Wednesday, 23 May 2018

TS Eliot and Donald Rumsfeld

In our meditation group the other day, we had some poetry read aloud to us. We often do - either poetry as a gateway to meditation, or poetry about meditative states- stuff we can feel and learn from.

TS Eliot, then, excerpts from "Four Quartets."

 "In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
       You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstacy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
       You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
       You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
       You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not."

I think here he is writing about a state of being that is ultimately indescribable. It is only routes to it that can be verbalised, not the state itself, the "still point of the turning world." Paradox is useful, as in koans and various zen stories, to break the mind out of customary linear and rational thinking patterns.

 What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. 

This can't be literally true, unless you believe in an afterlife, or re-incarnation, but it perhaps helps us escape from our usual linear sense of time unfolding, the world "progressing," into something more cyclical. Time, some physicists are now telling us, doesn't exist, all that exists is entropy. In cycles, presumably, or how come death and decay are preceded by birth, whether of a baby,  a broad bean or a star?

 We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—

So mostly we get hints, "half-heard," and there is no "stillness between two waves of the sea," it is always moving. There is no still point round which the world turns, the point itself moves - but I'm being literal again, and what's the use of poetry of it's only going to be literally, rationally valid? The stillness between two waves of the sea is, I'm sure now, what draws me back again and again to be in the moment on the sea-shore - and millions of us feel the same, however unconsciously. See the opening page of "Moby Dick."

It was agreed by those present that the first passage was, er, challenging. Good, I think we're not gathering only to relax. 

One of us said it reminded him of Donald Rumsfeld, and his known unknowns. I'd never before seen Rumsfeld as a mystic, there's a new perspective on US foreign policy....

We had a good discussion about "words, words, words..." and what of us is verbal. Then another short meditation. 

No comments: