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John Masefield, Stanley Kunitz, and “Continuity of Being”

John Masefield, the British poet laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967, is now running a close second to Shakespeare as my favorite sonneteer. He was a bookish lad, an addiction which his aunt, his guardian when his parents died in his childhood, sought to break by sending him to sea at age 13. But he there found lots of time to read and to write without the interference of the unappreciated aunt and also developed a lifetime passion for the maritime life. “Sea-Farer” is one of his best known poems and the sea, and water themes, are common in his work.

His adventures at sea, including the foreign lands he visited, gave him a global approach to life and made him an observer of the human situation which is a gift many poets have. In the following sonnet, he started with a line about the ephemeral nature of identity itself, noting a wish to “get within this changing I, this ever-altering thing which yet persists…” Masefield’s natural curiosity and educational accomplishments helped him see life as every bit turbulent and capricious as the sea, always changing yet persisting nevertheless.
Modern life in the late 19th century (he was born in 1878) was teeming with scientific discoveries and theories, including the work of Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. To those exposed to higher education, life was not a static phenomenon but a dynamic process and even one’s own identity was an evolutionary process. But later in the sonnet he did recognize a “ghost in the machine” which some of us like to describe as “god” (i.e. “God”) which appeared often to be effecting some direction to the caprices of our day to day life. Even “in the brain’s most enfolded twisted shell,” he saw, “The King, the supreme self, the Master Cell” providing some mysterious teleology to our often-mischievous path. This notion brings to mind one of my favorite lines from Shakespeare, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”
If I could get within this changing I,
This ever altering thing which yet persists,
Keeping the features it is reckoned by,
While each component atom breaks or twists,
If, wandering past strange groups of shifting forms,
Cells at their hidden marvels hard at work,
Pale from much toil, or red from sudden storms,
I might attain to where the Rulers lurk.
If, pressing past the guards in those grey gates,
The brain’s most folded intertwisted shell,
I might attain to that which alters fates,
The King, the supreme self, the Master Cell,
Then, on Man’s earthly peak, I might behold
The unearthly self beyond, unguessed, untold.

Here I want to append an excerpt from another poem, by a United States poet laureate, Stanley Kunitz, entitled, “The Layers” in which he too recognized some mysterious “center” in the depth of one’s being from which one, “struggles not to stray” even in the infinite vicissitudes of life.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.

Here is a list of my blogs. I invite you to check out the other two sometime.
https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/
https://literarylew.wordpress.com/
https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Politics, Belief, and “a bit of wobbly”

Margaret Thatcher in 1990 brought the expression, “Don’t go wobbly” to the political table. At the time Saddam Hussein had invaded Iraq, Thatcher and George W. Bush were together in Aspen, Colorado discussing the ins and outs of a military response. As “W” appeared be equivocating, Thatcher told him, “This is not the time to go wobbly, George.” The opposite of, “wobbly,— going full speed ahead on a matter, throwing caution to the wind with utmost certainty–will always be appealing to many but the rigid certitude of such a stance often needs at least a tad of hesitation, a small dollop of what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason.”

The relevance of this issue to our current political/cultural climate is obvious. And one dimension of this climate is the area of religion where “belief” is often held to so rigidly that many believers have found themselves “believing” themselves into a corner from which they can’t escape. This mind set avoids the wisdom of faith traditions that belief must be moderated with a bit of doubt here and there as when St Thomas prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief,” or even Jesus when he prayed to his Father as the Crucifixion approached prayed, “Lord, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Following here is a lovely poem which speaks of the need of a touch of “wobbly” in a person’s faith:

Belief by Lia Purpura

Light being
wavy and particulate
at once
is instructive—
why wouldn’t
other things or states
present as
both/and?
For instance
I both
believe and can’t.
Holding these
together produces
a wobble, I think
it’s time
to take seriously
as a stance.

Emily Dickinson and the Imprisonment of Specious Truth

The subject of truth continues to fascinate me with the term “fake news” becoming synonymous with any viewpoint that does not fit with ours.  Truth appears increasingly to be very relative with no real standard being applicable.  Oh sure, I’m a “relativist” myself but then I continue to believe in some basic standard of veracity which, should I breach it, I would evoke some sense of shame and an attempt to apologize.

But the wonderful 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson knew that it was possible for the human soul to select its constituent elements and fashion a private, “society” that would be, “proof and bulwark” (borrowing a term from Shakespeare) against truth.  She was a keen observer of the human situation in her day and noted how people tended to create a very private reality for themselves, congregate with like-minded souls, and then repel any contrary viewpoint.  Here is how she put it:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

Note that Dickinson observed that after constructing this autistic shell of a world view, the individual would, “shut the door” and then assume a “Divine majority,” that is assuming a Divinity to which nothing could be “presented” any more.  She knew that at this point an individual had said, in the depths of his heart, “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with facts.”

But often in this closed-minded world, Dickinson knew that Truth often visited and “kneeled at her low-gate,” bidding for admission.  But she had already pledged her troth to a particular viewpoint and “closed the valves of her attention like stone.”  The imagery of valves of attention, “closing like stone” is powerful, evoking an auditory image of the gates of attention clanging shut with finality.  When one has barricaded him/herself into a prison of specious certainty, and labeled it Truth, there is no way for those chariots that are always passing by to breach the force-field it faces.  The poison that results inside such a prison always makes me think of Westboro Baptist Church, David Koresh and his disciples, and Jim Jones and the Jonestown, South Africa disaster.

W. H. Auden offered relevant wisdom, “And Truth met him, and held out Her hand. And he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

Faith and Truth, per Carl Sandburg

 

WHO AM I?
By: Carl Sandburg

MY head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of 
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of 
destiny.
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty

And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading “Keep Off.”
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive 
in the universe.

All of us have a body of thought rattling around our skull which constitute “truth” and is taken for granted.  This is a necessary, though in a sense specious, certainty that allows us to function in our consensually-validated reality.  But within the noisy “rattling around” in our skull, there are certainties and premises that need to be examined occasionally and Sandburg was telling us this is especially so with those posted with the sign, “Keep Off.”  Sandburg did not mean there are no “Keep Off” dimensions to our heart and mind but that we need to pay attention to this signage and occasionally entertain the notion, “Well, maybe I should look at that idea a little further?”  This is related to my often-cited favorite bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”  One simple little example from my youth in central Arkansas was the certainty that blacks were inferior to whites.  There was no need to question it for it was a definite, and, “The Bible said it.”

I have watched so many truths fall by the wayside in my life time and have long since given up any faint belief that I own the truth, that at best there is some primordial Truth that lies beyond the grasp of our finite mind and that yes, in a sense that “Truth” even has us!  And if I ever start trying to explain that to you, flash the sign of the cross in my face and run away quickly as this is a matter that eludes the grasp of human cognition.  This “Truth” involves faith, but not of the escapist faith that is so common, but faith that there is a, “Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may,” as Shakespeare told us.  And I personally think that those who are the most obnoxious about objectively knowing about that end…and usually the end for others…are doing the roughest hewing!

Reality Tightens its Noose on Trump.

I kick the subject of mental illness around a lot in this venue due to my career as a clinician which has given me a perspective to “sniff out” madness pretty readily.  Oh, we are all “mad” to some degree but then there are times when one’s madness goes beyond the pale and then the Shakespearean question is relevant, “What’s mad but to be anything else but mad.”  There are times when the ordinary madness of day to day life approaches the pale and threatens to go beyond it and enter the realm of “nothing else but mad.”

Trump is demonstrating this.  Here and in my other blogs I have noted often of his need to isolate himself in a private world, to cut off any criticism from those who see the world differently than he does, best illustrated with his hatred of, “fake news.”  But now as his “fake news,” known by most of us as “reality,” continues to tighten its noose on him, he is taking even more desperate moves.  The news about the non-disclosure agreements with his advisers and now the “cleaning house” with his staff and cabinet reveal a heightened need to cut off feedback from the outside.  Like Hamlet, overwhelmed with the duress of everyday life, expressed a desire to, “flee to a nutshell and there be the king of infinite spaces,” revealing Shakespeare’s knowledge of the human need to occasionally want a complete escape, even that of lunacy.

Clinging to Guns & Religion, “Part Deux”!!

Religion, like guns…as explored in my last post… is a contrivance but one that is a Divine intervention if we find the courage and humility to reach maturity and slough off the “letter of the law” dimension and wrestle with “the flesh,” the term the Apostle Paul used to describe the abysmal baggage of human-ness that we seek to avoid.   The word religion stems from, “re-ligio” which means “to bind together,” reflecting the human wisdom that we are a divided soul and need to be reunited with our self.  But this reuniting is painful as “the Fall” into human cognition, necessary for the creation of human culture, created us delightful…to a fault… personas that we are fearful of laying aside and allowing reunification with our inner Essence so that S/he can have expression.  We don’t realize that if we find the courage to go through the “crucifixion” necessary for this resurrection our persona will not be destroyed but merely integrated with our inner essence, giving the buried “Christ child” a chance to find expression in the form of a fully functioning authentic human being. But the “clinging to religion” that Obama recognized (see last post) gets in the way of the life process, individually and collectively.  And it is no accident that God—we find the perfect symbol for power and authority.  The ego has found a perfect expression to assert itself and with the slogan, MAGA, our country has found a mantra to energize a desire to return to past imperialistic glory.

“Clinging” in itself is central to the problem.  There is a popular bromide, “Love holds with an open hand.”  But in some circles, especially the conservative culture in which I was raised, “clinging” is an essential dimension of faith, illustrated in the classic hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross” with the line, “So we’ll cling to the old Rugged Cross….”  This is a stage of faith, very much related to a developmental stage in which we “cling” to our momma until maturity allows us to diminish the “clinging” and relax into a more open trusting with relationship with our Source.  This usually corresponds increasing trust in and with our very self, with others, and even life itself as we relax into the “loving embrace” of the One who “shaped us from our mothers womb.  Reminds me of the Old Testament wisdom, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.…”

Obama’s, “Clinging to Guns and Religion.”

In 2008 Barack Obama was overheard dismissively speaking of people who, “cling to their guns and religion” which immediately provided fodder for the base of the Republican Party who didn’t really understand what he was saying.  Sure, it was impolitic for him to say that where it might be misunderstood but it was a valid and important observation about the ideologically-oriented base of the Republican Party who “cling” to ideas rather than have a complicated and subtle interior life so that ideas are not taken to be the “thing in itself.”

Guns are fine.  The problem arises when the “clinging” function of the ego gets involved as an innocent device is given an inordinate investment of energy so that “guns plus the emotional energy” becomes another matter all together.  The “guns + emotional valence” takes on a life of its own, becoming a core identity issue to the point where it is no longer about “guns” but is about the individual’s grasp of who he is, of his definition of, “who I am.”  The more tenuous is the grasp of one’s, “who I am” the more desperate will he cling to some idea or group of ideas that he has invested in to keep him from being devoured by an existential anxiety that lies at the root of all cultures.  This abyss of meaningless will destroy one if his spirituality has not equipped him with the ego-integrity to address this spirit of negativity which is an intrinsic dimension of human experience and needs to be acknowledged, not denied.  This “ego integrity” is a spiritual capacity which allows confronting the hidden depths of one’s heart and integrating them into conscious experience and finding empowerment as a result.  Without this acknowledgement and integration, the energy that could be available for deliberate, focused, conscious attention outside of oneself will be turned inward to keep those “demons at bay.”  This is a “divided heart” or the “divided house” which Abraham Lincoln famously noted cannot stand.

But this hopelessness does not have to destroy one if he finds the courage to slowly, gradually, patiently, and humbly confront it and in so doing discover that he can find increasingly an indomitable core beneath this hopelessness…if he is willing to give up the contrivance that his ego has tricked him into relying upon, whatever that contrivance/s might be. The spiritual impoverishment of our culture is now egregiously before us.  Beneath the various contrivances it offers us, guns being but one of them, lurks the abyss of hopelessness which can be addressed if we are willing to acknowledge our “willful ignorance”, an ego driven self-deception who has convinced us that a life of illusion is preferable to a life in which we live as a fully functioning, integrated human being.

***************************

Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Imprisoned With Ideas!!!

Jungian cage cartoon

“Woo-hoo, we’re Jungians!!!”

This cartoon beautifully illustrates the fate of ideologies which captivate lost souls who thus become “ideologues.”  Posted in a Carl Jung facebook discussion group, it demonstrates the necessary role of irony in dealing with ideas and avoiding their imprisonment, including the caption, “Woo-hoo, we’re Jungians.”  This cartoon reflected knowledge of a lesser known but profound quote from Carl Jung himself, “Thank God I’m not a Jungian!”  Jung knew that his teachings were captivating to some who did not exercise what the New Testament calls as, “discerning Spirit” and used his teachings to create a shallow ideological identity in which they could hide and avoid the gut-level wisdom that his teachings offered.

I facetiously toy with writing my copy of the Gospels someday, clearly identified as, “fictional,” and in them I would toss in at some point Jesus saying as he fled the hordes of “mindless” escape-oriented seekers, “Thank God I’m not a Christian.”  For Jesus’ teachings clearly recognized the entrapment of taking spiritual tradition and teachings only on the superficial level and he used the world, “hypocrites” to describe them, people who were simply actors offering to their community merely the “performance art” of spirituality.

This phenomenon which is so egregiously conspicuous now in my country takes the teachings of Jesus only as “ideas” without ever bothering to explore them in depth to the point of discovering that, “the idea is not the thing” and that ideas have value only when they open-up into a region beyond themselves.  The ability to understand this includes getting to the point where one realizes that buried in his heart is a hidden region that can be found only by opening oneself to it, an opening-up which is not a simple rational undertaking resulting from a moment of revivalistic fervor.  This “opening up” is the discovery of the mystery of life, buried far beneath the conscious edifice of one’s persona, related to what T.S. Eliot described as, “a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.”  Jesus put it this way, “You can find your life only by losing it.”  This is really difficult if you are a “cradle Christian,” one who has been enculturated into the Christian faith as it will often feel as if one is losing his faith.  In a sense, one will be losing his “faith” but possibly only its ideological dimension, allowing the freedom to venture into the, “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”