This curious world

……………….“… to wake is to lift up
Again on one’s shoulders this curious world

Whose secret cannot be known by any of us
Until we enter Te Whiro’s kingdom.”

(from Autumn Testament by James K Baxter) 

Generally speaking, I’m a tolerant and compassionate person – it takes a lot to make me mad. But Thursday was an exception. My tolerance was decidedly out of order, and my compassion … who knows what happened to that?

Atlas sculpture on Collins Street, Melbourne

Atlas sculpture on Collins Street, Melbourne

Incipient civil war in Egypt, neurotoxins in Syria, anti-gay laws in Russia, gun-crazed killers in American schools, contaminated baby formula in China, beggars on our streets, cruelty to animals … a never-ending story of inhumanity and misery and fear. And the painkillers I’d taken seemed to be doing me no good.

“There is no mystery so great as misery,” Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince declares. And he’s pointing to a transcendent truth.

All the great religions attempt to tackle the problem of suffering – in a variety of ways. Humanists, rationalists, and atheists too, all find themselves facing the same sorts of questions – because, of course, we all live in the same world.

In the Buddha’s words: “Suffering I teach and the way out of suffering.” (See The Buddhist Society web-site)

In a blog calling itself Wild Mind, Sunada Takagi explains that “The Buddha’s teaching on suffering is that we need to accept the things we can’t control, such as loss, sickness, aging, and death. But for things we can affect, he advised that we change our conditions so that they’re more conducive to our happiness and spiritual growth.”

Islam exhorts the faithful to endure suffering with hope and faith. They are not expected to resist it, or to ask why. Instead, they are taught to accept it as God’s will and live through it with faith that God never asks more of them than they can endure. However, Islam also teaches the faithful to work actively to alleviate the suffering of others. Recognizing that they are the cause of their own suffering, individuals work to bring suffering to an end. (Patheos Library, adapted)

Jesus, according to St John, said: “I have spoken these things to you so that you shall have peace in me. You shall have suffering in the world, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33; Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

Baxter’s reference to “this curious world” calls to mind the words of Henry David Thoreau: “This curious world we inhabit is more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” And, like Thoreau, Baxter draws his reader’s attention to the inevitable and inescapable burden of human responsibility, human caring, human accountability: “to wake is to lift up / Again on one’s shoulders this curious world …”

I didn’t get swamped by my grumpiness. Neither did I grant it permission to assault anyone else. In the end, I simply had to lighten up and get over myself.

And (remember) when thy Lord said unto the angels: Lo! I am creating a mortal out of potter’s clay of black mud altered, (Qur’an 15:28, translated by M M Pickthall)

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NOTES:

1/ Baxter, James Keir; Millar, Paul (editor). 2001. James K Baxter : New Selected Poems. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press.
…….
— The passage from poem 7 in Autumn Testament is on page 141. 

2/ “Te Whiro’s kingdom” – According to Te Ara / The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Māori saw themselves as guardians of the earth, and the focus of their existence was to remain at one with the natural (and supernatural) world. Rather than a medical problem, sickness was often viewed as a symptom of disharmony with nature.” In a section dealing with the medicinal use of plants, Te Ara describes the god Whiro as  “a personified form of sickness, disease and death. Māori believed that sickness and disease often had spiritual roots.” 

3/ In Greek mythology, Atlas was the primordial Titan who held up the celestial sphere. He is also the titan of astronomy and navigation. (Wikipedia, adapted)

4/ The first publisher to associate the Titan Atlas with a group of maps was the print-seller Antonio Lafreri, on the engraved title-page he applied to his ad hoc assemblages of maps, Tavole Moderne Di Geografia De La Maggior Parte Del Mondo Di Diversi Autori (1572). (Wikipedia, adapted) 

5/ It has been suggested that Jesus was a Buddhist: see thezensite. But “Buddhism and Christianity have inherent and fundamental differences at the deepest levels.” (Wikipedia)

Making the cut

You knew – you must have
known – how deeply you could cut
with that knife of yours.

Life is dropping crumbs
(which the birds will eat) – no point
hoping to get out

alive. Gratitude
counts for a great deal, you know …
but then, who’s counting?

Strictly speaking, only the syllables are correct. Does it still count as a haibun? But this piece (seventeen three times) playfully (suggestively) (arbitrarily) offers up a sampling of the cuts and connections that came to mind whilst reading something else. (And here I give thanks to Derrida.)

Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité!

"La Marseillaise"

“La Marseillaise”

Yesterday, on the eve of Bastille Day, I experienced “patriotism” more profoundly than ever before. The agent of my enlightenment was Mireille Mathieu – and I have not a drop of French blood. 😉 PS: I was listening to a radio programme of music by French composers on Radio New Zealand Concert.

This post appeared on a certain Facebook page on 14 July, but I did not have the opportunity to post it here at that time … so I have adjusted the publication date.

Life has a plan

[untitled (Paekakariki Beach)] 11 January 2009)

[untitled (Paekakariki Beach)] 11 January 2009)

I’ve realized something today.
No matter how hard you try to plan your life,
life has a plan for you all on its own.

(Nikhil Saluja)

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So far I have no clear idea of the identity of  the author quoted above … but a significant collection of pithy quotations is available here.

Culture of encounter – the foundation of peace

Pope Francis with dove

Pope Francis

“Doing good” is a principle that unites all humanity, beyond the diversity of ideologies and religions, and creates the “culture of encounter” that is the foundation of peace: this is what Pope Francis said at Mass this morning at the Domus Santae Martae …” (Vatican Radio, 22 May 2013)

“In a message delivered Wednesday via Vatican Radio, the new pontiff distinguished himself with a call for tolerance and a message of support – and even admiration – toward nonbelievers.” (Salon, 24 May 2013)

The pope spoke of the need to meet each other somewhere on our on common ground. “Pope Francis … stated that it doesn’t matter if people are non-believers as long as ‘we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.'” (Free Your Mind and Think (24 May 2013))

But doing good, according to Francis, is not a matter of faith. On 16 March this year, the new pontiff told journalists he was “inspired to take the 11th-century saint’s name because he was ‘the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,’ the same created world ‘with which we don’t have such a good relationship.'” (Catholic News Service) For Francis, doing good clearly means tackling the world’s problems.

“This commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace,” Francis explains. The story in Salon calls the pope’s words “a deeper affirmation of his comments back in March, when he declared that the faithful and atheists can be ‘precious allies … to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.'” (Salon, 24 May 2013)

The words of the Dalai Lama come to mind here: “Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”

Predictably, Pope Francis’ call to “do good” has met with a wide range of responses. One comment on Facebook was quick to remind us that “he still condemns same-sex marriage, last I heard.” Other comments accuse the Roman Catholic Church of “protecting pedophile priests”.

On and on it goes.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. (Rūmī)

Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. (Rūmī)

Repaint your city

repaint your city

repaint your city

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Urban environments offer me the possibility to explore my own sense of space. In doing so, light always triggers me. I’m fascinated by the way light is able to change the geometry of a certain space, which looks different one minute to the next, offering new geometric shapes all over again. (Wilma Eras, on her blog, Erassima)

A photographer friend commented to me recently: “Not many people can appreciate abstracts.” As one strongly attracted to abstract photography – and to abstract art in general – I’m not convinced he’s right. But then, the term “abstract” has different meanings for different people.

“Abstraction exists along a continuum” – as the Wikipedia article on abstract art so succinctly puts it. For me, Rudolph Arnheim’s pithy summation works equally well in relation to abstract photography: “Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.” (Rudolph Arnheim, in Visual Thinking)

The proliferation of internet-based photo-media makes it increasingly easy for anyone who, like me, has greedy eyes to spend hour after hour in front of a computer screen. But I do have my favourites.

From time to time I look in on Erassima, the blog of Wilma Eras – who hails from the Netherlands. Responses to her image, “repaint your city”, include the following from Richard Guest: “Lovely balance between abstraction and physicality – I really like them!” That balance is something I really value, too.

In February this year, a blog calling itself Red Square Gallery featured a folio of photos Wilma described as “Urban scenes painted by shadows.”

Graffiti, tags and street art seem to be among the current hot attractions for photographers. But few of them seem keen to engage explicitly in the ongoing anger-charged discourse on the subject of “tagging as vandalism”. But that is another topic … for another post.

Could it be? Yes, it could

West Side Story: The New Broadway Cast Recording (2009) – record cover

West Side Story: The New Broadway Cast Recording (2009) – cd cover

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Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. (Carl Sagan)

Something fabulous is out there taking shape, emerging, peeking, and calling your name. (quoted in Seed of Fabulosity on Soulseeds)

My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method. (Carl Sagan, quoted in Carl Sagan: A Biography, by Ray Spangenburg and Diane Moser) .

Could be! Who knows?
There’s something due any day;
I will know right away,
Soon as it shows.
It may come cannonballing down through the sky,
Gleam in its eye, Bright as a rose!

Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Under a tree.
I got a feeling there’s a miracle due,
Gonna come true,
Coming to me!

Could it be? Yes, it could.
Something’s coming, something good,
If I can wait!
Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is,
But it is
Gonna be great!

With a click, with a shock,
Phone’ll jingle, door’ll knock,
Open the latch!
Something’s coming, don’t know when, but it’s soon;
Catch the moon,
One-handed catch!

Around the corner,
Or whistling down the river,
Come on, deliver
To me!
Will it be? Yes, it will.
Maybe just by holding still,
It’ll be there!

Come on, something, come on in, don’t be shy,
Meet a guy,
Pull up a chair!
The air is humming,
And something great is coming!
Who knows?
It’s only just out of reach,
Down the block, on a beach,
Maybe tonight . . .

(Lyrics: Something’s Coming from West Side Story, Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)

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Spangenburg, Ray; Moser, Diane. 2004. Carl Sagan: A Biography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. 

Everything goes … anything goes

everything goes

everything goes

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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?