Monthly Archives: December 2015

My Philosophy Has Saved My Life

Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers


The Sweet Birdsong and Beethoven’s Tears

Up in the sky!
Stars and moons
A planet that’s a huge diamond

And earth!
(Look down now)
All manner of wonder
Look around

Turn to the roses
The smiles
The sweet birdsong
And Beethoven’s tears:

They want proof of existence
But one thing has been proven
Beyond any reasonable doubt:
Somebody knows how to make an entrance


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”


Gentle Readers,
Hmmm . . . Looks like this post is going to be a two or three parter. Which explains a part of my delay since the last post. You pretty much have to get all three posts done first, if only to know where to break them up. And I do put a lot of effort into getting these as good as I can make them, just as if I were in an English class and I was being graded on these essays. And I take these things seriously. Like when I got into nursing school, I had all A’s on the seven prerequisites. And when I graduated from Humboldt State, I had a perfect score from all three judges on the de rigueur for a diploma, exit essay-writing exam. Only because I bore down, just on general principles. And this bearing down, blog-wise, involves a lot of time and effort. Especially since I tend to have to also do research.

So–I am pushing three thousand words, and I haven’t yet covered all the issues that seem to be connected to the theme I have started with, which is how my poetry relates to my “mission” which is–to put it succinctly–to express my feelings about metaphysical issues. And by metaphysical I mean Sufi things–things that can be analyzed by the heart, as opposed to the mere mind. I say “mere” even though it’s true, the mind is the glue I use to fuse these things together. I read somewhere that poetry itself (and fiction-writing too) is not like some arts, like say dance, which is all heart, and the mind is pretty apart from that. But poetry is a partnership with the mind. With even the left brain part of it. It’s true that my words must be imbued with some manifestation of love (which has myriad manifestations and ramifications, and so I do have trouble understanding complaints about “writer’s block.”).

And yet my mind’s facility with words I think is like a nurse at the operating table who hands the surgeon her tools, as necessary (e. g. scalpel, etc). And this nurse gets very intuitive about what the surgeon will need and ask for. Often I am told (I was, don’t forget, a student nurse at Humboldt State University), this nurse doesn’t need to even be asked.

However, though this post today is about poetry, it’s only ancillarily about the nuts and bolts of poetry production. Of course ancillary does not scare us digression freaks, and so hang on to your hat (and fasten your seat belts, as Bette Davis would say) there is still more to come today (or as I say, perhaps another day since this is going to be a three parter, looks like) about poetry production.

(Have I mentioned my secret hope that I am with my blog and poetry encouraging people to write poetry?* I think it’s a shortcut to happiness, frankly. But so many people seem to be intimidated by it, it seems in order to have an occasional thread dealing with how a poem is or can be arrived at, how so many things often thought to matter really don’t, you know as E. E. Cummings would say, “a lot of sweet bull like that.”)

That segue aside, I wish to say this:

I have a confession to make.

About my “profession” to be a poet.

It’s this:
I am not sure if my “poetry” is perhaps more propaganda for my mystical point of view than it is poetry in its own right. Can there be both? Of course many poets (especially including my big favorite E. E. Cummings, and John Donne as well, and Gerard Manley Hopkins . . .the list goes on) have pushed their mystical point of view. (And their political one too) In Cummings’ case, for instance he disdained artificiality (as opposed to the sciences which can be allied with the heart. And they surely can, just as in poetry-writing the mind and heart cooperate).

As in this:
(from voices to voices, lip to lip)

bring on your fireworks, which are a mixed
splendor of piston and pistil; very well
provided an instant may be fixed
so that it will not rub, like any other pastel.

(While you and i have lips and voices which
are for kissing and to sing with
who cares if some oneeyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure Spring with?

Or this, by Robinson Jeffers:

The Eye

The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the Pacific–
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs
Nor any future world-quarrel of westering
And eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, clash of
Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland
plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke
Into pale sea–look west at the hill of water: it is half the
this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
Australia and white Antartica: those are the eyelids that never
this is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.

So I’m not saying here that there is anything wrong with my using my poetry as a vehicle for my philosophy. Indeed, since the essence of poetry is to make very concise what would otherwise wander all over the map, it brings me to the old writer’s edict to show, don’t simply tell. If it doesn’t “sell the sizzle, not the steak” the poem is perforce (possibly per farce) a big mistake.

But not so many people are into philosophy of any sort, let alone the more metaphysical variety (Of the proverbial religious experences). But fortunately, the relatively few people who do follow my blog are concerned, if not in fact preoccupied, with my brand of metaphysics. Or open to it if only as a way to put in some relief their own beliefs.

Yes, I do tend to focus on the sort of “spiritual” issues which would apparently be boring to more than a few self-selected aficionados.

But that’s cool.

It’s not like I need to make a living with this blog and poetry. Which does though bring me to want to say this to the over two hundred followers of my blog:


It’s not important that I have a mass audience (indeed, which could well be a danger to my ego. I refer here to the “sin” of pride.**). But it’s so nice to have an audience. Therapy really for me. And you guys don’t charge a hundred bucks an hour!

A further confession:

I may value my philosophy more than my artistry as a poet. (Though this is complicated by the fact that my philosophy does ordain the concern of doing my best at whatever I undertake) Because for instance my philosophy has saved my life.*** As for the artistry, I was reassured today to read a Facebook post from a poet friend,**** quoting Gary Snyder, one of the last remaining of the Jack Kerouac/Allan Ginsberg old north beach hip poets. (Have I mentioned that I once met met Allen Ginsberg?)

Speaking about his new collection of poems, Gary Snyder (who is now 85), said: “Its strength is that I let it be imperfect. [Laughs] That’s what I’m learning. There’s a Japanese saying: “Imperfection is best.”… I decided I’m not going to hold it down to the line and get it just right. There are things in there that I don’t know what I think of.”

I especially am struck by this: “There are things in there that I don’t know what I think of.” Indeed, sometimes when I am contemplating an editorial change in one of my poems, I remember the old dictum about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread.

And this reminds me of the old (was it from the Navajo?) story of the American indigenous tribe that deliberately included an imperfection in their basket weaving so as not to “compete with the gods.”

Well, this post has gone on too long, and this is the best place to stop. I didn’t want to stop it sooner as it needed to include the news (see below at ****) of the pre-Christmas sale of my friend Alice’s book.

So I will carry on with the rest of this post next time.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*I stress this because it sure happened to me that way. As I related in the first blog post,

the one for April Fool’s Day 2013,in which I was on my way to learning to paint with oils, and suchlike art stuff, when I came across a book of ecstatic mystical poems from Dan Ladinsky, called “Love Poems from God.”

And they were so much up my alley that I said to myself, So that’s poetry? Hey I can write that kind of stuff!

And so I switched back to my original art form. (I’d been writing poetry (even in French!) since I was fourteen.

What fun! And that was ten years and six thousand “poems” ago. And coincidentally I have never been happier (I think expressing the heart as eloquently as you can does that). And I don’t even have a girlfriend!

** I am not so naïve as to believe in the fairy tale of a non-existent ego. Or even a necessarily subordinate one, when it comes for instance to roses, or other such beauty emblematics. I draw support in this from Benjamin Franklin who I believe in his autobiography spoke of attempts to quash pride with humility. I remember him saying that even if he found that mythical unicorn, it would in itself go to his head because he would then “be proud of my humility.”

***A reference to that is in this old post:

Suffice to say it’s like in this Tolstoy quote from Anna Karenna:
“…life was impossible like that, and that he must either interpret life so that it would not present itself to him as the evil jest of some devil, or shoot himself.”
–Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, Garnett translation)

**** This friend Alice Klein is the author of a fine book of poetry denombre “What the Heart Wants” a book I very heartily recommend. And which is available here (with a great for the holidays special sale price):

The Left Hand of God

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson


The Apt and A Priori Pristine Axiom of Love

–To Marjorie

This is reality: nothing exists for us
But the enchantment of what’s just beyond
Our gloved finger tips our lips the keen

Yet screened golden thing we stretch for:
The phosphor of our night
Our famous “zone of proximal development”

Which varies from person to person
From vantage to advantage point
Hence too beware of seem because bewitched

Judgments might dream in unaware to eclipse
The apt and a priori pristine
Axiom of love


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”


Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”


Gentle Readers,
In the news in the last week is a controversy about continuing to honor Woodrow Wilson by keeping Princeton’s buildings etc. (where he was president before becoming president of the US) named after him.

Because it turns out, he was a racist.

I mean full blown. He was a segregationist who showed in the White House, the infamous (Yet somehow mysteriously still on some lists of the greatest movies in the Americana archives) D. W Griffith “classic,” The Birth of a Nation.

It is an incredibly egregious example of a racist film. So much so that (when I was a student at U.C. Berkeley in my youth) my old American History professor, the wonderful Leon Litwack*, showed it to all his U. S. history students, in the cavernous (yet packed) Wheeler Auditorium. In the movie for instance, the “house nigger” little black girl was referred to in the caption (It is a silent movie) as “The little pet sister.” It has a scene in which a leering black would-be rapist causes the chaste white girl to hurl herself off a cliff to avoid the proverbial fate worse than death.

And there was claimed to be such an epidemic of such black-instigated injustice that the heroes donned white sheets and rode in on horseback to save the nation.

Now I am reading a recent and persuasive article by Matt Bai:

In it he makes a very good point. He says,
“But history is complicated, and so are the people who make it. The messy reality is that great people sometimes do terrible things, and terrible people sometimes do great things. To discard all the actors we find abhorrent, along with all the things they might have accomplished, is to deny the vexing contradictions of humanity–which is exactly what real knowledge is about.”

And then he asks where we should stop. Should we rename the Washington monument because founding father George had a slave plantation? (Of course, much of the recent to-do about Wilson has to do with the fact that he was much more racist than was extant at the time.)

And then you’ve got the case of the composer Wagner whose Lohengrin, for instance brings me to tears. Whose Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla makes me want to stand at attention, to honor the power of beauty. But he was a virulent anti-Semite. And so, it turns out was an old favorite of mine, H. L. Mencken. The man who famously said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” The newspaperman who chronicled the 1922 Scopes evolution trial in the movie, “Inherit the Wind.”

And there is the question of if Mencken were alive today, would he still be an anti-Semite? If he were, and showed it, he would be constant cannon fodder fuses, lit by the fire-starting withering stares from people who are modern enough to have a heart. And who have clout these days, and in the circles of the intelligentsia which Mencken was prominent among. (Sometimes peer pressure is a wonderful thing)

Say what you will about the horrors in the world today, but I do hear a drumbeat of undercurrent afoot in the land, that seems to take on the rhythm of a heartbeat.

Of course, it is one thing not to cast into the inner circles of hell those who in the past held abhorrent views, understanding the exigencies of having lived in that time, when it was considered respectable to utter Nazi slogans.

And it’s quite another to keep holding them up to be honored. Except perhaps as an object lesson in forgiveness, for they knew not what they did.

As for Wagner, I think although the anti-Semitism had infected his mind,  the universe is such that there is what Humphrey Bogart exemplified once, in his movie,  “The Left Hand of God.”

In which even in the midst of darkness and in the depths of the very hell hole of not really fire but rather the coldest dark, is to be found a gently warming flame that came straight from the dream of God, and it is a portable hearth, and if you tap into it, you miraculously have a taste of the restful relief to be found when you are truly at home. I think Wagner’s heart just didn’t let its left-handed ham-fisted mind know what the right hand of his heart was doing.

Of course (full disclosure) I am a Pollyanna type who prefers to put a good face on things. (Believing in reincarnation helps!)

So I choose to believe that even now, in a new incarnation, a reborn Wagner is about to revert to his former tricks but suddenly it comes to him the access he’d once had, to such a beauty as was his music, and the difference is that now it is embedded in his soul such that the soul cries out in rebellious pain if he should ever try that other crap again.

And too, his own music comes back not just to haunt him but also to make him smile.

So, I guess what I am saying is we should give only short rope to our desire to judge, and a very long rope to forgiveness, and understanding. If only for this: judgment is a pointless distraction from what we really do have some control over. The extreme makeover our heart bids us make in our own life. (But not to worry–there’s no hurry. That is what reincarnation is for. Of course too you have to make sure it’s not more a case of reincarceration)

But that doesn’t mean we have to honor these famous bigots. Forgiveness, forbearance, these are fine things. But as for naming buildings, why not one to Bernadette instead?**

Or Marian Anderson,*** the all-around wonderful world famous singer. I remember a story my old beloved Sufi preceptor Lud Dimpfl used to cite:

She was talking to someone, and hugged her good-bye. And then another “friend” came up to her and said, “Marian, don’t you remember what she said about you?”
To which Ms Anderson replied,
“I distinctly remember having forgotten about that.”

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

PS–I especially like her singing the song about God, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

PPS–Remember two or three posts back, when I was talking about Karl Jung’s synchronicity concept? Well sincronicidad ataque de Nuevo! Tonight, just after I posted “The Left Hand of God” I was watching television, and guess what’s on the Turner Classic Movies channel? Guys and Dolls, with Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. Got 90% rating on!

The synchronicity? Well! Talk about the left hand of God! The movie was a perfect example. And it was one of Murshida Duce’s favorites. She regularly had a movie night for her mureeds (student Sufis), and one of them was Guys and Dolls. Also I remember, the Bishops Wife, with Loretta Young and Cary Grant. And another was Bell, Book and Candle, with I think Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon. Oh and also To Sir with Love, with Sidney Poitier.

So, I add this addendum. (I can do that because it’s my blog).

*Go Professor Litwack! I liked him so much I just looked him up on wikipedia. Quite the guy, and still alive, though born in 1929. Here’s the url:

**Here’s a wonderful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Song of Bernadette:

Or this version, sung by Jennifer Warnes:

***She was important in the civil rights struggle. An interesting thing happened in the course of that. She was denied by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) the right to a desegregated concert in Constitution Hall. Then Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband the president arranged an alternate venue. She sang on the steps of the Lincoln memorial instead. Wikipedia reports: “She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.”

Here she sings the spiritual, My Lord, What a Morning: