My First Knowing

Drenching rain this morning and too cold to sit on the porch. My practice, as originally conceived, has been derailed by a number of factors not all of them atmospheric. Let’s first review today’s submission from Emily.

#1218, c. 1878

Let my first Knowing be of thee
With morning’s warming Light —
And my first Fearing, lest Unknowns
Engulf thee in the night —

The daily fabric shifts when you expand your home (either literal or psychic) to include one more. So much that is new comes into the house with another person. Not only that simple fact of physical presence, but waves of change all through the rooms. It is as if the house itself and the apparently invisible air inside it were made of some warp and weft that has to open or move aside to make room for a new person. To shift from one woman (plus a brown dog) to one woman, a brown dog, and a man is like cracking open an egg. Something is lost, and something is gained. The two conditions cannot exist simultaneously, and the house breathes differently as a result.

It would be nice to keep the egg whole and perfect in its bottom-heavy wobble. The potential inside could remain there for good and maintain its integrity as potential. (I love that “potent” root of “potential”.) However perfect, the unbroken egg does not offer its nourishment. It doesn’t go anywhere or do anything. It does not explore the scope of its destiny and never fulfills its potential.

I suppose I could remain on my porch forever . . . or at least a long time. I could find those perfect boundaries of my constructed world. Then after I’d had enough, I could let it crack open and see what sort of potential flows out of that into realization. It’s messy, sure. Nothing more disturbing than another consciousness in space. Also nothing more stimulating. I allowed this shift. I invited the change. As I adapt to it and find my new posture in shared space, I can’t help but notice what was lost and what is gained.

In her poem, Emily looks at the arrival of consciousness. Once she allows another into hers, she loses that peace and purity of strict selfhood—the night empty of others. It’s inevitable. You never sleep entirely well again once you choose to love. You have been cracked open. You gave away your peace in exchange for the shock of knowing yourself in love. The gain? To be fed again and again, nourished body and soul.

No one lives without destroying something.

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Emily and Jeanne

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany and the 599th birthday of our patron Saint Jeanne d’Arc.  Epiphany babies often have an aura of destiny about them.  As a birth placement, this day can be almost literally brilliant.  According to the Christ myth, today the light of the world appears to those who have been seeking it.  Those who might believe in it.  I’m going to celebrate this evening with the Krewe de Jeanne d’Arc which will parade through the Vieux Carre and end at the golden statue of the Maid of Orleans near the Market.  I’ll give you a full report tomorrow.  Maybe.  If I’m not carried away by some errant tide of joy.  That could happen.  You never know.

In honor of her soul sister Jeanne, Emily sent this note from the dark.

#1323, ca. 1874

I never hear that one is dead
Without the chance of Life
Afresh annihilating me
That mightiest Belief,

Too mighty for the Daily mind
That tilling its abyss,
Had Madness, had it once or twice
The yawning Consciousness,

Beliefs are Bandaged, like the Tongue
When Terror were it told
In any Tone commensurate
Would strike us instant Dead

I do not know the man so bold
He dare in lonely Place
That awful stranger Consciousness
Deliberately face —

There is so much in this poem that I can’t hold it all at once. I’ll try to swim a straight line through it. My first response is to observe the similarities between Jeanne d’Arc and Emily Dickinson. They were both precocious, neurasthenic young girls with talents far exceeding their society’s ability to appreciate. Both were caught in a time that could not comprehend a woman of any age who possessed the power that each wielded in her own way.

Both, I’d argue here, were “afflicted” with consciousness. By that I mean that these two were both missing a layer or two of the usual protection (that “bandage”) that most of us carry around with us. The layers that shield us from a too intimate knowledge of ourselves or our consciousness. These two could not escape or ignore the experience of awareness. Most mortals can’t survive without ignoring their own consciousness. Em alludes to this protection in the line: “Too mighty for the Daily Mind”. A lesser sort born with Emily’s raw openness to the eternity within would fall into that “Madness.” No one sinks into the darkness behind her own eyes with any real willingness. It’s usually a forced step. Emily is the one with the curiosity and the courage to go there as a regular practice. And then write about it. Maybe that writing spared her from the madness. She was angling slant-wise toward this when she wrote “The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind —” The fact of conscious existence, our ability to be aware of our awareness, is too excruciating to dwell on in any direct or lengthy manner. For Emily, the most excruciating part, is her ability to hold awareness of life beyond death.

I’ll warrant that Jeanne wondered if she was going mad, as well. Both of these extraordinary girls were shocked, dazzled, and then finally drunk like madwomen on their own talent. Their power to “see”. Both had the sight or visions, which of course, according to the contractual terms of magical power, comes with a big responsibility. The difference between them is that Jeanne left the safe anonymity of her family and went out into the world to become a warrior of enormous political influence. While our little brown sparrow, Emily stayed home and drove herself deeper inward. Her vision bored infinitely into that mustard seed, her kingdom of Heaven.

Emily’s power exploded onto the page in private. “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —” She knew what she was sitting on—an atomic bomb of awareness, her own consciousness. Maybe it was out of compassion for her society that she withheld herself from public view. If she had unleashed her vision, she might have brought a nation to its knees (like Jeanne), and she might have been torn to pieces for her crime of greatness (like Jeanne). So a little of both. Pity for the ignorant society she was given at birth. And a healthy dose of self-preservation.

Who can say what was the better path?  Jeanne changed the tide of history and died in agony before her 20th birthday.  No one got to see Emily’s iconoclastic poems in her life time, but she was granted a long career, made good use of her time, and died as quietly as she lived.  I guess we need both of them.

The gift I receive from Emily is a trapdoor and an invitation. She lifts the cover from the opening and points into the darkness. Readers like me may descend, floating on a dark wave, comfortable, room temperature. There limits melt and open toward the infinite unfolding that lies just outside our peripheral vision. Emily shows us how to turn and see deeply behind our own eyes. That loss of solid space/time boundaries might scare us back toward front and center. But no. It’s okay to follow Emily’s directive. She’s gone there first. We don’t have to be afraid.


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Happy Birthday Emily

Today is Emily’s birthday. She is 180 years old, bless her sweet heart, and a Sagittarius, which is the ideal “partnership” placement for a Gemini like me. At least that’s what people say. I don’t listen to rumors.

I have not been writing about the Saints this fall because it has been such a weird season for our “Bless You Boys”. On the anniversary of her birth, Emily suggested the following:

#1541, c. 1882

No matter where the Saints abide,
They make their Circuit fair
Behold how great a Firmament
Accompanies a Star

So far, this season the only half-way intelligent noise raised by the talking heads in the NFL “commentators league” has been: Why the deafening silence about the defending World Champions? We’re all wondering that. The Saints are the reigning Superbowl Champions, and yet they are still being treated like some unlikely and ignorable upstart potential loser.  The answer may be that it’s been a really weird season.

You could chalk it up to the fact that they opened with Mercury retrograde. Even taking the sky into account, most would have to agree that—although a nine and three record is nothing to sneeze at—those early losses were embarrassing.  Hartley muffed the field goal that would have won the game against the Atlanta Falcons, an easy 29-yard field goal.  We’re still scratching our heads over that one because Hartley loves those 48-yard field goals. (??) Then the Boys lost to the Cleveland Browns, a team with a terrible record, a team that hasn’t been able to do much of anything this season except beat the defending World Champions.  I guess that’s why they call it a game, to paraphrase Zen Master Drew Brees.

The third loss was a legitimate hard-fought engagement with the Arizona Cardinals that we don’t need to discuss here.

Those other two losses, however, are what’s known as “embarrassments”.  The words we save for those are “silly” and “unnecessary”.  It was as if the Ghost of Saints Past had come back to haunt us for a couple of games.  A taste of the old days.  Just to keep us mindful of . . . what?  That it stinks to lose. And it really stinks to lose for embarrassing reasons.

If that’s not weird enough, the Saints’ winning games have also been embarrassing, like the Cinncinati Bengals last week.  (Geoff calls them the Bungles, which is cruel but accurate.)  Sure the Saints won but only just, and only after making a lot of bad mistakes.  Twelve men on the field?  C’mon!  That’s strictly amateur hour.  The Thanksgiving game against Dallas?  The Boys squeaked by in the end, but only after allowing a 17-point lead to evaporate into nothing.  This is weird.  Maybe they’re haunted.  Or maybe it’s just a touch of the Sophomore Slump.  Whatever it is, they better snap out of it because we don’t have time to waste.  Embarrassing losses are bad enough, but embarrassing wins are actually worse.  Those haunt your conscience and make celebration feel hollow.

It is hard to feel triumphant, when we know they won by accident or by means of the other team’s momentary incompetence.  For example, drawing the Bengals offsides in the final 30 seconds of the game for a 5-yard penalty and a first down.  Okay, Drew still had to throw that picture-book pass to Colston for the touchdown.  And no one handed that balletic perfection to them.  It was their own true beauty that we have come to expect from  the Brees-Colston mojo.  Still, what it took to get there was embarrassing in the haplessness of it all.  If the Bengals had just managed to just stay in control of themselves for a FEW SECONDS and NOT MOVE off the line, they would have won.  If the Saints have to depend on the other team’s ridiculous lack of discipline to win, then it’s a hollow victory.

A lot of fellas around here wake up Monday morning and say:  “I’ll take the win.”  After this season is over, no one will remember the embarrassments, only who won.  That phrase, “I’ll take the win” is a rueful acknowledgment that some wins are not a source of unalloyed joy.  Further that “win” focus works against Brees’ own Zen-like philosophical  emphasis on “process” over “outcome”.  The process matters . . . if it’s important to like yourself at the end.  Guru Drew has said in so many words:  It matters less that you get there than how you get there.

I have to agree with him, and Emily does too.  Process makes the difference between a Saint and an ordinary mortal.  Both die in the same way in the end.  Both are made of vulgar flesh that will rot and fall away.  The difference between a Saint and you or me is that the Saint’s progress through mortal life is illuminated by a quality of character and devotion that elevates the vulgar body above its mean concerns.

Process matters.  Don’t just take the win.  Don’t be satisfied with a hollow victory; it’s a lie.  I know why Guru Drew and Payton are not thrilled with their own progress this season and why no one is handing them any bouquets just yet.  They are not living up to their own name, and they know it.

There are a number of important games still  left in the season.  The Rams this weekend—I’ll be there!  Then the Ravens—nevermore!  Then after Christmas, the looming Falcons again.  Geoff and I are going to Atlanta for that one.  It’s official.  I’m in the club.

So we are entering a lovely season of miracles, which also progresses beneath yet another Mercury retrograde.  That means:  review, reconsider, re-wind, re-work, renew.  I wish all of us a careful and deliberate consideration of process.  Do you like yourself after your accomplishments? Not because of these accomplishments, but are you happy with how you got there?  Pause, examine, rinse, repeat.


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