The latest trend seems to be writing on gratitude- not that is a bad thing as it doesn’t hurt anyone to pause and consider the good in our lives. But just as words and phrases, “ gratitude” seems to have forfeited its meaning as people post their reflections: on Facebook , for example, and there attach them to certain notions and expressions that have become rather hackneyed or taken for granted.
When we worked at the College, Fred M ( he was a brilliant scholar and thinker) and I used to discuss how certain phrases had lost their original intent because the “actual” meanings had been subverted and perverted as individuals put their own spin on expressions : words such as “Post-modernism” -so that we often debated what was really being spoken of. One of my favourites was the transformation of the word “ collaborator”. During war, to be a collaborator was a dishonourable action in that it meant to conspire with the enemy. Now, all children are taught to collaborate with their peers- and co-operate when they are engaged in their daily activities. Holocaust images of women who conspired, hair rudely shorn, shouts out at me as the signs hung beneath their necks publicly proclaimed them as collaborators, heads wobbling low. A bit like Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame on a recent episode of Game of Thrones.
My Pilates instructor has begun her writing and I complimented her on her second piece that extolled water, connecting her experiences in a communal bath with friends in Morocco. It was an exceptional piece and I told her so. She segued into revealing how writing had triggered an unexpected line of events. She explained that several years had passed since she had lunched at Marche downtown with her sister and a friend, F . Deciding to frequent the restaurant with another friend who was leaving town, she was aghast to run into F again: as they had not seen one another or spoken in quite some time.
I offered a similar story. I had been at York University immersed in a course on artists’ materials and re-created an illuminated manuscript, even applying the gold leaf bits with egg yoke as I endeavoured to imitate original techniques. I finished the piece, ( spoiled it by adding my name too flamboyantly) and presented it to my sister when she graduated from medical school. Some years later, my husband and I were in London and rambling this way and that through the British Museum, with no specific plan, in the medieval section where precious pieces were housed beneath glass. Even few days, the manuscripts and the books were changed, pages turned or repositioned. As we strolled casually, my eyes were drawn to something that looked vaguely familiar. As we approached closer, I gasped to note that on display was the REAL manuscript- exposed there for only a few days- in the time when I chanced to pass by in my meanderings. How was that possible? How had my path crossed that of my manuscript?
And similarly just in the past few weeks, I suddenly discovered that my grandson was the ringbearer at a wedding where my best friend from high school whom I had not seen in 40 years- was the mother of the bride. The bride now carries the same name as my daughter-in-law. Spooky stuff!
My Pilates instructor says we are on paths that take us to places. To this I gloomily queried, then we have no free will as our journeys appear determined by something or someone, and we are perhaps like “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.They kill us for their sport.” William Shakespeare, King Lear. She, my Pilates person, might say no, that we are all intertwined in the cosmos, Gaia, the personification of the Earth, one of the Greek primordial deities, the great mother of all: the primal Greek Mother Goddess; creator and giver of birth to the Earth and all the Universe. But I also reflect on the three Greek goddesses whose job it was weave, measure and cut the cloth that determine our trajectories. A fatalist, I am, stuck in the factory of human beginning and ending the of our lives as so many garments.
When I taught Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, I structured my classes with different theories of creation, referring to the male and female origins adopted by various early societies. I found in The Chalice and the Blade (Riane Eisler 1987 ) interesting ideas, some also harking back to Gaia. I recall relating to my students interpretations of the story of Rapunzel where transformations from single to multiple could also be discussed in light of the earth’s beginnings of asexual and sexual reproductions… along with ideas of communities of womanhood… and even explanations of the witch not being so witchy as she endeavoured to protect Rapunzel from a male world.
That is the beauty of these old tales.
So many concepts about where we come from, where we are going, the whys, the wherefores and perhaps ultimately how we choose to describe our own limited comprehension of our miniscule place in the scheme of things. Some might venture , Hey, whatever gets you through that long dark night.
I am not skeptical but hold to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation of “the willing suspension of disbelief “-for the moment, which constitutes perhaps poetic faith and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. Maybe we veer here towards the mystics defined as “one who believes in spiritual apprehension of truths beyond the understanding, (The Concise Oxford Dictionary 1911) which also adds, “whence mysticism (n.) (often contempt)!” Contempt??????I imagine ladies in séances poring over crystal balls and Madame Blatavsky, her Theosophists influencing Kandinsky, Mondrian and Gauguin, William Butler Yeats, L. Frank Baum and others.
As well a fundamental belief in unity leads naturally to the further belief that all things about us are but forms or manifestations of a divine life. I think too of the Romantic poets and their landscapes such as Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, The World is Too Much with Us. Certainly Worsdworth and his pals placed immense importance on mysticism; indeed, symbolism and mythology substantiate the language of the poet. Wordsworth believed in an inward eye focused to visions, infinity, the boundlessness of the opening-out of the world of our normal finite experience into the transcendental.( SeeThe Project Gutenberg EBook of Mysticism in English Literature by Caroline F. E. Spurgeon). Often artists and poetics see so deeply into a reality hidden beneath their paints and words that lights them towards another level of existence that disconnects with this sad, torrid life that is crumbling by greed, politics and pollution- even in the times of Wordsworth and Kandinsky the inner life provided the solitude and balm to a less than perfect society.
Maybe we have come full circle to the notion of gratitude with which I began this string of thoughts and I end with my favourite but likely crazed William Blake who wrote:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour (Auguries of Innocence)