Well I've been reading all of these bittersweet remarks about graduation and moving on to "real" life in these last blogs, and I have to say, while I understand what you're going through, I'm haven't hit the bittersweetness quite yet. Yep, I still have one semester to complete (and yes, I cheated my way into the class . . . but as Taylor reminded me tonight, one simply cannot pass up any class taught by Dr. Sexson.) By the way, I had the privilege of viewing Abby's class's Lysistrata performance tonight! It was hilarious, and they succeeded in packing the "theatre." I couldn't stop laughing and I was SO impressed with their rendition of the play (not to mention, some of the guys really came out of their shells!) oops (ha), I mean of course that they were much less shy than I have known them to be in other classes. But also, some of them did have some difficulties concealing their "swords" beneath their togas.
Though my death as an English major does not loom in the immediate future (but is forthcoming,) my death in this class takes place all too soon. I feel blessed to have been a part of the class, and I am so grateful to all of my peers for all of their wonderful insights and intellects. One of my favorite parts of every semester is peering back over the books we have read, the pieces we have written, and admiring our work. I know it sounds egotistical, but you have to admit, it's fulfilling to see the road we've taken. Even if we haven't quite reached Rome, we're still forging ahead (if that's where we're headed anyhow.) But like Kari mentioned in her last blog, it's not about the praise or pride that we may receive or experience when musing over our work, it's just about the work, the actions we made. I must remind myself to be satisfied in the moment of the work rather than feel the need to retrace my steps. Well, as Sam might say, I suppose "I am not worthy." Regarding today's presentations, I loved Little Gidding's funeral, how they immortalized each and every one of us on a tombstone. I thought it was interesting that our group (Dry Salvages) also immortalized each member of the class. We immortalized our peers in the leaves of the Yew tree. I hope you all enjoyed the story we read to you that was comprised solely of your blogs. We drew everyone's story into one and created a collective "I" as if the class shared a singular consciousness. In the process of pulling the story together, I was blown away at the "chances" of how each piece of the puzzle fit together effortlessly. Our stories naturally flowed into one. So, as you know, that's because all of our stories are made up. You know, I don't mean to offend anyone in the class, but I have to say that each person in our class is sort of weird in their own special way. I mean this in every way to be a compliment, because I appreciate all of the quirks, all of the unique, individuals. In fact I'm not usually a fan of people who aren't weird, simply for the fact that no one is actually "normal"; therefore, if they appear normal on the exterior, they're scared to face themselves. Also, as I'm the only one who's "not an adult in the class", I believe it is my sacred duty to remind you all of Taylor's insight that "we need to look for the mythological, the epiphanies, the children we buried in the earth on our quest for adulthood and knowledge. We need to hear the child’s call, remember how to enter the garden and to see ourselves and know ourselves for the first time." In my opinion, this is the best advice in moving forward with life. Regardless of what obstacles may arise, if we can remember to look within for the essences of ourselves that were once pure as children, we will be able to return to those essences, enabling us to perform right action.
Taylor: beautiful. Listening to Taylor read her paper, I remembered her way with language that most people would kill for. She writes explicitly, but also with fluidity and tone. Using her diary was the perfect humorous addition to her paper, and it also lent credulity to everything she said.
Sam: smart. Sam states the connections she has drawn between these many books, both in and outside of class, in such a warm and inviting way. I love listening to her read her words; her voice is so pure and melodious, and from it flow all of these insightful ruminations. This is what our experience has been about over the course of our undergraduate years: learning to draw parallels, make connections, and most importantly, learning to think.
Tai: knock your socks off hilarious. and also smart. Tai took the topic of death and moulded it into a piece that we could all laugh at, but also relate to. Also his slip up (that everyone seems to make) in telling the Rabbi that he was in it for the money is priceless.
I'm not ordinarily one to turn things in late, but this became an exception for better or worse, considering it should have been done at 9am this morning.
Here it is: my final work. I don't think I have ever before spent longer on a single piece of schoolwork. I am not sure it is any better for the time. To be honest, I was actually sort of proud of it this morning at 8am. Then, after listening to Taylor's beautiful words that just flow right out of heaven or something, I am not so proud of it. It is stilted and rigid in comparison. Regardless, I hope you enjoy it for what it is.
Dancing at the Still Point: A Practical Guide to Nourishing the Soil
We are born into this world, part of the spinning molting collection of material. We wriggle our ways in just as the leaves of trees squeeze through the waves of the air to finally touch down on solid ground. I happened along quite early on the morning of February 25th, 1987. Plenty of other babies that day, I'm sure, but I was me. And little did I know that I was something no one else could know. I looked around the room with eyes that were too big for my head. Everything swam fuzzily before me; how strange to see things around me, a haze of stuff; how strange to be in this body, to be someone. Surely at that point I had no idea what “me” was or who “me” was for that matter, but this was the project at hand. On that day, February 25th, I embarked on a journey to fulfill the meaning of me. By entering into the world, I signed a contract stating that I would endeavor to fulfill my dharma thereby allowing my individual dance to emerge. Within each individual lies a strand of being that constitutes its unique “what-ness” or “who-ness,” which Hopkins calls inscape. Often this strand, though it directs our every movement, is elusive to track down and come to know. It does seem that to know oneself should prove easy; however, it takes great skill and patience to learn to listen to our inner strand of self, and often, it cannot be accomplished in a single lifetime. In order to really be ourselves, we must learn to still our souls, minds, and selves in order to know that intrinsic silent core of our self, the still point. Before finding the still point, we must first know it and understand it. In Burnt Norton, the moment in the rose garden that is timeless and placeless embodies the nature of the still point. “I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where. / And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time” (Eliot BN 68-9). This moment of stillness lives outside of time, seems to hang upon the air, breathless, like the moment when Rat and Mole experience the sunrise in the moment when “there was utter silence in the bird-haunted branches,” which gives us pause (Grahame 124). But such moments as these are the very instances in which we can know ourselves most clearly, experience a lifetime of clarity in a momentless moment. And it is at this “still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;” that the ultimate clarity is brought to light. For here, “Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is” (Eliot BN 62-3). Our dance epitomizes our dharma, our sacred duty in this lifetime that is only realized in mental stillness. Once we learn to find both the still point in time and our own stillness within that point, then and only then can we contribute our piece of the pie, make our waves in the sea, and “nourish . . . the life of significant soil” (Eliot DS 131-3). In order to contribute, to dance our individual dance, we must first know the still point. Every soul that enters this world, every organism that lives, has an axis that juts through its core providing meaning and a sense of purpose. Just as the earth rotates on an axis, so do we, as souls, have centers, points of reference from which we operate. Gerard Manley Hopkins explains, “I look through my eye and the window and the air; the eye is my eye and of me and me, the windowpane is my windowpane but not of me nor me. A self then will consist of a centre and a surrounding area or circumference, of a point of reference and a belonging field” (Hopkins 243). We can envision the earth’s vast circumference spinning, grounded by its axis. From this center, the body of the earth or “belonging field” of the earth, made up of rivers, mountains, hills, and cities, dances round, encircling the silent core. In the same manner does every individual operate from his or her still center. Our arms function like the earth’s rivers, flowing out, doing work. But whether they be rivers or arms, they originate from a center, requisite for movement but remaining quiet and still while the movement abounds around. When the axis of a being is located and accessed, that being has arrived at its most perfect state. The dancing ballerina, for example, when dancing always remains perfectly balanced, her center motionless as her body courses through the room. In the same manner does the dandelion's seed, when traveling, move on the wings of the wind. It twirls and falls, twists and sways, fulfilling its purpose while the axis remains at the center of all movement, still amidst the dance and play of the twirling body. In youth, our axes or senses of purpose in life are most clear; unfortunately at this stage in life, we are not conscious of this. When Santiago, in The Alchemist, meets Melchizedek, the King of Salem, Coelho writes, “The boy didn’t know what a person’s ‘Personal Legend’ was.” The King of Salem explains to Santiago, “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything . . . But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend” (22). Children have a clarity that adults lose over time; as we age, we develop a stronger knowledge of repercussion (and possibly a bit of cynicism as well), which stunts our decisions and prevents us from dreaming possibilities. Instead of imagining, “What if I tried to fly and flew!” we think, “What if I tried to fly and fell.” Suddenly our sense of purpose turns to mush and becomes the very thing we will never attempt for fear of failing. Of course, paradoxically, the moment we realize the desire to know our purpose in life is exactly the moment when we lose the capacity to trust in that purpose. Arjuna, like most adults, cannot trust in his purpose and therefore questions his actions out on the battlefield. So many paths arise in and on the way to adulthood that it becomes difficult to distinguish one from the next. We end up standing in the middle of our own battlefield in life, over-thinking our options or simply failing to consider them at all. In The Bhagavad-Gita, according to Sanjaya, Arjuna suddenly hits a brick wall while on the battlefield and says to Krishna, “I do not want to kill them / even if I am killed, Krishna . . . Honor forbids us to kill / our cousins, Dritarashtra’s sons; / how can we know happiness / if we kill our own kinsmen?” (Stoler Miller 1.35, 37). Realizing that he has a choice in the matter, Arjuna finds fear in the potential repercussions of his decisions and becomes stuck in inaction. Sanjaya narrates, “Arjuna slumped into the chariot / and laid down his bow and arrows, / his mind tormented by grief” (Stoler Miller 1.47). Too overwhelmed by conflicting ideals and values, Arjuna gives up. The noise and hubbub of every day life, social expectations, rules, and even opinions can behave like white noise that is no longer relaxing but distracting. Amidst all the rules and regulations that others set up around us, it can be extraordinarily difficult to stay on track with our own purpose, especially in the event that our purpose directly opposes the social norm. As in the case of Arjuna, (though Krishna will explain otherwise), his sacred duty at first glance seems to act in complete opposition to filial piety. He cannot bear to ignore the tradition laid down by his ancestors, and yet he cannot bear to surrender in battle. He is torn between two waves of the sea. When we arrive at such a barrier in life, we must back up and start from square one because we cannot make decisions confidently without knowing our values and ourselves. Let us embark on the project of stilling our souls, minds, and selves in order to know the still point in ourselves from which we can dance our own unique dance. The first step involves realizing that one is, in fact, entirely unique from any other being. At this stage in the game it is not important that we understand the composition of our uniqueness; rather, we must simply recognize that “consciousness and feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of I and me above and in all things . . . incommunicable by any means to another man (as when I was a child I used to ask myself: What must it be to be someone else?). Nothing else in nature comes near this unspeakable stress of pitch, distinctiveness, and selving, this selfbeing of my own” (Hopkins 234). Upon recognizing this “me”-ness within ourselves the fact that nothing else in the world can replace our individuality, we allow ourselves to begin to notice all of the nuances of our identities. As we begin to see this self emerge brighter and clearer, we inevitably acquire a pride in our own nature. Sometime in primary school, likely around the age of five, I undertook my first step in realizing that I was me, a unique being. I realized (or more aptly, unjustifiably proclaimed) my uniqueness. I cannot exactly recall when or how many times this occurred, but I remember contemplating the nature of my own thoughts. "How strange that I am me. How wonderful that I can see the world in my way, through my eyes; I am five, and I can climb the tree house and look down on all the little three-year-olds that aren’t allowed. Humph." I also remember firmly deciding that my color world was surely far different from everyone else's. The only reason I called blue the same as everyone else was because that was the word assigned to that color at school; regardless, I was convinced that when I looked at blue on the page, it was surely a very different color in my eyes. Once I had sufficiently proclaimed my uniqueness, then and only then, could I even begin to consider the next step. The second step requires relinquishing desires, distractions, and ego; it is kenosis, the emptying out of your conscious will. T.S. Eliot explains the concept of patiently letting go in order that we might move into a mode of stillness as opposed to one of rash decision-making. He writes: I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. (EC 123-8) Often we assume we know what’s good for ourselves. Eliot reminds us to take a step back and release our preconceived notions, the ideals that we impress upon our lives. It is fruitless to act until we know what we’re acting for or towards; in other words it is fruitless to attempt to push forward in our own lives until we know ourselves well enough to know what it is we’re looking for. When I arrived at my first day of college, I cried a goodbye to my mom then made every effort to jump on the ride. I felt that I was living the dream. I was in New York at a great school. But to be entirely honest with myself, I quickly became the sad epitome of a poor, small-town Montana girl flailing to fit in with these worldly, upper class New Yorkers. My peers liked me, thought I was “so sweet,” but I couldn’t socially keep up; my Asics tennis shoes just didn’t stand up to their Jimmy Choo shoes. My handmade purse was a disgrace in the face of that black Prada bag. I didn’t have dad’s credit card to hop the train and drop a few grand on clothes in the city; none of my aunts or grandmothers had attended Vassar. I fought to survive; I tried to fit in, and knew that none of this really mattered, but I couldn’t even spend time with them because all they ever seemed to do was to spend money. Not to mention, I didn’t have the requisite attitude or the problems at home. And in this way I was almost grateful I didn’t fit in. Nevertheless, I stayed. I thought I needed to in order to be successful in later life; I needed this stamp of approval. More than that I wanted to succeed! I wanted the gratification of knowing that I accomplished what I set out to do. But everything eventually boiled down to nothing. I got A’s in class but I didn’t learn much as I wasn’t in the right state of mind to engage. I just went through the motions. I sort of knew all of this in the back of my head, but I couldn’t let go of this place. I kept driving forward without knowing what I was after. Every path I chose seemed to lead to a dead end, and it frustrated me to no end. At this point in my life, I was probably furthest from myself, and yet I continued on because I thought I knew what was best for me. Only two more years. That’s nothing! But time dragged on as if it was forever. I felt that I needed this diploma more than anything, but I didn’t know why, and it was agony. I remember my roommate saying to me, “Jennie Lynn, what’s wrong with you? You used to sing all the time. I kind of miss it.” I didn’t even know I had stopped singing; some cog inside of me seemed to have stopped working. Sara knew better than I did that I wasn’t happy. Then my dad visited me for October break, noticed something different about me, and nicely asked me if I wanted to take some time off. Oddly, this had never occurred to me. I was so caught up in the mire of soccer, work, homework, and people I didn’t understand that I never took the time to stand back and assess my options. When he asked me, my eyes uncontrollably metamorphosed into sink faucets. The most bizarre thing about it was my disconnection from that moment of release. I had learned to cut myself off from my emotions so much that I wasn’t even sad while these rivers of tears poured out of me. That was when I finally woke up to realize that I needed to let go of my hold on this place, let go of my pride, and move on. I decided to finish the semester and withdraw to take some time off and/or transfer. When I solidified this decision in my head, I remember my mind relaxing itself, sort of a melting feeling. I remember being happy for the first time in quite a while. This was a glimpse. I was not completely detached from all desires, or perfectly at peace with who I was; however, I felt stillness in this moment of melting away from all the things I thought were requirements in my life. In this one instant I caught sight of some semblance of clarity; though I didn’t know what exactly was the next step, my insides at least communicated to me that I didn’t need to fit into the cookie cutter shape, and I was finally making the right decision. It took a few outside perspectives to make that happen, but it happened, which is what matters. Just as Krishna arrived in Arjuna’s time of need, my dad arrived on the scene when I needed guidance. Ironically, I even read The Bhagavad-Gita for my Religions of Asia class that very semester, but I treated it as separate from me rather than realizing it in me. We learn as we go; we live and let go. It is precisely in this stillness and patience of letting go that we arrive at the place from which we can realize our center and dance. This is where the third step exists—in the dancing. Finally locating, understanding, and embodying our axes is when Kari karis and Jennie Lynn jennie lynns; this is when we become and carry out our very own verbs. Once we reach this level, we broach the lair of the divine. For once we happen upon our center, we inevitably encounter some form of God-given purpose. In The Dark Night of the Soul, John of the Cross writes: The secret Kingdom of God is in the centre of the soul, or at the apex (pinnacle) of the intellect, where our soul becomes part of the Whole . . . This innermost centre, naked, lucid, free from the impression of any shape or form, is raised above all created things . . . and transcends all time and place, and in it the soul abides in a perpetual union and conjunction with God, her origin. (8) Realizing that the divine exists within the center of our soul, we now understand the reason each glimpse of the self along the path of discovery seems itself an epiphany, a moment of clarity. When we experience these little moments of clarity during our struggle to understand ourselves, we are encountering very tiny glimpses through to the divine. Each little glimpse feels potentially epiphanic in the moment; possibly they are small epiphanies, but the large omnipotent epiphany is that final step towards which we are forever marching on our path to self-discovery. We cannot all become divine within a lifetime, for that would mean that each and every one of us succeeded swimmingly without error. Only a select few will experience the grand epiphany of really knowing and becoming themselves as divine beings. The rest of us will get close enough to finding ourselves that we will begin to know ourselves in a very personal way. We all clamber towards the divine within ourselves by striving to find our purposes in life, but most of us will die before we get there. For this reason, it is only the process, not the end result, which counts. We must remember the teachings of The Bhagavad-Gita. Krishna teaches Arjuna, “Be intent on action / not on the fruits of action; / avoid attraction to the fruits / and attachment to inaction!” (Stoler Miller 2.47). Krishna reminds us to focus on the task at hand, not the glorified fruits to which we aim. We cannot climb toward the divine and hope to succeed when self-interest is at hand. Instead we must remember step number two, kenosis, and continue our journey without involvement of our own ego. It is seemingly paradoxical and counterintuitive; however, we must not allow ourselves to be at the center while we search for the center of ourselves. Lily, for example, by allowing her fear of what people may think of her painting to fall to the wayside, realizes that it “doesn’t matter.” And then she dances, and she lilys. Woolf writes, “She looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision” (209). Lily realizes that it is the process that matters, the stroke of clarity that gets thrown onto the canvas. She only sees her vision clearly for a second; and in this second, uninhibited, she nourishes the life of significant soil. Though we may not be painters like Lily or warriors like Arjuna, all we can do is try to remember our meanings, try to arrive at our centers. We travel through these cycles of life trying to remember everything we have forgotten, trying to recover that sense of meaning that was so clear as a child. Eliot explains: There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. (EC 186-9) Even though we may not achieve absolute clarity or absolute divinity within a life, we become a little bit more divine for having tried. But like Eliot says, all we can do is try; whatever comes of the trying is “not our business,” and we must leave it as such and dance through our lives without thought of where our dance may leave us. At the end of a long life, we may, like Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse, ask ourselves what the meaning of it all was. That was all—a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one . . . Mrs. Ramsay saying, ‘Life stand still here’ . . . In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the clouds going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. (Woolf 161) Again, this is not our business, and like Mrs. Ramsay realizes, we can only relish in the dance of life, the small daily happenings that weave in and out of our journey. These little miracles, “matches struck . . . in the dark,” light the way and help us, as individuals, to find our own spark of stability and meaning wherein we dance.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1988. Eliot, T.S. Four Quartets. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1943. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. London: Penguin Group, 2008. Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Poems and Prose. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995. St. John of the Cross. Dark Night of the Soul. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 1995. Stoler Miller, Barbara. The Bhagavad-Gita. New York: Random House, 2004. Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1989.
I'm so excited, my paper has direction and is flowing. my dancers are dancing through it. When I was at Abby's house on Saturday, she came trodding out of her room with some big white posterpapers. I think I looked at her funny and laughed, and she said something like, "For mapping!" Currently my cat is lovingly attacking my paper's poster, but I have to say this is the best and most useful idea for paper writing yet. I was able to map out my ideas and thoughts in one big area and have it all in front of me through the whole process. It really helps me stay focused and not stray off on tangents. So thanks Abby. It also helps me to remember where exactly I was, when I have forgotten or become distracted.