A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 12 July 2008

We Are Stardust, We Are Golden

We introduce ourselves/To Planets and to Flowers/But with ourselves/Have etiquettes/Embarrassments/And awes EMILY DICKINSON

Hello? Are you looking? Can you see? Ah, there you are. And this is me. I know I must often disappoint you, as you often disappoint me. But that is a fact of life. It should not be a disappointing fact. It is just a fact of nature. That is all. If we are disappointed with each other we might as well say we are disappointed with a frog, or with the beached shards of flotsam and jetsam at the sea's edge, or with the gentle soughing of the wind in the alder trees encircling the lake. In other words, 'disappoint' is the wrong word. In this context the whole idea of 'disappointment' is the wrong idea, and a uniquely human idea.

I will put it another way. Here I am. And there you are. Yes, I am somewhere in here, and you are somewhere out there. Indisputable fact? I think you may be in a small space, perhaps in a woodpecker's hole, or in a hare's form maybe, hidden in a little resting place in the woods or the corn fields, in a small refuge scooped out and sheltered from the wind and the rain.

Or perhaps you are to be found in one of those bigger spaces, exposed in the vast nothingness or somethingness between the stars, in the interstices of thought, or somewhere out among the uncaring, ice-cold molecules of the oceans.

Wherever we are, whoever we are, we are both insignificant - from the perspective of the universe. But from another viewpoint - and everything has another viewpoint - we may possess some tiny piece of significance, some unique, pulsating, significant identifier, some beating energy pulsing at our own eccentric rate, an erratic rate unique to ourselves.

We are all frighteningly yet also comfortingly unique. We are all the product of a completely individual set of genes and influences and experiences and other unalterable circumstances. And if we can recognise this uniqueness, this potentially alienating, yet also healthy, human, natural, necessary, inevitable difference between us, and respect it, and not fear or fight or criticize or ignore or reject it, then I think we may be getting somewhere. We may even be able to embrace this unique difference which keeps us apart; indeed, in the end, it may be the very thing which binds us together.

Hello? Let's look. Let's look and see. Here am I and there are you and you and you and all of you. A million miles away, yet somewhere here inside of me too, in some peculiar, mystical, electromagnetic way. Didn't Joni Mitchell once sing about us all being stardust? And about getting ourselves back to the Garden?

Let us all bow our heads to the different gods within each one of us.



Dominic Rivron said...

Wittgenstein said: "The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for." (I've not read him - I just like the quote).

One of my favourite words is anthropocentric. We want to feel that we are, in some way, "significant", but then "significant" is only a word that we have invented to describe an attribute that is important to us.

Perhaps significance or the lack of it is (as you describe disappointment) "[a] wrong idea, and a uniquely human idea."

It can seem rather commonplace to go on about the meaning of words like this, but I think it can help us to think about what you describe as that "peculiar, mystical, electromagnetic" level of existence. Zen makes deliberate use of it.

Isn't Emily Dickinson awesome?

The Solitary Walker said...

W. also famously said, didn't he, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" and "There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical".

Meaningful language, both speech and the written word (and also facial expression, gesture, music etc, which are all kinds of "languages"), is unbelievably important, primary to the human experience, and we interpret and interact with the world through it.

But, in the above quotes, W. points to another dimension of human experience, a spiritual or mystical one, one beyond language.

But of course, as you hint, all we have is language itself in order to express, albeit inadequately, the ineffable. The mystical writers - whether it's St John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, T. S. Eliot, Rilke - all attempt this (by definition) impossible task.

And,sublimely, and paradoxically, may get quite close to their aim. But of course it remains always just out of reach. One is left in the end with speechless wonder, with Zen satori moments, with the Buddhist 'Om'.

Yes, as you say, Zen deliberately examines language as a technique to 'get beyond' language - in koans, for instance.

I think Emily Dickinson is quite wonderful. Loren Webster, in his excellent blog "In a Dark Time" (which I link to on my blogroll), has some pertinent things to say about her.