seeing.

At one moment in Identitat und Differenz --unique, so far as I am aware, in Heidegger's whole writings --the master concedes with brusque humor that the ontological quest, the attempt to separate Being from beings, is a sort of futile game, a circular catch-as-catch-can. Even this, of course, would not necessarily mean that the game had not been worth playing, that it did not engage the most bracing and ennobling of human impulses. But it would be a bleak tally.
There can, however, be another approach to the tautological core of Martin Heidegger's philosophy of Being. Sein ist Sein and the rejection of paraphrase or logical exposition have their exact precedent in the ontological finality of theology. Formally, as we have seen, they are the absolute equivalent to the Self-utterance and Self-definition of the Deity -- I am that which I am -- and to the refusal, as complete in Kant as it is in the Old Testament itself, to anatomize, to decompose analytically the transcendent oneness of the divine. Heidegger is determined to think outside theology. He insists that his fundamental ontology is extratheological, that it has absolutely nothing to tell us, either way, of the existence or attributes of God. It is, however, my own experience that Heidegger's paradigm and expression of Being, of the ontological cut between Being and beings, adapts at almost every point to the substitution of "God" for the term Sein. This does not prove that such substitution is latent in Heidegger's design. He would repudiate it. But it does mean, to this reader at least, that the philosophy, the sociology, the poetics and, at some opaque level, the politics of Heidegger embody and articulate an "after," or "post-theology."

(pp.155-6, in Martin Heidegger, by George Steiner)

Perhaps the usurpation of deity is a common flaw of human ambition. It is misdirection to 'myself' what belongs only to 'itself.' Appropriating power is the beginning of the illusion of ownership. Whole swathes of men periodically fall into the desolating crevice of false accomplishment thinking they are on the brink of ambitious success. Their fall is far and fierce, trailing behind them tears and sorrow of many who thought them great. The grief of nations is predicated on the foolish arrogance of unrestrained ideologues and messiahs. What we need is something more ordinary. We need poets and artists, musicians and craftspeople, thinkers and generous bestowers of hospitality. We need powerful dreamers -- not dreams of power.

Dreams of spring blossoms.

A heart-felt experience.

Something that is itself.

Well within itself.

Call this into Being.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

We need facts more than faith. More than facts or faith, we need a deeper spirituality of question.

It is time to uncover the mind. Faith has often been used as a cover over the mind. This must change.

If we want to throw open the road ahead,
We must first push down the wall that's facing us.
What wall is this?
The wall is in our minds.
If our minds are not covered over,
Then all affairs are open to investigation.
When our intent has been made genuine,
Then our minds are broad and
Our bodies are at ease.

- Hong Yuan (~1533)

For several thousand years we still are not certain what "mind" is and what it does. The Greek pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras lived c. 500 BCE; c. 480-79 BCE. He focused on mind (in Greek, Nous).
We see, then, that the differences which exist in the world as we know it are to be explained by the varying proportions in which the portions are mingled. 'Everything is called that of which it has most in it', though, as a matter of fact, it has everything in it. Snow, for instance, is black as well as white, but we call it white because the white so far exceeds the black. As was natural, the 'things' Anaxagoras chiefly thought of as contained in each 'seed' were the traditional opposites, hot and cold, wet and dry, and so forth. It is of these he is expressly speaking when he says that 'the things in one world are not cut off from one another with a hatchet' (fr. 8). Empedocles had made each of these four opposites a 'root' by itself; each of the 'seeds' of Anaxagoras contains them all. In this way he thought he could explain nutrition and growth; for it is clear that the product of a number of 'seeds' might present quite a different proportion of the opposites than any one of them if they were taken severally.

The other problem, that of the source of motion, still remains. How are we to pass from the state of the world when all things were together to the manifold reality we know? Like Empedocles, Anaxagoras looked to the microcosm for a suggestion as to the source of motion, but he found one such source sufficient for his purpose. He called it Mind (nous) -- pure, passionless reason. It is the source of motion as well as of knowledge in us. He did not, however, succeed in forming the conception of an incorporeal force. Mind, as the cause of motion, is a sort of 'fluid'. It is 'the thinnest of all things' (fr. 12), and, above all, it is 'unmixed', that is to say, it has no portions of other things in it, and this is what gives it the 'mastery', that is, the power both of knowing and of moving other things. Further, it enters into some things and not into others, and that explains the distinction between the animate and the inanimate. At first the seeds lay mingled without order; but nous set the unarranged matter into motion, and thereby created out of chaos an orderly world. The way in which it separates and orders things is by producing a rotatory motion, which begins at the center and spreads further and further. That is really all Anaxagoras had to say about it. Like a true Ionian he tried to give a mechanical explanation of everything he could, and, when once he had got the rotatory motion started, he could leave that to order the rest of the world.
(from The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/a/anaxagor.htm)

It leads to the question: Does each thing have a mind of its own? In addition, does freedom and truth have to do with the ability to see through one's mind the reality appearing before us, and to act with an engaged integrity with it?

Anaxagoras accepts Parmenides' view that what is, or Being, neither comes into being nor passes out of being. Like Empedocles, Anaxagoras holds that becoming is the result of the combining and separation of imperishable elements. He says in Fr. 17:

"The Hellenes follow a wrong usage in speaking of coming into being and passing away; for nothing comes into being or passes away, but there is mingling and separation of things that are. So they would be right to call coming into being mixture, and passing away separation." (Fr. 17)

What appears to be the coming into being and passing away of things is really only the mixture and separation of "things that are," eternal, unchanging elements. Although no statement to this effect is found in the fragments, probably Anaxagoras rejects that idea that nothing can exist, so that there can be no void or empty space.

http://www.abu.nb.ca/Courses/GrPhil/Anaxagoras.htm

We come together and we go apart. This mixture and separation, repeated regularly, fashions and transforms the landscape of human experience. It is a constant flow through Being into Becoming -- over and over again.

In effect, nothing changes.

We can write Sein: Nichts, says Heidegger. But this question is not negative. The Nichts is not nihil. Nothingness is not negation of Being. The very word teaches us that: no-thing-ness signifies a presentness, an existential "thereness" which is not naively enclosed in or circumscribed by any particular extant, specific object. "Das Nichten des Nichts 'ist' das Sein": "the negation of nothingness 'is' Being."
(p.154, Steiner)

We are what we are.

Because Heidegger has been among us, the notion that the asking of questions is the supreme piety of the spirit, and the uncanny idea that abstract thought is man's pre-eminent excellence and burdon have been affirmed.
(p.157, in Martin Heidegger, by George Steiner)

So we ask, again and again: What are we? Who are we? What are we meant to be doing in the world?

We need facts more than faith.

More than facts or faith, we need to question deeply the profound.

For, if we enter the profound with a spirituality of question, something mysterious occurs.

The mystery that occurs is the transformation of the presenting question into seeing presence.

Seeing...Presence!

No other...Nothing more.