Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bit of History

donna de varona, 1964
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao

Well-being I won
And wisdom too.
I grew and took joy in my growth:
From a word to a word
I was led to a word,
From a deed to another deed
From the Old Norse, Poetic Edda, (ca. A.D. 1200)
as quoted on Margo’s Magical Letter Page.

After what was then a lifetime of abstinence, I started drinking coffee in my early forties.
My morning routine became: get up, have a cup, climb into the big, old, claw-foot bathtub and soak.

Thus, the fifteen minutes of caffeine-induced luminescent awareness (in which everything that crossed my mind was totally fascinating) occurred in the tub.
These revelations so amused, I felt compelled to share them out the bathroom door.
From the kitchen I would hear polite or bemused responses until I became just too outrageous.
Then, my partner’s head would appear in the doorway,
“You really ought to have your own early morning radio show.”

And that is how it began: oracular bathtub broadcasts.
And not long after that “Word of the Day” became part of the show.
Some word would burst into my consciousness bringing with it tribal rhythms, promised implications, and delight.

Perhaps my fascination with the power of a word began with Donna de Varona, the great Olympic swimmer of 1964.
Her name drove me crazy as I watched her race on TV.
Was it just such alliteration? Donna de Varona! Or was it the snare drum rat-a-tat or the announcer screaming o’er the crowd?
Donna de Varona!
The name pulled me to my feet, set me pacing until my circuits overloaded.

Chalk squeaking on a blackboard never bothered me a bit. But, this name drove me nuts.

I’d turn to my father hoping he might understand or perhaps explain.
“Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona!”
Pop just grinned back at me. He did not get it, but seemed fascinated.
He’d just repeat the chant right back to me.
Neither of us understood.

We were discovering the power of a word, specifically a mantra.
“Donna de Varon, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona.”
I’d say it quietly during the day.
I’d repeat it mentally as I swam my own practice laps with just a bit more power.

Some languages are sacred.
Some languages insist that name and form can become one.
When this happens the gap between word (the name that we speak out) and form (that which word denotes) begins to close.
This is not a horizontal phenomenon, but rather vertical.
Union is gained by going deep within our own consciousness.
It is transcendence that makes language sacred.

I became interested in sacred language when I learned that mantras work via “name and form.”
I became interested in etymology when I realized that Gertrude Stein used it to make poetry, to dive deep within the word and into herself, and that even English retains a hint of sacredness:

a noun is the name of a thing,
and therefore slowly if you feel inside that thing
you do not call it by the name which it is known.
Everybody knows that by the way they do when they are in love
and a writer should always have that intensity of emotion
about whatever is the object about which he writes.
And therefore I say it again more and more one does not use nouns…

I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry.
Gertrude Stein

Well, so much for history.
I haven’t broadcast from the tub in years and
I'm trying now to cut back on caffiene.
But, as I mentioned, we recently formed a “Taoist Coven” filled with women’s weedie-weedie as much as meditation.

I have unwittingly stepped into new energy
and with that step the revelatory Word has reappeared.

We are simply playing with a word. But play can have an impact.
How many myths begin with a gentle slipping, as our heroine’s attention is diverted she wanders deep into the woods and into mystery.
Sometimes, I think the whole story of spiritual cultivation, the Tao, the whole of Life and by that I do include biology can be approached via sacred language and linguistics.

Which I guess is just my own way of coming to the Biblical:
In the beginning was the Word.

So, it seems I’m returned to oracular bathtub broadcasts, except that now I blog – and since the ole blog has fallen into a somewhat quiescent state of late – I thought I’d share the Word of the Day with you all.

But for today, in honor of roots and origins, let’s just go with:
“Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona, Donna de Varona.”

Not at all our usual Word,
but rather a name, one that carries history and my father’s smile.

Oh and hey, guess what.
After Donna de Varona retired from her pool ... she herself went into broadcasting. I hear her now on NPR.

See! It all begins to come together, our connections become more obvious, when you turn inside.

All praise for the Word of the Day!


(Postscript: a friend recntly sent Mom this clipping from our hometown paper. I was somewhat rattled that my own life was slipping into camp - I share it here by way of apology to Donna and for your curiosity. "The History Corner," indeed. I quess that's why my body feels like it does each morning.)

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