All the present alone


I believe that, for him [Plotinus], if philosophical life in fact prepares one for an eventual mystical experience, this philosophical life has value in itself. All things considered, Plotinus’ mystical experiences were extremely rare. Poryphyry [Plotinus’s student] tells us that the rest of the time–that is, almost all the time–he tried “to be present to himself and to others,” which ultimately is an excellent definition of what every philosophical life should be.

–Pierre Hadot, The Present Alone Is Our Happiness

The sun rises and I wake.

The hawk glides, the tips of its wings glinting with sun. The younger one wobbles, a kite. Trying to get his sea legs, I say, laugh.

The tomato tastes of sunshine.

The golden hour. She says, The spring is full of water bugs. She says, The spring is full of sparklers.

The air bites, is crisp: morning. The air is soft and warm: afternoon. The air is full of roar, of rumble and roar: late afternoon. The air is pained, painful: evening, nearing nightfall.

Her head aches. She closes her eyes, puts a finger or two above her eye, below the socket, presses gently. I rest two fingers on her temple, rest there.


I have always conceived of philosophy as a transformation of one’s perception of the world.

Since then, I have been strongly impressed by the radical opposition between everyday life–which is lived in semiconsciousness and in which we are guided by automatisms and habits without being aware of our existence in the world–and of the privileged states in which we live intensely and are aware of our being in the world.

–Pierre Hadot, The Present Alone Is Our Happiness

They stomp their feet up the hillside.

They stomp their poles: grabbing, seizing, cutting.

They stomp their bodies into, onto, up the aisles.

Their voices stomp, clamorous, unholy, stomping the earth.

They are in a hurry, always, stomping.


You write, The sythe is gentle. It’s the automation of the cutting, the lawnmower, that is brutal and unnatural. I thought of Catlin. And again, this morning, a red cardinal made me think of her.

You write, It’s dark outside, velvety. My living room a block of light, round lamps reflecting on the windows like moons. Found my thoughts leading to Catlin, to you. Dear one.


I pray: We are walking up to the temple, breathless amid the steepness. Our bodies and mouths are agape. We catch our breaths, yours and mine, then smile, fagged, wide-eyed, brother and sister.

You hold a feather up to me. It is striated, ribbed, largely heather, touched in one quadrant by red.

A feathered heart.

You write: Good morning.

Ramble re: rest

Auto-reply on: March 18 to March 19.

Subject Line: Ramble

I’m spending the day upstate. Rousseau would call this a reverie. Attending to the natural world seems to me a necessary feature of leading a philosophical life.

I should be back in town by the evening; I’ll reply by Tuesday at the latest.




Yesterday was a reverie. First my friend and I stood outside Grand Central Station while passersby stooped toward work, stomping and stooping. We looked up at the statue of Mercury and smelled beeswax and lavender. The building to the right was carved in sunlit wood.

Before we met, I stood near the Clock Tower, reading David’s Convergence with Nature, the light then crossing the window pane, gracing all heads and shoulders and striding figures in gold. A modern temple. The movement was slow, ethereal, change amid stillness.

Later, my friend and I spoke of the appropriate speed of train travel, about its being neither too fast nor too slow. Going slowly, you feel immersed more in the world than you would had you been driving, you sense more of the human scale–the buildings and pastures and trees–than you would had you been perched aloft a plane. After we arrived in Beacon, we strolled to the Dia, a contemporary art museum located in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. (Haha, a Dia trip.) We ate lunch, cashews and Kombucha, and watched a cardinal flit, heard the train whistle and blow by, rested our words during the surging rumble, observed the flies playing a frenzied game of tag.

Dia’s floors are made of wood, the modest kind that meets your heels with giving. Designed by Robert Irwin, the interior space is wide open, well-lit by exterior light (here we spoke of “basking,” there of “being cozy”), large, and inviting. And what mood are you in, we asked each other, as we walked by the geometric paintings painted in bright greens and yellows and oranges. Mine, it turned out, was a light pink.

We came to Richard Serra’s work. One in particular, an installation which reminds one of a leaning arc, drew us nearer, the artwork all smoothness, all gently sloping parabolic and elliptical lines, the surface burnished and brown and pleasantly rusted. A leaning, unwound nautilus? We walked around it, once or twice, seeing whether we could walk side by side along the narrowing passageway. We could, yes.

Venice, I thought.


Drawn to the cherry blossoms, the pinks outside clearly visible from afar, from the midst of the vastly white space, we opened the door onto the west garden. We stood close to the cherry blossom tree, listening to the sounds the concerted bees were making, observing them, attending to their sweetnesses, their legs and heads and motions. I thought of my friend David’s thoughts on reverie:

The world of experience in which reverie freely moves is a limitless web from which nothing is left out, including those beings–ourselves–who attend to it. Almost anything may prompt and guide a particular route through this web: half-remembered lines of poetry, a recently read book on botany, recollections of some episode in one’s life, images of people and animals who mattered to one, a sense of a place’s beauty, a philosophical thought, an insistent tune in one’s head. For example, Bachelard describes a reverie which starts with attention to a bird’s nest. This reverie has no cut-off point or terminus. Looking at this “precarious” nest leads to thoughts of other fragile objects, then to images of security (of home and household), then to the idea of the well-being of one’s own and other people’s children, then to larger speculation on confidence in the regular workings of nature, then to… (Convergence with Nature, p. 92).

She said their heads were shaped like hearts. They were: that was true. She said their legs were dressed in knee pads and that was also true. There they were, buzzing all together now, with their heart-shaped heads and yellow and black turtleneck vernal sweaters, with their finely painted backs and their bright yellow knee pads. There they were, well-dressed to play and suck. And we could get so close to these bees, a mere nose breath’s away, because, my friend pointed out, they were dancing, feasting, rambling.

I pointed to the left where there were no bees and no concerted activity. This cherry blossom tree was flowerless except for a few remaining flowers, the rest having fallen to the ground, lying there. It was beautiful, this slim tree of death, this tree of few flowers: ashes, ashes, we all fall–.

Andrew, she said, pointing straight ahead to the gates closing off the garden. They’re wearing underwear. Sure enough, large pink ones, faintly pink, possibly unintended, one pink panty next to the other. Pantymates. I thought of a title: Virtue Rewarded.

We turned around to face the museum, my friend’s eyes having fallen on a stink bug trapped within, trapped and affixed to the glass door. What did she say of him, this blanch-backed friend, this skull-enclosed rambler? I don’t remember. I pointed to his knocking knees meeting each other at right angles. We followed him as he traversed the silver borders, knocking knees, clearly wanting out. I had a free cherry blossom in my left hand and a vacant finger on my right, the former of which he rejected, the latter cheerily accepted. My friend tried to blow him off my finger into the air, but no such luck: he clung happily, regally to my finger. (It’s not a bad finger, as fingers go.) I put him on the railing that overlooked the garden. He opened up his back, revealing a red undercoat, and was lifted skyward by the air.

Near the museum door lay a dead stink bug, looking, as my friend rightly said, like a fossil set in stone.


I checked my email later last night. I saw that one friend had written, “P.S. Thought you might like the subject line created by your auto-reply: Ramble Re: Rest.”

Another Meditation on Nature

Andrew Taggart, “‘There is More Beauty than Our Eyes can Bear…'”

Aesthetics, ethics, and justice ask to be brought into harmony

Beyond my bedroom window: pigeons atop a barren tree amid the autumn drizzle.


Beyond the living room window: a birch tree, leaves burnt by fire, hoary frost unworldly.

Brief Reflections

1. To see an object properly, discriminatively, is to be attentive to its demands.

2. The object asks to be loved. Will you love it?

3. Seeing that the other is wounded immediately entails acting to make amends.

4. Aesthetics, ethics, and justice ask to be brought into harmony. Will you heed the request?