A Problem of Making Connections

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Line Drawing of a Box.  Which of the two views on the right is correct?  See commentary in next post.

Line Drawing of a Box. Which of the two views  is correct?

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ONLY CONNECT

Memory

One had a lovely face,
And two or three had charm,
But charm and face were in vain
Because the mountain grass
Cannot but keep the form
Where the mountain hare has lain.

 

Here’s my problem:

I included Yeats’s “Memory” in a recent post because I saw it connected to several things that had come up in other postings, things as separate as the question of time and timelessness and a poem by William Carlos Williams.  I see the Yeats poem connected with how things fit together in the universe, connected to  the zero-point field that physicists spend a lot of their time reflecting on.  In the Yeats poem, the grass retains the impression where the hare has lain.  That remains.   The impression is what endures. So I wrote that up rather quickly and cleverly I thought, and then Ruth, my wife,  didn’t get it at all, and she gets upset because she wants to be supportive.   I’m thinking, What the hell?  Why isn’t this perfectly obvious?

Physics and the Ground of Being

Then as I was writing this reflection a connection popped up from a couple of autumns ago when  I went up to Pinecrest in the Sierras with my son-in-law.  Dave and I were up there and we’re sitting around the campfire, and I’m starting to tell him about my philosophy, and then I get into this particle-physics, eternal time, aspect of it.  He says, “Well, that’s physics.”  I said, “Yes, Dave, that’s physics, but that’s where it’s at.  It’s not something out there with some scientist.  It’s the basic ground of being we’re talking about.  That’s physics. ”

A Box Is Not Only a Box

So the issue for  people who haven’t  thought about it very much is that what they see is what they get.  A box is a box.  They don’t realize that that very box they’ve just looked at  is an impression they took of that bit of the universe.  It’s no longer “out there,” but what their sensorium has allowed their bodies to carry away from “out there,” a residual impression gleaned from the nerve endings that has permanently modified their world picture.  If they don’t reflect on it, though, they probably don’t “get” it.  I’ve given myself the job of constructing this site so that they do get it.

Both Worlds Simultaneously

In the classes, it was easy.  We’d do something together, maybe look at a Bruegel painting  or a Zen koan and we’d play with them.

Bruegel, Children's Games

Bruegel, Children’s Games

What happens is that your mind goes back and forth.  Over here is the physical world, and then here’s what it really is.  If you’re alert, you go back and forth.  What Frost toyed with is, Can I get both of those simultaneously?  Can I be in eternal time as well as in sequential time?

In my classes, it was easy to draw on the chalkboard a  box that you can see in more than one way. One way, its base is here, but blink again, it’s over there.  Then, we might read “Memory” and I might say, “Oh, this is just like that box up there. The poem is all about the box.”  We’d mess around making connections and pretty soon it would start to click.  That’s fun, but what’s really great is when someone would say,  “Oh, yeah, that’s like what Salinger’s Teddy said:  ‘My little sister was drinking milk, and I saw she was pouring God into God.’” So  then you have the illusion, which we call reality, and the non-conscious that  it’s a manifestation of.  And so on, all these connections lying around all over the place and all you have to do is pick them up.

So, any ideas of how I can set up this website so that you’ll be making all sorts of connections?  That’s really what this website is all about. How do I get you to apply any of these ideas to your daily life?  After all, sure, you have your morning cereal but how to get you to have the experience of having it, a change of awareness of what you’re doing while you’re doing it?

One sure way it do is to write out your reflections.  And as I described in earlier posts, you can hold steady to your cereal by noticing surface features.  Write what you notice, notice what you’re noticing, notice what that reminds you of.  You don’t really need more guidance than that.  Your Self will take over, and it will feel like you’re taking dictation.  When that happens you will feel like your time has been well spent.

For me reflective writing  illuminates things so rapidly you can’t believe it.  It’s a wonderful tool.  If you try it out, it will  work for you, too.  In the classes I could make reflective writing a recommendation, a suggestion – not a requirement, because it really is their choice to do this.  If they had to do it, it would be just another composition exercise.  But sometimes some would start out acting like they had to and then would find themselves doing it productively and liking the process.

You might recall a connection, for example, with the idea that you are the place where creation works on itself. That was from a poem by Tomas Tranströmer   I quoted in an earlier post.  It means we are all working out, in our own way, a picture of our Self that we would like to match up with what’s going on within.  We’re trying to get it right.

A World Too Full to Think About

Chalk in Hands

Sidewalk Artist

One way to say it is that through our reflections, through reflective writing, we get in tune with the clock with no hands. I’ve tried to set up posts to be like experiences that require you to tune in.  In my classes, we used to mess around with some activity or other, maybe chalk drawings on the walkway outside our classroom, and we’d be on our knees absorbed in our drawings and we’d fall into that realm of timelessness.   Enough of such experiences, and they begin to catch on, like riding a bike. Reflective writing gets you into that mode quite quickly.  You know when it happens; some inner voice begins to speak, uncensored, free to say whatever it damned well feels like.   I’d like to be able to pull that off with you here.  Maybe  some genius reader will give me some tips!

Rites of Passage — Reflective Writing

Anyway, if you see some little girl drinking her milk and you realize she is pouring God into God, you’ll know you’ve tuned into the eternal world.  Lots of societies have rites of passage to trigger that awareness.  If you’re up for it, reflective writing could do it for you, too.  At the very least, it’s refreshing.

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Pouring God into God, a la Salinger’s Teddy

 

 

The Realms of Gold Saloon

Not Found in Headlines

It is difficult

            to get the news from poems

                           yet men die miserably every day

                                                          for lack

of what is found there.

                            — William Carlos Williams, from “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”

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If you are looking at this website instead of today’s headlines, odds are you’ve caught a glimpse of what lies beyond the headlines and would like another glimpse.  Some people, people like Rumi and William Blake and Emily Dickinson, live in the realms of gold all the time. Here’s a poem Emily Dickinson wrote describing her experience there.  If you don’t see the gold right away, try the surface-features approach a while (described in my posts of 2/12/13, 2/4/13 and 5/29/12) .  That should ramp up the lighting.

I taste a liquor never brewed

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air — am I —
And Debauchee of Dew —
Reeling — thro endless summer days —
From inns of Molten Blue —

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door —
When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” —
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —
And Saints — to windows run —
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the — Sun —

WHY MESS AROUND IN REALMS OF GOLD?

Getting the Juice Out of the Morning

Villancourt-Fountain.jpgI’m reminding you here in this Realms-of-Gold website of a wonderful method for approaching daily life.  What we all want is intensification of our everyday moments.

Here’s a recent comment from a friend and former student:

Also, Clark, I know your book, Get Your ‘A,’ etc. is aimed at students, but the truths in it are really more inclusive–they apply to more than students . . . they work no matter what you’re doing, where you are, your age, etc. I find myself inserting thoughts like “not only in class…hmm, that applies to life outside of school….etc.” It’s really a book about “perspective–investigating beyond the obvious.” You’re addressing “getting your “A” out of life.”

 

In the next few postings, I’ll remind you of how you can use the Mess Around Method to do just about anything at all and  several specific things you can do to deal with dumb stuff they require you to put up with in college and high school.  What you may not know is that you can do it on purpose and  cut through huge piles of wasted time, time that you can use to get all the juice out of your day.

If you are in a college or high school, you can use the Mess Around Method to:

  • Read textbook chapter quickly and well.
  • Memorize easily and have fun at it.
  • Minimize time spent on assignments.
  • Write to please teachers of  freshman English.
  • Ace a test even if you didn’t study for it.
  • Pulverize unreal school anxieties.

 

I’ll show you how that works after a little demonstration for you to try out.

     The Mess Around Method

Conventional wisdom has it that good thinkers approach problems logically and  systematically, and with their conscious minds.  That’s flat-out wrong.

                    We never solve problems with our conscious minds.

 

Solutions “come to us” and then we nail them down in language or in mathematical symbols or in a painting or a poem or in what’s causing the sewer line to clog up.  That’s just the way the brain is set up.  We have a fantastic problem-solver in the not-conscious part of the brain.  If we use the conscious part appropriately, communication opens between the two parts.  Data flow to the non-conscious, which gets to work and sends back exactly the solution you need.  When that happens, you feel tingly all over.  It’s downright delightful.  I don’t have to prove this to you.  You’ve experienced it lots and lots of times.  Maybe you thought it was an accident.  It isn’t.  When you understand how it works, you can do it on purpose any time you feel like it.

Serious Play

When you were a little kid, you used this capacity with total confidence and with elegant efficiency.  It may have looked to grownups as if you were playing.  But if you look closely, you will see that playing is  serious business.   Ask lion cubs.  In the sandbox, you were getting the knack of using that wonderful mass of jelly in your skull.  I don’t know how schools got it so wrong, but they sure did.  Even in the 21th century, they still have it upside down, and kids in most schools are taught to doubt their powers.

Matchstick Puzzle

   A Bar-Fly Puzzle

To demonstrate your mind in action, here is a little puzzle for you to try out.  Watch what happens as you work on it.  You will feel the solution before your conscious mind can make it concrete.  It will “come to you.”  Watch.

Here’s the puzzle:

Get the olive out of the cocktail glass in the attached photo by moving one matchstick  once and another matchstick once.  Don’t move anything else.

I’ve  given photos of the two moves in a later post .  I want you to have to experience of solving it yourself first.  In that later post I’ll explain the mechanism you used to solve the puzzle.

Surface Features

[ These posts can be read separately, but they are sequential, too,  each continuing from where the previous one left off.  So if you would like to follow the thought process, start with the first posting.

The latest posts are listed on the left of each page. ]

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There’s More to AnythingThere's more to anything.

Look at the photo of a black rectangle.    It hangs in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and if you get a chance to go there, it’s a great painting for practicing the surface-features game.  (This photo is OK, but doesn’t hold a candle to the original painting in SFMOMA.)  At first glance it looks like someone roller-brushed about 6 by 7 1/2 feet of flat black paint onto a canvas and hung it on the wall.  But if you stay there awhile, it comes alive — texture, almost invisible red vertical lines, etc. It’s actually more glossy than flat, and FYI, there’s no frame. I stop by every time I’m in the museum.  It gets better all the time.

The artist is Clyfford Still. [Untitled.  82 1/8 X 69 X 1 1/2.   1951]  You can google all

Clyfford Still, Untitled [formerly Self-Portrait], 1945; painting; oil on canvas, 70 7/8 in. x 42 in Source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/297##ixzz2TzYIYlkD San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Clyfford Still, Untitled [formerly Self-Portrait], 1945; painting; oil on canvas, 70 7/8 in. x 42 in
Source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/297##ixzz2TzYIYlkD
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

sorts of information about Still and the kind of painting he did and learn that  he died in 1980 and that a museum devoted to his work opened in Denver in 2011.

After my last visit, I did some googling and discovered a succinct YouTube by SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra that centers on a Clyford Still painting and on how one can approach an abstract painting:

The gist is that when Benezra was twelve or so, he had gone with his father, an abstract expressionist artist, to the museum and had come upon the painting above, at the time titled “Self Portrait.”  How could that possibly be a self-portrait?  “Well,” his father said, “it’s enough for an abstract expressionist artist to allude to the human figure.  You don’t have to describe a human figure to imply one.”

The YouTube is short and well worth your time: sfmoma.org/explore/multimedia/audio/58.  It’s short and well worth your time.

 

 

Chapter 1 OnLooking Into John Keats and This Book

 

Clark McKowen, Site Author

Clark McKowen, Site Author

On the Person in the Mirror

[ These posts can be read separately, but they are sequential, too,  each continuing from where the previous one left off.  So if you would like to follow the thought process, start with the first posting.  There’s a list of recent posts to the left of each page.]

 

 

 

 

It’s about time to post the John Keats sonnet that provided the title of this site.  It’s in the first line: “Much have I travelled in the realms of gold.”  Sounds poetic, doesn’t it, pretty words, hyperbole – not to be taken literally.  But what if those words could be taken literally, what if Keats really did mean that

 There are realms so vivid and so intense that they flood the senses with   brilliant golden light?

What I can safely say is that:

We all live in those realms quite literally all the time. 

The manuscript for this web site is full of  reports of people who have traveled in the realms of gold.  In fact, one such person is in your mirror every morning, as you well know, though you may forget from time to time and even long stretches of time.  Those realms are imprinted on your nervous system and flow in the blood pulsing in your veins.  And I do mean that quite literally.

Here’s the poem, written in 1816, almost 200 years ago:

On first looking into Chapman’s Homer.

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
–John Keats

 

My nerve endings are hibernating

I’m sure that poem isn’t imprinted on the nerve endings of many readers these days.  It wasn’t particularly meaningful to my wife when I asked her take on it.  “My nerve endings are hibernating,” she said.  My students and I discovered a way to fix that, though.  When our senses were hibernating, we would do the surface-features game.  It worked every time.

If we happened on a poem lying around in some dusty book, or maybe an oil slick on the wet driveway or some petals from a cherry tree – things that didn’t seem to have anything to do with our own realms of gold – we would start in ticking off surface features.
We would go around the room, and each person would point out one detail, anything at all, even as in this poem something as simple as the spelling of travelled  or that the poet’s name is John Keats.  As best we could, we avoided interpretations and stabs at meaning.  We wanted to get a good look at what was right there on the surface,  just the facts.  This put us all on the same footing.

We had all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds in our classes, and in the surface-features game everyone got to play.  Someone might notice the rhyming, and someone else  might say  that seen doesn’t rhyme with been – unless the poet  happens to be English, as some student was bound to point out.  Someone might say there are fourteen lines, someone else might say that that’s a sonnet, and another would figure out the rhyme pattern (abba abba cdcdcd).  Apollo, Homer, Chapman?  These days, someone would probably google those – and Darien and Cortez, and so on.

As though a light had been turned on

But then,  as we continued,  something remarkable began to happen. I remember doing this with Pieter Bruegel’s painting, Children’s Games. I had thought it would be fun to see what all Bruegel had painted into it.  To our surprise and delight, every time someone pointed to something, it was over that detail.  The painting (it could have been this Keats poem or a spider web) got more and more vivid with each new discovery (dis-covery).  There was an uncanny sensation of the lighting being turned up; the painting kept getting brighter.  And our senses started coming out of hibernation.  We illuminated the Bruegel painting quite literally by concentrating our beam of attention on it.   It’s a matter of seeing what’s there.

The Surface-Features Game
The surface-features game turned out to have many applications.  You can use it to look at a clump of grass, a Robert Frost poem, an argument, a photograph, and just about anything.  It disciplines the conscious mind to pay attention long enough for insight to kick in, and you begin to find your way back to the realms of gold.   It could also be described as tuning your body and mind for a melodic day.

I’ll tell more about my own experience with “On Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” in the next post, but I’ll finish this one with how to go about the surface-features process:

●    Look around for a piece of art – a painting, a sculpture, a cigarette butt, something you hate, something you like, it doesn’t matter – and jot down surface features till you run out or get bored.  (I’d be surprised if you got bored.)
Try to keep your observations as emotion-neutral and as non-judgmental as you can. This is your poem, after all, so I can’t be certain of your findings, butOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

●    Typically sometime during the process your experience of this image is going to shift into the all-at-once mode, and you will click over from the facts to an intense vision of them (some few of us – geniuses, the great poets and saints–are always there).  You will see this image in a way you never did before.  You will begin to see as its creator saw – sometimes seeing even more than its creator saw.

The Depth and Breadth of Meaning
When you first look at the image, you get a sort of snapshot.  Then you do the surface-features game.  Then you step back and you see the image again as whole but this time you really see it.  Or at least you get a toe-hold.   There is no end to what’s there, right on the surface – which, of course, is everything, including all the depth and breadth of meaning you create in relation to it.