Happily, my close friend has replied to my previous post, so here it is, in four-part harmony:
Ok, I read your reply, and I have a response and I would also like to refine my argument. Also, you are so utterly infuriating, and I say that with complete and utter affection. Firstly I would like to reply to the Tolle thing and explain how I think you are perhaps misunderstanding his argument, if argument is what it could be called.
Tolle does not dispute the importance of the mind. The mind, and thought and it’s ability to recall the past and project itself into the future, are, indeed, essential for functioning and surviving in the world. The mind, as Tolle himself describes it, is a beautiful and delicate tool. But it is just that: a tool. When Tolle says, ‘you are not your mind’, he is saying that your entire being, your entire consciousness, cannot be reduced to only the mind. For example, there are a million things that keep us alive that function on a level that we are not consciously aware of: our digestive system, our heartbeat, our blood flow, etc. These all function, literally, ‘without thought’. Furthermore, there exists what is called an ‘adaptive unconscious’, an unconscious aspect of ourselves that can synthesise information in a matter of seconds: that can allow a fine art student to look at a statue in a reputable gallery and know instantly that it is a fake (I’m thinking specifically of Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink: the power of thinking without thinking’ here).
On a deeper level we also experience, what you so aptly described as ‘flow’. We have moments when we do not THINK, when we do not use our minds. These moments can be, and from my own experience, when we dance, or draw, or paint or have sex. And if we are not thinking in those moments, if we are not using our minds, then do we cease to exist? No, because we are not only our minds. We are FAR more than only what we think and feel.
It seems easy enough to accept this argument, but harder to accept that we have, in fact, misidentified with our minds, in the same way we mistake our identity in a mirror (Lacan’s mirror stage springs to mind here ). We have looked at all our thoughts and pointed at them and said ‘that’s me and only me’. And here is where Tolle’s ‘Evil mind’ (as you put it) comes in. Tolle identifies a tendency for most minds to become ‘dysfunctional’, in that our minds end up causing us unnecessary pain. And here is why:
Time. The mind and time are intricately linked, one cannot exist without the other. If the earth existed as it does now, but was devoid of all humans, do you think time would exist? If you went up to an eagle living on that world and said, what time is it? What is the date today? Do you think it would understand you? If it could answer you it’s only answer would be, ‘but it is now, what other time is there?’. It’s like that age old question, if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it does it make a sound? The answer being that it would make a noise, but a brain is needed for that noise to be interpreted as sound. So a mind is needed to create and interpret time. This in itself is not a bad or evil thing.
In fact, we learn a lot from reviewing our past behaviour so that we do not make similar mistakes in the future. The dysfunction sets in when we begin to CONTINUALLY seek ourselves in the past or future, instead of seeing the truth: that the past and future are illusion. The past and the future only exist in time, which is to say, in the MIND. Time is an illusion. The past does not exist, it is gone, and the future does not exist either because it has not happened yet. The only thing that is real, is true, is the present, is NOW. If you do not think this is true then ask yourself: Do you think that anything you have ever done has happened outside of the now? Do you think anything you will ever do will happen outside of the present? Do you think anything ever will?
So when you say: “Ultimately, who I am is more than here and now. I am as a result of innumerable contexts, people, experiences, memories (real and imagined), thoughts and feelings which extend to both the past and future, linked by (and grounded in) the present.”
Of course you are right, you are an accumulation of all that has happened to bring you to the present moment, but the now is the only place in which you truly exist. You cannot and do not extend into the past or future except in your own mind, which is where time and your ego (the word Tolle uses for mind) exist. It’s like meeting someone for the first time when you are out at a party: do you need them to explain to you their entire past for them to be real to you in that moment? Do you need to hear their plans of the future?
It’s entirely possible to sustain relationships and live in a world governed by the mind, in fact most people do. That’s what’s happening right now, isn’t it? Our minds are having a dandy time debating and arguing for the hell of it because that’s what our minds are good at: collecting information, processing it, evaluating it, judging it, choosing what to discard and what to keep. Technology, I would argue, makes it easier for this type of mind-relationship to exist. Which is a great thing because I get to talk to you even when you are thousands of km’s away, but its not the same as being present with one another.
And I think this is where my poetry argument was flawed. The source of poetry, I would instead argue, is being present, but not poetry itself. By virtue of the fact that poetry uses language to give expression to the present moment, it means that it has entered into the domain of the mind. But what then becomes interesting is exactly that transition. Mike Marais once said that the reason we can never really talk about our dreams when we are awake is because to do so would be to bring them into the world of reason, the world of the conscious mind, where they can no longer exist. I’m beginning to think that poetry functions in a similar way. We have an experience, we are intensely present, we are fully conscious and awake, we touch eternity, but then have to try and bring that experience into the domain of the mind via language and it never seems to transition properly, and that it what we agonize over: the inability of the mind to fully understand what it means to BE, what it means to exist in a world not governed by time, what it means to actually experience the eternal present. That is why I said good poetry reflects the light of consciousness: it reflects the light like the moon, but it is not the source of light, it is not the sun.
But it can get close sometimes, and maybe that is why we are so fascinated by it, and why we agonize over what it is, and what it means.
In this I do not believe that Tolle overstates his case (although we haven’t touched on all his points yet), how could he? His book is a set of questions that students have asked him, and his answers to those questions. But often the answer remains the same, and only the questions change because the mind-driven mind cannot help but try again and again to mentally understand what it cannot.
When you say ‘I AM’ satisfies the ‘what’ of existence but not the why, I would agree that the why is more complex because it is a mind-based question and as such the answers are literally as many as one mind could come up with, and there are 7 billion minds. What I want to ask is why you put more value in the question of ‘why’ than in the question of ‘what’, and if, in your own poetry, this is actually the question you seek to answer. No matter what the answer to why is, the ‘what’ remains. The what is always primary. The ‘why’ cannot exist without the what.
And I wonder if this is truly what poetry concerns itself with? I mean, of course some poetry does, some poetry might literally be trying to answer the question, ‘Why am I here?’. But surely poetry also seeks to express not why I am here, but what it feels like to be here, what it feels like to live, what it feels like to love.
Surely your poetry, even, in this sense is primarily concerned with being? When you write a poem in bot gardens about the trees that are ablaze with red, when you reflect on a conversation you had with Bruce, are you concerned about conveying why they took place, or are you concerned with conveying ‘what’ took place, how it FELT?
Your questioning of ‘why’, poetry’s questioning of why, is the question characteristic of what it means to be, surely. We question what it means to live, but only because we are alive. We do not need to question it and if we did not we would not cease to be.
I would not argue that they why is harder to explain, or requires more eloquence. I would not argue that the why gives birth to prettier words. Why can be a very simple and ugly thing: Why am I here, why do I exist?
I don’t know. Because God made me. Because all is chaos and chance.
Or it can be beautiful. It is what we make it, what our minds make it. the questions of ‘why’ is the domain of the mind.
But try and express what it means to be, to breathe, to dream. How do you express what it means to be alive? To discover that all around is life and consciousness and light. When we try and do that, we get a poem about the word ‘sonder’.