On the benefits of being hopeless…Quoets for Poets, 7/31/13, and rambles for a Crab…

“What?!?! Is he serious?! How cynical! What a pessimist!  What a Downer!”
Wait, wait…hear me out.  This is not some nihilist rant, though it may sound like it.
I’m not saying I’m not cynical, only that perhaps you may not understand what I mean by “hope”.
Let me explain.
With some quotes (Yes, more quotes. Yes, from Stephen Batchelor again.)
And some rambling from a Crabby John…
Buckle-up and bear with me.  This may take a while.

“Places to which I am instinctively attracted are places where I imagine suffering to be absent.  ‘There,’ I think, ‘if only I could get there, then I would suffer no more.’  The groundless ground of contingency, however, holds out no such hope.  For this is the ground where you are born and die, get sick and grow old, are disappointed and frustrated.”

When I was growing up and complained about some perceived injustice in my life, saying, “It’s not fair!,” my mother would always say, “Dear, life isn’t fair,” and then she would hug me.

Life doesn’t have to be fair.
Life doesn’t have to make sense.
Life doesn’t have to make you happy.
When you stop expecting it to do any of these things, life’s own implicit possibilities open up to you.  Once you stop expecting life to be or do any thing in particular, you are able to see its ability to do any thing in general.

“To know, deep in your bones, how everything you experience is fleeting, poignant, and unreliable undermines the rationale for trying to grasp hold of, possess, and control it.  To fully know suffering begins to affect how you relate to the world, how you respond to others, how you manage your own life.  For how can I seek lasting solace in something that I know is incapable of providing it?  Why would I stake all my hopes for happiness on something that I know will finally let me down?”

Your past is just a story.
Once you realize this,
it has no power over you.
Regret has no hold on you.

Your future is a also a story,
but hope is not its author.
Hope has no hold on you.

Hope seeks better answers.
Stories seek better questions.

“You come to a point when you know for yourself, without a flicker of doubt, that your response to life need not be driven by your craving for things to be the way you want them to be.  You realize that you are free not to act on the prompts of craving.”

My oldest sister died when I was twenty-four and she was forty-two.  It was sudden.  No-one knew it was coming.  There was no reason for it.  She was healthy as far as anyone knew.  She had a hidden ticking time-bomb in her chest.  It picked Friday, October 28, 1994 to go off.  Why?  There was no reason.

I found it fascinating that other people—veritable strangers—were more uncomfortable with her death than I was.  I found myself sugar-coating it for their sakes.  Saying “My sister passed away,” instead of “My sister died.”  Using all the usual euphemisms.  But really, she died.  She was dead.  She was gone and I was still here.  Don’t get me wrong.  Of course I was sad.  I cried harder at her funeral than I think I ever had before and possibly harder than I ever will, and, some twenty years later, I have now lost both of my parents, and I still don’t think I have cried that hard.     Death became a thing like the rain.  It simply happened.  It did not care whether I was hurt by it.  It did not care if I was scared.  It did not care if I understood or not.  LIke the rain, it simply happened.  In accepting this simple but difficult fact, I was reassured.  I found peace in not searching for a reason; in simple acceptance.

“An eternally vanishing world will never stay fixed in place long enough to satisfy the desires of a self or society for permanent stability and well-being.  Yet we instinctively look to such a world as though it were capable of providing such happiness.  This deep-seated utopian longing would appear to have biological as well as psychological origins.  The evolutionary success of human beings is in part due to our conceptual capacity to anticipate and plan for a future in which we, our kin, and offspring will thrive and prosper.
“The success of this strategy requires the notion of an enduring self that is not destroyed by the flux and turbulence of life.  Only in this way can ‘I’ and ‘we’ still be around to enjoy the fruits of our efforts when the future arrives.  But as we carefully examine the unfolding patterns of life within and around us, no such self can be found.”

As to the future, I will not hope.  I will either do what I can now if I can do anything or I will not do what I can or there is nothing that I can do to change it anyway, and if there is some thing I can do and I do not do it then I will accept the consequences of my not-doing when the time comes and I know that there will be no one to blame but myself for what I did or did not do or perhaps there is just no one to blame.  “Hope for the future” is as much about blame and recrimination and self abuse for what will not have gotten done when of course it didn’t get done because all you did was hope, you did not do.  This is when and how hope changes into regret.

“After all, people desire immortality and do not wish to embrace the inescapable reality of death; they long for happiness and shy away from the contemplation of pain; they want to preserve their sense of self, not deconstruct it into its fleeting and impersonal components.  It is counterintuitive to accept that deathlessness is experienced each moment we are released from the deathlike grip of greed and hatred; that happiness in this world is only possible for those who realize that this world is incapable of providing happiness; that one becomes a fully individuated person only by relinquishing beliefs in an essential self.”

Hope so often is just a way of not looking at what we don’t want to see.  Instead of looking future suffering in the face and accepting it, we look the other way.

Instead of saying I hope and then trying not to think about what will happen if what-I-hope-happens doesn’t happen, why don’t I think now about that possible occurrence of my-hopes-not-being-answered and really think about what I will really do in that case.

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down, your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise
from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.

—Tao Te Ching,  Ch. 13

hope for the future or
regret for the past
both hold us helpless
awaiting first and last

“…happiness in this world is only possible for those who realize that this world is incapable of providing happiness…”

[This post is as much for my own reassurance, me speaking to me, self-affirmation, as it is for anything else.  A number of things have been clarified for me in the process of putting this together.  If you made it this far, I thank you for reading.] 

[All quotes are from the writings of Stephen Batchelor, except The Tao Te Ching, trans. Stephen Mitchell]

[Credit to juntamng for the beginning of the “Your past is just a story..” quote]

because what we really needed was another chink in the armor of our faith in humanity

“Man, that girl
was smokin’,” 
he said.

Yeah, I thought,
like a baby,

you know,
like that two-year-old

from somewhere
on Sumatra

in that video that
someone sent us;

the one that slapped 
his own father in the 
face when the cigarette 
was taken away;

the one whose father laughed 
with the rest of the crowd
when the child just lit up 
another and twirled it around 
and around like a baton in 
meaty fingers, practicing 
multiple methods of inhaling 
and exhaling, blowing rings 
and puffing already chubby 
cheeks in oblivious apparent 
mockery of the undoubtedly, 
prematurely swelling heart;

the one whose father
gave him his first cigarette; 

the one who was up to 
two packs a day
before they put him in rehab
before the age of three;

the one that made me want,
for his sake and my own,
to crawl out of my own skin 
and into the skin of some 
better animal,

one without the sense 
to be so senseless.

she was smokin'.”

Rejoicing Well

[..."she" is sexless, ageless 
her beauty and power
all the more terrifying...]

She circles about,
waiting for me to attend to her,
while I polish this rusty disc.

The cessation shines 
through the cracks
crusting the earth and
illuminating the dust.

My location is lost and 
I am without guide 
or guard or point.

Children speak 
in so many tongues 
while mine lolls 
mutely in my mouth.

I want to tell her stories 
but she runs and hides.
We made love 
in the shade of a tree by a pool 
and now she is done with me.
She will tell me no more.

I asked too much.
She has run off 
to the land of her sisters,
to lie in the kingdom of her thighs.

Her ankles speak to the fish.
Her eyes spell doom to the sky.

Her belly knows what it needs 
while I find her appetites 
a frightening cuisine.

Piled on platters polished from a stone 
I’ll never know the depth of, these dishes,
her delicacies, are lost on me.

She will not deign to dine from my chest.
I have no bosom for her, no breath
to be found in this chamber 
that hums and vibrates emptily.

Still, she says 
she wants me.
She tempts me 
with her promised presences.
Her primordial formalities 
make me uncomfortable.

I want her, yet
I fear my need for her.
I have not the stomach for her.
She would have mine on a plate 
to examine its contents,
to know what hatches inside me, 
to hear what makes me snap.

She would take the two bones 
of my legs for her double flute.

She lies upon the grass
by the still cool pool and runs 
into the woods when I call her. 

I beckon her, but
I will not lie with her there
in the shadowed wood
where she disappears
in her dark music.

I will sit by the pool, 
watch fish swim
in the tree-tops
and wait, trembling, 
for her mother.

Quoets for Poets 7/24/13

…plus rambles from a Crabby John…
…since I haven’t done this in a while…

“Poetry is the language of a state of crisis.”


Poetry is language losing itself in itself, losing itself in words.

“Similarly, Joyce suggensts that readers of Ulysses ought not to forget narrative context even when language is made to seem like nothing but sound.  Of course the seduction of sound is paramount; poetry cannot exist without it.  But we ignore the seduction of plain sense, Joyce suggests, at our own peril.  The pleasure of Ulysses is that Joyce takes neither of these seductions for granted, forcing us to become aware of the kind of work we do when making sense of any linguistic utterance.  Words mean something because they always threaten to sound like something else.”

—James Longenbach, The Art of The Poetic Line

language is an intrusion into the psyche
it is our intrusion into the world
a failure to understand where our power lies

“Dissonance / (if you are interested) / leads to discovery.”
—William Carlos Williams

this animal called language
has begun to feed on itself

Cartography III

we play here 
in the fuzziest of maths 

our paths diverge from 
us even as we are 
on the verge of
pushing parallels 
until they converge 
at the horizon

no conflict of interest
our interests engulf us
and all the world around us

is there really a point
where one day becomes another?
a line demarcating one from the next?   
a border in time?
a break in the line?

there are no breaks 
only endings and beginnings
endlessly beginning

there is no border between
one moment and the next
a line in the sand perhaps
but this line is 
a billion grains of silica 
marking the borders of a negative space
where the idea of a line lives

one grouping of grains marks where
one grouping of grains ends and
another begins? 

one ending begins and
one beginning ends?

until the sands shift again


we play here in an endless sandbox
our rules engage us in the 
game of rules

the horizontal is always 
while our horizon forever rounds
a strangeness of circles 
embraced by sand 

these grains embrace us and
we forget 
our lines
our selves

this sand loves us and 
loves for us to forget

this silica wants to make 
blue glass marbles 
to circle about us