Bruce Baillie (1931-2020): “All My Life”; and Walt Whitman’s Hammock on Pine Island

April 11, 2020

If one were teaching James Wright’s poem, “Lying in a Hammock….,” it might help if one first asked the student to watch Bruce Baillie’s film “All My Life” several times, or often enough that finally they begin to ponder the fence as a variation of the following lesson’s theme.

As the evening meditation session grew near, two monks looked at each other and smiled. The smell of a storm that would arrive tonight was in the air. They breathed deeply, and gazed at the light grey ravines in the clouds. The wind picked up. They looked towards the front gate of their summer residence. They had recently reinforced the tall pole to which the entrance was hinged. Near the top of the pole, a loop of rope quivered as if it had hold of the kite of the monastery’s flag.

“Surely,” one said, “we can see illusion hard at work.” He paused. “The wind is subject to the flag’s undulations. The flag, and the flag alone, moves: all else spools by, as if it were cause, when it is only deceptively alluring effect.”

“No, no,” the other monk responded. “The wind spins like a spider the web of illusion, ceaseless in twisting and retwisting. The flag only appears to move.”

The sixth patriarch, walking by, said, “Surely this, too, is an unexpected knot on a prayer rope. Not the wind; nor the flag. Mind is moving.”

The camera does not move. The fence does not move. Mind is moving. Otherwise, one has wasted one’s life.

“All My Life” — Bruce Baillie

(Today’s post is dedicated to the poet, William Slattery.)


Re your zen koan: flag, wind, or mind? The Slattery answer: Spacetime moves, mind surfs spacetime.

Zen puts observer at center, which accords with perception but is better understood as an illusion of perspective in expanding spacetime: no matter where you are, you seem to be at the center.

Zen, of course, contemplates not individual mind, but a posited all-mind from which individual minds emerge as temporary contingencies. That all-mind is centered everywhere, eludes locality.

So I explain it to myself, at least, when I am busy being here.

— William Slattery

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