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Photo from Betty Hazapis

“A lot of American writing is crap. And a lot of American writers are professionals. Writing is not a profession. It’s a calling. It’s almost holy.” — Jamaica Kincaid


“Sirs, you must have passion to meet this strange thing called life, and you cannot have passion, intense feeling, if you are mesmerized by society, by custom, if you are entangled in beliefs, dogmas, rituals. So, to understand that light, that truth, that immeasurable reality, we must first understand what we call religion and be free of it — not verbally, not intellectually, not through explanations, but actually be free; because freedom — not your intellectual freedom but the actual state of freedom — gives vitality. When you have walked through all this rubbish, when you have put aside all these confusing, traditional, imitative things, then the mind is free, then the mind is alert, then the mind is passionate; and it is only such a mind that can proceed.” Krishnamurti


Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

— Joseph Campbell,

I’m fascinated by this idea of discovering what you’re made for, of refusing to do what you have no feeling for, of developing a passion. It seems to me that is the only way to produce something the world really needs. I think the world needs more passionate people. We have too many obedient, perfunctory humans just going through the correct motions.

The problem is, choosing your passion in life means bucking the trend, it means thinking for yourself, rejecting what “offends your soul,” as Whitman said. Once you get on that path, you become a misfit, an eccentric. If that worries you, if that is disqualifying, maybe you need to develop the courage to listen to your own longing over and above the voices of social precepts that were drummed into you. It’s common to live at a distance from ourselves and to not be able to hear the inner voices talking about a life of meaning.

We learn early to make compromises and trade-offs, but because we also learn insensitivity to inner values, we abandon our essential self in favor of approval and survival. We learn self acceptance or self rejection quite young. Different cultures form human beings in different ways. We are all limited by our conditioning. I think muti-cultural people have a chance to access wider and deeper areas of their humanity. Not that they all do, but they have that opportunity. They are afforded a broader view of cultures that lets them see the relativity of any particular way of being.

Cultural assumptions are planted in us as children before we are capable of reflecting on them. I remember being told by an older man that Italy was a terrible place and that I would do well to never go there. I understood instantly that his inculcated culture was unquestioned. That is the opposite of my path. I want to go where I can throw a new light on things I take for granted.

I enjoy that little shock of self-questioning. I’m always surprised when people condemn another way of behaving and thinking just because it’s unfamiliar.

Being constantly surprised is why I need foreignness. For me, surprise is connected to creativity.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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