What if, like Tolstoy's Ivan Ilyich, we got it all wrong? What if our conception and practice of life and living is as fundamentally flawed as the reality television and soft news we half-pretend to scoff at? Increasingly, I'm beginning to believe this is the case, though I harbor no illusion that stating so will alter anyone's consciousness or prompt them to re-evaluate their relationship with the world -- I know from experience that type of awareness, should it ever arise, must do so organically and from within. Still, it doesn't take more than a single earnest glance to realize, particularly in the West, that we have complicated our minds and our existence to a level bordering on the insane. Is it not baffling to think that the majority of humanity's work is concerned with undoing problems we've created and still continue to perpetuate? So much collective attention has been devoted to generating ease and comfort that many have neglected to face the fear and struggle necessary for growth and any degree of true, sustainable cognitive maturity. Instead of living in concert with ourselves and environs, we've made it a habit to continually distinguish ourselves by trumpeting or lamenting the very conflicts we enact and empower, seldom pausing to consider the place from which they stem. The ego, need, and desire are all pits without bottoms, snakes in constant famish for their tails. Know that, and begin.
In addition to some formative recent experiences, I've arrived at the above (still evolving) sentiments thanks to a strange, but interconnected cobble of writing that includes Coleridge, Kant, Wordsworth, and the Tao Te Ching; in addition to more contemporary material--much of which seemed to appear at precisely the right time -- like the poems of Robert Penn Warren, Robert Hass, and Afaa Michael Weaver, the songs of Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Bill Callahan, John Steinbeck's East of Eden, John Krakauer's Into the Wild, Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, and Christopher McDougall's Born to Run. All of it work that evidences profound beauty and points to the fact that there is no ceiling to what one can accomplish or experience, save for the one constructed by the ego-driven, doubt-conditioned (Western?) mind. I'm confident this is true, and that it takes no great talent or intellect to recognize it, just the courage and openness to face one's well-fed demons and say "I am". If more did, we might realize the heaven some say only death can deliver.
All that just to say that my friend, Will Oldham, graciously recorded a song at my request. In Detroit, last December, I was talking to a luminous lady named Shoshanna about some of the ideas above and listening to Will's album Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music. The first song on the album seemed, in particular, to articulate what has come to be known as "the human condition"--a condition I'm now convinced that we, ourselves, both author and define. The song is called "Horses" and on a whim, after two glasses of wine, I emailed Will expressing my deep affection for it and asked if he'd record a rendition for Fogged Clarity. He did, on a piano in his home in Kentucky. Will is an individual who is close to purely Being, without ego or judgment, and in that closeness is able to do a work from which nothing is separate. His generosity enabled me to share some ideas I've been considering. The Universe works. You can listen to Will sing "Horses" right here.