Friday, October 16, 2015

An Artist's Life of Humility, Simplicity and Poverty


Lax on the overgrown grounds of L'Eau Vive, near Paris where he lived in the 1950s.
Courtesy of the Robert Lax Literary Trust, from the Robert Lax Collection at Columbia University

Michael N. McGregor's book, Pure Act - the Uncommon life of Robert Lax, is good.

I am a long time reader of American poet, Robert Lax, I loved him from the first poem that I read. Not just his writing, but him, even though I knew very little about his life.

Lax is not just a person, but also a Way. His life is Prayer. Readers of Lax somehow know that what Lax is doing with his life is not distinct from his art. As his writings become more and more sparse we sense that his life is also becoming more pure. Less distracted. More honest. More spontaneous and authentic.

The little that we know about Lax's life itself we gather from his journals or what other people say about him. We know that he was odd, different, but in a way that was special and not weird. People liked Lax and liked to be around him. Mothers left their children with him.

McGregor explores this oddness and gives us many details to consider and mull over. We get the inner story as well as the outer one. We can no longer idealize Lax as Lax, himself, idealized the Greek people on the islands he called home. Lax becomes a human being and his world become much more like our own flawed and mysterious one. We see the way he struggles with the cold, with finding a place to live, with finding money.

Through Pure Act we can watch Lax as he finds his way. His journal is his journey. He pays attention. Lax is always listening, always watching, waiting, and reaches deep places of awareness. His writing becomes those precisely chosen notes that can awaken us as well.

Thank you, Michael McGregor, for taking the time to write this book so well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

saint (Lax)

saint: I may have gotten myself into trouble with that one.  i was telling him [Merton] to be one. (& i think he may have gone right out & done it.) what i'd mean by it now is to be, hope to be, hope to get to be, the person you were created to be.
- Robert Lax to Don McCoy, June 17, 1983, Robert Lax Papers, St. Bonaventure University
[from Michael McGregor's book, "Pure Act, the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax p. 357]

Monday, October 5, 2015

religion (Lax)

finding the right culture, finding the ‘’right’ religion, is important, as a
personal choice; but more important is the progress you make — the
progress you find you can make — once you have found it.

it’s enough, but not quite enough, to wish to be a good jew
it’s enough, but not quite enough, to wish to be a good catholic

to be a good jew, or to be a good catholic, is really just a start toward what
you may (& really should wish, with G-d’s grace) to become

(to be a saint, yes; to be a contemplative, yes, to be a mystic, yes)

but at the point where one is living a fully spiritual life, a contemplative and
mystical life, he is out beyond the delimiting terms of any particular
religion

- Robert Lax, Lax Journal, June 21, 1979, St. Bonaventure University
[from Michael McGregor's book, "Pure Act, the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax pp. 349-350]

Thursday, October 1, 2015

we carry the memory of the earth



 Calligraphy by Thomas Merton
Fashioned from clay, we carry the memory of the earth. Ancient, forgotten things stir within our hearts, memories from the time before the mind was born. Within us are depths that keep watch. These are depths that no words can trawl or light unriddle. Our neon times have neglected and evaded the depth-kingdoms of interiority in favor of the ghost realms of cyberspace. We have unlearned the patience and attention of lingering at the thresholds where the unknown awaits us. We have become haunted pilgrims addicted to distraction and driven by the speed and color of images.
— John O'Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, from Whiskey River.

The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us

Photograph by Thomas Merton 
Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet moments relaxing, staring, reflecting – all universal responses of this mammal body… The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in the mind, in the imagination, than ‘you’ can keep track of – thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of the mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out, and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild.
— Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild. With thanks to Beyond the Fields We Know.

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