An examination of spirit and self, told from beneath a sheet

When Dawn leaves town, Charlotte sleeps with me in our bed. Friday night, and she complained about the Brian Eno music, calling it spooky. So I carried the remains of that record with me up Cougar Mountain the next morning, playing it on my phone, followed by a crow…down the quarry trail where it was cool and dark…the sound of birdsong, a hummingbird drumming a dead tree. Then I flickered out; I saw myself for just a second so brief I wondered if it was even real: the angle of my body moving through time, seen from above. And for the next two hours all I thought about was this: the idea of spirit and self, how to reconcile the two.

When I flicker out it’s like I’m seeing through a dream but I’m awake. Maybe it’s the idea of a ‘mind’s eye,’ some perception that comes without our seeing eyes, a sixth sense. Whatever it is, it’s rare and brief and I’m not sure I like it.

If you believe in souls, or the idea of a spirit, they inhabit a body for a time and perceive the world through our senses.

But the problem for spirit is the self it has to room with: the part of us that thinks it knows, that tries to establish itself with the world. Spirit doesn’t care about any of that, it knows we can’t be apart (or separate) from our world: only self would make it so. Spirit doesn’t want, or need to know anything—if it did, it would only drag spirit down.

Self is the younger sibling we have to discipline, and self consumes most of our lives as it tries to grow up, modeling itself after spirit. Self is the unruly adolescent following spirit up the trail, most times getting lost.

I thought about the crow following me, the crow that used to follow Dawn’s college friend Scott around campus, that would terrorize poor Scott by dive bombing and cawing at him from above. I’ve heard that crows can recognize people which is funny, I’d think to crows we’d all look the same—as crows do to me. Yet there’s something in their ability to perceive that gives them their power.

I’ve been reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being for seven months now. It’s a book that shouldn’t take more than a week to finish. It’s gotten so that I’ll only read a page or two and then set it down. It’s taken me so long, I’ve lost track of who the characters are; their names and personalities don’t match, they’re co-mingled. And that’s fine, Kundera said from the outset it was all made up. He was trying to make a point that goes beyond the characters. He swoops in as the author at times, saying that.

There’s a recurring image of a crow in that book: some kids played a bad trick and buried one alive so it couldn’t get out, and you just see its head in the dirt. One of the characters rescues it and holds it like an infant, and I think she must identify with that crow, or Kundera’s made us believe that, using the crow as a symbol to say something more about her.

Spirit inhabits body, and when I watch athletes on TV, when I see a gymnast swinging herself through the air it’s all spirit, no body. Or it’s spirit and body aligned, with no self getting in the way. That’s how I feel when I’m mountain climbing and balancing on a steep ridge, realizing if I think too much, I’ll fall and die. It’s not my body or self that’s gotten me to the top of high mountains, it’s spirit.

And if it follows that spirit animates athletes through a body, through an alignment with self, than the same must be true for artists, who perceive so purely they can channel that feeling. Because our spirits respond to something we perceive as real that triggers something real in us, that tugs our spirits to the surface and reminds us of a connection we once had with the world but forgot.

That’s what I want to do when I write, and it may take me my whole life to reconcile the self through which I tell it. It’s what some call self-consciousness, that’s often seen as a bad thing, a click down from ‘self-aware,’ often seen as good.

If there’s a spirit in me, it’s the physical world that brings it to the surface. It’s why I go back to the lake every morning looking for something to bring it out: watching for the small changes on the shore each time, how the water’s sometimes as still as glass until the anglers break it with their lines. And how they’re often the same, the look of them huddled on the dock, flickering in and out.

The hard thing about choosing to write memoir is gambling with the likelihood that there’s no meaning to it, and hitching your life/identity to that proposition. It’s not a job for body or self, but for spirit.

Photos by Loren Chasse and his friend Mike, taken in Mexico, July 2018

Categories: identity, Memoir, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

34 replies

  1. “If there’s a spirit in me, it’s the physical world that brings it to the surface. It’s why I go back to the lake every morning looking for something to bring it out”

    Yes, yes, yes. There is so much about this piece, including the question of whether there even is a spirit or a soul. But, this line is where it really is at. I feel the same way. If I really do have a spirit or a soul, I won’t find it at work or at home or in the cement jungle of a city. It is out there in the mountains and on the coast, along the rivers that I walk and in the sunsets I see. What I’ve never been able to do is translate those feelings into something I could write. I applaud you for your continued efforts. Many times your work strikes a chord in me, as I’m sure it does for many others who read your blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ahhh Bill, this is a post that touches on something very deep within. It illiterates something that is almost inscrutable but may just be universal. I think you are on to something about spirit that eludes us if we don’t get away from the maddening crowds and into the real world out there, where spirit resides. Where we don’t have to be our self, we just have to be. It helps to explain how some folks can appear to have everything and yet be so poor. John Muir knew it. So did Abbey. If only they could be our super heroes, we would all be the richer for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. sometimes self needs a long ‘time out’ but refuses to stay in its room and keeps yelling down the hallways.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. COMPLAINING about Eno? How’s that? Which album was giving her all the grief? Was it Taking Tiger Mountain…? Is that your not-so-subtle hint?

    Self pays the bills. Spirit runs them up. Your trips to the lake are a meditative exercise. Is that what you intend?

    Crow, schmoe. Bail out on that book. If you can’t keep the plot thread or characters straight, it’s time to move on. Life is SHORT.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s the latest Eno ambient records where he’s playing around with vocal effects. It is spooky, but cool. Good advice re: life is short. My attention span is shorter. My loss I guess! Took Tiger mountain by apathy.


  5. Clean, solid, excellent writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. makes me think of Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women who run with wolves). She says to create, you just have to get out of the way. You know it’s right, but also it’s like a soap bubble – seen for a few seconds then gone; self understands the advice, but still gets in the bloody way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A paradox. The only way to experience a wholeness of being, no mind-body dichotomy, is to be in the moment. The now. And the only way to describe it, to attempt to share something of that human moment, is to leave; going up into the head where the writing centres lounge about and hope that something infiltrates–or perhaps swoops in–from the non-corporeal part.

    (so that’s the faux intellectual part, aimed at convincing you that I’m a worthy participant in your writing and someone interesting and worth knowing. nothing self-conscious there, OK?)

    (And this is my favourite cluster of words from this post..)

    “some perception that comes without our seeing eyes, a sixth sense. Whatever it is, it’s rare and brief and I’m not sure I like it.”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Spirits are very intriguing and believe in its existence since the souls never die. That’s how I see it. This post decodes the various aspects of spirits looming large and enmeshed in our consciousness the way we see things or the minds wandering. Superb writing, Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Some of my least favorite things I’ve written are ones I worked hardest on. Some of my favorites came very easily, without much effort at all. Sometimes I reread them and think ‘I can’t believe I wrote this.’ Then I realize that’s because I didn’t. This whole piece resonates with me, of course, as you know. Enjoyed seeing this side of you. Hope there will be more to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s heavy, and cool (…because I didn’t). I get you and thanks for connecting with me here, fun stuff. Thanks for the nice note, and hope Galveston is/was/will be good…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A profound meditation. As I read it, I thought about how different our writing is, yours and mine, and yet we read each other faithfully, you all spirit, me all self. Even this comment is all self! Ha!


  11. “If you believe in souls, or the idea of a spirit, they inhabit a body for a time and perceive the world through our senses.” Absolutely, totally agree with your viewpoints, and very well presented. (I am building my own site to follow similar themes) And I would add that by logic alone we cannot get enough experience by just spending one life in one body, so we have been here before and we will be here again- “watching for the small changes on the shore each time,” I will happily join your throng of followers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey my friend! Thanks for this and for popping by, appreciate the kind words and happy it resonated with you. Thanks for following and best wishes with your site and themes…sure is a journey isn’t it? Be well! Bill


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