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The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: 2021 Edition #8 – ‘To Be Steadfast in the Storm and Goodnight to Lawrence Ferlinghetti”

I can’t imagine what life might be like for those who have never faced thoughts of suicide or periods of depression. But if offered such a life of unremittent sunshine, I would certainly refuse it.

To live well in the midst of a whirlwind is my idea of joy. I feel most myself and most alive when I feel like a lighthouse in a storm, clinging firmly to my rock amidst the full torrent of the hurricane secure in the light that I shine and the power of my voice.

Photo Credit: Evgeni Tcherkasski.
Photo Credit: Evgeni Tcherkasski.

And yet this is a paradox. The joy of excitement is found in the steadiness that remains rooted in tbe silence that underlies it. This is what I find so attractive about the monastic life. I am most familiar with Catholic monastic life, because that’s what I’ve been exposed to, but I imagine it is the same for Buddhists and others.

A Catholic monk spends some two to three hours (sometimes more) each day chanting the psalms. And what poetry they are! The steadiness and quietude of harmonious chant gives the impression of calm, but consider the text. The psalms are packed full of stories of war, defeat and victory, treachery, dangerous adventures, judgements and tragedy along with all that is opposite: the highest joys and the most devastating depths are explored by the ancient Hebrew poets. Somebody who sings the psalms inhabits a world of storms and famines, wars and earthquakes, but also one in which the hills sing, valleys dance, old and young make merry together, gods speak out, justice flows like a river, icy hearts are made new, and beasts of all sorts made calm.

Photo Credit: Mateus Campos Felipe

As I continue to isolate in this time of COVID, my room like a monk’s cell, I am ever more grateful for my monastic practice. It makes my inner adventures as thrilling, some days, as a wilderness hike.  It is a great opportunity to “grow the wilderness within,” which is the motto I have written over the little alcove I call my “shamanic temple.” That treasured space is my own Bollingen tower, a symbol of my inner life.

As I am writing this column, the news arrives that poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti has passed away at the age of 101. Himself a tower, he had the presence of a natural phenomenon. To visit with him was to stand by a redwood or at the foot of a mountain. Centered and dignified, he marked the century with his words and presence, an influence subtle and profound. In his rooted association with a single place, North Beach, and, even more specifically, his office perched atop the tower of City Lights Bookstore, he was like a 20th century anchorite in his cell. Although, one imagines he would not embrace too kindly the religious imagery, practical politico that he was.

Photo Credit: Quiet Lightning

As I write about our towers, figurative and literal, it is good to reflect upon this colossus of a poet — not so coincidentally, the best-selling poet in the world — who stood as strong as a lighthouse at the edge of the American continent, straddling two centuries, unwaveringly committed to his art and the fight to make something of the world.

In his 90s, he continued to create and publish, a towering model of creativity. He joins the ancestors, and it remains for the future to determine the measure of this millennial psalmist of the American adventure.

But, for now, I cannot imagine a worthier model of steadfastness in the storm.