Thursday, March 22, 2018

Barn Burning/Moon Rising

Moon's Rising and Birds (M.A. Reilly)
The 17th century poet, Mizuta Masahide, wrote the following haiku after watching his barn burn to the ground:

“Barn’s burnt down now I can see the moon”
I love Masahide's thinking-being in the world. As I reread I think, sad things happen. How I name life as it is happening, matters as well. Living in the middle of things allows for possibilities in ways that event-based time often does not. Living in the middle allows me to better see how mechanical renderings of life yield lots of beginnings and endings. How I name something as started or ended is often a matter of routine. For Masahide the barn burning was neither end nor beginning. It was.
In Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, mechanical and body time are considered. Of all of the times proffered, this is my favorite description. 
Lightman writes:
24 APRIL 1905 
In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay. The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along.  
Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist. When they pass the giant clock on the Kramgasse they do not see it; nor do they hear its chimes while sending packages on Postgasse or strolling between flowers in the Rosengarten. They wear watches on their wrists, but only as ornaments or as courtesies to those who would give timepieces as gifts. They do not keep clocks in their houses. Instead, they listen to their heartbeats. they feel the rhythms of their moods and desires. Such people eat when they are hungry, go to their jobs at the millinery or the chemist’s whenever they wake from their sleep, make love all hours of the day. Such people laugh at the thought of mechanical time. They know that time moves in fits and starts. They know that time struggles forward with a weight on its back when they are rushing an injured child to the hospital or bearing the gaze of a neighbor wronged. And they know too that time darts across the field of vision when they are eating well with friends or receiving praise or lying in the arms of a secret lover. 
Then there are those who think that their bodies don’t exist. They live by mechanical time. They rise at seven o’clock in the morning. They eat their lunch at noon and their supper at six. They arrive at their appointments on time, precisely by the clock. They make love between eight and ten at night. They work forty hours a week, read the Sunday paper on Sunday, play chess on Tuesday nights. When their stomach growls, they look at their watch to see if it is time to eat. When they begin to lose themselves in a concert, they look at the clock above the stage to see when it will be time to go home. They know that the body is not a thing of wild magic, but a collection of chemicals, tissues, and nerve impulses. Thoughts are no more than electrical surges in the brain. Sexual arousal is no more than a flow of chemicals to certain nerve endings. Sadness no more than a bit of acid transfixed in the cerebellum. In short, the body is a machine, subject to the same laws of electricity and mechanics as an electron or clock. As such, the body must be addressed in the language of physics. And if the body speaks, it is the speaking of only so many levers and forces. The body is a thing to be ordered, not obeyed. 
Taking the night air along the river Aare, one sees evidence for two worlds in one. A boatman gauges his position in the dark by counting seconds drifted in the water’s current. “One, three meters. Two, six meters. Three, nine meters.” His voice cuts through the black in clean and certain syllables. Beneath a lamppost on the Nydegg Bridge, two brothers who have not seen each other for a year stand and drink and laugh. The bell of St. Vincent’s Cathedral sings ten times. In seconds, lights in the apartments lining Schifflaube wink out, in a perfect mechanized response, like the deductions of Euclid’s geometry. Lying on the riverbank, two lovers look up lazily, awakened from a timeless sleep by the distant church bells, surprised to find that night has come. Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. For, miraculously, a barrister, a nurse, a baker can make a world in either time, but not in both times. Each time is true, but the truths are not the same. 
The world feels overpopulated with truths some mornings. Then tensions between living mechanically and bodily clash. At these times, I find (not that I always follow such advice) remembering the barn burning, the moon rising quiets the noise.


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  1. This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. As a scientist and educator myself (and someone who used to have a more lively spiritual/artistic life, and feels like I've lost a big part of myself as I've given more time/energy to the "mechanical time"), this resonated on a very deep level. Thank you for posting. I hope to look more into Alan Lightman. I was fascinated to find out he's a physicist (in addition to being a writer/educator).

  2. I just heard this quote for the first time a few days ago from a neighbor who is a fellow artist. Potent.


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