February brings to the Sonoran desert days so beautiful that one feels guilty even sitting on the back porch, half-outside, taking it all in, eyes playing over the spring green, lungs deeply enfolding blossom-laden warmish breezes. One feels that one ought to be walking around in this earthly heaven. And this despite my having done just that early this morning. Vita brevis, and February too with its 28 days. The fugacity of February to break the heart whose day is at its center. It's all fleeting, one can't get enough of it. Joy wants eternity.
And now, I head back outside, away from this too-complicated machine, to read simply and slowly some more from Stages on Life's Way and to drink a cup of java to stave off the halcyon sleepiness wrought by lambent light and long vistas on this afternoon in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.
Dave Bagwill referred me to this entry from Zen Habits:
If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.
If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.
If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.
Breathe, and enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.
Much good comes from daily, mindful, deep breathing. It is essential as a preliminary to meditation, but is also valuable throughout the day. Just remember to do it. In these hyperkinetic times, it is important to have at the ready various techniques for slowing done. For more on this theme, see my category Slow Down!
One needn't subscribe to the metaphysics of Zen Buddhism to make good use of its techniques.
He who is ever on the make will never have it made. He will never be a 'made man.' There is a time to strive, and a time to be. Is the universe trying to get somewhere? It already is everywhere. Are you any less cosmic? If you think you have a Maker, is he not a 'made man'? And aren't you a chip off the old block?
At any given time I am reading about 20 books. Yesterday afternoon, while reducing the whole of an Arturo Fuente 'Curly Head' to smoke and ashes, I enjoyed Chapter Seven, "Beats, Nonconformists, Playboys, and Delinquents" of Tom Lutz's Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006). The chapter in question contains a penetrating discussion of Jack Kerouac's particular mode of slacking off. It is marred by only one inaccuracy: Lutz (p. 215) confuses Boston College with Boston University. Kerouac received a football scholarship to BC, not BU. (He chose Columbia, however, fatefully as it turned out: had he gone to BC there would have been no meeting of Ginsberg and Burroughs, and no Beat Generation).
My chance reading about Jack yesterday was most auspicious in that today, the 12th, is his birthday. Had his slackery not led him deep into the bottle, he might have been with us today. But he'd be an old coot. Today is the 90th anniversary of his birth.
Does it matter much whether one gets off the "slaving meat wheel" at 47 or at 90? "Safe in heaven dead" is the main thing.
I quoted Jim Morrison on the eve of the 40th anniversary of his death: "The future's uncertain, and the end is always near." This morning I discovered that Rob Grill, lead singer of The Grassroots, has passed on. Their first top ten hit, "Live forToday," made the charts in the fabulous and far-off Summer of Love (1967). The lyrics are laden with the '60s Zeitgeist and express something true and valuable that continues to resonate with many of us who were young in those days.
Here is a delightful clip in which none other than Jimmy Durante introduces the boys -- "They don't have a manager, they have a gardener" -- singing (or rather lip-syncing) their signature number.
Lanza del Vasto, Principles and Precepts of the Return to the Obvious (Schocken 1974, no translator listed), p. 93:
The Pursuit of the Useful raises an endless staircase in front of men. Whoever climbs it with all his strength and all his thought can but come out of it dead, without even having perceived that he has spent his life fleeing his life. The difficulty, the satisfactions and the regularity of the pursuit lead him to believe that it is fine, reasonable and good to put himself into it heart and soul.
The idolatry of the Useful is indicated by the fact that 'useless' universally carries a pejorative connotation when the truth is that the Useless Things are the Highest Things.
Successfully resisting the hyperkineticism of one's society, saying No to it by flânerie, studiousness, otium liberale, traipsing over mountain trails at sunrise and whatnot -- this too is a sort of accomplishment. You have to work at it a bit. Part of the work is divesting oneself of the expectations of others and resisting their and the larger society's suggestions. Eradicating one's suggestibility is actually a life-long task, and none too easy.
The world's a vast project of often useless neg-otiation. There is need of those who will 'otiate' it, enjoying "leisure with a good conscience" to cop a phrase from Nietzsche, that untimely saunterer. Slow down! You'll get to your grave soon enough. Why rush? Is the universe in a rush to get somewhere? Are you any less cosmic, you microcosm?
One of the pleasures of the bookish life is the 'find,' the occasion on which, whilst browsing through a well-stocked used book store, one lights upon a volume which one would never discover in a commercial emporium devoted to the purveyance of contemporary schlock. One day, after a leisurely lunch, I walked into a book store on Mesa, Arizona's Main Street and stumbled upon Holbrook Jackson, The Anatomy of Bibliomania, a 1978 Octagon Books reprint of the 1950 original. There is something of Jungian synchronicity in this, as I had recently made the acquaintance of Mr. Jackson at Michael Gilleland's erudite salon. The author describes his purpose thusly: