Tag Archives: free will

And so bound

I bought a prayer rug in old Andalusia
but the years have not treated it well,
it lives now only to shame me.

Its pattern is faded, its edges are tattered
and its fibers are torn flesh from bone—
it breathes on, but only so to shame me.

I have wept on that rug, bled on that rug,
loved on that rug and died on that rug,
I have worn holes through it with my kneeling—
its suffering continues to shame me.

Woven of silk and darned with cotton
then fringed with sound and rhythm,
its warp is of hope but its weft is of weeping,
its beauty is perfect, never waning,
but still it lives on just to shame me.

So what am I?

I am ground, I am sky, I am ache, I am why
I am everything and all and nothing;
I am pride, I am breath, I am lift, I am heft
I am broken—because this simple, small rug,
so itself, so patient, taunts on
and continues so to shame me.

The idea of a Covenant, the process by which man relates to God, is an ancient religious idea within the Judeo-Christian-Moslem-Bahá’í tradition. In his masterful work, Wanderings: History of the Jews, Chaim Potok even describes an ancient Hittite idolatry covenant, showing how ubiquitous the concept was in the ancient world.

To me, the burning question is, “What exactly is the Covenant?” This is a question I still struggle with.

The reference to Andalusia refers to the portion of Spain that was once controlled by Islam during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance  and which was renowned in its day as a kingdom of tolerance, knowledge and enlightenment. Being a land where Islam was practiced, small prayer rugs would have been sold and found everywhere.

Thank you for reading And so bound. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2012 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

2012.12.06

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Forbidden

As creation myths go, it’s delicious:
the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve,
the apple, the snake, the bite,
the slaying of Abel and us being Cain’s get,
the tale says it all succinctly:
take what you want, just pay for it.

But tell it as you will—it was no Fall.

The wonderful thing about myths is that while they may not be history, they are true.

Take what you want but pay for it, says God, is quoted as being a Spanish proverb by several mystery writers, among others, starting with Agatha Christie in 1938. However, I can uncover no further evidence that it is actually Spanish. The earliest mention I can find of it is in the University of the Sate of New York Bulletin of January, 1926. There it is said to be a Persian proverb, The Gods said to the mortals, “Take what you will and pay for it.”

Thank you for reading A dash, a running leap. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Who?

I have a friend who’s dying—but don’t we all?
There on his wall, from the photos of his memories
we stare back: him/you/me—all of us, ones among many,
emergent from chaos, unpredictable yet bound,
looping up from within and flinging ourselves forward,
ever forward, remade in each and every labored breath—
until, I suppose, we can’t or don’t
although I still believe we do, even then.

But I’m tired of all this indecision
so ‘yes,’ say I: slice me apart, knock me down
and slap me up there on that wall—
let’s have a grand old look at this me of mine!
Surely I am more than the observant self,
a story I fabricate the while,
effect and cause, more deceiving than perceiving
bleeding before the cut.
Do not talk to me of actions and reactions,
I want to make that slice all by myself and do it to the bone.
If I am not the me I think I am, then who in God’s name am I?

A dear friend who was, when I first conceived of this poem, dying, has since passed on to his richly deserved reward in the next world. He was a dear man, a dedicated Bahá’í and the patriarch of a large and loving family. However, while Who? was inspired one evening as we were visiting him at his hospice and I was looking at the pictures of his life that his family had lovingly taped to the wall above him, it is not about him. Perhaps that poem is yet to be written.

The question of free will is of great importance to me. I had been reading Michael Gazzaniga’s Who’s in Charge (highly recommended, by the way) and the issue was, and remains, much in my mind. This is the issue: where does the physical, deterministic brain end and the sense of the ephemeral self start? Where does this illusive ‘me’ come from? Who, as the title says, is in charge? The ‘me’ I think I am, or is it all hard wired in a subtle, but pre-set, brain?

You may think this an idle question, but it is not. Neuroscientests have, for example, shown that the area of your brain responsible for the motor control of raising your arm is excited before the area of your brain that makes the conscious decision to do the action is activated.  Is then, this ‘me’ I know an after thought? A construction of the brain to explain my own behavior?

This is a very scientific question with great spiritual ramifications. Free will is the very pith of the religious experience. It’s absence brings into doubt the structure of the whole spiritualization process, so answering this question is essential. For my part, I still believe in free will but confess that I am intrigued by the subtlety and complexity of how it comes about…an issue about which there is, as yet, no clear consensus, only much conjecture. But, as this poem proves,  the ‘me’ in me cannot stop thinking about it!

Thank you for reading Who? I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Hamlet

And then there was Hamlet,
correct when he was wrong,
wrong when he was correct
and slipping beyond his decisions:
I surrender, therefore I am—
that’s the rub of it.

This is the third—and with a sigh of relief, you say—last of three poems in my “Keep on thinking” series inspired by contemplation of the famous, “I think, therefore I am.” philosophical postulate. The first poem in the series is Philosophy, and the second poem in the series is Overrated.

The poem refers to the most famous of William Shakespeare’s soliloquies, the opening of  Act 3 scene 1 in Hamlet, the lines of which are said by the main character as he enters the stage:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub…

It is, of course, sheer hubris to link to anything written by Shakespeare, let alone perhaps one of his best works, but if one is going to be utterly rude and hitch one’s wagon to a star, make it a bright star, say I!

Thank you so much for reading Hamlet. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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Thinking

Descartes said, I think, therefore I am.
It follows then, that when I am not, I will no longer.
In truth, it’s long been overrated.

This is the second of three poems in my “Keep on thinking” series, inspired by contemplation of the famous, “I think, therefore I am.” philosophical postulate. The first poem in the series is Philosophy, and the third is Hamlet.

The poem hinges on a bit of a double entendre, which, to be honest, I am a little proud of. Both, however are serious suggestions  for reasons already outlined in my first post.

In the last line, “the idea” can refer to the noun, in the sense that “these things we call ‘ideas’ have long been overrated.” And, of course, it can also mean that the idea of ‘I think, therefore I am.’ is overrated. It’s your choice on how to read the poem: the one, the other, or both.

In any case, have fun doing so!

Thank you so much for reading Thinking. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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Philosophy

René Descartes said, I think, therefore I am.
It follows then, When I cannot, I am no longer.

This, then, is good, for it is our final act, our last submission.
It is when we—at our end—learn to be what we should most be,
but seldom are, that for which we are unique.

For we are the ones who know that we know what we know
and what we do not. (Or at least we think we do.)
And yet, even in thinking this, we persist in the sweetest of our vanities…
thoughts come, thoughts go, patterns build and patterns fall
but fools we, we live on in pure free-fall,
caught in the folly of free thought,
me and mine alone.
Therefore, I.

“The story,” as Tolkien said, “grew in the telling.” This is the first of three poems inspired by contemplation of the famous, “I think, therefore I am.” philosophical postulate, my “Keep on Thinking” series, as it were. (The second is Overrated, and the third is Hamlet.)

The genesis of the poem was the realization that thinking is a biological based process; when the soul/mind linkage is severed, what then does one do in the next world? And what does that say about life beyond this one?

Frankly, I don’t know. It is hard, if not impossible, for a physically bound construct, even one which is spiritual in its most basic reality, to conceive of the conditions of the next world, one that is beyond the physical one. We just don’t have the capacity. And surely anything we can conceive is merely our imagination and again—this is an imagination tainted with only experience in the physical realm. Hardly something to be trusted in its prognostications.

Having decided that one cannot think of what it is like to not think, I started to question the whole concept of thinking at all. If it is something that we cannot take to the next world, can we not then decide that giving up our thoughts, as we approach the meaning and the existence of that final door and what is beyond it, is a good thing?

We are, in the end, sadly ever so attached and proud of our ability to think. But it has become, in the 20th century and beyond, and in our hubris, something that we are too proud of, too much in love with, too assured that it is ours, ours, ours, and ours, ours, ours alone. Little do we think, as wonderful as it is, from whence our ability to think and to reason comes from. We think that in developing it we own it, that it is ours, we can do with it what we want, when the truth is that our capacity to think is an inherent part of us and a gift of our very nature.

But then to counter this this comes the epitome of the self-centered approach: to think away the Source of our ability to think, to decide that in fact it is the random gift of a benevolent universe (or random luck, take your pick) and therefore, to decide, if there be gods in this universe at all, then it is we. No, sorry, that’s not for me.

Thank you so much for reading Philosophy. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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