Questions to which there are no answers

clarice lispector
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So long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on writing. (Clarice Lispector)

Reading Rachel Kushner on the subject of Clarice Lispector: “… a visionary instinct, and a sense of humor that veered from naïf wonder to wicked comedy. … novels that are fractured, cerebral, fundamentally nonnarrative …” As I read, I find words I myself might have considered writing.

Truth is, I have never read any of those novels – have somehow not even consciously heard or read the name of this Brazilian writer. Regarded by some (including Benjamin Moser) as the most important Jewish writer since Kafka, acclaimed internationally for her innovative novels and short stories, Clarice Lispector was also a journalist.

As a child, so many of the responses I wanted to give could not be given using any of the logical templates available: Yes/No. Good/Evil. Right/Wrong. Black/White.

Eventually, I began to develop an understanding that was all paradox and antithesis, uncertainty, indeterminacy … shades of grey.

In her 1973 novel, Água Viva, Clarice Lispector writes: “Reasoning is what it is not. Whoever can stop reasoning – which is terribly difficult – let them come along with me.”

I am heartened. Encouraged. Inspired.

I have some unexpected reading to do. And some more writing.

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.
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— 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)

You are the sky

Sky over Washington Monument

Sky over Washington Monument

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You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather. (Pema Chödrön)

It’s the height of summer where I live – in Wellington, New Zealand. For some of my friends and loved ones, the summer sun is welcome; for others, the heat and humidity are enervating.

Meanwhile, in the northern hemisphere – in Turkey, in London, and in western Massachusetts – others are wrapped up and rugged up against the snow and the dark, cold nights.

Some of us “experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.” (US National Library of Medicine / National Institutes of Health)

“Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder, with its prevalence in the US ranging from 1.4 percent in Florida to 9.7 percent in New Hampshire. 

“The US National Library of Medicine notes that ‘some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.’ The condition in the summer can include heightened anxiety.” (Wikipedia)

Someone very close to me seems to be under the mistaken impression that they have power to influence the weather: “If I hang my washing out, it’s sure to rain.”

As handy and versatile as the weather is as a topic of conversation, when all is said and done, it’s just the weather.

Yet to be proven

Loose : a wild history (cover)

Loose : a wild history (cover)

‘I want to get published!’ my heart cries out.

‘But you can’t!’ my mind says.

‘How long will it take them to recognise my genius?’ my heart says.

‘Probably for the rest of your life,’ my mind says. ‘But then why do you bother? Books are not important. Life itself is.’

‘But I want to get published because I am good and I am better than most published authors here in this country!’ my heart cries out again.

‘Well, that has yet to be proven,’ my mind says.

(Ouyang Yu, in Loose : A wild history)

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Ouyang Yu. 2012. Loose : A wild history. Adelaide, SA: Wakefield Press.

“The novel combines fiction with non-fiction, poetry with literary criticism, diary with life writing, with multiple stories weaving in between, told from different points of view by different characters.” (Wakefield Press)

See my previous post on the topic of Ouyang Yu: https://xties.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/on-new-years-eve/

The goose is out!

"The goose is out" (Osho)

“The goose is out” (Osho)

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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!

(Osho)

ZEN CANNOT BE STUDIED – IT MUST BE LIVED

What is looking?

What you are looking for is what is looking. (attributed to St Francis of Assisi)

"blue bauble"

“blue bauble”

What you are in your essence is the lucid, unchanging consciousness giving birth to everything in the world of the senses, including all your thoughts, stories, memories, and to your body, mind, and this unique personality called “you.” To understand this is to grasp the literal meaning of the words attributed to St Francis: “What we are looking for is what is looking.” You become aware of yourself, your true nature, as consciousness, awareness, or presence itself. (from a website called “Truth Contest : What is the Ultimate Truth?“)

Always inside

The work is always inside you.
This knot does not get untied
by listening to the stories of other people.

The well inside your house
is better water
than the river that runs through town.

(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, translated by Coleman Barks from The Big Red Book, p474)

Ironically, the apartment in which I am currently living (so glad it’s temporary) has begun to drive me out into the city early each day — because I am finding the apartment claustrophobic. It’s like living in a storage unit. And the residual paint fumes make me feel like I can’t even breathe properly.

I’ve even developed a reluctance to get into the bath.

All the major habits of the past decade have been disrupted. Nothing is set up to my liking. I’m without a hifi system, my computer has died, and I don’t even have a TV to distract me.

So I’ve taken to riding the buses and getting to know the suburbs.

But the real journey is going on within.

So I was glad to have been reminded, today, that “The work is always inside you. / This knot does not get untied / by listening to the stories of other people.”