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Dean's Daily Poems
How can I help you? I
will listen to you &
something can be
done about it.
|Breezes nudge me like wavelets.
The air has surfaces through which we pass.
July -- so humid the wind
in the air.
[And a poem--or really a very short essay--for tomorrow, when I probably won't have time for email:]
Spirits are not "spiritual."
You and I, for example, are spirits,
while beautiful bodies, sea gulls, mountains, trees,
Taos pueblos, Burmese temples, Jerusalem, Rome,
cathedrals, whales, crucifixes, oceans and flowers
are not spirits, though spirits,
being none of these things,
can be any of them,
unless they confuse themselves
with things: It is hard for a mountain
to be a dove.
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6/20/09 Carl Watts, Nutrition Response Testing Certified, Nutritionist, Artist, Designer, Problem Solver, Author, Publisher, Philosopher, PO Box 285, Tujunga, CA
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Note: The idea here is not to put down anyone's favorite sacred spiritual objects, but to assert that an object or force (e.g., the wind) is an object or
force. This is NOT a rejection of, for example, animism, since any object or force may be imbued with spirituality because spiritual beings inhabit it or
grant life to it (as we do to our bodies, for example, and as children do to their dolls). Even a whale is only as spiritual as it is being operated by one or
more spiritual beings. Ditto a forest. Why shouldn't someone run a forest or a nation, just as anyone reading this runs, to some extent, a human body?
On this planet at this time, we grant more life to some things than to others. For example, whales are IN, cockroaches are OUT--for most of us. Dogs
and cats many of us see as beings, people. Many us are NOT inclined to see human foetuses as beings. We are more inclined to feel more "spiritual"
on a windy mountain peak than while cleaning out a septic tank or driving past a line of strip malls. [The Zen masters might reply that there is nothing
more sacred than cleaning a septic tank.]
Why not a sacred strip mall? The ancient Egyptians attributed sacredness to scarabs (e.g., the black dung beetle) -- not far from cockroaches.
Some scholars (for example, cultural anthropologists) use such changing fashions in spirituality to debunk religion. That makes no sense to me. The
fact that we are able to imbue with spirituality any thing, from the ruby in an idol's forehead to a crack on a wall or a lumpy turnip that someone notices
resembles a woman or a bearded man -- that simply shows what spiritual beings are able to create, and the fact that the auras of spirituality that
surround such objects or fetishes are created, makes those auras no less real.
I have not included here the granting of life to a nothing, an entity who can't be perceived, because you and I fit into that category: I think we are
perceived only by what we create or by the creations we choose to be. And we aren't granted life (though our bodies are). We ARE life.
In fact, I'm not here at all. I am not this sentence. I am letters on a page or screen, to which you, now, are granting a voice and aliveness. That's YOU
speaking here. And I'm not even letters on a page or screen. I'm ink marks or pixel squiggles to which YOU are attributing meaning, saying this is a
word -- the word "this" -- and is composed of letters that have sounds, etc. But somewhere is a body typing on a keyboard...or did that body die ten
minutes or an hour or a year or a century before you are now reading these words?
And if I were in the room with you (in a way, I am), reading you these words, you'd have sounds -- I am not those sounds -- and significances -- we
co-create those -- and a body -- is that me? If its legs were amputated, would I cease to be wholly me? Ah, but if the brain were removed? THAT is the
question! Then the body would become dead meat. But would I? If you unplug the TV set, do all the people that had been moving on the screen cease
Of course, a body can say "I am this body." And a sentence on a computer screen can say, I am this sentence.
I'd say our "spiritual objects," whether palatial cathedrals, Rosary beads, idols or a stern white-bearded man in the sky or a leather bag full of "good
medicine" or the embalmed finger of a great religious leader, are as useful to us as their presence evokes in us an awareness of who we are (perhaps
reminding us of periods when we were more aware and more able and willing to create), and as worse-than-useless as we use them to confuse
ourselves with symbols of what we are.
Being nothing at all, basically, means being able to be anything one chooses to be. The stripping away of material adhesions is often confused with
aceticism (denying one's body many things, like food and clothing and shelter). We often find this a hard concept to grasp--hence the popularity of
wind as a spiritual symbol, since we think of moving air as able to occupy anything. Ditto the sacredness (to some) of the jackyl or coyote, who can be
everywhere, usually unseen.
Denial of the body may produce a sort of spiritual awareness: you can, for example, starve or whip or weight-lift your body into a light-headedness and
then to a clear awareness of being outside that body, yet sentient. But there's a pleasure in acetism that is in itself a sensual thing, a kind of
attachment to the body. What odd sorts of fun we discover. Acetisim as an addictive drug!
The more nothing one is, the more capable one is of being what one chooses to be. Keats called this ("negative capability") the basis of his poetry, the
ability to BE the bird he heard singing outside the window, to be absent from "self" (really self's constructs and associations). (He explains all this in a
Some with this capability get worried about it, become hovering clouds of anxiety, because they resist it, or, like James Boswell (writer of what is broadly
considered the finest biography every written, the life of 18th Century literary lion, essayist and dictionary writer, Samuel Johnson) alternated between
relishing and seeking to reject this "negative capability." (This comes up in his diaries.) He would hang out with the great figures of his time (Johnson,
Rousseau, Voltaire, Burke, etc.), be charming and immerse himself in their personalities, could become them, had the chameleon nature associated
with some of the great confidence men. He was terrific at drawing them out, would have been a crack reporter. For example, in the biography, Johnson
is gotten to say some great things by "a gentleman present" who asks what seems to be a dumb question. In the diaries we find that the gentleman was
Boswell. We also find, in the diaries, Boswell deciding who he will be the next day.
His ability to be others was one of his great joys, as it was Keats' greatest joy. Boswell's other great joy was his connection to people like Johnson who
seemed absolutely certain of their identities, men as solidly themselves as some granite boulder on a mountain that approximates a man's head. And
yet, he, this nothing, was able to find friendship and even warmth with Johnson, not so surprising when you learn (from Boswell) that in his later years
Johnson would awake in the darkest hours of the night feeling that he was going insane, and would loudly recite all the Latin prayers he could
remember to persuade himself that he was still there, still sane.
Probably Johnson's uncertainty was as great a magnet for Boswell as his certainty.
Great actors sometimes enjoy or suffer from this awareness that whatever they are is the role they've chosen to play. They are considered great actors
because they are able to go deep in letting go of what is normally considered "themselves" in order to be someone else.
When I say we aren't these bodies (or these sentences), I say it because I've experienced it to some extent. At various times I've been as aware of the
body as something not myself as I've ever been of the body as "me." I've perceived things the body could not perceive quite vividly. Some would call
this a brain disorder. But what I experienced was perceiving what I perceived -- and even having those perceptions validated by others who also
perceived them. And my state at such times was sometimes a joyous, calm state, sometimes an agitated, disturbed state.
What made the difference? The extent to which I knowingly and willingly brought about the state and was more or less in control. A drug or a sudden
hard impact or terror or other traumas may knock a person into such a state, and in most cases, the state will be overwhelming and unreal, possibly
terrifying, or addictively thrilling. In the latter case, the person tries the drug again and again to recover the thrill and avoid the crash of coming down --
and becomes progressively less and less able to recapture the "high". In any case, one becomes less and less able to be apart from the body, more
"stuck" in it, more solid. It's as if the drug ejects you (like a pilot's explosive ejection capsule) -- after all, drugs are toxic -- but you are ejected on an
elastic leash and snapped back in, and that's something we find unpleasant. It's enough to make the idea of not being one's body very unpleasant!
My own experience of my body, nearly always, is that it's a part of a considerably larger space that I inhabit and can expand or contract. My ability to
maintain or expand or contract this space is relative, something that has increased gradually over the years. Sometimes it is real to me, as I write, that
my space has reached out to include those who will read (are reading) these words. I think that when people communicate well, to some extent, they
become one another. I think poetry, when it is good poetry, is good communication.
I haven't always been this at ease with space and my body and who I am and what I write. That took work. If anyone wants to discuss such things, email
me. But this is not intended to be a pitch, just a commentary on mountains and doves.
I wrote that poem years ago after finding myself a bit turned-off by too many "spiritual" people who, in their own hushed-voiced, orgasmic affectations,
were solid and very very seriously so. I ran into lots of them in Haight-Ashbury, in Taos, New Mexico, etc. -- all the "spiritual" places. It seems to me that
spiritual awareness is the opposite of this: It is light, not heavy; fun, not serious; insouciant, not dark and holier-than-thou; able to be in good
communication, not glowering at the world from feverish Rasputin eyes; playful, but not devoted to one-ups-manship (that is, not heavily involved in
proving to others that they are spiritually ignorant of what the Guru knows and incapable of ever knowing it fully themselves).
I remember, for example, sitting in an esoteric coffeehouse (could have been Taos, Haight-Ashbury or on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley or a dive near
the University of Minnesota (10 O'Clock Scholar, it was called -- where Dylan performed before he became Dylan [now there's a guy who moves in and
out of the heavy Guru games] -- happened in all of these places), and as I sip my espresso and look about me, I see some, guy, long-bearded,
mystically regaled (perhaps with silver and turquoise, perhaps beads and flowers, perhaps robes, rags...), and he catches my eye with a "deep,"
piercing glare, and I realize the guy is trying to stare me down and that a kind of force moves out towards me along his line of vision...and it's STICKY!
(If I were a cat, I'd lick myself off!) The spiritual presence was that of a fat spider at the center of his web. He wasn't so much being a body as being a
negative spirit, a "minus spirit" -- someone in the spiritual state of not quite being able to be a body, a kind of animated death that is less than death.
Experiences of that sort persuaded me that much of what people call "spiritual" is intended to drive people away from awareness of themselves as
spiritual beings. Who'd want to achieve awareness of immortality if it meant being condemned forever to be a vampire? (Some would, I guess.) So my
little poem isn't an attack on Taos (for example), a beautiful area. Or mountains or doves or perception of spiritual presences in objects. It's about
"spirituality" that makes the idea of spirituality repulsive.
http://deanotations.blogspot.com (short poems)
http://dearreader08.blogspot.com (essays and longer poems)