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Pedantic Babylon

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Ignorant and wanton

The Wistman

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For my first blog post here I’d like to open with an emblematic 1919 poem by W.B. Yeats:               

                                                                                            The Dawn

I would be ignorant as the dawn

 

that has looked down

 

on that old queen measuring a town

 

with the pin of a brooch,

 

or on the withered men that saw

         5

from their pedantic Babylon

 

the careless planets in their courses,

 

the stars fade out where the moon comes,

 

and took their tablets and did sums;

 

I would be ignorant as the dawn

  10

that merely stood, rocking the glittering coach

 

above the cloudy shoulders of the horses;

 

I would be—for no knowledge is worth a straw—

 

ignorant and wanton as the dawn.

 

 

Yeats was no champion of human ignorance (far from it), but he makes a point about our byzantine minds: measuring and calculating, referencing every phenomena to an inner encyclopedia of words, abstractions, qualifications, comparisons and judgments, until our simple experience as a conscious living being gets lost in the matrix of our mental gymnastics; and this becomes a self-reinforcing, unconscious pattern, a seeming necessity to our self-created ego-self that needs constant reassurance of its ‘existence’ and ‘place’ in the qualified, examined world around us.  Yeats longs to be free of it, for without all things being reassigned to names, abstract forms, and categorical references, a person can just be in the flow of experience without intellectualizing it or equating it with attached memories and their associated emotions.  True: we cannot navigate our social world without a process of pattern recognition and internalization, but being unable to free ourselves from it, even for a little while, enslaves us to the categorical unreal and robs us of the subtle taste of living.  He invites us to take from time to stop and smell the roses, to see what the dawn reveals—and not to endlessly acquiesce to references.

 

These notions occupied my mind yesterday; my family has just now sold our parents’ house…a wrenching experience as many readers surely know all too well.  Our mom passed away eight years ago, and her studio (she was a paintings conservator) was left untouched until now.  My dad passed away late last year; some of you may remember that he posted hereabouts as Khaemwaset.  He’d been a field Egyptologist early in his career, but due to his other capacities ended up spending the bulk of his later career as a museum administrator.  I’d moved back into the family house three years ago to help take care of him while he succumbed to a cancer diagnosis.  It was difficult, especially at the end, but without doubt the most enriching years of my life.  I learned through my dad (among many other things) to take the moment fully and joyously, no matter how grim the future looked or even amidst the pain being endured.  Between us there came a point where we talked very little; words just seemed to get in the way.

 

I put the contents of dad’s office into my garage when I moved back into my own house; no room for a car in there now.  Some of mom’s studio paraphernalia came to me, my siblings took their heirlooms as well.  After we closed on the family house….none of us said very much.  We went to a favorite watering hole, drank beer, played pool, and enjoyed our own company and our commonality.  Words were scarce.  It would have seemed reductive to say anything.  We were, for a few moments, a bit like Yeats’s dawn.


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Not A Rockstar

Posted

Sometimes, we need those moments, just not forever. I lost my Dad this Winter and we sold the house and moved Mom and it is hard. Something like dying in a lesser way to drive away and not look back.

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The Wistman

Posted

On 5/2/2018 at 8:01 PM, Not A Rockstar said:

Sometimes, we need those moments, just not forever. I lost my Dad this Winter and we sold the house and moved Mom and it is hard. Something like dying in a lesser way to drive away and not look back.

Thanks, NaR.  Stillness of mind brings clarity and depressurization, and in this instance came of itself without any attempt to achieve it (meditation etc.), though of course it didn't last long...just long enough to help us to close the door and step onward, as you described so marvelously with your poetic simile.  Long ago I studied Zen at a Catskills monastery and learned to appreciate the benefits of stillness, also that (for most seekers) unless one lives in retreat or isolation it cannot be sustained for very long. 

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third_eye

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Seek not stillness ... become stillness by being still, wherever you are.

~

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The Wistman

Posted

29 minutes ago, third_eye said:

Seek not stillness ... become stillness by being still, wherever you are.

~

Hi third_eye:  :) Why yes.  I can remember riding with a young Zen adept as he drove to NYC.  Traffic at the George Washington Bridge was particularly heavy and of course everything bottlenecks at the approach to the bridge; the police had condoned off one of the lanes, which made the congestion even worse.  Cars were switching lanes, tempers were obviously frayed.  It was a high stress situation but he was a calm as the surface of a puddle on a windless day.  I remember laughing at the contrast of his repose amidst all that moving, pressing chaos.  Formidable and utterly simple.

Sadly I'm not an adept nor a monastic, which he was.  My monkey mind is willful and persistent; perhaps its the banana images in my subconscious.

 

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third_eye

Posted

2 minutes ago, The Wistman said:

Sadly I'm not an adept nor a monastic, which he was.  My monkey mind is willful and persistent; perhaps its the banana images in my subconscious

To be aware of that just means you are already on the path, stay the course and don't expect instant gratifying results. Just like 'true' love and instant attractions, there is hardly anything out of the ordinary on the outside, no billowy clouds lifting your heart up to the grand heavens bouncing to a grand Opus of Classical tunes or half naked angels and cherubs plucking at golden harps, teasing your heart strings.

PS ... The monkey mind ain't 'yours'

;)

~

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Not A Rockstar

Posted

What are those pretty sayings about the light needing the dark to be? This is why I find the silent moments precious during the chaos of life :). 

A very nice blog entry Wistman ! Totally relatable. 

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The Wistman

Posted (edited)

Thanks for the pointers third_eye!   ...though I finished my koan study over thirty years ago now.  I do practice daily, but I no longer belong to any sangha. 

NaR:  The yin and the yang, and thanks!

Edited by The Wistman

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