Sometimes your soul just needs to burst out and force your tongue or pen to release a great big floppy metaphor, like “Life is poetry”. But when that happens I shudder and inwardly complain that we are losing meaning this way. The metaphor is too expansive, lazy and fat. It lacks great meaning precisely because it attempts greedily to construct too much meaning.
(Self-conscious warning: what follows is like copy for The Big Bang Theory without the jokes.)
Then the kinder side of the mind wishes to reach out and sympathise with the sentiment. Receive it with mercy and forgiveness instead of the unforgiving steel balance of justice. How?
The conjecture does not claim life is poetry, merely one form of poetry.
Form is different to essence. So Life need not be taken as pure poetry which is, let’s face it, basically linguistic art. If there is no linguistic aspect then it’s not really poetry. If you relax the linguistic restriction on what we mean by “poetry” then it admits too much into the semantic sphere of it. It becomes an intellectual blob, a blancmange for an excessively appetitive mind. But hey, having a large indulgent intellect is not a bad thing. Better than being intellectually impoverished, and a lot less ugly than being physically greedy.
Seems to me however, the world is a better place when gentle constraints on meaning are understood. We get differentiation and diversity and hence beauty and richness when constraints are sensitively applied. (Well, I think so.)
You can surely gain a lot (a lot of what? I don’t know, … peace? calm? insight? … you choose!) by meditating and extending your mind to encompass all things into one idea. This is a gross type of inner relaxation of constraint. But I think it is a worthwhile meditative practice. It is the principle behind one of the two styles of meditation. The two forms of deep mediation go in opposite directions, yet they are related. The One is mind-emptying, it is meditation with the goal of emptiness, cleansing, purifying, opening to all things by clearing away the chaos in one’s mind. The Many is the style of mediation with the purpose of embracing all things, unity through acceptance of all, opening the mind to all things in one transcendent moment, seeing with inner sight the connectedness of all things.
The approach of the Many is what you get when relaxing all constraints. All things flow into our mind (if you can allow them, which is not easy, and I would argue impossible, but one can aim for something approximating this form of nirvana with practise and continual attempted improvement in synthesis). I’m guessing one of the techniques is what I’d call the Bruce Lee style of meditation—the “no technique technique”! Which means, if you try to hard to open your mind to the universe then you fail and collapse into chaotic mental exhaustion. Instead, I suppose, the idea is to relax and just let things flood into your mind. Haha, maybe beforehand listen to Lennon’s Across the Universe, and recite a few “Jai guru deva ohm”‘s, or whatever works to open your mind.
You see how they are related? Both meditative styles are mind-opening and have the goal of enlightenment or a state of nirvana, but approach this in diametrically opposite ways, one by clearing the mind, the other by filling the mind. The end effect is remarkable similar. Enlightenment (perhaps?). Not easy whichever way you try.
The One style is often classified as Zen mediation. The Many style is classified as Buddhist. Since Zen is a form of Japanese style Buddhism, and Japanese culture has a strong element of elegant simplicity, while traditional Buddhism hails from India with all it’s complexity and colour and business, I think this all goes together quite nicely. There are unifying themes and atoms of understanding to appreciate in these kids of meditation.
Anyway, let’s say the substance of strict poetry is linguistic art. The spirit of poetry is the abstract definition of poetry. And the form of poetry is the expression of this spirit in some objectively discernible way. Thus, if we can manage a reasonable definition of the form of poetry then we cover the essence of the spirit of the art as well.
Refraining from being too literal, but to keep things sane, I will require that a “form of poetry” has,
- Aesthetically pleasing or stimulating or evocative patterns: could be rhythm, could be meter, rhyme, and so forth.
- Use of imagination—not computer generated (although a creative programmer could write software to generate poetry).
- Evocative meaningful aspects, not just patterned symbol without meaning—the meaning is not necessarily literal but to be interpreted subjectively (usually).
- Is related to strict linguistic poetry, but does not have to be in language, since form is not substance.
The imaginative quality is the one I struggle with. Who’s to say our brain+mind is not a biological computer in essence. Hey bro! I’m one to say this a’ight! Sure, I could be off-beat, do I have good justification? Enough for feeding the souls of the rest of humanity? Hmm, probably not. But enough for anyone who thinks clearly with an open mind, I’d hope.
The way I explain it to my daughters is like this. We know what a circle is, we can understand it. However, there are no perfect circles in all the physical cosmos (at least not as far as we know, maybe fundamental particles are prefect little circles, but modern physics would say totally not so dude, they are rather chaotic messy vibrating membranes and strings, or ruptures in spacetime, far from perfect anythings!) So you see, our mind comprehends something which is not physical.
The same is true when we contemplate transcendent numbers, like π and e. These numbers have a clear abstract essence, yet they correspond to nothing any human can write down in physical form. Try it! You’ll fail. every way you can thin of to express these numbers ultimately uses some sort of infinite process which cannot be physically completed. So again, our mind conceive of things that cannot possibly be physical. Therefore, the human mind accesses non-physical realms. (if you also perceive these things, and who’s to say you do? I’ll assume you can comprehend the abstract idea of a circle, if not then I’m awfully sorry for you, seriously). It’s ultra-cool right? At least a trillion megafonzies.
It is absolutely frame-altering to realise that cold hard mathematics gives us this appreciation that our mind cannot be physical stuff. At least not in entirety. Our biological brain is a complex physical system. The mind is not. Yet the two interact. The mind needs the brain as an essential intermediary between the realm of ideas and the objective physical universe within when we communicate with other sentient beings. (Sentient beings are awesome. Yeah baby! The most awesome entities in the cosmos I reckon. Also some of the most dangerous!) And you can reject Cartesian Dualism and yet still not escape these indelible spiritual facts.
The interim conclusion? Life is not strict poetry, since it is not linguistic in form. Life is a superset of poetry, poetry a subset of life’s art. But it is forgivable to use the grossly unconstrained relaxed metaphor that “Life is poetry”. Us them sparingly is the lesson. And just please don’t interpret this final corollary literally, or you’ll have missed the whole point! Life affords some humble vanity—stay slim and sexy in mind!