Saturday, March 31, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (4): A Myriad Of Emotions

Grieving (possibly Isis mourning Osiris). A rare piece of Egyptian terra cotta in the Louvre Museum, Paris.

Happiness, sadness, frustration, irritation, humility, pride, confidence, uncertainty, joy, depression, misery, defeat, hope, cynicism, anger, kindness, jealousy, fear, patience, impatience, boastfulness, grief, laziness, listlessness, delight, ecstasy, love, hatred, contentment, envy, greed, ambition, rapture, optimism, pessimism, self-possession, lack of control, melancholy, despair, fondness, passion, sorrow, bliss, embarrassment, contempt, vitality, self-awareness, elation, boredom, guilt . . .

Fifty feelings, emotions and states of mind. A list we could easily extend to one hundred, two hundred more.

I want to thank Amanda for this astute observation:

"It's certainly possible that we can examine the thought itself, but to address the core emotion, respect it for what it is telling us, and then choose wisely our response to the emotion is another path to consider. I don't believe there is such a thing as a negative emotion — emotions themselves are pure. Again, it is how our human mind is domesticated to respond to the emotion in often kneejerk behavior which gets us into trouble."

And I also want to thank Am for her remark that "sins" (or "vices" or "negative qualities") are "part of what it means to be a human being."

I've been thinking about both these comments. We are assailed by feelings and emotions much of the time: some strong, some diluted, some welcome, others not so welcome. They overwhelm us daily, if not hourly — at least they do me. As Am says, feelings and emotions are part of the human makeup.

I know I can seem perhaps unusually emotional for a man (if we accept the cliché that women are more emotional, or show their emotions more readily, than men — though who really knows what's going on behind that male machismo and that stiff upper lip?) I feel a need to express my own feelings, and try to be sensitive to the feelings of others. I cry quite easily while watching romantic films and hearing emotive pieces of music. And so on.

These feelings, and the core emotions from which they come, seem to well up naturally, and, as such, are pure, and to be honoured — as Amanda states. To categorise feelings and emotions simply as positive or negative, good or bad, is a crude and inaccurate shorthand, which does not reflect and respect the complexity of those feelings and emotions, their naturalness and their purity.

I think we are wise to tune in to our feelings, to listen attentively to them and discover what they are telling us. Again as Amanda says, we often seem programmed to act on our feelings with some thoughtless kneejerk reaction — which can be at best unhelpful and at worst destructive.

Speaking for myself, I don't want to be constantly buffeted this way and that by a helter-skelter of emotions, by a tangled, undifferentiated mass of feelings. I don't wish to hide or suppress them, as this can lead to difficult if not dangerous psychological problems. (Anyhow, I like and relish my feelings, on the whole. To feel is to be human, to be alive!) But neither do I wish to be completely ruled by my feelings, to be at their mercy, to be dominated by them so much that I feel powerless and out of control.

So how do we achieve a balance — if balance is what we are agreed upon — of thought and feeling, reason and emotion? How do we integrate emotion into our lives in such a way that we have some control over our feelings and are not totally controlled by them?

Eros and Psyche's kiss.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (3): The Seven Deadly Sins

Don't worry — this is no Catholic tract! I just thought it would be fun to put the medieval Seven Deadly Sins (and their virtuous opposites) under the microscope and discover what they may or may not have to teach us — again as background to our exploration of feelings and emotions . . .

(1) Lust/lechery (luxuria): excessive sexual thoughts and desires. Corresponding virtue: chastity (castitas).

(2) Gluttony (gula): excessive desire for food and drink leading to over-indulgence and over-consumption. Can result in illness, and the deprivation of the genuinely needy. Corresponding virtue: temperance (temperantia).

(3) Greed/avarice/covetousness (avaritia): excessive desire for wealth, status and power. Can result in betrayal, treason, bribery, corruption, trickery, deception, theft, violence and murder. Corresponding virtue: charity (caritas).

All these first three "sins", if taken to excess, may be considered self-centred, lustful appetites, demonstrating a lack of self control which can be dangerous to self and others.

(4) Envy (invidia): closely related to and often resulting in (3) greed. We are certain to cause ourselves torment and may also hurt others in our envious thoughts and pursuits. Corresponding virtue: kindness (humanitas).

(5) Sloth/acedia (socordia/acedia): or laziness, neglect of duties and responsibilities, listlessness — which may lead to melancholy, despair, depression, misery or even, in extreme cases, suicide. Corresponding virtue: diligence (industria).

(6) Anger/wrath (ira): associated with feelings of impatience, hatred, lack of self control — and can lead to acts of revenge, violence, even murder. Corresponding virtue: patience (patientia).

(7) Pride/vanity/vainglory (superbia/vanitas/vanagloria): boasting, hubris, an inflated view of oneself, an unhealthy preoccupation with and love of oneself, narcissism, a condescension even contempt towards others. Bob Dylan called it "the disease of conceit" in his eponymous song. Corresponding virtue: humility (humilitas).

First of all, I suppose one could say that some of these "vices" are pretty good in moderation — I'm thinking of lust, gluttony and sloth in particular. Personally, I couldn't think of anything better than lying in bed all day eating, drinking and having sex. But to do that the next day, and the next, and the next? Perhaps not . . .

Secondly, a certain amount of anger and pride may be viewed as a good thing: anger at injustice may provoke us into trying to remedy the injustice; and if we have pride in our home, our family, our achievements — well, that can't be so bad, can it?

Even a little envy can stir in us a desire to improve our lives . . .

Though the more I look at these Capital Vices — which came to us via The Book Of Proverbs, The Epistle To The Galatians, the fourth-century monk Evagrius Ponticus, Pope Gregory I and Dante's Divine Comedy — the more I'm convinced they really are things to avoid.

I think what I'm really saying here is that a light sinful touch can be ok, even beneficial, but take that soft fingering to the level of heavy groping and you're in for trouble.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (2): Thought, Feeling, Behaviour

The Dharma Wheel, representing Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path

The counselling technique of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is founded on the belief that it's our preconceived / learnt / inculcated thoughts and ideas which strongly influence our emotions, and that it's our emotions which strongly influence our actions. Did not Shakespeare's Hamlet say to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:  ". . . for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so?" If this is the case, then it follows that our emotions and therefore our actions can be reshaped by rethinking our thoughts and views about ourselves / others / the world. Not always easy — but it can be done, as the success of this counselling approach has proved (it's particularly effective in dealing with problems such as phobias, addictions and depressive illnesses).

Even though emotions often seem to arise independently of thought, thought can be used to reconfigure these emotions and thus our behaviours. (To me this at once brings to mind Buddhism's Noble Eightfold Path of Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action etc. According to Buddhist teaching, the random, involuntary stream of thoughts and feelings which runs through our minds much of the time can be consciously stilled and controlled with a little effort, practice, mindfulness and meditation.)

Let's now look at some actual feelings and emotions . . .

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Emotional Intelligence (1): The Brain

Diagram of the brain (circa 1300)

According to an established neuro-scientific model it seems that we are possessed of three brains: an original "reptilian" brain — or autonomic nervous system — which controls our visceral, bodily functions and our primal, automatic instincts (e.g. the "fight or flight" response); an amygdala, or "mammalian", or "feeling" brain, which developed at a later stage and is responsible for memory and emotions; and a more sophisticated prefrontal cortex, or "thinking", rational brain, which was the last to evolve. (I'm simplifying here — things are more complex than this, and brain functions much more interrelated. However, this basic pattern will serve my purpose.)

All these three brains come into play, either together or separately, at different times and in different situations. For instance, in states of extreme trauma, the autonomic nervous system can shut down all the other parts of the brain completely. And, as another example, the "thinking" brain is able, to a greater or lesser extent, to control the "feeling" brain and temper extreme emotions. Conversely, the "feeling" brain can at times (e.g. in the throes of a passionate love affair) override the "thinking" brain. A balanced, fully functioning person may be regarded as having a balance between the "thinking" and the "feeling" brain: too much "thinking" may stultify one's emotional and empathic capacity, and too much "feeling" may compromise one's rational mind to a worrying degree.

The reason I'm mentioning all this neurological background stuff  is because I feel a need to write a series of posts about feelings and emotions, particularly negative feelings and emotions: how they arise, how they adversely affect our lives, how we deal with them. I hope you will join me on this emotional journey and perhaps share some of your own personal feelings and experiences along the way . . .

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


" . . . you lift very slowly one black tree / and place it against the sky . . ."


Whoever you are: in the evening step out
of your room, where you know everything;
yours is the last house before the far-off:
whoever you are.
With your eyes, which in their weariness
barely free themselves from the worn-out threshold,
you lift very slowly one black tree
and place it against the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world. And it is huge
and like a word which grows ripe in silence.
And as your will seizes on its meaning,
tenderly your eyes let go . . .

RAINER MARIA RILKE (From The Book Of Images translated by EDWARD SNOW)

The excellent Pilgrimpace featured this poem of Rilke's recently, and it struck me at once that there could be no better totem-poem for this new blog. "And you have made the world. And it is huge / and like a word which grows ripe in silence." I wasn't thinking of these lines at all when I gave my blog the title words and silence and when I chose to quote Rilke's idea of "the bees of the invisible" and his poem It Is All About Praising in my third post, Lodestones. All I can say is that mysterious things happen in the unconscious, and that our blog world is full of such synchronicities.

As to the meaning of this poem, I really don't want to diminish it by analysis — and Rilke does say in the last two lines: "And as your will seizes on its meaning, / tenderly your eyes let go . . ." (Letting go tenderly! That word "tenderly" here moves me so much, and I can't quite explain why.) I think the poem's about writing a poem, reading a poem, creation, birth, death, weariness, renunciation, acceptance, discovering the new, seeing the old through fresh eyes, embracing the unknown, letting go, seeking a deeper significance to life, exploring death while still alive. But all these interpretations reduce it to cyphers; the "meaning" is in the whole way it's created, in each word, in each space and silence between each word, in the manner each word and space and silence uniquely fit together. Words and silence . . .

Here are some more of Rilke's words, words about praise:

Say, poet, what it is you do. — I praise.
How can you look into the monster's gaze
And accept what has death in it? — I praise.
But, poet, the anonymous and those
With no name, how do you call on them? — I praise.
What right have you though, in each changed disguise,
In each new mask, to trust your truth? — I praise.
Both calm and violent things know you for theirs,
Both star and storm: how so? Because I praise.


Praise! Unwilled, spontaneous, inevitable, necessary. Perhaps our whole lives and the whole of creation depend upon it . . .

Are we able to leave the house of the familiar and enter the house of praise? Or are we still standing at the "worn-out threshold"?

All of this brings us back full circle to my third post again — and also to Ruth's praise-poem, which you can find here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Other Worlds But The Same World

Reader of Novels by Antoine Wiertz 

Between my mid teens and late twenties I read a great many novels. There really is no better way in which to explore the heads and hearts of other people, to discover their strengths and weaknesses, their vices and virtues, their ambitions and motivations, their doubts and desires, their hopes and longings, their faults and failings, their dreams and aspirations, their innermost thoughts and feelings, their secret interior spaces.

Some of the best novels nudge us towards thinking about ethics and morality, and may help us work out our own personal mode of living. They can also be historical documents, capturing a society, a culture or a world of a quite specific time and place.

Although I still read novels, I don't read as many now as I used to, as my scope of interest has widened as I've got older; and I now intersperse novels with books of biography, poetry, travel, natural history, philosophy, religion and spirituality.

However, there are many novels I would still like to read — too many. I still haven't finished Tolstoy's War And Peace, Proust's In Search Of Lost Time or Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. I love all these epic works, but sometimes other things just seem more pressing.

Reading novels makes you feel more human and less alone, I believe. It's a way of linking hands, albeit temporarily, with the rest of humanity, and realising that other people are quite like oneself, with the same problems, the same inadequacies — and the same desire for transcendence.   

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Magic Of Poetry

A Pandora's box of poetry

If The Story Of Mankind introduced me to history, and if As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning revealed the delights of long distance walking, then Louis Untermeyer's Golden Treasury opened up a magical world of poetry. I found this book in my stocking one Christmas and was immediately entranced. Although my parents used to lull me to sleep at night with stories and poems, although I was used to seeing poetry books around the house — Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden Of Verses, AA Milne's When We Were Very Young, John Betjemen's Collected Poems — it was this book which really stirred my imagination, awakening a love of words and rhyme and rhythm and illustration which has continued to the present day. Who could not possibly be charmed by this lovable doggy poem by Ogden Nash?

Doggy poems: click to enlarge

Or fail to be moved by Elizabeth Bishop's fish with "his brown skin hung in strips like ancient wallpaper" and by the boat's engine oil spreading out "until everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow"?

Fish poem: click to enlarge

Or startled by Emily Dickinson's original and lovely way of seeing?

I'll tell you how the sun rose —
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
"That must have been the sun!"

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

And this description of fog by Carl Sandburg is pure perfection:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking

over harbour and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Endpapers illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Story Of Mankind

There are certain books encountered in childhood which accompany you all your life. One of my own such seminal books was The Story Of Mankind by Dutch-American historian Hendrik van Loon. In fact I'm reading it again at the moment.

It's a children's history book, nearly five hundred pages long and of ambitious scope, charting the history of the world from the formation of planet Earth ("In the beginning, the planet upon which we live was, as far as we now know, a large ball of flaming matter, a tiny cloud of smoke in the endless ocean of space") to the First World War (the book was published in 1921). My copy is the 1922 Harrap edition, printed on thick, yellowing paper, with blue, gold-blocked boards and a rough-trimmed fore-edge. It's illustrated with the author's own crude but rather sweet maps and drawings. After the Foreward and Contents pages, and a "List Of Pictures And Animated Maps", the book begins like this:

"High up in the North in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by."
I used to think this imaginative attempt to visually describe eternity and the vastness of time was incredibly humbling, awe-inspiring and mind-expanding — and still do. I still contemplate these four, simple sentences with a feeling of wonder. They are clear and vivid, but describe something mysterious and almost ungraspable. They have the quality of an ancient myth or fable.

Near the end of the book, on page 466, just before strip diagrams of "An Animated Chronology 500,000 B.C. — A.D. 1922" and "An Historical Reading List For Children", you find "these wise words of a very great Frenchman" (the Frenchman is Anatole France):  

"Irony and Pity are both of good counsel; the first with her smiles makes life agreeable; the other sanctifies it with her tears."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Walking Out

One's real life is often the life that one does not lead. OSCAR WILDE

Some time in my late teens or early twenties I chanced upon a copy of  As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and my life was changed for ever. This book was an incendiary device, igniting a young man's already fevered and romantic imagination. It describes Laurie Lee's year-long, bohemian journey from Vigo in Galicia to Almuñécar in the south of Spain, where he stays until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936. By day he walks through an extraordinary landscape, busking for coins with his violin in the towns and villages. At night he sleeps in a blanket under the stars. He encounters poverty, prostitutes and cheap posadas. He also finds a Spain of a wild and savage beauty, which he recounts in a style that's both realistic and poetic. This book kindled in me a lifelong passion for travel writing and a yearning for the open road.

I married, as one does, and life became centred on family and career. Weekends were dominated by entertaining children, by fitting kitchens, by visiting relatives. Holidays were child-focused: camping in Brittany, theme parks in Florida. I'm not complaining — far from it — but an imaginative part of me remained with Laurie Lee, drinking strong wine in tumble-down Spanish tabernas, tramping through the hoopoe-haunted cork-woods of Extremadura and the remote, rugged sierras of Andalusia. I walked when and where I could: circular day walks in Derbyshire's Peak District, canal tow path strolls in the English Midlands, Welsh and Cumbrian hill climbs during snatched hours on business trips. But, as I drove up and down the motorways of England, chasing the income that would keep my family afloat, I dreamed constantly of trekking the long-distance pathways of Europe, walking for weeks if not months on end, with only the sun and the rain, the rocks and the trees for company.

Later I would read many other books of walking adventures — Hilaire Belloc's The Path To Rome, Nicholas Crane's Clear Waters Rising, Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time Of Gifts, Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels With A Donkey In The Cévennes. But, wonderful as these books were, none would ever quite recapture that thrilling frisson of excitement I felt when reading As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning for the first time. Finding this book was the start of a love affair with walking, and discovering new landscapes, which continues unabated to this day.  

Saturday, March 10, 2012

First Light

One of the loveliest evocations of a country childhood ever written is Laurie Lee's 1959 memoir, Cider With Rosie. The book begins with this brilliant description of lostness and aliveness:

First Light

I was set down from the carrier's cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.

The June grass, amongst which I stood, was taller than I was, and I wept. I had never been so close to grass before. It towered above me and all around me, each blade tattooed with tiger-skins of sunlight. It was knife-edged, dark, and a wicked green, thick as a forest and alive with grasshoppers that chirped and chattered and leapt through the air like monkeys.

I was lost and didn't know where to move. A tropic heat oozed up from the ground, rank with sharp odours of roots and nettles. Snow-clouds of elder-blossom banked in the sky, showering upon me the fumes and flakes of their sweet and giddy suffocation. High overhead ran frenzied larks, screaming, as though the sky were tearing apart.

For the first time in my life I was out of sight of humans. For the first time in my life I was alone in a world whose behaviour I could neither predict nor fathom: a world of birds that squealed, of plants that stank, of insects that sprang about without warning. I was lost and I did not expect to be found again. I put back my head and howled, and the sun hit me smartly on the face, like a bully.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time. / Through the unknown, remembered gate / When the last of earth left to discover / Is that which was the beginning . . . TS ELIOT Four Quartets: Little Gidding

Burnham Mill in 1947

I was born on 13 November 1954 in a remote and obscure corner of Lincolnshire called The Isle of Axholme. Before the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden drained the area in the early seventeenth century, the wild and inbred natives clustered in low hilltop settlements on an archipelago of small islands surrounded by bog and fen. Even when I was growing up there in the 1950s and 60s, there was still a strong feeling of isolation and apartness. And you couldn't get more isolated than my childhood home. Burnham Mill stood on its own on the high ground between the hamlet of Burnham and the village of Haxey — many miles from the nearest town, Gainsborough, where I later went to grammar school. My father was the miller, my mother did the bookkeeping, and my father's unmarried sister lived in the mill house and kept pigs and chickens and a small herd of Jersey cows.

So, as you can see, I had a rural childhood. Because I grew up in such a lonely spot, I was used to my own company, and would quite happily entertain myself for days on end — walking the fields, watching birds, reading voraciously, writing poems, banging a tennis ball against the brick outhouse wall. I was independent, but did have a small and valued circle of mates (I always preferred a few, close friends to a knockabout crowd, and still do to this day). With my pals I did all the things that country-bred boys did then: climbed trees, made dens in the woods, went birds' nesting, fished the lakes without a permit, camped in the summer, biked everywhere — and later fantasised about taking girls (that strange and exotic species) into the long grass of the overgrown, disused railway embankment. Though what we would have done with them there I don't think we had the faintest idea.

This all sounds idyllic, and, looking back, to some extent it was. However, above the sun-kissed cornfields and red pantile cottage roofs of my country childhood, dark clouds permanently drifted. An authoritarian and manically religious father had brought about in me vague feelings of fear and guilt which were almost paralysing at times. And I was also stricken with an acute self-consciousness which took many years to subside. Nevertheless, by my mid to late teens I was growing into myself, becoming a lot more confident — and getting ready to rock and roll.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Prelude: You And Me

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

We are stardust, we are golden JONI MITCHELL

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.


From THE SOLITARY WALKER's blog, 12 July 2008

Monday, March 5, 2012


I'm intuitively undertaking this journey guided by two lodestones: an acknowledgement of, acceptance of and delight in mystery; and a recognition of the power and potential of the present moment. For me these must be givens, for we are all perpetual travellers through the great unknown, and this moment now is all we have.

So my — our — journey begins with the Rachel Naomi Remen's thoughts about mystery. As More Than Meets The I remarks in her comment on my first post, we are reminded here of the Keatsian notion of Negative Capability:  ". . . that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." Remen writes about attunement to the mystery, acceptance of it, respect for it, its inherent potentialities. Going beyond Remen, I suggest that further responses to the mysterious unknown may be curiosity, then wonder, then awe — and finally praise. We can also be more proactive about this eternal mystery of origins and endings, of earth and nature, by interiorising it, by imaginatively recreating it, by preserving its essence within us. Indeed, it might be incumbent on us to do so. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke has written of such a process . . .

"We are continually overflowing toward those who preceded us, toward our origin, and toward those who seemingly come after us . . . It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again, 'invisibly', inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.”

Collecting the honey of the finite, mysterious visible, and storing it in the golden hive of the infinite, mysterious invisible, is a way of connecting with and partaking in the mystery — for the artist, and for us all. It's a kind of alchemy, a distillation, a transformation of substance into essence. And out of listening,  acceptance and respect, out of awareness of possibility, out of curiosity, wonder and awe, out of all this — what else can we ultimately do but praise?

It Is All About Praising

It is all about praising.
Created to praise, his heart
is a winepress destined to break,
that makes for us an eternal wine.

His voice never chokes with dust
when words for the sacred come through.
All becomes vineyard. All becomes grape,
ripening in the southland of his being.

Nothing, not even the rot
in royal tombs, or the shadow cast by a god,
gives the lie to his praising.

He is ever the messenger,
venturing far through the doors of the dead,
bearing a bowl of fresh-picked fruit.

RAINER MARIA RILKE Sonnets to Orpheus I, 7

Our journey also begins with the now — right here, this instant, this moment which is constantly replenishing itself. Did not the Spanish poet Antonio Machado once write: "Wanderer, there is no road; the road is made by walking"? Just as the road's illusion is created by putting down small steps, one after the other, so time's illusion is created by living each single moment, one at a time. The one true reality is the visceral reality of each felt step and each lived moment. The road exists only in the here and now, created anew with every footfall. Time too — past, present and future — exists only in the here and now, newly created each second and with every breath, and pregnant with possibility.

This One Step

"Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realise that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination."

ECKHART TOLLE The Power of Now

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Sense Of Mystery

"A sense of Mystery can take us beyond disappointment and judgment to a place of expectancy. It opens in us an attitude of listening and respect. If everyone has in them the dimension of the unknown, possibility is present at all times . . . Knowing this enables us to listen to life from the place in us that is Mystery also. Mystery requires that we relinquish an endless search for answers and become willing to not understand . . . Perhaps real wisdom lies in not seeking answers at all. Any answer we find will not be true for long. An answer is a place where we can fall asleep as life moves past us to its next question. After all these years, I have begun to wonder if the secret of living well is not in having all the answers but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company."

RACHEL NAOMI REMEN, M.D. My Grandfather's Blessings

(Thanks go to am for this quote)