Monday, January 31, 2011

the Pierian spring

The 18th century poet Alexander Pope, a great adherent of the intellect, once wrote:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again.

But I wonder if, besides the choruses attending on intellectual endeavors might not likewise be sung in spiritual life. Dilettantes in any field are joyful in their shallows and yet others may pay dearly for those joys. And that is not to mention the suffering of one peddling such thin-tea ambrosia.

In spiritual life one practitioner may choose to join some established sect or school and learn a very great deal. Another, convinced of the corruption of establishments, may raise the banner of individual effort ... back to the land! power to the people! ... and likewise learn a very great deal.

But no matter what the route, the invitation -- or proclamation or sine qua non -- remains the same: "Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring." Anyone can splash gaily in the shallows. Anyone can read the books or ingest beliefs or swoon with bliss or indulge in some massive group hug. It feeeeeeels so good. Its meeeeeaning is so profound.

The "Pierian spring" is defined this way:

  1. Greek Mythology. A spring in Macedonia, sacred to the Muses.
  2. A source of inspiration.
A source of inspiration.The fires of delight rise up. The banner is raised. And the heart is taken.

Again I return, since I know of no other metaphor so easily recognized, to Jesus' walking into the desert. The "Spirit" was said to have directed his steps into that arid land where he fasted for 40 nights and 40 days. There he was said to have been tempted in many ways. And after he refused all devilish blandishments, there were angels who appeared and sustained him.

I don't much care what the tale's particulars might be. What I care about was that Jesus went alone. He went alone into deep waters. No establishment came with him. No group-hug accompanied him. Establishments and group hugs fare poorly in the land where men and women walk alone and drink deep. Jesus had left the land of meaning behind. Shakyamuni did much the same beneath the bo tree. And doubtless Mohammad and others who remained nameless throughout all of history. The austere desert or the cold and lonely caves may be dramatic in the telling, but each man and each woman, to the extent s/he does not wish to be nothing more than a loose cannon, finds the deep waters and dives.

There is no cookie-cutter explanation of where the shallows end and the deep water begins. Each creates his or her own. But it is certain that such a sobering experience, whether in the supermarket or the monastery, is a
 a requirement for those who would savor the depths of the Pierian springs. 

How long can anyone live in the dangerous shallows? Pretty damned long, as far as I can figure out. Whole lifetimes have been spent in praise of others ... and yet praise is as shallow as blame. But for some, the risk of death is preferable to a shallow existence.


  1. The more you have the harder it is to let go of things, to be free from desire. God exists in the absence of objects, once freed of the desire to have and hold, until as being becomes light, as a feather, now to walk upon the water of spirit cause, and effect change, and heal the sick, deaf, and blind body today.

  2. "fair poorly" should be "fare poorly". I only point this out because I know you cair :)

  3. Thank you "anonymous." As a kid, I used to hate being corrected for spelling or grammar ... after all, I was in the throes of some 'important' thought ... I was sincere, dontcha know.

    These days, I really appreciate it. Sincerity and importance without care is just a posturing form of stupidity ... or that's my read.