Thursday, October 09, 2014

Beyond the definitions

“All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.” 

Those are Andre Breton’s words and probably come as close to describing the human condition as anything I’ve read.

Maybe it takes a surrealist to find words for something so universally misunderstood and misinterpreted. 

The dictionary definitions stalk its meaning from many angles… desiring, lusting, thirsting, pining, craving, burning, aching, hankering… the itch we cannot scratch.

Longing is the core of mystery, Rumi wrote.

I like to think of it existing somewhere between the imagination and moments of true happiness. The spaces between the seconds.

It finds its true expression when art and thinking explore the transience of life, as the 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō knew so well.

Bashō’s poetry employs a breathtaking simplicity when it comes to theme. Forget politics, love triangles or family dramas. His three-line universes remind us to be content in our own company, to appreciate the moment and be attuned to the simplest things life has to offer: the changing seasons… the sound of a neighbour’s laughter… the little surprises we encounter as we move through our day.

Bashō suffered from long bouts of deep melancholy as he travelled the dangerous back roads of the Japanese countryside with little more than writing supplies:

Fleas and lice biting;
awake all night
a horse pissing close to my ear

But the longing he experienced was never about a desire for physical comfort, or material wealth. Like Breton, 300 years later, it was about the thing he could not name. There is no more beautiful poem about longing than this Bashō haiku written in Kyoto...