death. week 10.
city. new york city, antigua
The Mind ………. The World
The Soul ……….. The Body
The Internal ….… The External
All of nature seeks intimacy. Intimacy between mind and world, soul and body, internal and external.
But something goes wrong. Something goes missing. A conflict emerges. An invisible line is crossed and the soul seeks shelter back down inside itself and the world is pushed back out into the cosmos.
Slowly, over eons, trust is built, treaties are signed, deals are struck.
And again, for a moment, peace reigns. An impossible unity is attained. Freedom is the name, and love is the word.
This is what we refer to as an orgasm. The moment where time loses its meaning, mind and body revert to fictitious propaganda, when god descends upon the mount, and Adam and Eve share a sweet apple in the garden of their innocence.
Wouldn’t you love to know what it’s like for a fetus in her mother’s womb? To be suspended in warm love? Then get into bed, climb under your covers, and touch yourself. Don’t stop until you see god.
Tell me, what are the use of thoughts in such moments? What are the use of limbs?
The only remaining possibility
Is to savor this glimpse
Of real intimacy.
No wonder all religions ban masturbating. Competition is bad for business.
Intimacy never occurs between two bodies, let alone two souls.
No, true intimacy (every subject’s object) takes place when the Mind itself coincides with all Body. When god becomes man, or as the Hindus prefer, Ayam Atma Brahma - "This Self (Atman) is Brahman (Reality)”.
Perhaps this sounds mystical. I promise it really isn’t.
We’ve got sex all wrong.
Intimacy doesn’t take place between me and you. It can occurs within me. When the two sides of me connect. What are my two sides? My mind and my body, i.e. my internal and external self, or my soul and the world. So many words for something so simple.
Sex is a feeble attempt at masturbation.
Have you ever cried?
We cry when our self is split into two (when a rupture appears between our internal mind and the external world), and we cry when our self returns into one (when who we are in the world becomes identical with who we are in our mind).
Put differently, intimacy occurs when the external world functions like a perfect mirror, reflecting our deepest self back onto us. Alienation, however, sprouts like hasty weeds in those spaces where we conceal our true nature, either because we are unable or unwilling to meet the world as it is.
Other minds exist
Only to point the way
Back to ourselves.
A mother’s love
Is like a lighthouse.
Don’t mistake the lighthouse for the destination or you’ll end up with a hole in your ship.
The greatest gift you can give to those who you truly love
Is to teach them how to love themselves.
Death. What of death? Love only answers. Death questions.
Death insists on creating problems. Death is the serpent who encourages us to cut off ties with the world and return into ourselves. Or worse, reject ourselves in favor of a barren world.
Death burns a path of destruction across our heart
Leaving emptiness in its wake.
An emptiness which offers new discoveries
Whenever we are ready to plant strange seeds.
Through the cycle of life and death
There emerges a shakla v’tarya (give and take)
Between our eternal soul
And a fluid world.
After each kiss,
A breath of fresh air.
Love shows us what is possible
When soul and body connect.
Death keeps us breathless,
Wanting more and more.
For many, the world as it already is is enough. The world they were born into already contains their heart’s desires. The trick, for them, is to seize it.
For others, less lucky, the world is an empty shell. They live as strangers in their own land, waking up each morning to a new burden: to continue living as slaves, or to create, through sweat, blood, and tears, a new world.
Through painful toil you will eat of the land all the days of your life.
Like god, these people are forced to create yesh m’ayin, something from nothing. To survive, they must create a world in their own image, or suffer a fate still more painful than death.
We call this work art, and these gods we call artists.
When I cannot find myself out in the world, I must create a new world out of myself.
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them.
I visited Tzvi yesterday. He’s buried at the United Hebrew Cemetery in Staten Island.
In the 20 or so years since he died, this was the first time that I voluntarily chose to go say hi.
I thought it might be a good idea to ‘formalize’ our relationship, rather than keeping it endlessly submerged in the dark crevices of my own ignorance.
“So, what are we?”
I held a little funeral service with my friend Shlomo. Reading the Hebrew liturgy felt comforting. No, not comforting. It felt appropriate; like my own drop of sorrow, loss, struggle had joined an ocean of suffering stretching back to the beginnings of humanity. My pain was not drowned out in the world’s pain; on the contrary, it found purpose and community, and was thereby elevated just slightly off of my own shoulders.
Suffering makes me feel isolated. I feel personally attacked by the world, so I turn inward, licking my wounds in the silence of my own soul. “Fuck you, I don’t need you. Anyhow, I always knew I couldn’t trust anyone other than myself.” Reciting those few chapters of Psalms at my brother’s grave, I found that more than anything else, suffering is what unites us. The world shares in my suffering, just as a mother takes equal share in her child’s birth pangs.
Why am I so reluctant to share my burden? Why do I insist on carrying it all alone? I found it exceedingly difficult to invite Shlomo to the cemetery with me.
I think it was a good idea though. He got to experience an entirely different side of my life, my family, my heart. Hopefully, this has helped bring us closer together.
As we sat at the grass just beside Tavi’s grave, Shlomo broke the silence by sharing that he felt grateful to Tzvi (who he’d never met) for bringing us together in this way, at this moment.
He said that he wishes Tzvi could see me through his eyes.
I thought that was very sweet. I told him so.
In return, I shared that the only way I could think of to build a better relationship with Tzvi now that he’s no longer physically in my life, is to take better care of those who Tzvi loved and who loved him. Our family. Nature. Animals.
Sitting beside his grave, pulling at the green grass that draws its life from his decaying flesh (there truly is nothing so alive as the grass atop a grave), I realized that I hadn’t been a great brother to Tzvi all these years.
Mostly, I’d ignored him. Felt embarrassed by him. My brother who died. I treated him like a problem, an injury, a wound in my heart and in my family.
The thing is that he is actually a blessing. I am the one who insists on being wounded.
Some homework: Consider ways to rebuild my relationship with my older brother.
More specifically: Spend the coming week in shiva / mourning.
Sit on the floor. Say Kaddish each evening. Say goodbye to the brother I never really knew, and begin to say hello to… something new?
Find the love buried deep in the pain. Six feet under.
Some thoughts from Antigua, Guatemala.
I’ve been saying Kaddish each evening for over a week now. Sometimes it seems that the quickest path to my brother runs through a millennium of jewish history. I suppose that sometimes an instant is best approached through eternity.
While Tzvi’s death cannot be anything but a dumb absurdity, the Kaddish helps me place it outside of any context, thereby relieving it of its unbearable burden. The Kaddish forces me to shut my mouth for just a minute and return, like generations before me, to the familiar (and familial) misery of Jewish existence.
The god of Abraham, god of Isaac, god of Jacob, the god of my forefathers, and the god of my foremothers is that very same god that took Tzvi away. We’ve all been there. It runs in the family.
I went to shul Friday night and said Kaddish in front of a minyan. And the congregation answered in unison, “Amen.”
During my darkest moments these past few months, when my world spun topsy turvy and my mind filled with black rot and each moment brought with it a fresh insanity, my one north star remained my family.
When the world grows cold dark and empty, and even that faintest flicker of hope is extinguished, the mind (like the body) thrashes around, seeking to grasp onto something. Anything. Anything but nothing.
I held onto my family. Whatever else, I have my family. I lose myself far too often, but I never ever lose my family. I hold them tightly in the good times, and even more tightly in the dark times.
Family and death are equally absurd. Each person, each atom, has a history. We are the product and prequel of that which we are not. And although that, in itself is absolutely meaningless, this is precisely the source of its ineradicable strength.
When all meaning gets washed away, as it so reliably does, only the meaningless can remain.
Whatever the future may bring, and whatever the mistakes of the past have been, history pardons all sin. History, and history alone, justifies all suffering. Our one true mother, history can never and will never forsake us. It stands forever ready, forever willing to welcome us home into its infinite embrace.
It is rather I alone who seeks to avoid history and overcome my past, and in so doing I enter into sin.
Throughout my greatest achievements and my deepest disappointments, family remains unmoved. To have family is to have faith. And faith alone will follow me down into the depths of hell.
As part of my ‘curriculum of death’, I’ve been reading Rilke’s prose and poetry. He writes my own thoughts better than I ever could. He is already the writer — and the thinker and feeler — that I wish to one day be.
It’s hard to find inspiration without the temptation to copy.
In those brief moments during which I come in contact with my own self, I inevitably feel suspended between love and death. Like two streams feeding a single river.
The Italian poet and philosopher Leopardi writes that “when love is born deep down in the heart, simultaneously a languid and weary desire to die is felt in the breast.” Eh, you probably don’t believe him. At first, I didn’t either. But next time you feel penetrated by love, take a moment to notice if there is not indeed some suicidal ingredient mixed in with that divine cocktail.
On their own, both love and death present themselves as a perfect puzzle. In the face of each, one is left clueless, breathless, dumb. Left powerless, submission is the only option.
But taken together, love and death each answer to the other’s inscrutable mystery.