You Hear This Other Deep Reality Singing To You All The Time

“I have no idea what I am doing,” he said. “It’s hard to describe. As I approach the end of my life, I have even less and less interest in examining what have got to be very superficial evaluations or opinions about the significance of one’s life or one’s work. I was never given to it when I was healthy, and I am less given to it now.”

When I asked him if he intended his performances to reflect a kind of devotion, he hesitated before he answered. “Does artistic dedication begin to touch on religious devotion?” he said. “I start with artistic dedication. I know that if the spirit is on you it will touch on to the other human receptors. But I dare not begin from the other side. It’s like pronouncing the holy name—you don’t do it. But if you are lucky, and you are graced, and the audience is in a particular salutary condition, then these deeper responses will be produced.”

“I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life, whether they want to cop to it or not,” Cohen said. “It’s there, you can feel it in people—there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity.

“What I mean to say is that you hear the Bat Kol.” The divine voice. “You hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage. More than at any time of my life, I no longer have that voice that says, ‘You’re fucking up.’ That’s a tremendous blessing, really.”

— Leonard Cohen, interviewed by David Remnick in The New Yorker

We Must Get Back To Faith And Hope And Belief

And guilt breeds fear and anxiety, and anxiety breeds fear, and it goes around — it’s that old vicious circle where one thing reinforces the other, which drives you day and night to instant gratification. Anything of a serious nature isn’t “instant” — you can’t “do” the Sistine Chapel in one hour. And who has time to listen to a Mahler symphony, for God’s sake?

We must get back to faith and hope and belief — things we’re all born with. But unfortunately we’re also born thinking we’re the center of the universe. And of all traumas, that one is the biggest and most difficult to get rid of. And the hardest principle to absorb is the Copernican one: that you’re just another speck on this planet, which is a speck in the solar system, which is a speck in the galaxy, which is a speck in the universe … which is a speck in something even bigger that we don’t have the minds to contemplate.

There is so much inherent goodness in people that if they aren’t inhibited by traumas and are given half a chance, it shines through.

— Leonard Bernstein, from Dinner with Lenny  by Jonathan Cott, found on Brain Pickings

The Experience Of Difference

Provided it isn’t conceived only as an exchange of mutual favours, or isn’t calculated way in advance as a profitable investment, love really is a unique trust placed in chance. It takes us into key areas of the experience of what is difference and, essentially, leads to the idea that you can experience the world from the perspective of difference.

Love… is a quest for truth… truth in relation to something quite precise: what kind of world does one see when one experiences it from the point of view of two and not one? What is the world like when it is experienced, developed and lived from the point of view of difference and not identity? That is what I believe love to be.

–Alain Badiou, from In Praise of Love, found on Brain Pickings

10 Rules for Students and Teachers

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.

–Popularized by John Cage, written by Corita Kent

When All The World Is Shining

The nuns taught us there were two ways through life—the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you, whatever comes.

–Terrence Malick, from The Tree of Life

Why Do We Lose Interest In Physical Mastery?

And we the people are so vulnerable. Our bodies are shot with mortality. Our legs are fear and our arms are time. These chill humors seep through our capillaries, weighting each cell with an icy dab of nonbeing, and that dab grows and swells and sucks the cell dry. That is why physical courage is important–-it fills, as it were, the holes–-and why it is so invigorating. The least brave act, chance taken and passage won, makes you feel loud as a child.

But it gets harder. The courage of children and beasts is a function of innocence. We let our bodies go the way of our fears…Why do we lose interest in physical mastery? If I feel like turning cartwheels–-and I do–-why don’t I learn to turn cartwheels, instead of regretting that I never learned as a child? We could all be aerialists like squirrels, divers like seals; we could be purely patient, perfectly fleet, walking on our hands even, if our living or stature required it. We can’t even sit straight, or support our weary heads.

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, pg. 91.

The Essential Goodness Of The Nation

If you are, as I am, a sentimental middle-aged person who cherishes certain Coplandian notions about the essential goodness of the nation, seeing this kind of thing in person—adults shouting wrathfully at one another with no intention of persuasion, invested only in escalating spite—will inject a palpable sadness into your thinning, under-exercised legs, and you may find yourself collapsing, post-rally, against a tree in a public park, feeling hopeless. Craving something positive (no more fighting, no more invective, please, please), forcing yourself to your feet, you may cross a busy avenue and find, in a mini-mall themed like Old Mexico, a wedding about to begin. Up will walk the bridesmaids, each leading, surprisingly, a dog on a leash, and each dog is wearing a tutu, and one, a puppy too small to be trusted in a procession, is being carried, in its tutu, in the arms of its bridesmaid.
        And this will somehow come as an unbelievable relief.
        LeftLand and RightLand are housemates who are no longer on speaking terms. And then the house is set on fire. By Donald Trump. Good people from both subnations gape at one another through the smoke.
         From the beginning, America has been of two minds about the Other. One mind says, Be suspicious of it, dominate it, deport it, exploit it, enslave it, kill it as needed. The other mind denies that there can be any such thing as the Other, in the face of the claim that all are created equal.
        The first mind has always held violence nearby, to use as needed, and that violence has infused everything we do—our entertainments, our sex, our schools, our ads, our jokes, our view of the earth itself, somehow even our food. It sends our young people abroad in heavy armor, fills public spaces with gunshots, drives people quietly insane in their homes.
        Although, to me, Trump seems the very opposite of a guardian angel, I thank him for this: I’ve never before imagined America as fragile, as an experiment that could, within my very lifetime, fail.
        But I imagine it that way now.
        –George Saunders on Donald Trump for The New Yorker

Something Undeniable And Nontrivial Happens

I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters,” Saunders wrote in an essay on Vonnegut. “He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what’s inside the box bears some linear resemblance to ‘real life’ — he can put whatever he wants in there. What’s important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit. . . . In fact, ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ seemed to be saying that our most profound experiences may require this artistic uncoupling from the actual. The black box is meant to change us. If the change will be greater via the use of invented, absurd material, so be it.

–Joel Lovell interviews George Saunders for The New York Times Magazine

The Ground Is Sacred

There is something in the student-teacher exchange that is ancient, simple and powerful.

The ground is sacred, and it’s where you leave an imprint.

The goal is to get to a place where you actually have intuition, and that is the absolute in terms of art, where there’s no question, you just know.

There’s something that’s always present, we call the witness. Every artist talks about it — it’s that bigger objective. How could you not want to participate in that?

In the realm of art-making, what you’re really doing is training the heart and the mind.

The mirror is a problem, it’s kind of a habit in Western dance, for the most part the mirror is doubt, and doubt leads to failure.

The teacher is waking up the sleeping artist in the student. The dancer is listening to his own internal teacher, that’s what you want to wake up.

–Alonzo King (see video here)

This Exalted State

You know when you’re saying goodby to someone at the airport that you love and you get all soft. And you get, ‘Oh my God I hardly know you.’ What if that’s the truth, if that mode times ten is the mode we should exist in all the time? Then on another day you’re just yourself. There’s big gap between those two people. So, how much time do I spend in that regular old habitual stupid mindset of taking everything for granted, as opposed to this exalted state of being super-tenderized to the people you care about. And I’m guessing that, if there’s a heaven, it’s that at the airport times ten or twenty, or a thousand.

–George Saunders, interviewed by Max Linsky on Longform (found via Sampler)
Thanks to In A Spacious Place for typing up this quote