Finding Our Bottom Lines

Finding Our Bottom Line

The amazing nondual poet Wallace Stevens (Pulitzer Prize 1955) said, among many other things, “It was in this and in this only that he was at the bottom of things, and of himself—where he could say ‘of this I am; this is the Patriarch; this is what answers when I ask’”.

It’s a pleasure to be able to write a short piece for Co-Creation Global.  With one’s own platform for creative content (for me, two: The Convergence and Light on Light magazines, from the Interspiritual Network and UNITY EARTH) one sometimes feels one has to be more conservative or tight-lipped, since one is “at the helm” (or so one may think!).  Here I feel I’m invited to “let loose” a little.

It’s Bob’s “global well-being” theme that I want to speak to.  

All of us, especially those with a lot of miles under our belt, often consider the “fantasia” that Stevens wrote of—that universal tension/interplay (or Yin-Yang) between our deepest knowing (and the Peace it brings) and our Heart’s moving, naturally, toward the sufferings of others and, feeling that, being moved to the work for healing and constructive change.

Every spiritual leader, author, or activist I speak to, speaks of this, speaks of this “tension” in their Hearts and the existential fact that it is always at play—or always comes back to play.  Why do people in the greatest Peace also feel the greatest need to serve, to be of help?

There is another thing that many of these “greats” say to me.  When I ask them, with their advanced mileages, what their spiritual practice is, they whisper (as if it might be a heresy!) “time alone in nature.”  It is easy to see the “why” of this. Nature, the natural, is “just what it is”—breezes, bouncing leaves, trickling water, snowflakes falling, bird and insect sounds.  Here, as Stevens again said, one sees “nothing that is not there, and the nothing that is”. He said it is “to be complete, in an unexplained completion.” He’s a great poet to discover in the realm of “bottom lines”.

I think it is the tension in the Heart, actually the “hurt” in the Heart that many of us often talk about.  The Heart sees kindness and well-being as such simple, self-evident things. And, in a world with so much suffering, we all come to our own ways to process this, to remain as the poet Allen Ginsberg said, “sane and intact”.  It’s a part of a great forbearance that comes from, among other things, spiritual practice. Of that, Stevens said “one must be cold a long time not to read any misery into that cold…..”. He also said that that “cold” “is a part of the same wind, blowing in that same bare place” (the Dharma!).

So, it’s that interplay, and the existential fact of it, that I wanted to mention here– because I am sure it is a touchstone for all of us.   Of this, the poet William Stafford (National Book Award 1963, USA Poet Laureate 1970; who was actually also an old friend]), said “it is important that people know this recognition”.  

In this short piece I want to recognize, and share a reciprocity with, all those who feel this “tension” or “play” (this tension in the Heart) and who move from it to love and serve, often not knowing “why”.   

Stevens said it is “the Maker’s rage to order the words of the sea” and the “words of our Selves and of our origins”.   

And, of the “why” he simply said, poignantly, “tell me—if you know”.


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Kurt Johnson

Kurt Johnson, co-author of the influential book The Coming Interspiritual Age, is well known internationally as a scientist, comparative religionist, social activist and former monastic, and serves widely on international committees, especially at the United Nations. With a PhD in evolution, ecology, and comparative biology, he was associated for twenty years with the American Museum of Natural History and teaches at the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City. An innovator of and host of their two magazines and VoiceAmerica series, he is co-author also of Nabokov’s Blues (a 10 Best Books in Science, 2000), Fine Lines (Yale Univ. Press, 2016, on scientific and artistic genius) and Ethics, Spiritual Values, and the New UN Development Agenda (in press). More at Wikipedia (Kurt Johnson, entomologist).

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