Fierce Grace

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He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

-Aeschylus

If you spend a lot of time in school, you could easily form the impression that everything has already been cut and dried, labeled and codified, when actually the world is delightfully ambiguous and full of surprises. Too much schooling takes all the fun out of it, removes the element of surprise, and turns everything into a report that could be graded, evaluated and certified. If you’re willing to risk saying “no thanks” to schooling, life can be pretty exciting.

But wisdom comes at a cost. Real wisdom, the kind you experience directly, cannot be ordered up in transferable credit hours. It is a gift from God, via his awful grace.

What happens without my prior expectation or permission could be also considered “fierce grace.” There’s a documentary about Richard Alpert, aka Baba Ram Das, named that. He had a stroke and decided to experience it as a gift.

Fate has a way of not asking permission before it acts. Not asking permission beforehand is a form of mercy. How I feel about what is going to happen versus what actually happens is, in the long run, not important. If I want to be happy, I have to learn acceptance and to appreciate what is. I have to cultivate patience and gratitude. Otherwise I’ll always be somewhere between miffed and outraged.

 

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Obsession or Enlightenment?

Right next to our house is a ruined temple. It lies directly to our west, and in the evening the sun sets over the temple Lately, I’ve been photographing it every day, for the clouds change in the background. It can be quite dramatic.

I haven’t decided if I have developed the Buddha nature and can dig the profundity of everything around me, or if I’m just lazy and easily obsessed by that which takes little effort to find. Here, in northern Thailand, the vegetation doesn’t resemble anything in the States except maybe Florida. It’s the kind of place you need air-conditioning for most of the year.

Here are a bunch of pictures of this same view.

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Eastern Mysticism (Thai Buddhism)

Eastern Mysticism (Thai Buddhism)

I’ve been reading a book about the history of psychedelic research in the fifties and sixties, before 1966 when Congress put the kabosh on it. We live about a city block from a temple on a dead end street that contains the ruin of a previous temple, as well as modern buildings. I’m sort of templed-out here in Thailand, but thought maybe I would jump on by bicycle and ride down there before the next rain shower and see if I could find anything new to photograph.

Here are the images from this afternoon.

 

 

A Fable, A Parable

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The ship had no captain, so the storms terrified the crew. They were already evenly split on believing that the navigator knew his job, but with no captain and no time or inclination for democracy, they were perpetually terrified. They were lost and a storm was raging all around them.

If only they could find respite from gale winds and crashing waves long enough to elect a captain they might be able to rekindle hope, but for now that seemed impossible. With each minute that passed, despair grew, until it was a palpable presence.

The crew began to fight among themselves. In the face of impotence, they ascribed blame. It was easier than doing nothing at all. Someone must be wrong, someone must be punished. Being right while others are wrong makes not knowing what to do slightly more tolerable.

In the face of all this uncertainty, some passengers and crew simply threw themselves overboard. Better to meet a certain end than a drawn-out one. They rather resigned from the debate than argue their point.

While I’m still on the planet

Endure and thrive

I’m listening to Chopin nocturnes and wondering how someone who changed the world of music so completely came to be who he was, to achieve the level of mastery he did, and to persist creating something new despite few financial rewards. It just seems incredible that there was a world of music before Chopin that did not directly lead to his output. I’ve listened to others who pointed a bit in that direction, but he pretty much had the field all to himself. He invented the Nocturne and the Ballade. He sprang full-grown as a brilliant innovator. All over the world people are studying his music yet. Ten thousand Asian girls under the age of twelve are learning to play his compositions.

I am sixty-eight and I’m just about to launch into a Nocturne I’ve always admired but been reluctant to tackle because it’s either got four sharps or flats…

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What now? What next?

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What do most people do to pass the time of day? I don’t have the faintest idea, and I’ve already been alive for sixty-eight years. I never have the faintest idea what I should be doing with myself. Maybe that’s why I became a writer.

Writers don’t often know what they’re going to write when they sit down to do so. Inspiration arrives or it doesn’t. The words fly onto the screen or page or they don’t. Sometimes the output is a pleasant surprise; sometimes it’s a crashing bore. But it’s something. It’s an activity that forestalls me asking myself “now what?”

I’m well aware there are people with no active inner life. They tend to watch a lot of television. If you’re studying something, like a musical instrument, you can devote hours to practice. Because I’m retired, I do more than my share of practicing the piano.There are rewards in that direction, though they may never be financial. But at least I’m not watching television.

Most people spend a lot of time at work, but that doesn’t mean they’re accomplishing anything. It just means that they’ve committed to a course of action, usually at a specific place, because somebody else told them that would be a good idea and would reward them for it. A lot of time neither result is as promised. But they keep showing up anyway, because the alternative would take more effort.

Creativity is sometimes rewarded, because of its scarcity. Since not many people risk going in that direction, there’s a relative lack of it. Unlike simply showing up at a job, it’s usually not paid for up front. In fact, most creative output is never seen by any more than the creator himself. Marketing is a completely different discipline and art from artistic or cognitive creativity.

It sometimes seems that I’m either in pain. vaguely irritated, or numb, but rarely delighted by my circumstances. In that respect, I’m probably normal. From what I read on social media, most people feel this way. And this is the thing that I can change.

I can decide to be delighted by the simple fact that I’m alive. I can choose bliss over boredom. Sure, it takes effort, but what doesn’t? Gratitude is an action more than a state of being.