Thursday, April 13, 2017

Renunciation, Longing and Leonard Cohen

"Leaving Mt. Baldy"
by Leonard Cohen
I come down from the mountain
after many years of study
and rigorous practice.
I left my robes hanging on a peg
in the old cabin
where I had sat so long
and slept so little.
I finally understood
I had no gift
for Spiritual Matters.
"Thank you Beloved,"
I heard a heart cry out
as I entered the stream of cars
on the Santa Monica Freeway,
westbound for L.A.
A number of people
(some of them practitioners)
have begun to ask me angry questions
about the Ultimate Reality.
I suppose they don't like to see
Old Jikan smoking.

At least once a week, some line from a Leonard Cohen song will rise up to mirror whatever sorrow, desire, epiphany is on the horizon of my consciousness. The lyrics well up and show my conscious mind whatever angel or demon my subconscious has been wrestling.
I saw Cohen perform a three-hour concert in Memphis a few years ago. It mattered not that he was nearly 80; he was one of the sexiest men I'd ever seen, and when he went down on one knee (out of passion, not aged joints), while reading "1,000 Kisses Deep," everything in me moved. Everything.
In Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again & Again, Roger Housden gives us a Cohen poem to contemplate, and explains that "besides (Cohen's) evident love of women and beauty, one of the themes that has pervaded all of his work from the very beginning is what he calls, in his novel Beautiful Losers, the theme of Tibetan Desire, 'the unholy union between renunciation and longing and the difficulty in divorcing one from the other'....
Housden tells us how Cohen, after five years in a monastery "putting on twenty pounds of robes every morning at 2:30 a.m....he realizes it is time to call it a day..." and that "nothing is more real than everyday experience, which constantly invites us to let go of any spiritual persona we may have carefully developed and cherished over the years and to join everyone else in the chaos and the light and the dark of this imperfect world. . . . In Beautiful Losers, (Cohen) suggests that 'contact with this energy (love) results in the exercise of a kind of balance the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. . . Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid blood landscape. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of the heart.'"
The last line of the poem shows that Cohen's smoking habit is "a problem for someone who has definite ideas about what it means to be spiritual. . . . Underlying our false notion (that there are some thing that are innately against the love of an examined life) is an implicit schism between body and spirit. . . . When we no longer distance ourselves from anything or anyone, when we give equal value to this messy world and the world of spirit, we may catch the scent of what Rumi refers to when he says
Out beyond ideas
Of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I'll meet you there."


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