Our own rejected thoughts

waterfront #072 (19 May 2011)

waterfront #072 (19 May 2011)


In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. (Ralph Waldo Emerson

Genius often consists of looking at something differently. A true work of genius often reminds us of thoughts we’ve had, but not been able to follow through. Although these thoughts are familiar, the genius has turned them into something we could not manage; they are “alienated” by having been taken where we could not follow, and have the “majesty” of the completed achievement of the work. (Samwise, Yahoo Canada Answers)

A special kind of déjà vu can happen when we encounter a great work of art. It’s like looking in a mirror – we see some facet of ourselves, something we recognize and have seen before. But maybe what we see makes us rueful, envious, or just uneasy. So what’s going on there?

Wishful thinking? … or a crisis of confidence?

Why do we so often reject ideas that subsequently – in the hands of “someone cleverer, more talented, more creative” – turn out to be really powerful, useful, or inspiring?

Could it be that we reject the ideas that come to us because we are afraid that nothing we might do with that idea could ever be “good enough”? (Whatever that means.)

Anxieties take many forms, but they seem always to get in the way, blocking us from doing what we really want to do. Emerson urged his readers, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” John Cage went so far as to suggest that “There is nothing we need to do that isn’t dangerous.”

In Rule 6 of his 8 Rules of Writing, Neil Gaiman says: “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

American baseball star Yogi Berra offers intriguing advice: “When you come to a fork in the road … take it.” (I don’t think he was talking about collecting cutlery.) Emerson, on the other hand, urges: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

There’s a lot to be said for simply giving oneself wholeheartedly to life, without fear and without stint.

With the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes in mind, St Paul encouraged the Colossian Christians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart …” (Colossians 3:23-25) Ecclesiastes continues: “for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.”

What is more mortifying than to feel that you have missed the plum for want of courage to shake the tree?  (Logan Pearsall Smith)

Everything goes … anything goes

everything goes

everything goes



There is nothing that is permanent. There is nothing that stays. Everything goes. Which is an interesting fact about life. Everything goes. And when you understand this, everything goes. There are no restrictions anymore. You can do anything you wish, say anything you wish, think anything you wish, because you’re not trying to hold onto anything anymore. (Neale Donald Walsch

There’s a Bible meme that fits here: “And it came to pass …” More to the point, though, is an old proverb known to the medieval Sufi poets and with versions in Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish: “This too shall pass.”

Buddhist traditions also have a story in which this simple phrase is central.

So, given that there’s nothing to hold onto – and nothing to hold me back – what can I see myself getting up to next?

The goose is out!

"The goose is out" (Osho)

“The goose is out” (Osho)


Riko once asked Nansen to explain to him the old problem of the goose in the bottle. If a man puts a gosling into the bottle, he said, and feeds the gosling through the bottle’s neck until it grows and grows and becomes a goose – and then there is simply no more room inside the bottle, how can the man get it out without killing the goose or breaking the bottle? RIKO! shouted Nansen, and gave a great clap with his hands. Yes master! said Riko with a start. See! said Nansen. The goose is out!



Storm of thoughts

Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head. (Mark Twain)

other (15 Dec 2011)

other (15 Dec 2011)

According to the old Zen koān, things are not as they seem … (But wait, there’s more!) Nor are they otherwise.

Public media bring us news of all sorts of things. And we eat it all up avidly.

More often than not, however, the news is not so much a summary of facts as a report of reactions and opinions: shock, horror, outrage, hatred, fear, hysteria, grief, etc.

Truly, I see the world not as it is but as I am.

“Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.” (Aldous Huxley)

Our reality is compounded of thoughts and feelings, judgments and perceptions. The news is a mirror in which we can see our storm of thoughts reflected.

“If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” (Aldous Huxley)

“Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” (Mark Twain)

The ability to watch something until it changes

“The basic practice in meditation is learning to stay and not running away,” wrote Karl Duffy recently, in a post titled Learning to sit with whatever comes up, on the Mindful Balance blog. “It may seem passive but on the contrary it is a most active way of working towards change.”

Which is a reminder to me to be patient with the processes taking place in my life at present.

patience“The Chinese word for patience or endurance reflects this, combining the character for sword with the character for heart,” Karl explains. “It is a practice which slowly cuts through the power which our fears hold over us.”

Patience is the ability to watch something until it changes. (Ajahn Succitto

Whenever the heart clings and grasps, there is agitation and confusion. When we have contemplated many times the nature of the heart, we will understand that the ways of the heart are just as they are: that’s its nature. If we see this clearly, we can detach from thoughts and feelings without constantly telling ourselves that ”that’s just the way it is”. When the heart truly understands, it lets go of everything. (Venerable Ajahn Chah



          out of the silence 
          a murmur
          out of the darkness
          a glimmer 
          out of the murmuring
          a voice — my voice

and the shuffling swaying dance

and the murmured measured chant


          between my outstretched hands

          a swirling nest of fragrant smoke
          a glowing web — first morning light on spider-silk
          a glittering orb of gold and silver flakes

and the shuffling swaying dance

and the murmured measured chant

and the pulsing glittering fire


          out of the fiery web
          flakes fall

and the fallen flakes form
          faces          flowers          animals          trees 

and the sweepers come
          and sweep away the dusty flakes

and the sweet smoke swirls

and the images dissolve in dust

and a voice within me says:
Make no attempt
to grasp or hold this light

and the fire

and the dance

and the chant

and the sweeping …

This draft for a new poem was written following a recent dream.

Tooth and claw

tooth and claw (07 May 2011)

tooth and claw (07 May 2011)

When, a couple of months ago, the demolition machines moved onto the site of the Wellington Settlement Restaurant, I called to mind the poet Tennyson’s vivid description of nature as red in tooth and claw — which, in the words of Kenneth M Weiss, “reflected a bleak, increasing awareness that the cruelty of the industrial revolution and the expanding Empire showed the world not to be the warm creation of a loving God, but instead to be impersonal, material, and strictly physical. Like it or not, Nature was a hammer of destruction.”

Our culture is structured around a need to make things mean something; we seem compelled to attach significance to our experiences and the events that occur around us. But things are not, in truth, as we imagine them …

Phenomena on every plane of being
are constantly arising and disappearing.
Thus they are forever fresh,
always new and inexhaustible.
Like dreams without solid substance,
they can never become rigid or binding.
The universe exists in a deep, elusive way
that can never be grasped or frozen.

(from All-Embracing Mahamudra, written by Tilopa to Naropa; English version by Lex Hixon)

The problem is not enjoyment; the problem is attachment. (attributed to Tilopa)

The line, “Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw” comes from canto 56 of In Memoriam A.H.H., by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Less to store, less to pay

Yesterday, I discussed with my storage company the possibility of moving my stuff to a smaller unit with a smaller fee.

Today, I did it. And I got rid of some more junk too.

I am grateful to two friends who helped me, and to the company for not charging to dispose of the junk.


Expectations – ah!
so different, yours and mine.
Forgive me, my friend.

Yes, there’s a story … there’s always a story. The details don’t matter here. What’s important is that we both got over it, forgave one another and got on with the job at hand.