3 April 2014
Words have always fascinated me. From the line and form of typography to the mental imagery they produce. Even Chinese calligraphy with its (to me, at least) undecipherable meanings draws me in, insisting that I pay more attention to the lines that sweep, cross, stack up, and seem to be a collection of fallen jackstraws. The concepts that words carry are even more mysterious than the fact that words can evoke images. Take, for example, Monet's painting The Magpie. The image portrayed on the canvas is a winter scene, winter bare trees with houses behind, a stone wall and a gate, a heavy coat of snow on everything, a black birdlike figure perched on the gate. Is it a Raven? The title tells us its a Magpie. The mood changes with just that small bit of information from the title.
Depending on how I feel going into seeing the image, the winter scene could be viewed as stark, a scene of devastation with the bare trees and all the snow covering everything, the bird creature could be a raven overlooking a world of death and suffocation. Have you ever seen a Magpie? They hop around in a comical fashion when not flying, looking for something that interests them, which they often pick up to fly off with. The thieving Magpie.
Many people see that winter scene and immediately think that they don't like winter. The shoveling of snow, driving in the stuff, life is a mess. Look again at the painting, there are no sidewalks nor driveways. There aren't even any roads, no cars, no driving, it was painted before all these things had been invented. They are not needed in this rural scene. It portrays a slice of life in a much different time and circumstance. Magpies are clever birds that show no fear and can be quite entertaining in the mountains at a ski resort pick nick table trying to make off with a small portion of your lunch. With this in mind the whole feeling of the painting changes.
I realize that I have the opportunity to interpret what the painting can bring forth in me. I have the choice in how I see the scene. The action is in me, not determined by outside factors. The outside may give seemingly adverse conditions, but I get to determine how to respond.
Back to words for a moment. Sometimes words can be a blueprint, a route to get somewhere, a reflection of having been somewhere, maybe how to get back to the same place again. One of my favorite word based memories is a Rumi poem:
Beyond wrong doing and right doing,
there is a field,
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
You, me, even the words each other have no meaning.
Being a part of everything. No separation, no valuing, no rank ordering. Reminds me of William Blake's Augeries of Innocence:
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
How many times have I stood transfixed, caught unsuspecting that anything would happen, standing dumbly unable to speak as no words were sufficient, gazing at a flower – essentially lost to this world? Its easy. If you try to make it happen, it won't occur. These things don't work that way. They come upon you without fanfare or effort. Moments of Grace. It can be a sound that stands out, the gleam in someone's eye, the way the light catches the merest detail and creates a highlight that won't let you go. There is no causing it to happen, you must be aware to climb aboard when the occasion arises. And be willing to be carried off. That eternal moment is forever here, just waiting to take you away, if you can drop everything and just be with it.
How many are willing to do that? To drop the agenda, relinquish the fear of ridicule, to set aside thinking, and just notice the world waiting to take you away. It is rare and when we find ourselves thusly caught, there are others wanting to know what we are doing. Standing there doing nothing with a gleam in your eye invites questions. “What are you doing?”, “Penny for your thoughts.” or even “Hello”.
For a species that thrives on being in contact with another, we can sure make it hard on one another. My dogs were great. They were always glad to see me, but made no demands. I could feel right at home in the woods or with the dogs, but things always got hinky when people were introduced into the mix. “Where have you been?”, “How long are we going to be gone.”, “What if it rains?” The briefest of answers come to mind. Gone, for a while, we get wet. Please be quiet, lets have an experience. If I think, just to answer you, I am stuck here where you are.
Now the woods is unavailable to me, someone always thinks they are responsible for me. This creates a list of perpetual Can't Do Activities that restrict me “for my safety”, but it is really for litigation purposes, the dogs have died, everyone seems to think that the interaction between people is word driven. I have had enough of this kind of being taken care of. I would like it to stop being so determined to make me be as others think I should be.
I will lay back with the headphones on and with eyes closed recall watching the coals glowing in the wood stove on a winter evening. That should be timeless in its own right.