Friday, September 21, 2012

Monday or Tuesday, depressed or deep rest

Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever desiring—(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)—for ever desiring—(the clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light sheds gold scales; children swarm)—for ever desiring truth. . . . ~ from Virginia Woolf's "Monday or Tuesday" Read the whole very short piece here.

Distilling a few words . . . for ever desiring truth.

Desiring truth, and distilling words. I wonder if there is a better example of this practice than VW's little piece. Very close attention to not only the heron, but to her own (VW's) environs, to the moment of light, even to a memory recollected on the path commenced via this vision.

In this short "fiction" of Virginia Woolf's from the collection of the same title (do read this short piece if you haven't before, linked above), she begins and ends a vision of a heron with the descriptive phrase "Lazy and indifferent."

Does the heron only seem lazy and indifferent to the observer, while she labors over her deep attentiveness? Is she participating in active staring as I like to call it?

Last week when I felt low and decided to simply sit and do nothing for an hour (nothing? is it possible to do nothing?) I came to and found these words by Jeff Foster (thanks to the beauty we love):

We can view depression not as a mental illness, but on a deeper level, as a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest, entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own false story of ourselves ...

How often do I feel lazy and indifferent! Yet, is it not just a label, a perception? A false story as Jeff Foster puts it? To read this VW piece closely, I see that the heron knows his way. The heron's stars are veiled. The heron does his work! He lives, he moves, he flies in and out of his life. Could we do better as writers (as livers) than to observe a moment, distilled in words that erupt out of our own life's reality, as complete in one moment as in the wingspan of a lifetime?


  1. Such a beautiful piece by Woolf. Lyrical.

    1. Yes, Jean. Thanks for reading it. What is reality? What is truth? she seems to ask.

  2. False stories are harder to live than truth, but much easier to write up for ourselves. I do think turning away, suspending activity and will, is a (necessary) part of our lives where we feel awkward and unskilled, because of our cultural programming to engage, to compete, to do,do, do--it's not natural--no animal does life that way. Did you know one of the most majestic and successful species out there, lions, sleep, rest or are inactive in some way up to 20 hours a day? We push ourselves to be the opposite, and the price is high. Thanks for this very interesting snippet of Woolf's, and your reflections on it.

    1. Hedge, thank you for that image of the lion in those 20 hours. And the heron on one leg. And Thoreau in his cabin doorway all of a morning. It does take a strong head butt against culture's belly to see suspending activity as important and necessary. You've got my wheels going now!

  3. What close concentration on the particularity of the moment! An exquisite piece.

    1. Thanks for reading, Robert. I see her book falling into the fire, I see her falling asleep and dreaming. I see the omnibuses and the busy streets. She shows us everything with an effortless style, which of course took took great skill.

  4. Beautiful piece of writing by Woolf.

  5. My wise friend, Annee, who was a psychiatric nurse with me as well as a dear friend used to (much like Jeff Foster) redefine a psychiatric crisis like depression as a spiritual emergency (which can lead to a spiritual emergence). The reframe helped many a person going through it to see it differently and use it as an opportunity. So take time, be quiet, do nothing. The heron knows his way as do you.

    1. Mary, how incredible: a spiritual emergency (which can lead to a spiritual emergence). We have been programmed to believe that we should not trust ourselves. We must be told by authorities (doctors, priests, pastors, politicians, advertisers) what to do and how to behave. But who should know our own soul and spirit better than ourselves? I should be the authority of my own life. Of course this should be within reason, with respect for others.

      Thank you, my friend.

  6. I think the answer to your question is: that is the eternal job at hand for a writer (and liver), a job Woolf does masterfully.

    As for doing nothing - required curriculum. I have a Spanish proverb posted above my desk:
    "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward."

    For we do a lot in our "doing nothing" don't we?

    To me, in her short story, the sky seems to have the last word. The heron flies over the church and beneath it, as it silently veils and bares the stars.

  7. Amanda, the Spanish proverb is on first hearing funny, and makes me think of siestas, and laziness. But with a slight shift of wisdom, it is brilliant.

    Yes that sky is also indifferent, doing her own thing. A cloud seems to be doing nothing, but see how powerful it is, covering things up.

    Thank you for such great thoughts.

  8. (i had written otherwise but lost it, ruth, a computer malfunction. i don't know if this round makes sense:)

    to those who know me in the flesh i have done less in the last few years of my life then at any other point of my life and yet i feel as though i have done more. they would gage doing in relation to work, home, socializing and perhaps even acquisition. i gage doing in terms of paying attention. i garner more from sitting beside a river and trying to be open to what is truly here. in a very elemental way we speak different languages.

    it is interesting and profound how you tie virgina woof's poem in with jeff foster's quote concerning false story. i think we are greatly involved with myth building in our doing. i think essentially it always comes back to being afraid of our transience. those who do very actively, who are busy building story, are trying to buffer themselves, bulk themselves up to be protected in some way from transience, but no profession, no well laid table, no amount of friends or family, and certainly no big screened tv or 3000 square foot house can protect anyone from death or their true size in living. depression, i think, comes when there is a rupture in the created and brandished myth. but what might we be if we confront the true small and transient person behind (/beneath) the myth, accept her and love her? what then? what can possibly be our true means of living? we can be that profession; we can have that house or that life, but we must strike through the bulk toward the vulnerable being that is the truth beneath. once we find her, what then do we do to truly live? what what what can we possibly do?

    i look into my lover's face and something passes over me for i am truly looking into my lover's face. i know i will only see him, love him, touch him for the briefest of times. i rub my son's neck and know my fingers are already leaving, his neck is already becoming thick and walking away. my daughter's thighs are turning, have been turning, we have been pivoting away from one another and further for years already. what do i do with this information? how do i live? it burns me. i am burning. i am ruptured. i am so little, so nothing. it is a sweet and burning agony. i open my eyes and see.


    1. Erin, I'm sorry about your lost comment. But what you have written is real and vital.

      And profound. We not only have our own story, we build a myth (a false story). (I do not confuse this with personal mythology, which is everything a person loves and feels drawn to.) I feel you must be right, that this myth gets built to protect us from death. And yes, perhaps depression comes from a rupture in the myth, either our own myth of ourselves, or someone else's. One very sad myth is that a person has to succumb and submit to his culture. I know of a boy who became a man, a brief man, who tried very hard to submit to culture. He was so very different, from anyone. And finally he couldn't go on, killing himself at 28. But I ask myself, whose myth was he living? He tried to live his personal mythology, but he was so Other that he could not fit in. I'm sure I oversimplify his story.

      It strikes me how "intense" the life of society can be, if we try to keep up with what is thrown our way. But how much more intense is the slowed life you describe that you have come to. The intensity of love and attention for your lover and children. The intensity of intimacy, and thus of loss, anticipated and truly felt gradually. As you say, it is sweet, bittersweet. Once tasted though, who could go back?

      Thank you for such depths of sharing (twice in this post's box).

  9. Jeff Foster is such an interesting character in the "Non-Dual" community. I read the whole article he wrote on depression and found it quite enlightening and refreshing. And I know this from my own experience as well - that depression is really calling us to a deep space of rest, awareness, deep silence within an internal abode with "spirit/soul." When most "Non-Dualists" would say there is no "me" (little person) to be depressed - Jeff talks of meeting people *in* their story, as it is only in the meeting of the "false story" that the story dissolves - that the illusion/myth is seen through...

    I absolutely adore doing "nothing", spending time in silence, which for me is just really being more aware and experiencing what is truly HERE - what truly animates this life, this being that is being lived here - what is looking through these eyes (through all of our eyes.) I imagine you can see it in your grandbaby's eyes... :)

    And I absolutely adore your writings! Such depth is refreshing... Thank you! Christine

    1. Christine, thank you. I have utterly missed Jeff Foster until the past couple of weeks. I will look for the whole article, having only found what I found at the beauty we love.

      What must be one of the most difficult realities to face is when someone we love lives with someone who does not see her false story, continues to live it, and the one we love is paralyzed to change anything. Such difficult challenges are mind boggling to contemplate.

      I love your description of "doing nothing"—and yes, maybe this is why my grandson and I have found such deep love for each other. To welcome a newborn with this greater attentiveness is the highest gift I've received in this life.

      Thank you for reading, for your wonderful comments and for such kind words!

    2. Oh Yes, we have a similar situation in our family as well - my own sister does not see her false story of victimization... It is sometimes known as "the elephant in the room." And everyone is afraid to confront the elephant and her drama... Very frustrating for all of us... Such levels of unconsciousness are mind boggling indeed. Why someone would not act on their own behalf is beyond my understanding. And yet, I remember times when I was caught in my own paralysis...

      I think you could find Jeff Foster's full article on his website:

  10. Christine, thank you for your additional comments, and yes, we can only hope and prod and pray for those who do not see their own false story, though it seems apparent to those around. Life is so different for each of us, as consciousness grows in various speeds and depths.

    Thank you for the link to the article. I look forward to it!

  11. "Complete in one moment as in the wingspan of a lifetime"... I wonder if that's like an "eternalized moment?" :)

  12. Oh Ruth, when one finds herself in the abyss of depression/pain/loss one finds the pieces, the fragile pieces that hold us in one body, one soul.
    Those pieces are your soul in pain.
    Allow yourself that pain; yes, allow, embrace it, because it is no less real than joy. Hold them. Be that pain and cry it out.
    Be all that you are.
    Your body is speaking to you loud and clear; only we have not learned that this is what we are supposed to feel intensely.
    Yes, intensely.
    If we didn't hurt we couldn't feel much joy either.

    How do we get over this stage?
    How does winter move into spring?
    First, it needs to do what it does, freeze everything.
    Submit to this time.
    Soon, things will thaw.

    May the thaw come as it must.
    May April come to bring warmth and joy again.


All responses are welcome.