by Norman Fischer | June 16, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Mid-June, 2012. Muir Beach
It’s summer at Muir Beach. Bright warm days (not the usual fog and blustery wind). I have been reading and ruminating. Two thoughts keep returning to mind.
First, the strangeness of life. I can’t seem to get used to it. How days pass by, time moving on, but to where and from where? I am often working on my calendar, planning events for a supposed future that the calendar defines. But where is that future? When is it? It seems to be right here, as I contemplate being somewhere else at a later time. I can imagine it all in my mind. And then the time comes and where am I then? Here, where I have always been. Now, in the time I’m always occupying (or is now occupying me?). And then, soon, that here and now is past, and where is the past? Did anything actually happen? The truth is I have no real evidence of the past or future except in my presence now. And in my presence now no clear sense of who the person is that’s experiencing (if that is the correct word, I think not, but I do not have a better one) these things, thinking these thoughts. Time is time; something seems to be occurring; someone seems to know this and say so.
The second thought I keep coming back to has to do with religion. I like to spend time reading religious thinkers of ages gone by. I have been reading Dogen closely for more than 40 years. And other Buddhist and Zen texts. And Jewish and Christian texts as well. Just today I have been reading Augustine’s Confessions (again) and the inspired poems of G.M. Hopkins (again, again). And I wonder: what were these people thinking? Augustine wrote in the fourth/fifth centuries, and when you remove the “thees” and “thous” of the archaic translation, he seems quite contemporary in his self-consciousness and verbal dazzle. He prattles on and on with tremendous urgency, talking to God as if God were present, pleading, explaining, speculating, wondering, but always full of faith that Who he is addressing is listening with a kind of transcendent loving interest. Hopkins writes of the Christ he is meeting everywhere, in hawks and marshes, in clouds and seascapes, as though this Person were the most palpable, actual, thing in the world. But is there any way that we or I can feel what Augustine or Hopkins (or Dogen, Nagarjuna, Zhaozho etc) was intimately meaning when they were saying what they were saying? I think not. No way being a person then could feel like being a person now. A whole universe of conceptual and historical frameworks has shifted, appearing and disappearing, since then, and to read their words as if we understood what they meant, to dismiss or validate them, to project our contemporary prejudice onto them - would be hopelessly myopic And yet something in their speaking speaks directly to me. Religion is so odd in this way. How many learned books have been written about Augustin or Hopkins? How many interpretations and re-interpretations? And Augustine and Hopkins are themselves already reacting personally to primary religious teachings as they felt them in their time. Commentators decide what this or that religious teaching supposedly means, and what this or that religious thinker of this or that historical period is supposedly saying, but the truth is they don’t know. No one does. Any more than any of us knows what is really going on in any average day of our lives! I have always found it comforting and very helpful to contemplate religious texts. Although I never know what they mean, I find something that helps me to live. My ruminations are illuminated.
Meanwhile, days slip by and the world goes on in its stunning confusion. In past letters I have expressed my dismay over the state of the world (and my latest poetry book “Conflict” is all about this). But for some reason lately, and especially today, (maybe it’s the sunshine) I feel quite hopeful. More than hopeful: I feel certain that despite everything, it’s okay. We have of course much to do, internally and externally (if there ‘s any difference between these two). No end to that, ever. And yet I feel confident. The world’s rightness is here already.