from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


You will perhaps know that the writer Peter Matthiessen has died. We've lost a lot of literary luminaries over the last few months, and Matthiessen's book The Snow Leopard remains a lodestone for me.

This morning, Tricycle Buddhist mag sent this quote through, with which I can SO identify: my life feels so complex, and I crave simplicity. How difficult it is to achieve when one's inspiration is rooted in engagement with the world (and even the verb 'to achieve' suggests striving towards some goal, which is actually a misunderstanding in terms of Buddhist teachings; and a trap... 'nowhere to get to, nothing to do' is also the essence of simplicity as a mindstate).

'I dream of simplicity, but I'm as far from it as ever. That is my practice, how to be in the world and remain simple. One day perhaps I'll accept the fact that I am never going to find the simple life. Maybe the first step toward simplicity will be to accept that my life will never be simple even if I go live in a cave and subsist on green nettles like Milarepa.'

~Peter Matthiessen, 'Emptying the Bell'


  1. This is too important not to have a response, so like you, Roselle, in some haste because life is still too crowded despite simplifying it, here's something, rather obvious I know. The quote below was permeating my mind before I'd got to the end – before I'd even read your beautifully simple (complexity always implied) post. I think about it constantly – one of those great dilemmas of life.

    'Maybe the first step toward simplicity will be to accept that my life will never be simple . . .'

    Maybe the point is not to see it is a dilemma, but that interplay of complementary opposites always present.

    For some reason it prompted a memory of Denis Potter saying, close to his death, that Now had never been so significant. I remember he seemed astounded by the painful, beautiful nowness of everything. That sense of nowness sometimes only seems to visit at those short moments when fatigue or illness dictate rest. Just now, sitting on the French window step in sun, drinking tea, gazing at the green, the cherries frothing, a patch of clover invading the cracks between paving stones and me thinking – I should get it out, but no, why not leave it for now. So green it is. The point is this: I have to let life go on as it will in all its simple complexity but remembering to take these moments of nowness; for you to sleep in your hammock in the orchard; for me to sleep in my recliner (so suburban, I know! though J calls it 'my eine kleine', as in Nachtmusic!) under the trees of our copse. And no need to wait for death to be imminent. How about now.
    With love, Miriam (and the usual complexity of parentheses!)

  2. 'I could not simplify myself.'

    TURGENEV From Nezhdanov’s suicide note in Virgin Soil

    Matthiessen quoted this in a NYT interview not long before he died. Simplification — something desirable, but difficult to attain.

  3. Miriam, thank you for a wonderful comment. Yes, that's it exactly. 'How about now.' And you will know that the point of Buddhist, especially Zen, practice is to elide the now with the now(!) - more and more. So easy to know, so hard to do - though after so many decades I do notice I manage it more than I used to.

    I love J's sense of humour - when we were looking for your earring together he described it as 'earring aid', which made me chuckle; and I love 'eine kleine' and got there immediately!

    Thanks for the Dennis Potter quote, too.

    With love, Rxx

  4. Oh Robert that's a bit heartbreaking. And I understand! - OK there are so many things to be distressed about in this world - cruelty, ignorance, greed etc - but in my own personal life little gets to me like the over-stimulation of too much complexity when I believe (crucial point) that I crave simplicity above all - but that's not what I create in my life, nonetheless.

    My father, one of the most complex people I know, and with a hugely complicated life, had 'KISS' notes all over the surfaces: 'Keep It Simple, Stupid'. Well, life did that to him in the end.

    I aspire, I aspire (to simplicity, I mean). And as Miriam says above, if not in quite these words, we can hold it lightly, knowing that we don't need to buy into the dualism of the apparent contradictions. 'How it is: and this, and this...'


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