Dialogue # 13: Vocation and the Experience of Being Alive

December 11, 2012

[In this dialogue we delve more deeply into the deliberate use of coincidence but then segue into the drive of the spiritual universe toward ecstasy,  Emily Dickinson, the poet of ecstasy, being an exponent of that drive, and the natural world of bluebirds, snakes and butterflies  in her father’s garden in Amherst.   We explore the seeding of vocational symbols into the psyche in early childhood and later being paired with some outer stimulus (coincidence), triggering the revelation of one’s vocation or calling.  Interwoven are reflections  on living at a pitch that is “near madness,” death and immortality, compassion, fate and destiny,  and  the shaman’s role in releasing the poetic self.]

From Many, One

Herrmann: I want to pick up a thread from our last dialogue which began with you talking about coincidences, and I want to tell you about this  very interesting thing that  happened  to me on Sunday. It’s an important point in relation to our discussions about the Field. These occurrences are regular rather than very rare. So first let me show you the coin Lori gave me. We were painting the bathroom and it was also the  first day of Hanukkah, so we  were conscious of the holiday. Lori lit the first candle that evening. Anyway, after we finished painting, she took out a little purse that she had from Israel, and there were some coins in it, foreign currency, and she showed them to me. I said, “What’s that?” and as I looked I saw it was a silver dollar. As you can see, it’s from 1885. I looked it up on Google. It’s probably worth about $35 to $40.

There were about seven million minted, so it’s not a rare coin. But let me tell you what was going on for me  when she  handed me  that coin. First, you’ll notice it says e pluribus unum, from many one, from the Great Seal of the United States. Well, that’s at the core of spiritual democracy, the oneness of all religions. That’s very American. And it’s in the First Amendment, too, the freedom of religion.

The Symbolic Dimension

McKowen: Maybe they were wiser than they knew, when you get down into looking at the symbolic aspect.

H: That’s the key, the symbolic dimension. And a lot of the imagery of the Seal comes from Rosicrucian imagery [The secret society of the “rosy cross” that emerged in early seventeenth century Europe] and Masonry. Ben Franklin played a part in the ideas that went into the Great Seal. Well, to move beyond that, I’d always been impressed with the silver dollar, and I didn’t have one. At the time this happened I was returning to my manuscript on Emily Dickinson, I was working on this letter she wrote to Helen Hunt Jackson. Jackson was an American poet who was a contemporary of Emily Dickinson. She’s remembered mainly through her letters to Emily, not because of her stature as a poet and novelist of any supreme stature. As Jackson was nearing death, she came to Santa Monica.

She was on the Pacific coast and she and Dickinson had been corresponding. Dickinson had written about the great sea in the West in a poem where she called it “Immortality,” which is a great mythological theme. The Western se a is symbolic of immortality; you see it in a lot of myths and poems. She was looking out, as Dickinson said in her letter, to Japan from the West coast. Then she penned this poem in the letter that she wrote to Jackson in 1885! Dickinson was approaching her own death, which was a year later. She writes, and I mentioned this in our last dialogue, “Take all away from me…” M: Yes, you did!

H: “Take all away from me–but leave me ecstasy.”

M: It’s true, isn’t it?

H: “And I am richer–than all my fellow men.”

So here she is proclaiming her wealth, her riches, in the ecstasy she felt near the end of her life, as she was now 55 years old and suffering from kidney disease. She  died at 56; she was born in 1830. So I found the coin on Sunday, which was the ninth of December, on the eve of her birthday, yesterday, December tenth. So, I was working on the poem in my manuscript, and the poem was written in 1885, and Lori hands me the coin. I don’t have any coins with that date on them or that old. In fact, that is my only coin from the nineteenth century.

M: That is something!

H: She hands me this coin dated 1885, and I thought. “What an interesting coincidence!” “Shamanism = Technique of Ecstasy”

M: It certainly is.

H: As a poet-shaman, she really spoke for ecstasy. Mircea Eliade the great historian of religions (1907—1986, also a philosopher, a writer of fiction, and professor at the University of Chicago), said in this simple equation: “Shamanism = technique of ecstasy.”

[The history of religions will inevitably attain to a deeper knowledge of man. It is on the basis of such knowledge that a new humanism on a world-wide scale, could develop. – Mircea Eliade]

Nobody illustrates this technique better than Emily Dickinson.  Here she was, writing to a woman who’s looking out on the Pacific, looking out toward on Japan, who’s close to her own death. Jackson died just before Dickinson did. Jackson had encouraged Emily to publish her poems so that they wouldn’t be published merely posthumously, but in her lifetime. Dickinson writes back, “Take all away from me, but leave me  ecstasy.” She’s  thinking, OK, I’ve published seven poems in my lifetime, but that doesn’t matter much; I’m so rich in gold, in ecstasy, in the ecstatic, in Happiness, in Joy in living, as Whitman would say. And that’s enough, that’s sufficient.

M: Jackson must have appreciated the quality of her work.

H: Oh, she did immensely, and that’s why she encouraged her to publish it.

M: So how many people of her era who knew her poetry realized the quality of it?

H: Very few. The only people who really did were her sister-in-law, Susan Gilbert; Samuel Bowles the editor of the  Springfield Republican; and her mentor Thomas  Wentworth Higginson whom she wrote many letters to. Also, a few of her friends whom she wrote  letters to and who she blessed with poems. But Jackson clearly recognized her magnificence and felt that her poetry should be in print.

M: I think for someone to recognize that quality they would have had to be of that level of awareness as well. Otherwise, it would not penetrate their way of experiencing life. So I would guess, then, that Jackson had to be somebody pretty special, too, as well as Gilbert and anybody else who saw it.

H: Yes.

Coincidence—a Matter of Having One’s Senses Awake


The prepared mind snaps up whatever crops up along the street. The street overflows with endless possibilities

M: You have to have wealth in the  realms of gold  in order to pick that up.  Otherwise  you’d see it superficially. Well! That’s a very good coincidence. You started to say it’s more integral to human experience than something that happens only once in a while. I’m beginning to see that more and more, and I’m telling you it crops up everywhere. As I said when we talked about this in some of our dialogues, we see more and more coincidences  the  more awake we are and the more our sensorium’s open. Some of the little silly things, like seeing the word superficiality, just after you said it or thought it, there in the first paragraph of the newspaper you’ve just picked up. That’s sort of fun but maybe not really of the same sort of thing we’ve been discussing. As I think about this, it’s coming into focus that for the awakened mind everything is a coincidence–or nothing is–like miracles. As you know, Whitman wrote, “As for me I know of nothing but miracles.” That is, any speck of experience, anything as insignificant as a particle of dust falling through a beam of sunlight in a room, cannot help but be related to my experience, and if I’m awake I notice that. So the prepared mind snaps up whatever crops up along the street. The street overflows with endless possibilities. And  then, the amazing coincidences, as this line of thought unfolds, are indeed just exactly like the fun ones. It’s all there for the tuned-in mind to register. It’s a matter of having our senses awake.

H: Well, it is relatively uncommon to see a word in print just after you had it in your conscious mind.

M: True. It’s similar to what you and I shared about the experience of my English classes. We accumulated a semester of shared experience, a cloud of data and  then went  our separate ways, gathering huge piles of experience over the years. Then a decade or two later we meet again and through these dialogues download what the years have generated around that shared experience. I’ve been busy expanding and deepening the thinking of those months, and  you have gone your unique way doing the same thing.  Now you come back with all those nuggets  of Jung, Chardin, Campbell, greatly fleshed out.  You bring your huge  cloud  of information and I bring my modest cloud, and now they  merge.  Now I can assimilate all the  insights you’ve gathered over all these years. So thank  you very much! What a feast! That’s really great. I do think that’s how it works.

So to get back to your thoughts, if you would, about coincidence.

The Great Water of the West

H: I think these coincidences are based on destiny factors that are relatively opaque during such moments, and the actual occurrences lead one to formulate  ideas about human destiny and about the fact that there are figures in the field–you can say the world is a field—and the Self-world is a Field, and there are vocations people have, specific callings, such as Emily Dickinson and Susan Gilbert and her brother Austin and Helen Hunt Jackson. This woman who was so well known at the time was in the field of her ecstasy, in this case of course the literary field. So these overlapping clouds that you’re talking about—these number diagrams—bear on vocation–and I noticed you liked what I said the last time about the intersection of various vocational fields and their convergence upon a center. That center is, I think, what Jung called the Self. And for Dickinson her favorite subject was what she  called the flood subject, or what I referred to earlier as the great water of the West, or immortality. You find the same theme in Yoga, the theme of immortality. In Hinduism, the yogis through their various techniques of meditation and physical disciplines achieve a state of consciousness where they break through to this place of mutual resonance, a kind of light you could say that is golden, a light of consciousness, of spiritual consciousness.

A Place of Mutual Resonance

M: A place of mutual resonance–that’s a good way to describe what happens. Can you expand on that?

H: Spiritual democracy is known by these poets by virtue of the fact that there’s a common resonance. You were hinting at the idea that Jackson must have had…

M: A resonance of her own.

H: An experience of her own, knowledge of her own of what this field is like. M: Yes.

H: So she must have known about it to appreciate it, the resonance she felt in the reading of these poems by Dickinson.

M: And if you think about resonance like the waves of a lake or light waves, if they are synchronous, they amplify the wave. It’s nice to have somebody like Jackson resonating with Emily because that amplifies the waves.

H: And from Santa Monica, on the West Coast. And those waves went all the way across  the US to Amherst; this feeling of a mutual connection between the two writers.

 H: Dickinson said,

And, “To comprehend a nectar/ requires the sorest need.”  To comprehend her, someone needed to know about this nectar in the flower. I think she had that sense that she was exuding this kind of resonance. She had it. She had her fingers on it because it was a destiny factor within her, given to her by the gods when she was a little girl, as she said.

There’s this sense in some of these poet-shamans that they’re teaching something that is beyond belief, beyond faith.

M: Exactly.

H: That’s what I love about them.

The Symbol and What It Points To

M: Well, that’s the essential point, I think, of all our dialogues, the difference between the superficial–the difference between the symbol, the image, the metaphor–and what it points to.     I sense that the mass of humankind lives in the symbol and not in the thing it points to. They think they’ve got it, but they’re just floating around on the surface. That’s why the subtitle of Realms of Gold is Excursions IN the Sea of Intelligence and not ON the Sea of Intelligence.

They never penetrate into what Emily’s talking about, that ecstasy that I think all spirits, all souls yearn for. She should be called the poet of ecstasy. That’s what this is all about, I think.

How about your colleagues at the Jung Institute in San Francisco? Do they “get it,” this drive for ecstasy?

H: I had the good fortune of having been mentored  by the  foremost authority  on shamanism and the field of analytical psychology, Donald Sandner. He’s the one I told you about who had and Aha! moment when he saw The Cocktail Party.  He moved to an entirely different career,  to psychiatry, from having seen that play and the role of the psychiatrist there. He was the one who encouraged me to go down to Kingfisher Flat and interview Everson on the subject of shamanism in American poetry. This was in 1991. Everson was writing his own book at the time. I’d been his teaching assistant and I had done my masters on vocational dreams. So Don Sandner suggested I interview Everson, based on a series of dreams  he and I discussed together. After I finished the series of interviews, I needed to write  my  own book on the subject. Clearly, I had learned enough about the material. I had read Whitman and Jeffers and Everson, and I could speak on my own on that subject. Here’s the interesting thing about Sandner. This relates to resonances. I did proceed to write my book on shamanism and American poetry, and the first chapter I wrote was on Emily Dickinson, a seventy-page essay. Don loved it. He sent me to see John Beebe, who is an exceptional analyst and editor, and he loved too. One of the things that had moved Sandner profoundly is this poem by Emily Dickinson, this 1885 poem, “Take all away from me, but leave me ecstasy.” So for the  two years I knew him, after I wrote that little essay, from December 1995 until his death on Easter Sunday in 1997, we had ongoing dialogues about Everson, Dickinson, D. H. Lawrence, Whitman, Jeffers, and Herman Melville. He said, “You’d better read Moby-Dick. You have to have a chapter on him!”

M: How old was Sandner when he died?

“But leave me ecstasy.

H: He was 69. He had a  massive  heart attack on Easter morning.  So here’s the  interesting thing about finding that coin and why it’s so significant to me. The night before Don died, a Saturday, he went to the symphony with his wife, and on the way, the sun was just setting, and he was telling his wife about how beautiful it was over the Golden Gate, and he started talking about a person he knew who had written a piece on Emily Dickinson. She told me this later, after his death. He said to her how wonderful the piece  was and  how this  one  poem had spoken to him, “Take all away from me, but leave me ecstasy.” He had that on his  lips  the night before he died.

M: Wow.

H: She told me this, and I was very moved by it. He was having serious symptoms  of angina. He had actually fainted at the airport and was very near death. Because he was near death, he was having these ecstatic experiences more and more, and he started talking about them with me. So then he dies on Easter morning, the day of the Resurrection. I thought it was all very moving. He had that kind of certainty about the soul’s survival after death. He was not the kind of person who questioned anymore when I knew him in his final days. Walt Whitman, too, had spoken to him. He had been a literature major. He got his bachelors in English at the University of Illinois and then transferred over to medicine and  psychiatry. That’s another thing about these fields we’ve been discussing. For whatever reason, he was Jungian, yes, but he had studied English. His son went on to become an English professor. He had this transference on to me and I onto him. Our vocations united in the same Field.

My Cloud of “Clarkness”

M: Maybe we should talk about the afterlife, the continuation of the Self as an entity, an integral thing, which to me is irrelevant. That goes along with my feeling that “The future” out there is irrelevant. Perhaps, if you don’t mind, we could do a tangent into distance and time. As I said before, I carry my cloud of “Clarkness,” all the stuff I’ve  gathered up in various ways, through the collective unconscious, and all that, plus everything I’ve gathered with my sensorium, and whatever my brain is able to piece together. I carry that cloud with me. Here’s the important thing: The idea of the past is a concept. We picture the past as something way back there, but in fact the past is here now, and  there  isn’t any  place else for it to be. It’s  in this cloud. So it’s in the now. The reason it seems so distant is  because I think of it that way.  It’s not that it is back there. Similarly, the future is the same sort of thing. It’s    here and now, too. This means that this cloud contains all that I need right here and now. That’s the time element of it. My experience as a four-year-old is right here in this present moment. Now, distance: I picture Pennsylvania three  thousand  miles away. You’d have to walk or drive a long way to get there. That’s a concept as well. The idea that it’s three thousand miles is an idea. It isn’t really three thousand miles. It’s here  in this  body of information that’s  available to me now. The significance  of that is  that if you want  to talk about telecommunication and that sort of thing, that makes it much less mysterious. People we knew twenty years ago are actually in this cloud right now.

Synced with Our Own Inner Voice

H: Well, we both know people who have, sadly, not lived their vocation, and because of that, I think they suffer. Perhaps many of the people in the world are in that predicament. I go there myself sometimes where I feel like I’m not living my destiny. The struggle and strain of everyday living require sometimes that we do things that takes us out of sync or out of resonance with our inner vocational voice. And  that voice at ground  level is based on music, the music of the spheres, or of language, the harmony of syllables. But let’s go  back a moment to that 1885 coin I found, and there’s Emily Dickinson writing that poem the same year, “A Route of Evanescence.”

M: Yes, I know that poem.

This is a poem she also sent to Helen Hunt Jackson. Jackson had asked for a bird poem, about a bluebird, I think it was. Dickinson sends her a poem describing the actions  of this bluebird to the T. And then she writes, “And let me add a hummingbird.” So here’s my connection: Sunday evening after finding the coin, I’m watching Nature with Lori, and there’s this  special on hummingbirds.  You’re talking about information being transmitted  in this cloud in lightning speed, well, for Dickinson, who  was  an astute student  of animal intelligence, she wrote in that poem that the trip from Tunis with the morning’s mail was only    a day away. Now, one of the things I learned about hummingbirds, the ruby-throated hummingbirds of the East Coast migrate up from Central America. What I’ve learned about many of the hummingbirds that we have here in our gardens in the spring and summer is that they fly up from South America on their way to Alaska.

M: Oh, my!

The Butterfly Bush, the Bottle Brush, the Sage

H: And these hummingbirds return to the precise garden. I bought some hummingbird sage to plant out in front for them. Think about that kind of intelligence, being able to return to the same garden year after year. How do they find the home with the butterfly bush and the bottle brush and the sage? I like the  metaphor of the  hummingbird, because when we’re  talking about the past and the present and  those birds  that were here and  are going to be here again in a few months, sipping nectar from the same bush, we’re talking about the past and the present in the moment. They were here and they’re here again; that is eternal time. Joseph Campbell said to Bill Moyers, “When you’re in that state, there is no time.”

M:          That’s right.

An Experience of Being Alive

H: He’s talking, if you recall, about this whole concept of living in a myth. Moyers is questioning him about that. Campbell says, if you put yourself in harmony, in tune–in resonance, you could say–with that myth that you are meant to be living, doors begin to open for you and the myth that you ought to be living, the life that you ought to be living, is the life that you are living. That’s the key. When you think about the life of those hummingbirds, they are living their life, the one they are meant to live. And it’s not a myth. It’s reality. That’s the other thing Campbell was right on about.

The experience of being alive

When Moyers questioned him, he said, “I don’t think people are looking for the meaning of life. I think  people are looking for an experience of being alive.” That’s what that hummingbird is teaching us. That’s what Emily Dickinson is teaching us. She said the ecstasy of living is enough. That’s joy enough for her. And when we’re in that kind of an experience, we don’t need to think about the survival of the soul after death. So I would agree with you.

M: OK. That’s my position exactly.

H: And there are mysteries that we’ll never be able to fully answer. Cosmic Resonance

M: And the thing I want to emphasize about what you’re saying is  this  resonance  you’re talking about, resonance, rhythm, music, are the vehicle by which we travel through this experience. We resonate with the universe as the hummingbird resonates. When we allow ourselves to get into that resonance, then we’re there. What you said earlier about the pull of everyday needs bothers me a bit because it seems to disrupt that resonance.  Francis  Bacon (1561 -1626) spoke of wife and family as hostages to fortune. They interfere with our work (and “give us our greatest joy,” of course. [Laugh.] But I think we actually do give up our resonance in order to do things for other people or in choosing not to go a way that feels better for us because others seem to need for us to be doing something else. We put up with; we put up with. Well, what’s your response to that? I think we both do it, but where does that put us, considering were we ought to be? Maybe that’s where we ought to be, living in both worlds.

H: I think that’s what we have to do if we’re going to live out our lives to their completion, to be able to be masters of both worlds. And that’s what the shaman does with excellence, and the poet.

M: Do you think a shaman could have a harridan wife? [Laughs.] A shrew?

H: Let me tell you about a dream I had this morning. I resolved it in the dream.

M: That’s what you should do.

H: It had to do with the writing of this chapter on Dickinson. And that’s this whole problem of fate and destiny. Dickinson has some marvelous poems about this. That’s why my manuscript on Dickinson has the title “Fate, Destiny and the Spiritual Marriage.” She suffered a particular,  fate as we all do in one way or another. Yet if one stays true to one’s destiny, then things work out in the end. And the two work together. I think in rare moments we see that the fate  that we’ve been given is precisely the fate that we needed to have.

M: OK. That’s great.

H: To split those as opposites, that fate is bad and destiny is good, is a mistake.

M: How about a child born with Down Syndrome?

H: Well, I think you’re asking some difficult questions.

M: I know!

H: You’re throwing a curve ball at me right now.

M: And at myself, too, but I want to resolve it. I don’t want to come off as some kind of callous person either! I think, though, that the question can be resolved.

H: You know, Dickinson had an interesting view about illness and death. She writes letters to relatives and people who were very close to her, friends who had just lost a child to an illness. They’re not the kind of letters of consolation you would expect. They’re letters affirming the fate of that particular child and the suffering of that particular parent. Why is it she can write with that kind of assurance? That that death was just the way it ought to be?

M: Ah, you are answering my question.

H: I’m answering it in a roundabout way. I’m telling you what Emily Dickinson’s attitude was about it. There are limitations to that. If it happens in a natural way, sure, when you throw into the equation the problem of war . . .. Did you see Lincoln, the Civil War movie, for example? Those innocent soldiers, some dying of gangrene because they had  had a leg amputated. And we can add the factor of evil and what happened in Nazi Germany.  Some answers I think are  not forthcoming. We can’t answer affirmatively that  in certain circumstances  it’s the  way it was meant to be.

The Universe Is as It Is.

M: To try to explain it intellectually is a waste of time, because you can’t. But here’s what I  do know. The universe is as it is. When you go down into the realms of gold, you realize that the universe is as it is. You cannot withhold yourself from that. You have to surrender to the universe as it is. You can’t interject some idea you have of the way it ought to be… If you can’t accept it, you haven’t really surrendered to it. It’s beyond acceptance.

H: I’ll tell you someone who surrendered to the  universe as it is, Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote a manuscript that has sold ten million copies about his experiences in Auschwitz. The Nazis destroyed the first draft and he wrote from memory verbatim the whole manuscript a second time. What kept him alive he says in that miraculous book was the thought of seeing his wife again–who died tragically in Buchenwald–and the sense of meaning that came from the realization that he had a vocation to fulfill. That was conveyed clearly in his manuscript. He later became a great logo-therapist. He actually invented that style of psychotherapy. He believed in the possibility of changing one’s mental frame, one’s attitude. He called them attitudinal values.

M: What you do in your work, I think, is to help people rearrange their patterns of thought.

H: I think that’s part of what we have to do if we’re going to help patients.

M: That’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re talking about, too.

H: “We are what we think. What we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.” There you have it. That’s logo-therapy right there.  Five hundred years B.C., Buddha got it right.

M: And there were people before him that go way, way back.

H: Oh, yes, the yogis. “Yoga is the intentional stopping of the spontaneous activity of the mind stuff.” That’s the first line from Patanjali’s Yoga Sturas.

M: The same concept. We talked earlier about how it could be that they could know this long before any of the research that has accumulated over time. You remember I was speculating about how Yeats could know about memory, which is really the subatomic field that he’s talking about. You said,   Well, it’s not such a big surprise because…

[The train of thought was interrupted when I noticed a hummingbird out Steven’s window. We take up the symbiotic relationship of hummingbirds and hawks and bluebirds and then a tangent to pick up on Dickinson’s interest in the bluebird.]

Above Vicissitude

H: Dickinson identified with the bluebird. She has beautiful poems about bluebirds and she speaks about her teacher having been a bluebird. So she learned a lot from them.

I think you were about to say something when we stopped to talk about hummingbirds and bluebirds.

M: Oh, let’s see… If a person’s actually complaining about war and pestilence and suffering,  he or she hasn’t delved deeply enough into the realms of gold. The bottom line is you have to give up your reservations.

H: That’s because you have to develop the attitude that Dickinson calls superiority to fate.

M: Exactly, exactly.

H: Superiority to fate means one has accepted one’s destiny. One’s destiny is to live in the realms of gold and be able to bequeath those realms to others. This is something that is very rare actually. These poet-shamans are not common.

M: I’d like to see what she said to these people whose children died.

H: I have a number of those letters.

M: Maybe you could email some source information on that for me to look at. I’m interested in how she talked about it to these people.

H: In these letters she’s talking about death by natural cause.

Being Grounded in That-Which-Is

M: Sure, but I think that one’s  response can be extended to a death of whatever its cause. That’s the key to it all. We have to be able to surrender to what  circumstance  dishes out.  I don’t think that diminishes anguish one whit. It just provides a grounding in that-which-is. It’s not even a matter of acceptance. It’s more like how a radish lives out its  life, being a living thing without the overlay of judgment. Something like that.

H: What you’re talking about is the struggle of the ego that wants to struggle  against its fate and realized through defeat we must bow our heads. Amor Fati, love of one’s fate, is the capacity to accept life just the way it is. It’s very difficult when you think about certain blows  of fate.

M: Yes. There’s the more common reaction of outrage and all that.

 H: It looks like we’re wrapping up our time for this chat.

M: Well, one last thing. I wanted talk, too, a little about vision.

How Ecstatic!

H: Dickinson had a lot to say about vision. Right near the end of her life she had a profound vision. She wrote about it two weeks  before  her death in a letter of consolation to a woman who had just lost her husband. In it, she’s affirming that death. She affirms it because she’s convinced that he’s going to immortality. She  writes, “How ecstatic!”  with an exclamation point that she  should be in ecstasy over this. Then she says, “I will not let thee  go  unless I bless thee!” Now, what she’s done  is  turn around  the Biblical statement  of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel. Jacob said, “I will not let thee go until thou bless  me.” And here’s Emily reversing it. “I will not let you go until I bless you.” Now someone two weeks before   she is going to die who can bless, who has the power to bless a person in grief over the loss of her husband . . .!  She knows she’s dying because she is declining from kidney failure, Bright’s disease. She is letting her friend know she has that power because she is experiencing it.  She has tasted immortality. She knows her soul will be immortal, and she knows her poetry will be immortal, even though it’s not published. She’s got it all ready to go in forty little fascicles, as they were called, little packets that her sister Lavina found in her desk drawer after her death, all ready to go, and clearly intended for publication.

“I Would Have Preached It to the Poor Box.”

M: What if they weren’t published? I think in a sense they still were.

H: Meister Eckhart said, “I would have preached it to the poor box.”

M: [Laughs]

H: If the Beguines [Women who chose to live religious lives in the world] had not taken down Eckhart’s sermons, those women who were loyal to him, then they would have been lost to time… Shakespeare was an immortal poet, and he was speaking from the realms of gold too.

Dickinson was reading him since she was fourteen. She quoted him right up to her death. Shakespeare was on her list, and she was a rhyming poet. She was not like Whitman. She was not a writer of free verse. She wrote in little hymnals, based on Watts, a hymnal that all the Puritans were familiar with. She  used that hymnal and its rhyming metrics. Nobody knew this at first, but later scholars found her source. So she did have a method to her style. It was all very organized, even though she said she could not organize, and when she  tried, her little force exploded.

An Emerging Pattern

M: Ah, good for her. Well, next time I want to discuss the physicality of thought.  You know, in general, I think the path of these dialogues–how many of them are there now, maybe fourteen, about eighteen pages of discussion each–has a distinct pattern to it and is going somewhere.

H: Yes, but we’d have to melt down the gold from the dross.

M: I do think, though, the dross is significant in dialogues like this and is important. I’d like to keep it in, because it shows the process of dialogue, how it arrives, when it goes well, at a heightened perception. But of course we do not want to bore people!

No More Heaven or Hell Than There Is Now

H: I want to get back before we stop for today to something Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself.” He says, “There never was any more inception than there is now, nor any more heaven or hell then there is now, nor any more youth or age than there is now, nor any more perfection than there is now.”

M: Perfect.

H: I mean that’s the idea. M: Yes, yes.

H: That’s the idea, to be in the now. The past, present, and future are all there.

M: Not some place way back there twenty years ago. I think if you’re able to catch on to that, you’re on the verge of being able to use telecommunication deliberately.

H: Well, now you’re talking about parapsychology. We’ll have to talk about that at another time.

Author: Clark McKowen

I taught English at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area for over thirty years and probably taught over 20,000 students during that time. II'm still interested in how beings of any species learn and why, and I write books and articles about these things. My 2000 book of haiku, Ligonier Sightings, is an appreciation of the Chestnut Ridge area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I grew up. All of my books can be purchased on the internet. Most teachers say they love teaching, but I don't know what they mean by that. I loved being in a group -- under my guidance, to be sure -- and getting so absorbed in exploring an idea that we didn't care whether school kept or not. That's the kind of teaching I love. I love seeing a bunch of people's eyes light up. I love the feeling of discovery of any sort. I love enlightenment. That's what more or less gets me up in the morning, -- and I suppose is involved, one way or another, in everyhing you will find on this website and in just about everything I do, including building redwood decks or going to the dog park with our Boston terrier Gracie.

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