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Take to the sky

When Douglas comes visiting, he brings poems; they remind him not to think. Reading poems aloud, we teach each other not to think. I would like to walk out of my heart under the wide sky. I would like to pray. One of all these stars must still exist. I believe I know which one . . .

Would you think it strange if I claimed that thinking one's own thoughts is limited at best, and often falls into sheer destructiveness -- a constant sawing behind the eyes?Do I undermine art and philosophy if I claim that the genius of both is the ability to leave tired endless thinking behind?

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The everyday variety of thinking is a closed system; you turn an idea on the mind's wheel, faster and faster, feeding previous idea and beliefs into the whirl. Even a fine- tuned thought-machine is soon engulfed in its own momentum: the clamor of consideration and judgment and decision, squeeling an inward spiral. The skull is too airless a home for a true idea; its silver tarnishes quickly on the wheel.

Perhaps I am being too harsh; this thinking is how we mill the grain of ideas into flour. (And, after all, bread is certainly the sustenance of the body.) But there is a wholly different process of ideas; in this new mill, ground seed becomes . . . a green/gold field of wheat (right beforem your very eyes, not behind them.) The doors and windows fly open; the thought within one's mind gives way to a mindfulness too wide and too deep to be called one's own.

Douglass still remembers when the world changed. He can recall the days when just watching the backyard maple trees was an ecstatic experience (their rain-black boughs; their leaves like broad green hands, palms raised.) "And then I was sixteen; the world simply didn't lookm the same. 'Go on, do it!'m But the world just stood there. I could see the trees, but not the dancing." When you see with these grown-up eyes, think with this dull turning, the world provides only information, not inspiration. Words: dry, cold, less than paper-thin. Your mind knowsm what to think; and so it doesn't bother.

"I felt like crying. Please world, don't leave me here without you! Then I stopped to listen -- the wind passing through the trees said: 'Ssshhh.'m Somehow it quieted me inside; and then, suddenly, I was out there again, dancing with the trees."

Your own thoughts, even when they are most graceful, fly in circles behind your eyes like a cautious swallow, turning suddenly on sleek wings. But if you allow the world to catch you open, the swallow begins to trace great arcs across the sky, knife-sharp and sure: twining through the branches, swooping across the sun, skirting the rooftops, diving back again behind your eyes -- not to rest there but to leap out once more. The thought is now a continuous fight that includes your own ideas and the ideas growing in the world. The minds is now floating somewhere in frontm of the eyes, broad like a cathedral, encompassing the self where you began and the self of creation.

If painting or poetry is only an intellectual compulsion that sends you back to the mill to grind seed, then humanity would be better off unschooled and unrefined. But a great artist places a blank canvas or a pen and paper along that swallow's route; and with each revolution, the idea prints its motion on the sheet. Art, then, is the record of transcendence, the map of inspiration's free flight. For the artist, it is the way out of the locked mind and into the universe. The viewer must not stand back and admire this achievement; no artist wants to take to the sky all alone. The colors and forms, the words and music, must be the first raised window, opened door; and you too feel the brain give way to the swallow's span of wings.

Perhaps no writer created a greater sense of this expansion than the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Again and again, his poems allow the words to thread in and out of consciousness until, tempted by their daring, your own mind abandons safety and gives chase. Whoever you are, go out into the evening, leaving your room, of which you know each bit; your house is the last before the infinite, whoever you are. Then with your eyes that wearily scarce lift themselves from the worn-out- door-stone slowly you raise a shadowy black tree and fix it on the sky: slender, alone. And you have made the world (and it shall grow and ripen as a word, unspoken, still). When you have grasphed its meaning with your will, then tenderly your eyes will let it go . . .

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This poem is a remainder, a challenge. When did you last let your spirit out; when did you allow the world's spirit in? When did you come upon an idea not contained in your mental catalogue, fresh from the sky? The poem, the painting, the pure thought -- these are only vehicles into the infinite. All around you, some music is waiting for your attention. "Ssshhh!"m Listen: the trees are calling to you now. Come dance; come fly."


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