Spring Passover Moon
Yesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.
I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.
This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.
Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.
I’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?
Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.
So, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.
Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.
Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.