Discussion of Impermanence and Analysis of the poem “The Quest”

Poetry is an art form that not everyone appreciates. Poems take leave of everyday consciousness and strive to convey something deeper. In that sense, they are like dreams. Dreams are just as truthful as everyday life, if not more so. But the language is distinct. The language consists of symbols, images, and emotions, not logic. Words and logic often cover up what’s really going on inside of us. Words and logic allow us to lie to ourselves and overlook our own destructive patterns. But when we close our eyes and dream, go into meditation, or write a poem, the truth comes to the surface – a truth that is difficult, impossible, or simply too painful to convey in normal parlance.

 

The following poem spoke to me because, in the course of 44 words and 2 paragraphs, it depicts the pain of Impermanence, the fruitless pursuit of worldly happiness, and the inevitability of death. The poem presents the haunting image of a ghost-like speaker who represents all of us:

 

The Quest

by Georgia Douglas Johnson

 

The phantom happiness I sought

O’er every crag and moor;

I paused at every postern gate,

And knocked at every door;

 

In vain I searched the land and sea,

E’en to the inmost core,

The curtains of eternal night

Descend – my search is o’er.

 

Happiness is indeed a “phantom” when we search for it outside of ourselves. There is nothing and no one that will never disappoint, or die, or change. That is the nature of existence. Buddhism describes it succinctly as “suffering.” Everything is subject to the law of Impermanence. Refusing to accept that is the root of all suffering. Embracing it is the beginning of wisdom and true happiness.

 

“Pausing at every postern gate” and “knocking on every door” describes the average person’s life before accepting Impermanence. We are convinced that the next set of achievements, acquisitions, or associations will be the key to lasting happiness. We think that once we graduate and move out of our parents’ house, once we get that perfect job, once we get married, once we have kids, once the kids move out, once the kids have kids, once we retire – then we will be happy and content. We repeatedly pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when each person, each thing, disappoints us in some way. When the perfect job ends or becomes a bore; when the perfect spouse – “our rock and best friend” – betrays us or becomes a bore; when the kids turn their backs on us, embarrass us, or disappoint us, we then feel cheated by life. We convince ourselves that everyone else is happier than we are. All those glowing Facebook posts and grinning selfies can’t be wrong. Why can’t we find “it,” whatever “it” is?

 

The poem’s speaker realizes at life’s end, when the “curtains of eternal night/descend” at death, that the pursuit was “in vain,” pointless, a fruitless set-up. This does not have to be our fate, however. We do not have to wait until we’re on our deathbeds to realize that happiness is within, not “out there.”  Once we accept that life contains suffering, and that the suffering is caused by Impermanence, we can love life for what it is, rather than for what we want it to be.

 

Knowing that the people, things, and circumstances around us are impermanent allows us to appreciate them in the Now. They are precious because we have no idea how long we will have them. The sad things take on a less painful charge because we know that negative circumstances pass; they do not remain forever. This is how we achieve non-attachment.

 

Non-attachment does not mean that we don’t care. It means we look at life the way we watch a movie. Our emotions are real for the 2 hours we’re in the theater, but the whole time we know that it is a movie; it will end. When the lights come on, we stand up and move on to other things. The painful scenes in the movie pass away, and the happy or funny parts also pass. Yet we still enjoy it. We are fully invested for the 2 hours we are there. We can do this with life.

 

Life is a movie of every genre, and we are the lead actors. Let’s play our parts well, knowing that the great Oscar in the sky is the knowledge that the Love we leave behind is the only thing that’s real.

 

Peace and love,

Raven

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A Woman’s Voice: The Power of Art

I started missing my art.

Because I’m busy trying to launch a business, while continuing to work my day job, I’ve had precious little time left over for Creative Me. I started feeling depressed, but couldn’t figure out why at first.  I felt an intense void.

It went on for more than a day before I realized why. I hadn’t had time to write! I hadn’t even read any poetry, let alone written any. And I certainly hadn’t had time to paint. I’ve discovered I really don’t do well if I’m separated from Creative Me for too long.

I have had time to read, however.  It’s so easy to sneak in little snatches while waiting for something else: standing in line, waiting for someone to get ready, riding the bus, etc.

I’ve been reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson. It’s a science fiction story that is centered around a main character who is a kind of monk/philosopher/agnostic/rebel. The story is set on another planet, in another time. It’s fascinating! The book is 932 pages long, and I’m only on page 382, so I have a ways to go. But this book is my little friend for the next several weeks.

However, I’ve still been craving poetry, so I decided to share a poem that I read today. The poem (below) is called Case in Point. It was written by June Jordan and can be found on page 121 of the anthology Poems from the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore, published by American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2009.

The poem is painful, and comes with a ****TRIGGER WARNING**** as it contains graphic references to rape. But this is an important poem. It elucidates the common experience women have of lacking a voice – and, therefore, power – in many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to control over our own bodies.

Men are bigger than us, louder than us, control almost all of society’s institutions, and sometimes use violence – both physical and verbal – to reinforce their dominance. Every woman has experienced the voicelessness that comes from being shouted down and dismissed by an egocentric male. Most women have also had cause to be afraid of a man at some point.

These events can be frustrating on the light end – and terrifying on the heavy end. Sometimes poetry, art, and music are the only ways to have a voice in a world that cannot always hear us. Interestingly, the speaker in the poem is arguing against the point of another woman – a woman who has apparently bought into society’s view of women. This, too, is common among oppressed groups – the desire to side with the oppressor.

 

Case in Point

by June Jordan

 

A friend of mine who raised six daughters and

who never wrote what she regards as serious

until she

was fifty-three

tells me there is no silence peculiar

to the female

I have decided I have something to say

about female silence: so to speak

these are my 2 cents on the subject:

2 weeks ago I was raped for the second

time in my life the first occasion

being a whiteman and the most

recent situation being a blackman actually head of the local NAACP

 

2

Today is 2 weeks after the fact

of that man straddling

his knees either side of my chest

his hairy arm and powerful left hand

forcing my arms and hands over my head

flat to the pillow while he rammed

what he described as his quote big dick

unquote into my mouth

and shouted out “D’ya want to swallow

my big dick, well, do ya?”

 

He was being rhetorical.

My silence was peculiar

to the female.

Letting Go of a Beloved Before the Relationship Even Begins

Sence You Went Away

by: James Weldon Johnson

 

Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,

Seems lak to me de sun done loss his light,

Seems lak to me der’s nothin’ goin’ right,

Sence you went away.

 

Seems lak to me de sky ain’t half so blue,

Seems lak to me dat eve’ything wants you,

Seems lak to me I don’t know what to do,

Sence you went away,

 

Seems lak to me dat eve’ything is wrong.

Seems lak to me de day’s jes twice ez long,

Seems lak to me de bird’s forgot his song,

Sense you went away.

 

Seems lak to me I jes can’t he’p but sigh,

Seems lak to me ma tho’oat keeps gittin’ dry,

Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,

Sence you went away.

 

This poem spoke to me because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the nature of relationships – their cyclical nature, their evolution, and the fact that they come with no guarantees. The bittersweet motion of these facts is reflected in the rhythmic repetition of the poem. The rhythm of the repetitive words mirrors the repetitive thoughts we tend to think, both at the beginning and the end of relationships.

In the beginning, we experience repetitive thoughts of our beloved’s beauty. At the end, we wrestle with unending flows of thought loops, obsessive thoughts of longing and regret. Both the end and the beginning are one and the same in consciousness. The joy of the beginning is inextricably linked to the pain of the end.

I love how the speaker universalizes this pain. In the first three stanzas, he sees nature itself as mirroring his personal pain. In each of the first three stanzas, “eve’ything” reflects his pain. Our sad thoughts, like our happy thoughts – when they are linked to circumstances outside ourselves – are self-centered and appear to be reflected in the world around us. Everything around us gets distorted through the filter of our thoughts.

When we’re hurting, especially from some kind of relationship dissolution, it feels like everything in our life is messed up, not just the romantic portion. But, in this poem, even from the beginning, we know the speaker will eventually experience healing because he repeats “seems lak” in the first three lines of each stanza. In other words, he knows, even in the midst of his suffering, that what he’s experiencing isn’t real. It’s just how things seem in his mind. It’s not really universal. It just feels like it!

The speaker moves tangibly towards healing by the final stanza. He finally narrows his focus away from the stars and the sky and brings it back to himself: “I jes can’t he’p but sigh,/Seems lak to me ma th’oat keeps gittin’ dry,/Seems lak to me a tear stays in ma eye,/Sence you went away.” It’s not nature or the world that is sad; it’s just him.

Although the poem ends here, we have hope for the speaker. We know that he is now facing his pain as something individual, not universal. The universe is neither conspiring against him nor joining in his pity party. Likewise, when we emerge from any hurt, we move away from “why me’s” and “life sucks” statements to taking charge of our experience, allowing ourselves to feel the emotions and move through them.

It is the nature of all things to end, disappear, die, dissolve, change, evolve, and resurrect. Acknowledging and embracing this fact does not exempt us from pain, but it can help us process our emotions more quickly and prevent us from suffering needlessly.  “Sence You Went Away” is a poem we can write to anyone we love, whether the relationship is ongoing, has ended, is just beginning, or is beginning again. We get to enjoy people for however long we get to enjoy them. And then they go away. And we are better off for having known them.

I wish you all a beautiful and safe 4th of July.

Peace and Love,

Raven