Paradise Lost 13: Wresting my wayward self, again

light on mountains oslo 2018
Snow and morning light on the hills outside Oslo, January 2018

Happy New Year, readers.

The last but one time I wrote, here, on Sunday November 12th,  I said my online intermittency might continue and lo… that ‘might’ became a reality through December as first Reader business, then illness – just a cough and cold but a terribly long, low-spirit-inducing one – then a long holiday time at home, a massive marmelade-making madness, family illnesses, and a quietly restorative trip to peaceful snowy Norway,  took  my routine and shook it like paper out of my hand, flying off into the winter sky.

The wind drops, I regain consciousness and it’s the 14th of January 2018. Phew.

I want my routine back! Twas a poor, ill-fed, wobbly, insecure thing but mine own and I’ve missed it.

Indeed I want a lot more routines, but the creating and living of routine seems to go against my nature, or is it only against the exigencies of my life?  This morning when I woke  I felt as I imagine a wildly-off-the-wagon-for-the-last-two-months-alcoholic must feel on the day they take action (again) towards sobriety.  Wresting my wayward self towards some other kind of self. That’s a thing humans can do, but it doesn’t feel natural.

Routines I would like to have:

Daily Reading and Writing Practice
Daily walks in the woods/park/swimming
Weekly Gardening
Do some household repairs/upkeep on some sort of regular basis – glad of anything., so let’s say quarterly.
Do my expenses on time so as not to keep Finance team waiting

That doesn’t seem too much to ask, and I’m sure my friends, colleagues and relations could all add to the list… But after forty-ish years of living my own adult life I know I can’t reliably develop such routines. Or do I ?

All of which makes a return to Paradise Lost this morning feel the right thing to do. Last time I was reading it I’d been reading ‘the mind is its own place…’

Is it though?

A quick explanation for anyone who wouldn’t naturally find themselves reading such a poem:   I’m interested in acts of translation from one way of thinking to another, particularly from Christian  thinking in poetry – Dante, Milton, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and many others – to  my own a-religious thoughts. Many years ago, when I wrote my Ph.D, on what I called ‘Visionary Realism’, I realised that I was interested in what happens to religious experience when people no longer believe in religion. Are there, for example, still experiences of ‘grace’? Do we ever  experience ‘miracles’? Are there trials and tribulations of the soul? Is there ‘soul’? …and so on.  I came into this area of thinking through Doris Lessing’s novel-series Canopus in Argos, and particularly the first novel in that series,  Shikasta. There’s a partial account of this in previous blog post, ‘Lifesavers’.

If you are joining me new today, I’d suggest a read  through from the beginning first. You’ll find a good online edition here.  But if there’s no time for that, well, just start here and now.

Last time,  I’d got to  line 270 in Book One, but because  it’s been a while, and I’ve got some new thoughts (or repeats I’ve forgotten, more likely) I’m going to start again, at same place.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. [ 255 ]
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: [ 260 ]
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.
But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and copartners of our loss [ 265 ]
Lye thus astonisht on th’ oblivious Pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy Mansion, or once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regaind in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell? [ 270 ]

Thinking this morning about how far my mind is its own place and how much it is determined, controlled or made by things external to it – my parents DNA and their lives, demands of working at The Reader, that fact that I was child  in the 1960s and came of age in the 1970s, to name but three.  Last night I was reading a book which quoted a sentence from Albert Einstein which I’ve not read before: ‘We will never be able to solve our problems at the same order of complexity we used to create our problems.’

I don’t know if that is really a quote from Einstein: it wasn’t attributed in the book (Kegan and Lahey: How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work) and there seem to be various versions of the sentence floating around the internet.  All the same, Einstein or no, it gave me pause for thought because it suggests a massive gap in our  ability to comprehend reality.

Problems come about, and the complexity that goes into causing them is immense and not  the result of human thinking, but rather forces, influences, of many different sorts, including randomness, chaos.  Then a human has to try to solve the problem – not an equal mass of forces, influences, but one brain/heart.

As an example, I think of one problem: I have a room in my house which I use as a study.  This is my own  room, my workroom. This room is usually a mess: I look about right now.  Dressing up clothes I bought in a charity shop which are heading for Storybarn, shoes I wore in Norway, papers that need shredding, headphones, old business cards, a garden arch I haven’t put  in the shed, two bags of stuff I want to take to the charity shop, drinks, books, a yoyo… a room in medias res if ever there was.  The complexity behind all this mess is – a busy working life with lots of  stuff, my childhood, and disposition towards chaos. The solution looks simple : tidy up once a day.  But the additional problem, an additional layer of complexity, is that my room reflects my mind: I don’t seem to be able to ‘tidy up once day’. Whatever I  say in the way of resolutions, I revert to being myself.  The problem is in my mind, not my room.

(I  imagine a kindly friend, who occasionally pops in for a spot-check to help me try to keep my room on track, saying, No Jane, it’s not in your mind, it is in your room. Just tidy up, FFS.)

I look back to Milton. Here’s Satan talking himself into being his old self in  six moves:

  1. The mind is its own place, and in itself
    Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. [ 255 ]

In the first move, Satan sets out a proposition: the mind is the centre of existence and it determines what and how we experience: what we think determines what is. I agree with this proposition. I am a messy person. I wonder what would happen if I started thinking, I can be ordered? (that is what the Kegan/Lahey book is about, btw)

2. What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater?

In this second move, Satan, backs his original statement –  it doesn’t matter where he is, it matters who and what he is : still I notice that Satan’s language is veering towards power, the underlying complexity in this thought, is that even if the mind if its own place, Satan is mostly obsessed with  who is the greatest, him or God? Something is asserting itself – and it seems without his conscious will. What is that?

3.                                             Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: [ 260 ]

In this third thought, Satan tries to enjoy the freedom of Hell – it’s all for him! There’ll be no being chucked out. Couldn’t he be happy there?  yes, looks like maybe he could but…

4. Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Yes, he’s happy here: he reigns here. Better to be the greatest here than ‘serve in Heav’n.’ Yet, seems to me as I read that  the very idea of serving in Heav’n gets into Satan’s mind and irritates him. He immediately starts looking for allies, and when a  body has allies, can a battle be far behind?

5. But wherefore let we then our faithful friends,
Th’ associates and copartners of our loss [ 265 ]
Lye thus astonisht on th’ oblivious Pool,
And call them not to share with us their part
In this unhappy Mansion,

And once he’s remembered them (th’ associates and copartners of our loss) he begins to imagine another fight for absolute power:

6. or once more
With rallied Arms to try what may be yet
Regaind in Heav’n, or what more lost in Hell? [ 270 ]

Is his mind its own place? It seems not.  He starts out wanting to be happy in Hell and ends up, a few words later, ready to start  battling God again. He seems to have patterns of response which he can’t control: he’s got to challenge God’s authority, he can’t escape that desire.

Yet it remains true or at least a possibility, sometimes, doesn’t it, that  ‘the mind is its own place’?

Today’s reading has made me think of two other poems, first the idea of being on our own line in ‘The Buried Life’ – read about it here.  The second is in Wendell Berry’s poem, ‘The Slip’, which I quoted here. The lines from ‘The Slip’ that are in my mind are these;

Human wrong is in the cause, human
ruin in the effect–but no matter;
all will be lost, no matter the reason.

It’s the ‘in’ that makes the connection here: there is no simple cause and effect. Lots of things are in both the cause and in the effect. And yet it remains true: some things can be simplified. I hereby publish my resolution to  get my expenses done on time and not hold up the Finance team this coming year (tho I think I’ve already let them down once already) Don’t wish me luck. Wish me action.

plant growing in rock and snow Norway Jan 2018
Unknown but impressive plant growing in a crack in a rock, under a few feet of snow,  in not much light, Norway 2018

9 thoughts on “Paradise Lost 13: Wresting my wayward self, again

  1. Lydia Moore January 14, 2018 / 10:06 am

    Welcome back, Jane – I’ve missed you! X

    • drjanedavis January 15, 2018 / 6:29 am

      thanks Lydia – you are always so welcoming. Hope all is good for the New Year .

  2. Elaine Bentley January 14, 2018 / 11:22 am

    So good to have you back again. Hope that you are fully recovered.

    • drjanedavis January 15, 2018 / 6:29 am

      thank you Elaine, yes – was only a cold just a very long one!

  3. loubyjo January 14, 2018 / 4:33 pm

    as someone whose life is totally plagued by routines but can break away from kinda ta to u i wld do what is best for you for each just dont set yourself for it says she who gives the world advice but wont take any advice herself GURU XXXXXXX ( GLAD BETTER stop running round in circles and on train journeys relax and look out of window xx ( sorry ) “!!!!!!

    • drjanedavis January 15, 2018 / 6:30 am

      Thank you, Lou. I have been on several trains last couple of months with nothing but a window and a book! Had lovely quiet downtime over Christmas and in Norway.

      • loubyjo January 15, 2018 / 4:40 pm

        well that s great news yer that is the way to travel the world will keep on turning xx

  4. helenwillowsblog January 15, 2018 / 9:34 am

    So pleased to have you back – it’s a delight when you’re here but should be a pleasure not a chore for you.
    I have a room like yours – sitting in it now. whilst doing ‘the course’ over the last two years I had reasons for the state of it. …. but now? I just accept that this is me, and this room is the
    one place where I’m allowed to be me.

    Welcome back.

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