Lonely Truth versus the Chill of Ages
Posted by Lawrence Russ
There’s a loneliness in being an artist, a feeling that almost no one else understands or values what you’ve intended or made. There’s loneliness in having had any kind of mystical experience, an ache in believing that you’ve gained something of great importance, but that you cannot open it to anyone else. And there’s a loneliness in simply being a human being, having experience different from anyone else’s, without Mr. Spock’s ability to meld two minds.
It’s one of the deforming lessons of society that we should avoid such pain and loneliness at almost any cost. By trying to do that, we let ourselves in for worse and less curable suffering. I remember the Pulitzer-winning poet W.D. Snodgrass telling our class: “The experiences that gave me the most were the ones I would’ve done the most to avoid.”
Hung Ying-ming, writing in the late 1500s, in late-Ming China, combined insights of Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in a work with the deliberately-unglamorous title, Chewing Vegetable Roots. The following, the first section in his book, offers something that we all need to chew and digest thoroughly (it can’t be made body and blood by intellect or erudition). And it isn’t just corporate executives and presidents who need it, but poets and photographers, too:
He who strives to make Truth his home
May at times be lonely.
He who fawns on the powerful and influential
Will know the chill of solitude for ages.
The superior man peers deeply into transcendent reality
And thinks about the body he will have after this one has gone.
Rather should one suffer a temporary loneliness
Than the solitary chill of ages.
— Hung Ying-ming
(translated by William Scott Wilson)
About Lawrence RussWas the Alfred P. Sloan Scholar for the Humanities at the University of Michigan. Obtained a Master of the Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was selected as a Writing Fellow in Poetry by the Program faculty. Have published poems, essays and reviews in many magazines, anthologies, reference works, and other publications, including The Nation, The Iowa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Parabola, OMNI, and the exhibition catalogue for Art at the Edge of the Law at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Received a law degree from the University of Michigan, and have changed the law and created educational programs in the fields of arts law, historic preservation law, and public construction and contracting law in the State of Connecticut. My photographs have appeared in international, national, regional and state juried exhibitions, and have been selected for awards by jurors including Judy Kim of the Brooklyn Museum and Eva Sutton, Chair of the Photography Department of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Posted on April 9, 2018, in Art in Society, The Artist's Life, Uncategorized and tagged Confucian, Hung Ying-ming, Lawrence Russ, loneliness, mysticism, Photographers, poets, Snodgrass, Tao, Zen. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.