For my Mom—Appreciation & Plea for Patience

This year, I learned that trees have mothers, too.
They gather light from branches high above,
Dispatch their sugared sap imbued with love;
Then mycorrhizal networks send it through
To saplings starting up in mother’s shade.
Of course, not every tree can have a mom
—Not orphan tree farm nor the potted palm—
But those that start their lives within a glade
Take time for deeper roots and denser wood.
They twist and spread, meander as they grow,
Each one unique in character and strength.
Perhaps because my childhood was so good
Your wait to harvest nachas has been slow.
Please trust—I’ll vindicate your love at length.

— JJM

Sting the rotting waste into a flower

There is no sea so wide, no waste so sterile
But holds a rapture for the sons of strife
There shines upon the topmost peak of peril
A throne for spirits that abound in life:
There is no joy like theirs who fight alone,
Whom lust and gluttony have never tied,
Who in their purity have built a throne,
And in their solitude a tower of pride.

I wish my life, O suave and silent sphinx,
Might flow like yours in some such strenuous line,
My days the scales, my years the bony links
That chain the length of its resilient spine:
And when at last the moment comes to strike,
Such venom give my hilted fangs the power,
Like drilling roots, the dirty soil that spike,
To sting these rotted wastes into a flower.

— Roy Campbell

The Phoenix

On the ashes of this nest
Love wove with deathly fire
The phoenix takes its rest
Forgetting all desire.

After the flame, a pause,
After the pain, rebirth.
Obeying nature’s laws
The phoenix goes to earth.

You cannot call it old
You cannot call it young.
No phoenix can be told,
This is the end of the song.

It struggles now alone
Against death and self-doubt,
But underneath the bone
The wings are pushing out.

And one cold starry night
Whatever your belief
The phoenix will take flight
Over the seas of grief

To sing her thrilling song
To stars and waves and sky
For neither old nor young
The phoenix does not die.

— May Sarton, born this day in 1912

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Here I am, willy nilly, writing poems in my seventy-ninth and eightieth years, and the reason is partly because I am a foreigner in the land of old age and have tried to learn its language.  These poems are minimal because my life is reduced to essences. No more travel except across a room, dictating instead of writing a journal, a lot of meditating, looks at the sea from my window down at the end of the long field, and as always I am mesmerized by flowers on the table beside me.  I live with essences, with what is innermost these days because what is outermost is often beyond my strength. I can pay that absolute attention that Simone Weil has called “prayer” to a bird at the feeder outside my window or a bunch of anemones opening to show their purple hearts. I have more time for being and less ability to do than ever before.  So a poem that flies in the middle of the night is very acceptable.

Universal mind and individual mind

Today I pulled together three thoughts that before I had recognized separately 

  1. All mystrical traditions and many moderns who report on psychedelic experiences tell us that we are one.  But individuality is such a powerful illusion, if illusion it be. How to make sense of this unanimity on the subject of oneness in light of the fundamental fact of our senses: that we each experience free will with regard to skeletal muscles of one individual human only?
  2. Thoughts from moment to moment are mostly out of our volitional control.  Anyone who tries to meditate learns this. Maybe I shouldn’t say “tries” to meditate, because this is meditation’s central message.  One becomes aware that whoever “I” is, this entity is not in control of the thoughts with which “I” is so identified.
  3. Experiments in telepathy show a consistently positive statistical effect, but famously unreliable, inconsistent, out of control.  Telepathy is not a modality we can count on to deliver a message, but in a well-designed experiment with just a few hundred trials, we can be confident in seeing the statistical fingerprints of telepathy.  There is certainly an influence of one mind on another, but it is mostly undirected and beneath conscious awareness.

Tentative synthesis: My thoughts have control over my body, but “I” have only partial control over my thoughts.  This is what it feels like to be a part of the universal consciousness. These thoughts that come unbidden to my mind are the universal mind of which my conscious awareness is just a part.  One function of my brain is an antenna which receives thoughts and images from people I am close to, but also from anyone who directs attention toward me, and in part from a larger sphere of humanity or all life and all nature.

universal mind depiction

Old mystics, shamans, acidheads agree
Connection universal binds us all
The I that seems so separate and small
Is but conceit, conditioned vanity.

My mind in meditation doth defy
My will, assimilates unbidden thought.
Thus meditation’s lesson aptly taught
Asks who, if not my neurons, am this “I”?

Our science if more honest, would concede
Statistics show telepathy is real,
Though not a force we hear or see or feel.
From what source do its messages proceed?

From psi research and from my meditation,
The mystics’ message earns consideration.

— Josh Mitteldorf

Once in a Lifetime (or maybe twice)

History says don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

— Seamus Heaney would have been 80 years old today

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Digital art by Jeshield

The Pulley

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.

“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”

— George Herbert, born this day in 1593

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An Update from Lao Tzu

Having trodden the path for cycles uncountable,
Having crossed the ocean of mind from end to end,
Through all veils, its fountainhead have I finally seen.
To you, honest truth-seeker treading just behind me,
I offer this imperfect vision:

Only untruths can be experienced;
Hence, only untruths exist.
Truth does not belong to existence
For it is that which gives voice to existence,
As a trumpet to music.

Experiences are self-tricks of self-reference:
They arise from nothing and are made of nothing.
If you dig deep within yourself,
You shall always find the layer of self-deception
Upon which each one of your convictions ultimately rests.

One’s reality sprouts from the first layer of self-deception
That escapes one’s field of critical awareness.
The deeper this field, the more subtle the self-deception.
Those with little critical awareness thus live more colorful lives:
Their fiction is richer.

The honest search for truth annihilates its own subject
Slowly, recursively, from within.
Having peeled away every layer of self-deception within me,
I have found myself to be without a core:
Nothing is left.

Only nothing is true.
No external references exist, no outside arbiters.
We are self-created fictions, as is our cosmos.
The quest for truth is also the path to self-annihilation
And thus to liberation.

Rejoice, for your pains, fears, frustrations and regrets
Are all untrue.
There is nothing to fear, nothing to strive for, nothing to regret.
You have no soul; that’s just self-deception.
And you won’t die; that’s just self-deception.

But beware!
As a dream symbolically portrays the inner state of the dreamer,
As a novel insinuates the inner life of the author,
As a lie betrays the anxieties of the liar,
So the fiction you call reality reveals something of truth.

Thus pay attention to life,
For truth expresses itself only through its own fictions.
To discern truth in fiction: here is the cosmic conundrum!
To engage wholeheartedly without being taken in: here is nature’s challenge!
To find meaning in nothingness: here is the epic demand!

Partake in reality as an actor in a theater:
With attention, dedication, and an open heart.
But never believe yourself to be your character;
For characters spend their lives chasing their own shadows,
Whereas actors embody the meaning of existence.

May this small vision serve you as warning, and also encouragement.
The prize at the end of the path is handsome:
Freedom to make the deliberate, guiltless choice
Of which untruth to love.
Exercise this choice wisely, for it is the art of life.

Bernardo Kastrup offers us a picture rooted in physics and analytic philosophy, extending inexorably into the void.  Dao De Jing meets Tractatus.  This is where we end up if we take seriously the notion that thoughts create reality.  This poem was lightly edited and paraphrased by JJM.

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