Mystic and Membrane: Vicissitudes of Language

Words are strange sound symbols we can’t live with and can’t live without. They are and aren’t. They bridge us over to one another and block our way. We forever hazard mistaking word for object, solidifying a word or idea into a specific form or image, making us forget that the universe is forever changing and words today don’t mean what they meant yesterday or what they’ll mean tomorrow—let alone in a thousand years. Words are life rings to which we cling; attire with which we clothe our psychic bodies; weapons, shields, and armor with which we go into daily battle.

Sicilian Water Skippers

When language falls away, like a veil or mist, we’re faced with the naked world around us, harsh and beautiful. To arrive at pure presence in pure reality, bursting through the membranes of our delusions (to suggest Zen satori here), if such an achievement is possible, is to have undertaken the longest, most difficult journey to a place that, ironically, is all around and within us.

Language may be the most troublesome membrane we grapple with in an effort to break through to reality. Thus mystics, poets, and metaphors are born. The mystic-poet who merges with or intuits the deep nature of reality then returns to tell about it, may return with words that merely allude to the experience, thus pointing more to the mind of the mystic than to ultimate reality. The mystic may still be tainted or inspired by it, but once the mystic poet begins to place words one after the other, during later moments of inspiration, new experiences occur and new realities are born.

Language is perhaps our most dangerous friend, since new collections of words may subvert our experience of reality. Still, such language, regardless of its failure to take us to the heart of an exclusive reality, may seduce us into strange, beautiful, soul-altering experience and enliven us in a potentially mind-deadening world. As long as words—tough, inspiriting, slippery words—take us to new and challenging places, our picture of reality deepens and expands. Reality depends on us to make sound symbol journeys into the intimate body of the unknown.

Copyright 2018 by Rick Clark (previously published in CORRelations: Newsletter of Center for Object Relations)

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Two Paradise Poems

First egg (Killdeer)

First egg (Killdeer)

Birds in Heaven

What do the birds
in the place they call Heaven
look like? Are they colorful?
Do they sing beautiful melodies?
Do they soar gracefully,
with great acrobatic agility?
Are there furry creatures there
pleasant to pet, to cuddle,
to keep us cozy company?
And won’t there be a little green,
a few green leaves, a deep blue sky?
Yes, I’d like a deep blue sky.
And I’m wondering. Will there be
stones, rain, someone there to love?
Will we get to eat and drink?
I’d like some tasty food, a strong wine
in Heaven, a few birds singing.
What do the birds
in the place they call Heaven
look like? Are they colorful
or are they invisible?

New birds (Canada geese)

New birds (Canada geese)

Reconstructing Paradise

A man set out to reconstruct paradise.
With an abandoned equation,
a few letters from an antiquated alphabet,
with the distant echo of a syllable,
he rebuilt the tree.

Clouds he coughed up
from his own lung’s eons of gases
till a beautiful storm cloud
banked up overhead
near to bursting.

Birds gave him the most trouble:
To redesign that which both sings and flies,
in a single act of destruction in reverse,
is a lot to ask of a man
who’d given up the world for lost.

From his own hair he fashioned
feathers and mounted them
on a twig from the tree,
then this lifeless creature
he began to teach to whistle.

What a wonderful in-earnest
sight he made, who had nothing to do
and no reason to do it! With what
a profusion of silly shrill notes
he bent the poor ear of outer space!

Imagine no birds (American robin)...

Imagine no birds (American robin)…

Copyright 2014 by Rick Clark

More Dangerous Thoughts

I’ve heard from a number of readers about my first post, “Dangerous Thoughts.” Those who commented seemed to have read my purpose in that piece. Others, however, who called or met with me to discuss “Dangerous Thoughts” directly, had issues or suggestions.

First, I’d like to say that, while I do occasionally have the dangerous thoughts I describe in that first post, such thoughts do not dominate my mental activity, nor do they altogether limit my actions, although I have to admit that, because my world view is not the most popular on the planet, I’m sometimes reluctant to share it (yet here I am, exposing my antithetical thoughts in public via Wrenzai Insight Journal).

Fear (Sayulita, Mexico, December 2102

Fear (Sayulita, Mexico, December 2012)

I’d decided that while I feel certain that most people, particularly aspiring writers, have such potentially limiting dangerous thoughts, I couldn’t assume that they do. Nor did I feel I could exploit others’ dangerous thoughts in order to offer helpful tips on the subject. Thus, I chose to use my own creeping doubts and slippery ivory-tower views as my example. I really didn’t feel I was exposing my deepest, darkest secrets in doing so. I didn’t reveal any murders or breaches of national security. Still, I’ve found such insecurities to be universal. I can say this because I’ve taught writing for over twenty years and seen these creeping doubts in many of the struggling writers who have attended my classes or participated in my writing retreats.

I can live with my dangerous thought confessions, as I believe them to be as common as dreams.

Benevolence (Italy, 2011)

Benevolence (India, 2011)

But I found that several who responded took what I wrote literally, as a reflection of my dominant way of thought. And while I knew I was taking that risk, taking that risk has been worth it. One reader commented humorously, thanking me for revealing her own thoughts, which suggests I succeeded in my effort to show that such writing insecurities are universal.

All-seeing Eye (San Francisco, December 2012

All-seeing Eye (San Francisco, February 2012)

But all this self-reflexivity falls short of my intent here. One close respondent was concerned that I was just as sadly limited by my state of mind as he has always suspected I am. Of course, because his insight into my inner state and into the extent of my experience in these matters is limited, I had to reassure him that, as I say above, the dangerous thoughts I describe in my earlier post do not represent my dominant mode of thinking as I approach the various problems, challenges, and desires of my life. Once I’d clarified this point for him, he reminded me of his own personal approach: Visualizing what you want to do paves the way to doing it.

Picture the Mind (Tivoli, Italy, 2011)

Picture the Mind (Tivoli, Italy 2009)

I have always been one to visualize an outcome, then move in the direction of that outcome in order to make it real. Visualization is as common as leaves, and the idea has been developed in books (see Shakti Gawain’s book Creative Visualization, for one). But the art is not so much in making visualizations real, but in taming the monkeys so they don’t get in the way of the visualization—or in the way of the realization of that visualization. Many people feel troubled by self-doubt, worthlessness, cultural marginalization, and historical oppression, or they lack support, belief, or material resources.

If a we think that a black man, fresh off death row, found innocent after twenty years of a crime for which he was wrongly convicted, can wake up on the first morning of his release and visualize all he wants to do that day and actually make it all real and that that man can do that as readily as someone who has had years of practice and success in building competence and self-confidence along the way—then we are out of touch with reality. There’s no comparison. The “ex-con” is going to have one hell of a time making it in the world, even if he never committed a crime in his life (in Texas, one out of seven on death row has been found to have been wrongly convicted). The thoughts that are likely to dominate this man’s mind might sound like this: “True, I’ve been proven innocent, I’ve been spared execution by state injection, but having spent twenty years on the Row, aren’t I still an ex-con? Aren’t I worthless for having been treated as worthless for twenty years?” It’s hard for a man to remember his self-worth, social viability, and democratic equality when for twenty years the great and powerful Wizard of the State has treated him as worthless. This man has a monkey in his mind the size of the Empire State Building to stare down and put to bed.

Compassion (Delhi, India, 2011)

Compassion (Delhi, India, February 2011)

It’s seems rather simplistic to say that all we have to do is get up in the morning and visualize what we intend to do and, voila, it’s as good as done. It’s simply not that simple for some people. They have complexes, blockages, and negative scripts running through the sound processing centers of their minds, and these complexes, blockages, and negative scripts are none other than those aforementioned monkeys playing havoc with our minds, eclipsing our best thoughts and undermining our best actions.

Bereft (Ocean Shores, Washington)

Bereft (Ocean Shores, Washington)

Another close respondent reminded me of the Four Agreements. The idea is that if we focus on, and strive to live by, these Four Agreements, the monkeys will have no space in our minds to make a ruckus. They’ll give up and go obediently to bed as the saintly Four Agreements rise to conduct catechism on the mind’s thoughts. Here are the Four Agreements:

Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret (from ToltecSpirit.com).

I find the Four Agreements to be rock solid—true, valid, and potent. They’re hard to argue with. But what both Visualization and the Four Agreements don’t take into account is the chaos, sturm und drang, and compost of creativity that must be present in the writer’s life in order for the writer to produce the new and unexpected, the universally felt or experienced. For example, how can the mystery writer describe a murder without imagining the act, in detail, in advance of writing? Many ideas for art and literature have arrived on the crest of a primal wave of passion, such as when a woman imagines murdering her husband then writes a novel about it instead. How can scriptwriters and movie-makers create such violent films without visualizing the violence before hand? There’s a wildness that must be groomed, a dangerous but realistic and productive wildness that provides fodder for depictions of the worst, as well as the best, of what it is to be human. Strict visualization of monetary outcomes and purist actualization of a few agreements may make the mind too square or narrow to allow for wild expressions of beauty and meaning. Artists—even scientists, I’d suggest—can’t afford to be too strict of thought.

Wrath (Olympia, Washington)

Wrath (Olympia, Washington, June 2011)

While Visualization and the Four Agreements are excellent thinking tools with which to become more productive, successful, or enlightened, if we occupy our minds too much of the time with strict principles, we may become rigid in our thinking, which, in turn, may leave little room for chaos, compost, creativity, and growth.

Confiding (Ocean Shores)

Confiding (Ocean Shores, June 2011)