Thursday, July 29, 2004
Transcendental Etude XI
Words, words, words.
Her small experiment in looking to her own tradition had lefther with a Hamlet-level weariness with words. Weariness, and exasperation.Ifher quest was for some insight into the nature of being, she felt as if she'dbeen led farther and farther from the clear source and into a thorny thicket.
Take the psalms. The backbone of the principal Christian monastic practice,the daily office. True, many contain passages of great,shimmering, ontological lucidity. But she kept getting derailed at the passages declaiming punishment and retribution, geopolitical revenge and militaristic triumphalism. And at the monarchical language:Lord. King. At the prayer that the enemies' babies be dashed against rocks. At all the orphan and widowmaking, and belligerant God-upmanship. My God's better than your God. Neener neener.
Then there was the Trinity. She didn't actually believe in it as some entity that existed out there, object of worship, whatever that was. But was it useful as a way of describing reality ? Father, Son, Spirit,three qualities of numinous being. Process, matter and energy. Creation, created, breath. But how can one, after all, separate creation and created ?
She found herself translating Christian scripture into science, into Zen, two languages that seemed far less mediated and far more congenial. She wanted insight into reality,not reality translated into more and more elaborate stories. She wanted less,not more mediation. Less, not more distance. Christianity seemed to her to be a big, beautiful, complicated poem. A byzantine epic. She was more in the mood for Li Po and Po Chu-i. Was it all a question of mood ?
She thought of that line from Amadeus that her musician husband loved quoting: Too many notes, your majesty .
Too many words, your holiness.
As an antidote to wordiness, she'd been trying to think herself into the mind of a cat. To think cat thinking, to paraphrase Dogen. First of all, it would be wordless thinking. Her own thinking, she knew, was often wordless. Wordless yet still conscious and self-conscious. She pictured herself, say, gazing into the refrigerator trying to decide what to eat. Or driving. Complicated activities that involved evaluation, judgment, emotions, images, awareness but little coherent inner speech.
A cat's experience of the world could be a little bit like that -- wanting, seeing, judging, feeling pleasure,pain, fear. Does kitty assemble all that into a coherent sense of "self"? She'd read about experiments with mirrors that seem to argue against a feline ego. But who, after all, knows ? She was unwilling to dismiss animals as little, instinctual machines created for human consumption. She'd, after all, seen their tuxedo cat, Billy, the creature they'd proclaimed the finest creature in the universe, emit his gutteral meows as he reared up on his hind paws against the kitchen door and looked over his shoulder straight at her. Obviously saying: You there. With the thumbs. Let Me Out. Now. Please.
And she'd watched him bolt, pure joyful velocity, out the back door then stop short on the driveway, swishing his tail, looking left then right, as if gauging which of a hundred possible delights to pursue. It was the image of herself, standing at the open refrigerator, gazing in. Or of herself, walking the river path, camera in hand, looking.
Think cat thinking. That would have to do for the time being.