"It takes a death…”
"I hear a voice. It reverberates through the abyss."
"…sight is necessary to get around but sound is more beautiful…”
"It is nowhere and everywhere."
"…I was convinced that I could write my way out of trouble…”
"And I cannot reach the voice…”
As he walked down the hill he believed the apocalypse had passed him by. He had greeted it beneath the night’s starred face, but it had not seized him. Instead he felt brimming with life and potential, recalling the hours he’d just spent pacing about town with his friend, exclaiming and debating, exchanging insights and truths through the luxuriant beauty of voice and sound. He looked forward to the new year, just a few days ahead, and all that it promised. Freedom, growth, enjoyment, understanding…
As he arrived home he remained unaware of the seeds now germinating within him. ‘The spirit! The spirit!…’ he had cried, earlier that night. “But how can we reach it?” His spirit was weak though his mind and flesh were strong. Supported by this robust outer scaffold, his innermost being needn’t ever truly know its own shakiness. But now strange plants were blooming, and thick creepers wound their way insidiously up that noble structure…
Suicidality/Flesh as Firewall:
There’s a fire inside you—your suffering. You contain it, keep it from spreading, shield it with your living flesh. But in so doing you compress it: it grows hotter and denser and burns you more fiercely. Nobody can see this furnace within you, behind the living flesh. Your sacrifice is unrecognised and without glory. For if you were to cut open that flesh the fire would burst out of you in a massive explosion, burning many others, wounding everyone you know.
No, I do not hate you.
No, I don’t distrust you.
It’s just—you are alight
with purgatorial flame,
and I am dry grass.
You are half and
You are split between worlds.
In truth, you are magnificent;
I never ceased adoring you.
But beauty burns the hand,
and I withdrew it.
I am so sorry
for your heavy suffering,
the jealous earth striving
to crush you;
you are not your blighted brain.
Your body shakes
from the strain of being
too-much and too-little
at the same time.
Your body shakes
from the electric soul
impatient of life’s
slow guttering to death:
I pray, be patient yet.
In each flicker of a candle
or tick of a clock,
the instants unite,
and weave together
to crown you.
She is there beyond the great
smokescreen of Time;
she watches through the wisps:
be patient, you will see her yet.
As for me—I am here.
I would hold your trembling hands;
we would whisper under the weight
“To love a stranger as oneself implies the reverse: to love oneself as a stranger.”
— Simone Weil
It’s at once easier and harder to truly love a stranger, than a friend. Firstly, we know too much about the friend (this does not at all mean we know the friend—instead, the friend may be buried beneath all these superfluous attributes*). Secondly, being so entwined with them, there are so many ways they are for us, and that we expect them to be for us. Which is to say, however innocently or unintentionally, we take them as means instead of ends, and thus butcher our love.
Of course, it’s easier to love a friend because proximity and familiarity give the grace or magic of love more opportunity (even if that be only time) to happen. The stranger appears as object because he is unfamiliar. But overfamiliarity can be just as dangerous: think of the spite and disgust that arises in families. True, it’s often underlaid by a love that remains unconscious (we can feel violent anger toward a loved one and collapse the next moment in agonised terror if they are in danger), but this love can atrophy, especially if ignored.
The stranger appears as object because we have not sensed their subjecthood; the friend appears as object because we take their subjecthood for granted. People fascinate us when they waver on the threshold between these two states: ‘there’s a subject in there somewhere, but I haven’t seen it clearly’. With the friend we are prone to think, 'I know you', because we’ve had a subject-to-subject connection but then collapsed their subjecthood, unconsciously and after-the-fact, into their objective attributes.
We’re most familiar to ourselves, and so this problem of overfamiliarity is most evident in the problem of self-love. We love or hate ourselves according to our attributes, almost always forgetting the pure subject.** We should love ourselves as strangers: when I see a stranger I at least instinctively recognise them as a person, which, if I am consistent, implies their absolute value and uniqueness.
Of course, I’m rarely consistent, and even more rarely do I feel this value and uniqueness: which is why the first stage of love is duty—service to the stranger. I treat the stranger as though I loved them, merely because it is right. This gives way to a kind of sympathetic considerateness. This is what we should aim for with self-love. First, and regardless of everything, simply to do our duty, to do what is best for us. And then, if we can, to cultivate this detached consideration.
Through it may flash real self-love, intermittently, unexpectedly. Having got some distance from ourselves, we may begin to fascinate ourselves for the first time in our lives. Distancing ourselves from our attributes, we can no longer truly hate ourselves or love ourselves in the wrong way (externally, shallowly, which proportionately kills the self we really are). Locating ourselves in the realm of spirit, unoccluded by attributes, we will be able to love others more fully and more easily.
* and all attributes are superfluous: love thy enemy; love the sinner
** we’re also most clearly a means, if only because we are also most forcefully an end—but we overlook the end (the subject) from familiarity and are left with a pure means, totally powerful—Schopenhauer’s self-perpetuating Will
Ramakrishna described the three gunas as three robbers who fall on a man in a forest and rob him of all his possessions. One of them wants to kill him but another stops him, saying, ‘Tie him up instead!’ The third robber returns a little later and unbinds the man, leading him to the edge of the forest and within sight of the man’s own home. ‘You have been so kind to me’, he says. ‘Why don’t you come with me to my home?’ ‘But I can’t’, says the robber. ‘I am a thief, and the police will know of it!’
The forest is the world. The robbers rob the man of true knowledge and divine communion. Tamas would destroy a man, while rajas would merely bind him with attachment and desire to the world. Only sattva would lead him to salvation, but even it can’t join him there. Sattva is that part of the illusion by means of which man may find his way out of illusion. One might call it ‘religion’, although all spiritual feelings and behaviour, however affiliated to specific beliefs, are merely sattva if they are merely behaviours and feelings. Turiya (the Fourth) is a state of being beyond the world and its subject-object dichotomy.
We might say this fourth state, then, is the self transcending itself. In it the self is no longer the centre. In the sattvic state the self is enlightened and at peace, but is therefore still the centre, still the enjoyer.
To describe the affects of the three gunas we must use adjectives: a person becomes pure, passionate, deluded… To describe the Fourth we can only use a noun: love. Indeed we could say a person is in love, but this only reinforces the point: love is the primary ‘thing’ here—a person may be found in it, but that person does not have it as an attribute (we could even say: love has the person as an attribute).
That which at first seems like poison but which in the end is like nectar—such happiness is rooted in clarity (sattva) and arises from the peace that comes from insight into the self.
And that which arises from contact between the senses and sense objects and which at first seems like nectar but in the end is like poison—according to tradition, that sort of happiness is rooted in passion (rajas).
And that happiness which in its beginning and in its conclusion is mere self-delusion arising from sleep, or sluggishness, or negligence—that is held to be rooted in dark inertia (tamas).
— Bhagavad Gita 18:37-39
Spiritual flourishing feels like poison at first because it frustrates our material desires. Material flourishing tastes sweet at first but inevitably degenerates into ennui or a morass of new and greater wants. As for tamas, it’s a turning away from the world, both spiritual and material, and has no sweetness at any stage. It’s mere numbness, a kind of living death, which is nonetheless considered ‘happiness’ compared with the dukkha of everyday existence. “This reminds me of my stoner days.”
Sattvic happiness is the subject taking joy in itself; rajasic is taking joy in the object; and tamasic is awareness rejecting and attempting to escape itself.
But what do the physical senses matter when you’re spiritually deaf, blind, numb? Love is the sense of spirit. And am I alight with love for all beings? Does love resound within me? This inner deafness is worse than anything.
Allie, you are sanity. I’m sorry I continually electrocute you.
I dreamt I was in a swimming pool, being held underwater like in high school. But this time I was calm, inhaling air then waiting it out unresisting. She was there too, near then faraway. Not that I miss her now—I miss my clear hearing. Little girl plugging up my ear. Mother-girl. Left home, slept with her, stuffed up my hearing—all within forty-eight hours. I retrace my life sometimes and pick out points to split off at: what if I’d done this instead of that? But I keep going further and further back. I was a rotten child.
I think I’ll just go mad for a while.
I read somewhere that heaven is silence
or music; no noise, only clarity.
I shrunk to a single point yesterday;
'I am not in this reality’—a shriek
from the past found me.
'Not this, not this.'
I will chant love like a mantra:
the senses will fail, the body
will rot. I am there with you
in eternity, I am here with you
in timeless now.
Love, love, love, love, love…
I believe in
of the body.