Monthly Archives: February 2015

… other worlds … 

Writers that inspire and make me think are like a family of heart and mind. Luis Borges belongs. His imaginary worlds shine from beyond time and space, and delight with paradox.

‘The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of any indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between … The Library is a sphere whose exact centre is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible … For every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences … it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist …’   The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges

Between each breath, comma, pause, number, node, and each period, we string symbols towards stories. Some make sense to some, others make sense to none, and yet others inspire more stories. Ideas that resonate have an ongoing life, they tag on each other.

In his extensive readings, Borges must have come upon the ‘many worlds’ theme recorded in various cultures over the centuries, long before quantum physics was challenged to struggle with this probability.

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 - 1914

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914

Even as a child I experienced shifts in reality, vivid moments that expanded my imagination and have come to play a part in my novels. Since nothing about particle behaviour under observation is certain, everyone of us is abundantly free to speculate about memory, time, and parallel worlds. Though dreamlike, these other dimensions leave signs, like unseen winds show in swaying branches, jittering leaves, and rippling waters that gather momentum to become waves upon waves.

The general definition of wave is a disturbance travelling from one location to another through whatever medium or vacuum presents itself. Do bits of information travel with resonating particles? Is the medium itself the message transmitting pattern recognition? After all, even far galaxies mirror the branching of trees and leaves on earth, or, for that matter, the neuron system in our bodies. Everything scales up or down ad infinitum. Here’s how Jonathan Swift put it in 1773

The vermin only teaze and pinch                                                                                                                                               Their foes superior by an inch.                                                                                                                                                    So, naturalists observe, a flea                                                                                                                                                    Has smaller fleas that on him prey                                                                                                                                              And these have smaller still to bite ‘em,                                                                                                                                      And so proceed ad infinitum.

It seems incomprehensible that parallel worlds could exist and influence our reality and vice versa. How could there be many collective and personal histories? How could there be other versions of us and everything? How would it work?

Given the fickleness of our feelings and thoughts, strange dreams, synchronicities, and the constant dissolution of ordered energy fields, we are exposed to streams of oscillating and interrelating signals, unless we fine-tune through the white noise, or completely relax. Occasionally we have a sensation of order, like a blossom unfolding. All is right and beautiful – we don’t feel separate, but in symphony with all dimensions, here and now.

At other times, when under pressure, and crucified having to make a decision, we sample memories, search pasts, postulate futures, until we surrender to a compromise, or the universe decides for us, or  … a resonance occurs.

‘All time is contained in now.’ – Meister Eckhart

A sudden resonance, if deep, could explain many paranormal phenomena that vex and hex people, especially scientists. Mystics are fond of saying the ‘self’ is an illusion, trapped in the body, though which self is a matter of perspective.  Since quantum physics, particles stopped being things in themselves, but function as waves also.  This is where it gets slippery, because no explanation has come forward for the wave-function- collapse when the measuring of the particle is attempted.

Time is nature’s way of stopping everything from happening at once.’

Graffiti in a Texas Washroom

The ‘many worlds’ concept gets round this problem by suggesting myriad of copies of our reality, where everything conceivable can happen. As a writer, this is my license to create. The invented characters in my novels happen to me. They are tangible, psychologically coherent, yet also suspended between worlds, like, I think, we all are.

‘… the library is infinite and cyclical … If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, such repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by the elegant hope.’ Jorge Luis Borges

Here the Wikipedia entry on The Library of Babel.

The image is by Theodor Kittelsen, master of vision, trolls and wit.

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… the ones who walk away …

Ursula Le Guin’s short metafiction, ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ first published in 1973, had its 40th anniversary last year. My first reading, when Google and book review sites were non-existent, left a deep impression. This week’s re-reading, once, twice, three times – the story deserves it – made me curious as to what other readers might have made of it. Obsessing in a web-crawl I came upon predominantly moral interpretations, which I distinctly remember resisting, though these associations are understandable. The way our systems deal with the unadjusted tends to appease the troubled conscience for the rest of us normal citizens.

For me, there were deeper complexities in this brilliant piece of writing. I decided to share my thoughts and tempt those of you who don’t know the story to read it and derive their own insights. I’ll use spoilers, so if you want to read the story first, here is a link: http://genius.com/Ursula-k-le-guin-the-ones-who-walk-away-from-omelas-annotated

… With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright-towered by the sea …  

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

We are shown a charming city where order and harmony reign, a city well-protected in a bay, resembling a womb. Reality is suspended. There’s a sense of timelessness. It is a civilised place, decorous, joyful, without hierarchy. No king, no swords, no slaves … no power games. Utopia comes to mind, the idea of eternal life – the eternal innocent child.

No science has yet dispelled the vision of a haven without strive, where everyone is happy. In the wake of traumatising wars and unspeakable atrocities, there are always attempt to re-create places like Omelas, attempts to soften the reality of birth and death, the extremes of joy and pain, nature, the cosmos our life depends on and which we try to fathom. But since our spiritual lore cautions that life is an illusion – an ornament that covers ultimate truth we can’t perceive with our senses, we get anxious when life becomes too comfortable.

The narrating voice, anticipating our scepticism, invites us to fill in the sketches of this perfect democracy. We are told, ‘They were not simple folks, you see, though they were happy.’ After all, Omelas may strike some as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. ‘If so please add an orgy.’ More delightful pleasures are suggested – celebrating life, with one significant addition, ‘One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.’

In contrast, the voice notes the bad habit of a different place, where pedants and sophisticates consider happiness as something rather stupid. ‘Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting … the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.’ The voice insists that the citizens of Omelas were mature, intelligent, passionate people whose lives were not wretched.

The Festival of Summer has begun. ‘Do you believe?’ the narrator asks. ‘Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? NO? Then let me describe one more thing.’

And there it is, the secret lurking out of sight, a child, kept in the darkness of a tiny cellar room, with only a faint ray of hope based on a dull memory. The child is not driven out of the city, like the traditional scapegoat, but contained below ground; there to absorb everyone’s fear of reality and its cruel justice, embodying, maybe, submerged histories, rather like the depths of the iceberg below water keeps its peak afloat in the light.

… They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery …

Terms are clear, should this child be freed, the beauty would wither and be destroyed. The pragmatic solution seems such: One punished and suffering child is meant to redeem the rest from coming to terms with their inherited sins and traumas.

To leave this comfortable enclave of Omelas means leaving security and loved ones behind. It requires crossing mountains, stepping into the unknown, with no charm against collective guilt.

Omelas’ citizens are free to look at the unacceptable child. While reactions, those of young ones mainly, vary from disgust to outrage, most accept the necessity of this child’s sacrifice, though some fall quiet and leave Omelas in the middle of night, alone.

For me the child is there to serve cohesion, symbolizing a lid on the unconscious, primitive, wild aspects of the psyche. Isn’t dis-ease a loss of order and rhythm? If you judge this pragmatism harshly, consider the purpose of trip-switches in an electricity-wired house. Or, consider how people under social or dictatorial pressure may choose to safeguard the lives of their loved ones at the cost of betraying their knowing heart.

Le Guin does not condone staying or leaving Omelas, she provides no answers. I am one of those who walked away, many times, always at a cost, because I preferred guilt to shame. C G Jung developed the concept of individuation, hoping for it to expand collective consciousness from the inside out, through the individual, sometimes involving a precarious personal journey, going through a process of separating psychologically from parents, state, authority, to become whole. Like in the Zen story where the seeker eventually returns, better able to serve the community. While a single brain does not survive its limited life-span, the collective memory of matter, and each human experience lives on and is transmitted to every new-born life.

Each one of us carries the traumas of our histories, though not everyone has the opportunity to redeem such wounds, contribute new ideas, or explore different states of being. What drives one to walk away from the familiar – is it inner conflict, allegiance to one’s heart, fear to upset the order, the need for a wider perspective, or simply a calling? We bond to the systems we grow up in, in cases we adjust our behaviour in order to emotionally survive, along with the implicit bargain to keep quiet about the shit, our shit, others’ shit, and how we deal with all the shit.

There are those who leave a comfortable place and those who stay. Maybe a balance between conservative forces that protect structures and revolutionary forces that seek change is necessary. Not everyone, for example, can face existential pain and futility without succumbing to psychosis. There is a case for Festivals of Summer, sport, drugs, ecstasy, trance …

Was the power of the imagination born from fear of mortality? Is this why we envisage dystopias or utopias, and, ultimately, scenarios that make us feel in control of our destiny?

What we hide from ourselves and from each other often relates to our most prominent outcast, the neglected inner child, so embarrassing to the adult world. This child in Omelas seems to embody the ongoing ritual of shame for walking from Eden into the dawn of creation, a reality burdened with consciousness, and free will that frequently misses the mark, but, heck, is the very process of becoming human.

My naïve hope is that we can learn to embrace our all too human failures, show patience with our children, stop seeking blame and end scapegoating, yet also acknowledge our individual and collective need for comfortable realities … protecting us … from what?

Here a quote from a former friend and teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan … taken from a lecture on Reality:

‘For the whole collective of the human mind – outside that self-created reality there is a storm. That storm – that wind – that pressure – that influence and space is for our existence and permanency completely annihilating and destructive … our assignment outward is because of a deep decay … Reality is a veil that is spun with the finest and thinnest and strongest silk. It weighs nothing – it covers a little darker area behind – and yet the moment when you reach out with your hand to draw the veil away it will skin your hand till blood is drawn.’ 

To fill this emptiness we assign our meaning outward. Call it the human project. Sorry to trouble you, my friends, but the function of reality is worth contemplating, and, in my view, Ursula Le Guin’s story does just that.

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… beautifully lost – revision of a poem …

Many of my poems linger in files, unfinished. I’m never sure of anything for long. Quite often the poet and the philosopher existing in my solitude are at odds with each other, or the pair gangs up against the certainty of experts our western culture values. I favour dynamic approaches to life, where faith and doubt are equally valued in the process of becoming human. The words of Hazrat Inayat Khan would apply:

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’

When making something audible and visible from the inside out, a topic I touched upon in my last post, only time may tell its worth. Once we shared our art, there is the waiting … the vulnerable span after exposure. Does our wave of inspiration chime in other minds, offer fresh perspectives,  frustrate with surprise?

I hope you, my readers, can offer a reflection on the little poem I obsessed with revising over the last week, and maybe even share thoughts on your own revisions.

Sunflower 6I first wrote ‘beautifully lost’ in 2005 and put it to sleep. Other versions exist. The latest attempt turned into a Haiku sequence. I’m not at all sure it’s an improvement compared to my first attempt.

The theme is cycles of experience, when after a period of loss and unknowing; a renewal of meaning happens that keeps me young at heart, connecting me back to the middle of each moment.

 

Beautifully Lost – 2005 version

At times no deed rhymes,

nothing I say is heard,

each word drops to silence,

and my best yarns slip

from the loom, waltzing

in endless loops,

suspended.

On solid earth swords cut,

and chalices swallow us,

but once every full moon

King and Queen align their myths,

And I– beautifully lost –

dreams undone – whirl

at the gateway to an inner sun.

 –  Ashen, 9th Nov 2005

 

beautifully lost –  2015 version

when deeds miss their rhyme

and words fall flat on their face

I chase your fragments

in the wayward yarns

that fall off the loom and loop

on my breath – dazed

drifting without aim

they will chance the blade that cuts

or a gulping maw

until a full moon

weds the light of King and Queen

and my best yarns yearn

beautifully lost

heart-whirling at the gateway

to an inner sun

  Ashen, Jan 2015

 

And here a song …

http://www.eyeneer.com/video/countryfolk/pete-seeger-judy-collins/turn-turn-turn

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