Seeking Discomfort

Seeking Discomfort

“I’m slowly learning how to bring anthropology and mindfulness together. I think they complement each other beautifully, but how to talk about it is a whole other thing. I think it comes down to excavation – what you do physically to understand where people come from. That’s a process of discovery and insight.”

Dr. Michael J. Kimball

The Transparency of Existence

The Transparency of Existence

"In this mode of consciousness, the most supremely banal transforms into the most supremely baffling and awe-inducing. That which is most obvious and taken for granted is simultaneously that which is most mysterious and astonishing."

~ Brian Maniscalco

Accommodating the Full Range of Mysteries

Vinegar Battery, Caleb Charland, 2011

“Events happen to reveal the truth of what our life is about, a truth we try so hard to evade, cancel, or reverse. Yet, is also a given that we will never understand why certain things happen. In fact, the comfort we derive from explanations makes us wonder about the authenticity of our explanations.

Perhaps the need to know is part of the ego’s demand that it be in control. That way of living does not accommodate the full range of mysteries we meet up with in life.

A psychology or religion that explains everything cuts us off from a sense of wonder about the world and from growth in humility about ourselves.

Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, happily declared his spiritual predicament in this way: ‘I entered I knew not where, and there I stood not knowing: nothing left to know.’ ...meaningful growth comes at the price of pain. Why? That is a mystery, and the fact that there is no satisfying answer is related to the first noble truth of the pervasive unsatisfactoriness of human life. It can only be greeted with a yes, not deconstructed with a reply.”  

~ David Richo, from The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them


"The world—whatever we might think when terrified by its vastness and our own impotence, or embittered by its indifference to individual suffering—of people, animals, and perhaps even plants, for why are we so sure that plants feel no pain; whatever we might think of its expanses pierced by the rays of stars surrounded by planets we've just begun to discover, planets already dead? still dead?—we just don't know; whatever we might think of this measureless theater to which we've got reserved tickets, but tickets whose lifespan is laughably short, bounded as it is by two arbitrary dates; whatever else we might think of this world—it is astonishing."

~ Wisława Szymborska, from "The Poet and the World," Nobel Lecture, December 7, 1996

Yosemite HD II from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

See also: McPherson, A. (2014, March 9). Stunning time-lapse video shows rare views of Yosemite. National Geographic Society

Unselfed and Decentered by Beauty

Unselfed and Decentered by Beauty

"There are lots of things in the world that give us acute pleasure. There are also lots of things in the world that make us feel marginal. But there's almost nothing other than beauty that does those two things simultaneously, that gives us acute pleasure at the very moment that it makes us feel marginal and happy to be on the margins, to stand back, to listen to the piece of music and just feel awe at what has been created."

~ Elaine Scarry

How Little it Takes

Weeping European Beech, Topiary Park, February 9, 2014

Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry, from Given 

Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowlyfalling, and is pleased.

This Inexhaustible, Untidy World

Green River, Utah, August 30, 2013

I Believe Nothing
By Kathleen Raine, from The Collected Poems of Kathleen Raine

I believe nothing  what need

Surrounded as I am with marvels of what is,

This familiar room, books, shabby carpet on the floor,

Autumn yellow jasmine, chrysanthemums, my mother's flower,

Earth-scent of memories, daily miracles,

Yet media-people ask, "Is there a God?"

What does the word mean

To the fish in his ocean, birds

In his skies, and stars?

I only know that when I turn in sleep

Into the invisible, it seems

I am upheld by love, and what seems is

Inexplicable here and now of joy and sorrow,

This inexhaustible, untidy world

I would not have it otherwise.

No Bear

Ursa Major

The Great Bear
by John Hollander, from Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry

Even on clear nights, lead the most supple children
Out onto hilltops, and by no means will
They make it out. Neither the gruff round image
From a remembered page nor the uncertain
Finger tracing that image out can manage
To mark the lines of what ought to be there,
Passing through certain bounding stars, until
The whole massive expanse of bear appear
Swinging, across the ecliptic; and, although
The littlest ones say nothing, others respond,
Making us thankful in varying degrees
For what we would have shown them. "'There it is!"
"I see it now!" Even "Very like a bear!"
Would make us grateful. Because there is no bear

We blame our memory of the picture: trudging
Up the dark, starlit path, stooping to clutch
An anxious hand, perhaps the outline faded
Then; perhaps could we have retained the thing
In mind ourselves, with it we might have staged
Something convincing. We easily forget
The huge, clear, homely dipper that is such
An event to reckon with, an object set
Across the space the bear should occupy;
But even so, the trouble lies in pointing
At any stars. For one's own finger aims
Always elsewhere: the man beside one seems
Never to get the point. "No! The bright star
Just above my fingertip." The star,

If any, that he sees beyond one's finger
Will never be the intended one. To bring
Another's eye to bear in such a fashion
On any single star seems to require

Something very like a constellation
That both habitually see at night;
Not in the stars themselves, but in among
Their scatter, perhaps, some old familiar sight
Is always there to take a bearing from.
And if the smallest child of all should cry
Out on the wet, black grass because he sees
Nothing but stars, though claiming that there is
Some bear not there that frightens him, we need
Only reflect that we ourselves have need

Of what is fearful (being really nothing)
With which to find our way about the path
That leads back down the hill again, and with
Which to enable the older children standing
By us to follow what we mean by "This
Star," "That one," or "The other one beyond it."
But what of the tiny, scared ones ?  Such a bear,
Who needs it? We can still make do with both
The dipper that we always knew was there
And the bright, simple shapes that suddenly
Emerge on certain nights. To understand
The signs that stars compose, we need depend
Only on stars that are entirely there
And the apparent space between them. There
Never need be lines between them, puzzling
Our sense of what is what. What a star does
Is never to surprise us as it covers
'I'he center of its patch of darkness, sparkling
Always, a point in one of many figures.
One solitary star would be quite useless,
A frigid conjecture, true but trifling;
And any single sign is meaningless
If unnecessary. Crab, bull, and ram,
Or frosty, irregular polygons of our own
Devising, or finally the Great Dark Bear
That we can never quite believe is there
Having the others, any one of them
Can be dispensed with. The bear, of all of them,

Is somehow most like any one, taken
At random, in that we always tend to say
That just because it might be there ; because
Some Ancients really traced it out, a broken
And complicated line, webbing bright stars
And fainter ones together; because a bear
Habitually appeared  then even by day
It is for us a thing that should be there.
We should not want to train ourselves to see it.
The world is everything that happens to
Be true. The stars at night seem to suggest
The shapes of what might be. If it were best,
Even, to have it there (such a great bear !
All hung with stars!), there still would be no bear.

Life Is Not The Life Of Men

From a Window
by Christian Wiman, from Every Riven Thing 

I saw a tree inside a tree
rise kaleidoscopically

as if the leaves had livelier ghosts.
I pressed my face as close

to the pane as I could get
to watch that fitful, fluent spirit

that seemed a single being undefined
or countless beings of one mind

haul its strange cohesion
beyond the limits of my vision

over the house heavenwards.
Of course I knew those leaves were birds.

Of course that old tree stood
exactly as it had and would

(but why should it seem fuller now?)
and though a man's mind might endow

even a tree with some excess
of life to which a man seems witness,

that life is not the life of men.
And that is where the joy came in.

See also: