Friday, May 1, 2009

I Yi Yi

Reading Shantideva's Bodhisattva's Way of Life, I'm struck by the explanation of the self as a label which can be expanded or reduced. Thich Nhat Hanh gives the example of how the right hand cares for the left as its own without jealousy, blame or discrimination. Shantideva shows how each of us can expand our individual sense of the "I" through a specific practice of expanding the sense slowly and deliberately day by day starting with those closest to us (as the mother experiences her child's pain as her own) and then practicing with those we feel neutral to and then on to those we consider "enemies."

This practice rhymes with my own sense of how all artistic disciplines work. Music works this way most obviously -- you can feel it in any decent live performance, as what we call "music" is the activity of locating and harmonizing the feeling-tones of audience and players, how they relate and feed each other. But you can feel it too with a live play, or even simply in the interchange between a painting on the wall and the individual viewer. And with poetry, too, of course, the kind that works. A working poem harmonizes the experience of the poet and the reader/listener/audience. It's why Ta-Nehisi Coates responds so directly to a Frederick Seidel poem that might seem to oppose his own experience.

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