They know not what they mean

During meditation this morning, I realized how often my thoughts form a one-sided conversation with someone else.  Don’t know who that someone is, unless it’s some other part of me–some gatekeeper, maybe, who scrutinizes the thought for seemliness, censors what it deems inappropriate.

It got me thinking, though, about whether you can think something without language to express it.  Do babies have thoughts before they have words?  Would I know what I meant if I had no words to express it?  A related idea from Kathleen Norris:

 Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is the source of their strength.  I wonder, if in our modern, literal-minded age, being able to declare “What I do not see I do not know” is a mark, even a cornerstone, of a poet’s faith….that writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of our language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.

The discipline of poetry teaches poets, at least, that they often have to say things they can’t pretend to understand.
                                                                        –from The Cloister Walk

I am so enjoying The Cloister Walk.  Mary LA quoted a passage from it on her blog, Letting Go, that intrigued me, though cloisters and monastic life are not my usual fare. The idea of withdrawing from the rest of the world can be pretty appealing, but I hadn’t considered that you become part of a community (which isn’t all that withdrawn where Norris was, a Benedictine monastery) and part of the process is learning how to live communally.  I imagined you spent your days in prayer and contemplation, interrupted only by work needed to keep the place running.  But it’s more like learning to live with someone in a household, only multiplied many times.

I still remember vividly the early days of living with M., the fierce arguments over what  light bulbs to use, how to arrange the bookcase, how often to clean and change the sheets.  It was brutal.  Once I got so mad I threw dishes at the wall.  Another time I screamed after him what a total blockhead he was as he stomped down the stairs. He said he thought it was all over that time.  Much worse than being called an SOB.  Sometimes it’s compromise, sometimes surrender, occasionally victory.  Whatever it is, it’s never easy.  Looking back, I’m astounded we got through it.

In a monastery, there’d always be new people to adjust to, or they to you. I suppose the resident culture would be the dominant one, not like everyone starting over. But what if the new person had habits that grossed you out–belched all the time or chewed noisily with his mouth open–and you had to sit next to him at meals?  How would they handle that in a Benedictine monastery?

Once I went to a weekend writers’ retreat that was silent most of the time.  Certainly at meals.  Except it wasn’t.  People crunched and gulped, clattered their forks against their plates, snuffled and coughed, scraped their chairs back and forth–all those sounds you don’t notice ordinarily because of the chatter.  It drove me nuts.  I ended up eating under a tree in the courtyard.
****
And speaking of communal problems, we have new neighbors with shrill voices and a small, yappy dog, both of them echoing off the blue ceramic tiles that cover the floor, patio, and yard of their house next door.  Who would cover his yard with blue tile?  Well you may ask.  The man who did it had six large dogs. The yard is small, and the quantity of dog shit must’ve been colossal.  I imagine he put in the tile to ease his clean-up, perhaps hosed all the dog shit to a drain somewhere.  The subsequent owner was a wine taster who gave large drunken parties now and then, presumably with the spoils of his trade.  I don’t suppose he used the hose and drain for recalcitrant drunks, though it sounds tempting.

I suppose, in the interests of neighborliness, I should make some bread or cookies for the new people instead of threatening police action if their damn dog keeps yapping.  Then I can tell them about the guy with the six dogs and how nuts we got from their barking.  Devious, but not confrontational.

And I know what I mean.

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