No.1: It is early morning in the valley
It is early morning in the valley. The wind has dropped and the sky is clear. The land is breathing, silently, invisibly. After a week of fever and wracked coughing, my body is light and washed clean. I want to know what it is, this sense of having been wrung out hard and then touched with soft hands.
Many years ago I had a dream – and I only recall three or four in my entire life – in which I was on the moon. I was all alone – but I like that. I saw the shadow of the night sweeping towards me like a knife, utterly black with none of the subtleties of light and colour that we have here on earth. I was terrified and woke up.
Then a week into this current fever, I was in the bath – you know, soft water, all alone – when I had the same experience: that I could be obliterated at any time, just disappear in the beat of a butterfly’s wing. And I knew that it was death that was in front of me, all around me – and that it always had been. I thought of the 16-year-old Ramana. This time I wasn’t frightened – but I knew there was no escape.
Being helpless before that which appears to arise yet is always there – this is the blessing of all lovers, of all who are born. Love (This is it!) precedes mind (What is it, really?) When a boy goes into the woods to find the bird whose song he has heard, he is, in a sense, thinking ‘What is it, really?’ But he’s only on his quest because of love, because he knew right at the beginning, and without reflection, ‘This is it!’
All art, whatever form it takes, is an instance of this truth. Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Bach – they are doing nothing essentially different from that boy. It isn’t an achievement, it is a gift and we are nothing before it. Like love and death. That’s why we’re all equal. That’s why we’re all free.
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The thing about image, how it works, is that one deep calleth another, fire answers fire. We hear something, see something, and it enters us. Then we try and live up to it. We were always dreaming but trifles light as air have a way of transmuting themselves into horrid shapes and shrieks and sights unholy. We’re being pulled along to that high capital where kingly death keeps his court in beauty and decay. Where are you going to put yourself? No settling down. No escape.
But we were never caught. True, we’re in a land strewn with jokes and booby-traps. Why do we go there? Because it’s alive.
If everything gets in, the ways of escape are also without end. We’re knocking the hit back. We’re in the show.
But there’s one thing we need to know: we’re being fashioned. And what is the greatest fashioner of forms? Love. It never lets you go. It warps the mind a little from the right. No wonder things tend to go out of shape even as we’re holding them.
Very few are capable of living on a scale that encompasses life’s deep song: birth, death, helplessness, vastness. It is good to fall. It lightens up the darkness.
My mother groaned, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.
William Blake, you are a nutter. But you knew about groaning, weeping, danger, leaping, helplessness, nakedness, piping, fiends, hiding and clouds. Not many do. But if you do, then something happens to you. You become a being darkly wise and rudely great: the glory, jest and riddle of the world.
This is it! (p.135)
It’s this is it! followed immediately by what is it really? The weird and wonderful aren’t rare and special; they’re everywhere in some guise or other. And they’re on their way towards us.
This is it! (p.185)
Painting and Zen are one. The Universe represents/re-presents the awareness we all have of the great array of the world, what the Chinese sages call the ten thousand things, what D.T.Suzuki calls the multitudinosity of things. Art is applied enlightenment. It is direct, sudden, flooding the mind with light. It is, of course, the hit – and it reveals a world. It’s THIS IS IT! and WHAT IS IT REALLY? all over again.
love and death (p.18)
Enter the Maenads (literally, ‘ravers’), who were, to put it mildly, a bit of a handful. For a start, they indulged in orgies on the mountain sides, often with Pan as their lover. I doubt if he knew what had hit him, especially as, having fucked him, they then killed him. In fact, they tore everything to pieces: animals, infants, their own husbands. No one was safe. They got hold of Orpheus – he whose music could enchant wild beasts – and threw his head in the river (where it carried on singing; some people just don’t know when to quit).
love and death (p.34)
But impossibility has an unexpected spin-off: everything and everybody is equal before it. All attempts are worthy of consummation: the short and sharp as well as the considered and rounded; the butterfly as well as the lion and the unicorn.