Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An Exegesis of Squalor? Magic via Shambhala?

Flann O'Brien subtitled "The Hard Life" the first phrase. Its epigraph: Pascal's "all the trouble of the world comes from not staying alone in one's room." A minor novel, but this lament's a major impact on my formation.

Last night in my bedside novel to relax by, Kurt Andersen's "Heyday" set in 1848 Manhattan, Yanks at a saloon sneer at Irish. One Knickerbocker expounds. The Micks perch in their cabin, worrying about selling the chicken's eggs to buy tobacco. They sit and puff. Peat smoke rises. They "adjust to their squalor" rather than rising above it. This is the Gaelic way. They tilt the chair before the fire in their hovel lower, so they can slouch in it, puffing away; hearth smoke wafts over their heads. I add that in Gaeilge, the verb "caith" can mean "to wear, to spend, to throw off, or to smoke" as in "tobac," as well as a helping verb akin to "must." A typically thrifty use by a poor people of a single word to do a lot of common tasks in squalor.

But, this meditation on squalor made me wonder. Might we conflate "sitting," what Zen calls "zazen," with the pipe-smoking peasant, the lazy loafer despised by the cosmopolitan New Yorker? Upstate, Ben Howard at "One Time, One Meeting: the Practice of Zen" in "Silence & Intimacy" ruminates elegantly on the extraction of wonder from the altered perspective, the measured contemplation. Perhaps by taking a break, if not (alas) living my life in such ease that I'd never have to leave my rocking chair let alone my room, we can attain a state of heightened awareness, even without the stimulation of nicotine or spirits-- at least in distilled form? I note in passing the fate of Beckett's "Murphy" after he sought in his garret an off-beat enlightenment, through his energetic sitting and swaying to-and-fro.

My wife noted as I pecked away at the blog entry I will duly link to below: "You never goof around. You're always doing something." This made me stop. I've been advised lately to take it easier. This blog and my Amazon US reviews (despite a string of nasty negative "first votes" entered in new entries there that annoys me no end) will not go away. My work demands daily attention, on-line when not on campus. The long arm of Orwellian surveillance in the sleeve of 24/7 educational access grabs me. I weary of its power, 2010, not the millennial freedom hoped for.

However, the past couple of years I've tried to channel my tendency to mope into one to channel my energies productively. Before I got used to writing bit by bit via e-mail, I could not compose on a machine. I'd handwrite before scrolling sheet into typewriter. Fifteen years later, if slowly for both processes, I think as I type, for better and worse. This strategy focuses me upon what I read and what I encounter. I hope it sharpens my acumen. I used to retain far less of what I now reflect upon. I hope that I've improved my intellect as well as deepened my insights.

Still, I rush so much some days at teaching, commuting, and sheer doing what must (as in that auxiliary verb "caith") be done that lies beyond my power to change. Space or time to sit and stay still even five minutes flees from my grasp where I work. I might grab only fortune cookie advice. That old Desiderata on a poster, first glimpsed circa '72 in some Lake Arrowhead cabin, that worn AA imperative. How much of my vaunted learning, acquired at such sacrifice for so many years that were my youth, can be reduced now to a platitude?

Yet, proverbial wisdom of the scripture or that peasant puffing away endures longer than Foucault or Freud may among my former grad school colleagues in their tenured surety. I find as I try to mature that my needs to accumulate, impelled by the economy domestically in more ways than one as well as my own happiness with the books I can get from a library and the music I have formidably amassed already, can suit me fine in my own room. And here, I am trying to adjust to diminished expectations that can, as with Pascal, open a glimpse of eternity to a skeptic.

And since I've sat in my rocker upstairs, I have watched for over six months spring's blossoms of jacaranda puff and plummet, little lavender rockets returning to earth, if and for a second. The bougainvillea imperceptibly burst into crimson, from summer through whatever autumn we missed due to "climate change" as winter hesitates. Fewer leaves fell last autumn. I thought as I watched our cats on the peeling yellow and green faded wobbly deck that if a bird alighted on a branch, that might be peak experience enough. And, at the very top of my angle of vision, at that moment, a sparrow did on the fading dappled foliage of our pepper tree.

I concluded a few days ago about energies passing and magic within them, maybe. As my possible reductio ad absurdam of all my accumulated belief. Summa theologica sed tantillus modicum mihi? Medieval intellectual history and Irish literary criticism surround me at my computer downstairs. Is it a slow arrival of hard-won revelation after all?

Now, others weigh in on what Westerners may castigate but Easterners may cultivate. "Tamerlane" via his posts and comments to "Liberal Rapture" in a response on my recent "Credo Quia Absurdum?" guided me to a concept I'd never heard of. Although I've read a fair bit about Chögyam Trungpa's "Crazy Wisdom" inculcating dharma to the counterculture, I'd barely heard of his later innovation of "Shambhala Training." In fact, I'd criticized Jeffery Paine's "Re-Enchantment" (how Tibetan Buddhism came to the West) as barely mentioning what to me seemed a very significant secularized adaptation.

"Tamerlane" informed me on Facebook under my own blog entry's feed:
Westernized buddhism treats the magical spirits know as "Drala" as 'magic' but not 'magical' as in 'supernatural. If one is aware, one can encounter and appreciate drala all the time - in the meticulous grooming of a cat, a formation of clouds, the way the light casts a rainbow on the wall - all magic.

His eloquent observation sent me in search of "drala." Bill Scheffel's "Western Mountain" attests to a man living the courage of his convictions. His explanation impressed me, in his own exegesis gleaned by his own chosen poverty-- a more ethically rigorous vocation than a peasant or Dublin student's inert squalor-- tabbed there at his website under "Drala Principle." This webpage came up second in my inquiry, after Seattle-based Philip S. Rosemond's "Shambhala Training Glossary." That's a more complex, advanced overview of Trungpa's scheme as taught in the primer "Tamerlane" recommended, the 1984 (speak of auspices) "Shambhala, Sacred Path of the Warrior." More, of course, can be found about the retreats and centers via this URL.

P.S. As an introduction to Flann O'Brien, Fintan O'Toole's "Oblomov in Dublin" recommended.

Illustration. Opted for an alternative to a curled kitten, cheery buddharupa, or a cherry blossom. This morning, I'd been mulling over an Irish artist whom I admire, in the few paintings I've seen on-line after being dazzled by the one on display at Limerick's City Gallery next to People's Park years ago. I will write more about her soon, Margaret Clarke (1888-1961). She's a protegé of a similarly bold creator, William Orpen. Like him, she excelled at nudes, but I decorously feature on my blog's "installation" her 1917 "Mary & Brigid" as representative of her style. So far, not even sure of the title of her painting at the top of this post, but what a find, considering this may have been unveiled in the early years of the Irish Free State, the same one Flann satirized so memorably. Is that Maud Gonne? So far, all I can cite: "Darling Margaret: A Look at Orpen's Favourite Pupil." Frontispiece to an article by Hilary Pyle. Irish Arts Review, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring, 2007), pp. 86-91. I cannot access JSTOR, but any of you can, kindly let me know more. You must see it larger than I can reproduce it here, at its "Stable URL."


alanindyfed said...

Zen and the Art of Distilling Poteen ;-)

Fionnchú said...

So is that why you moved to West Cork? ;)