Thursday, August 22, 2002

Inspired by Super-Shakti Toothpaste (Really)

For this column I wanted to talk about the demise in court of the anti-postering law, but then a couple of things got in the way. First of all, I don't know anything about the demise in court of the anti-postering law. Except that it has something to do with the Washington State Constitution, a 70 or so page book that I can't begin to make heads or tails of. Second of all, a book that was lying around the office distracted me.

You may all recall that last issue in this space I alluded to the fact that Henry D. Thoreau was deceased, but that certain of his concerns live on. When reading the blurbs on the back cover of this distracting book I was shakti-ed, simply shakti-ed, to learn that the book was one of Henry's concerns. No, I wasn't, but I couldn't resist saying that. Please forgive me.

Really, the Bhagavad-Gita (or the "Gita" as we aficionados like to call it) is just like the Washington State Constitution to me. It's a 70 or so page book that I believe is very important but that I can't begin to make heads or tails of. Yet, I am strangely attracted to it, in the same way that I am attracted to ducks. I keep coming back to it year after year, only to be bewildered as ever.

Part of the attraction of the Bhagavad-Gita is that it is a big poem, after all. It is a piece of the Mahabharata, the ancient Indian epic that has been called the world's longest poem. The Mahabharata is so long that I haven't even had the endurance to see the movie, much less read the book, but I know it goes on. So it was inevitable that we at Adventures in Poetry would have to mention the Mahabharata eventually, if only as an example of another way to write a poem to get noticed (write one really really long.)

Part of the attraction is that as far as its content goes, considered as a poem, the Gita is unbelievably audacious. Who starts out to write a poem about a big battle, and then has the main guy of one side of the battle say he can't go through with it, it's wrong, and then spend the remaining vast majority of their huge poem not on details of battle blood and gore but on laying out the main guy's conversation with his chariot driver about the nature of life-the universe-and-everything? And his chariot driver happens to be the Supreme Godhead, incarnated as the blue guy in those cool Hindu paintings, so He has all the answers? Can you say "cosmic"? I thought you could.

[Try it yourselves, you budding poesists! Write a poem like the Gita. Start out by talking about somebody planning to do something, I don't know, like writing a column. Have her/him stop and say, "Naw, I don't want to do it." Then spend 70 freaking pages of poetry describing a conversation between him/her and some form of God, in which the God explains everything in the world, so that the upshot of the conversation is that at the end, God says, "So, just do it. But hey, it's up to you." Then take it to an open mike. Your audience will tell you just how audacious your poem is.]

Part of the attraction, also, is that the Gita is an ancient classic, therefore written for a world that doesn't exist anymore (it has mostly gotten worse.) This makes for a lot of the difficulty in reading it, but that just adds to the charm.

OK, sure, the surface message, which seems to be that if you belong to the warrior caste, then you ought to do war, strikes many of us today as outrageously conservative and narrow-minded. But then we think, as justifications for war go, at least this one doesn't reek of hypocrisy. And we can escape the conclusion that war is justified by rejecting the premise that there is, any more, in the nuclear age, a warrior caste.

No, certainly nobody today is born with a duty to wage war. So, as an argument to preserve the status quo and keep the conquerees conquered and the conquerors conquering, the Gita would appear to have aged.

But the Gita does speak eloquently of duty. Now, the question still is, what's that?

Thursday, August 8, 2002

And I'm Still Sore About it

Lately I've been obsessed, and I'm starting to get obsessed about it. Not just my own obsessions but other peoples'. I've come to think that no one does anything without some obsession being involved. I think this is one of my symptoms: I think too much. Did you know there are pills specifically designed to prevent people from thinking too much? I'm taking one right now. I should probably take two.

In ancient and/or precolonial times I'm told that they had a sure cure for the propensity to think too much. They'd let you at it. They'd let you live by yourself in a bare hut out in the wilderness for a good long time, all the wheels in your head spinning away about your own private world. Usually a fast or two would be thrown in. By the time you finished you'd be an acknowledged entry level expert on the spinning wheels, AKA gods, or anyway you'd be considered to have had a valuable enough experience with them to deserve some added respect. "What's up with Jim?" "Oh, he went to the spirit world and only half of him came back. Go ahead, ask him about your ancestors next time you see him."

Nowadays there is no such thing as "by yourself." There is no wilderness. There aren't even bare huts. Bare huts are specifically outlawed, on the grounds that they are "substandard housing."

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of decent housing for everyone. I just think that "standard" doesn't always equate to "decent." Sometimes, when the need is for some distance between the tenant and the rest of humanity, a standard SRO is a thing of cruelty. It stunts the spiritual development. In those cases a bare hut in the wilderness would be the more decent. I'm saying, the need for Walden didn't die with Henry D. Thoreau. And I'm saying, it's a need we're talking about here, not a luxury. People's sanity is at stake.

That word "sanity" really means "clean" as in sanitary, i.e. clean in the head. What I'm talking about here is that it's impossible to stay clean in the head when you are exposed to the dirt of everybody else's head wherever you go and never have an opportunity to take a head shower.

Life in the modern world is as mentally and spiritually unsanitary as city life in the medieval world of Western Europe was physically unsanitary. It is as if we can't walk down a street without someone tossing their head-crap out their windows onto our heads. It's like, everywhere we go we're unable to take a step without stepping in someone else's head-crap. You can't even read your mail without other people's head-crap oozing out of it getting on your hands. Don't rub your eyes until you scrub down.

Some literalists think the solution is to limit the flow of ideas. The idea is that head-crap is made out of ideas so get rid of ideas and you won't have any head-crap floating around in stagnant puddles. This is like trying to solve a city's sewage problem by eliminating its food supply.

We need the free flow of ideas, but we also need time and space apart to process them, and some of us need more time and space than others, at various stages of our lives. The average eighteen year old, for example, needs maybe four years at 3000 miles, while the average 80 year old maybe could settle for a nap-time at two paces.

When I was in my mid-thirties I desperately needed two years, at least, and a minimum of a mile or so. Instead, all I got were offers of shelter space -- no more time alone than it takes to stir milk into coffee, no more space than the six inches between mats. Because the need could not be satisfied by the offer, I turned the offer down. The "choice" was really no choice. You can't choose to live without your spiritual needs any more than you can choose to live without food and water.

So I opted out of society for a year or so. 1983-84 is still a little hazy for me. I couldn't believe it when I later learned you had all re-elected Reagan in my absence.