Recently I listened to Gretchen Rubin talk about koans, which are nonsensical sayings that are intended for meditation. Because a koan defies rational thought, it’s a little like giving your rational thoughts a bone to distract them while you become aware of more transcendent feelings. Gretchen talked about her own koans, the lines of prose and poetry that haunted her, and as she described it, I knew exactly what she meant. I too have lines that haunt me, remembered phrases that pop into my head. These lines remind me of my intentions, of the paradoxes of this world, and the uncertainty inherent in what I do.
* to love and be loved (Molly Wizenberg, bell hooks, probably countless others)
* the blossom and the wilt (Iron and Wine, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me”)
* Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something, anything. (Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)
* And finally, some Walt Whitman. To be honest, lines from “Whoever You are, Holding Me Now in Hand” drift through my mind as wispy memory of a poem. I don’t tend to recall full lines so much as the feeling of certain lines, such as, “The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive.” I love the whole passage in which that line is contained:
The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon'd,
Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go
your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down and depart on your way.
It reminds me of the beauty and the challenge of becoming a PhD-level scientist. The way is suspicious, the result uncertain.
* * *
Although a koan is verbal in form, I find sunflowers very haunting. They grow strong and wild in ugly places like construction sites—their showoffy beauty seems almost rebellious against the bulldozed landscape. Because sunflowers are magical to me, I thought they seemed like appropriate images for this post.