A surface affair

APRIL 13 03 – For the past 20 years I've placed my faith in oracles. Perhaps it began as an experiment, now it is probably a habit. When I am feeling down, I wonder where I've been led, what point it has served, and wasn't it just a huge mistake. When I'm feeling okay I can see how oracles utterly inform my life, so much so I no longer have any sense of self without them. In fact, I have no great sense of self at all, save for a remembered – or perhaps I should say ingrained – person I am. Oracles don't matter to me now as much as they did.

The Lingqijing I allow to change my view that the situation is dire, today #35, 'Respected and Honoured'. The seven stars of the Dipper protect me. Before my carriage there are no ravines or obstacles. The boat floats easily down the river. Rain and dew descend from heaven and the outer courtyard is again renewed.

Crazily, I believe it, just as I believe it when it reinforces that the situation is dire and tells me nothing I didn't already know. But still I put the oracle aside and am left with: the situation. It is all interpretation, nothing much actually seems to change. Yet of course things have changed over 20 years. And yet, often it seems like one long drawn-out day, the same day, depressed for a little while, jubilant again later. As Laozi says: 'Gusts of wind do not blow all morning. The downpour will not last all day.' [Daodejing 23]

My life has been about making choices that few make or even seem to realise exist. Needless to say, this has left me frequently feeling alone and isolated. I simply don't do what other people do. So I look on it as preparation for something or other, preparation for my life. Just as I wrote in Slow Volcano in 1993, these feelings hit with monotonous regularity, still.

Even now I know the sluggish current I have virtually embalmed myself within will again pick up. What faith I have developed in the intangible!


Love and lost love. Great achievement and subsequent dissatisfaction with that achievement. Despair, and genuine happiness. Nothing changes. I have found what I have been looking for so many times I have probably stopped looking. Rinzai (Lin-chi) said: 'Better it is to have nothing further to seek.' A silent smile to myself. But I gave up all that a long time ago, the need to be enlightened. Settling like silt is a layer of peace, settling upon that is a layer of turmoil. Life is stratified into one and then the other. Do I still await some mysterious pebble to be sent flying while hoeing that cracks the bamboo in a way that is now, forever now? How many times can I be satisfied with little more than a butterfly settling on the concrete in the sun? Why does it have to be any more complicated than that?

Amidst turmoil and chaos, I am still in an enclave. But it is a stillness I tire of, I long for some overwhelming planetary configuration to mess it all up. I am looking like a cat at a twitching undergrowth, suddenly flat down in stalking position, yet I seek nothing, not at least at that moment, perhaps no more than the sound of a shifting garden chair will be enough to distract me from this folly of instinct. To take an overview of life, it is hard to ignore its pain, illusion though it is. It can be painful to no longer feel pain, to feel the emptiness of all things that on another occasion is the saving grace of all existence. 'It didn't matter, it never mattered, it was not real, it was like a dream…' What a burden to see through it all, and yet not enough for it not to be a burden. Such is the existential angst of the Bodhisattva, without a doubt. I may as well get used to it once again, it is what I have chosen. I don't believe I had any other choice, it was a fait accompli.

So what do I long for now? Love, travel, a sense of purpose beyond these scratchings in the clay. Perhaps even death, a change of scenery at least. The horror is all in life, not in death. Who can understand the silent even smiling agony of the few? Life for many is a surface affair, yet deep down beneath that surface can I honestly say it is anything other than another surface affair? And they wonder why people blow their brains out. To survive is to become accustomed.