The Deadly Sins

Since the man does not go down the stairs and into the world, he pretends to himself that he avoids the experience of envy, that intense stab of pain that occurs when he sees a couple in love and, with secret wrath, wishes for both of them to be unhappy and heartbroken. In the terrible silence of his room he realizes that a part of him wants to inflict his loneliness upon others in a vindictive manner. How does he learn to accept this part? He also realizes that an attack of envy can occur wherever he is. If he stays in his room, he envies the ease with which other people are able to mingle, how they seem (but only ever seem) to be without fear. He envies the lovers their experience of liberating love, the scholars their experience of deepening understanding, and the churchgoers their experience of genuine praise. And yet he knows if he were to be in love, it would not be total, and his focus would go wholly into what prevents the love from being whole. And he knows if he were to be an official scholar, he would yearn again for his free days when he was an unofficial scholar of nothing in particular. And he knows if he were in church, he would wish to praise the lord of song in the dark privacy of his room. And so, instead of taking some direction, and then heading that way, he finds himself increasingly paralyzed. There are too many directions. His heart points him in one way, his mind in another, and his soul in a third, and these are only three of hundreds. Rather than freeing himself by making a choice, by following what is strongest in him, he imprisons himself in the agony of indecision, and as the chains tighten around his weakness he cries out in muted longing for someone to free him.

Envy transitions seamlessly into pride. Those who are at ease, and appear undivided, do not know what it means to suffer. In some sense, they are not even here, not even in life at all, for to be here is to suffer, to live is to suffer at the distance between what one is and what one could be. The more I suffer, then, the more alive I become. Here I am, the man of envy says to himself, suffering proudly the plight of the solitary, no doubt the best sufferer this suffering world has ever seen, while those in the streets simply float by in life, neither growing nor feeling pain at their lack of growth. At least I feel pain when I fail to grow. Pride says, ‘Here I am, with greater depth, passion and intensity than the rest, a better lover, if only I had someone to love.’ Pride takes love, the act of giving love, and distorts it, makes love itself about the self alone, wants someone to ‘love’ only to show how the self is a superior lover. Pride will even try to make the self look superior when ostensibly confessing one’s sins, and thus will lead one to sin in the very confession of sin.

The prideful would-be lover who has no one to love goes eventually to lust. Hidden, isolated, a lone and mostly useless human being among billions of other mostly useless human beings, he curses himself for his failures in relationship, also envying the way most people seem to somehow effortlessly meet. Instead of engaging in the difficult work of going against his own inhibitions, the work of opening up to the love that is already there, he longs from a distance, and the love that is there sinks down deeper. In order to find the love he has lost, he must go deep into himself. He hopes others will notice how deep he is going. But no one notices, so he gives up on love and reverts again to the lust of the teenager. “He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.” The over-desirous one, now diseased, begins to despise the recent object of his unfulfilled desire. She should fulfill him; she should fill the chasm of his emptiness. In abandoning the possibility of finding love first within himself, he commits the original sin of self-abandonment, all along fearing that he will suffer at the hands of another what he has already done to himself.

The solitary sinner retracts into the den of pestilence and decay, into the cave of impossible desire. He holds onto the one thing he still falsely calls his own: time. He holds everyone else, and all obligations, at a distance. He holes himself up in a claustrophobic space and surrounds himself with books. He keeps the door shut and his heart closed. He begins to consider how other people owe him. All his life he has wasted so much time doing things he didn’t want to do, and now he deserves to be left alone, to do whatever he wants to do whenever he wants to do it. And what he wants all the time is to defend his territory in the cave of impossible desire, where he remains.

It is not difficult to see how this holding on, holding in, and holding others at arms’ length, this avarice, gives way to gluttony. There is never enough of what never satisfies, and nothing satisfies when the heart stays closed. The sinner surrounds himself with more books. As his suffering increases, he writes more, as if in writing about his pain, in understanding what is causing it, the pain itself might miraculously disappear. Ha! Holding onto the idea that he can relieve his own suffering, he devours books on spiritual transformation. He wants more and more of whatever makes him feel less and less alive, so that as he dies he can learn how to transform his deadness into vitality. He fasts with a gluttonous appetite, hungering for spiritual experience, wanting to feel at one with the world so he can claim that oneness for himself. He alone is the one who feels at one and united. And so divided and separate he remains.

His hunger for something to take away his emptiness only increases the emptiness, so now he shifts his perspective. He will exaggerate his separateness and ignore the emptiness. No one wastes time considering the interior when the exterior looks perfect. Therefore it is necessary, if he does not want to waste time, to make the exterior perfect. A perfectly trimmed beard, a perfectly crafted sentence, a perfectly toned body. Time otherwise wasted in the cave of impossible desire is now spent striving for the impossible peak of seeming perfection. Because it is an impossible goal, it will leave him constantly striving, so never bored. The fastest shortcut to greatness is to appear great. What is internal strength? Something nebulous, difficult to define, easily overlooked. External strength, on the other hand, is clear, easily defined, impossible to overlook.

What happens? The enormity of the emptiness he is trying to distract himself from cannot be completely ignored. The massive effort it takes to keep the emptiness down brings him eventually to a near-comatose state of skeletal exhaustion. He has one desire left: to do nothing. Shut the blinds and get under the covers. It is all too much, too overwhelming. He must sleep. At times he peeks out of the blinds and wonders how he ever did it. Got dressed, brushed his teeth, worked a job from dawn to dusk, ate three meals a day. He wonders why he was born into such a world, and yet he has lost the desire to find out if there is any other way of living. Luckily there are hundreds of television shows he can watch without interruption. He can lose himself in other worlds. After all, didn’t he hear somewhere that he needed to lose the world in order to find himself? Yes, nothing was more important than to lose the world. Surely this was the path to self-discovery.

This kind of certainty does not last for long. Doubt creeps in. Is there nothing else? No, there is nothing else. But no, there is everything else. There must be at least something else. As the days get shorter, why is it that the doubter keeps demanding that strangers feed him raw onions? Has he forgotten how to weep, and so sought an uncomfortable substitute? He consumes a dozen bananas before noon, claiming that the bananas remind him of Belize, a place he has never been remotely near. And he questions everyone. “I am going to the store,” his wife tells him. “Do you want anything?” He is skeptical. “Are you really going to the store? Which store? Why? What else do we need from the store?” He cannot believe she is really going to the store. The fact that she can quite easily go to the store, without him, not even asking him if he would like to accompany her, brings up thousands of fears. What if she meets someone else at the store? What if she is actually going to the store to meet someone there? What if she is not going to the store at all, but going to cheat on him, and bringing up the fact that she is ‘going to the store’ in order that he not begin to suspect her? Yes, he says to himself, that without doubt is her intention, and so she has failed, because I suspect her. She is the prime suspect, and I am the primary detective in this case. Perhaps I should follow her, just to prove that she is not really going to the store. Why should I trust her? What reason has she given me to trust her, other than being completely faithful to me for thirty-eight years, eleven months, three days, two hours, one minute, and twenty-six seconds?

And what reason do I give for this entirely unnecessary piece on the deadly sins, or the nine passions? No reason. Only that it being the season of joy, it is also in a not so obvious way the season of despair, and what better way to ward off the relentless hounds of despair than to write about the deadly sins? Indeed. See the sense in that, if you will. See the sense in it now. Without delay! It is the season of giving, so why not give away freely the contents of one’s no longer secret dread? Why not confess one’s sins, if you will, the many ways one continually misses the mark, and in this confession, realize that they are not one’s own sins, but the collective sins of humanity, and in this understanding regain a touch of primordial compassion? Understanding how we murder other people in our minds and hearts, we can understand and have compassion for the one who puts those thoughts and feelings into action. We can see that the person who is violent in deed is no different from the person who is violent in thought.

So, be merry this Christmas season, and don’t let envy devour you whole! Don’t be tortured by lust! Don’t let wrath hold you captive! And don’t ask me how to do any of that.

There are probably better ways to celebrate the birth of the sinless one than to confess one’s sins to the blog-reading world, but I haven’t found them. Whose sins? Who sins when silence is lost and no longer sought? Who wins when the world combusts? Who begins now to listen? Who to shout from the rooftops? Who to listlessly pout, who to whimsically doubt, and who to throw out a line for rainbow trout? O, colorful fish, so at ease in the sea! And of course about to be eaten by sharks. Why can I not be like you, about to be caught by fishermen and served to some beautiful Icelandic princess perhaps? Yes, you are so very colorful and in your oceanic element, even if you are about to be devoured by all kinds of carnivorous sea-creatures. Where is my element? Where are the carnivorous sea-creatures that will devour me? Within me.

There is nothing deadlier than the hour that has come and gone. Why did those words come out of me? No hour is gone, each returns in due time. Or does it? The hour of heartbreak returns again and again, and after it the knee-bleeding prayer for healing and wholeness, an hour which never arrives. And why do I think suddenly of the army that declares war simply to anticipate the joyous celebration that will come after the brutal shedding of innocent blood? But let us avoid those more difficult topics. Weep false tears, you onion eater! Then be grateful when the weeping ceases. The hour that is gone will return in due time. Or will it?

Woe to the reader who has kept on this far! Actually, praise only. You have my praise, and any woe you keep hidden is yours alone. Let it out. Please confess some of your woe to this writer, so he does not call his own unique. Plus he has confessed so much to you, in a guise or two. But do not call him, for if you do he will pretend to have lost his phone. And do not pretend to be lost, for he knows all about lostness, and about pretending, and he will know immediately that you are pretending and not truly lost.

And now unfortunately the coffee is all gone, and with its’ end comes the end of this piece. Goodbye, Happy Holidays, or see you when the desperate bluebird makes love with the hawk who has soared past desire. Take what you may. May each of us, while we are here and before we die, know beyond doubt that we lack nothing. Is it true that we lack nothing? My prayer this season is for all of us, yes, every single one, to experience at least one precious moment of relief from the bondage of self. I ask for no other gift.


Writer Anais Nin as an Enneagram 4

“Enneatype IV individuals, as a result of these dynamic factors and also of a basic emotional disposition are not only sensitive, intense, passionate, and romantic, but tend to suffer from loneliness and may harbor a tragic sense of their life or life in general.” (p. 113, Character and Neurosis: An Integrative View, Claudio Naranjo)

Previously on this blog, I wrote two essays on Bob Dylan as an Enneagram 4 with a 5 wing. Recently I came across the writings of another clear 4, Anais Nin, famous primarily for the many published volumes of her diaries, the reading of which would take years. Even more than Dylan perhaps, her writing exhibits all of the qualities of the Enneagram 4, which I will explore in depth here. The diary I am reading now is The Early Diary of Anais Nin: Volume Three. I will stick to this diary in this post for the sake of simplicity, as well as because there is more than enough evidence in the first ten pages of this diary to make the point that Nin was an Enneagram 4. The fact that Nin preferred to express herself in the form of a journal already begins to suggest her 4-ness. Although other types can choose this form of expression, the intensely personal focus of a diary suits well the 4 qualities of self-preoccupation and self-awareness. The self-aware 4 only becomes more self-aware through the keeping of a journal. A journal allows for the 4 to express herself authentically, writing for only herself and not for an audience. Looking back through the journal, the 4 can see the changes she has undergone, and in the writing of a journal the 4 can attempt to find some solid identity, to literally create herself through her words.

Now let’s go into the Diary of Anais Nin. She writes: “Turn these pages and see whether one spirit pervades them all or whether a different mood each time has left the trace of its passage on a soul which sings and weeps by turn and never truly knows itself in this confusion.” Sandra Maitri, in Finding The Way Home: The Enneagram of Passion and Virtues, writes that the 4’s “inner atmosphere is one of turmoil and turbulence,” an atmosphere that leads the 4 to live with a “soul which sings and weeps by turn.” Look again at the last phrase: “never truly knows itself in this confusion.” The 4 desires to know herself. Richard Rohr, in his book Discovering the Enneagram, writes, “FOURs have to catch your eye. It’s as if they thought, ‘I don’t know who I am if I’m like all the others. I have to stand out and in any case be different.’” A diary is a way to be different, a way to express one’s differentness and individuality. That Anais Nin feels she is different from others is unquestionable. About her disappointment in social life, Nin writes, “I am too capricious, too different, I don’t know what, but I tire quickly of insipid talk, or of a lot of talk.”

Nin expresses her disappointment in herself and in others often, and in the depth of that disappointment one perceives the 4 quality of never being satisfied. Sandra Maitri writes in The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: “Unsatisfied, ungratified, and displeased, nothing is ever quite right to a Four. What she has or procures always loses its shine, and the longing shifts to what is just out of reach. Things could always be a little different, a little better, more of this or that, and then perhaps, just perhaps, she could be happy at last.” Nin could have written these lines, though she would have written them in the first person, without knowledge of the Enneagram. Before she writes the lines I just quoted, while on her way from American to France, Nin writes, “Everything disappoints me. I had dreamed of this trip and have many things that are beautiful about it, but today, the social side of it palled on me. I have shut myself up in the cabin, feeling utterly wretched…I had resolved to take part in the social life, but at the first taste of it I felt alone again, and unhappy. I should say rather that I disappoint myself in everything—that is more exact.”

This disappointment the 4 experiences in herself comes from her “vicious superego that is constantly measuring [her] up against an idealized picture of how and what [she] ought to be, and tearing [her] apart for not making the grade.” But the 4 also experiences disappointment in others. In close relationship, the 4 has a tendency to idealize the other, and then to devalue the other when she finds some imperfection in him. Nin goes through this pattern. She writes of her then-husband Hugh, “Once my sight of him is blurred (and I will not look too long), that, to me, the wavering of a perfect thing, is the beginning of the end. No one can show himself in the guise I dislike, even for a moment, without leaving a painful impression, and no one can say to me: ‘Forgive and forget,’ for though I forgive, the disappointment is eternal, it has passed through my spirit, like a false note, and the echo of it never leaves me.” The hyper-sensitivity of the 4 is present here, as well as her difficulty in dealing with imperfection, and her tendency to despair. Nin, at another point and in another mood, writes that she despairs when Hugh, her husband, is not with her: “When I lose myself in despair, as I do sometimes in these pages, it is because he is not here. When he comes home and puts his arms around me, instantly I am soothed and strong again.” (63)

Here 4’s expectation that love will save her is evident. Claudio Naranjo, the originator or the founder of the Enneagram, writes of type 4: “Erotic love lures this type as the supreme fulfillment. Love must and does appear as the ticket to paradise, where all woe ends: no more loneliness, no more feeling lost, guilty or unworthy; no more responsibility for self; no more struggle with a harsh world for which he feels hopelessly unequipped. Instead love seems to promise protection, support, affection, encouragement, sympathy, understanding. It will give him a feeling of worth, it will give meaning to his life, it will be salvation and redemption.” Look again at Nin’s lines: “When he comes home and puts his arms around me, instantly I am soothed and strong again.” Love for Nin promised protection and support, the end of woe, the end of loneliness and despair. She is no longer weak. She is strengthened in embrace. She is no longer isolated; she is connected to another, once and forever. And yet before she had said that seeing some imperfection in her husband was the beginning of the end, and so the extreme moods of the 4 come through here, the idealization and the devaluation.

As I mentioned, the 4 is self-preoccupied, and so the form of the diary suits the 4’s natural state. In My Best Self: Using the Enneagram to Free The Soul, the authors write of how the 4’s “inward idealization causes them to be sensitive to their own feelings and needs first and only then to other people’s.” Nin writes in a similar vein: “There is no one on earth truthfully interested in others’ work if he is himself a creator—no one. I am more interested in my own writing than in other people’s.” She writes that “no one on earth” is interested in another’s work, but in Enneagram terms it would be more accurate to say that it is a rare 4 who is more interested in another creator’s work than in her own, and that the 4 is interested in the other’s work only insofar as it reflects on her own, in order to compare it to her own, or in order to improve her own through careful reading of the other’s. So a 4 attempting to write her own journal might peruse another diarist with a unique writing style in order to create a unique writing style for herself, similar to the other’s only in that it is similarly individual.

And that is enough for the time being. Much more to come. An entire book could be written on Anais Nin as a 4 just as it could be written on Dylan as a 4. Maybe one day down the road, the book will be written. For now, I am content, or not quite content, as befits my nature, with these posts.

Now, a couple songs by Dylan that express the 4’s idealization and subsequent devaluation of a romantic partner: “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and “Idiot Wind” two songs most likely written about the same woman, Dylan’s one-time wife, Sara Lownds.

Aloofness and Intimacy

The reason why I stay alone, why I have never had a long term relationship with a woman, has less to do with my aloofness than it does with my intense craving for true, genuine closeness. The more aloof a person appears, often the more intense is that person’s yearning for intimacy. It is those who appear to be easily or loosely intimate who are in reality the most aloof.

The most aloof individual, therefore, is the one who appears not at all aloof, who actually seems welcoming and perfectly at ease, who is invariably charming and superficially attractive. Those who seem aloof, who look uncomfortable and ill at ease, are almost always those whose emotions are overwhelmingly strong and, when they finally do connect with another, have almost unbearably strong connections, unbearable because, even as strong as they are, they are not always strong enough to stay unbroken and whole.


On Writers

I have not met many writers, in the flesh. Which isn’t surprising, I don’t think. I am not one of those who writes who likes to be around others who write. I avoid like the plague all writing workshops, poetry readings, bohemian gatherings, and the like. Writing, like all the arts, is a solitary profession. Any place where writers are gathered together is a place not of art, but of community. The term ‘artist community’ or ‘artist commune’ is paradoxical. The only community of artists is the unspoken one of solitary people at their craft. There are no greater companions I know of than the words in the books strewn about the 300 square foot room in which I live.

The writer, for better or worse, “puts the best of himself, not the whole, into the work; the author as seen in the pages of his own book is largely a fictional creation.” So writes Edward Abbey in the introduction to his book Abbey’s Road: Take The Other. Some would say the writer hides behind his words, but that is not quite true. He reveals himself through his words, but when not writing he tends to hide. Or, he needs to be reclusive in order to be reflective, has a need to be invisible in interactions so that he can reveal himself through what he writes. Abbey says it well, continuing,

The ‘Edward Abbey’ of my own books, for example, bears only the dimmest resemblance to the shy, timid, reclusive, rather dapper little gentleman who, always correctly attired for his labors in coat and tie and starched detachable cuffs, sits down each night for precisely four hours to type out the further adventures of that arrogant blustering macho fraud who counterfeits his name. You can bet on it: No writer is ever willing—even if able—to portray himself as seen by others or as he really is. Writers are shameless liars. In fact, we pride ourselves on the subtlety and grandeur of our lies.

Who is the writer, really? The words he writes seem so different from the way he acts. HIs words may be full of life, but when you meet the author of the words he could be reserved, not all there, as if he is hiding for you, from himself, from life. You may feel in his presence a lack of presence, an absence, a wish not to be seen, to remain invisible. Abbey links the phrases, “as seen by others” and “as he really is.” But these phrases do not necessarily correspond with each other. Others do not often see us as we really are, and this is especially true for the writer, who others likely see as something of a ghost, for the impression he leaves on others is so nebulous or non-existent. At times the writer sees himself in this way, and at these moments his writing may act as a way to counteract this ghostliness, to write himself out of himself and into life, in these moments when life and the self are opposed.

But the writer must remember who he is and who he is not. He should remember not to take much account of how he is seen. Just because he is seen as a ghost does not mean he is a ghost or should see himself as one. The writer lives on a different plane, a plane that could well be closer to the ghostly. In any case, the writer seeks to express the timeless, the eternal, what has truth now, what has always had truth and always will. To do that, he cannot live completely in time; or, if he lives only in time, he does not live a complete life. It is important for any writer that the majority of his time actually be ‘his’ time, that he does not spend it seeing others and being seen. What happens on the plane of social interaction, especially superficial and thus draining interaction, has a tendency to feel unreal even when it is happening, and fade quickly thereafter. It fades from memory but leaves a definite, and definitely unwanted, mark on the soul. What happens alone, whether it brings pain or joy, does not fade, and never carries with it the same strong sense of unreality.

Are writers ‘shameless liars’? Abbey claims that writers lie about who they are now by putting their ‘best creation’ in their words. And there is some truth in that statement, as there is some truth in that lie. But is it a lie? The writer is not willing to portray himself as others see him for he knows that is not really who he is. But who he is—he does not know. It is not true that no writer is willing to portray himself as he really is. That is exactly how he would portray himself, if he could. Any other portrayal of himself is a betrayal of himself. He lies because he must. He wants above all not to portray himself in any unreal way, but rather to become himself, and express the self he is becoming, the self he really is, rather than the self he wants to be or wants to be seen. Until he knows who he is, though, every word is a lie he hopes will lead him to the truth.

But the writer, who expresses everything with such seeming clarity in words, can easily get twisted up in those words. The words start to add to what keeps him living under a lie rather than provide him with a way out of lying itself. Already confused about who he really is, he can become more so the more he writes. What begins as a lie because he does not know the truth becomes a known lie. He must keep the lie going, as he is afraid that he is going nowhere, or that he has already gone too far. Instead of writing to become himself, he writes to express a glorified self, one that takes away some of the pain of his isolation, which is where his solitude, now corrupted, has led him. The glorified self, he hopes, will take away the pain of his isolation by putting him above others; in actuality, by putting himself above others, the glorified self brings about his isolation, and alienates him from who he really is. Karen Horney, in Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle to Self-Realization, describes this process as self-idealization.

Self-idealization always entails a general self-glorification, and thereby gives the individual a much-needed feeling of significance and superiority over others. But it is by no means a blind self-aggrandizement. Each person builds up his personal idealized image from the materials of his own special experiences, his earlier fantasies, his particular needs, and also his given faculties.

The self-idealization of the writer, his glorified self, is much-needed to the extent that he feels himself unneeded, without value, unable to contribute anything of worth to the world. The extrinsic value of his work matters little when it comes face to face with his internal evaluator and critic, perhaps his glorified self, who finds all his writing lacking in some or all ways. His glorified self will be unique to him, as Horney makes clear, though it will share aspects with other writers.

As a writer with a solitary vocation, and now with the glorified self, the one he looks up to who looks down on him, he might express a need to be left alone, a wish for a room of his own, the time and space necessary in order to create. All of which are real and actual needs. But he no longer wishes or needs to create works of art that express himself as he is; the need now is to create himself, to become the work of art, the glorified self, who is a great artist, a genius. Becoming the artist has become more important than producing the art. Others should look up to his glorified self as much as he looks up to it. Give it their glory. Yet when he is praised for the work he does actually do, he will not accept the praise. Either the work wasn’t good enough, or it wasn’t really ‘he’ who did the work. What sometimes looks like humility—not accepting praise for some work that he did—is actually the pride of the glorified self for whom nothing done is ever good enough. Why should he accept praise for something he could have done better? Everything could always be done better, and will be done better. Must be done better.

The writer may also glorify his aloneness, and his ability to bear it. “The strongest men are the most alone.” He sees himself as stronger than the rest by the fact that he is able to bear greater aloneness, more intense suffering. But he bears only what he has brought upon himself. And it must be borne, for his solitary endeavor has become more of a prison than a freely chosen vocation. His aloneness must be borne so it can bring him glory, fame, and applause. He must spend time alone without glory now so he can be together with glory later. He will write until he achieves all that the self he glorifies deserves. The unreal self hopes for the unreal. The more he is driven by the idealized self to reach these dreamlike goals, the more he forgets what it means to be driven, how little freedom he possesses as he grows more possessed. To be driven is to have no choice. Someone else has hands on the wheel, and they’re heading the wrong way.

Regaining the capacity to drive now becomes important. Although being ‘driven’ is seen as a positive trait in a society where becoming the glorified self, and being seen, are the highest of goals, in actuality being driven drives you only to the ground. But it does not ground you, since you are driven to fly like Icarus. You get the opposite of what you seek, though to all extensive, external purposes it may look like you are flying. It is not you at all, but your glorified self, the self that exists only in your imagination, that flies away from who you actually are. The more you are driven, the more you become not-you. You out-grow yourself, as the distance between who you are and the self you imagine being grows too vast to imagine closing. Writing is no longer a way back to yourself; it is a way to chase after what drives you forward, but you are always too far behind. Instead of finding the way back, you lose the way completely. You are blindfolded with your hands tied in the back of the mack truck which, if you are not careful, will drive you to the very edge of the abyss, and over.


Part 2 of ‘On Writers’, and whatever else this essay has deteriorated into, will come at some unspecified time in the future. Await it in expectation. Or not.

On Writing

Writing is about learning to love, learning to live. Not a way to take you out of life, on the outskirts, writing only what you observe of life outside you. Writing means both observing the life outside you that you seek to take in and recording the life inside you seeking to be let out.

You overhear a conversation, someone talking on the phone. Much of what the person says is just chatter. In another mood, you might think it utterly trivial, senseless, without meaning. But this time you sense something else, below and beyond the words that are spoken, more to do with how they are spoken, and what is left unsaid. The voice does not know how to express the way it truly feels. It is cheerful in its chatter, yet you sense an unspeakable sadness just below each spoken word. You sense in the cadence of the voice what you feel within you. The voice stays light so as not to admit its heaviness; it stays bright so as not to let in a darkness that will engulf it from the inside. The voice is not meaningless; its meaning resides in what it does not say.

To write is to put down on paper what the voice cannot get out. Not to speak for the voice but to speak with your own in such a way that the other voice feels understood, is able to stand under your words as under a roof, temporarily protected from the elements, from the storm of the unspeakable, from the winter of the unsaid. The writer steps out into the winter storm that causes the other voice to retreat. If the one who writes does not perceive the full significance of the storm, why should he seek to bring shelter? He must be battered by the storm himself, feel without any shield the jagged blade of an arctic winter that severs him from all warmth, listen for the voice within him that must speak before the thunder closes in completely. If the writer does not feel the storm, does not feel the need to step out into it, if life to him is a vacation in the tropics, why should he write? Why should he do anything more than lie in the sun and congratulate himself on his good fortune?

I’ve heard people say writing is a talent, one to be grateful for. It is important to realize that writing is not simply a talent. Some people will have more talent, some less. But what matters is not how much or how little talent one has. What matters is how much one feels the necessity to step out into the storm to find the home that will bring true warmth and shelter. Finding this home can only come after you step out of what was your home into the homelessness of the unfamiliar night. You create your home with the uncreated material within you, what you come to find by stepping out into what must be walked through. And so you are walking through, just passing through, and the voice you hear on the phone is light and cheerful. You sense that it has not stepped out yet, that it has not experienced the homelessness that it must in order to come home, in order to create outside itself what already exists buried within.

I’ve heard people say writing is a hobby, like backgammon or ping-pong. Writing is no more a hobby than Search and Rescue is a hobby for those who perform that task. To write is to search for the soul, to rescue it from a world bent on submerging it, a subversive world which wants nothing but the absence of soul, which wants personalities based on acquisition and achievement. One who writes in order to achieve something in the field of literature would do well to step out into the night and search for the soul that is in danger of being submerged by the urge for prestige.

So writing is not a talent, not a hobby. Now to bring this essay back to what writing is. I started this piece by saying that writing is about learning to love and learning to live. To live, to be alive, is to love. You step into the storm when you realize that to love is no easy task, when you sense an absence of love everywhere you turn, when you turn in and sense an absence there, too, an emptiness where a fullness should be. You write not primarily to express that emptiness but to recover the fullness that has been lost, to unearth what has been buried in the climb up the mound where the highest point is also the emptiest point. In writing, the paper is the priest, the blank page your list of sins. To fill in the page is to be forgiven. To write of what you don’t know is to open yourself to what you can’t know. To write of your suffering is to open yourself to some power that might relieve it.

Love, Erich Fromm writes, “is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence.” In this quote, we find why love is the hardest task any human can undertake, and the most crucial. First, what is the center of one’s existence? Where is it, and how can one communicate from it? One answer to the last question is: through writing. The task of the writer is to dig deeper into the center and communicate what this search unveils. Communicating with another from the surface, from the outer edges of one’s existence, and calling that love, is a deceptive way to cover up the lack of any true communication taking place. Writing is equally deceptive if it does not come from the center where love and the soul reside. If the writing does come from the center, it is a way to love, a way to life, a path to becoming oneself. The poem that comes from the center of one’s existence is a declaration of love directed to no one in particular and so open to all individuals who are themselves open to their center.

How can you love, how can you communicate with another from the center of your existence, if you do not know where the center is? In writing, in searching for that center, you remove the superficial layers that separate you from your true self. The Catholic monk Thomas Merton writes, “The way to find the real world is not merely to measure and observe what is outside us, but to discover our own inner ground. For that is where the world is, first of all: in my deepest self.” This deepest self is the center of our existence, where each of us is most alive. Separation from the deepest self makes authentic communication impossible. Discovering the inner ground, and writing from it, allows each word we write to point to the wordless truths that cannot be written. “The deepest level of communication,” writes Merton, “is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words. It is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

Writing uses words in order to work towards the wordless, is a form of communication that comes from a deeper self in order to open the one who writes, and the one who reads, to the deepest self, the ‘original unity,’ the self who has no need to write. You write until you have no need to continue writing, until you have recovered the fullness that has been lost. But even when that fullness has been recovered, there is a still deeper spring, a deeper self that waits to be uncovered. You write until you have no need to continue writing, but continue anyways, not out of need or compulsion, but out of the joy of uncovering an ever-deepening self, of communicating in writing your discoveries of still deeper springs.

More On The Solitary: The Search For Self

Those of you who read the last post will remember that I began with a quote by John Keats. He said that the poet has no identity, that he is the least poetical of creatures. This is the case when he first begins to write poetry. His task is to be what he is not yet but could become. His task is to become the invisible that he can express but cannot yet be. Expression can lead to Being. He must be what he is not now; He must be what he really is. When he is that, there will be no need to express it. The greatest poet does not write a word. Other people take down what he says, for he has lost the need to record that he is and who he is. He only needs to record it when he is not yet it and writes as a means to become it, and to record the distance between how he is at present and who he could become, which is who he truly is.

Some say that who we are can only be discerned in the present. I cannot verify this belief in my experience. Who we are at this moment can only be discerned in the present, of course. But is who we are in this moment who we truly are? The poet, at present, is no one. He has no identity, as Keats makes clear. He strives to have an identity, but only if that identity encompasses his whole person, if it is a complete identity. As one who writes poetry, he must go through everything. He must be divided, he must suffer, undergo all sorts of humiliations, but above all he must not accept the designation of ‘Poet,’ for that would give him an identity, which he does not have. People when they look at him or read his work and think ‘Poet’ would be thinking of their own ideas of ‘Poet’ and so would not see him as he is. If he sees this and continues to allow it, he also will begin to see himself as he is not, as they see him. He is the poet; he writes poetry. That is his identity; that is who he is.

But what does this mean? He does not know who he is. Only those who do not know who they are can write poetry. But now he is a poet; that is who they say he is. That is who he is and he knows it. Bob Dylan, who everyone labeled ‘Poet’ from the very beginning said in an interview, “A poet is anybody who wouldn’t call himself a poet.”

It makes little sense for someone who writes poetry to have that poetry published, to have his poems critiqued by people who already know, or at least think they know, who they are. A poem can only be read truly by those who truly do not know who they are. Only the ones who do not know are able to understand another who also does not know. A man who does not know who he is does not necessarily write poetry. Writing becomes necessary according to the intensity of suffering that having no identity and not being whole entails. The more suffering, the more dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, the more necessary it is to write. Colin Wilson writes, “Language is the natural medium for self-analysis; the idea of ‘a way back to himself’ cannot be expressed in any other medium.” Writing is the way back to oneself, to unity, away from self-division. If someone is divided but neither knows nor cares, why should that person be concerned with the search for self and wholeness, a search in which the seeker will remain in a constant state of tension and angst, will feel alienated from others, and will be unable to find peace or rest? But the solitary, the one who knows and cares about his self-division, does not seek peace or rest. He knows that he will find neither as long as he stays divided. Peace may come for a time, but it cannot be sought.

The more the solitary writes, the deeper he goes into the search for self and wholeness, the less present he becomes to the surface. It is almost as if he exists only in solitude. Amongst people he might as well not exist. This is because with others he is especially aware of his lack of identity, since most all communication with others comes from identity, what is called ‘personality.’ For one who knows he has no identity, what can he say? Someone who is perceptive about surfaces may get the distinct impression, “This person does not exist.” Someone who is perceptive to depth may feel there is much more and will be drawn to the unseen in that person.

The unseen in the solitary person is really the whole person, for almost everything about him is unseen. So the one perceptive to depth will intuitively understand the other’s essence, though the personality on the surface appears non-existent. The less false personality, the truer to essence. But there can be a personality type that is proud of its lack of falseness, its lack of false personality. Instead of making a false personality out of his lack of false personality, and having some sort of distorted pride in that, the solitary, the one searching for himself, must undergo the suffering inherent in this non-identified state, the humiliation of having no identity to fall back on. It is most important not to alleviate this tension in any superficial way. The only way out is through.

On The Solitary

“A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other Body – The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute – the poet has none; no identity – he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures… not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical nature – how can it, when I have no nature?”
John Keats

There is an expression I sometimes hear: ‘Can you meet my needs?’ I feel this very question is false and cannot be asked. Needs cannot be met by another. Another can only meet transient wants, desires. Others can only meet you where they are, which will leave you wanting. Needs that can be met by others are not true needs.

The single need of the solitary is to become unified in solitude, with the help of all the other solitaries of the ages.

One characteristic of the solitary, and one reason he remains alone, is because he knows how quickly he can attach to others. Do not suppose he always loves his solitude. He experiences both the joys of solitude and the pains of loneliness with greater intensity than the outward directed man. Unlike the outward directed man, who typically attaches to one person and remains with that person, a choice that alleviates loneliness as well as passion, the solitary attaches quickly and detaches just as quickly. He has had past experiences of falling for those who he felt understood him, though he could not know beyond doubt. But the solitary is without fail a deeply intuitive person in the sense that Carl Jung defined it when he wrote,

“In intuition a content presents itself whole and complete, without our being able to explain or discover how this content came into existence. Intuition is a kind of instinctive apprehension, no matter of what contents…Intuitive knowledge possesses an intrinsic certainty and conviction.”

So the solitary has felt understood intuitively, not knowing why he feels this way but knowing it is so. He also intuitively understands that the vast majority of people who he meets do not understand him, and this is why he attaches to those very few who do. However, knowing he is not yet unified and knowing he can only become so in solitude, the detachment comes not long after the attachment, and the solitary keeps within himself the one who is gone. He introjects the other, in psychological jargon.

We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart

The solitary needs to be intuitive and intellectual, emotional and physical. Only if he is balanced in these ways can he maintain his sanity while being alone. Only by being balanced can he become unified. Having a balanced array of strengths allows the solitary to stave off excessive loneliness and do the necessary work which must be done alone, the work of creation, of ecstatic vigil, of maintaining and strengthening a private love that has the unified strength of being undistorted by object, that is not lost to unloving institutions or diminished by a constant search for someone who will receive it and return it in whole. Love cannot be returned in whole because it cannot be given to another as a whole. To be kept whole it must not be revealed directly. To attempt to reveal it directly is to split it.

At the same time, there is a way of not revealing it that does not leave it whole, when the not revealing is not chosen, when the love is held in out of fear while the person desires to find an object for it. In the solitary poet, this holding in of love can exist with the desire to keep it whole. He understands that his very self, what Keats calls his unpoetical character, his lack of identity, makes a long-term love relationship where he keeps his love whole impossible. He is not nearly consistent enough, not at all certain enough in himself, far too doubtful of any possibility of happiness with another. The solitary would need to be given the opportunity to spend months at a time out of sight of the other. If this is not possible, he will probably make both his and the others’ life a misery. He will look for some way to feel in a more intense way than it’s possible to feel in a day-to-day relationship, at the expense of the relationship itself. In a life of routine where passion must necessarily be deadened in order that work can be done, the solitary feels himself deadened and can do no work, for his work is the work of passion.

The solitary is nothing if not a passionate person. One reason he remains solitary is because his passion is so deep down, so invisible to the eyes of others. The only way he can express it is through nonverbal forms, through music and dance and art. It is not possible through conversation, so he tends to be silent because he desires to be authentic more than he wants to be on good terms with superficial relations, if good terms are synonymous with inauthenticity. What are good terms? Usually terms that lack passion. Unspoken terms that everything will be out on the surface and spoken, except for the terms of course, which remain unspoken. When all is ‘open communication,’ then communication opens no doors to the unseen. Doors remain closed and people remain divided.

Even if the solitary believed in being on good terms, if he could not speak to the other of his terms — that there are things that must remain unspoken — it would not be worth his effort. For one thing, he could not help but become aware that he is going against his own essence by doing so, moving away from unification by attempting to be on good terms with other divided people. Though he does not know who he is, he knows he acts as someone he is not when he tries to be on good terms.

And the solitary draws a line here. In art, it is acceptable to speak out of character, in the voice of another real or created person, for in that case he is empathizing in a deep way with another, he is actually becoming that other — “filling some other Body”— taking the form of another for the sake of expressing a truth beyond himself. But what truth is he expressing by being someone else in everyday relationship? He is only exposing himself to the untruths necessary to be on good terms — unspoken terms of repressed passion — in society. In society, the solitary must be another, as he can only be himself when alone, though who he is remains in a constant state of change and flux. What does not change is this: Who he is only reveals itself when he is alone.

But let the solitary be careful not to create an identity out of his solitariness, for the creation of identity is the work of the social world. In creating an identity out of being solitary, the solitary will not be a solitary — in fact, he will be renouncing who he is by saying he is that — because identity and solitude are opposed. The solitary is such as he is because he lives with the tension of having no identity, of being no one to others, so he can discover who he truly is. Being ‘unpoetical,’ having no ‘unchangeable attribute,’ he writes poetry until he is what he writes and no longer needs to write himself into Being.

It is also crucial that the solitary not avoid others solely because it is with them that he feels most alone. In that way he would be like the other-directed or outer-directed man who does not want to be alone because that is when he feels most alone. Whereas the solitary feels least alone when alone, in solitude.

Either the solitary will make an identity out of his solitariness, which is actually a renunciation — though it may be meant to be a celebration — of true solitariness, or he will renounce being a solitary with the knowledge he is doing so, go against his identity-less nature to try and find some niche where he can be someone, using some talent or other he might possess and being rewarded for that talent. But that talent will only come from what solitariness remains in his compromise. There can be no compromise in the solitary. Having an identity as a part of the social world is a compromise, and compromise itself belongs to the social world. Therefore, the solitary cannot compromise. He can write as long as he does not call himself a writer. He can dance as long as he does not call himself a dancer. He can teach as long as he does not call himself a teacher.

Instead, he must aim to accept his own solitariness. One way to do this is to learn to be comfortable with his silence, to refrain from speaking unless he feels compelled from within to do so. There have been and will continue to be many times when others try to compel him to speak, or gently push him to do so. That others will feel uncomfortable with his silence cannot be denied, and whether their approach is forceful or gentle is due to their own personality and makes no real difference. It is still an effort to coerce no matter how gentle.

The solitary must maintain his silence until the words are compelled out of him from within rather than from without. Maintaining his silence will also increase the tension in him. What is in him will strive with more desperation to find its way out. Unable or unwilling to turn to relations, he will be forced to find another outlet. His creative work will begin to take on the aspects of the solitary — passionate, intense longings unable to be communicated in any other way.