Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Ugolino and His Sons, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
Narcissism has become such a term of condemnation we seem to forget we're all self-preoccupied. We abhor the term so much we often neglect our own pain. In the non-pathological sense, our narcissism alerts us to our buried wounds. When someone disrespects us, we react. When we lose someone we love, we can be incapacitated by the injury to the self. I'm thinking of the line in one of Gerard Manly Hopkins' poems, "My own heart let me more have pity on." A monk, who was somewhat embarrassed by his own talent as poet and artist, turned inward to his own pain as a spiritual reality. I write this in that spirit.
Years ago someone on Facebook circulated this exercise and I responded:
Fifteen Random Things About Me
I am not normal. I can see music. Yes, see it. I can close my eyes and see colored configurations of sound. When I listen to Coltrane I see long streams and swirls of molten gold, etc.
I have a spiritual impulse that is mostly realized in poetry. I believe that all natural things well seen are holy. In this way I think I am like the romantics. The holy makes me feel a part of something larger than myself but sometimes the holy is terrifying. Red in tooth and claw and green with fire. My God is not anthropomorphic. He/She is something like the Buddhist idea of interdependency wherein everything we do matters, has its affect in the world, negative or positive. Sometimes God is a presence, an intimation that there is a great reality to which we all aspire when we are at our best. But I have no set definition of God. Names, like icons, are forms, and all melt away. I believe that Buddha, Mahavira, Mohammed, Jesus, and the rest were people of great personal power who taught essential things about living. I don't believe in the religions that were based on their teachings, or perversions of their teachings, or appropriations of their teachings in the pursuit of power.
I am talented in music, art and theater. I succeeded in none of those things because I was too easily discouraged as a younger man, but somehow they became poetry and photography. Now I nurture them like children.
I am not good at love relationships. The same logic that argues if you've fixed a hundred cars you will be a better mechanic does not apply to relationships. I am learning and am encouraged at the idea of reincarnation where I get to try it yet again. I am better now at a more inclusive kind of love that operates outside of the bondage of sexual and romantic love. I believe this is the true path. I am on good terms with most of my old lovers. I stayed with one of them eleven years. I tried.
[Note: recently, I have been less critical of myself about this. I presently love a woman in a way that lets me see I do in fact know how to love. It's just been a long apprenticeship.]
I am terrible with money and technical things and I am messy. Some of this is from severe learning disabilities. When I was a child they called it "hyperactive" and it was a shaming stigma. This qualifies me for a shamanic life, shamanic in the sense of dreaming and turning the dreams into vehicles by which others may dream: that is, poems. That our culture places no utilitarian value on such an ability means that I will live a life of semi-poverty. I accept this.
I have names for all my demons and am on speaking terms with them. I send them lots of love when they get cranky. Unless I lose my cool in which case they take over and I have amends to make. I know where my demons are at all times. This is only possible because I stopped drinking in 1987 and am awake to their shenanigans.
I believe animals have a purpose we only slenderly understand. They bring out parts of us that need nurturing, and similarly they need for us to give them things they don't have. There is no qualitative judgment here. That a horse can sense my heartbeat all away across the paddock is important. That they see two separate realities on either side of their head because of binocular vision is meant to teach us something. I believe these animals are a part of the great mystery.
I believe we are better in the process of becoming than in the state of having arrived. Having arrived is an illusion. I believe that the moment we think we have arrived, while we are becoming smug, the ground is being eroded from beneath us. I believe that when a religion arrives at the state of being the true religion it has already begun to die. It responds to this with a desperate and brutal control. To give up ever arriving at the grand plateau is to have a good life. Buddha didn't say he was enlightened, he said he was awake. I believe Heaven and Hell are in us. I believe that the medieval Hell with all its tortures is so obviously a product of the human mind that it's laughable.
We are capable of being Hell and being Heaven. Sometimes we inherit Hell from our parents, from our institutions and it is our lifelong work to heal from it. Because we have bodies and we suffer in them we seldom inherit Heaven. This is why Dante's Hell is so much more interesting than his Heaven. We can only imagine pure happiness as abstraction, as the lack of suffering. When we experience joy we are generally surprised by it but cannot sustain it. We would not know it without suffering.
People become possessive of their Hells. Try to persuade a racist to give up racism and he will become outraged. He senses that he is being asked to give up a part of his essential self. He clings to his own misery. He is a closed system. Likewise, professional victims cling to their victimhood because they have become identified with it to the extent that they fear loss of the whole self in healing. The landscape of happiness is unknown and thus terrifying.
When I am angry, really angry, sometimes I see myself as a bright star dangling a luminous spine, stalking in the dark.
"Is" is more productive than "should." Acceptance is the key to transformation. We discover "should" only when we have come to know "is" in all its difficulty.
After serving in a mindless, pointless war, I suspect that politicians and the CEOs who fund them may be sociopaths.
I struggle with winter. I struggle with grayness. I wear depression like a heavy Russian overcoat. I gargle with Gogol. This image makes me laugh. Laughter and grief are born joined at the hip. I wrote that it in a poem.
Pheromones are motivating horses that will leave you at the border and turn back. Then, you're on your own.
I offer you my imperfection. My imperfection says hello to your imperfection. In this there is possibility.