I’ve been recently reading Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain”, the novelist’s masterpiece. I can’t say what it’s about yet- but the sheer beauty of the language is extraordinary. I am an instant fan. It’s funny, how this gifted translator, John E. Woods, who passed away just last year, has become the bridge between me and the novelist. Through Woods’ translation, I can see Thomas Mann had a love of words that borders on hysteria and madness. As a poet, I can identify. When I finish this book, I promise a full review.
I’ve also just discovered the poetry of Mark Strand. Please read his poem “Answers”, one of the tersest poems I’ve ever read about father-son relationships. It’s concise and sad, with the son questioning the father. The father answers each question coyly, but then, when his son repeats the question, he answers honestly. and the poem ends with the father asking to just be allowed to lie down.
I never became a father. This is a good thing as I don’t have much patience, and would have expected my child to clean the house. This is the wrong reason to have children. I guess there are people like me who are not meant to be parents, but who have felt societal pressure to marry and have children. I meet a lot of young guys at the local college. When I hang out with these students at the cafeteria, the library or the sauna, they ask me to recite poems for them. When I read out ten or twenty poems, I feel the bridge between us is Guru’s consciousness. At that time, it doesn’t matter I have thirty years on these boys, or the fact that they never saw Guru in the physical. He becomes, at those moments, the universal Father, and we breathe in his heartbeat, his breath. The Christians say to pray without ceasing, and to seek out the community of believers. I aim to one day fill every waking moment with Guru’s poetry. The more committed I can be to Guru’s consciousness, the more I can rely on it to guide me. The ultimate realisation of a disciple is that the Master is all you need. When college students hear my poems (even though they are written by Sri Chinmoy, by memorizing and treasuring them they have become my own), they apply the light and knowledge that these words contain in their own way.
Once, in our small but maxed out sauna (guys often put wet paper towels on the thermometer in the sauna to make it thermonuclear), I recited one of my favorite mantras to an almost-graduated senior:
“At every moment,
In the depths of my heart,
I shall have to fight against
All my temptations.
Then I will be
With all unique
He paused and reflected in silence for a moment. Then he said that the poem is interesting, because it is by overcoming the temptation to conform to social pressure, social norms, that we become absolutely unique, like the Buddha. If we want to be completely unique, then we must shun temptation in every form, both from society and the temptations and traps that come from our own ingrained patterns of thinking. I almost gasped, because I had never responded to the poem that way. To me the key word was temptation- overcoming temptation, but for this boy the key word was “unique”- becoming who you truly are by peeling away everything extraneous. Meditating on the uniqueness of the Buddha, his extraordinary achievement, is another way of overcoming temptation. We can fight against temptations, yes, but if we can remember the goal, the unparalleled Godhood that the Buddha, Christ and Sri Chinmoy have, it becomes easier. I folded my hands and bowed to this young seeker, for he had exposed me to this poem’s hidden depths.
I’ve been writing more poetry recently. This is better than watching soap operas. For me, poetry writing can be laborious. I fill up hundreds of pages to arrive at a single poem. But I know that there is a poem there, waiting to be revealed. My notebooks are full of references to traffic lights, highways, shadows and alleyways. My imagery tends to the dark. But even then I get joy, I feel that behind all the melancholy imagery, there is a reassuring light. I feel I offer my inner turmoil and frustration to God in my poetry, and He turns it into something else. Everything we have must be offered at the Feet of our Master. Then these possessions are no longer ours. In a similar vein, the moment I start writing poetry, I know I will arrive, I will get at least one polished, respectable poem. When we embark on any journey, we must not think of the length of time or distance. If we get the inner assurance that we can ultimately arrive at the goal, then we have only to start. Sometimes I wish I could write faster, and get quicker results. But I’ve discussed the writing process with other poets, and we’ve come to a consensus that it takes about forty-five hours of total labor to get a good poem. No pain, no gain.
I used to say I fill my notebooks full of trash to get the diamond. I write hundreds of mediocre poems to get one good poem. But an older disciple told me I must not refer to my notes as “trash”. She explained that human creativity is the Supreme’s Self-expression. It is just an extension of Guru’s consciousness. Therefore, the very process of writing, of dreaming through paper, is sacred.
Sri Aurobindo would often ask his disciples to learn foreign languages. He once asked one of his closest devotees to learn French, and gave him novels by Dumas and Balzac to read, even though his disciple didn’t speak a single word! Sometimes the only way to learn something is to do it. By giving this man whole novels to read in a foreign language, I think Sri Aurobindo was trying to overcome the stubborness or resistance of this man’s outer mind, which says that knowledge has to be acquired always in a piecemeal way. You have to jump and dive into the unknown in order to claim it. I have a lot of Polish customers; from talking to them in Polish every day I am learning the language. I can now carry on a basic five-minute conversation completely in Polish. I’m not afraid to look or sound foolish. In the same way, I officiated my first wrestling match last week, at the college level. I didn’t know what in hell I was doing. The wrestlers knew it, but they helped me make my calls. I had help from a back up ref, too. But I often beat him to the punch in making calls. I’ve jumped into a new field. Sometimes you just have to jump. Who would have thought Sri Chinmoy the poet, the Yogi, would be known as a great weightlifter?
It’s time for me to unplug from social media, and get ready for the real beginning of winter. Supposedly the proximity of Chicago to the lake makes our winters more moderate. That’s not my perception, at all. But I live in Chicago for the culture, great restaurants and disciple community- not for the weather.