Thursday, September 5, 2013

If I were to swim for misery

If I were to swim
for misery in the sea
would it be less
than for bliss?
Each wave marked
with its own beginning
and end, I would skim
only the thinnest
taperings, not
the expanse, the ever
out and down, the bottomless
dive, the somersault
in velvet black. If
where waves end
were always it
right where sea
dissolves in sand
where the smallest
life invisibly thrives,
if I championed loss
crawling and crabbing
along the ever diminishing
feed — if this were all
I had, would it then
be misery?


  1. Misery or bliss? Intriguing premise. Each of our voyages might start with one or the other state of mind, but what we choose to notice makes all the difference.

  2. This poem, which I'm afraid is much too strange and difficult, is the best I could do to get at something on my mind these days: What if, rather than hoping for happiness, waiting for a better this or a better that, we were to explore whatever state we have? Not wait for it to go, but find what might be good, or useful, or even beautiful in it? This was prompted by a reading in Osho, I must attribute credit to him.

  3. No, no, Ruth, don't explain; do not apologize for making us think. "Strange and difficult" is/are good in a poem (and who among us can say for certain what is strange truly and what difficult?). Though I do not believe that you would skim only the thinnest taperings--you are all for the depths. This hits me, now, in a place of exploration also, though I have been reading the yogis-- Iyengar and Patanjali (via Swami Satchidananda) and Max Strom--each of them says, in his own way, that now is where we are and where we must be, whatever the conditions. And there is Zen, and Rilke and Rumi so much now swirling around the head like your sea waves and no time to properly think it out much less explain it or comment upon it. "Bliss" is not necessarily happiness, but it can exist in even the smallest irritation (the grain of sand in the oyster, for example); misery a silent presence --the two define each other, each necessary for the other to exist...hopeless. I'm sorry. It is a beautiful poem and it does make sense. Thank you.

    1. There is a lot in what you say (now don't you apologize). This is hard for me to get my head around, and why it was a difficult poem for me. Yes, it can exist in even the smallest irritation... that grain of sand being a good example. The part of my poem about skimming the thinnest parts, what I mean to say is skimming the thinnest parts for their depths. If we don't have the whole sea, though we want it, now is where we are and where we must be, whatever the conditions. And so, exploring the very stuff we would rather avoid, not glossing over it as if something better is coming along imminently, but truly examining it for its characteristics, finding the bottomly joy even in sadness. I remember when Inge was in chemo for breast cancer, and she said that somehow it was the most connected time of her life. She stopped resisting fear and sadness, and just accepted them. Then she didn't feel so sad! Maybe this is what bliss is, yes.

      Much love to you, DS. I am so so happy to have you "back."

  4. i especially love the opening four lines and closing five lines and like ds i think there is so very little to explain and certainly nothing to apologize for. for me the poem is clear and important in relation to work we need to do to reach a paradigm shift.

    when did we develop the luxury and reservoir of time to look toward happiness as an arrival point? this must be a modern development. it must be. i would love to find an historical study on it.

    what can i say? i want to begin speaking and not stop. we ask so many questions of ourselves, like how do we achieve happiness, before we even understand what it is to be human?

    can i tell you a story instead, perhaps a story i have already told you? when i was leaving my first husband he was so incredibly wounded and absolutely wounded by me. and so i was wounded. i had caused this pain. he was uncontrollably overwhelmed with pain. he wanted to escape it. i can understand why. and i was overwhelmed with pain and responsibility. but a gift came to me and i don't know where from. i heard both he and myself inside the tremendous pain and i said to myself gently, wear this pain, be inside of it. it will be one of the most important times of your life. bear it. it was a beautiful place, humbling, excruciating. i love that time.

    i think i would be very sad if we were, in fact, here for happiness. what a wealth of living we would lose. i think of swimming in the sea in misery and how poignant that might be. am i mad? i almost mourn my happiness that i can not do this right now. but i smile. i know the opportunity exists around the corner:)


    1. Erin, I love you.

      I would like to know this history too. Of course it must still exist, this lack of seeking happiness, in non-Western places, well and even in them I am guessing. I am sad that in some non-Western places many seek "what we have in the West" but what is it they seek? Of course material comfort is something to be grateful for (very), but what of those other things that shine but do not glow?

      O Erin your story. Do you see? Where it came from is inside of you. This is the beautiful precision of the whole exercise. Just what that voice in you said: gently, wear this pain, be inside of it. it will be one of the most important times of your life. bear it. We believe misery is the opposite of bliss, but as DS wrote, the two define each other, each necessary for the other to exist. This is what Rumi taught me, keeps teaching me. Feel what comes, then feel its seemingly opposing force follow. Be a fool, you will feel your own foolishness as you see misery come when you thought life was only happiness, so feel it, be it. The joy and delight is still there in the donkey kicking, trying to get away from discomfort.

      This morning — this morning, looking for something for *small* !! — I read this from Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, one of the texts I feel is both in the thinnest taperings (garlic and sapphires in the mud) and in the deep velvet black. This from East Coker:

      You say I am repeating
      Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
      Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
      To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
      You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
      In order to arrive at what you do not know
      You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
      In order to possess what you do not possess
      You must go by the way of dispossession.
      In order to arrive at what you are not
      You must go through the way in which you are not.
      And what you do not know is the only thing you know
      And what you own is what you do not own
      And where you are is where you are not.

      If you are mad, my friend, then I am also mad. It is not only the miseries of the world that have worn us thin in their abundance, it is the ecstasies too, and I would rather sit in the wilderness alone without them than in the marketplace with them.

      But I would really rather sit and talk with you, DS, and my other dear friends who look for this quiet, almost silent, beautiful, humbling, excruciating place.

  5. I am reminded of Diana Nyad, 64 years old, who swam those 110 miles from Cuba to Florida, the first person ever without a shark's cage around her. My guess is that in that accomplishment she totally personifies the misery and bliss of your thought, Ruth...not that we needed another anecdote!

    1. Boots, what a person, what inspiration and fortitude. To watch her speak after the event, lips and face swollen, body weary, utterly spent, but to see such bliss in her accomplishment, it is a stirring example of human capacity.

  6. A wise and fascinating exchange we have here. And another kind of correspondence — what you say in your poem so beautifully and profoundly, I tried to say much more prosaically in a recent post:

    1. Robert, I love how you are walking through the intricate terrain of daily life in your writings. So right, we live in a state of what we think will come, what we want, something other, something else, when what we have is what we have, and we must use our great minds and hearts (we all have them, we do, and like Erin, we have voices within that will save us) to strip away delusions, illusions, and all of society's lies, and examine these very realities that populate our existence. Very wise people have said that unhappiness comes from resistance. How might we gather what is into fold upon fold of possibility? It is exciting beyond what I can conceive.

    2. "Very wise people have said that unhappiness comes from resistance. How might we gather what is into fold upon fold of possibility? It is exciting beyond what I can conceive."

      I find it exciting too — this paradigm shift, as Erin calls it.

  7. I just read this from Kant: "Happiness is nor an ideal of reason but of imagination."

  8. That's "not" not "nor" — and I read it over twice! (Wrong glasses again.)

  9. Yesterday I read this and dared to dream. After learning about the many ways new tech-wealthy young people are mindlessly transforming their communities for the worse, this comes, and I imagine ... not happiness exactly, but mindfulness in society.

    Google seeks out wisdom of zen master Thich Nhat Hanh

    1. A pertinent quote from this article:

      "Pointing to our addiction to consumption as a clear sign we are trying to paper over our suffering, Thay suggests we should go in the opposite direction, to the very heart of our pain, in order to transcend it."

    2. Ah, yes, mindfulness in the workplace. If only! However, this is a start.

      I know so many people in London who are competing, striving, working harder than ever though, in order to hang on to their jobs, to impress their CEOs, to make their laborious way up the greasy pole. They work until well into the evening, bring work home, and get back to work very early next morning. Some are working for nothing, to show commitment and gain experience, as jobs are so competitive — a lamentable situation.

    3. Of course these times have pushed us all into a realm of worry, if not hysteria. I have a friend in Lisbon who worries every day about losing his job. I don't want to live in this kind of worry.

      When I read and re-read the article about Thay, I check myself, check my inclination to distrust anything so grandiose. Will my own disbelief and skepticism hinder this potential momentum? Who am I to believe that culture can't change?

      And isn't this, this very dilemma, another example of what we must keep examining? My skepticism balance with hope, these very thin taperings must have great life in them. I don't want to throw them out!

  10. Another passage:

    Thay talks of the importance of developing the art of aimlessness, rather than the non-stop creation of more projects.

    "People believe that happiness is in the future and the point of aimlessness is to stop running and find happiness in the here and the now," he says.

    "True happiness cannot be without peace. If you continue to run, how can you have peace and you run in your dreams also. That is our civilisation.

    "We have to reverse this trend. We have to go back to ourselves, to our beloved ones, to nature, because electronic devices help us to run away from ourselves. We lose ourselves in the internet, business, projects and we have no time to be with ourselves. We do not have the time to take care of our beloved ones and do not allow Mother Earth to heal us. We are running away from self, family and nature."

    1. I agree with all of it, believe totally that what he says is right.

  11. Ruth: i come late to this post and really have nothing to add except assent to the beautiful and important exchange that has already happened here ... i write these words only so that i might sit in the wilderness away from the marketplace with you and erin and ds and robert and touch your shoulders and say yes, that is it, yes :-)


    1. If I were not trying to be quiet in this wilderness with you and the others, James, I would be jumping up and down, hollering yeses and other yelps of excitement. I hope that's OK. :)

  12. Indeed, it is hard to get one's head around the notion of exploring "whatever state we have," as if it were worth the effort. To say the least, the testimony above encourages me that mindfulness is where it is at. We need not swim away from our misery.

    Thank you, Ruth, for your "strange and difficult" poetic affirmation, for your courage to be where you "now must be."

    1. Nelson, it is impossible for me to say how much that Aro meditation I sent you was in my head when I wrote this. There have been so many signposts in the last ... how long? As you and I discuss our realities, our histories .. as we proliferate questions (but few answers), we examine like scientists what we feel, what we believe, our assumptions, our false notions.The longer I live the more I see that answers and solutions are rare and perhaps not the necessary end. Rather, it is the looking that matters. In the looking there is fullness, and wonder, if we can sustain a sense of peace even when answers and solutions don't come. I love you.

  13. What a wonderful exploration here! I am supposed to be on a self-imposed "sabbatical" but ended up at your place :) - couldn't resist checking blog. Am glad for your clarification and expansion of your meaning, although apologies are certainly not necessary! I find all of life experience is an ever-unfolding clarification and expansion...

    My mind is rather on hold at the moment, so can't really "engage" but just wanted to say Yes! to all the wonderful insights that are being shared here.

    What comes at the moment to say is that Buddhist and Hindu teachings, at least the ones I'm familiar with, say we "suffer" because we do not remember the Truth of who we really are - our Infinite Beingness. And somehow in the West we think to "know"/experience this Beingness is arrogance... Buddhist teachings also say there is a difference between being in pain and "suffering" - that "suffering" is really a state of mind when we *think* that what is happening *should not* be happening. (You mentioned this I think - I read quickly :). But when we "swim *with* the misery" - i.e. be present to it - it loses some of its sting, because our perception of it changes. Maybe like what you said Inge experienced... The "suffering" actually allows us to connect more deeply to the Truth of who we are... But I'm still taking my pain meds! :) And I agree, I do not think the "goal" is to be "happy"/happiness - but Awareness of the deep and abiding Presence of Infinite Being that we are that *allows* everything, allows all the waves in the Eternal Ocean, no matter how our minds perceive them But then again I'm a mystic, and love direct experience... :)

    1. And now it's your turn, Christine, to get please don't apologize. Everything you wrote is lucid and helpful. I connect with it all, and swimming with the misery seems especially meaningful. Swimming in it sends the wrong message somehow, even though it could be the same idea. It is about flow, I think, stepping into what is and not resisting it (yes). For me there are days when I don't feel it, and other days I do. I felt such ecstasy yesterday, for instance. But on the days when the feeling is melancholy, even misery, to pay attention to it, to love it even, and by love I mean give attention and even fondness (sounds crazy), because of what it has to offer. It is about humility, I think. It is saying to life: You are just fine. Thank you. I can work with you.

      Wishing you a meaningful sabbatical, Christine.

    2. Yes! Not crazy :) Goosebumps with your response... It is my experience as well, learning to say yes to life no matter how it is. That has been a biggy. And I also experience the Flow and then not - even on this little "sabbatical" - where I'm consciously paying attention.

      With gratitude - now back to the Silence....

  14. as always your poems give me chills and enjoyed reading everyone's comment on it.

    1. Thank you, Liz. This whole process is thrilling to me. The poem in some way is not important, in its form, but if it communicates anything of what we're getting at and has prompted (or enabled) this conversation (and your chills even!), that is good. I am exhilarated.

  15. i sit low in the branches of the forest you are hopping and hurrahing in and i smile. i think i know exactly the rise you jump upon high into the air:)))

    how grateful i am to everyone for this exchange)))

    i say a couple things foggy with the morning yet before i forget them. to go with the flow is not to cause less resistance and therefore less pain, more happiness, but to cause less resistance and thereby identify and be with the pure pain, rather than being with the pain of resistance. i think this is important otherwise we might get turned and torqued and in language lose our way toward the pain again. we are cunning. our bodies and our body's repercussions will choose less pain if we allow them that path. we are ourselves like our own children and our own parents.

    i read the comments here and feel an idea inside me which is not willing to become a full idea but instead calls me into my chest to watch a small movie. it is of a man i once saw on Union Island in the Grenadines making gravel, pounding one rock against another under a small and rudimentary thatched roof. one rock against another. what did he accomplish? when would his job be done? we are that man every day in determining what it is to be human. how might we then become preoccupied with things like happiness, success, progress? no, no. wake up again and sit beneath the thatched roof and pound one rock against the other. every day. this is our work.

    when i happened by him i was thirsty. i was walking many miles without water, something i set out to do every day, with one stop along the way. but that day when i stopped i could not drink. the woman who sold cola from her bedroom drawers had her rudimentary shop closed. the man making gravel gave me a bite of his ice that was wrapped in newspaper in a tree. i remember how the ice felt between my teeth and what grace it was to have such bounty. i became very ill from parasites in the ice and was put in hospital. this becomes another story. i nearly died. how lucky i was for the man sharing with me. how lucky i was for almost dying. you can't imagine the breadth of beauty from that time. this too is our work, to share our ice regardless of the outcome. (this story takes my breath away now in its significance twenty years later. i still sit with this story and pound one rock against the other learning.)

    the paradigm shift means more than moving away from happiness, or success as we now define it, or consumerism, the blunted narcotic. it is about deriving meaning from a possibly meaningless existence. yes, let's dare to go that far. let's dare to imagine no god, no meaning, just us here now. let's say biology is complete. we can only allow there is god and meaning once we have imagined there is not and learned to truly live inside this. (i am only trying.)

    i have a poem i read yesterday and have been thinking on in regards to james's and my children's futures. i'll bring it in another comment:)

    1. O yes. Yes, yes and again yes. It is not to escape pain, but to identify and be with the pure pain. Every ounce of me vibrates in echoing agreement with what you've written.

      Your story of the rock man ... let me live with this for ages and know you in your simple depths. Simple as in uncomplicated; depths as in miraculously complex.

      Thank you.

  16. perhaps slightly aside topic, but a part of the analysis on how to live a good life, jack gilbert's:


    So I come on this birthday at last
    here in the house of strangers.
    With a broken pair of shoes,
    no profession, and a few poems.
    After all that promise.
    Not by addiction or play, by choices.
    By concern for whales and love,
    for elephants and Alcibiades.
    But to arrive at so little product.
    A few corners done,
    an arcade up but unfaced,
    and everywhere the ambitious
    unfinished monuments to Myshkin
    and magnitude Like persisting
    on the arrogant steeple of Beauvais.

    I wake in Trastavere
    in the house of city-peasants,
    and lie in the noise dreaming
    of the wealth of summer nights
    from my childhood when the dark
    was sixty feet deep in luxury,
    of elm and maple and sycamore.
    I wandered hour by hour
    with my gentle, bewildered need,
    following the faint sound
    of women in the moving leaves.

    In Latium, years ago,
    I sat by the road watching
    an ox come through the day.
    Stark-white in the distance.
    Occasionally under a tree.
    Colorless in the heavy sun.
    Suave in the bright shadows.
    Starch-white near in the glare.
    Petal-white near in the shade.
    Linen, stone-white, and milk.
    Ox-white before me, and past
    into the thunder of light.

    For ten years I have tried
    to understand about the ox.
    About the sound. The whales.
    Of love. And arrived here
    to give thanks for the profit.
    I wake to the wanton freshness.
    To the arriving and leaving. To the journey.
    I wake to the freshness. And do reverence.

    1. We talk about success and accomplishment. What more shall we want than what is given here by Gilbert? The pursuit of understanding, even of the fifty shades of the white of an ox. My god. To greet every new day, like this.

  17. "We can only allow there is god and meaning once we have imagined there is not and learned to truly live inside this." I enjoyed your comment, Erin, and am excited by this idea. I also liked the Jack Gilbert poem very much.

    1. I am in complete agreement with you about Erin's comment, especially that paragraph about god and meaning. If life can be imagined, why not in this way? I don't know what it means ... quite yet, but all within me says yes.

  18. Before I return to respond to Erin's and Roberts new thoughts, I want to share a video creation of Chief Seattle's response to the U.S. government's demand for two million acres of land in the northwestern U.S. in 1854. It is 9 and a half minutes. It represents a thriving and vibrant example of what this posting is getting at:

    Chief Seattle's Response

    From the speech:

    But why should I mourn the untimely fate of my people. Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. . . . Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with the memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.

  19. Erin: yes!! But the trying is all we can do, and we must try (this i feel strongly, but can i act upon it is the question). I love Jack Gilbert's poem "to wake to the freshness. And the journey." That is to try. Thank you. And thank you for the story of the man pounding gravel & sharing his ice with you. That is essential.

    Ruth: Oh, Chief Seattle! "It is the order of nature and regret is useless" Harsh words, and true. And the dust, yes, responds more lovingly to the footsteps of those who have honored it, who have trod gently upon it in bare feet, not covered it in concrete or macadam or buildings that must rise thousands of feet into the air or house so many items no one could possibly need them all, the want for them artificially created.
    We have come so far in these comments from your "thinnest taperings" (and thank you for setting me straight about those)--and yet not. For what are we doing here if not examining just those places. To sit among the stalwart trees with you and erin and Robert and James would be an honor...
    Back to Chief Seattle. Last night at a dinner celebrating my parents' anniversary (median age 75) there was discussion of death. Unselfconscious, unsentimental. A funeral was held yesterday morning for a woman who had been quite influential in my tiny hometown & was therefore known to nearly everyone at the table, and the words that had been chosen to honor her, the presence of certain people, what would be done with the ashes. Yes, the ashes. How routine it has become not to bury but to scatter our dead in the places that mean the most to them. One woman related that while "two tablespoons" of her husband were beneath a brick at the church, much of him had returned to the grounds of his home, a spot where he had watched his children walking down the road and decided that the decision to move to that place was worth it. And another family had put fistfuls of their father into their pockets and scattered him around a lake he had loved...So that perhaps very slowly we are returning to the idea of our ancestors being with us (you know i feel this strongly), and of the earth giver of life becoming important once again, and our footsteps, perhaps, becoming more gentle.
    How exhilarating to walk among the grasses in bare feet, feel the trembling of the doe, know the safety of the trees and the sagacity of the rocks.

    1. DS, thank you for this story. I am grateful for you bringing my/our attention to this ritual here and now. I wonder when anyone had the "brilliant" notion of embalming people who've died and laying them out to be gawked at? Making them artificial and doll-like. As if they are still there. I am a bit aghast, and so pleased, that this group of the generation ahead of me were discussing cremation and scattering of ashes. It is so much more than the other, because it is so much less. It is more civil, civilized in the true sense, so much more representative of the cycle of life. It is possible, it is possible (!), even in this place covered by macadam, to remember how to honor the lives and passings of those around and before us, to show symbolically where we have come from, and where we return. I long for such simple indications that things might be shifting.

      One of the most difficult junctures of my life was when my brother Bennett died at age 47. It was sudden (heart). He was the only unmarried sibling, so he did not leave wife and children. He had influenced my worldview more than anyone, and he goes on doing so: his simple, frugal, non-aggressive and non-materialistic lifestyle, his lack of ambition, his anti-war politics, his desire to help anyone less fortunate, his photography, his love of nature, love of the world. So when he died (in our mother and father's house, the last day we'd cleared it out, utterly empty of any furnishings), and we siblings had to "make arrangements" as the euphemism goes, I knew without a single doubt — though we had never discussed it — that he would have wanted to be cremated and have a simple memorial service. Our dad had died the year before, and he trimmed his hair and beard and wore a sport coat to honor him the day of the funeral. He knew it was fitting for Dad to have a funeral, given his life and presence in the community. Anyway, my siblings agreed (some reluctantly) to have him cremated, but my oldest sister insisted that we have a "viewing" in the local funeral home. I was appalled beyond bearing it, and even now my skin crawls remembering it. I decided not to all-out reject her idea, because I realized funerals and memorials are for those who remain, and she was his sister as much as I was. Although this viewing did not reflect him, it reflected her, and I had to live with her. She wanted him to wear a tie, and I drew the line there. We dressed him in a chambray work shirt he loved and put that sport coat on him. After cremation, we took his ashes to our lake cottage and buried them beneath a new pine tree at the side of the waterfront. We laid a plaque in the ground, and some find this awkward, as children play on that waterfront.

      Oh it is good to sit here and hold these things closely with you.

    2. Ohhh, I remember you writing about your close relationship with Bennett; how much he meant (and continues to mean) to you. I am glad you were able to reach a compromise, even if an awkward one. I suspect he is happy to have the children playing above him--perhaps in his way he is joining them, and protecting them. So much we keep and share and in our own way understand...

  20. A very interesting poem, Ruth, as are the extensive comments of both you and your readers that follow. As you might guess, I am pleased to see the influence of both Zen and T.S. Eliot in your work. The Eliot quote in your comments — a quote that might have easily come from the mind of Lao Tsu — has long been a favorite of mine, and has long been a source of strength when I have difficulty going to where I need to go.

    We moved to Greenville, SC nine days ago and are living in a short term rental apartment as we look for a permanent place to live somewhere in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains between here and Asheville, NC. I've had virtually no time to read, reflect, or do anything pleasurable for the past two or three months, as the housing monster has consumed every available hour. Today, however, I am doing my best to get back into the spin of things in the blogging world. I've missed everyone terribly, and I look forward to having conversations about something other that property and other aspects of the material life.

    1. Dear George! I have missed you terribly since you were held captive by the housing monster. But more than my selfish longing to converse with you in these our pages, I have longed for you to be settled in the open, misty arms of the Blue Ridge mountains.

      I can't underestimate the help I have received from you and my other friends here. To be able to work through concepts that seem difficult together is a treasure. I think it is only difficult because of how we have been conditioned, and we are swimming against current. But if we can figure out ways to get to thin places in the thinnest taperings, I believe our job will become more natural.

      My sincere wish is for you to find a wonderful home soon, and in the meantime for you to be at peace. It's so good to see you.

  21. as rosaria said, this evokes the idea of one's state of mind and the concept of choice. your luminous and searching words bring to mind viktor frankl's book, man's search for meaning.

    1. Amanda, thank you for this, for I have finally purchased Man's Search for Meaning and have begun reading.


All responses are welcome.