Cherries, Pistachios & Black Coffee

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There is a light or, more accurately, there are sources of illumination, always in association with music, as if the illumination is borne upon or dependent upon the sound that I (and I assume many, many others) have experienced. Immediately prior to these events I have been in an otherwise enhanced condition of physical or psychological fatigue, strain or mindfulness. Or all of these things. Traumatic triggers, as they’ve been described, perhaps. I’ve described the experiences previously, in the DOP, as they first began occurring several years ago.

  • At a Nick Lowe concert at The Ark in Ann Arbor, Nick playing solo on an acoustic guitar, I was observing the stage lights.
  • Standing in a cosmetics store while my wife shopped, music on the sound system, I was looking at the sunlight reflecting off the windshields and mirrors of the cars parked outside.
  • Sitting in my living room with the morning sun streaming in through the windows, music playing.
  • Last night at the home improvement, hot and tired, running around, such as I was, I noticed the overhead lighting transformed and yet not, white and brilliant (the light is always a kind of silver white light, to borrow from the title of a Terry Reid song) and a young couple, shopping, walking some distance in front of me with their dog (yes, this store allows dogs).

The aforementioned psychology of grace, as it may be called, accompanies the experience of light and sound. Look, it says. Or, behold. Behold the grace within all things. And you and they and all things within it. No need to fear.

It’s information. What kind of information? Knowing. Without knowledge. A transmission of knowing. Because the only takeaway from the light and sound synergy is the sense of how compelling it is, as if I’m home, that this is home, all of it and it’s not for me, not a victory or arrival or achievement or anything but all of us, here. As a gift of sorts. There is no sense of ecstasy, no sense of transcendence from this world. No separation from myself or others. No sense of dissolution. Perhaps an intriguing sense of a veil being lifted but that’s not it either. Because the information is that there is nothing hidden. It’s more akin to a full-on, hyper-authentic encounter with all things but with an enhanced frequency and amplitude, expressing a quality of both time and eternity intertwined or coeval. It is memorable in this way, it is fleeting – impossibly fleeting – and when it’s gone it is not up to me to recreate or seek or otherwise attempt to re-experience. I can’t. It arrives, becomes manifest and then it slips away, things return to normal. With a residue, a memory of it. I’m happy for it then wistful, a little painfully and selfishly truth be told; wistful for the lights and fraught that they won’t return. I’d rather have things like that, I think, feeling ashamed, of course, because to long for gifts makes one ashamed. I nevertheless find myself seeking – I look into lights, everyday lights, sources of illumination and they’re just lights. It’s not to be sought. It just arrives. It’s bestowed. As a grace, a cosmic grace, perhaps, and that’s that. Have you, dear readers, experienced it?

What to do with the information? Proselytize? Is that what I’m doing now? I hope not. This is just communication. Not as if I’m a Bodhisattva, a spiritual adept, a seer or anything. It’s nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with us. I’m merely seeking to communicate, that’s all, again, as always. Perhaps in an effort to close the distance. What distance? The distance, the exile I oftentimes feel and that I’m convinced must be common to us all. I believe, obviously, in the continuity of human nature. All the way back to, say, the Aurignacian, some 43,000-26,000 YA. Or B.C. I dislike both designations. YA, or “years ago,” is a reference to the 1950s when radiocarbon dating was developed. B.C.? Well, we all know what it refers to, no harm, no foul, no assumptions. And we require references, temporal contexts, if you will.

The illumination, by the way, is independent of the music. Synergistic, somehow borne along with it, I don’t know. The light is the thing, not the sound. But no sound, no music, no light. It’s nature is abiding, obliquely compassionate and categorically reassuring. The word sublime comes to mind, but humbly so. The light is encouraging. Sustaining. In both a personal sense – this is how things are, it says, and you are this way too – and in a selfless sense, as if to demonstrate for a moment (these events have never lasted more than perhaps a minute) the net of gems, to borrow from Hinduism, of which everything is a part, without reference to a hierarchy of any sort. The light or sources of illumination along with the music, communicate equanimity – poise and composure within the storminess of things – and a mysterious flavor or tincture of what I can only describe as the Divinity. I capitalize the word out of respect for the experience without claiming to have experienced anything, so to say. That is, I am not hereby claiming an experience of enlightenment (no hierarchy, remember). I am not intending to lay claim to any otherwise loaded spiritual or contemplative condition. Neither am I refuting nor denying anything.

What, then, am I saying? Perhaps that there is, somehow out there and in here at the same time, in phenomenological terms at least, the experience of all things as they should be in the midst of nothing in my life being as I want it to be. I’m not onto anything new here. As someone who studies mythology which, as I’ve said, for me, includes beneath it the categories of spirituality, religion and all the contemplative traditions both personal and cultural, I am aware of the paradox that life presents, that we seem to exist within; of our pervasive, enduring, pernicious sense of predicament; of what the Buddhists refer to as suffering and what I refer to as personal mythological schism. Or merely psychological schism.

Am I a reductionist in the way of reducing every experience to that of a psychological, hence a biological one? I study the psychology of mythology, after all. But, no. It’s not that simple, this business of the light borne upon the music, such as it is. The experience of the Other or, as I like to regard it, the Mystery (please bear with me regarding capitalization, I’m merely attempting to distinguish the pedestrian definitions from the mythological or spiritual ones), is an experience – it has empirical value, an experiential reality: we have encounters or experiences of the divinity, which I place in lowercase here to acknowledge the pedestrian nature – inevitably pedestrian, it seems – of the awesome, of the sublime. So that it can be ascertained, perhaps, in personal terms which are the only terms (unless you are a Bodhisattva, saint or enlightened being, for instance) we pedestrians on this earthen, Earthbound planetary crust are reliably having.

The light, then, is primary, it seems. It is where the information is. Rather, it is the information. It is the source of something. Or it is the everything-ness of things? The music is perhaps akin to a door hinge upon which the door swings? And the light, the illumination is behind this door? No, not exactly. Again, nothing is hidden, that’s part of the communication. This is important because I spend much of my day listening to music (recall that one of my unpaid vocations, as I refer to it, is music appreciation or listening) both with undivided attention and as background or a soundtrack, as it were, to my day and, in many ways, my life. My life seems to be accompanied, happily, by a soundtrack which serves as nourishment and a refuge and a way to engage the world-of-action (versus contemplation) that so often, at least for me, remains impossibly remote or distant or uninviting or unwelcoming. I struggle to participate as I know a lot of us do, perhaps most of us in our own fraught, variously inelegant, neurotic and exhausting ways. We make life difficult. Because it is. And, of course, it isn’t.

Is it illusion? Is life merely illusory? Is there something more real to be had? What is real? Samsara, the Hindu idea of the ever-changing, ultimately illusory phenomenal world[1] attempts to capture our predicament. The cycles of life, death and rebirth are to be broken or broken free from and the All is to be gained or sublimated into. Death of the self into the Self and all that. Good stuff. But what of the light, the sources of illumination and the music, the soundtrack?

Again, it’s pedestrian. Christ is said to have said, somewhere within the Gospel of St. Thomas if I’m not mistaken – those amazing Gnostic style texts unburied near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945 (see the image introducing today’s post) – split the stick and I am there. Which is to imply within and without, to be sure, but also the divinity within all things. I admit I have not read this gospel myself and now that I think of it, I’m inspired to put it on my to-read list! [2] Free of dogma and institutionalization, free of liturgy and the threshold guardians of religious administration – of the idea of us versus them – all religions, if they recognize humanity, when they are not appropriating or adjudicating, are mythologies in the best sense for they communicate (1) a sense of awe, (2) a cosmology that supports that awe, (3) a sociology forming a basis for ethics and morality, and (4) a pedagogical, supporting psychology.[3]

And if humor is not overtly present, the illumination or points of illumination, what have you, are communicating a kind of cosmically arch lightheartedness, too. Arch? Playfully roguish, mischievous or crafty. Yes, it’s in there. Also, awareness of the dark but as something not so much balancing the light as part of the light, if that’s possible to imagine.

Again, I’ve described nothing new, nothing even particularly interesting, I’m sure, for anyone since William James who studied the nature of religious experience with an openness to the ideas of the supernatural or, as Jeff Kripal describes it, super natural (space intended). And what I would describe as mythological in the sense of myth as metaphor and myth as true fiction.

Meanwhile, cherries? Pistachios? Black coffee? Merely a portion of my brunch today, that’s all. Little things, the juxtaposition of which seem noteworthy in a modest way – sometimes they seem apt as a title? And on the topic of juxtapositions, I enjoy pulling up the next entry from the old DOP especially when there seems a resonance with my current post. Whether there is or not is of course open to interpretation, to hermeneutics.

[1] Samsara, being a Sanskrit word, will be translated and its ideology interpreted in different ways but the core idea, which I’ve encountered in many places, seems to me to be well rendered (and well cited), currently, within Wikipedia.org, viz., “Samsara,” retrieved today, 7.10.2020: “The concept of Saṃsāra has roots in the post-Vedic literature; the theory is not discussed in the Vedas themselves. It appears in developed form, but without mechanistic details, in the early Upanishads. The full exposition of the Saṃsāra doctrine is found in Sramanic religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, as well as various schools of Hindu philosophy after about the mid-1st millennium BC. The Saṃsāra doctrine is tied to the karma theory of Indian religions, and the liberation from Saṃsāra has been at the core of the spiritual quest of Indian traditions, as well as their internal disagreements. The liberation from Saṃsāra is called Moksha, Nirvana, Mukti or Kaivalya.”

[2] For the uninitiated like me (I study mythology but of course I have not read all the translations, much less the original language texts!) there are some helpful reviews on Amazon that describe a James Robinson versus a Marvin Meyer translation, the Robinson version supposedly free from the perhaps mythologically obfuscating political correctness of the day, perhaps not – hey, we have to start somewhere with the myths and if they resonate, we are properly on the adventure, I’ll leave it at that.

[3] I am borrowing these functions, as always, from Joseph Campbell.

***

DOP1 (2012) VINTAGE POST:

Thursday, December 13, 2012. I had wacky psychology going on yesterday. Like today, it was sunny and unseasonably warm, so the weather is not to blame. But I had to await a sprinkler system inspection that was to take place between 9:30am and 2:30pm. Also, we had an appointment with our lawyer to sign off on the financial and end-of-life power-of-attorney documents he drew up. For some reason, these two events seemed to overwhelm me with uncertainty and frustration. I spent the morning cleaning up the apartment in expectation of folks walking through the place, fully realizing that many tenants wouldn’t have considered doing anything to make their places more inviting. Why do I do this shit? It’s an opportunity to straighten up and toss some shit that’s been sitting around. But mostly it just made me nervous thinking about some guy coming in, on the job, seeing my personal affects and seeing me, a man at home in the middle of the day (not away at work). It sort of freaked me out. Why am I so self-conscious about not having a job? I kept telling myself, “just do what you do – you’re working like anyone else; you just work from home, as a writer.” Then I thought what if this person, out of courtesy perhaps, or boredom even, asks what I write? They might even ask if I’ve been published. I knew these thoughts were stupid and silly and ridiculous – what I do with my time is none of anybody’s business but my own, of course. I’m not doing anything wrong by trying to be magokoro. I don’t know, it was just a version of an anxiety attack I think. The world will test your resolve, your magokoro, your biophycomythology and holding fast to what you’re trying to do is, apparently for folks like me, not likely to become an easy process, let alone second nature any time soon. I don’t like writing about this. It’s embarrassing and the anxiety isn’t pleasant to recall. But some desire to maybe help someone else with this shit compels me to record my struggles. There’s no reason to think anyone will read this, but maybe, just maybe, my writing will survive me long enough to end up in someone’s hands at the time they could use it. I know life works that way for me: exactly when I’ve been desperately near the edge, there’s been some help, some light, some air to breathe; a door that opens. It’s the most important thing anyone can ever do for someone else I think: to help them back into the world that they feel has no place for them; that they might even feel they’d be better off leaving. I’ve never thought of taking my own life – I’ve never been quite that despondent or black or lost. But I’ve been very, very lost, frustrated and diminished to the point of despair. I’ve certainly despaired and I did it again yesterday to myself. I doubted and questioned everything about my self-work in the face of a terribly irrelevant, brief and incidental moment of contact with the outside world. “Everybody’s fighting some kind of battle.”

I came across this poem (via archive.org) by John Masefield the one-time Poet Laureate of England. It apparently originally appeared in his Salt Water Ballads, 1902, but the scanned version from archive.org, published in London in 1903, shows the title as simply Ballads. His most famous poem is “Sea Fever” but instead of that grand narrative, I prefer the imagery in this one:

Cargoes

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,

Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,

With a cargo of ivory,

And apes and peacocks,

Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

 

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,

Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,

With a cargo of diamonds,

Emeralds, amethysts,

Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

 

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke-stack,

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rails, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.[1]

[1] Masefield, John, Ballads, Elkin Mathews, London: 1903, pp.18-19.