Archive for the Intention Category

The Wings I Saw

Posted in Intention on January 13, 2013 by lushangxinku

“There’s truth enough where there’s enough bread,

see to the bread and truth sees to itself.”

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, from the poem “Zima Junction” 1956

Image

Being seen off by the crows, during one of my last walks in NC.  Guardianship as sentinels seemed to be the feathers, the wings I saw with my heart and not my eyes.

It was the winter of 1993, and Harris Lake had curves of surface ice caressing the forms of its current.  The captured current stood still, and on the far side from the restaurant’s edge a tiny form was just barely discernible.  Two duck feet were sticking out of the thickest ice patch, like tiny trees absurd and miniscule.   The natural buoyancy of the bird led to a feeling that this sight fell outside of the natural order somehow.  It seemed both horrible and funny to watch the ducks prattle past the feet’s location on the lake, as they slipped and struggled and jostled with one another across the slick stillness of that most recent purgatory.

The bread pudding was baking slowly in the oven, and the sun was beginning to set.  The kitchen, as the whole town at that time, bore a claustrophobic air.  I needed only to look up to take in the gossamer strands that connected my wife’s lover, her family, the cooks and waitstaff, the local police and mayor.  In that singular evening, though, this was not their story.

The cook had been somewhere else and came in with the bustled air of popularity and drama amid chaotic intoxication, his little entourage spilling out behind him.  The little pan of bread pudding, a special and singular batch, sat on the steel prep table and slowly set up as it released steamy tendrils into the evening air.  It was for the cook’s mother.

J., the lunch cook, a burly Cherokee holding a hand-rolled cigarette and a bottle in a brown bag, nodded for me to follow him out back.  He lit his smoke and swigged and in the setting sun I showed him the strange trapped duck feet.  A cynical smile glimmered across his furrowed countenance and we laughed and wondered together about the mallard’s fate.  He told me I should come with him and the cook to deliver the bread pudding to the cook’s mother.  R., the cook, had left me in the dark about some things.  It was revealed to me in J.’s studded, halting sentences that R.’s mother lived at his house and was rapidly dying of AIDS.  She had been a sort of local gypsy over the years; a tented nomad living in the woods making flutes and jewelry by hand, her trading post a waterfall.  Years later I’d heard gossip about her notorious promiscuity but paid it no account; the gossip in that area had done me great disservice too.  The bread pudding was the only thing she could still keep down, and she was wasting away.  She weighed under 85 pounds, J. said.

We went as a caravan of several cars to R.’s house and spilled out into the home, everyone drinking and smoking and talking loudly over the blaring music.  I had the small dish of bread pudding in my hand and R’s girlfriend led me down the hall to his mother’s room.  We found her sitting upright, and her eyes were clear and piercingly aware.  She was bird-like, all sharp angles, and looked me straight in the eye.  She saw I did not flinch or bat an eye at all over her extreme form, but more than that- she saw into me somehow, as if to see my heartbeat, my bones.  I gave her the bread pudding and she took my hand, and I sat down on the bed.  She had known my wife and her lover both for years, and looked upon me with a curious, watchful air as a noblewoman may’ve watched a magician whose act she had never seen, who harkened from a land just far enough away to be considered as non-local.  She’d heard of me and was perhaps more well-versed in my situation than I was.  She munched lightly on tiny morsels of the pudding which I lifted up to her mouth.  She wanted to hear from me why I’d left my wife; it seemed such a strange choice to make given the social prominence of her family, the land and money and connections with the town’s administration.  She wanted me back, and I’d been so accustomed to adapting to her wishes.  But the secret affair my wife had been having was something I could’ve never done to her, not in a thousand years; and when she told me she didn’t love me anymore and wanted me to leave, it negated any effort on her behalf to later take it all back and try to return things the way they were.  I’d felt that the marriage, as that third ethereal being created by us over the years, had been slain and could not be resurrected by the hand of its murderer.  I still loved my wife dearly but had, as gracefully as I could, left her stage.  I couldn’t fathom this new love of hers, with a man older than her father, and as I was deceived of its blossoming could only naturally feel I’d be deceived of its continuance.

“But what do you have left?” she asked.  “Nothing,” I said, and my eyes lit up with a half-smile.  I was living in a tiny efficiency apartment, was barely getting by on a cook’s wages, and had only recently gotten a new car to replace the van which had busted on me months earlier.  And I was so obviously living in the wrong town.  I stood out like those duck feet.  But the ancient mountains and oak groves, the curvy roads and vast gorges, had all become a part of me.  It seemed the soil itself, the tousled pastures and rhododendron, was keeping me there.  I would only leave years later, when asked to help my brother in Boone.

“You’re crazy, and I don’t understand.  And I am old friends with the guy your wife was seeing.”  Her sharp gaze enveloped me as I stared back.  The veined talon of her hand lay over mine.  “Your wife wants you to come home.”  I looked down.  “My home’s gone, and no road leads there.  She chose your friend.  I have no choice.”  It was a strange moment for both of us.  The local memory of my wife and I together as a young couple who seemed they’d always be together, who walked with the peace and comfort of those married much longer, circled slowly and invisibly through the room.  How notoriously well I’d treated her; how we lived together in Asheville and returned to her hometown so she could be closer to the family she cherished so deeply.  My distance, too, to all but her.  This lady knew all of that and more.  “You’re doing this the hardest way possible.  You know that, right?” Her tone was almost scolding, but inquisitive.  I fed her more of the bread pudding, and sighed. “It’s time for me to be myself again.  The me that was before it was hers. I haven’t met him yet, but we know each other.”  She squinted slightly and let me know she was done with the pudding.  The thin bones of her arms seemed like they should frame wings.  “They’re out west, Daniel.  Together.  They’ll come back together.  Let go now and there’s no going back.”

I stood up from the bed slowly.  So they’re together again already, I thought; despite all her notes, flowers and entreaties for me to come back to her.  Standing my ground was the most important choice I’d made I could remember, and for the first time in my life it felt like the right one.

“She let go.  I just listened.”

R.’s mother and I sat in silence for a moment, the muffled booms and rattles of the party down the hall feeling distant to both of us.  “I told her I’d try,”  she said.  Her furrowed brow smoothed out a bit and she took a deep breath, relieved of her secret chore.

She turned facing the window, her protruding bones seeming again to me to be missing feathers, wings.  “Go out into the woods, Daniel.  Meet your solitude and take its hand.  But treat some lady someday as well as you used to treat her.  It’s a gift.  So give it.”

I went down the hall, where R. was snorting crank and the beer cans & bottles had multiplied.  The buzzes everyone sought were the only social currency, and I was growing tired of that.  A pile of books waited for me in the tiny apartment, and music of my own that no one else wanted to hear.

I never saw R.’s mother again.  She was dead soon after that night. I did what she said, though it didn’t do any good.  Like her flutes, jewelry and waterfall meetings, it seemed just to be my nature.  None of that did her any good either, but maybe that’s not the point.   Like the duck feet on the frozen lake or the missing wings on that lady’s skeletal frame, it’s the mystery of things I keep coming back to.  Treating others the way I treated my wife during the good years of the marriage, though with no guarantee of recognition or fate.  It doesn’t have to be advantageous, strategic or the like.  Just a hand-carved flute by a waterfall somewhere.  The world can pick it up, or not.  The things that happen beyond the realm of comfort, social validation or self-gratification are precisely those feathers I thought I saw on R.’s mother.  The useless wings only a handful will ever see, only unfurling when broken.  Stubborn and lost and woven into soil, nothing can be conveyed about them except by who, or what, they had enfolded.  To sit with that lady and feed her bread pudding, and know that we were both embarking on lone journeys neither one of us could fathom, was like sharing a secret danger with her.  And if this long meditation of solitude and labor only produces a simple nourishment that even those close to death can be nourished by, instead of the family I’d been on the verge of creating, I must live with that.  In my mind’s eye I see the drugs, alcohol, casual impersonal hookups and the like spiral and drift into a deep, dark abyss, until the drama and cruelty souls perpetrate upon themselves crystallize into one soul greeting another at a dimly lit crossroad: one way, death; the other, confused solitude.  Both travelers silently asking for wings.

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Apertures of Periphery

Posted in Intention on January 2, 2012 by lushangxinku

“A man was hanged who had cut his throat, but who had been brought back to life.  They hanged him for suicide.  The doctor had warned them that it was impossible to hang him as the throat would burst open and he would breathe through the aperture.  They did not listen to his advice and hanged their man.  The wound in the neck immediately opened and the man came back to life again although he was hanged.  It took time to convoke the aldermen to decide the question of what was to be done.  At length the aldermen assembled and bound up the neck below the wound until he died.  Oh my Mary, what a crazy society and what a stupid civilization.”

– letter from Nicholas Ogarev to his mistress, in regard to news from London newspapers around 1860

Brokenwing Song

Brokenwing Song

Taken on the morning of March 27, 2011, by the author.  This crow has hovered on the periphery of my daily walks for years now- one wing is badly damaged & droops, but he appears to be honored & guarded by a group of five other crows.  Noble and unique, I’ve come to call him Sir Brokenwing.

Standing in the center of the small silt-gravel plain I took the end of the umbrella and stuck it into the pliant little desert, at a point just outside the realm that I myself occupied.  Slowly, firmly, I dragged it around me etching a faint spiral.  I thought of the eerie orderliness of certain Japanese rock gardens, with their gravel imitations of pond ripples.  The spiral completed, I decided I wanted to leave it there, an anonymous transient gift to the diurnal folk who passed by later.  Let them attribute the hand that scratched the lines to whatever credit, force or apparition suited their purpose best, I’d thought.  Let this inconsequential mystery, as they so often do in my own experience, inspire & detract from the machinations, battles & urges so enticing in their charms that echo hollow through the day.  So resolved, I planned to leave, covered in that familiar dust of flour, oven ash & the grit of the walk as I was.  I thought of the meal, the hot water that waited and took refuge in these tiny blessings, glancing up at the mountainside I’d soon climb.  I realized though that to step in any direction out from the center of this spiral would be to alter & mar it.  There was no way to leave or separate myself from this playful creation without defacing its simple design.  The problem was that I was in the center.  Peripherally, from any outlying side, the possibilities of harmony were practically limitless.  But in a place of paramount centrality, there were no options left, no aperture from which to see the creation as something alone & complete unto itself.  Just the mar of this balance with bootprint.  I knelt then and with my hands, smoothed out the spiral.  Starting again, this time from an edge of the creation I wished to conjure, I made a spiral free of my own centrality.  How clear, how harmonious this gift had become once I’d gotten out of the way.

This was the mistake of those English aldermen, a mistake constantly made in a realm where things naturally happen that hierarchical structures take credit for, claiming that they granted permission for it to happen; the event exists not of its own merit but because of their power, their centrality, which concurrently only exists because they announce it as such.  What seemed most important to them was not particularly the death of the man who slit his own throat, but the fact that they controlled & chose the death; that it was decreed and therefore only exists as an event because they existed as a power to grant it to happen.   When such centrality is deemed the only important thing, there’s no room left to preserve harmony, nor even the original intent of that which they feel they are the center of.  In this way the logic of self-important, centralized power & control which places itself above all leaves its sloppy bootprint on all balanced spirals of human expression everywhere.  It’s on the periphery that the eye takes in, the ears twitch & perk in anticipation, the heart resonates.  On this periphery one could talk with the suicide survivor as an original context, a primary source devoid of outside commentary.  The inner tsunami of such an attempted act is a ripple, albeit a huge one, radiating out from elements as random as a fallen meteor, or as inevitable & slowly building up as friction between tectonic plates that’d been clashing for centuries.  These elements though became obscured in the tangle of decree & self-centrality which sweepingly judged this profoundly personal event in the man’s life, the edge of which is often electric with spiritual import and obviously must be addressed if anything resembling prevention is to be actualized.  The aldermens’ original hierarchical intent, that of a moral ruling against suicide, became a mockery of itself and was totally obscured by the weight of their boots upon the matter.  The preservation of life for the sake of loved ones or of society as a whole, as a truth owned and meted out by positions of authority, ends up not preserving life at all.  The only thing preserved was the power of the aldermen.

I hadn’t realized I’d placed myself impossibly, catastrophically at the center of the spiral until I could open the aperture of periphery and effectively get out of the way of the creative event itself.  Often such realizations come at a tipping point in existence, when the dewdrop finally descends from the leaf tip on its cyclical way to nourish the ground.  For as long as I can remember, I’d taken crows for granted.  Their movements along the North Carolina interstate highways, slow & stark against the woodlands; their flighted dancing & convoluted playful acrobatics among each other; their inherent dignity.  The day the crows began their dance with me I was walking home, engaged in a phone conversation which rattled & heightened my heartbeat, my senses, my awareness of things outside myself.  A group of crows had followed me all the way to the mountainside and I’d just realized it, looking around at the world as if asking it to bear witness to the horror, concern, nausea & heartbreak that was taking place through the cellphone.  The crows looked back with an air somewhere between curiosity & somber warning that I will never forget, can’t fully describe & may never be able to convey clearly to one who has never been struck by such intimate kinship of living creatures.  Unlike the unfortunate Englishman I’ve been soaked but not yet drowned by inner tsunamis, and I survived the trauma of the interaction surrounding that fateful cellphone conversation.  But from that day hence, I left the center.  I began noticing the crow-realm that had surrounded me every day, that I’d failed to notice before merely because of my own assumed centrality.  As long as I occupied the center of it, the spiral of daily intricate magic was tramped flat.  But seen since then through the aperture of periphery, the spiral remained intact without my central presence.  In this way I am nourished by the fallen dew of spirals created by countless hands.

Within the realm of the crows I’ve gained vital insight into the sanctity of what may seem simply broken, specifially in the case of Sir Brokenwing.  His hobbled perching & awkward short flights signify a lifting of shame about being what others may call abnormal or dysfunctional.  He is precious to other crows around him, guarded, handed food, fiercely protected by the healthiest of the murder.  He has become instantly recognizable by my gaze, and I look for him to cross my path with the same tingly intrigue I’d feel for a woman I adored; a feeling not of urge to own, nor dominate, but of a peculiar glow somewhere between intimacy, solidarity & the sensual rich dew falling upon my shoulders which I refer to as days, nights.

The aldermen & their various incarnations in human society will never see these spirals; only the bootprints of what may once have been a spiral, absurdly warped from its original intent into something that no longer resembles meaning, merely power at the hands of those who hijack events & creations & justify it by self-reference as the official, sanctioned hijackers who must be there in order for what has been hijacked to obtain permission to exist.  By placing self at the center, there are no options for further motion, nor apertures to gaze into the realm of things in themselves in all their complex glory.  I hope for all these aldermen in this realm a day in which the dewdrop falls; a day in which they leave this artificial center which was never even really there, and move to a place where their bootprints no longer mar what they pretend to be a product of the self’s expertise or ownership.  The awe and mystery and sheer import of a world that is no longer just us, no longer centered by us, will unfold into a sprawling grace that has room to buffet any tsunami within the self; room to honor any playful spiral that may emerge from the mind; room for the odd, stubborn broken-winged songs that surround, untrammeled.

Better Cold Skies

Posted in Intention on April 27, 2011 by lushangxinku
“Some live like Lazarus
In a tomb of life
And come forth curious late to twilight hospitals
And mortuary rooms.
Better cold skies seen bitter to the North
Than stillborn stay, all blind and gone to the ghost.
If Rio is lost, well, love the Arctic Coast!
O ancient Lazarus
Come ye forth.”
– Ray Bradbury, from Some Live Like Lazarus, 1960
"Night sinks blue and deep from above, earth rises black from below."
“Night sinks blue and deep from above, earth rises black from below.” -by Carl Jung

 This, the 131st handmade illustration in Carl Jung’s Red Book, is part of a remarkable manuscript that blends mythology, psychology and literature in ways I can’t pretend to understand; but the way the fingers of this tree enclose the pale light, the way sky and darkness merge here, leaves me startled with a sense of recognition.

Living in these mountains for so long, it is easy to see trees as intermediaries between ground and sky.  They crease and sometimes unfold celestial objects so far away even their original light began its journey before my parents were born.  They decorate and sometimes even tickle the manifold shapes of timeless moisture, floating with a grace even feathers can only imitate in shadow.  But if there be any further folding, any intermediary still between the gnarled tendrils which seem the very nerves, maybe even neurons, that allow ground to feel sky, it must be the feathered shapes that so often now blanket my daylight experiences.

That first day they followed me as I ascended tree-lined stairs, I was so distracted by their proximity I did not hear the phone ring at first- naturally, because it was the phone that never rung.  Conspicuous shadows of wing, loud cawing, watchful perches, were all around.  And since then I’ve wondered often if they were warnings, intermediaries of fate; or if I merely had eyes to truly see them, the way I look up just in time to see a meteor’s descent, or a deer’s darting through dark woods to safety.  I tend to side with the latter sentiment- and walk on feeling that they no more have a stake in my individual fate than Venus herself, her symbol as bright and far-reaching as it is.

This one scattered band of crows have shown me that each dawn now is not merely a gate into daylight.  Somehow its wings expand and enfold a land that only lasts a second or two- a land where moon, stars, waking birds and the sun all are filtered through the tree canopy; inhabitants of different realms nodding to one another in passing.  Under the blueblack clouds I think to myself, if there are other places that coexist with the place of now that I know and am immersed in; if these places somehow take part in a sensuality beyond my own senses, a spectrum beyond my own perception of shade and color- if these other places say hello, ever, in passing- it is in that fragile dawn chorus invisible to most, in which everything seems to happen at once.

The same darkness that rich topsoil has, moist and springy under leaf litter, had engulfed the sky for a while as trees watched from branch tips the same family of shadow that their roots are nourished in.  And now that darkness goes back to the ground, to rest in cool, empty nooks and crannies, and waits.  But it doesn’t stop there.

In my own mind, there is a ground- and just like the old monk said, you have to use the ground you fell down on to get back up again.  This ground holds a darkness of memories whose constellations often resurface in dreams, whose unreachable patterns remain unaffected by time.  It’s a darkness whose existence persists in realms past acknowledgment, past need for permission from the soil to thrive.  The bad dreams, exhaustingly, were a daily occurrence for at least two seasons in my life.  They will never totally go away.  The amygdala has been etched upon by this ageless darkness with grooves and fissures that can’t be sanded down or recarved.  But that isn’t where the story ends.

It is the shadow, locked away deep in my mindground, which keeps the roots of the mighty oak fed and moist and glowingly fertile.  It’s the shadow of the roots themselves that allow the upper branches to bathe in nourishing light.  And in my internal dawns, when the shadows cross over my field of vision, on their way to my marrow to manifest in dreams or flashbacks that I can’t predict or stop or control, the light nods gratefully to these shadows for paving the way for its arrival.  The healing thanks the illness, as stars, moon, sun, cloud and bird all shuffle past one another, exchanging greetings as only a mountain dawn can.

Turning trauma from enemy to intermediary loosens its grip on the very dreams it inspires.  Instead of swallowing the dark soil I can’t seem to move from, preternaturally buried within it, I finally walk on the ground again, upheld by the dark memories themselves; headed to a meadow I share with another dreamer, another survivor, not because we have nowhere else to turn but because we have nowhere else we’d rather be.  It’s this meadow, our meadow, which is the new intermediary, between the shadows of the mind and the light that dances through foliage.  The shadows themselves are resurrected, not to swallow or bury, which was their previous activity, but to uphold and clarify.  Refracted in every fold and fissure of my identity, they are the illustrated walls of the cavern through which all lanterns must burn to know whether they work or not.  In knowing intimately the presence of these darting lights and vast catacombs, the dawn can be re-approached with a new and lasting respect for its power.  As for the illustrations on the walls, which sometimes still seem to spring to life under the dances of the shadow and the imported light, they are only signposts for what has already been passed through, and for what has long ended.  No worlds cross or intermingle, translate or intermediate, until the ground of the meadow is reached.  It is then that the turnstiles of multiple worlds clank and turn and are crossed, and for that fleeting instant, all light is recognized by all shadow.  The crows awaken and bear witness to my new use of the ground and its labyrinthine recesses.  Plenty of room for a meadow above to spread and to grow.  My role in this is simply to have gotten out of the way, so that Lazarus, the sunlight recognizing itself, can come and whisper to me about where he’s been.

Zoo Compassion

Posted in Intention on November 29, 2010 by lushangxinku

“Once, when I was a child, I saw in a menagerie a panther, which struck my imagination and for long held my thoughts captive.  It was not like the other wild beasts, which dozed without thought or angrily gazed at the visitors.  It walked from corner to corner, in one and the same line, with mathematical precision, each time turning on exactly the same spot, each time grazing with its tawny side one and the same metal bar of the cage.  Its sharp, ravenous head was bent down, and its eyes looked straight before it, never turning aside.  For whole days a noisily chattering crowd trooped before its cage, but it kept up its tramp and never once turned an eye on the spectators.  A few of the crowd laughed, but the majority looked seriously, even sadly, at that living picture of heavy, hopeless brooding, and went away with a sigh.  And as they retired, they looked back at her once more- a doubting, inquiring glance- and sighed, as though there was something in common between their own lot, free as they were, and that of the unhappy, eager, wild beast.  And when later on I was grown up, and people or books spoke to me of eternity, I called to mind the panther, and it seemed to me that I knew eternity and its pains.”

-Leonid Andreyev, The Lie, 1901

 

"The Road Home"

"The Road Home" Poland, 2001 by Roman Loranc

This road leads to the depths of our being; to unknown, unseen homes which we recall only in fragments- and even they cannot be seen from here.

It is unknown to me when the bars first appeared; whether they enclose me, or enclose the various onlookers; and, finally, whether they are real bars of cast iron, or a filtering of sorts from my eyes to what lay beyond them; or, an interpretation from outside, a patterned grid that protects the interpreter from their experience of me, as thermal vision, bioluminescence or detection of ultraviolet light may protect or privilege the vision of other creatures.

Maybe the bars I see are a manifestation of a peculiar sort of compassion- the compassion of safe distance, of containment- the kind that would lead one to support a charity on another continent while treating the cast of their daily lives with petty wrath, allowing no quarter for a thousand imagined threats they send forth.  Or, a sectioned, categorized sort of worth- a box with clear labels, sectioned off from other beings, expressing the pretense of understanding through simply being named (I understand the sky as “sky” because it was given that label, long ago- to the extent that the label “sky” supplants any awe, mystery, openness or wonder when faced with this raw thing, older than any of its names, because it is just a “sky”).

If the bars were placed upon me from outside myself, how long have they been there?  I jog through metaphysical amnesia, pulsing through snatches of memory redolent with misunderstanding, warped interpretation, resonances with constructed meanings out of touch with the actualities of what others feel- the ear-popping pressure of having an identity in the first place.  When did my failure to connect fuse the iron rods together, snap the rusty lock and hand the key over to someone I have not met yet?  Is my recognition of these bars a resignation to the notion of some enclosed peace, the still unknowable, unreachable place within experience, before conscious decision, where visions and imaginings sail without borders?

Or accepting the possibility that I myself placed these bars here, around the onlookers themselves, I have to wonder about the source for such a need.  Are they the bars of elitism, a projected specialness that, in containment of all others I have met and even those I haven’t, helps to define my view of myself, shining back in blurry light and shadow from the polished, glinting lock, like carnival glass?  If so, I could preen all I wanted in such warped reflection- in the end it would still be an enclosure of this mercurial flow I conventionally refer to as a self.

The polished sheen of the lock, though warping light the way one heart can warp the depths of another, could also reflect those on the other side of the bars.  Like leaning over and watching the side of a goldfish bowl, they choose what they see to not be the mottled distortion of their own reflection, but of the safely contained contents inside.  A “goldfish smile”- the known, contained and predictable, its inferiority established through distance itself, spreads across the onlooker.  They have decided that the contents should live- without deciding why, beyond knowing that it’s their desire to have it so.  For the best way to feel the gift of freedom, to most, is to have the power to withhold freedom from some other being.  I know, whichever side of the bars I’m on, if there is such a side to these spherical rods, that the cultures which blather on the most about personal freedoms are the ones with the most prisons, the most contained and ghettoized subcultures- as if the gravity of freedom itself finds identity in the number of distant satellites drawn towards it, but not welcome at its core.  Safe orbits, like pacing panthers, reassuring the free that their own pacing is merely an echo, a phantom limb of walls strung up like tentacled appendages of both captive and captors, once there but now dissolved.

Of my own bars, though I can’t honestly say what put them there, whether they shut in or shut out, whether for my own safety or for others- I know that they are rooted in the projected control of space itself, as projected control itself is rooted in capping and lidding the seeping gases of the unknowable that we find ourselves inhaling with every breath.  The ground of uncertainty is like a mountain; these pinpricks of control, of ownership, these thin fences of containment, affect a paper-thin surface that has nothing to do with the sheer depth of mountains.

No matter the source of such wish for control, whether it be from my heart or from another, the ground that sustains these tiny bars will always be beyond any grate, fence or wall placed upon it; and if, as my long-held assertion stands, the nature of the mind is the ground (the one that we fall on in states of delusion; the one we also lift ourselves up from, using it for balance & support), then if I truly walk towards the indiscernible home of this mind, those tiny bars that distress me will have to walk alongside, until they tire, and drift back to form the walls of another cell, somewhere else.

I only know this is possible because of the love that dissolved these bars before- a devotion that couldn’t be stopped by any issue of control, or ego, or presumed mapping and plumbing of knowledge.  Although the poisoned, brambled hill on which I climbed soon turned to ashes and phantom cinders, all of it, every moment, contained more than any iron bar could ever hold in.  It was not what I may call “zoo compassion” – that strange fusion of pity, identity and distance of which Andreyev spoke- it was the raw compassion of the ground itself- that which springs into vision before vision, into thought before thought, from a place and age beyond any projected grid of space or of time.  A ground that leads to unknowable, unenclosed realms, that I can’t see from here- but I make the path as I walk, the trees on either side standing sentinel, barring nothing.  If iron bars can be imagined, so can the rust that will render them crumpled detritus, in the darkest corner of the woods, lying helpless on the ground.

Sigils In Rubble

Posted in Intention on July 19, 2010 by lushangxinku

“…now the world stands, visible through your body,

and is transparent through your transparency…”

-Octavio Paz, from Sun Stone, 1957

"The Mysterious Affairs of the Murderous Attacks" by Johann Knopf

“The Mysterious Affairs of the Murderous Attacks” by Johann Knopf

This account, recorded on pen & paper in 1910 at Wiesloch Aslyum in Germany, was done by a locksmith diagnosed with a “paranoid form of dementia praecox.”  It survived as a part of the Prinzhorn Collection (1918-1921), a treasure of artworks made by people in European psychiatric institutions compiled by the German art historian and psychiatrist Dr. Hans Prinzhorn.

In my dream, there is the burned-out rubble of a house.  Cindered chunks from which smoke has long since left lay pell-mell and scattered across the lot of the former home- a few planks from the frames of walls stand, riven by flame, ash and dust, a stark vigil against the slow crumble that will certainly soon befall them.  In the night air, these wall-stalks permit some new harvest, with random roadside weeds standing behind them in a sort of lit but blurry inverted silhouette.

The harvest is an ordering, a movement towards interpretation of whatever may be left- an almost imperceptible tuft of ash billows out as the first burned timber creaks and pops and is raised up, only to be laid back down, just so.  What follows is a cacophony of pops, crackles, and hollow rolls as whatever is left of this ruin is meticulously ordered into some symbolic map of what once was there, or what is wished for now to be there.  Some distant part of me, the dreamer, has set these motions in place, and decides the eventual new order of the rubble- every stick and pile used to its utmost, to form sigils, secret hanzi- like characters unknown to my waking mind, with a complex asymmetrical purpose, a deliberate interpretation of object, event, import.

Eventually the whole rubble pile is sorted out thoroughly into some sort of message to the sky, or to one standing above.  And within the dream, I sigh deep down, somehow knowing that the chaos and destruction have been used in a new and gratifying way.  A sense of understanding, a delicate engraving upon the surfaces of an event now past.

Waking from the dream, I get up from my sitting position on the old couch and brew some coffee.  I think of the order our minds impose upon things, like lines of exacting graphs placed over something which never knew such angles.  Stacking, sorting and arranging- redefining.  Whereas this pile of ashen timber spoke simply and clearly of the mysterious event- the burn- the unseen hand that arranged and stacked this residue of an event had a way of announcing the inferiority of immediacy.  It reminded me of a conversation with an old friend, in which I was admonished for using words deemed “judgmental,” when in my heart it seemed I was merely seeing into the guts and inner pulses of the event, bearing witness to what had clearly happened.  It was as if I had been shot, and, stumbling through the doors of the ER, shouted “Help!  I’ve been shot…” and while I clutched the wound, leaning in feverish shock against the swaying wall, the receptionist evaluated not the wound, but the implied judgment of my words.  “No- it’s horrible that you say you’ve been shot- that casts judgment against another person.  You must therefore say that a wound has occurred.”  On the floor now, writhing in pain, I grind the words out in gasps, “Someone shot me.  I’ve been shot- please help,” and the receptionist, like some demonic Nurse Ratchet immune to the immediacy of suffering, indoctrinated out of being able to recognize events for what they are, trained into thinking that using any language whatsoever that holds people responsible for what they say and do is a violent language that should be excoriated from all use, stands over me with her hands over her hips.  “No- to say that someone shot you is not being fair to that person- they should not be cast in a violent light.”  And so interpretations insist on clothing the transparent in the outfits deemed most appropriate.  Immediacy becomes cast in a lewd, unseemly light, and events themselves are trapped from being owned or involved with the people who obviously brought them about.

Of course, fussing over deliberate avoidance of clear symbolic representation reflecting an obvious event seems excessive to me- let the flames own the consumed wood, I say; they were there, they took part and are responsible, even if it could be argued that it is the nature of a flame to do so.  And though, now off burning somewhere else, they may grimace, wince or shrug, or deny with anger that they ever consumed a home deliberately, as I speak to them it is not my given task to rescind the role that they played, the unadorned truth of the burn itself.  I have this inner conversation often- does the frank, immediate account of things done and said reflect some fault, some deficit of compassion on my part?  Should I fear the discomfort of people unused to accountability, ownership of what is done or said?  Is there some essential nature to kindness itself which requires an amnesia so extensive as to deny the role flames played in the burned-out shell of a house?  Is the onus on a gunshot survivor to refuse to say aloud that they were shot by someone, as an expression of liberation from the role that the shooter played in the event?

Just like the random order that the invisible hand in my dream cast upon the rubble and timbers, and just as the German locksmith tried to establish his own meticulous record of an event in some delirious new symmetry, the presentation of immediate events is secondary in meaning to the immediate events themselves- sometimes beautiful, orderly, kind, liberating- but secondary.  And so the immediacy, the pure occurrence, the essential stark transparency of a realm like a naked emperor in an imagined cloak, speaks more clearly to me than any nuanced, tiptoe interpretation of the embroidery of this imagined cloak, or any praises of it.  The tough nature of this conviction is that the witness to the naked emperor may bring upon himself scorn or disapproval; it may seem that he is being unkind by letting birds scatter as they will from branches, without placing them in careful snowflake-order through re-interpretation.  But the echoing events of this world of which we are not separate, reverberate through time like rung bells- passing them off as a phantom internal ringing of arbitrary ears, changes nothing.

Every Breath A Thoughtograph

Posted in Intention on July 12, 2010 by lushangxinku

“Our cells vibrate; there is music in them, even if we don’t hear it.  Different animals hear some frequencies better than we do.  Perhaps a mite, lost in the canyon of a crease of skin, hears our cells ringing like a mountain of wind chimes every time we move.”

-Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses, 1990

Thoughtograph of Prince Katzura, Nagoya, Japan, 1913

Thoughtography is the ability to create an image using thoughts alone.  In this instance, from a book called Clairvoyance & Thoughtography, by T. Fukurai (President of the Psychical Institute of Japan) c. 1913, a man by the name of Kohichi Mita was claimed to have burned this image of a Japanese Prince onto one of a dozen photographic plates placed 2 meters away from him, and proceeded to name the exact plate out of the dozen onto which the image would appear.

The basic assumption of solipsism, as I understand it, is that existence and reality are totally confined to me; when I cease to exist, the known universe will automatically cease with me, and in the meantime it is all an illusory construction of my mind, a simulacrum of my own projected creation.  As I awaken, don my work clothes and walk to the bakery, every sense perception is a manufacture of my whimsy, my thoughts creating all existence around me.  Hinted at in Stone’s novel of historical fiction about the life of Van Gogh, on a day in which he feels well, the street he walks down is electric with sunshine, glowing with promise, the churning light swaying in ecstasy.  Then after one of his many romantic rejections, he walks down the same street, experiencing the same weather even, but it is crowding and stifling, menacing with the scorch of confusion, the oppressive heat of a soul entrapped in sorrow.

I hear more and more of this during the last few years- a dangerous assumption that we in fact create, and are responsible for, all that happens to us, all that transpires, based merely on our state of mind at the time.  This assertion is usually applied in a positive way, granting a dubious promise that we can have love, money, and success in everything if we project thoughts into some sort of carefully attentive ether that will respond with material results.  But if this extreme view were to be true, then the opposite swing of the pendulum would also be true.  If everything that happens wonderfully is our job to cajole from this mysteriously attentive ether, then it follows that every horrible thing that happens is our fault, our responsibility.  The 3 year old Tibetan child buried alive in an earthquake brought it upon himself; the rape survivor was asking the universe to do this to him or her; every single random trauma that happens in human existence is the experiencer’s fault- a simple problem of not having the right mindset.  Is this really an acceptable theory that explains  the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

Part of the problem that leads to this runaway solipsism is the compartmentalization of our natural response to things.  Once human emotion itself becomes dubbed a mood disorder, it becomes a sort of moral duty to police feelings with all the intensity of riot containment.  The toxic gas canisters hurled at these powerful, churning emotions take the shape of pills which alter our brain and body chemistry.  Instead of rubber bullets, face shields and batons, we attempt to overrun this inner crowd with repeated intimidations, rationalizations, wrecking balls of radical non-acceptance of how we honestly feel.

Surely the realities we experience are, to a certain degree, a matter of perspective.  Looking across the vast spectrum of scale, we can see that our sense perception is limited in many ways.  We are too big to perceive the music of our own cells, too small to perceive the music of vast, giant stars.  To some, solipsism is so ingrained that every sentient being is devoid of its own separate identity; a tool to be used for our own benefit.  Serial killers and sociopaths for example have the curious conviction that other beings are not really alive at all, not like the individual perceiving them.  People and other sentient beings therefore become like lumber; easy to turn into their own private version of ash.  People become a template for self-worth through domination and subjugation, in fact in some cases the dehumanization of the Other becomes absolutely crucial for self-acceptance at all.  Hierarchy itself becomes a new art of thoughtography- instead of seeing a fellow human, one sees one’s own projected image of “lesser,” “lower,” “higher,” “better,” “holier.”  These selfish cartoons poison our days with conflict; thoughts which lead to the violence of assumed division.  Yet to the person who has convinced themselves of this as necessary, as innate or ingrained, no amount of the sheer mystery, the delicate awe of the present moment can pierce such a thoughtograph.

I can sit here, telling myself that the vast, open sky, the baffling, ineffable nature of artistic creation, and the daunting labyrinths of the heart are all my progeny, a collection of pictures strung together by my own mind.  But I prefer a more subtle challenge: if every breath is a thoughtograph, let these thoughts be mirrors, as still as the surface of a quiet lake, or a dewdrop on a leaf.  If my thoughts are grounded enough, still enough, they will mirror the rest of existence the way that Dogen Zenji spoke of the moon being reflected in a dewdrop, in 12th century Japan.  Distortions and projections may be diabolically easy; inner crowd control by arbitrary force may be tempting.  But it is my conviction today that the illusion of solipsism may dissipate under the glare of a mirror unobstructed by the fog of my human breath upon it; and that I may practice daily a way to reflect not my thoughts upon a world, but a world upon thought.  Then everything as it is will be a thoughtograph with no thinker, and as long as my own breath continues, I can stroll unchallenged through a perception wide enough to include all sentient beings, undivided, in fact, inseparable.

Low-Swinging Venus

Posted in Intention on March 10, 2009 by lushangxinku

“…melancholy people have two reasons for being so: they don’t know or they hope.”

The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus, 1942

The planet Venus, yesterday evening from the bakery

The planet Venus, yesterday evening from the bakery

A few years ago, after walking home at dawn under the gaze of an especially bright Venus, I wrote a journal entry.  I spoke of the love and admiration I felt for the mysteries of the heavens, pulsars and planets, nebulae and vast dark unknowns.  I spoke of the absurdity, it seemed to me at the time, of loving a fellow human in such a way; to bow down to the beauty of a human, in my orientation, a female.  This feeling seemed absurd to me for years.  A cartoonish rush, an objectification where selfishness, vanity and egotistical pride seemed to be vaunted over kindness, sharing, co-creation.  A fleeting physical pleasure, commodified and fetishized into tradable human stock.  Traded for power, for submission to power, not for love.  Humans kept each other and themselves well-milked, and if they didn’t on a consistent basis, all allegiances, all loyalties, all loves, all bets were off.  In a culture of instant gratification and sensory over-stimulation, lying, betrayal, adultery and shadowy bedroom deals became commonplace, and as soon as better or different sex was made available, human beings became as disposable and forgettable as Styrofoam popcorn stuffed into a box.  For over a decade I steered clear of playing this game.

Last night I looked up at that same planet, now in a different part of the sky, at a different time.  What else has changed?  I have now glimpsed the promise, companionship, intimacy and magic of human love, and I accept that from my perspective, the paradigms of head games, objectification, power relations and sex quotas can all easily be smashed, evaporated by a blazing light that seemed to be much bigger than me, distant but close enough to be startling, able to burn me if I strayed too close, like a renegade Venus swinging down from the sky.

I did not know, did not feel the possibilities of my own emotions before.  I had known once, long ago, but eventually forgot.  Now that I do know that the silly game Western sexuality has become like some grand emperor without clothes, like some barking television clown without wisdom, I have no choice but to hope; that there is reciprocal, sensual, authentic love that can exist in this life, in this cultural reality.

The game at this point is complex and pressured, like steam pulsed through a spaghetti tangle of pipes, heat that will scorch but not warm, and, once redirected, rapidly cools into memory.  The gender roles once applicable through long millenia of hunter-gatherer society have come in forms of anxieties and syndromes, disorders and seething misunderstandings.  The females of this current society are faced with what has been called the triple-bind.  They must conform to a huge amount of trimming and preening, painting and glossing, to be appealing and acceptable not just to men, or to other women- but to themselves.  This occurs like a spectrum, the far end being chronic obsession about looks and outside opinions placed above all else- binging, purging, starving, compulsive exercise, laxatives, tanning beds, chemicals to be applied to faces, hands, legs, sprays to be misted, hairs to be plucked and shaved.  And underneath all of this she is still expected to be successful, brilliant and a good mother, or potential mother.  The pressures from my perspective seem to be extreme and irrational, self-defeating and draining, like the ancient Mayan concept of beauty, filing teeth into sharp points with no anesthetic.  Instead of the focus being how others are treated, these boxed-in souls spend hours reviewing perceived physical flaws in front of the mirror.  Instead of embracing notions of true companionship, lifelong partnership able to weather any and all coming storms, the man or men engaged are considered to be pets that must occasionally be walked, employers or generals, teachers or cops, to be pacified, cajoled, and marginalized into manageable corner shelves.  The tortuous, stressful, exhausting road to social value takes so much out of a person that their loved ones, their closest friends, enjoy nothing but the frayed shell of the person they know, irritable and defensive, finally buying in to the manic cruelty that has been served to them through these intricate webs of pressure and expectation.

What role have I played in such a system, or will continue to play?  I lack the Victorian hangups Foucault ridiculed, and I see a place for human sensual pleasure in the context of interpersonal dignity and open-minded acceptance, where no one is an object, pet, task or beast to pacify.  I hope that stability, honor and mutual growth can nurture interaction, heeding the glare of the renegade Venus and remaining accepting of its drifting shadows.

And so no longer happily, firmly contemptuous of this immense human game, I level my gaze to my surroundings, and wish every woman I pass, peace.  May the callous, self-serving hunger of the men not stand in the way of eventual true appreciation, careful listening, empathy and friendship; and may the tortured compulsive runners and dry-heavers resist against such arbitrary pressure and turn their massive courage and capacity for suffering into strengths and creativity that the world so desperately needs right now.  The players can co-create a new game, one respectful of the awe of the heavens, one that dares to be saddened by windows of hope, instead of mirrors and toilets of compulsion.