I write here to express my thoughts and it’s difficult because they branch out in all directions, and I struggle to find an organizing principle. My thought is a response to the interaction of myself with the rest of the world. It’s constantly dynamic, like the global weather system. If I manage to write anything worth publishing it is not as directed by will but the “dictates of the Muse”, when I can tune to them. They seem to mutate like clouds in the sky. It takes a title sometimes to help marshal those thoughts into order and give them a focus. But then, and here’s the snag, the title cannot arise from conscious will either. I don’t speak of general rules here, as in “how to be a writer” or even “how to be a thinker”, but as it strikes me personally.
“A Wayfarer’s Notes” has served well as a title, but has little organizing power over what I have to say. But now I’ve arrived at a phrase which really does help. Many times on this blog I’ve recorded phrases that just came, like “whispers from an angel”: phrases so pithy and suggestive that I’ve had to unravel their meaning by wandering along highways and byways without conscious intent, till more words came, and gave visible form to the inchoate vapour.
In this instance, a phrase has gradually evolved, inspired by more books—I hope to mention them in due course—and more direct interactions, including comments on my last. I’ll pick out two in particular, first this from Ellie:
We ARE blessed and grateful.
Then this from Natalie (excerpt):
Your posts are always thought-provoking, Vincent, and sometimes, in my argumentative mind, argument-provoking…in a good way! In this case because I disagree with “Fingers Pointing Towards the Moon” but the reasons I disagree are too long to put in a comment box so I’ll be emailing you.
She has sent an email, a clarification more than an argument, a view from a different angle. It reads like an artist’s manifesto and a spiritual credo, rolled into one. Again, an excerpt:
The difficult task of being human, re-creating ourselves, is like alchemy: to transmute those emotions which drag us down into emotions which lift us up, give us metaphorical wings, thereby being able to love. Love being the element which both transforms and forms the Self (the gold, the “philosopher’s stone”). This takes hard work, and involvement in the realities that life presents us with. I see the Self as tool, a transformative tool. Like a brush in a painter’s hand, or a hammer in a carpenter’s hand: it has to work on something and it transforms the material it works on.
These two responses, from Ellie & Natalie, have inspired a phrase which has such an organizing power that it deserves airing as the title of something as yet unwritten, or even a science as yet unborn:
SCIENCE OF BLESSINGS, ART OF LIVING
Blessings are constantly on my mind. K & I, neither of us following any system of belief, use the word constantly during the day: “Bless, bless!” often out of the blue. She got into saying “Bless the Lord!”, which didn’t sound right to me. “How can we bless the Lord? You must have it wrong. Surely it’s ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul’”. She yielded in the meek assumption that I knew better, and then relapsed into her old ways, as I pointed out. Quick on the draw, she whipped out her trusty smartphone, weapon of choice these days for settling arguments, leastways round here. There it was, Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Anyhow, we’re agreed. We ARE blessed and grateful. Blessings fall like rain upon us. But then, “he sendeth rain on the just and the unjust”; which raises a question about the mechanism for distribution of blessings. If there is a science of meteorology, which explains how and when it rains, can there not also be a science of blessings?
This brings us to The Invention of Clouds. For centuries philosophers from Aristotle onwards had speculated what clouds are made of, how they get into the sky, what shapes them. In this blog, I’ve made a fetish object of clouds, along with blackbirds and slugs. “Fetish: something irrationally reverenced”, says the dictionary. In his book, Hamblyn recounts the life and times of Luke Howard, “the father of meteorology”, whose most notable contribution to science was to name the clouds in 1802. Cirrus, Stratus, Cumulus and Nimbus, singly and in combination, have been used the world over, ever since. Goethe, scientist as well as writer, never ceased to sing his praises; and wrote a poem in his honour.
It is possible to doubt the existence of God, but not blessings, if you have been on the receiving end. A phenomenon is experienced, whether pleasure or pain. It has a recognized name. There’s nothing to doubt. It’s meaningless to dismiss a felt blessing as imaginary. And what is science, if not discovery of that which was unknown? It’s the process of uncovering facts, naming them, finding out what makes them happen, till we gain predictive power. Meteorology has matured as a science when it accurately predicts rain. Can there not, in the same fashion, be a science of blessings?
There’s a widely recognized difference between arts and sciences. I quoted Natalie above, herself an artist, speaking on this occasion about “the difficult task of being human”. This is what I mean by the art of living—an art I’m apprenticed to, taught by trial and error as much as others’ example. Reading her email, I tried to understand the nature of the disagreement she had with Fingers Pointing to the Moon. Perhaps there are differences in belief, but these we do not argue about, not in England, where you can believe what you like. No, I think her serious point is that the book is anti-life. It says all this (that we call real) is illusion. But she says, No! this is what we’ve been given to work with. This is the clay, these are the pigments, the Self is the artist, and we, singly or as humanity, transform ourselves into a work of art.
Her argument is compelling. I put forward nothing to oppose its simple clarity. I don’t speak on behalf of the author of Fingers Pointing, except to say that his book is actually not about the art of living, in Natalie’s terms. It might seem so, especially as he calls it “reflections of a pilgrim on the way”, implying a process of transformation. I think it fits better in my new classification, as an essay in the newborn “science of blessings”.
There is a great deal more to say, but for the present it’s my reader’s turn.