Wednesday, October 16, 2013

a question of turning

from queer phenomenology by sara ahmed

"my writing moves between conceptual analysis and personal digression.  but why call the personal a digression?  why is it that the personal so often enters writing as if we are being led astray from a proper course?"

"it is not just that bodies are moved by the orientations they have; rather, the orientations we have toward others shape the contours of space by affecting relations of proximity and distance between bodies.  importantly, even what is kept at a distance must still be proximate enough if it is to make or leave an impression."

"phenomenology is full of queer moments; as moments of disorientation that maurice merleau-ponty suggests involve not only 'the intellectual experience of disorder, but the vital experience of giddiness and nausea, which is the awareness of our contingency, and the horror with which it fills us.'"

"space then becomes a question of 'turning', of directions taken, which not only allow things to appear, but also enable us to find our way through the world by situating ourselves in relation to such things."

"the question of orientation becomes, then, a question not only about how we 'find our way' but how we come to 'feel at home'."

"but 'getting lost' still takes us somewhere; and being lost is a way of inhabiting space by registering what is not familiar: being lost can in its turn become a familiar feeling.  familiarity is shaped by the 'feel' of space or by how spaces 'impress' upon bodies."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

untitled by john ashbery

we were warned about spiders, and the
   occasional famine.
we drove downtown to see our
   neighbors.  none of them were home.
we nestled in yards the municipality had
reminisced about other, different places -
but were they?  hadn't we known it all

in vineyards where the bee's hymn
   drowns the monotony,
we slept for peace, joining in the great
he came up to me.
it was all as it had been,
except for the weight of the present,
that scuttled the pact we made with
in truth there was no cause for rejoicing,
nor need to turn around, either.
we were lost just by standing,
listening to the hum of the wires overhead.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


by anne sexton

The month is dumb.
It is fraudulent.
It does not cleanse itself.
The hens lay blood-stained eggs.
Do not lend your bread to anyone
lest it nevermore rise.
Do not eat lentils or your hair will fall out.

Do not rely on February
except when your cat has kittens,
throbbing into the snow.
Do not use knives and forks
unless there is a thaw,
like the yawn of a baby.
The sun in this month
begets a headache
like an angel slapping you in the face.

Earthquakes mean March.
The dragon will move,
and the earth will open like a wound.
There will be great rain or snow
so have some coal for your uncle.
The sun of this month cures all.
Therefore, old women say:
Let the sun of March shine on my daughter,
but let the sun of February shine on my daughter-in-law.
However, if you go to a party
dressed as the anti-Christ
you will be frozen to death by morning.

During the rainstorms of April
the oyster rises from the sea
and opens its shell —
rain enters it —
when it sinks the raindrops
become the pearl.
So take a picnic,
open your body,
and give birth to pearls.

June and July?
These are the months
we call Boiling Water.
There is sweat on the cat but the grape
marries herself to the sun.

Hesitate in August.
Be shy.
Let your toes tremble in their sandals.
However, pick the grape
and eat with confidence.
The grape is the blood of God.
Watch out when holding a knife
or you will behead St. John the Baptist.

Touch the Cross in September,
knock on it three times
and say aloud the name of the Lord.
Put seven bowls of salt on the roof overnight
and the next morning the damp one
will foretell the month of rain.
Do not faint in September
or you will wake up in a dead city.

If someone dies in October
do not sweep the house for three days
or the rest of you will go.
Also do not step on a boy's head
for the devil will enter your ears
like music.

whether you have hair or not.
Hair is not good,
nothing is allowed to grow,
all is allowed to die.
Because nothing grows
you may be tempted to count the stars
but beware,
in November counting the stars
gives you boils.
Beware the tall people,
they will go mad.
Don't harm the turtle dove
because he is a great shoe
that has swallowed Christ's blood.

On December fourth
water spurts out of the mouse.
Put herbs in its eyes and boil corn
and put the corn away for the night
so that the Lord may trample on it
and bring you luck.
For many days the Lord has been
shut up in the oven.
After that He is boiled,
but He never dies, never dies.

~ from The Awful Rowing Toward God, 1975

Thursday, August 1, 2013

and ever and

north? these restful blinds slip
smoothly here.  winter's scratch
                    over which year runs
bitter, they are all full of low time

     how authentic!  it's the hurried
watch bending out to dark, the earth, the
river.  aged autumn, why see the house,
last year's car, the farms?  ah,
this long april note down the rows -
celery, and beet.  one might think
without foretaste, how far north,
how quickly the end.
                    these leaves, leaves

no other.  some other.
air turning and yet i stretch the year
among the caress, its last rest
                is at it here
and the year
has his summer so high it
all clouds out winter.  here's to spring?
now here's rows of earth and these
reeds way before here was a how.
we've come this way into time
into lapping how at the sill
and now and there's and that


Sunday, July 7, 2013

two from adrienne rich

living in the cave

reading the parable of the cave
while living in the cave,
                                   black moss

deadening my footsteps
candles stuck on rock-ledges
weakening my eyes

these things around me, with their
daily requirements:

                                 fill me, empty me
talk to me, warm me, let me
suck on you

every one of them has a plan that depends on me

stalactites want to become
veins of ore
imagine their preciousness

candles see themselves disembodied
into gas
and taking flight

the bat hangs dreaming
of an airy world

none of them, not one
sees me
as i see them

for the dead

i dreamed i called you on the telephone
to say: be kinder to yourself
but you were sick and would not answer

the waste of my love goes on this way
trying to save you from yourself

i have always wondered about the leftover
energy, water rushing down a hill
long after the rains have stopped

or the fire you want to go to bed from
but cannot leave, burning-down but not burnt-down
the red coals more extreme, more curious
in their flashing and dying
than you wish they were
sitting there long after midnight

Friday, July 5, 2013

two from marge piercy

armed combat in a cafe

how easy for us to argue
shoving the ugly counters
of jargon across the table,
mah-jong tiles slapping,
the bang of ego on ego
feminist versus marxist cant.

to feel alienated
is easy, to use words
to hold the self free,
clean from the taffy
of loving, from the wet
sticky hands of need.

we use our politics
as french papas put broken
bottles, jagged glass on top
of the walls of suburban
villas, so no prowler
can climb over.

what closeness remains
is that of samurai
in ritual sword dance
combat, each hoping to
behead the other and,
invulnerable and armored, escape.


when i care about nothing
except an apple:
red as a maple tree
satin and speckled
tart and winy.

when body is all:
fast as an elevator
pulsing out waves of darkness
hot as the inner earth
molten and greedy.

when sky fills my head:
bluer than thought
cleaner than number
with a wind
fresh and sour
cold from the mouth of the sea.

of sinking my teeth
into now like a hungry fox:
never otherwise
am i so cruel;
never otherwise
so happy.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

us and them

from the politics of experience by r.d. laing

"only when something has become problematic do we start to ask questions.  disagreement shakes us out of our slumbers, and forces us to see our own point of view through contrast with another person who does not share it.  but we resist such confrontations.  the history of heresies of all kinds testifies to more than the tendency to break off communication (excommunication) with those who hold different dogmas or opinions; it bears witness to our intolerance of different fundamental structures of experience."

"collective representations come to be experienced as things, exterior to anyone.  they take on the force and character of partial autonomous realities, with their own way of life.  a social norm may come to impose an oppressive obligation on everyone, although few people feel it to be their own."

"we act not only in terms of our own experience, but of what we think they experience, and how we think they experience, and so on in a logically vertiginous spiral to infinity.

our language is only partially adequate to express this state of affairs.  on level 1, two people, or two groups, may agree or disagree.  as we say, they see eye to eye or otherwise.  they share a common point of view.  but on level 2 they may or may not think they agree or disagree, and they may or may not be correct in either case.  whereas level 1 is concerned with agreement or disagreement, level 2 is concerned with understanding or misunderstanding.  level 3 is concerned with a third level of awareness: what do i think you think i think?"

"it makes a difference, presumably, to many people whether they think they are in agreement with what most people think (second level): and whether they think that most people regard them as like themselves (third level).  it is possible to think what everyone else thinks and to believe that one is in a minority.  it is possible to think what few people think and to suppose that one is in the majority.  it is possible to feel that They feel one is like Them when one is not, and They do not.  it is possible to say: i believe this, but They believe that, so i'm sorry, there is nothing i can do."

"it is always the others, and always elsewhere, and each person feels unable to make any difference to Them. . . such collective power is in proportion to each person's creation of this power and his own impotence."

"when we have installed Them in our hearts, we are only a plurality of solitudes in which what each person has in common is his allocation to the other of the necessity of his own actions.  each person, however, as other to the other, is the other's necessity.  each denies any internal bond with the others; each person claims his own inessentiality: 'i just carried out my orders.  if i had not done so, someone else would have.', 'why don't you sign?  everyone else has', etc.  yet although i can make no difference, i cannot act differently.  no single other person is any more necessary to me than i claim to be to Them.  but just as he is 'one of Them' to me, so i am 'one of Them' to him.  in this collection of reciprocal indifference, of reciprocal inessentiality and solitude, there appears to exist no freedom.  there is conformity to a presence that is everywhere elsewhere."  


"the group, considered first of all from the point of view of the experience of its own members, is not a social object out there in space.  it is the quite extraordinary being formed by each person's synthesis of the same multiplicity into We, and each person's synthesis of the multiplicity of syntheses."

"a group whose unification is achieved through the reciprocal interiorization by each of the other, in which neither a 'common object' nor organizational or institutional structures, etc. have a primary function as a kind of group 'cement', i shall call a nexus. . .  it is an ubiquity of heres, whereas the series of others is always elsewhere, always there.  the nexus exists only in so far as each person incarnates the nexus.  the nexus is everywhere, in each person, and is nowhere else than in each."

"the condition of permanence of such a nexus, whose sole existence is each person's experience of it, is the successful re-invention of whatever gives such experience its raison d'etre.  if there is no external danger, then danger and terror have to be invented and maintained.  each person has to act on the others to maintain the nexus in them.

some families live in perpetual anxiety of what, to them, is an external persecuting world. . . the 'protection' that such a family offers its members seem to be based on several preconditions: (i) a phantasy of the external world as extraordinarily dangerous; (ii) the generation of terror inside the nexus at this external danger.  the 'work' of the nexus is the generation of this terror.  this work is violence."

"the highest ethic of the nexus is reciprocal concern.  each person is concerned about what the other thinks, feels, does.  he may come to regard it as his right to expect the others to be concerned about him, and to regard himself as under an obligation to feel concern towards them in turn.  i make no move without feeling it as my right that you should be happy or sad, proud or ashamed, of what i do.  every action of mine is always the concern of the other members of the group.  and i regard you as callous if you do not concern yourself about my concern for you when you do anything."

"the essential characteristic of the nexus is that every action of one person is expected to have reference to and to influence everyone else.  the nature of this influence is expected to be reciprocal.

each person is expected to be controlled , and to control the others, by the reciprocal effect that each has on the other.  to be affected by the others' actions or feelings is 'natural'.  it is not 'natural' if father is neither proud nor ashamed of son, daughter, mother, etc.  according to this ethic, action done to please, to make happy, to show one's gratitude to the other is the highest form of action.  this reciprocal transpersonal cause-effect is a self-actualizing presumption.  in this 'game', it is a foul to use this interdependence to hurt the other, except in the service of the nexus, but the worst crime of all is to refuse to act in terms of this presumption."

"if peter is prepared to make sacrifices for paul, so paul should be prepared to make sacrifices for peter, or else he is selfish, ungrateful, callous, ruthless, etc.

'sacrifice' under these circumstances consists in peter impoverishing himself to do something for paul.  it is the tactic of enforced debt.  one way of putting this is that each person invests in the other."


"the invention of Them creates Us, and We may require to invent Them to reinvent Ourselves.

one of the most tentative forms of solidarity between us is when we each want the same thing, but want nothing from each other.  we are united, say by a common desire to get the last seat on the train, or to get the best bargain at the sale.  we might gladly cut each other's throat, we may nevertheless feel a certain bond between us, a negative unity, so to say, in that each perceives the other as redundant, and each person's metaperspective shows him that he is redundant for the other.  each as other-for-the-other is one-too-many.  in this case, we share a desire to appropriate the same common object or objects: food, land, a social position, real or imagined, but share nothing between ourselves, and do not wish to. . . two people both want the same house, two applicants both want the same job.  this common object can thus both separate and unite at the same time.  a key question is whether it can give itself to all, or not.  how scarce is it?"

"perhaps the most intimate way we can be united is through each of us being in, and having inside ourselves, the same presence.  this is nonsense in any external sense, but here we are exploring a mode of experience which does not recognize the distinctions of analytic logic.

we find this demonic group mysticism repeatedly evoked in the pre-war speeches at nazi nuremberg rallies. . . no group can be expected to be kept together for long on the pure flame of such unified experience. . . under the form of group loyalty, brotherhood and love, there is introduced an ethic whose basis is my right to afford the other protection from my violence if he is loyal to me, and to expect his protection from his violence if i am loyal to him, and my obligation to terrorize him with the threat of my violence if he does not remain loyal."

"we do not now suppose that chemical elements combine together because they love each other.  atoms do not explode out of hatred.  it is men who act out of love and hatred, who combine for defense, attack, or pleasure in each other's company.

all those people who seek to control the behavior of large numbers of other people work on the experiences of those other people.  once people can be induced to experience a situation in a similar way, they can be expected to behave in similar ways.  induce people all to want the same thing, hate the same things, feel the same threat, then their behavior is already captive - you have acquired your consumers or your cannon-fodder."

"the patterns in space and time, their relative permanence and rigidity, do not turn at any time into a natural system or a hyperorganism, although the fantasy can develop, and men can start to live by the fantasy that the relative permanence in space-time of patterns and patterns of patterns are what they must live and die for.

it is as though we all preferred to die to preserve our shadows.

for the group can be nothing else than the multiplicity of the points of view and actions of its members, and this remains true even where, through the interiorization of this multiplicity as synthesized by each, this synthesized multiplicity becomes ubiquitous in space and enduring in time."

"each group requires more or less radical internal transformation of the persons who comprise it.  consider the metamorphoses that the one man may go through in one day as he moves from one mode of sociality to another - family man, speck of crowd dust, functionary in the organization, friend.  these are not simply different roles: each is a whole past and present and future, offering differing options and constraints, different degrees of change or inertia, different kinds of closeness and distance, different sets of rights and obligations, different pledges and promises."

"the tired family man at the office and the tired business man at home attest to the fact that people carry over, not just one set of internal objects, but various internalized social modes of being from one context to another, often grossly contradictory.

nor are there such constant emotions or sentiments as love, hate, anger, trust or mistrust.  whatever generalized definitions can be made of each of these at the highest levels of abstraction, specifically and concretely, each emotion is always found in one or another inflection according to the group mode it occurs in.  there are no 'basic' emotions, instincts, or personality, outside of the relationships a person has within one or another social context."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

dance break

so m. gives me advice, or rather, asks the right question.  "how about taking a break from analyzing?"   

i fall back on that boring template of an excuse: how could i?  this is all i am.  anxiety rules me, i live inside of analysis, one leads the other by both of my hands, we are all inseparable...

yet.  i have come to love those hard, impossible questions (thanks m!), those pressure points.

he adds [something like] "your analytical mind is a survival tool, which is not good or bad.  yet it is overdeveloped & has crowded out other tools.  maybe your impulsive self is child-like.  why don't you turn off the analysis and let yourself be impulsive?  grow up."

i have agreed.  i will whittle away or cut off or redirect the analysis for awhile.  to be in my body, to feel my feelings, to melt away the ice block that i've become.

this goes along well with my current (temporary?  permanent?) breakup with buddhism, meditation.  it is ironic timing, actually.  i have recently realized that i no longer feel so anxious most of the time.  however, i haven't been able to feel my body, or feel anything really.  so is my choice between feeling+anxiety or no feeling+no anxiety?  hmmmmmm

so, for life to have meaning, i have to feel alive.  to feel alive, i have to feel anxiety?  really?  and... how do i get there again?

there's been alcohol.  lots of homemade nachos.  going on dates.  having a new, enormous crush (feelings! for such a highly impulsive/creative human being).  getting sun-drenched & sore-limbed at the garden.  cuddling hardcore with guts, my neglected cat.

little moments of emotion return in their odd waves, usually in the form of compassion: a. listens to a podcast on immigrant rights activists and detention center infiltrations, tears lurk under my face.  my sister tells me about a kid in my niece's class who appears quite neglected by his parents.  immediately i well up & want to adopt a fleet of children. 

i AM starting to feel again!  it is pain that alerts me, but i keep at it.  i sign up for a modern dance summer class.

during the first hour of the first class, i adore the calm voice & careful visualizations of the instructor.  i love thinking about my lumbar spine again, feeling the creases in my hip joints, the weight of my heels.

then we go into the sequences.  i cannot figure it out.  the split between my brain & body echoes, grows enormous.  i am trapped.

here are my eyes, watching the footsteps, observing the arms.  here are my ears, listening for rhythm.  here are my shoulders remembering their role and one two three four one two three four one two three four five fucking six which foot where / arms go how / why am i dying

fourteen eighteen twenty-five tries (or so it seems), i am the only one in the class who does not get it.  thinking leads to over-thinking which brings so much head, no body.  i can't feel anything, how again was that supposed to go?  what is the rhythm why am i here how can i escape what if i start crying 

yet i am laughing, goofy faces, aloof or clumsy or whoever i am performing

the instructor, she is wise and kind.  she looks for ways to help, she compliments my breathing.

i watch the clock, the final 30 minutes moving backwards, where is the rhythm why is this wide open space

we switch sequences.  the new one goes one two three one two three one two three four.  there are jumps, i get it, i am gliding across the floor.  she calls it "walk-falling".  we are always doing it, in those little moments before the heel hits the ground. this one feels fluid, familiar

(this is why i am here.  to walk-fall my way around, to feel-fall my way through.  to discover the fluid-familiar.) 

now.  this is a journal entry, an impulsive one, broadcast almost live near & far, to no one.

this mind invests itself in a disappearing act, a switcher of flips, a poker of soft spots, a presser of tension.  but my body sense, my feeling sense (the i & mine that i've come to know) is invested in being seen, validated, cared for, and ultimately, recognized.

my mind loves the no, the boundary
everything else loves the yes

between sense and non-sense
i remain torn and split but leaning heavily
how to: coordinate. integrate.
always i breathe until

Thursday, June 20, 2013

acceptable dissociations

By sina queyras


Meanwhile the expressway’s hum, it roars into
Her, the expressway cargo and tree-lined, stretched
Radio towers, mowers its horns and hogs, its beef

And bread vans, hour after hour, laptop, radar
Detectors from New Mexico, Idaho potatoes, HoHos
And Cheetos, all organic grain-fed, pieces of chicken,

Pieces of cow, slices of pig, kernals of corn, diced carrot,
All packaged meals, she of drums, her mile after mile
Of interchange escape into itself rest stop, progress

Is welcoming and bidding adieu, states drinking
Her progress, passing tolls, Motel 6 she hum as glass
And EconoLodge, passing itself traces of Ashland

And Peoria, Willingboro, Paterson, every inch of it grafted,
Numbered, planted, barriered, mowed, guardrailed,
O my citizen consumers, for the time, infinite,

Replaceable, scaling these walls of sound and motion,
Dipping in, expressing oneself, expressing oneself,
Expressing oneself.


Wonder warships at citizens in blue, the number
Lining the leaf, infinite expressways, and scaling
Blood, soil a Camden, shouting over water Sunday

Steel passing the in and sky noise, another abandoned
By of one to mills, at steel, above bone, gazing (euphoria,
Nostalgia!) citizens, up leaf, citizens, wonder! Infinite warships

Sunday and abandoned a shouting expressways, noise,
Across in blood, steel, lining passing bone, at gazing
Blue mills, scaling the water another number to in

The above soil by of steel up one and sky at the
Over Camden, citizens, euphoria nostalgia!
All along the avenue spronging, tent-like, their attitudes

Way ahead of them. My computer screen, waving. Where
Is your horse?
she said, and there was nothing I could say.
What I want is generally tidy. What I get often can’t dance.

What wants a date who can’t dance?
Who wants a line without rhythm?
Who wants a line without thought?


Occasionally there is anger. Occasionally she takes her one good foot and applies it to surfaces otherwise flat and safe, the expressway progressing itself through her, expressly.

(I live here because the country I once lived in is now a corporate washroom, where there were once gardens now oil refineries turn night into day and farmers into militiamen—you won’t even understand this, and your teeth gleam!)

Once again the feeling comes, like a sprong in the groin, an abundance of feeling that is sharp, almost hostile in its need to overtake. Several women in pink felt it coming. They turned, their pierced ears like arrows in her thigh.

Sprong, sarong. I ask you?

Over the course of several weeks developers wiped out all the trees in a town in A to avoid having them designated as essential sites after a rare woodpecker was found to be nesting in the town. Woodpeckers are not essential. Trees are not essential. Trees are ornamental. Humanity is ornamental. Prophet is everything.

This poem resembles urban sprawl. This poem resembles the freedom to charge a fee. The fee occurs in the gaps. It is an event. It is not without precedent. It is a moment in which you pay money. It is a tribute to freedom of choice.

Reality is a parking lot in Qatar. Reality is an airstrip in Malawi.

Meanwhile the expressway encloses, the expressway round and around the perimeters like wagon trains circling the bonfire, all of them, guns pointed, Busby Berkeley in the night sky.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

breath, passing through

tis the spiderweb
season, lilac
quickened.  with slick
walks off the lightning
street, with hand in a bag,
(wrapped in a fist)
                 the drizzled
day bends and cracks.
burnt yellow paint shoved over
and over against the ages
of a wall.  lines ticked with tall
decisions, certain flecks stick
to t-shirts, pale purple.  here
lies the mirror mark: fingers
extend, appendages.

crack it two times,
a lucky double.     
                              do you
believe me?
you shouldn't.

                         you are not
little but lying repeatedly
then standing focused, heels hinged.
forehead, unwrinkled.  with hips
swinging home, someone punches      
the scattered drunks
the overdarkened parks
those twisting twisting clouds.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

more r.d. laing

from the politics of experience

"There seems to be no agent more effective than another person in bringing a world for oneself alive, or, by a glance, a gesture, or a remark, shrivelling up the reality in which one is lodged." -erving goffman

 . . .

Let us take the simplest possible interpersonal scheme. Consider Jack and Jill in relation. Then Jack's behaviour towards Jill is experienced by Jill in particular ways. How she experiences him affects considerably how she behaves towards him. How she behaves towards him influences (without by any means totally determining) how he experiences her. And his experience of her contributes to his way of behaving towards her which in turn . . . etc.

Each person may take two fundamentally distinguishable forms of action in this interpersonal system. Each may act on his own experience or upon the other person's experience, and there is no other form of personal action possible within this system. That is to say, as long as we are considering personal action of self to self or self to other, the only way one can ever act is on one's own experience or on the other's experience.

Personal action can either open out possibilities of enriched experience or it can shut off possibilities. Personal action is either predominantly validating, confirming, encouraging, supportive, enhancing, or it is invalidating, disconfirming, discouraging, undermining and constricting. It can be creative or destructive.

In a world where the normal condition is one of alienation, most personal action must be destructive both of one's own experience and of that of the other. I shall outline here some of the ways this can be done. I leave the reader to consider from his own experience how pervasive these kinds of action are.

Under the heading of "defence mechanisms", psychoanalysis describes a number of ways in which a person becomes alienated from himself. For example, repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection. These "mechanisms" are often described in psychoanalytic terms as themselves "unconscious", that is, the person himself appears to be unaware that he is doing this to himself. Even when a person develops sufficient insight to see that "splitting", for example, is going on, he usually experiences this splitting as indeed a mechanism, so to say, an impersonal process which has taken over, which he can observe but cannot control or stop.

There is thus some phenomenological validity in referring to such "defences" by the term "mechanism". But we must not stop there. They have this mechanical quality, because the person as he experiences himself is dissociated from them. He appears to himself and to others to suffer from them. They seem to be processes he undergoes, and as such he experiences himself as a patient, with a particular psychopathology.

But this is so only from the perspective of his own alienated experience. As he becomes de alienated he is able first of all to become aware of them, if he has not already done so, and then to take the second, even more crucial, step of progressively realising that these are things he does or has done to himself. Process becomes converted back to praxis, the patient becomes an agent.

Ultimately it is possible to regain the ground that has been lost. These defence mechanisms are actions taken by the person on his own experience. On top of this he has dissociated himself from his own action. The end-product of this twofold violence is a person who no longer experiences himself fully as a person, but as a part of a person, invaded by destructive psychopathological "mechanisms" in the face of which he is a relatively helpless victim.

These "defences" are action on oneself. But "defences" are not only intrapersonal, they are transpersonal. I act not only on myself, I can act upon you. And you act not only on yourself, you act upon me. In each case, on experience.

If Jack succeeds in forgetting something, this is of little use if Jill continues to remind him of it. He must induce her not to do so. The safest way would be not just to make her keep quiet about it, but to induce her to forget it also.

Jack may act upon Jill in many ways. He may make her feel guilty for keeping on "bringing it up". He may invalidate her experience. This can be done-more or less radically. He can indicate merely that it is unimportant or trivial, whereas it is important and significant to her. Going further, he can shift the modality of her experience from memory to imagination: "It"s all in your imagination." Further still, he can invalidate the content. "It never happened that way." Finally, he can invalidate not only the significance, modality and content, but her very capacity to remember at all, and make her feel guilty for doing so into the bargain.

This is not unusual. People are doing such things to each other all the time. In order for such transpersonal invalidation to work, however, it is advisable to overlay it with a thick patina of mystification. For instance, by denying that this is what one is doing, and further invalidating any perception that it is being done, by ascriptions such as "How can you think such a thing?" "You must be paranoid." And so on.

. . .

Man, most fundamentally, is not engaged in the discovery of what is there, nor in production, nor even in communication, nor in invention. He is enabling being to emerge from non-being.

The experience of being the actual medium for a continual process of creation takes one past all depression or persecution or vain glory, past, even, chaos or emptiness, into the very mystery of that continual flip of non-being into being, and can be the occasion of that great liberation when one makes the transition from being afraid of nothing, to the realisation that there is nothing to fear. Nevertheless, it is very easy to lose one's way at any stage, and especially when one is nearest.

. . .

In our "normal" alienation from being, the person who has a perilous awareness of the non-being of what we take to be being (the pseudo-wants, pseudo-values, pseudo-realities of the endemic delusions of what are taken to be life and death and so on) gives us in our present epoch the acts of creation that we despise and crave.

Words in a poem, sounds in movement, rhythm in space, attempt to recapture personal meaning in personal time and space from out of the sights and sounds of a depersonalised, dehumanised world. They are bridgeheads into alien territory. They are acts of insurrection. Their source is from the Silence at the centre of each of us. Wherever and whenever such a whorl of patterned sound or space is established in the external world, the power that it contains generates new lines of forces whose effects are felt for centuries.

Monday, June 17, 2013

not into but out of

from the politics of experience by r.d. laing

we experience the objects of our experience as there in the outside world.  the source of our experience seems to be outside ourselves.  in the creative experience, we experience the source of the created images, pattern, sounds, to be within ourselves but still beyond ourselves.  colors emanate from a source of pre-light itself unlit, sounds from silence, patterns from formlessness.  this pre-formed pre-light, this pre-sound, this pre-form is no-thing, and yet it is the source of all created things.

we are separated from and related to one another physically.  persons as embodied beings relate to each other through the medium of space.  and we are separated and joined by our different perspectives, educations, backgrounds, organizations, group-loyalties, affiliations, ideologies, socio-economic class interests, temperaments.  these social 'things' that unite us are by the same token so many things, so many social figments that come between us.  but if we could strip away all the exigencies and contingencies, and reveal to each other our naked presence?  if you take away everything, all the clothes, the disguises, the crutches, the grease paint, also the common projects, the games that provide the pretexts for the occasions that masquerade as meetings - if we could meet, if there were such a happening, a happy coincidence of human beings, what would now separate us?

two people with first and finally nothing between us.  between us nothing.  no thing.  that which is really 'between' cannot be named by any things that come between.  the between is itself no-thing.

if i draw a pattern on a piece of paper, here is an action i am taking on the ground of my experience of my situation.  what do i experience myself as doing and what intention have i?  am i trying to convey something to someone (communication)?  am i rearranging the elements of some internal kaleidoscopic jigsaw (invention)?  am i trying to discover the properties of the new gestalten that emerge (discovery)?  am i amazed that something is appearing that did not exist before?  that these lines did not exist on this paper until i put them there?  here we are approaching the experience of creation and of nothing.

what is called a poem is compounded perhaps of communication, invention, fecundation, discovery, production, creation.  through all the contention of intentions and motives a miracle has occurred.  there is something new under the sun; being has emerged from nonbeing; a spring has bubbled out of a rock.

without the miracle nothing has happened.  machines are already becoming better at communication with each other than human beings are with human beings.  the situation is ironical.  more and more concern about communication, less and less to communicate.

we are not so much concerned with experiences of 'filling a gap' in theory or knowledge, of filling up a hole, of occupying an empty space.  it is not a question of putting something into nothing, but of the creation of something out of nothing.  ex nihilo.  the no thing out of which the creation emerges, at its purest, is not an empty space, or an empty stretch of time.

at the point of nonbeing we are at the outer reaches of what language can state, but we can indicate by language why language cannot say what it cannot say.  i cannot say what cannot be said, but sounds can make us listen to the silence.  within the confines of language it is possible to indicate when the dots must begin. . .but in using a word, a letter, a sound, OM, one cannot put a sound to soundlessness, or name the unnameable.

the silence of the preformation expressed in and through language, cannot be expressed by language.  but language can be used to convey what it cannot say - by its interstices, by its emptiness and lapses, by the latticework of words, syntax, sound and meanings.  the modulations of pitch and volume delineate the form precisely by not filling in the spaces between the lines.  but it is a grave mistake to mistake the lines for the pattern, or the pattern for that which it is patterning.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

persons and experience

from the politics of experience by r.d. laing

our task is both to experience and to conceive the concrete, that is to say, reality in its fullness and wholeness.

but this is quite impossible, immediately.  experientially and conceptually, we have fragments.

we can begin from concepts of the single person, from the relations between two or more persons, from groups or from society at large; or from the material world, and conceive of individuals as secondary.  we can derive the main determinants of our individual and social behavior from external exigencies.  all these views are partial vistas and partial concepts.  theoretically one needs a spiral of expanding and contracting schemata that enable us to move freely and without discontinuity from varying degrees of abstraction to greater and lesser degrees of concreteness.  theory is the articulated version of experience.  this book begins and ends with the person.

can human beings be persons today?  can a man be his actual self with another man or womyn?  before we can ask such an optimistic question as 'what is a personal relationship?', we have to ask if a personal relationship is possible, or are persons possible in our present situation?  we are concerned with the possibility of man.  this question can be asked only through its facets.  is love possible?  is freedom possible?

whether or not all, or some, or no human beings are persons, i wish to define a person in a twofold way: in terms of experience, as a center of orientation of the objective universe; and in terms of behavior, as the origin of actions.  personal experience transforms a given field into a field of intention and action: only through action can our experience be transformed.  it is tempting and facile to regard 'persons' as only separate objects in space, who can be studied as any other natural objects can be studied.  but just as kierkegaard remarked that one will never find consciousness by looking down a microscope at brain cells or anything else, so one will never find persons by studying persons as thought they were only objects.  a person is the me or you, he or she, whereby an object is experienced.  are these centers of experience, and origins of actions, living in entirely unrelated worlds of their own composition?  everyone must refer here to their own experience.  my own experience as a center of experience and origin of action tells me that this is not so.  my experience and my action occur in a social field of reciprocal influence and interaction.

. . .

it is quite possible to study the visible, audible, smellable effulgences of human bodies, and much study of human behavior has been in those terms.  one can lump together very large numbers of units of behavior and regard them as a statistical population, in no way different from the multiplicity constituting a system of non-human objects.  but one will not be studying persons.  in a science of persons, i shall state as axiomatic that: behavior is a function of experience; and both experience and behavior are always in relation to someone or something other than self.

when two (or more) persons are in relation, the behavior of each towards the other is mediated by the experience by each of the other, and the experience of each is mediated by the behavior of each.  there is no contiguity between the behavior of one person and that of the other.  much human behavior can be seen as unilateral or bilateral attempts to eliminate experience.  a person may treat another as though he was not a person.  there is no contiguity between one person's experience and another.  my experience of you is always mediated through your behavior.  behavior that is the direct consequence of impact, as of one billiard-ball hitting another, or experience directly transmitted to experience, as in the possible cases of extra-sensory perception, is not personal. 

. . .

what we call 'normal' is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection, and other forms of destructive action on experience.  it is radically estranged from the structure of being.

the more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalized descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical 'mechanisms'.

. . .

experience is invisible to the other.  but experience is not 'subjective' rather than 'objective', not 'inner' rather than 'outer', not process rather than praxis, not input rather than output, not psychic rather than somatic, not some doubtful data dredged up from introspection rather than extrospection.  least of all is experience 'intra-psychic process'.  such transactions, object-relations, interpersonal relations, transference, counter-transference, as we suppose to go on between people are not the interplay merely of two objects in space, each equipped with ongoing intra-psychic processes.

this distinction between outer and inner usually refers to the distinction between behavior and experience; but sometimes it refers to some experiences that are supposed to be 'inner' in contrast to others that are 'outer'.  more accurately this is a distinction between different modalities of experience, namely, perception (as outer) in contrast to imagination etc. (as inner). but perceptions, imagination, phantasy, reverie, dreams, memory, are simply different modalities of experience, none more 'inner' or 'outer' than any others.

yet this way of talking does reflect a split in our experience.  we seem to live in two worlds, and many people are aware only of the 'outer' rump.  as long as we remember that the 'inner' world is not some space 'inside' the body or the mind, this way of talking can serve our purpose. . . the 'inner', then, is our personal idiom of experiencing our bodies, other people, the animate and inanimate world: imagination, dreams, phantasy, and beyond that to ever further reaches of experience.

. . .

men have, however, always been weighed down not only by their sense of subordination to fate and chance, to ordained external necessities or contingencies, but by a sense that their very own thoughts and feelings, in their most intimate insterstices, are the outcome, the resultant, of processes which they undergo.

a man can estrange himself from himself by mystifying himself and others.  he can also have what he does stolen from him by the agency of others.

if we are stripped of our experience, we are stripped of our deeds; and if our deeds are, so to say, taken out of our hands like toys from the hands of children, we are bereft of our humanity.  we cannot be deceived.  men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.  we are not self-contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections.  we are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.  each of us is the other to the others.  man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing and interacting with his fellows.

it is quite certain that unless we can regulate our behavior much more satisfactorily than at the present, then we are going to exterminate ourselves.  but as we experience the world, so we act, and this principle holds even when action conceals rather than discloses our experience.

we are not able even to think adequately about the behavior that is at the annihilating edge.  but what we think is less than what we know: what we know is less than what we love: what we love is so much less than what there is.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

the end of the world

from hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world by haruki murakami

"the wall is far too grand to capture on a map.  it is not static.  its pulse is too intense, its curves too sublime.  its face changes dramatically with each new angle.  an accurate rendering on paper cannot be possible.  i feel a futility in my attempt to do so in my sketchbook.
i shut my eyes to doze.  the wind swirls at an incessant pitch, but the trees and the wall offer protection from the chill.  i think about my shadow.  i think of the map he has asked for.  there is not much time left.
my map is lacking in precision and detail.  the inner reaches of the woods are a near blank.  but winter is almost here.  there will be less and less opportunity to explore further.  in the sketchbook i have drawn a general outline of the town, including the location of landmarks and buildings.  i have made annotations of facts i have learned.
it is not certain that the gatekeeper will allow me near my shadow, even as he has promised to let us meet once the days are shorter and my shadow is weaker.  now that winter is near, these conditions would seem surely to be fulfilled.
my eyes still closed, i think about the librarian.  i am filled with sadness, although i cannot locate the source of these feelings.
i have been seeing the librarian daily, but the void in me remains.  i have read the old dreams in the library.  she has sat beside me.  we have supped together.  i have walked her home.  we have talked of many things.  unreasonably, my sorrow only seems to grow, to deepen.  whatever is the loss becomes greater each time we meet.  it is a well that will never be filled.  it is dark, unbearably so.
i suppose these feelings are linked to forgotten memories.  i have sought for some connection in her.  i learn nothing in myself.  the mystery does not yield.  my own existence seems weak, uncertain.
i shake these convoluted thoughts from my head and seek out sleep.

i awake to find that the day is nearly over, that the temperature has dropped sharply.  i am shivering.  i pull my coat tight around me.  as i stand and brush off the grass, flakes of snow touch my cheek.  i look up.  the clouds are low, a forbidding gloom builds.  there is a flurry of large snowflakes drifting gently down.  winter is come.
before i begin my way back,  i steal one more glance at the wall.  beneath the snow-swept heavens, it rears up more stately, more perfect than ever.  as i gaze up at it, i feel them peering at me.  what are you doing here?  they seem to say.  what are you looking for?
questions i cannot answer.  the short sleep in the cold has consumed all warmth in me, leaving my head swimming with abstract shapes.  do i occupy the body of another?  everything is so ponderously heavy, so vague."

Friday, June 14, 2013

for this day

crept upwards behind the clock and the sheets.
the cat snuck in with an open door, quickly
left with a cry. bodies became a hot
mess, blurred breath & edges breathing.

i or you with sighted
fingers, this wet attention
stunned me. with eyes
and eyelashes, with whole
nudging mouth

all the pores open and we called it
let's just say it clearly,
it is what it


tingling, these tremors belie
an epic stillness. rawness
look like slowness when patience
looks like


that's who 
decided to keep
hidden under cryptic covers,

hold the lingering
with pillowcases of scent.

hours ago in these careful
sheets, with cautious eyes
and heavy breath. with cautious eyes
and heavy breath. with heavy breath and
cautious chest the wind around me
purrs and lifts

warm belly and electric skin


Thursday, June 13, 2013

so we can hold ourselves

they were a pronoun housed in a body floating down a river of saltwater.
don't we all wanted to be naked and unbothered

he didn't work, she didn't work, we were all together, many of them, the we, the they

is my sorrow more or less
is my sorrow real or religious
is my sorrow mine

it was a loose call that day, anyone could be seen by anyone
what suits to wear into the courtroom
what cabanas and beach

on a bad day, the stares
on a good day, the stares
in the country, out about
and around the city
eyes stab eyes make sore limbs
what space, what shrinking

under eyelids they could be a threat in a brain
not hard lines they will not participate
violence is a magnet leaned away from on the daily
to have these hips, to have this beard,
so we can hold our shoulders
this sweet face says

take real

make us



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

a perfect mess

by mary karr
I read somewhere
that if   pedestrians didn’t break traffic laws to cross
Times Square whenever and by whatever means possible,
the whole city
would stop, it would stop.
Cars would back up to Rhode Island,
an epic gridlock not even a cat
could thread through. It’s not law but the sprawl
of our separate wills that keeps us all flowing. Today I loved
the unprecedented gall
of the piano movers, shoving a roped-up baby grand
up Ninth Avenue before a thunderstorm.
They were a grim and hefty pair, cynical
as any day laborers. They knew what was coming,
the instrument white lacquered, the sky bulging black
as a bad water balloon and in one pinprick instant
it burst. A downpour like a fire hose.
For a few heartbeats, the whole city stalled,
paused, a heart thump, then it all went staccato.
And it was my pleasure to witness a not
insignificant miracle: in one instant every black
umbrella in Hell’s Kitchen opened on cue, everyone
still moving. It was a scene from an unwritten opera,
the sails of some vast armada.
And four old ladies interrupted their own slow progress
to accompany the piano movers.
each holding what might have once been
lace parasols over the grunting men. I passed next
the crowd of pastel ballerinas huddled
under the corner awning,
in line for an open call — stork-limbed, ankles
zigzagged with ribbon, a few passing a lit cigarette
around. The city feeds on beauty, starves
for it, breeds it. Coming home after midnight,
to my deserted block with its famously high
subway-rat count, I heard a tenor exhale pure
longing down the brick canyons, the steaming moon
opened its mouth to drink from on high ...

Monday, June 10, 2013

swim upstream

from an unentangled knowing by upasika kee nanayon

"in developing mindfulness as a foundation for probing in to know the truth within yourself, you have to apply a level of effort and persistence appropriate to the task."

"with some things - such as giving up addictions - you can mount a full-scale campaign and come out winning without killing yourself in the process.  but with other things, more subtle and deep, you have to be more perceptive so as to figure out how to overcome them over the long haul, digging up their roots so that they gradually weaken to the point where your mindfulness and discernment can overwhelm them."

"pleasure is more treacherous than pain because it's hard to fathom and easy to fall for."

"intelligent people, even though they see things clearly, always keep an eye out for the enemies lying in wait for them on the deeper, more subtle levels ahead.  they have to keep penetrating further and further in.  they have no sense that this or that level is plenty enough - for how can it be enough?  the defilements are still burning away, so how can you brag?  even though your knowledge may be true, how can you be complacent when your mind has yet to establish a foundation for itself?"

"if we turn within and discern the deceits and conceits of self, a profound feeling of disenchantment and dismay arises, causing us to pity ourselves for our own stupidity, for the amount to which we've deluded ourselves all along, and for how much effort we'll still need to put into the practice."

"to let go of anything, you first have to see its drawbacks.  if you simply tell yourself to let go, let go let go, you can't really let go. . . we haven't yet realized the heat of sensual passions, which is why we still like them so much.  even though every attachment is stressful by its very nature, we see it as good."

"this is because the mind has never grown weary of sensuality, hasn't developed any sense of renunciation, any desire to be free from sensuality.  it still like to lie soaking in sensuality.  if it gains sensual pleasure, it's satisfied.  if it doesn't, it gets angry and resentful."

"the type of dhamma that pokes at our sore points is something that goes against the grain with all of us.  this is because we don't like criticism.  we don't like being reprimanded.  we want nothing but praise and admiration, to the point where we swell up with air.  but people with real mindfulness and discernment don't want any of that.  they want to hear helpful criticism, helpful reprimands.  this is what it means to have discernment and intelligence: you know how to take criticism in an intelligent way."

"whenever we see stress, we see its truth.  when we see the cause of stress, we see its truth.  we both know and see because we've focused on it.  if you don't focus on stress, you won't know it; but as soon as you focus on it, you will.  it's because the mind hasn't focused here that it wanders out oblivious, chasing after its preoccupations."

"to practice the dhamma, then, is to go against the flow, to go upstream against suffering and stress, because suffering and stress are the main problems.  if you don't really contemplate stress, your practice will go nowhere.  stress is where you start, and then you try to trace out its root cause.  you have to use your discernment to track down exactly where stress originates, for stress is a result.  once you see the result, you have to track down the cause.  those who are mindful and discerning are never complacent.  whenever stress arises they're sure to search out its causes so that they can eliminate them.  this sort of investigation can proceed on many levels, from the coarse to the refined, and requires that you seek advice so that you don't stumble.  otherwise, you may think you can figure it all out in your head - which won't work at all!"

"the more you practice and contemplate, the more you become sensitive to this on deeper and deeper levels.  your interest in blatant things outside - good and bad people, good and bad things - gets swept away.  you don't have to concern yourself with them, for you're concerned solely with penetrating yourself within, destroying your pride and conceit."

"those who still latch on to the body, feeling, perceptions, thought-fabrications, and consciousness as self need to contemplate until they see that the body is stressful, feelings are stressful, perceptions are stressful, thought-fabrications are stressful, consciousness is stressful - in short, name is stressful and so is form, or in even plainer terms, the body is stressful and so is the mind.  you have to focus on stress."

"the reason we contemplate the body and mind over and over again is so that we won't feel desire for anything outside, won't get engrossed in anything outside.  the more you contemplate, the more things outside seem pitiful and not worth getting engrossed in at all."

Friday, June 7, 2013

stop and still

from an unentangled knowing by upasika kee nanayon

"you'll see with every mental moment that things disband, disband, disband - really nothing at all.  the important point is that you don't go forming issues out of nothing."

"if you keep watch on bare arising and disbanding like this, you're sure to arrive at insight.  but if you keep watch with labels - "that's the sound of a cow," "that's the bark of a dog" - you won't be watching the bare sensation of sound, the bare sensation of arising and disbanding.  as soon as there's labeling, thought-fabrications come along with it.  your senses of touch, sight, hearing and so forth will continue their bare arising and disbanding, but you won't know it.  instead, you'll label everything - sights, sounds, etc. - and then there will be attachments, feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and you won't know the truth."

"so when you turn to look inward, you shouldn't use concepts and labels to do your looking for you.  if you use concepts and labels to do your looking, there will be nothing but concepts arising, changing, and disbanding.  everything will get all concocted into thoughts - and then how will you be able to watch in utter silence? . . . if you carry all the paraphernalia of the concepts and standards you've gained from your learning to gauge things inside you, you can search to your dying day and yet won't meet with any real truths at all.  this is why you have to hold to only one theme in your practice.  if the mind has lots of themes to concern itself with, it's still just wandering around - wandering around to know this and that, going out of bounds without realizing it and not really wanting to know itself.  this is why those with a lot of learning like to teach others, to show off their level of understanding.  and this is precisely how the desire to stand out keeps the mind obscured."

"we need the discernment that comes with right view and the virtue that comes with self-discipline.  . . discernment is what enables you to know; virtue is what enables you to let go, to relinquish, to destroy your addictions.  virtue isn't just a matter of the five or eight precepts, you know.  it has to deal with the finest details.  whatever your discernment sees as a cause of suffering, you have to stop, you have to let go.  virtue is something that gets very subtle and precise.  letting go, giving up, renouncing, abstaining, cutting away, and destroying: all of these things are an affair of virtue."

"if we concoct very much of this 'me', we can get very angry.  just this fact alone should enable us to observe that as soon as our 'self' gets involved, we suffer immediately."

"if the mind is really stable in its concentration. . . desire won't be able to provoke it.  when concentration is stable, the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion won't be able to burn it.  try to see within yourself how the stability of the mind can withstand these things, disbanding the stress, putting out the flames."

"the practice is a matter of stopping so that the mind can settle down and stand fast. . . if you know the state of the mind when it's centered, immovable, no longer wavering, no longer weak, then the basic level of the mind will be free and empty - empty of the things that would burn it, empty because there's no attachment."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

poem-a-day #35

the slam, the pen
down there, the hand,
up here, the words.

it deserved a slap.

in a colorless
hollow ringing,
who? are? you

it was a silly question.

against windows, tall fingerprinted streaks
took out a few dinners, smeared
and cluttered the backroads, storms
away.  downed branches

outside, undistinguished
greens, there is one
pulse.  i put my fingers
to the wind and cough. all sky
ever did was open its
toothy mouth and drive.

gray matter in a rainy mouth.

i saw no fencepost to lean upon.
brains outgrew their nest,
one head was not enough.

was i scammed
was that pile of dust fragile

how?  and laughter. a moment

trapped between alone

i was never before

slammed in your face
state, slight glancing a silence

you miss your dream

by calling out "you"
by calling for answers


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

poem-a-day #32

wore me out, a living
trail near gardens of sound
with steep rock faces and
i sat near
you, barefoot, while
the empty alley rang quiet.
don't believe me.
i am a prop on a lawn
chair, reading a diagnosis
like a cookbook.  my mother
once tended the garden
of sound, i said, and she never
once sang


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

a flight and a return

quotes from the book the labyrinth of solitude by octavio paz

from "the pachuco and other extremes"

"his whole being is sheer negative impulse, a tangle of contradictions, an enigma.  even his very name is enigmatic: pachuco, a word of uncertain derivation, saying nothing and saying everything.  it is a strange word with no definite meaning; or, to be more exact, it is charged like all popular creations with a diversity of meanings."

 "the pachuco has lost his whole inheritance: language, religion, customs, beliefs.  he is left with only a body and a soul with which to confront the elements, defenseless against the stares of everyone.  his disguise is a protection, but it also differentiates and isolates him: it both hides him and points him out."

"one of the principles that rules in north american fashions is that clothing must be comfortable, and the pachuco, by changing ordinary apparel into art, makes it 'impractical'.  hence it negates the very principles of the model that inspired it.  hence its aggressiveness.
this rebelliousness is only an empty gesture, because it is an exaggeration of the models against which he is trying to rebel, rather than a return to the dress of his forebears or the creation of a new style of his own.  eccentrics usually emphasize their decision to break away from society - either to form new and more tightly closed groups or to assert their individuality - through their way of dressing.  in the case of the pachuco there is an obvious ambiguity: his clothing spotlights and isolates him, but at the same time it pays homage to the society he is attempting to deny."

"he knows that it is dangerous to stand out and that his behavior irritates society, but nevertheless he seeks and attracts persecution and scandal.  it is the only way he can establish a more vital relationship with the society he is antagonizing.  as a victim, he can occupy a place in the world that previously had ignored him; as a delinquent, he can become one of its wicked heroes.
i believe that the north american's irritation results from his seeing the pachuco as a mythological figure, and therefore, in effect, a danger.  his dangerousness lies in his singularity.  everyone agrees in finding something hybrid about him, something disturbing and fascinating.  he is surrounded by an aura of ambivalent notions: his singularity seems to be nourished by powers that are alternately evil and beneficient."

 "when he thrusts himself outward, it is not to unite with what surrounds him but rather to defy it.  this is a suicidal gesture, because the pachuco does not affirm or defend anything except his exasperated will-not-to-be.  he is not divulging his most intimate feelings: he is revealing an ulcer, exhibiting a wound.  a wound that is also a grotesque, capricious, barbaric adornment."

"but his solitude is vaster and profounder than his sense of inferiority.  it is impossible to equate these two attitudes: when you sense that you are alone, it does not mean that you feel inferior, but rather that you feel you are different.  also, a sense of inferiority may sometimes be an illusion, but solitude is a hard fact.  we are truly different.  and we are truly alone."

"our solitude has the same roots as religious feelings.  it is a form of orphanhood, an obscure awareness that we have been torn from the All, and an ardent search: a flight and a return, an effort to re-establish the bond that unite us with the universe."

"our cult of death is also a cult of life, in the same way that love is a hunger for life and a longing for death.  our fondness for self-destruction derives not only from our masochistic tendencies but also from a certain variety of religious emotion."

"it is possible that what we call 'sin' is only a mythical expression of our self-consciousness, our solitude.  i remember that in spain during the civil war i had a revelation of 'the other man' and of another kind of solitude: not closed, not mechanical, but open to the transcendent."

Friday, May 31, 2013


by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Meditation teaches you the power of your perceptions. You come to see how the labels you apply to things, the images with which you visualize things, have a huge influence over what you see, how they can weigh you down with suffering and stress. As the meditation develops, though, it gives you the tools you need to gain freedom from that influence.

In the beginning, when you first notice the power of perception, you can easily feel overwhelmed by how pervasive it is. Suppose you're focusing on the breath. There comes a point when you begin to wonder whether you're focusing on the breath itself or on your idea of the breath. Once this question arises, the normal reaction is to try to get around the idea to the raw sensation behind it. But if you're really sensitive as you do this, you'll notice that you're simply replacing one caricature of the breath with another, more subtle one. Even the raw sensation of breathing is shaped by how you conceptualize raw sensation. No matter how hard you try to pin down an unfiltered experience of breathing, you still find it shaped by your idea of what breathing actually is. The more you pursue the reality of the breath, the more it recedes like a mirage.

The trick here is to turn this fact to your advantage. After all, you're not meditating to get to the breath. You're meditating to understand the processes leading to suffering so that you can put an end to them. The way you relate to your perceptions is part of these processes, so that's what you want to see. You have to treat your experience of the breath, not as an end in itself, but as a tool for understanding the role of perception in creating suffering and stress.
You do this by de-perception: questioning your assumptions about breathing, deliberately changing those assumptions, and observing what happens as a result. Now, without the proper context, de-perception could easily wander off into random abstractions. So you take the practice of concentration as your context, providing de-perception both with a general direction and with particular tasks that force it to bump up against the operative assumptions that actually shape your experience of the present.

The general direction lies in trying to bring the mind to deeper and more long-lasting levels of stillness so as to eliminate more and more subtle levels of stress. You're not trying to prove which perceptions of the breath depict it most truly, but simply which ones work best in which situations for eliminating stress. The objectivity you're looking for is not the objectivity of the breath, but the objectivity of cause and effect.

The particular tasks that teach you these lessons begin with the task of trying to get the mind to stay comfortably focused for long periods of time on the breath — and right there you run into two operative assumptions: What does it mean to breathe? What does it mean to be focused?

It's common to think of the breath as the air passing in and out through the nose, and this can be a useful perception to start with. Use whatever blatant sensations you associate with that perception as a means of establishing mindfulness, developing alertness, and getting the mind to grow still. But as your attention gets more refined, you may find that level of breath becoming too faint to detect. So try thinking of the breath instead as the energy flow in the body, as a full body process.

Then make that experience as comfortable as possible. If you feel any blockage or obstruction in the breathing, see what you can do to dissolve those feelings. Are you doing anything to create them? If you can catch yourself creating them, then it's easy to let them dissolve. And what would make you create them aside from your preconceived notions of how the mechanics of breathing have to work? So question those notions: Where does the breath come into the body? Does it come in only through the nose and mouth? Does the body have to pull the breath in? If so, which sensations do the pulling? Which sensations get pulled? Where does the pulling begin? And where is the breath pulled from? Which parts have the breath, and which ones don't? When you feel a sensation of blockage, which side of the sensation are you on?

These questions may sound strange, but many times your pre-verbal assumptions about the body are strange as well. Only when you confront them head-on with strange questions can you bring them to light. And only when you see them clearly can you replace them with alternative concepts.
So once you catch yourself breathing uncomfortably in line with a particular assumption, turn it around to see what sensations the new assumption highlights. Try staying with those sensations as long as you can, to test them. If, compared to your earlier sensations associated with the breath, they're easier to stay with, if they provide a more solid and spacious grounding for concentration, the assumption that drew them to your attention is a useful new tool in your meditation. If the new sensations aren't helpful in that way, you can throw the new tool aside.

For example, if you have a sense of being on one side of a blockage, try thinking of being on the other side. Try being on both. Think of the breath as coming into the body, not through the nose or mouth, but through the middle of the chest, the back of the neck, every pore of your skin, any spot that helps reduce the felt need to push and pull.

Or start questioning the need to push and pull at all. Do you feel that your immediate experience of the body is of the solid parts, and that they have to manage the mechanics of breathing, which is secondary? What happens if you conceive your immediate experience of the body in a different way, as a field of primary breath energy, with the solidity simply a label attached to certain aspects of the breath? Whatever you experience as a primary body sensation, think of it as already breath, without your having to do anything more to it. How does that affect the level of stress and strain in the breathing?

And what about the act of staying focused? How do you conceive that? Is it behind the breath? Surrounded by breath? To what extent does your mental picture of focusing help or hinder the ease and solidity of your concentration? For instance, you may find that you think of the mind as being in one part of the body and not in others. What do you do when you focus attention on another part? Does the mind leave its home base — say, in the head — to go there, or does the other part have to be brought into the head? What kind of tension does this create? What happens if you think of awareness already being in that other part? What happens when you turn things around entirely: instead of the mind's being in the body, see what stress is eliminated when you think of the body as surrounded by a pre-existing field of awareness.

When you ask questions like this and gain favorable results, the mind can settle down into deeper and deeper levels of solidity. You eliminate unnecessary tension and stress in your focus, finding ways of feeling more and more at home, at ease, in the experience of the present.

Once the mind is settled down, give it time to stay there. Don't be in too great a hurry to move on. Here the questions are, "Which parts of the process were necessary to focus in? Which can now be let go? Which do you have to hold onto in order to maintain this focus?" Tuning into the right level of awareness is one process; staying there is another. When you learn how to maintain your sense of stillness, try to keep it going in all situations. What do you discover gets in the way? Is it your own resistance to disturbances? Can you make your stillness so porous that disturbances can go through without running into anything, without knocking your center off balance?

As you get more and more absorbed in exploring these issues, concentration becomes less a battle against disturbance and more an opportunity for inner exploration. And without even thinking about them, you're developing the four bases of success: the desire to understand things, the persistence that keeps after your exploration, the close attention you're paying to cause and effect, and the ingenuity you're putting into framing the questions you ask. All these qualities contribute to concentration, help it get settled, get solid, get clear.
At the same time, they foster discernment. The Buddha once said that the test for a person's discernment is how he or she frames a question and tries to answer it. Thus to foster discernment, you can't simply stick to pre-set directions in your meditation. You have to give yourself practice in framing questions and testing the karma of those questions by looking for their results.

Ultimately, when you reach a perception of the breath that allows the sensations of in-and-out breathing to grow still, you can start questioning more subtle perceptions of the body. It's like tuning into a radio station. If your receiver isn't precisely tuned to the frequency of the signal, the static interferes with the subtleties of whatever is being transmitted. But when you're precisely tuned, every nuance comes through. The same with your sensation of the body: when the movements of the breath grow still, the more subtle nuances of how perception interacts with physical sensation come to the fore. The body seems like a mist of atomic sensations, and you can begin to see how your perceptions interact with that mist. To what extent is the shape of the body inherent in the mist? To what extent is it intentional — something added? What happens when you drop the intention to create that shape? Can you focus on the space between the droplets in the mist? What happens then? Can you stay there? What happens when you drop the perception of space and focus on the knowing? Can you stay there? What happens when you drop the oneness of the knowing? Can you stay there? What happens when you try to stop labeling anything at all?

As you settle into these more formless states, it's important that you not lose sight of your purpose in tuning into them. You're here to understand suffering, not to over-interpret what you experience. Say, for instance, that you settle into an enveloping sense of space or consciousness. From there, it's easy to assume that you've reached the primordial awareness, the ground of being, from which all things emerge, to which they all return, and which is essentially untouched by the whole process of emerging and returning. You might take descriptions of the Unconditioned and apply them to what you're experiencing. If you're abiding in a state of neither perception nor non-perception, it's easy to see it as a non-abiding, devoid of distinctions between perceiver and perceived, for mental activity is so attenuated as to be virtually imperceptible. Struck with the apparent effortlessness of the state, you may feel that you've gone beyond passion, aversion, and delusion simply by regarding them as unreal. If you latch onto an assumption like this, you can easily think that you've reached the end of the path before your work is really done.

Your only protection here is to regard these assumptions as forms of perception, and to dismantle them as well. And here is where the four noble truths prove their worth, as tools for dismantling any assumption by detecting the stress that accompanies it. Ask if there's still some subtle stress in the concentration that has become your dwelling place. What goes along with that stress? What vagrant movements in the mind are creating it? What persistent movements in the mind are creating it? You have to watch for both.

In this way you come face to face with the perceptions that keep even the most subtle states of concentration going. And you see that even they are stressful. If you replace them with other perceptions, though, you'll simply exchange one type of stress for another. It's as if your ascending levels of concentration have brought you to the top of a flag pole. You look down and see aging, illness, and death coming up the pole, in pursuit. You've exhausted all the options that perception can offer, so what are you going to do? You can't just stay where you are. Your only option is to release your grip. And if you're letting go fully, you let go of gravity, too.