L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS XI

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

(Click to enlarge.)
*
I conclude this series with a word of appreciation for the artist who made his art available while choosing to remain anonymous. This appreciation could not be better expressed than by speaking of the beauty of his art. It has moved me profoundly, and I can think of no greater praise than that.
*
There is so much than can be said of this “doodle”—its compositional and meaningful integrity, the subtleties in the presentation of its components, and so much more that is well beyond my reach. However, I will focus on just one small thing—something that I learned from my own brief excursion into doodling. And this is the unspeakable beauty of an honest line (which, alas, I seldom realized). One single line can be a consummate artistic expression.
*
An honest line is one that happens. It shows no hesitation. It happens as the spontaneous expression of a deeply cultivated dao. It is the circle made without compasses; the straight line made without a straight-edge. It is the dismembering of an ox as if performing a sacred dance.
*
Though this work is doubtless full of such lines, the ones that leave me in awe here are those that form the bubble-head of Hope. They are not drawn; they happen. To them I could burn incense. Words cannot reach them.
*
If art is a message, then let us say together with King Hui, “From my lowly cook, I have learned how to nourish life!” The cultivated spontaneity of art is emblematic of the possibility of cultivating the spontaneity of life.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS X

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

(Click to enlarge.)
*
In this second to last post in this series we would do well to return to the artist’s own description of this “doodle”. (This can be found in II.) There he says, “this is what it is to play where the object of the game is to keep the ball in motion, not to arrive at some final conclusion that would murder all the fun.” The tiny birds look out and away, speaking not only of their indifference, but also to the indefiniteness of their focus. They could be looking anywhere, for everywhere is the same Mystery.
*
Yet in saying so, and in having interpreted every element within the tableau, we must admit to having “murdered all the fun”. This is perfectly acceptable, and possibly even necessary, but now we must make murdering the fun part of the fun. We must self-efface our formulaic pronouncements, our “final conclusions”, and put the ball back into play. We must return the doodle to its own mystery, and let the reader have her or his own fun playing within it.
*
Like Zhuangzi’s “spill-over-goblet words” where the words tip, self-empty and are forgotten when their intent is realized, here too we acknowledge our formulae as the myths that they are. Yet where every pronouncement is necessarily myth, our myths are not without their virtues. Only their greatest virtue resides in their self-awareness as myths. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. We can all open that one eye in the acknowledgement of the “obvious”, that we all live together in the land of not-knowing.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS IX

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

(Click to enlarge.)
*
In such a simple tableau it would be remiss to overlook any of its subjects. I have yet to mention the tree above and the paving stones below. I have taken them, together with the bench, as suggesting a city park. Their indifference, however, is as ever much in evidence as that of the birds; perhaps more so in that we expect it of them even more than of more sentient beings. So let us also bring them into our unifying embrace. Let us find that sense in which all these elements, including this couple, are the same and unite them to form a oneness. But we, too, are this couple—can we see ourselves in this one tableau of indifference and harmonize with it?
*
When the carpenter Shi dismissed the worthiness of an immense tree because it was useless to his purposes, the tree appeared to him in a dream and said, “Who are you, a mere man about to die, to judge me (who have lived for many hundreds of years)? Are we not in any case both members of the same class, namely beings?” In realizing this both Shi and we will experience the non-contingent worthiness of all things, not to the diminishing of our own, but rather to its unfathomable increase.
*
The proto-Daoist Shen Dao exhorted, “Realize the indifference of an insentient thing. A clump of earth never strays from the Dao.” His detractors said this was a dao for the dead, not the living, but they had yet to realize how life and death form a single body. These paving stones shout this liberating message the loudest of all, if only we have ears to hear.
*
What is of Nature and what is of Humanity? This park bench is both. It invites us to understand human artifice in its equivalence to that of a hive of bees. We cannot stray from Dao, even as we naturally do.
*
We are ever invited to realize a higher view, and in that “bask everything in the broad daylight of Heaven.”

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS VIII

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

*
(Click to enlarge.)
*
The hope that is not-hope is that hope that is an unmediated expression of life itself. And though we have followed Zhuangzi in making a logical argument for how we can understand the dynamics of the simultaneous generation of the opposites hope and despair and thereby unite and transcend them, we must also now follow him in his appeal for a pre- and post-cognitive re-integration with the life experience itself. The reasoning mind is a wonderful thing and we make the best use of it when we discover its limits and continue on to where it cannot go.
*
This is where we become mystics. This is where we “let our mind spring to life from its rootedness in the unthinking parts of ourselves” (Zhuangzi 23; Ziporyn). Our mysticism, in this instance, is inward, a re-integration with our mysterious selves. We let ourselves happen. We become that happening. And we let the hope and trust that is that happening flourish without mediation as an expression of what it is for us to be.
*
This is the heart of spontaneity. Daoist spontaneity is the experience of allowing ourselves to happen without the mediation of the cognitive mind. Thus our hope neither has nor requires a reason to be. It simply is. Rooted in Mystery, it depends on nothing in particular.
*
All things are self-so, spontaneously and mysteriously arising. Even our dysfunctionality is spontaneously so. Even our non-spontaneity is spontaneously so. We affirm it all. Yet the very facility that enables our dysfunction, our bondage to cognition and its many discriminations, similarly allows a spontaneity that is spontaneously so. This is to harmonize with life as it most essentially is.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS VII

 

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

(Click to enlarge.)

*

We have arrived at the central theme that I take away from this “doodle”, though I do not presume that it was the artist’s or that he had any intentional theme at all. I reflect upon what happened as I see it, not on intended meanings.
*
This theme is that there is a hope that is not-hope in the conventional sense, and it is only this hope that can truly energize us to fully engage in the life experience, both personal and social, without a subconscious enervating despair. The everyday hope of humanity is a hope for something. It has an object. And when that object is not realized hope is disappointed, and in things of great significance, this results in despair. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes it is the tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). The Bible got it at least half right. But then the Bible is all about false hopes. False hope is that which generates it’s opposite, despair. (Just as belief generates doubt.) And why do we hope? Because we are in despair.
*
This simultaneous generation of opposites is used by Zhuangzi to suggest another, higher perspective that both transcends and embraces them. Can we both hope and despair while remaining ever hopeful? If we can, then we will have a kind of not-hope that laughs at and wanders in both hope and despair even as we experience them—and we most certainly will. There is logic in this. Opposites not only generate each other, they also cancel out each other. Hope is already despair and despair is already hope. Is there really then either hope or despair? If not, can we not then unite them to form a oneness, a hope of not-hope that depends on nothing? But why a hope that is not-hope and not a despair that is not-despair? Because though they are the same, hope connotes the affirmation of life, and life is that affirming.
*
It is not desire fulfilled that is “the tree of life”, but hope—ceaseless, non-contingent affirmation. Life is hope. Hope is the fruit of the tree of life, a tree rooted in Mystery and thus no purveyor of false hopes.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS VI

l'indifférence d'oiseaux(Click to enlarge.)
*
This is one picture and both the tiny birds and the human couple belong within it. They belong to the same world. In this, for all their differences, they are the same. Whether hoping, caring and despairing or indifferent they are genuinely giving expression to their natures. This is their oneness. They are the same in being different. And just as we do not say of birds that they should care, so also we do not say of humans that they should be indifferent. Only in the case of humans there is an awareness of indifference, the apparent indifference of the universe as represented by two tiny birds. In this mutual embedding in Mystery there is also a oneness. This is our experience, our existential dangle, and as such must inform our living if we are to live authentically. The tiny birds have no such burden. In this we are “special”.
*
This couple is doing what humans do. They care. They hope. And they despair. Hope arises naturally as the very élan of life. Life seeks to flourish in fullness. Let us then affirm and live this hope. But there is another hope, a hope of expectations, a hope that depends on certain outcomes, a hope uninformed by the indifference of Mystery. This hope generates despair and is in turn generated by despair. This is the hope that “adds to the process of life” and alienates us from our embedding in Mystery.
*
The hope that is not-hope is the hope that spontaneously arises from life itself; it requires no justification, for it depends on nothing. To live is to hope. Let us then live this hope. To live is to trust. Let us then live this trust.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS V

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

(Click to enlarge.)

We have this huge human drama of Hope and Despair, but the title suggests we consider the tiny birds. They are looking out at nothing in particular because there is nothing in particular “out there” at which to look. They look in opposite directions because any direction will do. Every way we turn it is the same—Mystery.
*
The birds are tiny. They are dwarfed by the self-absorbed human drama that similarly absorbs us. We are human, after all. This is why the most obvious of realities, our grounding in nothing fixed and sure, is mostly forgotten; except deep in the heart of our subconscious anguish. The tiny birds represent the useless that Zhuangzi would have us understand as the most useful thing of all. They are the emptiness at the center of Laozi’s wheel that makes the wheel useful. Daoism prioritizes Yin—non-existence, the empty, indefinite, unknowable, mystery—not because it trumps Yang—existence—but because existence wants to forget it. Yet without it we only see half the picture.
*
This would not be a problem except that it is. Hope and Despair are a couple, but we incorporate them both. And for all her admirable and affirmable ministrations Hope cannot console Despair. Despair is the realist, the honest one. If all were well in the human heart, half the picture or any fraction thereof would be just fine. But this is not the case, and thus a remedy would be helpful. But it cannot be a dishonest and inauthentic remedy—yet another hopeful platitude. It has to be grounded in our obvious groundlessness—our embedding in Mystery.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS IV

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

 

This is the fourth meditation on this work offered by a friend. (Click to enlarge.)

This couple belongs together. They in fact give rise to each other. Despite being opposites, they seem to merge together. Hope is there for Despair; Despair is there for Hope. They are co-dependent. Why is he in despair? Because he requires a hope that Hope cannot provide. Why does Hope offer hope? Because there is despair in Despair, and it lurks in her own heart.

We are pulled into this union of Hope and Despair. They are a couple. They are one. They are humanity solely in the context of a human perspective. They are one, even as opposites, but there is no resolution between them.

But here are two tiny birds looking in opposing directions, out and away. We might have missed or dismissed them but for the title, “The Indifference of Birds”. This is somehow about them. Yet they care nothing for the main event, the drama unfolding beside them. They do not watch the couple, but out to nothing in particular. Nor do they together look up to a higher Reality, a solution, a resolution. That would involve them in the drama. Rather, they look out to indefinite and indifferent mystery.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS III

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

This is a third meditation on the art of a friend. (Click to enlarge.)
The couple is our first and primary focus. This is the human experience without external reference. He is in abject despair. She (or he—the figure seems a bit androgynous) comforts him. Which is the stronger figure? Despair. Despair is the fuller figure—starkly self-contained, unreachable. Hope is, as the artist tells us, “bubble-headed”, and not even fully formed. Hope, for all her genuine and affirmable caring, is ultimately empty. What can she say? It will be alright. Will it? And if things turn for the better, won’t they necessarily turn for the worse once again? All she can really provide are empty platitudes in the face of Unamuno’s “tragic sense of life”, namely that it has no sure purpose and must necessarily come to an ignoble end. “The god that shits” (Ernest Becker) loosens its bowls and takes its last.
I am reminded of Zhuangzi’s assessment of the human condition: “When someone dies people say, ‘He still lives in our hearts.’ But in truth his body decayed and his mind went with it. This is our greatest sorrow. Isn’t human experience completely bewildering” (2:11)? Hope, in the end, is but wishful thinking.
We are remarkable for our admirable resilience. It’s amazing, really. This speaks to the power, the élan, of life itself. Hope dawns eternal, we say, even while knowing in our heart of hearts that it sets just as frequently and will eventually set forever. Every human hope is at root a false hope. Could there be a hope that is also a non-hope, one free of expectations and prescribed outcomes? Zhuangzi suggests there can.

L’INDIFFERENCE D’OISEAUX / THE INDIFFERENCE OF BIRDS II

l'indifférence d'oiseaux

As previously stated, I think this picture (click to enlarge) so wonderfully illustrates the possibility of a hope of no-hope that it is worth spending time meditating on. I have already posted it twice in the hope (of no-hope, I hope) that some of you might have taken the time to do so before I weigh in.
I made the following observations to the artist:
I’m thinking of it as: Hope, Despair and the Indifference of Birds. Or: Hope comforts Despair while the birds don’t care (or enjoy a day in the park).

I like the way Hope leans into and almost merges with Despair (our first focus) and then the birds turn us out and away.

His reply:
The form of the drawing is a triangle; the trinitarian nature of this doodlegadget is inescapable. A very pleasing riff, variation, and furthering—this is what it is to play where the object of the game is to keep the ball in motion, not to arrive at some final conclusion that would murder all the fun. The bubble-headed nature of dumb hopefulness, the uglification of a soul in despair, the grounded simplicity of gelassenheit*, all bound together in a three-cornered hat, a party hat not for saturday-night abandon but perfect for a stroll in the park wandering carefree.
*A Heideggarian neologism meaning “the spirit of disponibilité [availability] before What-Is which permits us simply to let things be in whatever may be their uncertainty and their mystery.” (Scott, Nathan A. (1969). Negative Capability. Studies in the New Literature and the Religious Situation. Quoted in Wikipedia). Sounds incredibly Zhuangzian!