The exemplary sentence and the elusive world

I realize I have collected a number of sentences about imagination vs. reality.

“What a gulf between the self which experiences and the self which describes experience.”  Edmund Wilson, I Thought of Daisy from the last one of these posts

“Life is not what we live; it is what we imagine we are living.”  Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon, from the one before

and this one:
“The world in out heads is not a precise replica of reality.” from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which Larry happens to be reading.

I’ve been pondering this idea a lot lately, the construct we carry in our heads as opposed to the world an infant experiences, for example, one without labels or words. For me this is linked to an idea I read years ago in The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects, by Alexandra David-Neel. The only idea I remember from this slim, intriguing paperback, is that the world is in constant flux, atoms and molecules moving and reassembling themselves continuously, so that the tree we think we see is the image in our mind of the the tree we saw, not the tree as it is. This idea makes sense to me–the impermanent energy of many tiny particles assembling and reassembling, though I can’t entirely grasp it.

The other Buddhist author I’ve really enjoyed is Charlotte Joko Beck. The one idea I remember from her book, Everyday Zen, is that the work of Zen starts at the place at which you experience discomfort between yourself and the world.

In general though, I’m not much of a Buddhist at all, relishing my attachment to this world. I’m intrigued by the ideas of impermanence, non-atachment and meditation, but in practice I’m someone almost totally immersed in the present.  I’ve had many interesting discussions about this, some with my good friend Maureen, for whom I wrote this poem almost 20 years ago:

Why I Am Not a Buddhist

Leafing through the Sundance Catalog,
I pause at a porcelain cowboy hat, crown filled with salsa,
curved brim cradling chips.  Mabel
would like that, I think.  My mother-in-law’s image
leaps from the page, smiling and passing hors d’oeuvres,
telling us how much she paid for the hat.
Or smoking as she drives, wearing a coat of dyed rabbit fur,
telling me again about Father O’Connor, Father Roger.
Or reciting her tape loop of regrets.  Or standing up
for her own, despite bad marriages
or no marriage at all.  Why shack up with some joker
just so he can tell you how to spend your money?

Dying, it pleased her to go over her things
reminding me who should get the rhinestones,
the small TV, the velvet dress.
Unvarnished attachment.

This morning, I ate cherries Mabel canned
three summers ago, their syrup
just sweet enough.  So we reach out
even beyond death, entangling those we love.
Not ready to let go.


 and t

2 thoughts on “The exemplary sentence and the elusive world

  1. “I am someone almost totally immersed in the present.” Hey Meryl that is a buddhists
    number one objective.
    Having a pleasant weekend?

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