My Latest Letter to Fred (may he RIP)

Fred Pape died seven years ago. He and I exchanged around 300 letters with each other over our later lives. After his death I couldn’t stop writing to him for around 18 months. I still write the occasional letter, which is a way to maintain a diary or memoir.

I herewith share an edited version of my latest letter

Saturday, 17 September 2022

Eh, Fred,

Last missive was Monday, January 25, 2021.

I re-read what I had then written and find that the needle hasn’t moved very much, except that the Wuhan Flu is effectively behind us, and we are free to move at will. I will get shot #5(!) within the month ahead, just before I leave for a trip to the US&A to visit Andrea and Greg, (my daughter in Phoenix, Arizona and my son in Medford, Oregon).

The ‘Big Blank‘ is still ahead of me at, now, age 85. What does the future hold, and so what?

I am evermore inclined to regard my universe (that which I perceive and imagine) as do the folks imbued with certain Eastern Ways: an illusion. Maya is one name for this:

maya, (Sanskrit: “magic” or “illusion”) a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably in the Advaita (Nondualist) school of Vedanta. Maya originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion. By extension, it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real. For the Nondualists, maya is thus that cosmic force that presents the infinite brahman (the supreme being) as the finite phenomenal world. Maya is reflected on the individual level by human ignorance (ajnana) of the real nature of the self, which is mistaken for the empirical ego but which is in reality identical with brahman. (Wikipedia)

Zen Buddhism, as you know, shows us that emptiness is form/form is emptiness.

I’m currently reading K. by Roberto Calasso. Here is a précis of the book:

What are Kafka’s fictions about? Are they dreams? Allegories? Symbols? Countless answers have been offered, but the essential mystery remains intact. Setting out on his own exploration, Roberto Calasso enters the flow, the tortuous movement, the physiology of Kafka’s work to discover why K. and Josef K.–the protagonists of The Castle and The Trial–are so radically different from any other character in the history of the novel, and to determine who, in the end, is K. The culmination of Calasso’s lifelong fascination with Kafka’s work, K. is also an unprecedented consideration of the mystery of Kafka himself.

My inexpert summary of one element presented in the book: no thing is what it seems simply to be, connected as any thing (any seeming-‘thing’) is on higher and lower planes with concentric circles of existence which ultimately cancel each other out or combine into a mythic whole.

What do I get from all this reading and pondering? A vague feeling of non-ordinariness. A feeling/sensation of the consciousness that there is a curtain between me and what may or may not be reality that I could easily push aside with a bit more effort than I have heretofore exerted. I seem not to be in a hurry to push the curtain aside, but the curtain seems ever more transparent so the pushing aside may not be necessary.

An inhibiting force, mild but present, is my feeling that should the curtain disappear, I may find that my relationships with other people may change in ways that I would currently find uncomfortable, undesirable.

I have been reading, also, the writings and biographies of the “Beat” poets and writers who emerged in the late 1940s and 1950s. Many of them pursued ‘enlightenment’ in India and Japan, and through psychoactive drugs. Perhaps some succeeded (I’m thinking primarily of Gary Snyder).

I have thought about this notion quite a bit and have the opinion that one doesn’t search for it, but one grows into the world where it may find you. There is too much ego in such a search. I remind myself of the Zen proverb: “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Well, Fred, this letter has transformed into a blog article.

Thanks for listening.

On Entering one’s 85th year

The Indian Yogi Jaggi Vasudev, aka ‘Sadhguru’, tells us that the body remembers more than the ‘mind’ does, beginning at conception. By age 84 a body has experienced seven solar cycles and, more importantly, 1008 Lunar cycles. In the Yogic tradition the soul of person having lived this long will not, when released from the body, seek, or be eligible to be reincarnated elsewhere. “Seen it all, done it all”?

I correspond with a friend with whom I talk about such matters:

I am ever more saying to myself and others that I have written and spoken almost all that I feel the need to say—I am repeating myself more often. At age 84, still healthy and able (except for my hearing), I can expect, given family history, to live at least another 10 years, barring accident. This time before me seems like a Big Blank. I can’t see into it. I continue to contemplate this notion without concern or expectation—no hurry. ‘No hurry’ is also a phrase I have adopted for myself. I am also ever more interested in birds, and trees and children than in any of the current events screaming at me from various communication media…

He responded:

My father always had his belief in God. Earlier, he was very anxious about all others to have his belief or otherwise it would turn out bad after death (you know, devil and hell and so on). But after 84-86 he got so much more relaxed, had peace with himself and others. The last years concerning about the birds and look at the trees was enough.

So, the Big Blank is in front of me. I’ll just relax and let happen what will happen, all the while enjoying my walks with Eva, and feeling one with the birds and trees and children.

Perceiving the Soul

Sagging Skin and the C Minor Mass of Mozart

It started with a day off. Despite being a pensionär, I usually have a full-enough schedule every day. I had not had a day off from my various travels, meetings, readings and writings in too long, so I set out last Wednesday morning equipped only with my writing pad and pen. I had no book, no camera, and no plan, other than to deposit the recyclables at the recycle station between home and the subway station.

My state of mind upon leaving the house on a day off is to have no destination in mind and with no expectations. I must admit that it has been so  often that a serendipitous something happens to me on such days that I knew I would not be surprised if such happened again—but I didn’t allow myself to expect.

And so it came to pass that, among other places visited in Stockholm, I found myself in the audio-visual section of the Stockholm City Library in Kulturhuset, the large House of Culture in the center of new Stockholm (as distinct from the Old Town around a kilometer away).

I have borrowed many CDs from this branch of the library but I didn’t want to focus my energies on searching the bins. I thought of my friend Vasil who loves opera and looked for the first time through the collection of DVDs devoted to musical presentations, including ballet. I chose four albums, including this one:

As I went to the self-service station check out the DVDs I found that my library card was missing. I went to the librarian with my problem and she quickly found that I had left it at this branch on my last visit. It was quickly retrieved for me. There was my unexpected something, I thought.

I listened to and watched the Mozart DVD later in the day, before Eva came home from her job, and found that of the two pieces I was most moved by the performance of the Mass. I was often in tears.

The two sopranos and the conductor, John Eliot Gardiner, are the stars of this performance, in my opinion, but all performers are of the highest quality. I had not heard of the lyric soprano Barbara Bonney and was entranced by her presentation, as I was by that of mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter about whom I have heard and seen in advertisements of her local performances.

Eva’s son Leo visited us two days later for a small family gathering on the Easter holiday. While Eva prepared a meal, I put the DVD on again to show Leo the Mass. He was quite willing, telling me part way through that he used to play this piece every Sunday morning. We both wept, each in our own way, at the sublimity of the music and its presentation. I was struck, additionally, by the resemblance of Anne Sofie von Otter to a woman I loved around 40 years ago. So, here were two more synchronicities.

But this was the most important to me: these artists, the four soloists, the singers in the chorus, the musicians at their period instruments, all of them seemed in thrall to something Mozart had captured (or which had been revealed to him) in the notes he had written. Their persons seemed subordinated, yet elevated. The most thrilling moments were during the duets of the sopranos; no, it was when Barbara Bonney and the woodwinds played against and with each other; no, it was when Gardiner embraced the entire assembly of musicians in his conductor’s virtual grasp; no, it was when the chorus soared and swooped…

Ah, Mozart!

Two days later as Eva and I were traveling on the subway to buy garden supplies, I mentioned to her that the skin at my throat and under my upper arms was getting that crepey old-age look. She smiled gently and said nothing. I went further to say that it didn’t seem like my skin; or, rather, that the message the sight my skin might possibly send to others didn’t seem to be a message about me. We discussed a bit about the body being the carrier for our soul. It seemed obvious to us and there wasn’t much more to say.

Pondering this conversation and observation, I thought again about the performers in the Mass. They, individually and in the whole, were using their bodies but were beyond their bodies. How serenely magical it is that the notes revealed to Mozart which he recorded on manuscript, centuries later coursed through the bodies of these performers and subsequently through Leo and me.

Perhaps, the soul…