If there is no way for us to be other than as we are -- as we are in our dreams and choices and lies, in every ache and every tear we let fall -- if all of this is as it must be, and if we were finally able to embrace this secret that we have kept so assiduously from each other and most especially from ourselves, we would discover that nothing at all has changed. Everything would return just as it is and must be, even our self-deception and lies and myths and every little bruise to our pride. Our acceptance, rejection or ignorance of the secret changes nothing. It is as it must be. Does this news cause you to weep over what would be lost or does it gladden your heart to discover yourself fulfilled and complete at every moment of your life or does it make you want me to just shut up? It does not matter. Or perhaps it does matter to you as it does for me. So it goes.
de quo consultus, an esset / tempora maturae visurus longa senectae, / fatidicus vates 'si se non noverit' inquit. . . Everywhere there are mirrors if we but knew how to look . . . in the trees and in the wind that they catch but cannot hold, in the mountains and in the clouds that rest upon them before the wind comes, and in all the varieties of water: rivers, pools, oceans and, yes, in your tears that are more like rain than you will ever know, and most especially in every dream, fantasy, delusion, and lie . . . in every act of the imagination and in every sight, smell, and touch . . . your skin, this kiss. . . in such images we find ourselves . . . not something, but not nothing either . . . . we see as if in a mirror the essential movement of mind through which there is anything at all, through which there is meaning . . . and, like the wind in the trees, that meaning is elusive. . . we are like Narcissus who at first did not recognize the image in the clear pool as his own; we too experience the world and its meaning as if they were there to be discovered and precisely not as something for which we are responsible . . . all that there is is the reflection of our own minds at large . . . should we come to know ourselves as Narcissus did, we would know that we are responsible for everything, that without us there would be no joy and no death, no love and no suffering . . . according to the ancient story, Narcissus remains eternally enchanted by his own reflection in the River Styx . . .If we too come to know ourselves would not we also remain frozen in time as if we had encountered some Medusa . . .to know oneself guilty of every act of cruelty would surely turn us to stone . . . . . or would we like Narcissus in Melville’s account plunge into the pool and drown . . . Melville tells us that the image Narcissus beholds in the water is the ungraspable phantom of life and that somehow is the key to it all . . . CONSIDER YOURSELVES WARNED . . . as was Narcissus: that he would live a long life if only he did not come to know himself . . . this way lies madness . . . as there is in the very capitalization of that warning . . . shall we like Ishmael remain on the bank of that pool, frozen by cowardice and fade into a living death . . . or like Ahab seek to embrace the image of ourselves and drown . . . BE WARNED . . . just so this early morning warns me as the coming light fades into night . . .
What it means to be conscious is that the world is meaningful to us. Consciousness is as little able to be found in the brain as is the value of a precious family keepsake to be found in its physical construction. Meaning is what the brain does in its interaction with the external world. When we are aware, when there is something it is like to be us, when the world is accessible to us, there exists a meaningful relationship between our neural activity and the outside world. Even in its most elementary openings, meaning is present. Of course, there is some neural correlate for this meaning-making, but meaning itself is not contained in this neural correlate. Rather, the meaning is present only in the activity of our full bodied, exploratory interaction with the world. Dreaming, which seems to be an experience that brain originates on its own, is founded upon our interaction with the external world. When we dream, it is as though we are seeking that original foundation. That is why we ask what a dream means, not in terms of the dream itself, but in terms of the life we live when we are awake. It is as if dreaming is a kind of searching for something that is missing, our presence in the world.
Neural activity has no meaning except in the context of our projects and activities. Of itself brain function is as meaningless as the fall of rain or the tides of the sea or the rotation of the earth apart from our witness. When something in the biochemistry of the brain changes and leaves a person impaired, the meaning of that impairment is founded upon the life denied, though human projects are such that impairment itself is often experienced not as tragic or even debilitating but as occasion for courage and love. The meaning of life lies not in the circuits of the brain but in forms of life in which we participate and in the language we use. It is a mistake to believe that such words as love, envy, or courage must point to something other than the structure of our activities. What we hear when we speak of soul or the meaning of life is the poetry and music of our lives. What is most astonishing is that there is any meaning at all. That the meaning of life dies with us testifies to that meaning. Consciousness can not be found in the brain because apart from our language and our projects consciousness is nothing but a wind that is not even that.
The failure of despair: despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we continue to believe there is reason to hope. If despair could be complete, i.e. to live a life without hope, then we could achieve the nothing we truly are. The failure of despair, however, makes cowards of us all and we ask presumptively, What makes life worth living? as if there were some possible avenue of escape. We ask ourselves, What is our passion? We should rather ask how do we avoid the truth that our passions are empty and futile. Yet I discover in writing these words yet another temptation, another escape, one more addiction: truth. I continue. I give myself away yet again to the illusion that there is some self to be betrayed. I sing like some loony bird over the face of the deep. Nothing happens.
The source of longing for truth is not our desire to know but rather our yearning to participate in the very reality we would disclose and thereby transcend this life, this body, this death. Out of this longing comes a life as simple and mysterious as the fall of rain, a life ever new and ever dying, as though we were to come to our last day as to our first, giving ourselves up to the morning, open at last to the possibility of all things.
Plato inverts the world as we know it. This world is an Erebus, wherein Socrates is a Tiresian character, alone among the souls of the dead possessing that activity of mind that makes us akin to the gods. For Plato, this world is a kind of dream and philosophy a way of waking up to this reality that culminates under Socratic questioning in an “I don’t know” revelation. Such a revelation entails a dying to oneself and to this world and provides an intimation, if not knowledge, of another, truer way of being. Persephone by this Platonic inversion is the queen of our world and requires of us a payment if we are to be released from the cycle of births and deaths that is but a play of shadows from beginning to end. Socrates made that payment; he paid with his life.
Why do we ask questions for which there are no answers? There is a mystery to this. The mystery is that in searching out questions about the meaning of life our own lives become thereby meaningful. It comes upon us as a shadow at straightup noon and is experienced as a deepening of our sense of self.
The only way to be true to ourselves is to be faithful to our longing for life. Only thereby can we know our desperate poverty and the infinite possibility of our love.
Odysseus’ trick on Polyphemus becomes first his destiny and then a joke. Thus does Odysseus become a beggar, an outis in his own house. But the gods are not through with him. Odysseus must yet set off on one final journey to find someone who will mistake the oar he carries for a winnowing fan. Or perhaps a writing implement. He will find nobody. The oar will become for him what the boulder is for Sisyphus, a futile and eternal task, a fitting punishment for a man who prides himself on his metis. What remains is just the journey. There will be stories of course, but they will mostly be lies.
Caliban does not know himself. When he looks in Miranda’s mirror or in the waters formed by the island's springs, he beholds a youth whose likeness to a flower, though unremarkable to him, is at odds with how others see him. They see but a fish, and a stinky one at that. Miranda mischievously teaches him words by which he can sing of himself. And so he sings: “O sun and moon, to you I rise and bend and with you each night and day I live and die. How many deaths, how many lives, there have been!” Miranda laughs, her cleverness confirmed, so like her father’s. Of course, his little song, if we may call it that, is utterly ridiculous. Rather he should praise the darkness that hides his ugliness. So Miranda teaches him new words and now he sings a different song: “O darkness that loves not the light, I bring you this flower to enfold in your night.” And Miranda, mirabile visu, blushes like a rose.
The drama’s done? Why then does any one step forth? Because one did survive the wreck. Like Jonah, he withheld himself. This time he turns inland. He thinks he will not be recognized. He enters not the whirlwind. It is the jakes for him.
That you are a fraud is something you already know. Every conscious being experiences him or herself as a fraud. The reason: consciousness is a lie -- a lie not just because to be a conscious being is always to experience oneself as other than what one is but, more significantly, because consciousness represents itself as a free and sovereign actuality. It is, of course, nothing of the sort. Consciousness is a representation the brain concocts and nothing more. The price paid for this representation is to be condemned to live a lie. To know ourselves is to know what cannot be known: that we are not what we experience ourselves to be. Nescio me is the sum, substance and extent of all human wisdom.
What rules life is the next thing to be done, death being only the last, wherein every breath is a labor. So we have our marching orders, but who says we must obey. There are glimpses of something else in dreams and song, in love and inspiration. Such things help us through the night, but day comes and reminds us of what is real and of the next thing to be done. But what is more real: this sunlit world or that which makes it possible that there is any world or light at all? And what is that but that same activity of mind that gives rise to dreams and song and to the self that ever longs to return to its source and is ever thrown back? It is not that the world is an illusion; rather, it is that we mistakenly live in the world as if it exists as it does independently of our engagement with it. Dreams, songs, love, inspiration, all the activities of mind, weave themselves into the fabric of things and give it form, color and meaning. It turns out that what rules life is not the next thing to be done but the right thing, the true and beautiful thing to be done. In dying nothing is to be done; it is the undoing the self has earnestly longed for in all its virtue, all its beauty and all its truth.
Daedalus builds his labyrinth by following the blueprint of the Minotaur's own step and thereby deceives the beast into believing it is really free. He understands that this creature, like its human cousins, does not realize how its path loops back upon itself and how iron necessity rules its movements. Theseus sails again for Crete to set us free. Again he raises the black sail, signaling to the Father his defeat.
Nonsense. Everything happens as if we were free to do otherwise. We walk toward the horizon but are everywhere rooted to the ground. Our promises betoken nothing. Even the tap tap tap of these keys makes no sound, no sense. The candle burns and casts no light. Yet we are responsible for all we do, life is a journey, promises are binding, and these words echo silently in your mind. Or so it seems. "But I think, I exist. I have a mind." You do not. "But the candle burns." It does not. “But why does it seem there is something, why not nothing?” Because nothing is something. “But that is nonsense!” Exactly.
It will come. It will come as unknowing as birth. It will come as a rush of wind that lifts up the sky. It will come as a great gray wolf, loping through the trees and shadows, master of the night. It will come as a snake, as it did to Laocoon. An Embrace. It will come as an eagle, soaring in the high meadows, lost to the eye. It will come as heart-stopping love and crushing liberation. It will come as a woman, breasted like the moon. It will come as a child unafraid of the dark. It will come as the lion's roar after it has made its kill. It will come like breathing, though breathing stop. It will come.
The Stranger. Who is more strange to himself than I? And you, are you not also strange to yourself, like some homeless child? The same dark fire that burns in me burns in you. So too is the moon's light strange. Your eyes are full of longing for the night, like the ears of a bat. It beckons you. Turn not away.
1. Why me, why not a zombie?
2. Mind matters, and vice-versa, matter . . . . .
3. Existence is the consciousness of the universe.
4. Existence becomes aware of itself (i.e. consciousness of consciousness) in man.
5. There is something it is like to exist.
6. Only the logic of metaphor and poetry is able to express the reality and mystery of existence itself: that there is anything at all and not nothing, that the many are one and the one many, that everything participates in the existence of everything else.
7. There is a poetics of existence:
When night opens like spring
and stars come out of dark longing
like flowers out of the earth
Then do I close my eyes
8. Existence hides.
9. Consciousness: that by which we seek the truth is itself the answer.
10. The searching soul everywhere finds a mirror.
11. Existence is continuously creating the forms of its own being. Thus light and life come into being.
12. The artist, the poet, & philosopher create everywhere the human form. Thus do beauty, truth and virtue come to be.
13. When your rational mind starts to divide things into this or that, don’t lose sight of the original fullness of being.
14. The first step in the search for truth is the most important one. Don’t begin with a dichotomy. Begin with a song of praise for Being itself.
15. Where eros is driven out, there you will find only thanatos.
16. What is deadly about rationality is that it strives to explain everything and to reduce all truth to its truth
17. Drift and ye will find.
18. The search for truth comes straight from the heart.
19. Remember, remember, remember: Unless you somehow already know the truth, you will never recognize it when you find it.
20. Your being, your heart mind soul, is that by which you will know the truth when you find it.
21. Don't let school get in the way of your education.
22. All true speech is sweet delusion.
T 23. Truth is like the daughter I never had. Known by its absence.
32. 24. If there were no soul, there would be no death.
33. 25. Every time you think you are your brain, you are not.
34. 26. Will you not also eat the apple core?
35. 27. Follow the sound. It lead you to me.
36. 28. Mind-at-large or no-mind-at-all.
37. 29. Beware lest you make a ghost of yourself!
38. 30. To one who knows how to look everything, even the universe itself, is a mirror.
39. 31. What I am not makes everything possible.
40. 32. Your best thoughts remain mysterious even to you.
a 33. Death is fire.
2. 34. Blind sight is the very life of the darkness.
3. 35. Mirrors lie.
4. 36. What it is like to be me is you.
5. 37. Do you not know the sound of your own voice? Listen to the wind.
6. 38. Love makes every word sound like a kiss.
7. 39. Come hither. There is no there here.
8. 40. The universe curves like a woman's body.
9. 41. The journey begins when we forget who we are.
42. Hand in hand, I wander alone.
43. What you call truth, I call silence.
Light acts upon us as inspiration. The touch of the beloved makes us beautiful. The bird’s song becomes our own. The chill in the air turns us into living stone. With each step we create the earth, our pulse the measure of all things. The river runs away from and into us. Being is because we are. The doors of perception always open upon our own creation and we pronounce it good.
Quod est unum dividi sine errore non potest. Nec corpus nec mens est humana res. Res humana est semper et omnino una tamquam existentia ipsa. Existentia est sola veritas. Est modus vivendi quo errorem superare possumus: Laudate omnes omniaque tamquam amatum amans. Laudando quod esse aliud videtur, illud aliud fit unum nobiscum. Sum, ergo es, est, sumus, estis, sunt.
The meaning of a poem comes not from the words, but from the transmutation that occurs in the heart of the poet at the time the poem is written. In all poetry that is not simply decorative, there is an elemental activity of consciousness, a sustained golden moment that triumphs over raw experience. The meaning of a poem is that activity of mind, triumphant over the despair that the words of the poem may convey.
I looked into Medusa's eyes and did not turn to stone. The darkness of my eyes is deeper
and truer than hers.
Speak it, though it be madness. No, not that little insanity that honors itself in the words of poets. No, that great madness, out of which come all the motions of the planets, all the chattering of symbols, all that anguished crying out for love, for life, for death. It is the night behind the darkness. It hides behind the meaning of these words. It rules all and cares naught.
After you die, after several eternals, when at last you have lost almost all trace of identity, and you are on the verge of achieving your heart’s desire, God, All-Loving as He is, learns of your virtual nonentity and invites you to the Library. He knows what it is like to be nobody. You say with all the passionate emptiness of your heart: Thou hast heard. God goes to the bookshelves and pulls out a great volume. You open it up and read: Call me Ishmael . . . . and there you are, with a damp, drizzly November in your soul, following funerals, and needing all your self-restraint not to step into the street and start knocking people’s hats off. You consider killing yourself right out – like Cato throwing himself upon his sword. This can’t be happening again, you think to yourself, though what it is that is happening again is an empty thought. Then, it is final. The lines of text become threads, a twisted umbilical cord at the end of which there is nothing it is like to be you. You take to ship, a white phantom leading you on. And there you are abandoned, floating on a vast, milky sea of non-being. You cry out, but this time no one hears.
Why is there something, why not nothing? Whence comes love or conscience? Do our lives have any meaning? . . . It makes no difference that the answers we discover to such questions are ones that we have created for ourselves alone, provided they have been created out of the necessity of our own experience. The questions must so press themselves upon us that we scorn self-deception and refuse to take another’s truth as our own. When questions are so fervently asked, the answers come indirectly and in many forms: in art, in poetry, and, strangely, often in the very questions themselves. For some the answers come as prayers. In silence. And very often, in despair. But always, always out of the necessity of our own experience. Thus is Truth discovered, such as it is, whether it be yours or mine.
There are no disciples of Nietzsche. There are those, however, who believe they are thinking for themselves when they are not. These pseudoists are the siblings of those who believe they know something true and fine but in fact do not. What is most deplorable about these creatures is that they objectify Nietzsche’s philosophy and endlessly toil over the meaning of eternal recurrence and the ubermensch yet ignore or neglect the creative subjectivity that everywhere expresses itself in Nietzsche’s writing. They believe if they could understand these ideas once and for all their spirit would somehow touch that of Nietzsche. What is this but the objectification of the spirit? The deadliest philosophical mistake possible. Rather, we should see Nietzsche as exploring, provoking, playing, feeling his way along with the touch and exuberance of an artist, profoundly destabilizing his own world and ours and in so doing finding a vitality that springs up with existence itself. If there were a Nietzschean philosophy, it would be summed up in three words: Think for yourself. A great improvement over Know thyself, which is but a sad sort of masochism. Think for yourself. Nothing else in life requires so much courage. Nothing else brings so much suffering and delight. Nothing else is more likely to end in self-deception and false complacency. Why do we read Nietzsche? Because he chides and provokes and demands that we do as our very own life demands: that we exist for ourselves. And for companionship along the way. For companionship, Jean-Paul. Though the solitude is complete.
Don't think for a moment I don't include myself among the pseudoists. And with this, I am going to put Nietzsche behind me until I shall discover him once again on the road ahead.
To think you know something that you do not is the sibling of discipleship.
If a machine can have a mind, then there is no mind at all.
The inner world is as much a construction as the outer. Depth is in either case an illusion. Nay, Yea, we must go further and say that awareness of being is itself a phantom created out of that illusory deep.
His clothes were patchwork, held together by dozens of safety pins. As he came on the bus, carrying all his belongings in a burlap bag, others looked away -- he smelled badly. He sat down next to a man in a business suit, but the man got up and moved to another seat. Suddenly, there was a fight: the old man in safety pins and burlap was screaming at the man in the business suit, throwing fists: "I could have had your life, your suit; you are not too good to sit next to me." The bus driver separated them and at the next stop the man in the business suit ran out of the bus and up the street, disappearing into the night. The man in safety pins came and sat next to me. He showed me a silver revolver. He flashed it and told me he was Matt Dillon and had killed many bad men. He said, it's a struggle between the good guys and the bad. I sat in silence trying desperately to be a good guy.
Love is born of loneliness and so returns. The closest we come to putting the love of others inside of us is when we understand that those who love us are also alone. Each of us reaches out to the other from the invisible and solitary spring of our own being. We embrace, join hands warmly, walk together, alone. This is reality. And it is good! Without this existential solitude, there would be no love at all.
Your Very Life. Love is the procreative source of all value. Trust in your love of beauty, truth and virtue – that love will sustain you and all that you create thereby will be good. What others have created is useful to you only as inspiration and confirmation of the creative power of your own love. Let not the great works of great lovers become your idols. Let not your love be thus enslaved. Love desires to create beyond itself and in so doing refutes all accusations of self-sucking isolation. Love seeks to inspire. Think not only of art and poetry and music and dance – think also of your very life.
Companions. I seek companions whose voices I hear as though from great distances, whose songs create vast solitudes, who know me only by knowing themselves, whose eyes reflect the same night that I now behold. Where are my companions? Out of a common darkness, sing we our solitary songs, each to each.
The Old Ones. The Old Ones are always the young! The Old Ones rejoice in rain and thunder and lightning rolling across a clear, blue sky, for they are the rain, thunder, lighting and sky. Their laughter shatters the air and grows mountains and so are the Old Ones lifted on dust to Paradise. Winged are the words of the Old Ones! Sing they the holiest of songs by which there exists our terrible longing for love and death. The Old Ones are always the young, for they have nothing to forgive or forget.
The Madman. I am the madman. I seek God as I seek the truth, but the truth is I have lost my way. I must become again as a child and feel the cold mystery of fire, the cruel darkness behind the moon, the sharp spaces between the stars, the biting softness of a lover’s kiss. I must begin again in wonder. Thus the madness: to find God God must die.
What is meant by “soul”? For Aristotle soul is to the body as sight is to the eye – that is, soul is the activity we characteristically do as human beings and for Aristotle that activity is reason. But what does soul mean to me? Is it even a meaningful word? Is it a word that naturally springs to my lips? I do use the word soul spontaneously to refer to that which I most value in myself, but I most certainly do not refer to something that will survive my death. So what do I most value within myself? I most value my capacity to care – to care about what kind of life I am living, to care about truth, to care about others and to care about the meaning of life. It is this caring that makes my life real! When care does not animate my life, I am among the living dead. And what is this care but the desire for what is true, beautiful and good. My sense is that the truth, beauty, and goodness I seek is ultimately the activity itself of my soul, my caring, transposed to the outside, seeking its own reflection in the world and you.
What does it mean to be a friend to myself? It means to allow myself to be less than perfect. That self-forgiveness is an expression of the good within me and is itself a way of being true to myself. If I do not forgive myself, how will I ever forgive others? Journey on, O my soul!
If we choose to configure our souls so that pleasure attends our higher functions but is not itself their object, we still must make the choice of whether to direct ourselves to moral virtue or some excellence of mind. Will not the latter appear “selfish” especially with respect to that moral virtue that takes as its object the good of others? Is it selfish to devote yourself to an art, science or the development of some particular talent. Perhaps it is not a question of either/or but both/and with an eye on the balance of the whole within the individual or within society. When I wish for the good of others I have in mind their soul's fulfillment. How could I wish for others a happiness that I would deny to myself!
What then is philosophy? It is not just thinking but it is in fact governing your life with its pleasures and pains in accordance with that thinking. It is all too easy to substitute virtuous speech for virtuous action, especially if passionately spoken. It feels real, but it is not. I know I am prone to this error and I work to correct it.
What is a great-souled man? One whose soul seeks and finds its own identity in the universe, in the stars, in the laughter of children, in the clouds that move across the sky like inspired thought, in the fall of a sparrow, in the music of everyday noise, in memories and forgetfulness, in being, being, being. In dying. A great souled man discovers the reflected beauty of his own soul in the soul of others and theirs in his. The great souled man discovers himself in the flash of lightning in a clear blue sky.
Moral exposure. It is only through knowing myself that I can understand how it is possible for someone to fail him or herself when called upon to act with moral courage. No trial in social psychology like the Miligram obedience or the Asch line experiments and no brain study like an EEG can expose what is most essential to know: what a person experiences at the moment that a moral decision must be made. The twitch of a hand or eye, a blush or stammer, a laugh that sounds like a sob – these may be manifestations of an inner struggle, but I recognize these signs only because I know myself. And what is it that I know? I know that at the heart of my own being there is a split in consciousness that allows self-doubt to occur. This split in consciousness allows me to look upon myself as though I were another person, to question myself, to undermine myself, and, finally, to hand myself over into the power of others.
Narcissus. Look beyond the familiar image that attracts you so, look to that very phantom of self that plays just below there where the darkening begins. There, there, dive with thy soul into that selfless self that darkly beckons thee, to thy death, to life itself, to cry aloud beneath the sky so reflected there, I AM.
To know myself is to know that even though my eyes reflect the stars and I feel the river’s force as my
own and my breath runs with the wind and the love of my life drives away the darkness, the stars and
the river and wind will go on without me, my beloved will die, and darkness will cover all.
Oedipus Complex. Who is Oedipus? His name literally means: he who knows his foot. I know that
the only part of me that has not sinned is my left foot. I too am Oedipus.
He wanted to say serious things
But instead there grew up laughter
The sound of wind cutting through leaves –
This noise told him, breaking
In the buff and stir, Brute Air!,
Told him No! and he laughed
And this sound volcanic in the air
Suddenly made song and others heard
And danced and knew their dreams were true –
Then it was gone, like morning,
The noise and song, the dance and dream,
And he wanted to remember
How it was in the beginning –
In the beginning was the . . .
He wanted to say serious things,
But instead he . . . . . .
Conscience is that urgent sense that if I can only be good enough, I will be whole. Word and Thought and Deed As One. All attempts fail. It does not matter what the good is or how great the effort. Any attempt to achieve wholeness through virtue will simply never be good enough to close that hole in Being that is the very condition of our existence. Self-flagellation in the name of God will not be good enough. Not even crucifixion.