Wisdom of insecurity

My mother pointed me to a short piece on mindfulness meditation excerpted from Jack Kornfield‘s work (it probably came from one of his books, such as The Path of Insight Meditation).

He spends several paragraphs writing about the dharma of wisdom and about impermanence, quoting a Buddhist sutra “Thus shall you think of this fleeting world.” He notes that when meditating, one is more likely to realize that everything around us is in a state of change. It’s more noticeable, this changing, because the person meditating has become still and is observing closely.

Change is dharma’s first law: uncertainty and impermanence. The laws of science bear this out; entropy, evolution, constant change and motion everywhere.

Kornfield then does a good job of explaining to Westerners what Buddhists mean when they say “all life is suffering.”

“This brings us to dharma’s second law. If we want things that are always changing to stay the same and to get attached to them, we get disappointed, we suffer. Not because we should suffer–this is not something created to punish us. It is the very way things are, as basic as gravity. If we get attached to something the way it is, it does not stop changing, Trying to hold onto ‘how it was’ will only create suffering and disappointment.”

What could be clearer? We know we cannot wrestle a person or a place to the ground and pin it in place and have it remain unchanging for us. Without change, nothing can live.

What upsets people is that they are uncomfortable with the insecure feelings change tends to bring. Also, there’s that tendency to look for cause and effect, for blame, for control and certainty.

Thinking about thinking–as I have been lately–and consciousness and, to some extent, fear, I recognize I need to “relax with uncertainty.” That’s how Kornfield puts it. he says there is wisdom in insecurity because it is natural.

“Letting go does not mean not caring about things. It means caring for them in a flexible and wise way,” Kornfield writes. Sometimes, when I feel content and relaxed and able to “let go” of nagging and difficult and scary and challenging things, loved ones ask me whether I care or not. I do care. I recognize, though, that there are times no amount of caring can “fix” a problem. Sometimes, acceptance and encouragement and letting go work much better than controlling intervention.

A great deal of my poetry begins in a flexible, accepting “space” that recognizes, and embraces, uncertainty. I wish I could find myself in this Way more often.

Impermanence (thanks to David Sloan)

Impermanence (thanks to David Sloan)

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Science is poetic? A debate

Here’s a video I found entertaining and thought provoking–a scientist, a poet, and a philosopher discuss the intersection (or if there is an intersection) between poetics and science.

This debate hinges on a Richard Dawkins statement: “Science is poetic, ought to be poetic and has much to learn from poets.”

The home site is the Institute of Art and Ideas, which is also worth exploring a bit.

Poetic Theories: Can scientists learn from poets?

Ken Binmore, Mary Midgley, Ruth Padel.

What is your take-away from the discussion? I’m curious about which stance seems most convincing, though I suspect one’s fundamental opinion on such topics isn’t easy to change.

Virtual, physical, personal

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Redbud leaf in fall

Through the blogosphere, I’ve met some fascinating and talented people. The virtual connection, although I have learned to value its scope and immediacy, generally seems a bit wanting in connection for me. Even though I tend toward introversion, my favorite way to connect with people remains face-to-face. [Go ahead, call me old-fashioned.]

In the days of listservs and message boards, I first began “meeting” colleagues online. I signed up for the Women’s Poetry listserv (Wom-Po), which is still active today. One of the best things about that list, besides the fact that I learned a great deal about poetry/women’s poetry/teaching poetry/contemporary and historical female poets, is that I met many of my colleagues in person while attending writer’s conferences, readings, and similar events.

What joy for a person like me, who tends to be a bit reserved about meeting new people. For introverts, a virtual introduction and conversational exchange online–even just recognizing a name on the listserv–has made possible a route to social icebreaking at conferences like AWP.

This past Saturday, another virtual connection joined the realm of the physical when I got the chance to meet–in person–artist Deborah Barlow at the opening of her show at Morpeth Contemporary gallery. I’ve seen her artwork on her homepage; but as is often the case, viewing the work in person was revelatory and beautiful. And meeting the artist herself–also revelatory and beautiful!

I recommend her blog, Slow Muse, which has alerted me to many a terrific book on creative thinking, the creative process, and poetry as well as introduced me to several wonderful contemporary artists’ work.

As the seasons undertake the dying-toward-renewal process, I welcome musings and inspirations. The shining, textural depths of Barlow’s paintings offer another way of looking. As do good books and sunny mornings on the back porch.

Equinox: autumnal

ann e. michael poet

I do like early autumn. The bright flowers of late summer possess almost tropical coloration: tithonia, goldenrod, zinnias, dahlias, canna lilies, cosmos, salvia, marigolds…meanwhile, the leaves begin to turn. Where I live, the euonymus alatus (spindle-tree/burning bush), sassafras, and sumac are the first leaves to redden, along with the five-leaved Virginia creeper vines.

My reading in Bloomsburg was a great experience. There was a full house, the sound and lighting systems worked, and the Moose Exchange is a delightful building, similar in purpose to many arts-venue collectives in other small US cities as they attempt to revitalize their downtown regions. The building was once the home of the Moose Lodge, one of many community associations that once worked to keep small cities and neighborhoods vibrant in the days before flight to the suburbs. My reading, part of the Big Dog reading series, took place in the third-floor ballroom! Afterwards, we had dinner in a terrific little Italian restaurant just off Main Street. Portobello mushroom ravioli in sage-butter, delicious.

The drive home was quiet–mostly highway, late crickets still making noise along the road, full moon in a perfectly cloudless sky.

I recognized that I can work on my writing practice more diligently and less anxiously than I have been. There are ways to make space in my life for creativity again. My recent readings on consciousness and the nature of being lead back to the poetics of space somehow.

first day of Autumn
my heart is pounding wild
Ah! The full moon

     ~Basho

Poetry reading in Bloomsburg

This is just to say

(a little William Carlos Williams title phrase to acknowledge the natal day of a truly “American” 20th-century poet)

…that tomorrow, September 18th, I will be reading from Water-Rites, and presenting a few newer poems, at Bloomsburg Pennsylvania’s Moose Exchange. The venue is a non-profit cultural arts center in the college town of Bloomsburg PA. More on the event here.

Wednesday evening, there’ll be a full moon over the Susquehanna River, which flooded two years ago this month and stranded many college students (though they were without electricity and water, they were on the hill). The floodwaters inundated the lower part of town, including the main streets and many businesses; the damage to town and the homes of many citizens was devastating. Bloomsburg creative writing professor Jerry Wemple had invited me to read at a poetry festival that very week. The festival was, of course, canceled. Jerry was kind enough to invite me to give a CVPA reading at Moose Exchange this year. Fortunately, the weather for this week is forecast to be quite sunny.

For another WCWilliams moment, click here.

https://i0.wp.com/www.keylimepietree.com/Red_Plums_on_tree.jpg

plums (“so sweet”)

Gratitude & Qigong

My mother is still living. I am grateful for that.

My mother and I get along well. In that, we are fortunate.

Furthermore, although she is an octogenarian, my mother is in reasonably good health. Another reason for gratitude.

Her interests are varied, and she’s willing to try new things. My mother has always been quietly innovative about life. She has pursued alternative therapies for health and emotional well-being, read difficult texts, studied disciplines and subjects that challenged her, traveled the world, lived in foreign lands.

Mostly, she has been a care-giver of one kind or another. This past weekend, I took my mother with me to a Qigong and Mindfulness retreat, thinking she could use a couple of days of restorative practices and a little time off from care-giving for others in order to care for herself. In addition to several hours of “medical qigong” (Yi gong), we learned some practices for spiritual qigong (Tao gong), got information about implementing a plant-based diet, observed a tea ceremony, tried our hands at Chinese bamboo brush painting, and followed a labyrinth path in a walking meditation. It was quite a significant conclusion (of sorts) to my recent weeks of thinking about consciousness as presented by various “Western” thinkers on the subject.

Yin-Yang

Kirkridge Retreat Center hosted the weekend. Kirkridge’s organization is dedicated to peace, compassion, and community–to the concerns of social justice and to individual healing. It is a peaceful place, located on a steep, wooded hill. The setting alone fosters a sense of restorative energy. Our teachers were excellent, informative, and full of grace. The meals were terrific. The crickets sang sweetly and the moon shone amidst the clouds. My mother and I felt grateful for the event, the weather, the place, the people, for the breaths animating our bodies and for one another.

Consciousness & cosmology

"Syntax" by Steve Tobin. Copper, bronze.

“Syntax” by Steve Tobin. Copper, bronze. What can be said about all the things we think make up an “I”?

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I’ve completed I Am a Strange Loop and Why Does the World Exist? and found, not entirely to my surprise (but to my delight–braiding and synthesis!), that the existential, metaphysical, and cosmological aspects of both authors connect intriguingly. Thomas Nagel, an important “philosopher of mind,” appears as an influence in both of these writers’ books, and Einstein and Plato and Heidegger. Both authors end up citing Derek Parfit’s work, and Holt even interviews him! It turns out that trying to determine the “reason” the world exists at all is not that different from trying to understand what consciousness is made of and where it resides.

After taking up mathematical proofs and several philosophical arguments, as well as neurological science as a basis for the evolution of “mind,” Hofstadter’s book gradually takes apart the mind-body problem that Descartes made so iconic for Western civilization’s thinkers. He keeps returning–and that’s an appropriate word–to the metaphor of looping. He looks at the strange loops of Escher’s drawings and of string theorists’ rolled-up dimensions and alerts us to how crucial the concept of self-reference is to the theory of consciousness.

The need for self-referentiality in a fully “human” consciousness gets him to the idea of “small-souledness” (among, say, such beings as mosquitoes). What portion of our selves makes us able to think about thinking, for example? Is that identity, or consciousness? What’s the difference? Here is where Parfit comes in. Hofstadter writes that Parfit “staunchly resists the idea that the concept of ‘personal identity’ makes sense. To be sure, it makes sense in the everyday world we inhabit…we all more or less take for granted this notion of ‘Cartesian Ego’ in our daily lives; it is built into our common sense, into our languages, and into our cultural backgrounds.”

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If we care at all about what there may be beyond our everyday lives–and certainly people like Hofstadter, Holt, Bachelard, and me, among others, do care–we need to get “meta” in our meditations, which invariably leads to paradoxes and thorny tangles. Hofstadter’s book also engages with his ‘personal life’ (if, indeed, a personal identity or personal life exists). When his wife died, he found himself engaged in the seemingly unanswerable question of “Where did Carol go?” Did “Doug-and-Carol,” the shared dreams and lives and understandings of two people who knew one another intimately, simply vanish when Carol’s body died? Hofstadter cannot fathom that this shared identity “goes poof” when the body stops. He, after all, still feels connected to the Doug-and-Carol shared consciousness.

It feels real to him. So–what is consciousness? From whence does it emanate, or originate? Is it real, or is it an illusion–is there no such thing as the personal identity we hold so dear that we cannot even imagine ourselves any other way than as an “I”? (Are feelings real?)

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Jim Holt’s book likewise gets more personal as the chapters progress and as he wrestles with his existential inquiry through texts and interviews. That seems quite appropriate: how can we use language to untangle what language itself makes vague and confusing? (See Tobin’s sculpture “Syntax,” above, for a physical view of loopy entanglement and potential words). Holt’s inquiry initially seems based on the abstract, mathematical, physics of why/how the universe got here; but he ends on the metaphysical and philosophical…whereas Hofstadter entertains the metaphysical from the get-go but employs mathematics, psychology, and brain physiology as well as philosophy. And they encounter similar quandaries, paradoxes, and uncertainties. Both authors essentially come to a similar conclusion about the mystery of existence, though they accept or compromise with their conclusions in slightly different ways. Then again, they are different people who have lived different experiences. Reading both books has been, for me, a valuable experience and one that’s made me examine my own thinking about being.

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Apropos of these musings, and thanks again to Popova of Brainpickings, here’s a few more words on some contemporary thinkers who have theorized as Holt has (in particular, Lawrence Kraus) in the debate on Something vs. Nothing: “What is Nothing”

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…And, apropos of nothing in this post, but to lighten the mood, here’s an amusing little blog from The New Yorker about pilcrows & pound signs & ampersands.