Saturday, August 15, 2020

Prompt #358 – One with All Being

We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. 
It is a way of bitter suffering. 
But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, 
for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. 
And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, 
yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, 
for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being. 

—Herman Hesse

I recently came across the Herman Hesse quote above, and it really resonated for me when applied to the Covid pandemic and all the other stressful and unsettling things that are going on in our world. I’m reminded of current terms and catch phrases such as “social distancing,” “quarantine,” “sheltering in place,” “self-isolating at home,” and “being alone together.”

As human beings, we are social by nature—creatures of community and companionship. As we experience the varying degrees of being alone dictated by this virus, it may be a good thing to think in terms of our "aloneness" and how it can lead to ultimate oneness with each other and all that there is. 

Alone and lonely are both adjectives, but they have different meanings. A person is alone when he or she is by himself or herself. A person is lonely when he or she feels isolated, abandoned and, therefore, sad. “Alone” refers to a state of solitude, rather than the emotion that “loneliness” suggests. Loneliness can sometimes feel like a kind of existential angst. Writers like Sartre, Camus, and Kafka have written novels about this feeling and what it tells us about being human. There is also an abundance of poetry about it. 

During this pandemic, we are often more alone than we are accustomed to being as we work from home, attend classes online, are unable to safely socialize with colleagues and friends, and cannot gather in large groups. It’s important for us to differentiate between loneliness and being alone, although, understandably, during stressful times like these, it is completely possible to be both lonely and alone at the same time.


Hopefully, in writing about being lonely and/or alone, we can use our poems and shared experiences to show that we are not utterly different and are still part of humankind's universal community.
Guidelines & Tips

1. Does the opening quote touch you in any special way? What does it mean to you (how do you understand this quote)? Is there a spiritual aspect expressed in the quote that speaks to you?

2. Can you apply the quote to your personal life and what’s going on in the world today—the Covid pandemic?

3. During the past several challenging months, when being alone in some manner and to some degree has become part of our daily lives, how has being alone affected you and your loved ones?

4. If you’ve been feeling stressed out, depressed, and lonely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. We’re all feeling the effects of social isolation. What are some ways in which we can combat these feelings (telephone calls, emails, texting, Zoom gatherings, other electronic methods of bringing people together virtually)?

5. Start by making a list or doing a free write about how being alone and/or loneliness makes you feel.

6. Using your list or free write, begin writing a poem about loneliness, solitude, or any aspect of the Covid Pandemic that has forced you into more time alone, and greater introspection than ever before.

7. Craft your poem carefully, not overburdening it with too many details and by not overtly using words like “loneliness,” “solitude,” or “being alone.”

8. Try to keep your poem short (under 40 lines) or perhaps a short prose poem.

9. Don’t include anything that’s not absolutely essential to the poem.

10. Try to evoke feelings of loneliness by showing, not telling. You may wish to relate a specific incident (narrative poem) or you may prefer to be more general. Either way, remember to be unique in your choice of language and figures of speech.

11. Avoid over-use of adjectives.

12. Be wary of becoming maudlin or over-stating sentiment.


The Solitude of Night
By Li Bai
(Translated by Shigeyoshi Obata)

It was at a wine party—
I lay in a drowse, knowing it not.
The blown flowers fell and filled my lap.
When I arose, still drunken,
The birds had all gone to their nests,
And there remained but few of my comrades.
I went along the river—alone in the moonlight.

Source: The Works of Li Po The Chinese Poet (EP Dutton & Company, 1921)

Flood: Years of Solitude
By Dionisio D. Martinez

To the one who sets a second place at the table anyway.
To the one at the back of the empty bus.
To the ones who name each piece of stained glass projected on a white wall.
To anyone convinced that a monologue is a conversation with the past.
To the one who loses with the deck he marked.
To those who are destined to inherit the meek.
To us.

The Loneliness One Dare Not Sound
By Emily Dickinson

The Loneliness One dare not sound—
And would as soon surmise
As in its Grave go plumbing
To ascertain the size—
The Loneliness whose worst alarm
Is lest itself should see—
And perish from before itself
For just a scrutiny—
The Horror not to be surveyed—
But skirted in the Dark—
With Consciousness suspended—
And Being under Lock—

And this pandemic specific poem by friend and fellow poet Jane Ebihara (originally published in Frost Meadow Review “Pandemic Poetry,” August 10, 2020).
April 2020
By Jane Ebihara

                        eliminate all non-essential travel stay six feet away from others wear
                        a mask in public stay home stay home the virus doesn’t move we do
                        stay home wash your hands stay home wash your hands don’t touch
                        your face
                        stay home

from home—
our sanctuaries and cells—
we long for the ordinary
          a haircut  a gathering  the gym  a carwash  a night out  an embrace

I stand at the window looking out
                      looking out

in April wind
a long abandoned nest
no bigger than a teacup 
clings to the dogwood

a male cardinal at the feeder lifts
seeds to the beak of his mate
three turkey vultures swoop low
cast shadows on the lawn

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