Days of Rain
Rain. Seemingly ceaseless. Our landscape presents a lush, green world of heavily leafed trees and flora with blooming flowers that span, even surpass, the widest spectrum of hues possible on an artist’s palette. Tree limbs, weighted with an extravaganza of viridian growth, bend over our country back roads nearly connecting one side to the other, creating Nature’s cathedral ceilings. The superfluity of birds that reside in the small forest outside my windows, normally blatantly vocal raising their songs in high hosannas, sing soft hymns during this steadfast cleansing of the land.
I love rain. Since my working time is flexible, for the most part, a solid downpour offers me permission to enter into Siddhartha’s time — a time of nameless quality. Days of rain provide an opportunity for me to detach from life’s daily rounds and bring to fruition here what has dwelled in the pages of my hand-written journal and the confines of my camera far too long as well as immerse myself into the number of ‘working books’ I have scattered about.
I just finished an exquisite Dean Koontz novel, Innocence*, that surprised me in its elegant, oft times poetic style, and the sheer poignancy of a story concerning light and dark, the beatified and the cruel, and the sanctity of love. Koontz opens with a quote from Petrarch’s De Remedies: Rarely do great beauty/and great virtue dwell together. Yet, his skillful story telling, well-drawn characters we grow to love while fearing others, his apparent passion for, and articulate use of, words and phrasing, lyrical at times, shows us how beauty and virtue can intertwine.
I am delving in and out of Jung’s Red Book. Jung wrote about a self-experimental period in his life that became known as “confrontation of the unconscious.” This pivotal period began in 1913 and continued through 1930. He wrote about his dreams, fantasies, and techniques to “get to the bottom of [his] inner processes,” later calling this method “active imagination.” Jung first recorded these fantasies and dreams in his Black Books. After some revisions of the texts, and added reflections, he copied them in calligraphic script no less, accompanied by his paintings, into a book entitled Liber Novus bound in red leather, which became known as the The Red Book. Jung wrote of this transcendent period:
The years of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
It is hardly coincidence then that in addition to my fascination with Jung’s Red Book, I have added once again to my morning ritual of reading and writing my well-worn copy of Herman Hesse’s, Siddhartha. Hesse and Jung were friends and corresponded over a period of years. (Miguel Serrano, a Chilean diplomat, writer, and poet, wrote a book titled, C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse, A Record of Two Friendships, which is still available, providing yet another lens through which to see the greatness of these two scholarly, soul-filled men.)
Siddhartha is one of those remarkable books that haunts. We can return to this slim volume again and again with each cycle of our lives, uncovering another layer of insight, another reason to pause and take personal inventory. My connection to it now, perhaps, is not only that I am in my seventh decade of life and these matters of soul and spirit and quality of being become more relevant as there are fewer years ahead than behind, but also, simply, that I live so close to the Hudson River, which I photograph endlessly as my own form of introspection. My time at the river’s edge is a constant reminder that Siddhartha finally found his true inner-peace at his river’s shore:
Above all, he [Siddhartha] learned from it [the River] how to listen, to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion.
Ah. There it is. Serenity — love in the absolute.
For years when I came to this passage in the book, tears slowly formed rivulets down my face. I so wanted to be in that place ‘with a waiting, open soul’ Siddhartha reached after a lifetime of Saṃsāra: wealth, starvation, pain, loss, gain, pleasure, suffering again, and then — freedom from suffering, living so simply at the river’s edge, ferrying people from one side to the other and listening fully, deeply to them, to the river, to his soul.
Days of Seeing, Hearing, and Being
I often sense the anima of Hesse’s Siddhartha accompany me as I take my early morning journeys to witness the unfolding of flowers and hear birdsong as more than mere background; to see a lone dove on a wire (what a moment!); to observe a white lily pure as pristine snow, knowing instantly I will render it in black and white; to be drawn to ordinary remnants of a collision of fallen flowers still colorful, still with reason for being — my camera; to be captured by a simple flower and its creamy yellow hue, appearing to dissolve like the butter its color echoes; to witness the moods and sounds of my river and watch diamonds fall and dance upon it at just the right moment and in yet another to observe the swaths of the whole landscape — the river, land, and sky; and, finally, to be with me while I sit on my cushion in front of the Buddha that resides on an old weathered bench in my living room, observing the smoke of incense dance its dance in graceful, spiral forms I had not wholly seen before.
The Path Continues
It is unlikely I will ever attain Siddhartha’s serenity. As with most of humanity, I am flawed and subject to my humanness. Therefore, hurt, fear and anger can, and do, come upon me like tsunamis at times. Not as frequently as in the past, but they arrive at my door nonetheless. Yet, my path continues. As Siddhartha’s journey unfolded, he discovered that once one enters onto the path, digression is assured. However, it is inevitable too that we will renew our journey, placing our feet, heart, and souls towards seeking something deep within that we finally recognize as our authentic being.
Though through different disciplines, Jung and Hesse dedicated a substantial amount of their respective life’s work to understanding the sum and substance of the soul; searching to illuminate where and how it manifests in our lives — that nameless, perhaps elusive, quality of being that is serenity; that is absolute love.
Koontz continues this theme in his contemporary exemplum, Innocence, with a poetic, powerful statement from the story’s protagonist, Addison:
But with one exception, all things pass from this world and time erases not just memories but entire civilizations, reducing everyone and every monument to dust. The only thing that survives is love, for it is an energy as enduring as light, which travels outward from its source toward the ever-expanding boundaries of the universe, the very energy of which all things were conceived and with which all things will be sustained in a world beyond this world of time and dust and forgetting.
The Book of Abbey
Abbey and I have lived together for eight months now. We have adjusted to one another’s rhythms and music of our daily lives. She continues to sit on the windowsill next to my desk as I write. She still audaciously walks across my computer and stretches her body full length upon the desk when she needs to be loved up. Though I gently scold her, I have clearly failed to train her in this matter. Therefore, I have no choice but to stop to scratch and pet her and in so doing Abbey provides me with a moment of release from the intensity of my work. She knows me now, but I doubt I will ever fully know her. She amazes me with her petits frissons délicieux de la performance that make me laugh aloud as she recognizes my sheer delight in her very presence.
Thank you again for making time to join me on this particular day. I am continually grateful to those of you who are loyal readers and appreciate my impressionist, painterly images. And, I welcome the many new arrivals from around the world that have subscribed to these Photo-Journals!
*ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: My friend and neighbor, Joe Stefco, publishes special edition books under the moniker, Charnel House. Joe designs each book, from font creation to the selection of handmade paper, to every facet possible involved in the publishing of a book. He has worked with Dean Koontz for decades along with other significant writers. Joe unexpectedly surprised me at lunch one day with a gift of one of his lettered editions of Dean’s novel, Innocence. Today, where books are read electronically on a hard, cold piece of plastic and metal, it is a tangible wonderment to hold a book and to turn each hand-stitched page, knowing it was a labor of love for the hands that touched it. Thank you my dear friend. And, thank you Mr. Koontz for writing a mesmerizing, eloquent, and important allegory about authentic beauty, virtue and love … in a world beyond this world of time and dust and forgetting.