Emptying the mind is not a total solution to problems, yours or the world’s. But it is beneficial enough to mention.
Emptying the mind is exactly what it sounds like. The techniques and practices, such as meditations and concentrations, are many. There are some that are more explicit about that outcome of empty mind. There are others that seem to be about filling your mind with a particular image or thought—visualizations, for example—but they are actually part of a two-step process. Whatever you concentrate on, however concrete, you are first letting go whatever is already there. If we assume that what is already there may be problematic, that first step is helpful.
What after emptying? This is where the particular traditions seem to diverge: what do you try to fill an empty mind with? Is it some high-minded thought about this principle or that, about this master or that?
This is to say ideally that it doesn’t matter. (Ideally because this is an imperfect world.) The empty mind is there not to make room for other stuff, like a room emptied of clutter only to be filled with even more clutter.
Most basically, whatever traditional particulars you read or are told, is seeing clear down and through yourself and all else. Without judgment, since while judgment has a place in the day to day, judgment has no place in an empty mind. There you find the thing and the person as they are. You find that each thing and each person—including yourself—is a text and a teaching different than the one you read before. With that, the particulars offered by the traditions also take on a new light.
Are the problems solved with an empty mind? Of course not. Are the problems different in the light of an empty mind? Of course.
Following are all nine parts of Richard Brautigan’s work The Galilee Hitch-Hiker. You do not know that you need Richard Brautigan, this and his other works, but you do. Serious, sentimental, silly and sad, he responded to strange times and a strange life (aren’t they all?) in ways that would do any writer proud. Open hearts are the most vulnerable.
More about these poems and Richard Brautigan here.
The Galilee Hitch-Hiker
The Galilee Hitch-Hiker Part 1
Baudelaire was driving a Model A across Galilee. He picked up a hitch-hiker named Jesus who had been standing among a school of fish, feeding them pieces of bread. “Where are you going?” asked Jesus, getting into the front seat. “Anywhere, anywhere out of this world!” shouted Baudelaire. “I’ll go with you as far as Golgotha,” said Jesus. “I have a concession at the carnival there, and I must not be late.”
The American Hotel Part 2
Baudelaire was sitting in a doorway with a wino on San Fransisco’s skid row. The wino was a million years old and could remember dinosaurs. Baudelaire and the wino were drinking Petri Muscatel. “One must always be drunk,” said Baudelaire. “I live in the American Hotel,” said the wino. “And I can remember dinosaurs.” “Be you drunken ceaselessly,” said Baudelaire.
1939 Part 3
Baudelaire used to come to our house and watch me grind coffee. That was in 1939 and we lived in the slums of Tacoma. My mother would put the coffee beans in the grinder. I was a child and would turn the handle, pretending that it was a hurdy-gurdy, and Baudelaire would pretend that he was a monkey, hopping up and down and holding out a tin cup.
The Flowerburgers Part 4
Baudelaire opened up a hamburger stand in San Fransisco, but he put flowers between the buns. People would come in and say, “Give me a hamburger with plenty of onions on it.” Baudelaire would give them a flowerburger instead and the people would say, “What kind of a hamburger stand is this?”
The Hour of Eternity
“The Chinese read the time in the eyes of cats,” said Baudelaire and went into a jewelry store on Market Street. He came out a few moments later carrying a twenty-one jewel Siamese cat that he wore on the end of a golden chain.
Salvador Dali Part 6
“Are you or aren’t you going to eat your soup, you bloody odd cloud merchant?” Jeanne Duval shouted, hitting Baudelaire on the back as he sat daydreaming out the window. Baudelaire was startled. Then he laughed like hell, waving his spoon in the air like a wand changing the room into a painting by Salvador Dali, changing the room into a painting by Van Gogh.
A Baseball Game Part 7
Baudelaire went to a baseball game and bought a hot dog and lit up a pipe of opium. The New York Yankees were playing the Detroit Tigers. In the fourth inning an angel committed suicide by jumping off a low cloud. The angel landed on second base, causing the whole infield to crack like a huge mirror. The game was called on account of fear.
Insane Asylum Part 8
Baudelaire went to the insane asylum disguised as a psychiatrist. He stayed there for two months and when he left, the insane asylum loved him so much that it followed him all over California, and Baudelaire laughed when the insane asylum rubbed itself up against his leg like a strange cat.
My Insect Funeral Part 9
When I was a child I had a graveyard where I buried insects and dead birds under a rose tree. I would bury the insects in tin foil and match boxes. I would bury the birds in pieces of red cloth. It was all very sad and I would cry as I scooped the dirt into their small graves with a spoon. Baudelaire would come and join in my insect funerals, saying little prayers the size of dead birds.
The butterflies don’t know that creatures sitting high on the evolution tree have set this day aside counting calendars and years by the thousands. Don’t know exaltation. Light appeared after dark time to flutter to decorate the seen without yesterday or tomorrow. Just another holy day.
If you watch old movies, you notice that nearly everybody smokes—sometimes one cigarette after another, sometimes two at a time—and that nobody wears seat belts in cars.
Around the 1960s, the link between smoking and cancer was being accepted and the movement to add seat belts to cars was ramping up. Smoking was never banned, but social pressure and evidence reduced it substantially. Seat belts became required.
Loud liberty activists then and now are quick to say that they are free to smoke 24/7 and are free to drive without restraint, and while we are at it, without speed limits.
One obvious comment is that if you live totally alone, and nothing that happens to you involves other people, that would be fine. But you don’t live alone and your choices do affect other people. Whether they are the people you care about and who care about you, whether they are the people you share the highway with, and those who rescue you and treat your bleeding body or bury it.
To make it more direct:
People you know, people you love, have been saved by the reduction in smoking and the use of seat belts. You may have been saved by the reduction in smoking and the use of seat belts.
That isn’t hard to understand. Advocates of Covid personal freedom can go ahead and write their erudite essays on the philosophy of liberty, if they can. They might not finish it before they take to their beds or end up in the hospital, or someone they know or love does.
Maybe they can’t write that essay, but I know someone who can. Kris Kristofferson is a great songwriter and performer. He was also an Oxford University scholar. Maybe the lyrics to his famous song aren’t Oxford worthy, but they are true:
Freedom’s just another word For nothing left to lose Nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free
It is not traditional, maybe not appropriate to some, to associate the iconic characters of Father Time and Baby New Year with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, which begins next week on the evening of September 6.
I don’t see why they can’t be a little part of the holiday.
Rosh Hashanah and the ten days that end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are filled with reminders about the passage of time and with suggestions about how to start fresh and new. So a couple more reminders can’t hurt.
Note that while Baby New Year may not be quite as old as Judaism, the character does go back pretty far. It was first used by the Greeks around the 6th century BCE. So it is very likely that Jews knew about Baby New Year over the centuries, even if it didn’t end up in Rosh Hashanah.