Tenderness toward Existence

the dream / of all poems and the text / of all loves --

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Tenderness toward Existence

The title is from Galway Kinnell's The Book of Nightmares, one of the most beautiful poems I know. It's a haunting and magical long poem, perfect for autumn. The "dream of all poems and the text of all loves," Kinnell offers, is "Tenderness toward Existence." I've been reading Robert Thurman on Tibetan Buddhism lately, and I'm struck by how clearly Kinnell's term for this essential spiritual truth mirrors the "mother recognition" Thurman discusses, a practice in which we develop compassion by meditating on the idea that, over the course of countless lifetimes, all beings have been our mother (and we, theirs).

Kinnell's suggestion that, ultimately, this -- compassion, connection, community; contact, as WCW would say) -- is what it's all about also very much reminds me of the end of The Waste Land, another long poem to which I like to return every few years. In it, Eliot explicitly draws on eastern philosophy to express a similar sentiment: "Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. / Shantih shantih shantih," an allusion to the Upanishads that the poet translates as "Give. Sympathize. Control. / The Peace which passeth understanding. ... "

As the name of my blog, "Tenderness toward Existence" isn't so much a description of my current worldview as it is a statement of an approach to life that I admire in others and a way of being in the world to which I aspire.


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