When I’m on the train I like to try to sit quietly, stare ahead, and meditate. I try to think about nothing, be mindful of the physical world. I try to think about the train, how it’s moving from point to point, how it has an origin and a destination, how people get on and off, how each of them has a point of origin and a destination, and how it’s ok not to be in a hurry and just be mindful of how everyone is on a separate journey on the same train. Just like how we’re each on a separate journey and our lives intersect temporarily, never permanently. Each of us is alone. Never fully with someone else.
What does it mean to love myself? I’ve noticed that there seem to be two different forms of human love, in broad terms. Erotic love is the first, and it means possessive love. This includes but is not limited to sexual love; any form of love that is rooted in desire for possession of an object of love can be grouped under the heading of Eros. More forms of love than we might like to admit can be found in this category. The second form of love is what I think of as charitable love; a love rooted in giving. It’s the opposite of erotic love, in a sense. Charity is divine love. (But isn’t Eros also a form of divine love? A tangent for another time…)
What I’ve noticed is that, when it comes to self-love, possessive love always fails. “Self-Eros” is emotional masturbation, the desire for the self. Self-Eros is ultimately self-hatred. To love myself does not mean to possess myself as an object of desire. The unencumbered ego goes the same way as the unencumbered libido. It follows that I cannot form my own identity because I cannot possess myself as an object of my own love. But this is just what I constantly try to do. Individualism is an attempt to possess the self. But the innermost self, the spiritual self, is distinct from consciousness and can’t be possessed by the intellect. The conscious self can think about the spiritual self, but only the spirit can “know” in the sense of gnosis; the knowledge of participation, of the consummation of the spiritual, mental and physical. Possessive self-love emanates from the intellect, from self-consciousness, but it always leads to self-hatred, because the beloved is never possessed; the true self remains elusive to the intellect. Real self-love, then, is not possessive, but on the contrary, to love oneself can only mean to totally let go of oneself.
Self-love is self-charity. It means giving to myself in the way that I give to others. Extending forgiveness to myself in the way I extend it to others. Seeing past the mistake of a moment to see the arc of my history, as I do when I think about the reasons that I love someone else. Possessive self-love fixates on my moment-by-moment existence and relentlessly tries to form my identity by the decisions of each moment, but charitable self-love pulls away until my conscious self can see all the moments that make up my life. Charitable self-love doesn’t demand that I define my own identity. It simply sees me for who I am: the sum of every moment of my life, an empty vessel filling up with experiences, a physical body with a brain, which possesses consciousness, which is aware of my spirit. Charitable self-love emanates from the spirit. It exists before thought, before self-consciousness. This is why we have it as children, but lose it in adulthood. The task of loving myself is the task of relearning the love of the spirit.
Loving myself rightly is crucial because it’s impossible to love others if I don’t love myself. But charitable love originates from God; it’s the divine, the original love. It emanates first from him, and when I accept it into my spirit, I learn to love myself first, and then I learn to love others. Charitable love means loving intrinsically, before thought, without thinking. This means that not only is God’s love unconditional, but it I’m free to love myself unconditionally too. Loving others unconditionally should flow freely from this way of living. God, teach me to love like that.
If all your structures break beneath you
Do you let them fall
For the sake of truth
Or do you still believe them all?
Do you rise from the rubble and rebuild
Frame by frame
For the sake of truth
Or do you lay down at night the same?
And who can judge, if you choose to build or rest?
On which side of your thinking
Does reality really lie?
In that night, does your conscious testify or lie?
When I’m on the Long Island Railroad
The trains stops and momentarily
I feel that we’re moving but in reverse
As if to be at rest is lost ground –
Only inches, true, but anxious lost ground.
The train cuts a razor course
Across roads, and cars digress,
Splitting, so we progress,
Fixed in point, pitiless to distance
Cutting forward, fearing distance.
And yet I feel us moving back.
Inch by inch at every stop we inch;
Forward motion fakes the feeling.
From February to March, maybe,
I’ve moved a quarter mile back.
And between the suburb and the city
I feel the pull of constant progress
Always forward, so rest can’t move me back
To the times when I sat by a window
In the breakfast nook watching sparrows.
On Evening Avenue, the streetlights are always half lit
A sunset always permeates the space between
The circlet of a girl’s silhouetted chin
And the primordial mess of her hair
And it usually reflects back to you at a sidelong glance
From the mother walking towards you
Or a refracted flash from a driver’s ed Taurus
Might momentarily blind you
As you walk the length of the evening from it’s birth
To the night at it’s end.
As you walk down an after-dinner way
Ask yourself again what made you come this way
Or why you unexplainably sat next to someone on the train
And heard him write the novel of his life
Though narrated, unreliably, in fits and starts
Ask why you sat that way, or came this way
Or what made you leave early, or come late.
After all, at the hour just before night
Any path you take can lead you to or from the leaving sun
And you’ve not forgotten why you didn’t know
How your left or your right might lead you
To a half-light momentary suburb-like glow –
Come here again tomorrow night
And every closing storefront,
Every ten-minute-late evening dinner date
Will change, and no colors will look the same.
No, you’ve not forgotten
And the reason why you wouldn’t know
Might be a girl in a distant low-rent salon
Or a high-rise forty-second floor flat
Filled with new uncertain friends
Grouped around an ancient text
Wringing out their hands and hearts
Ringing out the feedback from the line array
That broadcasts the bloated doubts
That brought them there –
Yes, the answer might be here
In amongst the shelves of these closed books
Waiting to be read
By a man like the man on the train
Who at least could speak his mind
Like reverberating sunday evening church refrains.
Yes, an evening road like this might lead to many places
But when you find yourself
Remaining, listless, by some bleak Victorian porch
Imagining all the past embraces
And faces filled with evening sundown grace
That must have lingered in that place
Recall slowly to yourself
The other evening faces passing
Crossing differently at different ways
And let your eyes become the lanterns of the porch
That led you, years ago, to a home where wringing hands
And ringing bells
Wrought the iron in your heart
That keeps you walking down the evening way.
Looking the length of the train
I see Legion and The Lord in every face
Lorimer at the L
Looking the length of the city
Looking I see the face of a lord
In every length of face
Long to short
Long Island City to the shore.
Leave me here with the legion
Left to fix
Left to right
Learning, large to small
To live life with an L.
Looking the length of the street
I see Legion and the Lord looking back.
The more silent the poet
the more poetry he speaks
and the more he speaks
the more he feels the need to speak
and can’t help but say more
and say more of the same things
in different ways, saying
“Do you hear? Am I understood?
I’ve said it well
but I’m a slave to saying it again.”
All critics who call this poet dilettante
fear what needs to be said most
and instead say what fear heeds least.
“Do you hear? Am I understood?
I’ve said it once,
I’m afraid of not saying it again.”
He fears the loss of words –
poets only fear the loss of passion,
and where words end, passion blooms.
There the poet’s fear falters
but the critic, wide eyed,
falls into the gaping mouth of poetry.
All poets are critics.
No word can withstand scrutiny
when juxtaposed against another
and only those words that say
the thing that most needs said
are said beneath po’s condescending glare.
Poetry is criticism actualized.
The actual is poetry.
Poetry is critical.
The scientist writes with a scalpel.
Precision magnifies the illusion of infinity
until the stars befriend quarks
and questions pass away
in the face of knowing.
“Do you hear? Am I understood?
I’ve said it once
and I’ll never say it again.”
The layman who calls the scientist pedant
fears the true nature of reality
and realizes only nature’s fear.
Many scientists are laymen.
The true scientist fears nothing.
Where nothingness ends, reality resumes,
the scientist is fully known
but the layman falls prey to science.
In this fight between doubt and faith,
in the small hours between giving up
and giving again, convinced of mere selfishness,
belief retains a hairline split –
adrift in laughing bitter digress,
a split between the fixed point
and the endless sea,
between the single word and the iliad
and the poet finally finds
he believes only what chills his spine,
while the scientist admits
to trusting only
in the poet’s post-mortem spine under scalpel
and both come to find
that neither possessed a spine all along
and only the critic and the layman,
the least of these
not many wise, not many nobly born,
not influential, but called,
these possess the spines
that cause the whole of humankind to walk,
to speak and not to speak,
and the poet’s tongue is finally stilled,
and the scientist finally free to dream.