Language, I would venture, is humankind’s greatest technology, being a function at first of our evolved vocal apparatus, then later of our further invention of alphabets and literal transcriptions of our speech, which can disseminate and preserve what otherwise would soon fade from our hearing and memory.
First we invented talking, later writing. Besides that, we invented more specialized and less literal “languages,” such as music and mathematics as further means to give articulated expression to different aspects of our intelligence.
Add to those the “languages” of visual arts, which may have preceded verbal language, perhaps as a representation of unvocalized gestural or sign languages. Or so I speculate. Happily there are communications scientists to consult who know more accurately the history and character of our various human languages, both oral and otherwise.
What I am pondering here, and marveling at, however, is the wonder of our having any language at all, and the scope of what this capacity allows us to experience, so far beyond what, let’s say, my dogs can experience, or any other creature, even chimpanzees and whales. Of course, chimps and whales appear to possess kinds of intelligence and modes of communication beyond our natural range, but these modes are not literal nor transcribable nor preservable—and thus not capable of being consciously improved upon over time.
Even as I write these thoughts, or rather take vague, unarticulated notions “in my head” and extrapolate them into a line of words across a page, thought is birthed; it shapes up visibly as language affixed now to the page and available for my reflection and my communication to you.
How grand is that! Presto! Out of nowhere something tangible and meaningful appears, through the magic of language.
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THE TRAIN OF THOUGHT
What keeps my skittering brain going down one track, Making a train of thought, not just a gust Of swirling, wordless notions, but a stack, A rack of solid thinking and not dust?
It’s writing on a line across a page In measured paces as the thought shapes up, For only then can mind and form engage In tandem, marching sensibly—Hup, hup!
Instead of lightning bolting from the sky, The energy of thought runs through a wire, Makes heat and light for all to profit by, Letting aspiring intellect reach higher.
Though talking also clarifies the mind, It’s writing by which thought is best designed.
Marshall McLuhan famously said that we drive into the future while looking in our rear-view mirrors. And that’s because we know the past and are conditioned by our previous experiences to anticipate more of the same, instead of working to imagine and conceive the novelty that lies ahead of us. Who, after all, can accurately predict the future?
And yet we must try—more now than ever, as the pace of change increases exponentially. Someone in his 70’s today can remember back before all kinds of technologies now common existed: computers, cell phones, TVs, digital anything, spaceships, orbiting satellites, atomic power, hydrogen power, Velcro, Teflon, plastic bottles, the Internet, Amazon.com, toilet paper made from Amazon rainforest lumber, and on and on. Then, behind such technologies lie the rapidly evolving basic sciences that have penetrated countless former mysteries of the physical, organic, psychological and social realms of knowledge, since the start of World War II.
But with all this powerful knowledge, have we also learned and grown in the wisdom we need to use such knowledge well, in ways most valuable to the sustenance of life on Earth?
Clearly not. Disastrously not. And that is exactly humanity’s challenge right now: to develop our forward-thinking capacities so as to evaluate those future scenarios that we can presuppose events are tending toward—and then to choose those plans which will most enhance our species worldwide, out of the panoply of Earth’s flora and fauna that deserve the right to life as imperatively as we do.
Much good can be said about “being here now,” about living fully and richly in each present moment. Likewise, there’s real benefit in memory and recollection that opens us to dimensions of past experience for both nostalgia and reflection. But not enough is said, I believe, about thinking wisely on what’s shaping up in our future—and how we may more consciously and intentionally design a future world that we’ll want to inhabit, a future that expresses the highest values we can conceive.
Now, looking forward, what do you suppose such a happier future on Earth will look like?
Writing begins with a feeling, an urge that you have something within you that wants saying.
You might just start speaking out loud, if there were anyone near to listen, or you could even talk to yourself—a soliloquy.
But let’s say you’re alone when this loquacious urge befalls you, and you want to find out more exactly what’s on your mind that seems urgent to emerge in coherent language, in sequences of sentences, maybe even paragraphs. After all, as the legendary “Little Old Lady” once said, “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”
So you find a comfortable place to sit, you take up a pad and pen, and you start writing. Or maybe, more modernly, you sit down with your laptop and open a new Word document and begin typing. Myself, I still prefer the quieter, gentler, cozier way of sitting with a pad and pen, handwriting and crossing things out (that may be reinstated later). The pleasurable physicality of shaping letters and words manually gives a craftsmanlike and sensuous pleasure to the process, which is quiet, non-electric, and contemplative, as I chew on the cap of my pen.
The great appeal and reward of this procedure is that, once started, words begin to flow prompting new thoughts and more words, sentences and paragraphs. Whatever that initial urge was seems like a package delivered to your doorstep that you’re now unwrapping and bringing its hidden contents to light.
“Something” inchoate in you wanted to get out and get visible and audible and well formed—so that first you would know more clearly and fully what it was, and then others could apprehend it too.
But unless you had initially seized the occasion and provided the means for your vague notion’s elaborated formulation into articulated and expatiated language, you’d have only the acorn but not the oak. But your notion’s now in motion, and it’s shaping up like a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel becoming, you hope, a well-wrought urn.
What a surprise! Who would have thought what was lurking within, looking to be birthed.
Over many years of reading, teaching and writing about Shakespeare’s plays and poems, I’ve found myself testing what seems to me a promising hypothesis: that a key way to account for Shakespeare’s legendary genius is that he was not only gifted and skillful as a writer, but that he had attained a kind of visionary insight into the nature of the world as well as into human nature, an insight of the kind that seers and sages awaken to in mystical enlightenment.
Since none of us is likely to be a seer or sage and thereby privy to such visionary consciousness ourselves, this may be a baffling theme to ponder. “What does it mean to see life mystically or with visionary consciousness?” we may wonder. I’ll claim myself to have but a glimpse from an awakened or enlightened perspective such as, say, the Buddha attained, just a small taste of such sweetness and light. But it is enough, combined with investigations I’ve made of such psychospiritual phenomena in human experience, to make me suppose that Shakespeare’s exalted mentality reached to visionary heights and that at least some of his plays reflect and represent the transcendental insight he achieved—and saw the lack of in most mortals.
Most of Shakespeare’s characters are typically (like most of us, most of the time) benighted and confused, wandering erroneously through dark and dangerous woods, at least metaphorically (as was Dante at the beginning of The Divine Comedy). In A Midsummer Night’s Dream this sylvan metaphor becomes palpable, and the dark woods are real, as well as nightmarish. In As You Like It the woods also, the Forest of Arden, is the literal site of most of the play, and a similarly transformative setting for errant human consciousness. In Hamlet the title character has been thrust into a melancholy dark place from whose infectious fogs he barely escapes before he dies. In King Lear the protagonist willfully blinds himself to the truth of love and goodness and condemns himself to wandering naked on the blasted heath until he learns at last to “see better” and more cordially with his heart than with his eyes. In The Winter’s Tale another willful king similarly mistakes “ocular proof” for a wiser insight that might avert a tragedy like Lear’s; Leontes is more fortunate in this “tragicomedy.” Finally, The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last masterpiece, allows tempest-tossed souls to gather on a magical island that shows them who they truly are, which is the goal of enlightenment: to wake us from the spells that bind us and blind us to Reality.
The malice of all evil is unwell, An illness of the soul that seems like hell Yet is no work of devil, spright or fiend But of a psyche fetid and uncleaned, For evil’s not defeated or endured; It’s malady, not foe, and must be cured. The way to do so is not fight or flight But leading malefactors to the light. What’s bent in them or broken must grow whole, And love, not punishment, shall cure the soul.
Ah, there again the strains of William Tell Evoking the Long Ranger with its spell As “Hi-yo, Silver!” swells in memory And boyhood by my radio visits me: The Cheerios, the boxtops and the dimes Mailed off for nifty trinkets which sometimes Would come within a year-long month—a ring For hiding secret messages—a thing You hold up to your eye in a dark place To see what looks like bursting atoms race Across a microscopic galaxy— A neat decoder badge, for mystery, But most of all the Masked Man in his pride And Tonto, Kemo Sabe, by his side.
Art’s how we come to see the mystery, Through others’ eyes of our humanity: Just who and what and where and why we are (Besides the dust of some exploded star), How our complexity of consciousness Could rise to the degree of our success In comprehending from the parts the whole And what, at last, we’ll know about our goal.
It’s artists who’ll intuitively perceive What others will eventually believe, For as they probe their souls, the Ultimate Will gradually unfold to human wit, And finally we’ll fully comprehend Not only our beginning but our end.
To evil I have given little thought, The stuff of so much history we’re taught: The wars, contentions, struggles of our lives, The theory that the strongest one survives, The conflict at the core of every drama, More popular than any holy lama, The Mystery of Iniquity unsolved, Around which so much misery’s revolved, The demon who personifies all evil: The fallen Lucifer—that fiendish devil And all his outcast cohorts tempting us To errant woods, wayward and ominous. How can I dream a world of wiser ways Until it’s goodness everyone obeys?
NOT GRAND, BUT MARVELOUS Although my verses rather say than sing, And thus prove often less than lyrical, I’m glad for any pleasure they may bring, And finding rhymes reveals this miracle: The ingenuity it takes to rhyme Brings hidden meanings out, and just in time.
The most distinctly human thing a person can do is to devise and lead a meaningful life, a life of self-determined significance, a life that “counts for something.”
Many people fail at this challenge, often not even recognizing the opportunity they have (or spiritual imperative that urges them) to create a life of meaning. Instead, they bumble along like pinballs bouncing off bumpers and dropping down oblivious holes, until their game of random triviality is over.
More people, though, more mindful of their mortality and of life’s preciousness, make more concerted efforts to design their biographies purposefully, with a eye to how their life story will look as an obituary.
Only the most perceptive people recognize their opportunity to become bio-artists, to take artistic command of the plot, setting and themes of their own lives, and to affect the lives of others beneficially.
What higher aim could a person have than to create a living masterpiece, to fashion a course of life dedicated to expressing the grand principles of Goodness, Truth and Beauty, and to realizing one’s highest Selfhood?
• to pet them • to enjoy and marvel at their behaviors • to have a relationship of reciprocal affection with them • Pets are children lite: they require less commitment and care; the relationship is less complicated and demanding. • Pets make us happy by bringing out and exercising mature qualities in us: responsibility, commitment, care, nurturance—they make us better people.