An interview between Stephen Jenkinson and Brad Korpalski, Founder of Pure Immersions who is inviting Stephen back to Bali April 19-21, 2019 to speak on matters of eloquence and beauty.
Brad: All right Stephen, well hello there. How are you? Are you hearing me OK?
Stephen: I can hear you just fine now.
Brad: Alright, well let’s just start with me saying thank you for taking the time. I know you’re going to be hitting the road here for several months and probably have a lot going on, so… much appreciated for you to have made some space to have a little conversation.
Stephen: You’re welcome. It was now or never.
Brad: It was now or never. And so we’re recording this a few months in advance of your arrival in Bali, which will be your third trip there. We collaborated on “Die Wise” two years ago. Last year it was “At the Foot of the World Tree Withered”, which was an elder hood immersion, we could call it.
And this year it’s going to be “Seven Arrows in the Air”, which will be “a time for learning something of the skill and the gift of well-spokenness.” And we’re going to dive into that in due time here. But I wanted to start by hearing your thoughts about Bali.
You don’t strike me as somebody who is lured by the conventions of tourism. You’re not there for the coconuts and the beaches, so to speak. So I’m curious what’s the significance of Bali in your life?
Stephen: Well, before I went there, none at all. I couldn’t have found it on the map, even if you directed me to Indonesia. Couldn’t have found it, such was my ignorance.
And you know I think one of the things that struck me by the end of the second time there was a kind of beauty prevailing against the impossible odds. Given the tourism and all we both know is besetting the place, something seems inevitable about the eventual demise of the place. But for the time being its cultural beauty is so remarkably… I don’t know if resilient is the right word, but it’s just the most unlikely miracle of the willingness of a culture to persist with its beauty, to lead with its beauty at the expense of its longevity… It’s something that, maybe, I’ll never forget.
I was driving with Wyann, who you know quite well — he’s a lovely guy – and we’re going among the rice paddies, and I was telling him a story that happened the night before. I’d been to a kind of open-air theatrical presentation of one of the Balian Hindu epics, and I was noticing the crowd’s behavior. It was really distressing to me.
First of all, they really behaved like a North American audience, full of privilege, full of themselves, full of demanding to be entertained, no sense of any obligation to adapt their expectations to the fact that they were half a world away from their homes. And they came in tank tops and cut-offs, and a lot of the women had virtually nothing on. Many were taking their selfies and videos, flashes going off all the time in the eyes of the performers.
And you know, and I knew, we were in the presence of these old and deeply revered sort of spiritual works, and they were presenting them to these people who are drinking their Heinekens and smoking their spliffs and that sort of thing.
So I was distressed about it, seemingly one of the few. Yet another example of North American privilege. I asked him about it. I said, “How do you take that? How do you go ahead, when your holy things are on view like that and not seen?”
And his answer was deceptively simple.
He said to me, “Well, we did invite them.” And there was this long pause. And then there was nothing more.
And there was no rancor in it. There was no chagrin. He wasn’t gritting his teeth.
He was saying, so far as I could tell, “You know, the radical laws of hospitality, as we understand them and practice them, mean that if we’ve invited somebody into our house, then we don’t tell them how to behave. And perhaps they imitate us and perhaps they don’t. And perhaps they take their cue from us, or perhaps they stay just as they were at home. But regardless, our part to play is to be the host that we’ve learned how to be.” Extraordinary, eloquent spirit.
And that’s what I meant initially when I said that the Balinese seem to me to be these practitioners of a kind of radical beauty – a kind that I don’t know will survive the 21st century, frankly.
But I’m not sure it should survive at all costs. Maybe its way of going down is to do so being absolutely faithful to from whence it comes. That beauty, if it is overwhelmed by tourism and glob- alization as I suspect it will be, will bow out of here in a way utterly consistent with its understanding of life and beauty, and itself. So, if that’s the way it’s going … Mysteriously, I got to be a witness to perhaps the beginnings of a kind of elegant departure from the scene, which is that particular kind of Balinese beauty. And because of that, I’m extraordinarily lucky.
And you can see it’s a five-minute walk down the road from that realization to the subject we’re going to be approaching when we all get together in a few months’ time. I hold that up for you to consider as an example in this sorrowing world of the arc of eloquence in its hospitable form, tracing across the dark sky of the unconsidered, unfettered access known as tourism.
Brad: That’s a beautiful rendering of the place. And you know there’s something interesting in this the theme of “Seven Arrows in the Air”, which in loose terms is going to be around language and eloquence. I’ve been reflecting on the Balinese and their language, and it’s obviously gone through several conquests and a lot of impacts and it’s changed a lot, of course, from the original days when it was mixed with Indian Hinduism. And the Balinese, they speak the language of Bali, and then separately there’s the national language of Indonesia, of which they’re a part.
So Balinese has a couple of noteworthy characteristics, given what you’re coming to talk about.
One is that the verbs don’t move in the same way English does. The Balinese don’t conjugate their verbs. So you’re not dealing in past, present, and future tense. And two: there’s no verb to be.
So it’s a very interesting dynamic, as it actually informs a sort of relational quality and I think informs a lot of the cultural norms and how the Balinese approach their life.
And I find that a very important window into the culture is through language. Obviously in the West we have a very different relationship with our language, so it makes me wonder: What is our language telling us about our own culture?
Stephen: Well, I’m not shocked or surprised at all that it’s “missing” the verb to be, although apparently it’s doing fine without it. And the fact that it doesn’t conjugate, and as such it doesn’t exercise the kind of English intolerance that tenses tend to exercise: that’s something. You know, we’re trained at a very early age – and the reward system is quite persuasive and intense – to line up with the idea that there’s only one tense at a time that you’re allowed to inhabit and make any sense at all. You can only occupy one tense at a time to make yourself understood, and to be lucid. And if you think about what the mental health standard is when they’re testing you, for example, for brain injury and things of the kind … What they’ll do is they’ll ask a number of questions designed to find out whether or not you can consistently identify yourself as occupying only one tense at a time. Now they don’t say it that way, but if you were to “confuse” the tenses, and for a moment occupy the position that we would call the past, and speak as such, they would be concerned as to whether or not you ‘d had some sort of brain trauma.
And in other parts of the world that very same symptom would be a sign that you’re deeply well-adjusted to the comings and goings of a human life, and that you are in fact to be trusted, since by the dexterity of the use of your language you can speak with some authority about the presence of the past. You wouldn’t be hospitalized there.
It’s astounding to make these little observations, really. Linguistic differences are more than just windows and doors. Sometimes they’re barred windows and chained doors. Sometimes there are no walls at all. Sometimes they’re a little bit of a tent out in the desert, where everything is blowing through and the sky is there just above your head.
I don’t myself mistrust English at all. But I’ve worked an awful long time at becoming its friend and confidant, and I think that minus that discipline you‘ll likely inherit the kind of modern and post-modern laziness and deep misapprehensions and extraordinary prejudices that are part of the contemporary version of the English language.
And of course, this is something that we’re going to be approaching when we get together.
Brad: When I first sat in a room with you as you were leading the Die Wise teaching and we looked at the roots of words, it just opened up a huge gateway into the histories that have impacted language. And it was a completely different world, suddenly.
It struck me that we live in almost universal ignorance of the words in our language and where they come from. And I’m wondering: Is there any hope that we’re able to recover a semblance of that wisdom?
Stephen: Well, you probably know from the talk I did it on the dying stuff that I’m not the guy to go to for hope. But okay. Let me try.
We are able to proceed on behalf of the language minus any hope of “recovering” things that have slipped away. I don’t know that that kind of hope is necessary, because I’m not sure that what we’re really talking about doing, when you investigate a language deeply, is investigating its vanished past. I don’t think you are. I think what you’re doing is investigating the family jewels of the English language. And as long as the language is being spoken, especially with regard to its dappled history, the family jewels are on display. Whether they’re recognized as jewels or cinders, that’s a different question.
But you know a lot of contemporary people, many of them young, have no patience with the language and have given up on it entirely in favor of a kind of pseudo language– a brief and ever briefer language, the one that the YouTube and the email is friendly to.
If you just turn those damn things off for 10 minutes, you’ll find that there’s a part of your attention span that wasn’t completely plowed under by the 5 or 10 second sound bite of contemporary English. And as soon as that happens you realize the old eloquences are not really gone.
Common speech has begun to atrophy, the way an unused muscle will do. We might be half way to a linguistic equivalent of phantom-limb syndrome. There’s enormous consequence to ignoring it, to not taking care of it, as it would be ignoring and not taking care of a vehicle: you leave it on blocks in the front yard for three years, I mean, what do you think’s going to happen?
So that’s certainly true when people are asked, let’s say, to stand and deliver linguistically, lexically. They go through enormous amounts of performance anxiety and so on, being asked to do something that they literally do every day.
So it’s quite a jarring thing to realize. I have a school, as you know, and the school’s principal currency is eloquence. When I say “eloquence”, most newcomers to the school, who tend to be non- practitioners of eloquence, understand it to be fancy, or hopelessly elaborate, or cumbersome in its inability to “get to the point”, those kinds of things. But what eloquence really is, is a willingness to utterly occupy one of the chairs in your meeting either with another person or with a piece of poetry from 300 years ago. It is mandatory to beholding that ice clogged river that is just down the hill right now as I’m speaking to you. Somewhere in the study you start realizing that your half of the eloquence circuitry is to craft an eloquence of the eye. Your ability to have eloquence that’s beyond you register upon you: that is also the practice of eloquence, and its language-borne magic. It’s not a human product or creation. Eloquence is something that we’re entrusted with. But we’re far from its sole practitioners. The made world is thick with eloquence. The made world is made in and with eloquence.
Brad: I’m speechless in a conversation about eloquence [laughs].
I heard you say about technology that eloquence requires us to turn it off, to turn off the YouTube and turning all of it off is where the grace of eloquence is able to visit us. Is that a fair characterization of what you said there?
Stephen: Yeah. Yeah. You’re talking about an eloquence in the ear there. You could say that eloquence is a free floating life form, and when it attaches itself to a particular language or practice it’s mistaken for that language or practice. But you know all forms of deep artistic merit really require disciplined practice, of years-long duration, without an audience, without any witnesses, so that the depth of the thing, the depth of eloquence in the made world, has a chance to respond to the pleas which are the practice of disciplined learning and hearing.
Brad: In the description of Seven Arrows in the Air, you begin by saying, “some of the religions, the ones with good memories, teach us that the world was spoken into being by its makers.” I hear this as a present-day construct as well, that we’re speaking the world into being, and I’m wondering: What is the world we are speaking into being by the way in which we speak? And what of the ‘war on truth’ that makes up the news now, the divisiveness that takes away the strength in language, in words? And is this what’s happening when this discourse is bandied about in the media?
Stephen: Well I’m not much of a media guy. I’m not too plugged in. I don’t have a telephone, and it’s nothing to be proud of. But it’s just the fact of the thing, and it comforts me. I don’t recommend it to anybody else, not necessarily.
And one quick, second caveat I want to mention is this: Your characterizations are really heartfelt and so on, but they traffic a little bit in enormously broad generalizations. Frankly, I don’t recognize my own practice of the language in the characterization that you made. But I certainly recognize that it’s in the air. Still, generalizations that slander language use can easily be an extention of the sloth they’re intended to reveal.
And if you hadn’t said it, I was going to suggest to you that speaking the world into existence is not inevitable. And it’s not the inevitable consequence of opening your mouth either. In other words, the very same alchemy that we’re entrusted with, this kind of syntactical alchemy, can be turned towards practices of extraordinary invocation of darkness and obscurity and hateful misanthropy and worse, which is certainly part of the alleged moral order or moral high ground that prevails these days.
But spells are broken by the same way in which they’re cast, with the same repertoire. That may not be hopeful, but its good news. Worlds are done away with in the same way in which they are summoned and pleaded for, and that’s a vital realization to come to. A lot of people, for example, in my hearing, have sworn off the power of the spoken word, because they find it too easily swallowed up into nefarious purpose — politics being an obvious one, and advertising and economics being others.
I understand. But that’s like saying, ‘I’m not going to mobilize myself on behalf of any trees because the bad guys are using printed words on paper to kill the world’.
See, consider coming ever more vehemently to the defense of the tree when the “bad guys” are using the pulp and paper industry to lie to you. You don’t demonize the tree. You don’t demonize the language. You don’t give up on the language. Giving up’s for amateurs. Well, better to say, giving up for longer than an hour at a time is for amateurs.
This is essentially a beginner’s mistake. It’s an immature response to things, and it’s frankly not becoming of adults. So a deeper and more mature response is one that doesn’t try to forgo the heartbrokenness while it’s trying to get its work done.
Heartbrokenness today, I think, is one of the vital signs of life. And it is to be deeply trusted and practiced, frankly, so you can eventually be heartbroken aloud. And you know, when some people are kind to me in their assessment of my work, one of the things that they’ve said is that the degree of lament or sorrow that I present and practice from time to time is something that invites them, let’s say, downwards. Now, I do so for the purposes of entering into things mysterious: Not for the purpose of making it ‘worse’, but for the purpose of making it ‘so’. That’s eloquence, in fighting trim, I’d say.
It’s not clear to me that realizing how bad it is makes it worse. But it is clear, to use a phrase I read from an ecological writer named Tim Morton, that “there’s a way of saying we’re screwed, that makes sure we’re screwed.”
That’s true too. So those of us who are entrusted with the language or are allowed into the recesses of other people’s thoughts and considerations by way of being listened to have an enormous responsibility to conduct ourselves, first of all, as if this is a privilege. This confers upon its practitioners a real sort of weapons grade obligation and responsibility. Sadly, I don’t see the tv types and the bloggers for the most part being claimed by that responsibility and etiquette. It is an enormous privilege to be listened to, or to have your words read, even for a few moments.
Frankly, I don’t see that sense of privilege practiced very much, but it should be. And I stand for that. One of the signs of exercising that sense of responsibility is to be willing to know how easily misapprehended you can be, and how easily what you’re trying to breathe into the world can turn into a noxious fume when it’s misrepresented, or willfully misconstrued, and all the rest.
So you know I take my time, I suppose, when I’m speaking, and you know that in the old days people used to say to me, “You take a long time to say what you mean.” And I say, “Well that’s because meaning often takes a long time to appear.”
It’s not because I’m not sure what I’m talking about, it’s because the things in question deserve that time, that hovering, that lingering. It’s not a flagrant setting aside the limits or importance of someone else’s attention span. It’s setting aside the notion that you’d know the real stuff the instant that it appeared, or that the real stuff immediately appears, which is a rather promiscuous or even pornographic understanding of what language is for. It is not there to reveal itself entirely in the first 10 seconds, and if it doesn’t do so now it’s not wasting your time with a tease. The language itself bears its growth rings, its accretions, and it deserves some slowing down in the name of its murmurings appearing.
Brad: Is what you’re saying now the significance of the “Seven Arrows in the Air” title of the teaching?.
Stephen: Well it could be. Let me see if I can figure out if I am or not. But for the moment, I can tell you where the title came from.
Some years ago I was studying bow making from scratch from a wooden stave, and it’s an extraordinarily elegant, so-called, “primitive” skill, and it should raise your appreciation for its practitioners, and your own ancestral practitioners of the art form, to a very high degree. I’m not sure that it typically does, but it should.
Anyway, as I was investigating it, as is my want to an almost exhaustive degree, I came across a story whereby the guy said that one of the things that deeply practiced cultures that have archery in their repertoire come to, is they have competitions. And unlike us, where it would appear that the longest is the best, the farthest is the best, the highest is the best, you know, that kind of thing, they kind of retooled what real practice meant, and it came to this: Could they have more than one arrow in the air at the same time?
And they begin to elevate this practice, and they realize it wasn’t just a one shot, go-for-broke kind of thing, that there was almost a sort of a samurai elegance about it all, where the first shot set the timer, if you will, and it was straight up, or pretty close to it.
And the degree to which you could notch the other arrows, and get them airborne, and the speed, but also the precision of all of those things together, meant that the real competition looked upon time as an opportunity to be engaged in something honourable and skilled, not something that would defeat you.
So, I just love the whole proposition. The number of arrows you could have in the air at one time before the first one landed became to my mind a kind of practice of a kind of visual or cultural elegance, or literacy, or eloquence. I realized that I’ve probably been hankering after that very practice when I’m given the opportunity to stand in front of people, and wonder about things, and be troubled by things aloud. And you know I was never all that tempted to get to the point. It seemed to me that anybody can get to the point. It’s not that great an accomplishment. But how you get there, and whether or not you still intend to get there by the time you’re deeply into the journey … Well, that’s a whole other question. And that’s what the seven arrows proposition allows: the notion that the way you approach things determines what you find.
Brad: That skill as a storyteller was so apparent to me when first hearing you tell a story, because there are orders of depth to what’s being communicated. It piques such a curiosity, and interest, and almost brings you into a different phase of life.
Given that it’s such a rare skill, I wonder if you find any peers in the capacity to wield and deliver story?
Stephen: Yeah, well I would say–now this is a guess– and this probably lets you in on some aspect of my personality that I wouldn’t intentionally reveal perhaps, but it’s this: I’m not sure that highly eloquent people seek out other highly eloquent people, not very often. Because It would be a cacophony I suspect, and though maybe interesting in the short term, in the long term, perhaps it would be a car wreck.
Brad: There’s no conference for that? [laughs]
Stephen: [laughs] Maybe there is, but nobody’s ever invited me, so I don’t know what that means. But I just think it’s the nature of eloquence to require a lot of room and space, and you know, uncharted territory around it, such that it can appear as what it is: a deeply disciplined effort at trying to wonder about something, not a report on what’s already known.
Reportage is not really eloquence, most of the time. Most of the time it’s exercises in various kinds of certainty and so on. But eloquence doesn’t require that certainty, and in fact it probably dismisses it early on and thanks it for its for its years of service, but indicates that it’s no longer required.
So I’m not sure that you can get a conclave of eloquent people all doing that at the same time, and this being worth listening to.
Brad: I think for me it’s a wish that the skill (of storytelling) is not in such small supply in our world. That there are – and this sounds like it’s probably trading on the measure of hope that you so exhaustively try to fight against – corners of the world where eloquence lives.
Again, I look around and I see a peer group– and younger– who are pretty beholden to the short attention span and all of the developments that are happening in the technological world, and yet… young people are coming to you, isn’t that right? That’s a sign?
Stephen: It’s true. I’m not sure they’re coming to me, but they’re certainly coming to what I do, and I would prefer that that’s the choice they’re making, or at least to help make that distinction for them.
And yeah, I would suppose the way I characterize it is that they seem to be trying to find a small handful of older people to be wrong about, which is a very strange characterization of a goal: to try to be wrong about what you think.
But it’s the same thing I noticed years and years ago when I was working in the death trade. There were legions of card-carrying lifelong atheists coming to the ending of the days only to discover that their atheism was not all it was cracked up to be.
And they’re not sure any longer whether they should try to be consistent with their so-called ‘belief system’. They’re not sure that they want to be right anymore about what they once believed, that when you die that’s it, kaput. It doesn’t look like the heroic achievement that it may have done in your years of firing on all cylinders. And I think it’s the same thing perhaps now, with the kind of generic antagonism and sense of cynical futility that seems to pervade the general emotional and psychic landscape these days, that seem to coalesce very intensely in people in their 20s and 30s. And I find they speak with great authority from that cynicism, from that anger.
But I understand their almost involuntary appearance at things I do as an attempt to find a place where it can be imagined and established that their cynicism can’t carry the freight after all. Like I said, it’s a strange thing to want, but I see it in there somehow.
And you know this this kind of thing can’t appear with generic reassuring, and ego affirmation, and trafficking in hope, and all of those things. This kind of very strange sort of ‘spirit metabolism’ to my mind can only really appear in the kind of subtleties that eloquence creates and pleads for.
Eloquence is a kind of architecture, and there is the old adage that ‘God lives in the details’, in small places, in the space between the words, in the hesitations, in the punctuation. I mean, these things are all as mandatory to achieving deep eloquence as anything that’s between the periods and the commas.
You know that’s what punctuation is: It’s an attempt to recreate the vocalizing and the style of expression and the moment in which it’s expressed. That’s where those things all came from. Now of course it’s all horribly standardized, and there are style rules, and…
I’ll tell you a little story. I can’t remember which book, but one of the books I wrote, when I got it back from the publisher with the line edit, they were reorganizing my sentences and my paragraph structure and all of this. I said, “you know, you signed a contract with me based on the book that you saw, and now you’re trying to rewrite the book. And you’re certainly doing so in a voice that’s not mine. How do you make sense of that?”
And they said, “well we’re just trying to bring it in line with the style manual.”
“And which one would that be”, I asked. Because they’re talking to me like it’s the Bible, right?
And they say, “ The Chicago style manual.” And I said to them, “I’m a Canadian, I don’t give a shit about your Chicago style manual. You know this is what you guys are so good at. You globalize, and you standardize, and you call that freedom. Look. I wrote a book in Canadian, and this book is going to be published in Canadian.”
And they were completely dumbfounded that there’s such a thing as “Canadian syntax”, and all the rest. But that’s, of course, what localities and particularities, and so on – that’s what they are. And that’s where the gods live. The only kind of gods there are, are local Gods.
And when you have a standardized language, a standardized way of expression, this is a kind of grotesque monotheism of the tongue. You know, that’s that same kind of intolerance that I talked about earlier about past, present, future.
And, you know, nobody who listens to Bob Dylan thinks, “Well, fabulous singer.” Right? Because if you divorce the sound of the voice from everything else you get these ludicrous denunciations of his inability to sing
But the truth is that he can sing extraordinarily well, given the entire package that was entrusted to him, and he crafted some kind of sound, it seems to me, that carried what he was entrusted with, his capacity to see things in the way that he did.
And it’s ludicrous to compare him to John Denver or Pavarotti, or I don’t care who. Ask any of them alive or dead to phrase the way he does, such that what he carries in Desolation Row can appear operatically or in the conventions of ‘the good voice’, and they couldn’t do it. Because it’s a package. But this is no condemnation of them. They’re not supposed to be able to do it.
So, that’s what I mean by “standardization”. Real eloquence makes a shambles of standardization, and that’s one of the ways it’s really trustworthy.
Brad: Something you said once has always stuck with me. You were talking about the pursuit of knowledge, about the acquisition basis of factual learning, “learning” being how others might describe the acquisition of information.
You said, “knowledge is the death of learning.”
That pierced me, and it seems to have the same sort of personality as what you’re saying right now about this fluidity of eloquence and the lack of certainty in all things.
Stephen: Yeah, first of all you can guess that I haven’t had many university gigs, having said that. [laughs]
Well, the idea of it is this: Knowledge is basically an accumulating exercise. It’s acquisitive, and its purpose is to swell over time. This is a sign that things are going very well indeed – though there’s the occasional purge, right?
But, by and large, the idea is you’re supposed to know more than your parents did, more than you did yesterday. That’s a sign that things are working out. And then every once in a while somebody drops a bomb like: ‘The older I get, the smarter my father becomes’.
Some of these things are believed in now, and seen to be inherently progressive, simply because ‘time is passing’. So I guess I take my cue from a more sort of prophetic function, whose world view might be that learning is entrusted to us, and we are to see to it that growth as we’ve become addicted to it is thwarted and undone.
I’ll give you an example that occurred to me while I was writing the most recent book about elder hood. It came to me from winemaking. I just asked myself a question. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t presume to know wine making very well, but I know what I like, wine-wise.
I just wondered how the good stuff came to be, and, as is my want, I wondered about it in a non-technical fashion. And this is what I came up with.
Wine starts off its life as a hundred gallons of grape juice. And you know, by any standard that’s not the most pleasant encounter in life, a hundred gallons of grape juice. So they add what they add, and they put it in whatever containers they do, and the people who know these things are in the conjuring arts, right?
But here’s what struck me as a kind of subtle thing to wonder about: When two years, or three, or five years later, or whatever it is the vintage requires – let’s say five years later – they open one of these casks that the pros deem to be ready, the question of whether or not it’s good is one question, but the other question to my mind is whether or not you still have 100 gallons of anything. And it struck me that the answer’s probably, no.
The only way you can achieve the depth of flavor, and the deeply complex nuance that they bend over backwards trying to describe in the wine literature, is that complexity – or deeply achieved wine-ness – happens at the expense of volume.
In other words, diminishment is the midwife, and a reduction in volume is the mandatory condition, let’s say, for a deeply achieved something. So you have less of it, but what you have is deep all the way through. And this is an eloquence of consideration, and not so much of expression– that you consider from whence comes the deep of anything, a deeply human thing, a deeply beautiful thing. And it may occur to you that it doesn’t come from smooth roads, assurances, hope-filled existence, a guarantee that if you just put your paddle in the water you’d get where you’re headed, that the only limitations are in your imagination, all of these sort of puffy assurances with which people are being raised and parented and praised now, and have been probably for a couple of generations. This has produced an extraordinary scheme among its practitioners and products, a demand to be satisfied before there is any work done: ‘I demand to be paid before the labors undertaken. I demand to feel reassured that it’s worth it, that it’ll work out in the end.’
A friend of mine owns a kind of a national, topological treasure on Maui, and you know it’s on the Lonely Planet guidebooks and what not, so people find it all the time. And he says the most routine question he gets from people who are seeking out this, the item of extraordinary beauty up in the Highlands behind his house, they say to him when they see him on the path, is “Is it worth it?” That’s all they want to know! “Is it worth walking up there? Gotta know that before I start walking. Otherwise, no go”
One of the things that eloquence is, to my mind, is an antidote to an achievement, a pseudo-achievement, that is not willing to be demeaned and diminished – and sometimes even demented – by the slings and arrows of the way things are, such that it becomes a genuine child of its time, and not some kind of unerring hero story.
Another little vignette that comes from the time I was working in the death trade: I would routinely be chastised, yes by the doctors, but also by patients and families, and finally by audiences. They would say to me, “You know, you’re your depiction of this thing is awfully dark.”
I would say, “Well I just think it comes from the way it is, but why does that trouble you?”
“Well”, they say, “Look, I know a story …’ And they begin to tell me yet another hero story of somebody who didn’t die on schedule, somebody who defied all the odds and emerged on the other side. This is the one that you’re supposed to hear about. And they’d look at me like, “So what you got to say about that?”
And routinely I’d have to say something like, “Look, I don’t dispute with you that you know this person who defied the odds, and I’m not even going to talk to you about what odds actually are. But let’s just say this: you keep telling the story of the hero who didn’t die on schedule, and I’ll keep telling the story of the 399 other people, diagnosed at the same moment, of the same disease, who died on schedule, and if we both keep telling these stories, then the whole story will keep being available to everyone.”
You see, that’s another kind of exercise of eloquence. It’s not so much in vocabulary, in speaking, as it is in realizing that when the hero story keeps being told, the point is to banish everything that’s ‘uninspiring’.
Brad: [Makes unintelligible sounds of deep introspection.] (Stammering) Perhaps it’s now time for us to bring this chat to a close. Is there anything else you’d like to you’d like to say in reference to Bali and the Seven Arrows in the Air teaching, or anything else at all?
Stephen: Yeah. There probably is. Let me see if I can find it.
I would say this. I’m looking forward to this, because this is not an exercise purely in reporting. This is going to be an exercise – if I’m if I’m successful at it – it’s going to be an incarnation of what I’m advocating. And not just on my part. If I can cultivate the notion that there’s as much eloquence in the ear as there is on the tongue, and there’s as much eloquence in the world as there is in the human mind, and that if these find each other, then that’s the sound that whispers to us, again, that we’re lucky enough to still be alive, and to have lived long enough to realize it.
And that’s the prerequisite, it seems to me, to taking on the extraordinary and heavy labor of being alive in a fairly troubled time. And we’ll take a few days to get together to wonder how we might proceed otherwise, troubled perhaps but not troubling ,without finding another enemy, and instead recognizing that it’s adversity that prompts the need for this kind of eloquence.
Its adversity. And all adversity is, is the rest of the story. We have this phrase “Antichrist”, and it’s mistakenly understood to be, “the devil”, or “Beelzebub”, or whatever.
Well, in truth, the whole characterization means this: the Christ, as a historical figure, got a lot of stuff done it would appear, in a rather brief sojourn among us, and put quite a number of things into motion. What’s been done with them since is lamentable, among other things. But certainly he was on it for a little while. But there’s a lot of stuff he didn’t get to, and a lot of stuff that went haywire, and went sideways, and the Antichrist is … the rest of the Christ.
That’s the function. The Antichrist function is to provide the rest of the story, the part that an over-dependence upon the Christ figure tends to cause you to lose sight of.
That’s an eloquent way of understanding what adversity actually is. Adversity is the rest of the story, the troubled part that your addiction to success will not tolerate. So, the beautiful thing about eloquence of all kinds is that it challenges the standardized way of seeing things. It challenges prejudice and, generally speaking, in a capable mouth and hand, eloquence is the end of conviction, and the beginning of wonder.
And that’s not a bad achievement for a couple of days. That’s what we’re going to give ourselves to: conjuring beauty, in the form of eloquence.
Brad: Not bad at all. I am looking forward to this, as you know, as always.
Seven Arrows in the Air will be in Ubud, Bali: April 19-21, and you can get more information at www.pureimmersions.com/host-teachings
Thank you again so much for your time, and thank you everybody who is listening or reading the transcription of the chat.