Wednesday, May 30, 2018
3:35 a.m. I found this poem by Billy Collins a few years ago, put it on facebook, and their reminder feature showed it to me yesterday. I thought: That’s an example of what the guys have been saying about words being sparks, rather than definite stepping stones. The students the poem describes don’t understand that, that’s why the rubber hoses, and apparently the teacher hasn’t thought to explain to them that the function of the poem isn’t to describe but to spark.
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
So, gentlemen, your move.
You will notice that in our rhetorical question about how it would be if you were to begin to love your enemies, we made no reference to Jesus, whose advice it was, and made no reference to doing it because someone said so. We merely let the logic of it unfold because we were discussing it in a certain context. If we had been discussing it in a pietistic context, or one that takes Jesus’ word for law – to be obeyed because he said so – what authority would that have had?
I’ve gotten your point but it isn’t coming out right.
As happens, sometimes. You do it, then.
You mean, if we were Christians who thought the point of religion and scripture was obedience, then merely saying “Jesus said so” would be reason enough. (This, despite the example of so many prominent Christians, for there are sincere worthy Christians enough, trying to obey to the best of their ability, only they don’t get the spotlight.) But this would be – how shall I say it? – obedience without understanding. And that is not self-transformation.
Well, it can be a step toward it, but no, merely obeying may improve the moral character by strengthening it against competing elements that wish to do other things, but it will not enable the understanding. Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. who obey and think their religious duty fulfilled thereby do earn merit by their striving, but do not thereby add to their understanding.
In worse condition, often enough, are those without religion, making their own rules as they go along, stumbling along in the dark.
You don’t need to tell me! Many of my worst errors have come because I didn’t have a firm set of guidelines to lean on. Things I bitterly regret doing came by my following the strong feelings of the moment, with no handrail to keep me on the path.
And while you say that, the opposite is true as well.
Oh yes. That’s what has so often perplexed me. I couldn’t function within other-people-defined rules, and I couldn’t function without error by feeling my way. On the one hand I was walking the Pathless Path, and on the other hand blind instinct could not be relied on to bring me safely to my destination (particularly as I couldn’t know what that destination even was).
Now you aren’t saying it clearly.
A matter of recalibration, I suppose. [Pause]
I can see the shortcomings of religious dogma; was unable constitutionally to submit to an authority that didn’t seem based in what something within me knew; yet in practice it is so hard to tell true north from compass deviation. When I was younger, the difficulty of the task was not as clear to me as it is now.
And it is this condition that we are seeking to address, for of course you are not the only one. Those who are unable to obey without first understanding are subject to making many an error; those who do obey without first understanding are subject to making different but not less serious errors. The way out of the dilemma is –?
Access to guidance.
Access to guidance with understanding, and that requires more than native good will. A good heart does not automatically tell you how to tune engines, or run race courses, or sail in heavy weather. Knowledge and practice, not merely good intentions, bring skill. Fortunately, your own non-3D component is available to help you acquire the skill to use your non-3D component consciously, skillfully.
We blunder along as best we can, but if we persevere, we can get better at it, is that it?
Draw an analogy to any other skill you have ever honed in your life. Progress requires work. It doesn’t come free. From time to time you may receive an unpaid-for bonus – at least, it may seem unpaid-for – but for steady progress, intent and practice are required.
We have often commended scripture as guideline; you have never heard us say, “Follow this blindly and that will do it.” Blind faith may be better for some than blind anti-faith, faith in Nothing, but it isn’t very much better. For that matter, it isn’t very much different. The only advantage provided by faith based in following rules as absolutes is – may be – to save a certain type of individual from wandering lost in the wilderness. But for other types of individuals, that time of being lost may be very valuable as a doorway to uncharted territory.
The difference being?
Evil. Every individual is also a community of elements, and often enough they are at odds. A person holding together a community partly composed of strong evil tendencies may need external rules – even the concept of external rules (that is, the concept of an absolute authority) – to help them hold down the rabble. Those who are not in a similar situation can have little idea of the day-to-day reality these people deal with.
Now, you say “evil,” and I know you don’t mean “the opposite end of a difference in tastes,” but I don’t know quite what you do mean when it is considered from outside the situation set up by 3D being the place of Perceiving Things As Good And Evil. What is evil when viewed from outside that polarity?
I suspect we may have to unpack that, just a trifle.
Begin to pick at it, and we’ll comment as needed.
Well, I immediately got that you are comparing the forces affecting us to the weather. If we were sailing, we might not think of contrary winds as evil, but they would still be an obstacle.
But, you see, you might very well think of them as evil. You often do. (People, in general, not only any one individual.)
So people torturing others are merely an inconvenience as we’re sailing?
Even without the sarcasm, that would miss the point. Weather is objectively there. It is a fact. And it might be defined as the momentary result – or, we should say, the moment-by-moment result – of the interaction of the entirety of the forces in operation. That strong winds may blow down road signs, or take off roofs, or destroy entire communities when they reach hurricane force, is not the reason to be (i.e., the raison d’etre) of those forces; neither is it their intent.
Evil as we experience it is a form of collateral damage?
That would be a productive way to look at it. The forces that swirl through your lives are vast and impersonal, but they motivate or activate personal complexes; in effect, they provide opportunity to temporarily or relatively permanently strengthen this or that element in an individual’s community.
And it is up to us how we respond to those winds.
Rudders, steering oars, even sea anchors may be employed to turn to effect forces well beyond one’s own strength, forces that would push you where you don’t want to go. The forces exist. You may be blown before the winds or you may attempt to employ them for your own purposes, to reach your own destinations.
And that is enough for the moment.
Still the one-hour lecture. Thanks as always.