Drunkenness: probably NOT a contradiction to despair

It’s quarter after 3 and there’s no one in the place
‘cept you and me
So set ’em Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know….. (Harold Arlen/Johney Mercer)

(Frank Sinatra,melancholy, on a bar stool -the apotheosis of melancholy, too romantic to be despair. Tears in my beers).

It was quarter to 4, when I woke up. It’s inching toward 5:15 dawn now. No big deal. A friend of mine hasn’t really slept for six months. I just logged 4 hours. She sometimes gets only 2, although there are signs she’s moving out of Winston Churchill territory. Five hours seems doable to her now.

What better time than the tail-end of the night to contemplate drunkenness.

For the past few days of global chaos, I have been reading Ken Bruen’s last two Jack Taylor crime novels, The Emerald Lie and The Ghosts of Galway. When I say ‘last’, I mean adieu Jacko, at least that’s what the author has implied in interviews. From the condition of the man, it’s no wonder. He has suffered so many vicious attacks as a Guard and a private eye that he is a physical wreck -lame, deaf, with mutilated fingers, and a heart full of grief. All of his friends and even his dogs meet dreadful ends because of him. Well, not even Bruen is heartless enough to eliminate every last one. Maybe there is a short story that will clear up the oversight. Jack drinks! He likes a Guinness and a Jameson chaser. He likes the Guinness built just right. In the right mood, he can lose months of his life to these libations and then months more to the aftermath.

He can’t go into a bar without someone, usually a woman, with a wad of cash, sidling up to him and saying, “You’re Jack Taylor.” It may be a simple job, like ‘find my lost brother’ -who is entirely fictional, but more often as time has gone on, it has been ‘Look what this bastard did to my girl. Get me some payback.” Payback gets gotten, although not always by Jack. Jack’s a hurley stick man, but others in his orbit use more lethal means.

Jack is a good man, his landlady says early on and his good friend, the outside nun, later on. He is a keen man for justice, humanized by reading and music and his love of dogs and swans. He has been hardened by his “walking bitch of a mother with her tame priest”, by the corruption of the church and  the government, by the miserable poverty attendant on the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and, perhaps most of all, by the water tax.

Suffice to say Bruen knows from PTSD.

The Irish have a reputation for enjoying a drop. I do not say drunkenness. Who am I to judge? I lived with Connor for many years. He gave up martinis every Lent. I lived in hell for 40 days each spring. I have a beloved relative, Colin, who is more sensible and less church-ridden. He says of his year-round habit, “Mostly ice,” as he pours his Bombay Gin. Vermouth doesn’t even get to breathe on the glass. Both get loquacious, even argumentative. I got many a cooking lesson in front of guests from Connor. Neither fall down or pass out or miss work.

I find it hard to read the Joe Nesbo books where Harry Hole descends into drunkenness and heroin. But then some experiences have to be first hand: sex is another one. And Harry is needed sober and strong back in Norway.

College binge drinking lost its glow for me before I got out of high school. Just that one, totally horrible, unable-to-feel-appendages experience put me right off. The stag and doe parties that I see depicted on Brit telly and which apparently happen here as well are not my cup of booze. I also had a terrible experience with a brownie on my niece’s 50th. That  limited my appreciation of getting high for good and all.

I know I drink too much wine for a person of my age and constitution. A 6-oz-glass puts me in legal jeopardy, although drinking in solves that problem. Drinking alone? Get real.

(A librarian once told my daughter never to eat while reading. My daughter was outraged, “You have to eat, you know.)

So the flaming world is falling apart. The leader of the free part is tailoring his actions to please 30% of his country. They don’t seem to be terribly well-informed about historical precedent. They don’t seem to know much geography and certainly even less economic theory than the rest of us. Which is saying something! They can’t tell a good guy (Canada) from a bad guy ( Russia). They claim to be helpless to prevent child massacres on their home soil. To them, children separated from parents and locked in what sure do look like kennels if not cages, brought that on themselves, and can damn well show up in court to coo or babble their own defense – in Spanish.

Who wouldn’t drink?

The most drunken person I ever met was my Aunt Mae. She was drunk on the love of Jesus, and joyfully swept all and sundry up in her ecstasy. Also she wouldn’t say no to a nip of brandy.

Jesus and I fell out one time.

Yet I know that what woke me up this night and what is keeping me awake is fear and self-restraint and that the answer is release.

Coleman Barks organizes some of Rumi’s poems into ‘Tavern Madness’ in Rumi: the Book of Love. The tavern is a place where passion breaks loose, an excited place where one is out of one’s mind, with others.There is the shared sense of the presence flowing through. We are connected. We are one, present and absent at the same time. I love the poem that says
I didn’t come here of my own accord
And I can’t leave that way
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.


It reminds me that something has charge over me. Whatever that is will see me safe home.When I read that, I remember I am not alone in passion or rage or goodness or hope or despair or terror. Whether what holds us together is DNA or Soul, it is universal and wise enough, drunken enough, to triumph.

In the meanwhile raise a glass – soda water with or without lemon will do. Drunkenness, O Necessarily Sober One, is fundamentally not about alcohol.

(Full disclosure: my biological grandfather, who hailed from the Emerald Isle, died syphilitic  in New Hampshire madhouse. But may have been teetotal.)

 

 

 

 

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Ecstasy: contradicting despair #2

Good sex and union with the divine are two reliable ways to achieve ecstasy. Or maybe just one, when you think about it.

Some people seem to be born ecstatics. They make good poets. I had a friend like that, but western pharmaceuticals were able to cure it.

(Sorry, I slipped momentarily into one of the other great contradictions of despair – bitter humor.)

I’m taking it for granted here that I don’t have to explain despair, why, for example, W.B. Yeats wrote, The world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Leave a comment below if you feel I am wrong in this assumption. I will be glad to explain  human suffering, personal and social. That will mean a personal sacrifice because I am writing about these contradictions in order to avoid doing that.

The Sufis whirl in prayerful adoration of God. The 13th century poet, Rumi, born in Afghanistan, was a Sufi. His poetry has become widely known lately through modern translations like those by Coleman Barks. When the Black Dog of depression is shaking me by the back of my neck, I prescribe myself the rereading of Rumi: The Book of Love, to be taken 3 nights in a row at bedtime. I say 3 because I find, if I follow my advice, I forget to be miserable by the 4th.

Come to the orchard in spring
There is light and wine and sweethearts
In the pomegranate flowers

If you do not come, these do not matter
If you do come, these do not matter. 

Who comes or does not come, I cannot say. And yet …

Some of the Romantic poets have moments of ecstasy – Coleridge’s drug induced, Wordsworth’s more daffodill-ian. – but their broken hearts peek through in spite of resolute cries of Joy at that dawn it was to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven.

Others are flat out euphoric.

John Donne greets his wife, “And so good morrow to our waking souls/ That greet not one another out of fear. William Blake says, I love to rise on a summer morn. Emily Dickensen, I started early -Took my dog/ And visited the sea –

Teresa of Avila, a mystic who was canonized after her death in 1582, described the Devotion on Ecstasy as being where consciousness of the body disappears.

Leonard Cohen got the picture:
And so my friends, be not afraid
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear.

Further contradictions to despair will follow.

 

 

Joy Says Good Morning

I have been reading and rereading all the poems in Rumi: the Book of Love, this week looking for this idea. For some reason, I read back to front. Still I didn’t find it. Last night I said to myself, “Well, it must be in Coleman Bark’s introduction to a section”, so I started rereading those, back to front. I found it in Section 14, entitled “Union”. The poems in this part talk about spiritual union, which we are all seeking, no matter how worldly and unspiritual we may seem.

Here Barks considers how potentially unbalancing this can be. When that happens we are liable think we are in deep trouble, but in actual fact, we are evolving. For the time being, we may need help and so we find another kind of union with our helpers.

“The heart cannot be talked about. We must experience its depths in that mysterious osmosis of presence with presence. Hazrat Inayat Khan says that our purpose here is to make God a reality, a daunting and potentially unbalancing task. One can get too full of the ecstatic state. Rumi warns the the roof is a dangerous place to drink wine. We can die trying to make God a reality. If we don’t fall from the roof, we wake with a hangover that weakens consciousness. Hangover remorse can be helpful then. The work of balancing love (enthusiasm) with discipline (practical helpfulness) is beautifully addressed in the first poem of this section, the drink of water that is ‘Sunrise Ruby’.”
p. 119 Barks. Rumi:the Book of Love

The Sunrise Ruby
In the early morning hour,
Just before dawn, lover and beloved wake
to take a drink of water.

She asks, “Do you love me or yourself more?
Really the absolute truth.”

He says, “There’s nothing left of me,
I’m like a ruby held up to the sunrise,
Is it still a stone, or a world
made of redness? It has no
resistance to sunlight.”

The ruby and the sunrise are one.
Be courageous and discipline yourself.

Completely become hearing and ear,
and wear this sun-ruby as an earring.

Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off work.
Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.

Rumi trans by Coleman Barks in Rumi: the Book of Love p. 120

rumi 1

The Septuagenarian Hobbit: honored guest

(Fifth in a series in which I explore reluctance to travel)

The 13th century poet Rumi said “You are the honored guest/ Don’t go begging for bits of bread. (Trans. Coleman Barks) I have been learning what he meant by that during this Christmas trip to Brussels.

In part I am honored here because my brother Rob introduces me everywhere as “ma soeur” with great affection and any sister of Rob is instantly honored by his vast number of friends. They are constantly in and out of his house here in Bois Fort. A remarkable number of them seem to have keys and the rest ring the bell at all hours.True two of them are his grown up daughters. Others have found refuge here until they could get on their feet. Still others drop by to see how his recovery from surgery is going or to borrow his sander or soy sauce, just to chat or on the off chance there is dinner.

Christmas Day, Rob interrupted my nap. He sat on the edge of the bed and presented the problem. He had invited 4 people for lunch, intending to serve Christmas Eve leftovers. (Christmas Eve is the main event here in Brussels.) One had cancelled. In his mind, lunch was cancelled. Now the other 3 had arrived.  No leftovers had been left. What to do? In 5 minutes, we devised a menu of smoked salmon, quiche from the freezer, Polish blueberry-stuffed pasta, his famous green salad and cheese. In half an hour it was on the table. Each guest specialized. One made a meal of salmon, another of cheese and salad, etc. Only the exotic pasta got short shrift. And of course there was wine. He had sent me down to the wine cellar, being hampered himself by his “changed knee”. Absent-minded he may be, but he honors guests.

In turn, these friends invite us for dinner. At home in the west end of Toronto, I lead a quiet life. The door bell never rings. Dinner out is, at most, a monthly event. Cozy it may be and introspective, but not dinner out every other night. And, to my embarrassment Christmas gifts for me. I protest to Rob that I have no gifts in return. “You are the gift,” he assures me. I contemplate tying a red ribbon around my neck. “You came so far,” he says. A lifetime of self- criticism stands in my way. How is it possible to feel worthy of this outpouring?

But that is the point Rumi was making. We don’t earn this honor. It is a given. We show up. We are the honored guest and the bounty of life is ours.

The Cure For Pain Is in the Pain

In one of  Rumi’s poems, “There’s Nothing Ahead” (Coleman Bark’s translation on p. 205 of The Essential Rumi), the 13th century Sufi poet tells us that “The cure for pain is in the pain”.

This is a very enigmatic poem that begins:
Lovers think they’re looking for each other,
but there’s only one search: wandering this world is wandering that, both inside one
transparent sky. In here
there is no dogma and no heresy.

This idea echoes another poem where he says
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere
They’re in each other all along. (Essential Rumi, p. 106)
By now we are beginning to get the idea that the ‘one search’ is not an outward one or a search for other.

After asserting that
The miracle of Jesus is himself, Rumi goes on to say that “if you can say, There’s nothing ahead, there will be nothing.” Then as though the reader is not confused enough, he adds
Stretch your arms and take hold of your clothes
with both hands. The cure for pain is in the pain.
Good and bad are mixed. If you don’t have both,
you don’t belong with us.

Faced with excruciating pain, I am more than glad to retreat to the coziness of a morphine drip, but it’s hard to come by. Lesser painkillers don’t impress me. Sure they can keep me quieter, but that’s about all. And over the counter pain remedies mess up my digestion and leave the pain the way they found it. So I am driven every so often to test this hypothesis.

I sat down earlier this week to get acquainted with the pain du jour. I made myself as comfortable as possible. No full lotus posture for me. If I’m going to look into the heart of darkness, I need pillows.

Whoa! It is bad. Really, really bad. Pull out of this dive. Just fear. Letting go never works for me. I have to own it. Hold it. Feel its center. Stay there. Stay there. Don’t fight it. This is not an alien force. This is me.

Forty minutes later, I seem to have sailed onto a clear sea.

The residual pain is bearable. I have no idea if that is what Rumi had in mind, but great poetry works that way. It is suggestive. What we make of it is up to us.

Rumi ends the poem:
When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.

Your Immense Heart – re-posted

This morning it seemed like a good idea to re-post this.

A jar floating in the river
Has river in it. The city lives in the room. Think of the world
as the jar and your immense
heart as the river.
Rumi – Coleman Bark’s translation in The Soul of Rumi p. 295

Apparently, Rumi is currently the best selling poet in America. He is the 13th century Sufi, born in Afghanistan, who fled Genghis Khan and went to live in Persia. Coleman Barks, his translator, has brought him to our attention. There are other translators certainly, but I am familiar with this one and came across the lines I have quoted high above the blue Pacific on my way to Maui. I kept running them through my mind so that, by the time, I saw the double rainbow over the ocean on the Hana road, I had committed them to memory. It seemed a wonderful thing that, instead of being carried along by the current of the world, my heart was the great river that bore the world along.

Well, easy enough to know the immensity of the heart when it is full of joy as it was then. Not so easy in times of fear and loathing. And disappointment and frustration, and loss and failure and recession and depression and so on until we end up with Grinch-sized hearts, hearts that need the jaws of life to pry them open. Little tiny hearts such as Connor  (“Why I Will Never Sleep Again”, posted May 30) must have had in the end.

Open-heartedness like a river accepts everything and sweeps it up in its embrace. It does not hold back to assess a situation, deciding perhaps that here, compassion is called for or there, that empathy is in order, that this is just and right and valuable whereas that is not. It doesn’t involve effort or reason. It isn’t deserved. It is more like grace.

Big-hearted people, the Falstaffs that we meet, give us a glimpse into open-heartedness although we may dismiss them as tiresome good-time fellows. But the open heart is not necessarily ‘Hail-fellow-well-met’.

The open heart sees things in a positive light. What seems negative is just misunderstood, for always life is carrying us on in the right direction, the direction our soul is seeking in spite of where we think we ought to be or go.

But how to come to such an inclusive, accepting, positive frame of mind can be a difficult question. We each have to find our own way. Someone might begin with gratitude. Someone might arrive by being in love. Some by family love. Some by love of a pet, some of nature. To be truly open-hearted will always mean expanding beyond those beginnings and, for example, including everyone in that beloved family, loving your mother-in-law as much as your cat, for example, your political opponent as much as your child.

It is not a way of being that comes naturally to us yet, but I believe that technology is coming to our assistance. The internet can serve as one immense heart as well as mind. We share our thoughts instantly and spontaneously now and we have the opportunity to be more empathetic.

In another poem, Rumi says we are cups floating in the ocean and we should strive to wet our lips.

The Fortunate Fall: a further exploration

Recently, I posted “The Fortunate Fall: change the future in a blink” and that led me to think about the fortunate fall in general.

“Felix culpa”is the Latin for “happy fault” or fortunate fall has its origin in Roman Catholic theology. The fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the garden of Eden was interpreted theologically as the source of original sin, but good came out of this loss of innocence. Without it, humanity would not have the hope of redemption. In particular, according to the church, we would not have the salvation of Jesus Christ.

In Paradise Lost, the 17th century poem by John Milton, explores this idea  beginning:

Of Mans First Disobedience and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe,
With Loss of Eden, til one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing heavenly Muse…

He and his Muse continue singing for 12 “books” and 200 pages in my barely worn, but 50 year-old, university text. First, of course, Satan has to revolt and refuse to submit to the will of God, falling with his host of rebel angels to land at last in the burning lake of hell. He consoles himself that
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
He gets his revenge by seducing Eve, convincing her to eat of the forbidden tree and she, of course, gives the apple to Adam.

In Book 12, Adam has a long conversation with the Archangel Michael before he is cast out to the east of Eden and learns more or less the whole history of humanity at least as the church sees it. Finally, Adam declares himself to be at peace, for something of great good will come out of his grievous error. He is about to be driven out of paradise by an angel bearing a flaming sword, but he seems quite convinced that, as Michael has told him, “thou shalt possess a Paradise within Thee, happier far”.

Juggling free will with the will of God proves to be an on-going theme in English literature. Theologians like St Augustine tell us that “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit evil to exist.”

That is one model for understanding the nature of life, but one which many of us may not find comes easily to us these days. Certainly, there is much evil in the world, much hardship and heartbreak. We struggle to come to terms with it. We cannot accept it as just random. We want to give our struggle with it meaning and significance.

Some of us conclude that we are paying karmic debt collected from deeds we have committed in this life or previous ones. This belief suggests that there is a natural law like gravity that makes it necessary to re-balance our moral selves by suffering what we have caused others to suffer, not as punishment, but as loving and necessary correction – a riff on the idea of “forgive them for they now not what they do”. Ah yes, now they do!

Another way to look at it is one that I prefer – at least at present. That is the idea that we are on a path of evolution here and what we are changing is our mind, our soul, our spirit. The hardship that we encounter is the instrument by which we progress. It is true that we can regress as well, but in general, our direction is a positive one. We are becoming more aware of oneness, for example, and connectedness. We are understanding that what we do as individuals affects others. We are becoming more empathetic. We are even beginning to see that God is not an autocratic, ancient of days who makes outrageous demands, but rather an indwelling loving essence. Which makes outrageous demands.

The poet Rumi uses the image of a tanner scouring the hide of an animal until it becomes a beautiful piece of leather to illustrate how the hardships of life render us more spiritual “Physically”, he says, “the world is grief, but within there are many kinds of laughing.”

“Your Immense Heart”

Quote

A jar floating in the river
Has river in it. The city lives in the room. Think of the world
as the jar and your immense
heart as the river.
Rumi – Coleman Bark’s translation in The Soul of Rumi p. 295

Apparently, Rumi is currently the best selling poet in America. He is the 13th century Sufi, born in Afghanistan, who fled Genghis Khan and went to live in Persia. Coleman Barks, his translator, has brought him to our attention. There are other translators certainly, but I am familiar with this one and came across the lines I have quoted high above the blue Pacific on my way to Maui. I kept running them through my mind so that, by the time, I saw the double rainbow over the ocean on the Hana road, I had committed them to memory. It seemed a wonderful thing that, instead of being carried along by the current of the world, my heart was the great river that bore the world along.

Well, easy enough to know the immensity of the heart when it is full of joy as it was then. Not so easy in times of fear and loathing. And disappointment and frustration, and loss and failure and recession and depression and so on until we end up with Grinch-sized hearts, hearts that need the jaws of life to pry them open. Little tiny hearts such as Connor  (“Why I Will Never Sleep Again”, posted May 30) must have had in the end.

Open-heartedness like a river accepts everything and sweeps it up in its embrace. It does not hold back to assess a situation, deciding perhaps that here, compassion is called for or there, that empathy is in order, that this is just and right and valuable whereas that is not. It doesn’t involve effort or reason. It isn’t deserved. It is more like grace.

Big-hearted people, the Falstaffs that we meet, give us a glimpse into open-heartedness although we may dismiss them as tiresome good-time fellows. But the open heart is not necessarily ‘Hail-fellow-well-met’.

The open heart sees things in a positive light. What seems negative is just misunderstood, for always life is carrying us on in the right direction, the direction our soul is seeking in spite of where we think we ought to be or go.

But how to come to such an inclusive, accepting, positive frame of mind can be a difficult question. We each have to find our own way. Someone might begin with gratitude. Someone might arrive by being in love. Some by family love. Some by love of a pet, some of nature. To be truly open-hearted will always mean expanding beyond those beginnings and, for example, including everyone in that beloved family, loving your mother-in-law as much as your cat, for example, your political opponent as much as your child.

It is not a way of being that comes naturally to us yet, but I believe that technology is coming to our assistance. The internet can serve as one immense heart as well as mind. We share our thoughts instantly and spontaneously now and we have the opportunity to be more empathetic.

In another poem, Rumi says we are cups floating in the ocean and we should strive to wet our lips.