Some quotes that I look to for inspiration, or that have appeared in one form or another on the blog over the years.
You cannot write anything about yourself that is more truthful than you yourself are. That is the difference between writing about yourself and writing about external objects. You write about yourself from your own height. You don’t stand on stilts or on a ladder but on your bare feet. –Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pullr ather than push it. — Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
[Will] wiped the sweat out of his eyes with his right hand. What he couldn’t say was that he longed for his father as a lost child yearns for home. That comparison wouldn’t have occurred to him, because home was the place he kept safe for his mother, not the place others kept safe for him. But it had been five years now since that Saturday morning in the supermarket when the pretend game of hiding from the enemies became desperately real, such a long time in his life, and his heart craved to hear the words “Well done, well done, my child; no one on earth could have done better; I’m proud of you. Come and rest now….”
Will longed for that so much that he hardly knew he did. It was just part of what everything felt like. — Philip Pullman, The Subtle Knife.
Working with obstacles is life’s journey. The warrior is always coming up against dragons. Of course the warrior gets scared, particularly before the battle. It’s frightening. But with a shaky, tender heart the warrior realizes that he or she is just about to step into the unknown, and then goes forth to meet the dragon. The warrior realizes that the dragon is nothing but unfinished business presenting itself, and that it’s fear that really needs to be worked with. The dragon is just a motion picture that appears there, and it appears in many forms: as the lover who jilted us, as the parent who never loved us enough, as someone who abused us. Basically what we work with is our fear and our holding back, which are not necessarily obstacles. The only obstacle is ignorance, this refusal to look at our unfinished business. If every time the warrior goes out and meets the dragon, he or she says, “Hah! It’s a dragon again. No way am I going to face this,” and just splits, then life becomes a recurring story of getting up in the morning, going out, meeting the dragon, saying “No way,” and splitting. In that case you become more and more timid and more and more afraid and more of a baby. No one’s nurturing you, but you’re still in that cradle, and you never go through your puberty rites. –Pema Chodron, from The Wisdom of No Escape.
This place of the squeeze is the very point in our meditation and in our lives where we can really learn something. The point where we are not able to take it or leave it, where we are caught between a rock and a hard place, caught with both the upliftedness of our ideas and the rawness of what’s happening in front of our eyes–that is indeed a very fruitful place.
When we feel squeezed, there’s a tendency for mind to become small. We feel miserable, like a pathetic, hopeless case. So believe it or not, at that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. Instead of taking what’s occurred as a statement of personal weakness or someone else’s power, instead of feeling we are stupid or someone else is unkind, we could drop all the complaints about ourselves and others. We could be out there with the raw and tender energy of the moment. This is the place where we begin to learn the meaning behind the concepts and the words.
We’re so used to running from discomfort, and we’re so predictable. If we don’t like it, we strike out at someone or beat up ourselves. We want to have security and certainty of some kind when actually we have no ground to stand on at all.
The next time there’s no ground to stand on, don’t consider it an obstacle. Consider it a remarkable stroke of luck. We have no ground to stand on, and at the same time is could soften us and inspire us. Finally, after all these years, we could truly grow up. — Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.
[T]here is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness. It is entirely a creation of the culture that holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny. Indeed, one of the most striking proofs of the cultural invention of wilderness is its thoroughgoing erasure of the history from which it sprang. In virtually all of its manifestations, wilderness represents a flight from history. [...] No matter what the angle from which we regard it, wilderness offers us the illusion that we can escape the cares and troubles of the world in which our past has ensnared us.
This escape from history is one reason why the language we use to talk about wilderness is often permeated with spiritual and religious values that reflect human ideals far more than the material world of physical nature. [...] Thus it is that wilderness serves as the unexamined foundation on which so many of the quasi-religious values of modern environmentalism rest. The critique of modernity that is one of environmentalism’s most important contributions to the moral and political discourse of our time more often than not appeals, explicitly or implicitly, to wilderness as the standard against which to measure the failings of our human world. [...] Most of all, it is the ultimate landscape of authenticity [...] the place where we can see the world as it really is, and so know ourselves as we really are–or ought to be.
But the trouble with wilderness is that it quietly expresses and reproduces the very values its devotees seek to reject. The flight from history that is very nearly the core of wilderness represents the false hope of an escape from responsibility, the illusion that we can somehow wipe clean slate from our past and return to the tabula rasa that supposedly existed before we began to leave our marks on the world. The dream of an unworked natural landscape is very much the fantasy of people who have never themselves had to work the land to make a living–urban folk for whom food comes from a restaurant instead of a field, and for whom the wooden houses in which they live and work apparently have no meaningful connection to the forests in which trees grow and die. Only people whose relation to the land was already alienated could hold up wilderness as a model for human life in nature, for the romantic ideology of wilderness leaves precisely nowhere for human beings actually to make their living from the land. –William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature”
So, too, in our urbanized hothouse life, that tends to ripen everything before its time, we must teach nature, although the very phrase is ominous. But we must not, in so doing, wean still more from, but perpetually incite to visit field, forest, hill, shore, the water, flowers, animals, the true homes of childhood in this wild undomesticated stage from which modern conditions have kidnapped and transported him. Books and reading are distasteful, for the very soul and body cry out for a more active, objective life, and to know nature and man at first hand. — G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence