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.