Tag Archives: knowledge

The Tuition of Wisdom

True knowledge is free;
it grows like roadside flowers.
Who can afford it?
The trick is letting it go
so it can keep blossoming.

Paying tuition
at such a school is so hard:
you owe attention.
You can’t write a check for that;
your life is not accounting.

17 JUN 2024

Share This:

6. Use Little Tricks

Every mystery or philosophical tradition from the beginning of time has invented mechanisms to help adherents pay attention to the right things, or stop paying attention to the wrong things. I’ve always been fascinated by Zen koans, Sufi teaching stories, and parables of all kinds. After all, that everything that is communicated contains messages at more than one level, geared especially for those at each level who can grasp the meaning, has always been more appealing to me than the idea that there is hidden knowledge out there in the world that requires learning specific hand signals, and paying certain club dues, to learn. Of course, the big thing you learn after investing in any system of this kind is that NO KNOWLEDGE IS HIDDEN. If it’s actual and real knowledge, it’s as plain as the nose on your face and right there in constant view. Again, we return to perspective. You wanna know how small and unimportant you are, and how ultimately ineffective you are likely to be in this lifetime, go out every day to the beach, find and examine the same single grain of sand each day – if of course you can even find it. You can after all only be humble by practicing humility. For years, I’ve practiced imagining looking down at myself in space, starting from just a few feet away, and gradually pulling away, seeing my house, the neighborhood, our town, the state, the continent, the Earth, slowly becoming smaller and smaller and ultimately lost in the everything else that there is. Having a GPS system and playing with the zoom gives you a taste of that. I mean, where ARE you as far as the universe is concerned? And why even bother considering the universe? There are so many infinitely closer and more immediate things that are so much bigger, and grander than we are.

An interesting little trick that is worth trying is the Stoic imagining of the happy death – to imagine yourself on death’s doorstep, imminently departing this mortal coil. With what in your life are you satisfied? What mistakes would you rectify? Most importantly, what that you could have done have you left undone? Whether there is a judgmental overseer to be faced at the portal of the next Bardo is irrelevant. To appease an unfair or despotic deity is no great show of worthiness; likewise, to bully your way past an ineffective and less than omnipotent ruler with an excess of bravado or cash shows no surplus courage or chutzpah. So stripping it down to the bare bones, to the essence of the thing in itself, life, what use have you made of it? Montaigne suggested that a true Stoic approach would be to approach death believing that you either did everything you could, and lived that life to its fullest, wearing it out, in which case you have nothing to regret and can leave this world satisfied – or if you did not fully life, to realize that the opportunity was lost, and that the life was wasted on you in the first place. In either case, no cause for sorrow, no occasion for weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There are of course little tricks you can play every day. One I recently noted was that every night I go to bed hoping to be happy to be alive when I wake up in the morning. Sometimes that works; so I keep doing it. Of course, they are all games we play with ourselves – and often with those who live with us. You say, “good morning” even if you don’t believe in either goodness or the state of the current day. Just like so many “religious” people keep icons, guru pictures, shrines, and happy little “churchy” slogans or out of context Bible verses strewn profusely around their houses to “remind” them that they are “good” people and will act accordingly, the games we play with partners, lovers, children, parents, friends, co-workers, and incidental strangers on the street help us maintain a premise (usually only shared in part with others) not about how the world actually is, but how we believe it should be, or could be.

Share This:

I don’t believe that we have met

I don’t believe that we have met,
and yet, you know my name
and act as if you know me well,
at least enough to speak
informally, as if to say
what protocol exists
you can brush quickly to the side
without a second thought.

I don’t believe that we have met;
I surely would recall
the way in which you take control
and seem to think it right
that those around you should pretend
your mastery extends
to every subject known to man
(at least those worth the time).

I don’t believe that we have met,
and yet, it seems to me
that there is, just in your approach,
the taste and smell of death:
a shadow cast around yourself
inside which none dare go,
a graveyard for outside ideas
beyond your status quo.

I don’t believe that we have met,
for I don’t know your name;
although you act as thought I should
consider you a friend.
I wonder just how many souls
surrender to your charm;
and how we managed to survive
until you came along.

I don’t believe that we have met,
and yet, you seem to claim
some hold on me and on my thoughts.
You know my history,
but bluffed your way through study hall
and did not comprehend
that just because you think it,
does not really make it so.

17 APR 2013

Share This:

The Know of Unclouding: descort

What if I thought
for just a moment
of some mitigating circumstance
that might prove
beyond a shadow of doubt
the single
truth
behind all appearances,
and in that fleeting instant, found
instead of solid rock,
just cloud,
and what if
when I reached within that mass
of disappearing mist and air
I forgot just what
I was
thinking?

14 DEC 2012

Share This:

This is Bliss

I don’t know what you know,
I only know what I’ve been told;
I don’t know just when this thing started,
I only know it’s getting old.

I don’t know where we’re going
(barely remember where we’ve been),
but I can tell which way the wind is blowing.
Look to your valuables, my friend.

They say it’s just the times, but I don’t know;
just saying it don’t ever make it so.

I don’t know how you get through it –
probably much the same as me;
and I don’t know, sometimes I just say screw it.
Could be that’s how it ends, maybe.

I don’t know about your sense of humor,
but I know we’re in this together;
I don’t know sometimes to laugh or cry –
what can you do about the weather?

They say the world’s run out of gas;
just wishing it don’t make it come to pass.

I don’t know what you know;
or if I think it’s worth your thinking.
I don’t know if we can get along,
it all depends on what we’re drinking.

I don’t know where we’re headed;
could be salvation, or destruction.
In either case, we both may have to face
a whole new method of instruction.

They say the end is near, my brother;
not much you can do about it, one way or the other.

What is this? This is bliss:
letting go of letting go.
What is this? This is bliss:
both of us admitting we don’t know.

13 MAY 2011

Share This:

The Great Unknown

It’s not so much the great unknown
that gives me pause and food for thought.
The universe may hide itself
as it sees fit, and choose to show
what tiny bits my mind can grasp
according to some private plan.
No, what’s out there, the mystery,
is not what keeps me up at night.

What keeps me wondering, late at night,
is that part we regard as known:
the “noble” truths, the pieces, parts,
that over centuries have grown
like sand caught in an oyster’s shell
into some grand and lustrous pearl,
its surface easy on the eye,
its core an irritating grain.

How plainly wrought, self-evident,
appears the thousand year old pearl;
but knowledge doesn’t grow like that.
It starts with sand, that’s clear enough,
but different forces coat the wound;
and their own interests, or designs,
small nudges, bumps, missteps or lies,
change truth’s shape and blur its flaws.

There’s the rub: the hidden flaws.
If what we know, or think is known,
is based on endless, unseen lies
that piled together seem a whole
beyond reproach, what do we know?
How much, in our experience,
is quite that easy to achieve?
What ageless lies do I believe?

It hangs there, like a house of cards;
One dares not touch it, or to breathe.
A single whisper, just one word
could rock to rubble the whole world;
well, what we care to name the world:
the tiny, weak facade we make.
Perhaps that’s why they bind the hands,
and cut the tongue out, at the stake.

09 DEC 2010

Share This:

Out of Plumb: a caudate sonnet

When will these foolish notions dissipate
and take their place with dreams, safe in the grave?
How long must I be some grand idea’s slave,
locked in an endless struggle with my fate?
How much of life will pass me by, too late,
while I watch on the shore for bigger waves,
and in the name of revolution, save
myself for just the hope of something great?

How many think it better to abstain,
and by some grand denial, grasp the truth;
their conscience scrubbed so clean it glows,
a life spent in denial, lack and pain?
How much they waste of energy and youth;
and was it worth it? None will ever know.

Ideas come and go;
the truths that seem so evident right now,
next spring, too, will be turned beneath the plow.
Come back in from the bough;
the universe requires no martyrdom,
no sacrifice. It is not out of plumb.

04 DEC 2010

Share This: