These are the
where what outsiders
land like coconuts
on the crystalline
hammers and anvils
of the native inhabitants
Theirs is a refinement
so exquisite that,
for example, to rhyme
anything with hibiscus
is interdicted anytime
children or anyone weakened
by sickness is expected.
The Silence Islands – Kay Ryan
I’ve spoken here before about the wrangle that goes on in my head when I sit down to write about the thing that is most important and most central to my life, which is meditation practice. I like to write. I trained as a poet at University and studied all the great poets and writers of the canon. I love the English language (and all languages in fact). They are spell-like and beautiful. And yet there has always come a crunch where the direct quality of the World that I touch into with meditation far exceeds (outstrips at a million miles an hour, in fact) the clomping inexactitudes of even the most beautiful phrase.
Like the inhabitants of Ryan’s Silence Islands, after a retreat or after periods of practice, the grossness of the words seems to fall brutally on the experience like coconuts on the fragile delicacies of the ear.
How to circle this square?
As you progress along the Buddhist path there comes a point where you stop practising just for your own benefit. You’re no longer sitting just to feel “a little calmer” or to stop “that insistent, self-critical voice”. After a while, just working on yourself – calming a bit here, understanding a little there, tempering a feeling across the way – becomes too small. After a while, you realise we have to have a bigger frame for the work – one that takes in others as well, that understands “my” experience as part of the World’s experience.
This is the work of compassion along the way – and following on from that there is a further step. We have to stay in the experience of our life, we have to honour the experience of the World around us and we have SPEAK from the place. Speak out the vividness and the sorrow. The joy and the confusion.
When we talk about poets and poetics together, we are talking in terms of expressing ourselves so thoroughly, so precisely, that we don’t just mumble our words, mumble our minds, mumble our bodies. Being in the poetic world, we have something to wake up and excite ourselves. There is a sense of gallantry and there is a tremendous, definite attitude of no longer being afraid of threats of any kind. We begin to help ourselves to appreciate our world, which is already beautiful.
Chögyam Trungpa, The Heart of the Buddha
And I suppose this is where the field of ‘dharma poetics’ comes on line. Poesis comes from the Greek to make or fabricate, which has the world of weaving woven into it. Weaving is the interplay of woof and weft (more linguistic beauty!) and this is what I understand by Chogyam Trungpa’s invitiation to “help ourselves” to appreciate the world. It’s not, I notice, about “understanding” the world, or “analysing” the world, but about appreciating it.
When we leave off mumbling then the World (inside our experience and outside it) shines brighter, more vivid and textured. And in this sense articulation begats appreciationg and clarity. But daring to speak also brings connection.
When I write I am weaving together the ineffable specicificity my own experience – (me, here in Newhaven, on a hot Bank Holiday, ill with a dreary virus that saps me of energy and make shiver) and the experience over there, wherever you may be right now – in your room, on the bus.. (Hello, how are you? Yes, you.) This is the woof and weave. The words are like the shuttle thrown across space and time into world from garden shed.
I have no idea how the shuttle of my words interact with the loom of your existence… It jumps from the woof of my shed into the weft of your busride. But the act, the throw of the shuttle, the connection is – actually – the thing.
When I use a beautiful turn of phrase it is only a colourful spray of thread into your mind. And then you might repeat it or restitch it into something better or brighter and weave it elsewhere. And so my speaking up begins to mean something.
One of the regular hauntings of the internet, of blogs and Twitter feeds is the ghost of the bubble chamber. That no one but you hears your utterance. And maybe no one does – but if you believe that your words are exploring a knot in your mind, feeling out the contours and colours of a human emotion, or teasing the threads of a familiar ache or elation that will not be ignored then I increasingly feel, that there is some sort of duty to pick up the coconuts of words – even precious words like hibiscus – and throw them out towards the delicate apparatus of the listening World.
Someone might hear and wake up, get excited. And if no one is listening then there is the gallantry of making the effort. And overtime the gallantry effaces the fear of being silent…