I’m no ornithologist (R6)

I’m no brain-surgeon either. Or a spaceman.
How many other things are you not?
That’s a diversion that could take us days, weeks, months, years to unpack—the uncharted waters of non-being.
Not such a short short story…
What I came here to say this morning is that I’m no ornithologist.
I can easily recognise a blackbird of course; but that bird over there in the back field…If I were an ornithologist I’d know what it was almost without looking.
I could have been an ornithologist if I had taken a different path through the rose garden.
I could have been a brain-surgeon or spaceman or anything else if I’d known how to play my cards right back then.
All mental pictures. Imaginings…
Those years when we lived so ardently and intensely, when we experienced the loftiest exaltations, the most poignant emotions, the bitterest sufferings—just a series of mental pictures.
The top of the mountain enthusiasms; the secret delving in the forests of the night.
And the life that extends into the future? Mental constructions: the things we want to do, the ideas we wish to pursue—all a series of idle snaps. The sun-drenched glades, the bends in the road, the sitting room in the castle keep.
And now for the present… What seems so immediately present now and now and now carves a furrow into the future even as it becomes the past. This day, this hour, this minute, this very moment through which we imagine we are now passing is without doubt just a mental nudge. Non-being.
Just the same as our images of past and future.
Our wakeful existence is merely a long series of what we choose to call thoughts. A thought-series. Luminous hints we make into certainties and grand abstractions.
Personal experience is a mentally constructed affair. A kind of precarious continuity.
At a party or in the office, we imagine ourselves connected to others—makes us feel good for half an hour at least; we find our reflections in the others which is temporarily comforting.
Sometimes when I wake up from a midday snooze I have no idea who I am and I have to make a very deliberate effort to reinsert my self into something I think of as life. The body passes in and out of consciousness.
The gorgeous palaces, the respectful entourage, endless landscapes and amenities of the King who dreams fade into the peasant’s hut.
I really could have chosen to be an ornithologist.
‘Who can tell the dancer from the dance?’
And this ‘I’—it is the thought itself. These ‘I’s—all our thoughts roughly tagged.
I am a thinking. The others are simply thought-processes. Unapproachables.
What we think we experience of others is inevitably a thought about our very own self.

a gleam of summer
frozen into Time
through tall poplars

One thought on “I’m no ornithologist (R6)

  1. To be thus the prisoner of one’s own selfhood is, in fact, to be in hell: a truth that Sartre, though professing himself an atheist, has expressed in the most arresting fashion in his play “No Exit.” from Merton’s “The Wisdom of the Desert.” Merton goes on to say: “All through the Verba Seniorum we find a repeated insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in the spiritual life: over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude, prayer. Love in fact is the spiritual life, and without it all the other exercises of the spirit, however lofty, are emptied of content and become mere illusions. The more lofty they are, the more dangerous the illusion.

    Love, of course, means something much more than mere sentiment, much more than token favours and perfunctory almsdeeds. Love means are interior and spiritual identification with one’s brother, so that he is not regarded as an “object” to “which” one “does good” The fact is that good done to another as to an object is of little or no spiritual value. Love takes one’s neighbor as one’s other self, and loves him with all the immense humility and discretion and reserve and reverence without which no one can presume to enter into the sanctuary of another’s subjectivity. From such love all authoritarian brutality, all exploitation, domineering and condescension must necessarily be absent.”

    Can we escape from the prison of ME, ME ,ME? I would offer to Merton’s argument that love is not over his list of abstractions, but rather moving IN them. “We think by feeling, what is there to know I hear my being dance from ear to ear.” T. Roethke.

    Non-Being, exploration, tinkering, being, eclipsing binary stars, sing the body electric! On to the next thing, non-being, non-permanence


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