By Bill Scheffel
Posted 11:Nov:2015




[Note: Readers of Vertical Time yoga are primarily used to receiving my essays, but I also write poems and prose poems - and have been for far longer than I've been a journalist-essayist. Three of the four pieces you will see below were written in the last week. - Bill ]



To love is to confess we are loved

Time is a fire so bright it leaves no shadow.
We cannot accept that we don’t know
what will happen.
We scratch at it.
We measure it, or curse.
Time does not understand words.
Under its spotlight we are refused
our own meaning.
When we confess we are loved.

Paris, 2011


I'm Really Feeling It


Three weeks ago I had a nightmare, a dream in which I went insane. It is difficult to describe the dream - I didn't "do" anything, nothing really happened. I just went insane, as if all the rides at a carnival suddenly went berserk, careened out of control, and then disappeared into an oblivion, but a demented and eternal oblivion. I woke from the nightmare in a virtual sweat. Engulfed in waves of fear I laid awake for the next two hours, gradually winding down, finding composure until I had a sublime moment in which all my recent psychotic breaks and periods of depression (not to mention my entire life) seemed to coalesce into a single substance, and I accepted that substance into my system, into my psyche, into my heart.

And then I was healed.


For most of my adult life, my morning has indeed been ritualistic. I'm a meditation junkie and have begun my day with some form of meditation since I was twenty-one years old (now 61). In this most recent decade, I'd typically get up at 5:00 A.M., pee and wash my face, make coffee, drink it while I threw the I Ching, then settle in for an hour or more of meditation and other forms of practice. My ritual was so consistent, methodical and unvaried that if someone was looking to assassinate me in the early morning it would be easy - I'd appear at the kitchen and bathroom windows as predictably as an automobile chassis rolling down the assembly line.

Since the dream this has changed.


I'm writing in bed, having just made coffee but before throwing the I Ching. In fact, I've stopped throwing the I Ching, something I've done every day, for the day, beginning fifteen years ago. Now I've abandoned that reference point, and for last three weeks I didn't meditate at all. The dream scrambled my routine and seems to be heralding an entirely new era, or at least a small notch in the path of awakening, one in which the inner guru is shining more brightly.


This house I grew up in had white carpets in the living room and we couldn't enter unless we had our shoes off - my friends called it the looking room. I was an only child and my parents bedroom was many turns and hallways away from mine; I slept enclosed in a solitary quietness, as if my room was a cave. In the day - except for going to school - I was left to my own devices, which I embraced with my imagination wholeheartedly. I went through my boyhood phases, from building transister radios, to raising tropical fish to covering my walls with posters from the bands Santana and Quicksilver Messenger Service.


I'm still in bed writing. The furnace fills the room with heat and a muffled white noise. Outside the last of the leaves are falling and the lawn is covered with frost. My feet are chilly, my fingers warm from typing. Thankfully, there is still coffee in my cup, and so I can mix sipping with typing for a bit longer. There is so much space in the world, and since my dream I'm really feeling it.

Boulder 09-Nov:2015



The Rare and Disappearing Power

It's dark outside but soon it will be white, when the sun rises. Snow. Our first fall of the year. I thought of shoveling it, but decided to wait until later. I like shoveling snow, but my father seemed to hate it, forcing himself to relentlessly clear our entire and long driveway in a single session, he'd return to the house pale, sullen and exhausted.

I'm grateful to live in a place where it does snow, on a planet where it still snows. Each day is turning darker, shorter, colder, and I'm feeling happier, glad that I'm living this far from the equator. I've got the candles going. Yesterday I tried to buy more of the clear, white Mexican prayer candles but all King Soopers had in stock was a box of Saint Jude, so I bought one. Lit the wick, but it flamed out and now I can't get it to burn again. The candle stands unlit, like the Christianity within me.

This early in the morning my room is filled with the white noise of the furnace as heat invisibly enters it. The heat is rising and so is the sun. I don't want the snow to melt, but it will; soon the sun will be blazing and the temperature will rise well into the fifties. In 1970 it snowed and snowed and snowed. In the Sierra Nevadas where we lived we had the largest snowfall on record. One day I skied on LSD.

Last year I spent the winter in Cambodia. The only snow found there is on children when they cover their faces with talcum powder to pretend that it is snowing. Having snow is how I grew up, because my father took us there, got a job in the gambling casinos of Lake Tahoe, gambled on a move out of the suburbs of San Francisco into the snowfields of John Muir's Sierra Nevadas. Even though he cursed the driveway, he blessed me with the rare and disappearing power of snow.

Boulder 11-Nov:2015


The Patron Saint of Lost Causes

Last night I fished the St. Jude candle out of the trash. I scraped the wax away, lit the wick and placed it next to my meditation gong. I left the candle burning when I went to bed and when I woke at 3:30 AM the flame had reached the halo of St. Jude's head, illuminating not only his countenance but the entire room.

I've been periodically staring at the candle ever since I lit it, as if my Christian heritage has also flared inside me, which it has. The iconography of the candle is strangely closer to me than most Buddhist art, even though I've been a Buddhist my entire adult life. But this has always been true. For instance, I'm far more moved by the frescoes of Pierro della Francesco than the tankas of Vajrayogini (even though the sadhana of Vajroyogini was the best part of ten years of my life). When I took my round-the-world pilgrimage when I turned fifty, I chose to go to Italy rather than Tibet. The ancient churches I've seen in Mexico, Rome and Istanbul moved me far more than the temples I visited in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

It's interesting to discover that St. Jude is the "patron saint of lost causes." Thought by some to be the brother of Jesus Christ, Jude was long confused with Judas Iscariot, Jesus' betrayer, and so the faithful seldom prayed to him. Jude, little used as a saint, became anxious to help just about anybody, thus his epithet. For much of the last three years I've felt myself to be a lost cause (suffering through psychosis and then depression) and so it is apt that St. Jude has shown up in my room.

Boulder, 12-Nov:2015







from THE SONGLINES, by Bruce Chatwin


Poetry proper is never merely a higher mode (melos) of every-day language. It is rather the reverse: everyday language is a forgotten and therefore used-up poem, from which there hardly resounds a call any longer.

-Martin Heidegger, Language


THE MOST SUBLIME labour of poetry is to give sense and passion to insensate things; and it is characteristic of children to take inanimate things in their hands and talk to them in play as if they were living persons . . . This philological-philosophical axiom proves to us that in the world’s child-hood men were by nature sublime poets...

Giambattista Vico, The New Science, XXXVII


Men vent great passions by breaking into song, as we observe in the most grief-stricken and the most joyful.

Vico, The New Science, LIX



The Ancient Egyptians believed the seat of the soul was in the tongue: the tongue was a rudder or steering-oar with which a man steered his course through the world.

‘Primitive’ languages consist of very long words, full of difficult sounds and sung rather than spoken... The early words must have been to present ones what the plesiosaurus and gigantosaurus are to present-day reptiles.

O. Jespersen, Language


Poetry is the mother tongue of the human race as the garden is older than the field, painting than writing, singing than declaiming, parables than inferences, bartering, than commerce...

J. G. Hamann, Aesthetica in Nuce


All passionate language does of itself become musical — with a finer music than the mere accent; the speech of a man even in zealous anger becomes a chant, a song.

Thomas Carlyle, quoted in Jespersen, Language


Words well voluntarily from the breast without need or intent, and there has probably not been in any desert waste a migratory horde that did not possess its own songs. As an animal species, the human being is a singing creature, but he combines ideals with the musical sounds involved.

Wilhelm von Humboldt, Linguistic Variability and Intellectual Development


Richard Lee calculated that a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 4,900 miles before he begins to walk on his own. Since, during this rhythmic phase, he will be forever naming the contents of his territory, it is impossible he will not become a poet.


Proust, more perspicaciously than any other writer, reminds us that the ‘walks’ of childhood form the raw material of our intelligence:


The flowers that people show me nowadays for the first time never seem to me to be true flowers. The Méséglise Way with its lilacs, its hawthorns, its cornflowers, its poppies, the Guermantes Way with its river full of tadpoles, its waterlilies, and its buttercups have constituted for me for all time the picture of the land in which I would fain pass my life. . the cornflowers, the hawthorns, the apple-trees, which I hap-pen, when I go out walking, to encounter in the fields, be-cause at the same depth, on the level of my past life, at once established contact with my heart.

As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less ‘ag-gressive’ than sedentary ones.

There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a ‘leveller’ on which the ‘fit’ survive and stragglers fall by the wayside.

The journey thus pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The ‘dictators’ of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the ‘gentlemen of the road’.