Experience is the Angled Road Preferred against the Mind By — Paradox — the Mind itself — Presuming to it lead
Quite Opposite — How complicate The Discipline of Man — Compelling Him to choose Himself His Preappointed Pain —
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #899)
I’m not quite sure what Emily is getting at with this poem but it did get me thinking. Many folks say that experience is the best teacher, but personally experiencing all that life has to offer would take forever and, in my mind, often amounts to wasting time and learning things the hard way. But is it any better to submit to the discipline given by other people, obeying potentially immoral rules from authorities that might oppress or harm ourselves or others? Perhaps experience and discipline are opposite sides of the same coin. Perhaps we are as likely as our teachers to make painful mistakes in judgment as we learn ways to make sense of the world.
On Indigenous Peoples’ Day my good friend Janet and I took a long afternoon walk from Eastern Point to Avery Point and back again, passing by Beach Pond both ways. The weather was picture perfect, if a bit on the breezy side.
After admiring the views of Long Island Sound and identifying the various islands and lighthouses we could see on a clear day, we found the “Cognitive Garden” on the Avery Point campus. There was still a lot of interest to see there in the middle of autumn. Textures and colors.
Cognition means to acquire knowledge through the senses, experience, and thought. A cognitive garden encourages learning through these three processes while exposing people to nature. While the beneﬁts of nature extend to all ages, young children learn primarily through their senses and a multitude of studies have demonstrated a correlation between sensory stimulation and brain development. ~ University of Connecticut, Avery Point Campus website
The naturalist is a civilized hunter. He goes goes alone into a field or woodland and closes his mind to everything but that time and place, so that life around him presses in on all the senses and small details grow in significance. He begins the scanning search for which cognition was engineered. His mind becomes unfocused, it focuses on everything, no longer directed toward any ordinary task or social pleasantry. ~ E. O. Wilson (Biophilia)
I wish I could include the smell of a patch of thyme for you, dear readers. What an amazing scent filled the air!
On the way back I was happy to see that Beach Pond was full of water again, although we were still in a moderate drought that day. I suspect Thursday’s torrential rains may have moved us up into the abnormally dry category. No waterbirds around but still some flowers blooming, and others spent.
So come to the pond, or the river of your imagination, or the harbor of your longing, and put your lips to the world. And live your life. ~ Mary Oliver (Red Bird: Poems)
It felt so good sauntering along and catching up with a friend!!!
Back in May a group of seven volunteers from the Groton Open Space Association replaced a dilapidated bridge over Haley Brook in this nature preserve. The new bridge is longer, wider and has more secure handrails. So on this pleasant day we decided to use some mosquito repellent and take a rare walk into the summer woods to check out the new bridge.
To compare with an autumn view of the farm relic pictured above, see here: autumn afternoon.
I didn’t want to risk contact with poison ivy or ticks so I couldn’t get too close to the spotted wintergreen flowers, but I was very excited to spot them out of the corner of my eye. I’ve only seen these plants before on my winter walks and have never seen the flowers. Tim used his walking stick to hold some of the surrounding vegetation back so I could at least get this blurry picture.
All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down. ~ Pema Chödrön (The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times)
There were lots of damselflies fluttering through the air. One finally landed on a leaf long enough to get some pictures. Unfortunately another leaf was obstructing the view of its body but I was happy to capture some of the detail on her wings. The white dots at the end of each wing identify her as a female.
The bug repellent seems to have worked. I heard one mosquito around my ear but never got bit. Since I discovered a couple of things (wintergreen flowers and black-winged damselflies) I’d never seen before I wonder if it might be worth the trouble to take more summer walks in the woods…
And now the covid positivity rate in Connecticut is about 10%. Heading in the wrong direction…
Over the years our double-paned sliding-glass doors filled with condensation and became so “foggy” that we could not see out of them. It took us a long time to get around to having them replaced, but we finally did so near the end of April. Zoë was delighted to be able to clearly see the birds and we celebrated by buying two chairs and a little table (at an estate sale) for the balcony.
Never mind that right on the heels of these sips of joy we had a flood in our basement, a sewer backup. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Funny all the twists and turns life brings. Thank goodness our home insurance is covering the cost of clean up and repair. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I’ll be glad when they finish, but we had to interrupt the process to drive to North Carolina as planned.
Everyone’s experience indicates that everything we are, and everything we do, is simply the movement of existence itself. It’s here that we come to the highest realization indicated in all the great spiritual traditions: we do not exist as anything apart from the flow of nature and that flow is an unformed, inexplicable dance accomplishing itself. ~ Darryl Bailey (Essence Revisited: Slipping Past the Shadows of Illusion)
For a few days forgetting about the ‘inexplicable unformed flow of nature’ in our basement, we started our journey south and delivered Aunt Flora’s rocking chair. We had a wonderful time visiting family. Nate & Shea drove up from Georgia, and I got to see an old friend from high school who happens to live about 2 miles from Dima & Larisa.
And then… Tim got sick with diverticulitis (not again!) which delayed out trip home by a day so the antibiotics he was prescribed could have a chance to start working. Needless to say, we didn’t arrive home feeling particularly refreshed physically, although emotionally we were revitalized for having spent so much time with our children.
Last weekend we made it to a local farmers market. This morning we took a walk on the beach – the tide was very low, revealing the largest piece of driftwood I’ve ever seen. Tim estimates it to be 20-25 feet long! What could it possibly have been? This afternoon we ate our farm-to-table lunch out on our new little table on our sunny balcony. Life is good!
Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ John Milton (River of Life: How to Live in the Flow)
They are not callow like the young of most birds, but more perfectly developed and precocious even than chickens. The remarkably adult yet innocent expression of their open and serene eyes is very memorable. All intelligence seems reflected in them. They suggest not merely the purity of infancy, but a wisdom clarified by experience. Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is coeval with the sky it reflects. The woods do not yield another such a gem. ~ Henry David Thoreau (Walden)
The Fantastic or Mythical is a Mode available at all ages for some readers; for others, at none. At all ages, if it is well used by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of ‘commenting on life,’ can add to it. ~ C. S. Lewis (Of Other Worlds: Essays & Stories)
Adrift! A little boat adrift! And night is coming down! Will no one guide a little boat Unto the nearest town?
So sailors say — on yesterday — Just as the dusk was brown One little boat gave up its strife And gurgled down and down
So angels say — on yesterday — Just as the dawn was red One little boat — o’erspent with gales — Retrimmed its masts — redecked its sails — And shot — exultant on!
~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #6)
Now that I have a Kindle and can read for hours on end without bothering my eyes, I have delved into a huge comprehensive biography of the life of Emily Dickinson, My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. The above poem struck a chord with me.
What I’ve been learning is that Emily grappled with an exhausting spiritual struggle during her childhood and young adulthood. One by one more and more of her family members and friends experienced evangelical conversions each time a revival made its way to her mother’s church in Amherst, Massachusetts. Emily was never moved to convert, winding up a solitary holdout, and I suspect it was the hypocrisy and inconsistencies in the dogma as presented by her teachers and ministers that never sat well with her.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church — I keep it, staying at Home — With a Bobolink for a Chorister — And an Orchard, for a Dome — ~ Emily Dickinson (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #236)
Emily found spiritual fulfillment and ecstasy in nature. I think it can be found in the creative arts, too, and in healing. I will read on, as I just got to the “Adrift!” poem yesterday, but my feeling is that once she made peace with this realization, she was able re-trim her masts, re-deck her sails, and get on with her true vocation, her poetry, her spiritual expression, her own way of worshiping.
As a child my intuition rebelled against my father’s atheism. The first chance I got I latched on to a religion with just as much oppressive dogmatism as the scientific atheism from which I was trying to escape. But while ‘gurgling down’ in my spiritual struggle, it slowly dawned on me that religion and science are simply different ways of trying to make sense of and explain the world and the universe. The assumptions of both can be terribly flawed and misguided. Organized religion and organized science can both be dogmatic and self-righteous. People who worship science, in my opinion, give up their own experience of the divine to the men in lab coats, our modern-day priests. Ideally there is a balance between Logic and Wonder, however.
When I started reading Emerson and Dickinson I found myself home at last with the ideas of transcendentalists:
The transcendentalists felt the presence of God in their intuition, but they advised that intuition should be guided by reason, and not follow its own course unaided. They discerned that God speaks directly to the self within us. They stressed the value and importance of personal mystical experience over beliefs, doctrines, rituals, and institutions. All their insights derived from their inner life. Their movement was a reaffirmation of the inner way of introversion or interiority. ~ Wayne Teasdale (The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions)
How I admire Emily for holding on to her inner life!
Sometimes a thought train follows me through a day. The other morning the folks at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford posted one of her quotes on Facebook that caught my attention:
I’d love to put the experience of fifty years at once into your young hearts to give you at once the key to that treasure chamber every gem of which has cost me tears and struggles and prayers. ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe (Letter to daughters, Eliza & Hattie, 1862)
It seems to express a wish that is common to all loving parents, to spare their children from learning things the hard way, to let their children benefit from the parent’s experiences. But parents somehow know that this is not always possible or even to be desired. Children will have their own struggles choosing paths to follow, finding their own adventures in the world. Some of the hard-won gems in our own hearts are simply non-transferable, being unique to our individual personalities and the way we have come to terms with life as we find it.
In the middle of the day, I found myself pulling out a well used book my grandparents gave me when I was very young, two and a half years old. Wondering what gems my maternal grandparents were hoping to give me… A love of poetry, certainly. When I graduated high school, they gave me Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I soon found myself photographing the words my grandmother left on the title page for me to treasure some future day, which has come. When We Were Very Young by A. A. Milne was my first volume of poetry.
Halfway down the stairs Is a stair Where I sit. There isn’t any Other stair Quite like It. I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top; So this is the stair Where I always Stop.
Halfway up the stairs Isn’t up, And isn’t down. It isn’t the nursery, It isn’t the town. And all sorts of funny thoughts Run round my head:
Well, I’m a sentimental sort, so I smiled at reading: “The beginning of a wonderful adventure – with Milne.“
Halfway Down was one of my favorites – how much I identified with that little person with all sorts of funny thoughts running round her head! When I was three years old we moved into the house my parents built themselves, and there was a staircase with a railing halfway up, open to the dining room. My sister and I were the youngest cousins on my father’s side of the family, and his relatives were a loud, boisterous and rather scary bunch, at least they seemed so to me, a frail sickly sensitive little girl, small for my age. Since relatives were packed into all the bedrooms for the duration there was no place for me to escape the over-stimulation! During their visits I sat on that halfway down stair for hours on end, except when required to eat or go to bed. I could lean back and hide behind the wall or lean forward and “spy” on the activities through the railing. On that stair, sometimes reading a book, I could “be” somewhere else instead.
By the time it came to start cooking dinner I was humming a Cat Stevens song from my teen years… Oh Very Young. Hmm — it would seem the day had a theme. There are days when I wonder what gems my grandparents would try to give me now, at this juncture in my life, if they could. Mid-life is kind of like that halfway down stair. I’m not old and I’m not young. I suspect there is no other stair in life, up or down from here, quite like it. A chance to stop and be anywhere, or somewhere else instead… Fading up to the sky like a pair of favorite old blue jeans…
Oh very young, What will you leave us this time? You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while And though your dreams may toss and turn you now They will vanish away like your daddy’s best jeans Denim Blue fading up to the sky And though you want them to last forever You know they never will – you know they never will And the patches make the goodbye harder still