Friday, July 15, 2005

simple tales

Longing for her, at times you tell sad tales

To your sore heart, or wash your hands of life.

Why do you search the world, confused and weak,

For one who's inside you? Who do you seek?

#1912: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: tell

I would like to tell it true, tell it like it is. I sought counsel on how to do that and I'm advised to seek within. Roam around in the recesses of my mind, my memory and my dreams. Now that a new financial year has begun, I'm considering starting a new project and one that will result in income however modest. I need a little more than I have right now. For a long time I've been frustrated in this. I can tell sad tales aplenty that led to my abandoning even the very idea of career. I've turned my back on that aspect of life, repudiating what I saw there. Career and income can only be attained through interpersonal exchange and that is hard when one has withdrawn into hermithood.

Vocation is an idea that I prefer. I have felt a calling to this life of a hermit and that is the closest I have to a career. Like Diogenes, I could survive on onions and try living in a barrel with no change of clothing. My hermit ambitions are simply not that great. I'm content to be a half-baked hermit, enjoying the entertainment of my internet connection with a warm fire at my back to keep the winter chill at bay. Even that other back-to-nature freak, Henry David Thoreau, returned to his friends on a weekly basis to share a comfortable middle-class meal.

What is difficult - for me, and no doubt for others - is that opportunities for small contributions to the community are scarce. It seems one must dive in with a pretty full commitment closely resembling a full-time career or else one is limited to poorly paid and unchallenging work on the fringes like pizza delivery, supermarket checkouts, and - what was suggested to me in all seriousness - handling lollipops, those STOP/GO signs directing traffic on the streets. I guess work like this would be a challenge of sorts. In a couple of the Sufi tales retold by Idries Shah, the seeker is directed by the teacher to take up such a mundane trade and learn from his fellows there. This is good advice, too, for it teaches the humility so necessary to true spiritual attainment which can so readily deteriorate into its own form of one-up-man-ship.

The best example I know of, on-line, of a semi-hermit working at a humble job and doing so with great poetic poise is the night-shift baker at He went silent for a while but is starting to write again. He tells simple tales that ring clear, like this.
18 May 2005 - Next

How can we say that we do what we do on purpose?

Work, a swirling; but not a swirling thing because I am not separate from it. Every sense is engaged as the flour, yeast and water form in a wordless room, as I work alone. The mixer heaves away, tubs of dough hit the table and I shape and knead each loaf. Like a form of pottery, but dough instead of clay. The dough gives off a mild warmth, and each one has a different feel. The French is silky and light, the sourdough sticky and heavy, the whole wheats rolling in my hand like huge pieces of soft bubblegum. Then there is the scorching and steaming of the ovens. Three ovens stacked on one another. The hiss of steam combines with clanging oven doors and conveyor belt loaders, dropping the rounds as much as five feet into the stone darkness.

Then there’s the smell of the bread baking, the crackle and taste of the loaf when it’s done.

How simple it is, but subtle at the same time. Everything becomes a reaction. The doughs rule, telling me when they have to be shaped, then baked. If it rains that night I have to adjust, because the doughs actually act differently. The temperature of the room is also important.

So I am there as a witness, a listener. A watcher. A guide asking through touch for a certain shape. But mainly the dough, the weather, the ovens, and I… none of these things exist separate from any of the others.

As I begin walking home, the dawn chorus trickles in as the sky pales. The streets are still totally empty. Lately, the wind walks with me a little. Rats, rabbits, stray cats and dogs, possums, mice, night birds. They scurry with hunger.

Home is food, hot shower, meditation, sleep. I also read and watch; I read books and watch movies. I read and watch the news, attempting to be spin-conscious. My cat will be a year old soon. I spend time playing with her every morning. As for now she is still intensely energetic. A lot more so than the cat I once had before.

Now all things wind down. It’s 9am and I’ll be going to bed soon.

Silence can be sweet but this cybersilence as of late on my part is not being very attentive. Sometimes it seems the silence at work stays in these fingers, and I simply bear witness to one moment after the next.


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