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The Golf Course at the End of the World
Some random thoughts on a difficult month, in no particular order.
Be like a desert as far as self and the things of this world are concerned.
It sometimes seems that, as an introvert, it is hardly optional to think about things. I may be wrong of course, but the sense I get is that something resembling thinking (an inadequate word) goes on in the depths, largely outside the domain of language, and this happens whether one likes it or not. Often the latter. Maybe this is true of extroverts as well, I don’t know, but I kind of doubt it. At the extreme end of this spectrum this “thinking” apparently takes over, even at the expense of less important concerns, such as making a living or pretending to be normal. Perhaps it is better described as a kind of unconscious thinking, as paradoxical as that sounds, and is. The worst of it—or best, I can’t really say— is that this whole thing proceeds in its own time and its own way and doesn’t have much concern about time or ambition, interpersonal relationships, or productivity. It is done when it is done and not a minute sooner than that. Forcing things—an actual impossibility—would only delay one in finding completion. When one finally does find rest what emerges is both a complete surprise and no surprise at all. I have to wonder whether it is worth going through and I say that as if there were a choice.
I have been listening to the music of John Luther Adams lately. I find in his more recent music an expression of the world which I find not only highly compelling but something that my own thinking has been tending towards for a long time. I just haven’t really known how to express it. Now that someone has it is that much easier to find a way to express it. It is a long-held conviction that music tends to get there first, unburdened as it is from language and syllogism. Music can be deeply expressive and coherent in a manner that can get at the deep relation to ourselves, to each other, to the natural world, and to the Divine like nothing else can. Being a musician noticeably changes your brain, and thus the way one sees the world. There are some who even think that early humans sang before they talked, which though maybe a strange idea is one I find compelling and even obvious. John Luther Adam’s music goes deep into my psyche and into the world in a way I find hopeful and an inspiration. I think his work is worth attending to and it may lead us forward.
My father died on Tuesday, May 23rd. He was 85 years old. Like many fathers and their sons, we had, at times, a rocky relationship, One of the things that has got me in its grip is meditating on this relationship and what it has meant. This may take me a while. What I do know is that my father never let me get away with easy thinking or pat, readymade answers. He would always push me to go deeper, even if, or especially if that made me, or other people uncomfortable. I am not always so sure that is the best way to through life, but it is far too late for that. You can often find yourself alone—maybe because that is what one prefers—and at odds with pretty much everything. And suffice it to say there is absolutely no guarantee that what one comes up with is anything other than completely wrong, even delusional. But once on the trail, it is nearly impossible to let it go or find satisfaction in almost anything else. You can take refuge—or try to do so—in many different things in an attempt to find relief. These will likely kill you more quickly than anything else, and for a number of reasons. Better still is to simply acknowledge that this is how it is and go at it as deeply as one can, and as ethically. It is far too easy to think that in this pursuit one is somehow beyond good and evil. A costly error. There is a lot I could say about my father, but for now, I will leave it at that. Thank you Dad for giving me this burden, and gift.
The death of a parent is a primal thing. I was therewith him through the whole process of his dying. It is most definitely an initiation, for myself as well, though into what I don’t yet fully know. In part, it may be that with his passing I have moved one step closer to death myself, at least symbolically. Of course, we are always one step from death and there is no specified order of who goes when. It’s not like we’ve formed a line and are simply waiting our turn. Death is here, right now and to forget that is to forget how to live. Needless to say, we have forgotten how to live.
Phoenix, AZ is a very strange place. At least, I have long found it to be so. I grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. In my hometown back in New York was a Dutch manor house built, I believe, in the 17th century. I know that those of you reading this from across the Atlantic will find that laughably recent in comparison to your own cultures. I certainly wouldn't argue with that. But in comparison to American civilization west of the Mississippi, the 17th century is truly ancient. Nearly everything in Phoenix is brand new, and part of a corporate chain. It is the furthest thing from organic. It’s all part of a corporate plan to meet and then newly concoct human needs in the most generic and profit-maximizing way possible. It’s almost as if they could simply roll out new housing developments and Burger Kings like Astroturf. I’m pretty certain they would if they could. It is quite telling that they can’t build more of it fast enough to meet the demand. There are a lot of people drawn to living in this way. The whole thing is premised on the false hope that if all our physical needs are met we would be happy. Which is patently false, though we have a hard time realizing that. This isn’t the only place it is happening. I don’t hesitate to call this kind of growth metastatic. But for that, if the power and water were turned off the whole place would shrivel up to nothing and blow away in a few days. In the meantime, we are golfing our way into the Apocalypse.
As I said, I have little clue as to what might be going on in the depths of my own mind at the moment. Usually, given enough time, clues start to bubble up in the form of memories, snatches of song and poetry, an inclination towards certain ideas or books, declarations that seem to come out of nowhere, etc. For now, though, it is all oddly opaque to me. I have had a curious year or so, and little of it would I have predicted. One thing it has done is make me far less concerned with living as I once did. I have zero interest at this point to work some pointless gig, where wages stagnate and costs explode, one which drains me of my life and staring at a screen. We have made for ourselves a lonely, meaningless world, however materially plentiful it might often be for many of us. I don’t want anything to do with keeping the machinery running—to the degree that this is even possible. We weren’t meant to live this way. I don’t know what can replace it.
Since the temperatures here in Arizona are climbing towards, and sometimes achieve triple-digits (Fahrenheit, of course) I have been taking walks both early in the morning and late in the evening. A few weeks ago I hardly made it fifty feet out from the door one night when an obviously startled coyote came bounding across the street and disappeared between the houses and towards the golf course. As I walked on I could hear his separated brethren howling and yipping out to the east of me beyond the walls of the development. I felt it in my bowels. It was exhilarating in a primal kind of way and it took me some time to gain my inner composure. For all of our attempts to build the City of Man, the coyotes keep coming—in fact, they haven’t gone anywhere. Rather they have adapted themselves to our human ways as best they can. If we were to go I don’t see how it would even much matter to them. They were here long before us and they will be here long after us. Be that as it may, I was glad to see and hear them. It gave me hope.
I don’t know how we will solve the civilizational crisis we are in. But I agree with others who tell us that even trying to solve it is part of the problem itself.Maybe the first thing we need to do is stop trying to solve and simply acknowledge where we are and the complete mess we are in. Business as usual will no longer suffice. Instead, we should do nothing and stop trying to fix it. It can’t be fixed and the more we meddle the worse things get. I know this might sound ridiculous to some, like giving up, but I don’t think it is. It is rather to admit we are wholly outmatched by the very mess we ourselves have made. I think the best place to start is what might be called radical contemplation. For all the disasters forming up around us, the problem is not out there, but within us. We are the source and nothing else will change—no matter how clever our response may be—unless we are deeply changed. It’s a long shot, for sure.
I will be leaving Arizona in a few days and heading across the Southern U.S. to Florida to see my mother. My brother will be joining us from England soon after. After that, I don’t really know. It was and is an immeasurably blessing to get to spend a year in silence at the monastery. I knew very quickly that I was not called nor inclined to be a monk and I am still trying to fathom all of what I learned there. The structures of the megasystem have hedged us in, though we are told that this is freedom and sometimes we even believe it. I reject that. I think it is possible to find a different, better, and more human way to live our lives and be in the world. We will never find utopia. Our efforts to eliminate suffering may have made some of us rather comfortable, but also overfed, overstimulated, and bloated with entertainment. We live longer but are often sicker for it, plied with pharmaceuticals. This isn’t the way. The way, the best I can tell, is a paradox. The hope is to allow ourselves to deepen our engagement with everything, which inevitably means deepening our own suffering too—and sharing this suffering with others, to help each other carry it, undergo it, and to bear the load. It is to die to ourselves and come into being. In this, we might find that something else is waiting for us out beyond the walls of the City of Man. At this late hour, we can still hear the coyotes howling out east, and in their howling, unconsciously invoking the coming night. And, by implication, they howl just as much for the inevitable sunrise.
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His wife and I were in the ICU with him, and my brother and sister were in England via Skype.
Which we all are doing right now, alas.
Apparently, they like to congregate on the golf course at night. Perhaps they enjoy the sprinklers that water the greens.
The Tao Te Ching, for one.