Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Enigma, Old Business

"I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth."
-- Umberto Eco

I am very happy Eco said it. However, I can't stop there because it is not only madness that attempts to interpret the enigma from our side. Sometimes it is a yearning of the deepest heart, and that creates when there is talent and skill, much of the greatest art. And in my experience, the penetration is not only one way. What I mean is, the enigma sometimes interprets me. When that happens it is not always terrible. Sometimes it is a new birth. When the music broke loose in me in the nineties so I could return to it, I feel this is what happened. After the turning point, the world is no less a harmless enigma, yet it is now married to the yearning I have had lifelong where once it was somewhere beyond me, and maddening for that, just as Eco says, terrible, demanding an interpretation which is impossible.

Is this also the force behind the experience of mothers and fathers who fall in love with their infant, that the enigma is delivered directly into their care, just as they once were delivered? Is this not as well the position of the mystic? Is this what happens in the best love making? This is as well, I believe, the best way to die, embracing the enigma.

That quaternity is the true cross found at the heart of the harmless enigma that is the world we live in.


I am an arrogant man, but I am a recovering arrogant man. I try for gracious gratitude, even though I think gratitude is beneath me. Practice. I am glad to have learned the musician's lesson about practice, even though I really think practice should be beneath me too. Can you imagine how embarassed I have been at times, getting caught in my arrogance? I am unfortunately not arrogant enough to avoid shame successfully. I am shame driven when I am smaller than fits my true heart. I have to keep my arrogance a secret from myself in order to function that way. Or else I must practice, practice, practice until I learn to live right sized.

Old Business

I didn't ask you
to help me, did not accept
graciously at all,
in fact I rushed off
as if I found something new
laying on holy ground.
A unique moment,
a unique new man was born,
that's how I thought then.
Now I know how this
is old business, common,
belongs to us all.

February 26, 2009 7:50 PM


  1. Indeed!

    I love it, too arrogant for gratitude, you must have had a hell of an early recovery :)


  2. "I am smaller than fits my true heart". Learning to live right sized. YES! Sometimes you talk over my head Christopher, and I am always afraid I misinterpret here, but today it is of little consequence because this spoke so strongly to me in the way I took it in. This struggle to know our own worth and value, whether it be overly inflated, or under priced. I ping-pong back and forth between the two, not yet proportioned. If I sell myself too cheaply...I allow arrogance it's creep. But what would I learn if I only lived right sized? I would know neither pride or humility. Each step, a step forward.

  3. Well. :) Why would I do anything the easy way? Where's the fun in that??

    My first two years in recovery, I spent in denial of my own success. I kept coming back as they say, because they said to, knowing that I was not doing the steps and sure the world would defeat my sobriety. Two years in I realized I had a chance and could relax a little.

    At eight years sober, I realized I really had done step 3 somewhere along the way because I found myself doing step seven for real, which would have been impossible otherwise.

    At year fourteen I was finally able to do the step 5 I specifically needed for real. In 48 hours the step nine amend I needed to do was complete. Finally I had caught up with myself and all reservations that I could stay sober were gone.

    The real work of sobriety is a real motherf****r. It took me fourteen years to do twelve steps, though it was really more like short periods of success with long gaps between of maintenance and risk. This was the best I could do. I should have drank, I think, by all conventional AA wisdom, except God really is in my life.

    Stupid, stubborn, lucky bastard, me.

  4. W&W, if you really lived right sized you would have to give up all remaining shards of overinflating learning and progress. This inability to be right sized is relentless, you know. I actually believe that if you have true and complete success in this whole thing the rapture happens for you and you disappear, no longer required down here.

    Then you get to find out if you have true grit, returning in the real bodhisattva vow. First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.

  5. Hmmmmmm, maybe it's often over my head too, or there is just so much in your posts, that i don't know what to respond to. And really, i just like to get in my two cents worth, so you know, that i know, how to live right sized. Darn. of course, i have no idea what that means. But i do get very well what you are talking about here, this yearning to somehow know, something that is unknowable, because i do believe the real knowing is on another side.

  6. This is for me a lifelong puzzle. I don't think I put myself in some "I know better than you" position. At least, I can assure all of you that is the case from my side, feeling as I call it, like another bozo on the bus. But all my life I get this from the world, that they (whoever they are this time) struggle to understand me. It confuses me. Sometimes it scares me, because I have no idea how to fix it. I tried desperately to fix it in my adolescent years, tried desperately to avoid standing out like this, so wished for more friends and felt this in the way.

    I would shut myself away because of it, if I didn't so nakedly need you guys so much. One of my lifelong struggles. I mostly have made peace with it but not so much that I don't have it come up most every day.

  7. 'I am unfortunately not arrogant enough to avoid shame successfully.' This did make me smile.

    I guess I'm a kind of fair-weather right-sizer - it seems like I can only get somewhere close when things are OK. Maybe. OK, or very bad indeed. Mostly I'm chafing with low-level shame, inadequacy, feeling stupid. Which makes it sound worse than it is.

    I love the way you take off from what Eco says.

  8. Lucy, you realize that what you say about your inner life can only be said by people over fifty...:)

    Me too, of course. I could not have responded to Eco before I was fifty.

  9. "I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth."

    i ascribe much to luck......

  10. Umberto Eco = very yes.

    It's a good thought to think about, that we're all kind of equally messed up, and arrogance profits no one. It bugs me when people say they don't want charity or they can do it themselves, and honesty is when they admit they can't. Honesty leads to human connections, human connections lead to survival.

  11. heh, heh, ain't that the truth!

    I'm a recovering arrogant, as well. I am also exactly the opposite, whatever that might be. I am both and neither. I've been accused of too much middle ground, but when it's honest, then what?

    I like what you say to Annie, of W+W. I was talking with my love the other day about how I hope to spend my life in search of answers but to never be so arrogant to think I have arrived. Arriving will come in time. He was a little surprised, I think. Why wouldn someone not want to achieve the answers? I think there are many times in my life when I have thought I have arrived at answers, only to later find that I was so utterly wrong. Who wants to arrive in such a place and stop? I'll keep looking. And yes (perhaps) if we do balance it all within ourselves then, ping, gone. I like that notion. Makes sense to me.

  12. Yes, Erin, sort of like I suspect there is truth behind the basic visions of religion, not the "black print" but what the black print tries to say. But how arrogant is that?? To think I know the real answers. Still, there really is a rapture. What could that disappearance really mean? That I solved the enigma.

    I don't mean to say I am only arrogant. All the usual psychologisms apply, right? If I am arrogant, it's a cover for shyness coupled with fear of dying from it. Or the other way round. Because both work. Arrogance plus fear I'll die of it leads to a retiring nature. Nobody is really free of these antinomies.

    And of course I am really a sea of traits all swirled together, sinner, saint, bozo and sage. The guy who picks his nose when he thinks no one is looking and the shy showoff who hopes someone notices while he's off in the corner excelling at whatever. Just all these things...makes no damn sense, so learns philosophy and logic to glue things together.

    The logician, the engineer, the poet and musician...I'm just a guy, too fat and too old and can't shut up :)

  13. this was lovely, from the quote, to your reflection, to the poem... thanks.


The chicken crossed the road. That's poultry in motion.

Get Your Own Visitor Map!