Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dreaming of the Moon, A Saturday Sermon

It is 50 years ago today that Neil Armstrong took that one small step. Where are we America? Where are you?

We rage inside for the outrage that surrounds us, how can we feel otherwise? An imperative of character has been summoned in an age in which darkness has found its true champion. Once noble ideals are not less noble but for those whose abuse and misuse occlude the light. It's important to recognize evil when we see it. It's important too to have a reply, an intention, and something to _do_. 

We are still called to do "the work." By that I mean to continue to learn how to be more human, how to make every breath another chance to uncover who we are, who we want to be. For each of us that means our own task, our own circumstance and opportunity. It means making the most of what we have before us.

Sure that's all more than a bit soporific, I admit. But it's 50 years ago today that human beings touched the moon. That took some dreaming, hard work, imagination. It took the resources of a nation's worth of people who were struggling at the very same time with their ideals of justice and decency and human rights. Are we still dreaming of becoming something better? Let's think for a minute of all the things it took to accomplish such a human adventure. 

Now, what will it take to push through the anger and fear that might consume us before we reach the place where there is yet more light? The light we seek is a present, it's available and real, it's inside us. The truest light casts the deeper and longer shadow because it reveals what is yet to be accomplished.

We never find more light without going through those shadows. When we face shadows will find more determination and courage because we're closer to the heart, to the core. In light and dark is theeffort that reveals our humanity. Our anger will not magically disappear but fear will no longer cripple us. Instead, we'll find more to imagine, more to dream, and we'll insist on decency, integrity, and compassion. 

We will do the work, not just keep busy. Whatever it is that you love that lifts your heart and at once causes you to wonder, to doubt, to be challenged so that you come to unknowing, go there. Don't wait. Do it everyday. Make the time. And then make yourself a gift to others. 

I'll let young Seneca finish this maudlin sermon. But maybe, in the moon light tonight, you'll remember something of what he says about a life well-lived. And we'll think about something good we can do that reminds us that being human is enough good. Choose your path and do that. "Finally, everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a person busied with many things—eloquence cannot, nor the liberal studies—since the mind, when its interests are divided, takes in nothing very deeply, but rejects everything that is, as it were, crammed into it. There is nothing a busy person is less busied with than living: there is nothing that is harder to learn. Of the other arts there are many teachers everywhere; some of them we have seen that mere boys have mastered so thoroughly that they could even play the master. It takes the whole of life to learn how to live, and—what will perhaps make you wonder more—it takes the whole of life to learn how to die." (from Chapter 7, De Brevitate Vitae)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Affirmation Begins the Alchemy to Betterment Be Present, Look Forward, Don't Relent

It is the summer of our discontent. Let's be honest. There is more to come.  The picture you see here is a summer sunrise in North Carolina.  Let's not forget the beauty in the midst of all this ugliness.

Words matter. Intentions reveal themselves in actions. And we must neither relent in our criticism nor allow ourselves to be dispirited or overwhelmed. There is real toxicity in our world. America is truly at a turning point and we must engage. Yoga is the word we use for the deep engagement that invites us to alchemize that toxicity into something far better, more empowering and inclusive.

We who are not that crowd are not only outraged but rightly frightened, disgusted, and afraid that this is a growing pathology, that we are not going to defeat it, that the world is burning in every way. We must not tire in trying to articulate our aspirations and ideals along with our genuine fears and trepidations.

That is the war I want to fight. That is the demon we must defeat. It will not die. It will rise again. But we will be there each and every time it appears and become that Kali Durga who knows what must be done. She knows too that Her own vulnerability is at the core of Her self-recognition, that even She, the great Goddess contends with every possibility. This makes Her not those demons.

We too need light and an awareness of human shadow, including our own. This is never once and for all. It is a process that demands vigilance, persistence, and humility. We don't want to be that horror and ugliness but anyone _could_ be that. Courage alone will not protect us. Courage is what we will need to create decency, honesty, and the virtue that can protect everyone.

It's frightening when you realize that many of these people in the Trump mob don't believe their intentions, feelings, understandings, and behaviors are sick and sickening. They don't even know that they don't know what is stirring inside them. Toxicity has no limits and those without meaningful boundaries will only create more.

If we can hold fast to the idea that there is a lot inside that we _don't_ know and that we must be vigilant to our emotional intelligence to stand a chance to survive and respond appropriately. We must resist from a position of humility _and_ strength of character, not too confident but not the least bit timid.

The fear, anger, and, yes, the hatred we feel is real, it's honest because we _feel_ it in our bodies and minds and hearts. But when we accept and look to affirm the reality of these feelings then we can alchemize them with courage, compassion, and decency.  Don't dismiss or by pass these negativities.  We will not transcend them.  We not be forgiven them.  We must learn instead what we can and must do about them.  We also have the goodness and the good company we need to grow and evolve.

It's only when we deny the negativities that they can grow. The light does not dispel the darkness but reveals the shadow. And when we see both light and shadow then we can evolve and become who we want to be. When we insist that the shadow and the darkness keep the company of goodness, we can look more deeply into the soul, we can become our better angels. This is no easy task. We can learn together because that is how we will learn. With each other.

We must stand for goodness and know when to dodge fire. It's a dance to try to be good and do good but it _can be done_. That is what we learn from Mandela, from Dr. King, and others, all of whom were deeply flawed persons but who held up the possibilities of human decency.

When Appa invited me to live in his home and be a part of his family, he wasn't trying to show me perfection or represent some fantastical spiritual claim, like guru or siddha or sage. He was inviting me to take up the difficult tasks that urge us to love, to be good, to tolerate and understand that everyone has gifts and that the best among us will fail even when we try not to. We've all known such persons who call us to our better angels. But truth to tell, that is what we are all being called to be right now.

These are troubled times and the world needs _you_ to be that goodness you are. I feel confident you will try, that you will be better than all of the fear and hate and anger. And that's what keeps me going.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

"But who are the gods?", The Company You Long to Keep

I've been paging through notebooks today, remembering conversations with Appa. It's one of those days in the year where I like to remember the sound of his voice. Of course, that'd be everyday but today's a little different. I made a point of trying not to miss the Gurupurnima. I would drop everything to go to India for this day. I read from this diary once at summer camp when my old friend Primo asked to come into my office at home and have a look. This is some of that.

Appa would talk about the conversations he had that made him think and feel and reflect again. He never tired to telling me how life is fragile but that our soul is not. Our soul is made of courage, which is itself no virtue but a gift of life to life. How is that? Because our soul emerges from the deepest desire _to live_, to carry forward, to dream, to gather something of value from the gift of embodiment.

I have very few recordings of him because he preferred that I take notes. But I have dozens of notebooks. You had to coax him sometimes to explain a bit more---he was keen on you figuring it out yourself. But sometimes sutras would open up into ideas that could just change everything. These comments come from a long conversation about steadiness, uncertainty, fear, and how we know when we have met the gods.

"It is not what I say that will have its effect on you. It is what you have heard. You may write some of my words but it will be in your memories, and that will go far more deeply. You should take notes but not because you need to be afraid that you will forget. What is true will reach more deeply than all of our abilities to remember in words, no matter how we record them. What matters most goes inside and that is where the next conversation happens, the one you will need to have with yourself. So, try to remember that when you take notes or when you return to your notes later."

"How do we hold steady in the presence of uncertainty? Doesn't uncertainty undermine our steadiness?"

"Uncertainty is no adversary but it has some dangerous companions. When uncertainty makes fear a partner then the two of them can't be seen as two. Their oneness will cause them to haunt the soul rather than enter into the conversation. Fear's dominance leaves us feeling alone because it is fear's job, it's purpose is to enter into these conversations. But then we allow the heart to hide behind these important human experiences, like uncertainty. Uncertainty that acknowledges fear's presence means that fear can no longer hide, that it can no longer act like some monster coming from out of the dark. But you have to call upon your friend uncertainty to invite fear into the room, into the light of awareness. Fear prefers the shadows where it can stalk you. But fear is not the enemy. Fear becomes the enemy when we refuse it, when we fail to admit that it is part of these other experiences too. Fear will try to contend for being first with you, it will come out from those hidden places because you did not consider it a guest. The soul is the sovereign who must invite fear to be a guest at the table, not its lord. It's rather easy to treat fear as an adversary. That is because you gave it no seat at the table for the greater conversation. You don't believe it belongs there. But uncertainty knows better when it is in the company of the soul, in the presence of the gods."

"Fear tells you to fear who you are. It tells you to distrust your soul. But the soul knows fear because when courage is present then fear will not be left alone to do its mischief. When fear is alone we will become fear. But when the soul speaks out, and invites all of its guests, there is no such aloneness, isolation cannot take hold, there is instead a larger conversation with all of the aspects of the self. That is what soul is, it is that conversation you have inside with the gods..."

But who are the gods?

"The gods are who you are, who you want to be, what you can be, what you could be. They reside in the questions you want to ask even though you might be too afraid to ask the most helpful questions or don't know those questions. So the gods appear as courage, as the heart's true questions. Fear will create a false boundary while the gods provide a true support, the steadiness you need to stand in uncertainty. When you can stand there, then you can take the next step and the next---from that place where you hold steady in the presence of uncertainty. This is how you get to soul questions."

"Fear loves uncertainty because that is how fear becomes certainty. But the soul reaches out to you when you step towards those voices inside, where the gods are. Those are your voices, and they aren't what I want you to be or your parents or what society says you should be. Those are the gods' voices that not more or less than you asking for more from a world that promises little but may give you the chance to ask for what you want from life."

The Guru is Not the Answer A Note on Gurupurnima, Celebrating the Fullness of the Teacher

I had known Appa quite some time when we came upon our first Gurupurnima, the full moon day of the Sanskrit lunar month of Ashada, usually July. We had met about half a year before this first occasion for celebration of the Guru's moon, the full moon, the symbol of fullness itself.

What could that possibly mean when there is always more? There's no doubt that I went to India looking for something better. Different ways to think about life and more examples of how people have lived, loved, lost, and found their greatness. I wanted answers.

I was, of course, looking for a guru, not only someone who could teach me the material---the languages, the content, the subjects---but someone who could give me those answers. I had only the vaguest notion that the guru stood for greatness. But what is that?

By the time of our first celebration of the teacher's fullness (literally, purnima in Sanskrit), I had been turned inside out.  I had come to see "fullness" not as perfection or finality but as a willingness to test, to experiment, and to learn by spreading out in all directions, with every difficult question.

I had been shown in the humility and decency and seriousness of my teacher that there is such a thing as truth, good character, integrity and gravity. Gravity is another cognate word to guru. The guru is the heavy in the room. And of these things I never needed persuasion or dissuasion---because he _tried_ to live this way all the time. That means, as far as he could. Humanity is no impediment when admitting success is admitting limitations. It wasn't perfection. It wasn't success in every instance. It was character building an edifice with provenance and progress as its guide posts.

Appa taught me from our very first days together that the best among us will insist on admitting their moral failures and ask how they can learn from them. That we are never, ever finished learning and that learning to learn is among the most difficult things to learn in life. Other matters come naturally, like love. But those too will invite the companions of learning. We don't learn to love or grieve because we will. Both will come. We learn that to love is to grieve and that when we learn to grieve we can learn how to love more deeply.

The test of truth is always a test of character. Words matter. Intentions matter. Actions matter. How do we decide what matters? How do we trust? When should we? The guru is not the answer. The guru resides in the questions, the best kinds of questions we ask. And those questions lead us to still better questions. That is the guru, Appa said, who "fills" (purnima) life by inviting us to mean what we feel in our hearts to be true. That is no small task, it is not only instinctive.

It means teaching us how to take the questions that live inside us as human beings all the way to heart, how to bring them with us as we journey home to the depths of soul---Who are we? How are we made? Who do we want to be? How can we make ourselves? Who can we be? What could we be? The guru is the word we use to tell us that this is a serious and daunting task, bringing these life questions into every breath, every instance of life. That's why the word meaning "weighty." We're going to need stories, myths, rituals, celebrations, trials, experiments that succeed and fail, conversations and arguments, and it's all going to take time.

We will surely grieve our failures and losses but will we learn to love more deeply for it all? We will accept too that life tests our character, invites us to questions that invite us to celebrate such a fullness? A fullness that is never finished? Such fullness is made of light and shadow, of success and failure, and of the values that insist we create value for more than selfish interests. Today we celebrate those efforts, rededicate to those inquiries, make the experiment to love a standard of goodness. That is why we celebrate this weighty task, this fullness of heart that we never stop seeking.

By that time of our first Gurupurnima Appa had made it clear the heart of his teaching about teachers. We need to learn when it is wise to defer to a teacher but only when that teacher insists we refuse submission. We are not sheep, the guru is no shepherd. Defer but never submit. Never abdicate your own responsibilities to question, to doubt, and to hold to all to fair and honest accounts. Learning how to learn is the principle task of the teacher. Ask every question, not just ones that are "acceptable". Follow the evidence wherever it takes you, even if that upsets your every "truth." The guru is not the answer. It is in the nobility of the honest question and the gifts we must accept to learn.

Remember always, he would say, that truth is unfinished, provisional, incomplete but that it is no less worthy of our deference when it serves to explain natural efficacies and leads us to greater social justice. Be keen to look for the seam, evolve the serpent's vision (sarpadrsti) he called it, because that is the opening, the sliver of in-between, the fullness of possibilities, the moonlight of awareness peering into value, it looks for the exception, admits the possibility of movement, change, and growth. We'll need some luck. We'll need more courage and persistence that we have yet imagined. We'll need our wits, our imagination, and our heart creating more, together.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Some Hard Truths About "Hope" Or Why Demons are Demons

Some Hard Truths About "Hope", Or Why Demons are Demons


I went to school with journalist Chris Hedges. He was principled, serious, dedicated, and ambitious. I was plowed into three Sanskrit, Tibetan, and linguistics classes a semester and leaving for India every five minutes, he was being an activist. We were schooled in different worlds. Here is what Chris writes, "Hope posits that people are drawn to the good by the good. This is the secret of hope's power. Hope demands for others what we demand for ourselves. Hope does not separate us from them. Hope sees in our enemy our own face." So, obviously I disagree. Here's why.

I have long admired Hedges' commitments and largely agreed with his politics, though I would consider myself more likely to compromise with the bad guys because that's what we learn in Hindu mythologies. The likelihood of defeating the demons depends on one's understanding that you cannot count on them, that they will cut a deal and betray you, that they are unreliable partners. You can't get rid of them. You can't really defeat them. They are part of the story of reality. Some people just want to see the world burn. Nihilism and narcissism are pathologies as real as any goodness.

The gods, like the demons, are vulnerable to pathologies and the unfed shadows that haunt our inner houses. No one is invulnerable or immune. Anyone can fall. It takes determination, character, seriousness, and real desire to do the work just to stay the course of goodness. Complacencies will destroy you. It's a long path home and getting there is going to take far more than hope and a lot less wishful thinking. It's gonna be hard and it's never going to stop.

You _have_ to cut a deal with the demons so that you can marginalize their power, hang them out to dry as far as possible. Put them on the margins, take away their power, treat them better than they would ever treat you, but know that they are incorrigible. They are an illness that cannot be cured; they are pathological. I hope that Trump has at last made this case plainly enough: there is no hope for this kind of evil.  As Trump himself has said of his supporters, "“Nobody gave them hope. I gave them hope.” Yup. This is precisely the problem.  Hope is as much an instrument of deception, manipulation, and mendacity as it is anything else.  None of us hopes for this or wishes it were true, unless of course you are a demon bent upon your own narcissist pathology.  Some people will do anything for power, even work for Trump.

The outcome is that it's folly to hope they will take your offers, trust them, or believe that you really have them convinced. You want to believe that you have them by the shorts but they always (always) come back. The illness not only cuts deeply, it is part of nature itself. Some things are inimical. Sickness is as real as health. Hope is a kind of self-satisfying story, a delusion that we sometimes claim to survive the horror. We _like_ hope and it can work to inspire us and keep us together---but it is a maya, a kind of useful fiction when it comes to demons. The horror is real and it doesn't always win but hope for demons is, well, a mistake. So that's the thesis, you are not obliged (ever) to agree.

Now back to Hedges. And here's the line by line in reply to the quotation. Sorry, truth hurts like love: it comes with grief as its companion.

Hope has no secret power that changes the demons and good does not draw others to good if they are pathologically evil. Hope's secret power is not to draw beings to goodness. Some will not accept the offer because they cannot accept being accepted. Hope's secret power is that it is a tool of survival to make us feel better about the pathologies that we cannot change though we would hope to change. Hope has no principled effect on the demons because it is but another consolation, albeit sometimes a useful one. Hope's demands are not met when the demons are demons because they cannot hear nor care to hear its "demands." We may need this maya for our purposes but its got little impact on the demon because the demon _likes_ its pathology. The demon _is_ that pathology and embodiment is part of the factual world. Evil is sickness, sickness is yet another fact we must endure and understand and deal with. The difference between the gods and demons is real and hope closes no gap. Rather it allows us to live with the difference so that we know what to do: give ourselves some sense of the positive and make sure we don't attribute it to the pathological.

When hope sees in our enemy our own face we step over that threshold from hope to self-delusion because we are seeing what we want rather than what is. The threshold of difference between the way the world is and how we wish it were is not filled with magical hope: it is filled with a more honest interpretation of human beings. Who we are, who we can be, and what we could be: a dose of hope to keep us sane but a clear stance in the world in which the gods and the demons stake out their contrary interests.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Archiving Obsessions

One of the strange confluences of "yoga culture" and our American religious past is the predilection for austerity, self-inflicted torture, and the disapprobation for things of the material world. Weber argued in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that even though it is impossible to know if you are saved by works in world, the northern bourgeois capitalism that brought prosperity to, say, the Dutch was the result of their obsession with trying to know if they were saved by hard work and their self-abnegating ethos of non-consumerism and no ostentation. Thus, they acquired wealth (to suggest that God will save them at death) and they didn't spend it.

This Protestant ethic provides the origins of the vulgar prosperity gospel that nowadays measures human worth by material success and also encourages the most vulgar expenditure. Think Osteen and the rest here. So the Protestants clearly lost the plot. But what they never understood is that being material beings in a material world is not not spiritual. (Homage usage of the double-negatives to commemorate Robert Mueller Week, "'If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.")

Enter "yoga culture." Almost all yoga ever learned in the West originates in nivrtti or "turning away" ideologies. This would include classical yoga, Advaita, pretty much all Buddhisms, most everything. Kashmir Shaivisms, especially of the neo-varieties, have a you can have your cake and not be poorly affected by it too view which is little more than another way to rationalize _being_ in the material world but wanting to be oh so spiritual with all of your unconditional consciousness. Such bullshit.

But yogis, whether they know it or deny it, are steeped in that Protestant ethos and what they know of yoga traditions either is honest nirvrtti or souped up bypass via Kashmir Shaivism or some such thing. By "honest" nirvrtti I mean there are those who don't just say less-is-more, they say things are in the way of being a better human. By "bypass" in this case I mean that certain modern views of KS and Tantra teach that you can have a "non-attached" and "spiritual" life rooted in some purported unconditional non-material reality AND live in the material world, no problem That can be further explained and I will bother to if need be.

Rajanaka takes the old Vedic view: live long and prosper, "give to me, I will give to you" (dehi me dadami te), and try not to be too selfish, too profligate, too usury or exploitative. You know love your life, and life includes stuff, all sorts of stuff. When someone goes through some purge or burn, there's plenty of subconscious Protestant self-abnegation---"we are not so worthy as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table but Thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy."

This is how polite, rich Episcopalians tell themselves that they feel guilty about stuff and manage to tell everyone else without stuff that they shouldn't have it, much less like it. We are conflicted over stuff not just because we have a conscience about the planet or that we are involved in some or another privileged exploitation but because we have been told that we are not worthy. Marx understood this. All five of them and Karl too.

If you can possible reconcile your worth with your passions, inexplicable but usually invested in some deeper need, desire, shadow, or torment, then you immediately bump into quality and quantity problems. How do you afford what you like? Quality. And what does "quality" _mean_ to you? And how much of it or of this or that is enough? What's "enough"?

Rajanaka taught me that you might not be remembered for being generous but you'll always be remembered for being stingy. Appa suffered from his generosity but he didn't mind. He liked giving away the good stuff, as far as he could. He didn't have many material wants but I think that was largely because he had other sorts of interests, largely intellectual. He LOVED books once he could afford them. There were never too many. But he was a provider and was still taking care of everyone else up until his premature death.

Appa made sure that everyone in the family knew the value of things and never ever denied them their passions. When it was time to buy a silk sari it was only a matter of being able to afford it. No guilt in having another. You might be able to give some away too. But the point is that he loved la dolce vita and wanted you to love your life too. Material stuff is not in the way. Vedic culture is fundamentally about living well in a world that is beautifully, deliciously, sustainably material.

Sermon over. Maybe. This didn't mean to start out this way. What really happened this morning is that I got a few Japanese stationary notebooks today. So fun. I was excited to tell my friends. Don't you love FB? (<---laugh a="" am="" br="" determined="" have="" here.="" i="" laugh="" obsessed="" say="" the="" to="" way="">
Some people have obsessions and test the fault line between archives and hoarding. I qualify as one of those "some people" but I don't just have particular obsessions, I collect obsessions. I collect ideas, stories, and learning, with relentless obsession. I'm non-attached to keeping things I love---old magazines, books, notebooks, not so much of my 7th grade homework anymore.

Pieces of string, especially from India, gods, goddesses, demons, nagas, crows, monsters, kids's art, notes you've sent me, lots of stuff other people throw away, call clutter, and insist you get rid of. You know, another tirade about how you should "let go" of stuff because I have and that makes you spiritually superior. People who hold onto stuff, much less like it, are thus spiritual inferior or psychologically maladjusted. This is where the yogis and the Protestants align. (And just because you aren't Protestant doesn't mean you are immune to the cultural historicaI Kool-Aide. It's in the air, folks, you breathe it without consent.)

Personally, I have no expectation that anyone else cares about what I do and I particularly don't care what anyone thinks about my non-attachment to obsessions. I just like what I like and understand it is a privilege that hopefully does relatively little damage than other things. I'm not hoarding ammunition, dirty magazines, or running up the credit card, so having stuff _does not bother me_. In fact, I obsess over my obsessions and archive my hoardings. How very "un-yogic." Ha!

I have multiple obsessions one for every person in this group. I have been obsessing over all of the poets that Robert Bly mentions---hundreds. Over all the bands and singles cut by The Wrecking Crew. Over translations of the Iliad because I'm determined to get better at classical Greek and read Beowolf in Old English. Some obsessions are wonderfully mundane: bicycle derailleurs, kinds of string, Catholic saint medals, spare copies of books that I already likely have a spare.

Another one of them has to do with stationary: notebooks, pencils (ooooo, pencils...), websites specializing in Japanese obsession with stationary. I specialize in Japanese obsessions but try to avoid the really creepy ones. There isn't anything cool that Japanese folks can't obsess over: old Leicas, Fender guitars, vintage denim, nonvintage denim, old watches, niche racing bicycles, stationary. Anything westerners made or make of "quality" is usually something Japanese love, admire, collect, imitate, and often do better. There are really really cool stationary stores in Paris. Who's in them? Japanese people who have their own stationary obsession.

Some of this comes from Bushido culture with that Klingon touch: something worth doing is worth dying for in every breath. Some is Shinto purity obession (think: sushi and hand washing). Some of it is Zen discipline or just plain old discipline that gets to 10,000 hours in exactly 416.666667 days. And these are just the things I particularly share with parallel Japanese obsessions. Gladwell argued it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something. I want that 10,000 in less than 416 days (umm, do the math) and figure all of that is a down payment on real obsessions. To obsess is to hoard time. My goddess is called Kali: time, death, darkness. This is my puja.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Trying Not to Fall In Love With Lonely

Notes on Tradition and Provenance
The Value of Messages and their Messengers


There's a difference between tradition and provenance. Or at least we can imagine one. We need more space to move with boundaries and limitations. We need to feel freedom instead of just announcing its possibilities. Who we are cannot be separated from what we have been even when we lose the threads of contiguity. It's in the space where we lose connection that we can create another.

Tradition is about carrying on, the effort to bring the past with you as you. Its sweetness is to bring those past with you too. It's shadow is their weight, _their_ shadow unaddressed and incomplete. Tradition's warmth is in its invitations to participate in pasts as if they were present. And this shadow needs to be made altogether obvious: we become captive of what has been, truculent and less pliant to learning, to growth, and change when we hold too tightly. We will be lost if we abandon it all entirely.

Tradition "conserves" and when it serves us then we steward and sustain; when it does not we hoard, become passive, and, worse, merely recursive. How can change follow from recursion? The Latin is helpful, -servāre means to keep, save, pay heed to. The reply must include accident, failure, and the willingness to pay heed to these as possibilities and even gifts.

These strike me as undeniably worthy considerations that can all too easily devolve to that drowsy numbness that Keats writes about in three short but immortal stanzas sometime in 1819. The Ode on Melancholy reminds us is that these feelings are not best relieved with wolf's bane but with the joy that is _its_ shadow. We can no more know joy without that specter of grief than we will somehow transcend grief altogether.

The Japanese call this mono no aware, the empathy we feel when we recognize a deeper, gentler mourning that comes with mortal apperception. That Keats saw this before he was twenty-six should strike us as greatness nearly beyond human reach. But he knew he was dying. There was work to do. The way Zen treats mujõ, "impermanence" is more accepting and with a greater reach towards the poignant than the typical uses of the Sanskrit word anitya. But matters are more nuanced here than we might think. When anitya's impermanence is made one of the three characteristics (laksana) of reality (along with duhkha [suffering] and anataman [no-self]), it's sensibility is that it too is more asset than liability. There's no doubt that whatever asset this impermanence is cannot reach more deeply without its equally innate liabilities.

When does tradition give us weight and value? When is it a burden we bear, both to carry and from which we might be relieved? I prefer the form of questions because answers too often pursue closure. This is precisely what we cannot admit if we still find value in tradition; closure is our nemesis because it can only be another form of annihilation, a wolf's bane for truth. Traditions that pursue the absolute---the only begotten, the final truth---either suffer from shiftless righteousness or _must_ be put to an end because they were insidious from their outset. We're more confused by these issues and differences than we are usually aware. Not knowing when to hold on and when to let go is to be human. The divine is our usual bypass so we can tell ourselves that there is an eternity that knows when we don't. Pretending we know is another false finality. We're going to have to be able to change to find tradition's deeper value. Eternity presents only closure.

If that seems paradoxical you're not surprised. If we can become more alert to our losses, be not quite so drowsy as Keats urges us, then we might avoid "the ruby grape of Prosperpine" and rise instead “on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave.” Where else too but in eyes of one's beloved? This is no mean avoidance but a path to avoid bypass, which if we let it will steal our humanity by making false promises of blissful exception. There is no exceptionality to our remarkable opportunity to experience a moral life.

Keats knew we must become more stalwart in our vulnerability, not passive but more receptive lest we yield our power to more soporific babble. The more formidable task will not banish apathy nor indulge indifferent denials, it will demand we look back and forward at the same time. Tradition is only confinement when we move in only one direction, in only one form of time, captive of its arrows rather than whirling in its creative maelstrom. Chaos is never comforting even when it's necessary.

With provenance we want to draw out a comparable set of ideas but also feelings that tradition can take only forward. Provenance moves in more directions at once.

Etymology is not definition but every Sanskritist has this weakness and too few consider how usage alone discards meaning as if there were no archetypal values. What resides in the root becomes the possibilities emerging above. Provenance has to do with origin and production, from the Middle French provenir "come forth, arise, originate," from Latin provenire "come forth, originate, appear, arise." But the -ven(ire) is to come, and has the sense of an onslaught, even an attack. (The Sanskrit cognate is likely /gam, as in āgama, that which is coming _all the way_, [prefix ā- plus root /gam]).

Thus provenance is there from the start and comes all the way, it comes through and with. We do not carry on, as in tradition, but carry forward and _towards_ and _with_. Who do you carry _with_ you when you step forward? That is your provenance. What is coming at you from behind as you turn to take your stand in the world, knowing you must also keep moving? That is provenance.

Tradition does not like to admit mistakes much less learn from them or correct them. That's not its job. Its job is to not forget what was. But provenance tells us who have been and that that is still coming towards us as we go forward. Provenance is more willing to change because it does not fix us in a past but point from the past into the future.

If we fail at both tradition and provenance then we desiccate conversation and consign it only to an eternal present. However much we might insist on remaking every self as the moment this strategy of the always be here now is interesting for its requisite denials. When we deny our intellectual ancestors we become captive of our limitation when we might actually be freed by provenance.

In the opening pages of Walden, Thoreau made this mistake. He wrote, "I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of value or earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose."

I can admire Thoreau's petulant rebellion, his deep desire to be unshackled and willing to take his own steps forward. It seems remarkable to me that he should refuse his mentor Emerson's advice in Nature, but creativity often yearns for something new. Innovation knows something more from the past and might spare the folly of believing we invented this inner fire. Thoreau burns within but with too little love for the source of his message and its messenger.

Agni is the first word and the first god of the Veda. (cf., Latin ignītus, past participle of ignīre to set on fire, ignite, equivalent to ign(is) fire + -ītus.) Provenance reminds us that Agni invented us no matter how we cultured ourselves with its messages. Agni is the source, the messenger we are seeking inside and conveys the message when we offer something of value. Provenance is sacred because without it we can only invent ourselves.

If you fall in love with lonely you'll end up that way. Please don't.

Without our offerings to Agni, the fire within burns with the delusion that we have invented ourselves without each other and those fires we cannot see. Provenance is our willingness to acknowledge that the messages we create now, in our present, also come from these inner messengers of time and fire and life's ever kindling memory.

Provenance is more than acknowledging or honoring the ancestral fire that burns in us now. It is the effort to do what feels wholly impossible. The old Zen adage puts it right, "to surpass the teacher is to repay the debt." But it is the feeling that this can't be done but must be tried, with al our heart, in every effort, not to achieve perfection or finality but instead to carrying on and forward---this is the value of provenance.


Try something impossible not merely revering the past but creating from it what you imagine could be. When we live in between what is and who we hope to be then we have found the seam between tradition and provenance. That is a space we might seek in both memory and the present if there is to be a future worth living.