Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 6

A reply to: A letter from Seth


Dear Seth,

I reread your letter again. I have read it at least five times. It’s a sacred text.

I enjoy the Spice Festival, too. I live near the plaza, close enough that it’s an extension of my living room, and I visit often, sometimes even during the festival.


I’m not a spice hound, though I love saffron.

You asked about how I became friends with Bjorn and Raj. I met Bjorn at the meadows one afternoon when we were both young–he was a student; I was a young professor. We started talking about Bach, and the conversation continues to this day. We don’t talk about much else besides Bach, his life and his music, and maybe that is why we are such fast friends.

I met Raj… how did I meet Raj? He’s a neighbor. I see him in the plaza. We take morning coffee together. We don’t talk much, and maybe that’s the secret of our friendship.

I don’t have a good understanding of how I become friends with others. I seem to find myself in friendships with nearly everyone I meet. My wife told me that it was because I have no expectations of my friends: I don’t expect them to agree with me or do things with or for me or to meet specific conditions. I simply know that I like nearly everyone I meet–and those I don’t like, I learn to like. Somehow, that leads me into friendship with them. I don’t know if they like me, but then I don’t expect them to.


Perhaps I know what you mean when you write, “There is meaning and notmeaning, and I always have too much of both,” and  also, “The hell of it is that the notenough is just as beautiful and infinite and painful as the toomuch, and I cannot contain either one.”

Yes. This brings to mind your question about how many Jaspers there are. My answer is connected with the experience of meaning/notmeaning, notenough/toomuch.

In the lifetime before Bess passed, there were many Jaspers: Professor Jasper, Scholar Jasper, Rebel Jasper, Iconoclast Jasper, Barefoot Jasper, Bess’s Jasper, Bearded Jasper, Bard Jasper, Uncle Jasper, Brother Jasper, Jasper with an awl in his hand, Jasper with a book in his hand, and Jasper with a beer in his hand. I didn’t even attempt to integrate them.

When Bess became ill and through the years after her passing, there was no Jasper. It was as you write, and I became lost in the infinity of both notenough and toomuch, sometimes bouncing from one to the other, sometimes stuck in the delta of both. In the pressure at the center of meaning and nomeaning, I dissolved.


I surfed the oceanic oneness. I thought I was experiencing attainment, enlightenment in this anatta that devastated me.

Now, I am finding bridges back to myself: doors don’t work, but bridges do.

What was that that John Lilly wrote in Center of the Cyclone?


I am a single point of consciousness, of feeling, of knowledge. I know that I am. That is all.

Lilly found this single point when he was out-of-body: I find it when I am fully in-body, embodied.

I agree with your definition of freedom: “an escape from this finite universe.” The only escape I know of comes through the finite universe: through the bridge to the infinite that is created when we are fully embodied. When the attention of conscious awareness sparks the consciousness within each cell inside of us, we light up. A light-bridge joins inside and outside, and we are both. Yet we are also fully and completely here, aware, and in our bodies. That’s freedom. That’s the bridge I traveled to become One Jasper.

Feel for a moment that one of your cells gains awareness. Imagine they all do. Each cell, aware, conscious, individual, and yet part of the body that makes up the existence of you.

Now feel that you are conscious. Imagine that each of us is. Each one of us, aware, conscious, individual, and yet part of a cosmos that makes up the existence of all-that-is.

When I realize that this single point exists within each of us, just as it exists within each of our cells, then this brings me to individuality within unity.


Yes… it’s the space between the toomuch and notenough where I strive to dwell. I’m not there always. Sometimes, I’m in the toomuch. Sometimes, especially when I wake, I’m in the notenough. But when I can feel the spaces in my body vibrating with that hum of electricity that is life energy, then I’m here, in the in-between.


When I am with my friends, I see that same unity of being–both individual and universal bridged within them–and maybe that is how I am able to become their friend.

My editor friend is actually a collector of doors. He loves old handmade Spanish colonial doors, preferably carved in mesquite. He is a very linear person, my editor friend. And he has a good many selves. I am fortunate enough to know at least six of them.

My editor friend takes his press very seriously. He says, “Printing is a holy act. And rebellious. It’s holy and rebellious.”


He prints books designed to restore people, to help them find and recover the broken up bits or, even better, to develop flexibility and resiliency so that those pieces never break in the first place. He’s a good man, my editor friend.

You say you’re wondering about the differences between bridges and doors. A door lets you cross between space that has been divided. A bridge connects a gap.

It takes, generally, one step to pass through the door. To cross a bridge takes many more.

I asked my editor friend what he would do if he were on a trestle and it began to hum. He says he would hum along with it, in a resonating key.


You asked, “How do you know when you’re bound to someone else in the same time and space?” Ah, but I am not bound to them: We are both bound, individually, to the same time and space–but we are not bound to each other. We are able, in that moment, to connect with each other, because our individual binding, for that moment, to the same time-space/space-time forms the bridge which allows us to exist, at that moment, in shared reality.

I was speaking of music as having that bridging power. But any shared experience can do it.

You ask if my self works the same way I say music works. I have never considered this before. I am tempted to say that the vibrational energy of music and the vibrational energy within my cells operate on the same principles, but I will need to give this more thought.


I think there’s something to your speculation that “perhaps all the different Seths are different notes, and if [you] could find the relation they have to each other then [you] would make sense to [your]self.”

As for me, the answer to your question regarding the “relation all the Jaspers have to each other,” the answer is not profound. All the Jaspers were various suits of clothes for various occasions , that’s all. Simply the dressing over this changing form that is me.


I once asked a friend who is a yogi, “How do I know what is me when I don’t know who I am anymore?”

He replied, “Breathe. Just breathe. Is that enough?”

It wasn’t, not then, when I had lost myself entirely. But it is now. In fact now, to breathe is enough.


Wishing you peace and space, my dear friend.


<< Jasper’s Previous Letter | Jasper’s Next Letter >>

Forgotten Art: Giuliana – Dusk 6

A reply to: One letter from Dusk and Another letter from Dusk

Hi, Dusk.

I started a letter to you, and then I got your other letter. Now I’m confused.

Your first letter had me a little bit sad because of what you wrote about your grandpa dying. I haven’t had anyone die in my life. But I have an old friend. I asked my dad and he said that my old friend Jasper is old enough to be my grandpa. Does that mean he might die?

Then your next letter made me happy and also confused. What do you mean that time has become a balloon and now it no longer exists?

I didn’t want to ask my old friend because I have an idea what it means and I didn’t want him to get sad. So I went to the reading room and I looked in the books.


One book says, “you’re spread out in time, like you’re spread out in space.” This means that all time is there at once. Then another book said, “eternity is timelessness.” One book says, “there’s no time in heaven, and no space either.”

You wrote, “Death is not the end for you.”

But you wrote me a letter. You can’t be… you know.

Oh. Now I know why you have that special mailman. He goes through time and space and to the place where there’s no time and no space.

So, I can still write to you, right? I know that you won’t be able to write back, because we need time to be able to write.

But I can write you. And I bet that if I feel every word really hard, you will get the message. And maybe your special mailman can still deliver it, but if there’s no time, you won’t have time to read it!

I feel sort of sad and sort of weird. So I will write you like normal.

I’ll tell you about my very most fun day.

It was with my brother.

I had to go to the State Park way over in Oasis Springs. That’s a whole two-hour train ride! Mom couldn’t go and Dad couldn’t go. So Devante said, “I’ll take you, squirt.”


When we first got there, one of his girlfriends came up to him. Ugh! Now I knew why he wanted to take me there!

So I said, “See ya!” and I ran off to find stuff.


I can’t tell you all about it because it’s part of that secret mission. Let’s just say it was really fun and really hard and I did great!

Then when I was so tired, I went back to the Visitor’s Center, and there was my brother, talking to the park gardener. It was so awesome.

We learned all about how to make candy from prickly pear fruit!


Then we went out to the picnic table and got hamburgers that this nice guy cooked up to share with everybody! He was really nice and really funny, and the hamburgers were delicious!

He said they didn’t taste like elephants, and I said I wished they did, and he said, “No, you really don’t.”


I think it was the very best day I’ve ever had.

You know why?

Devante said, “Hey, kid. This was fun! We should take more trips together!”


My big brother is really neat.

Do you think you can see him from where you are?


Can you still see? Can you hear my words when I think them?

OH! I wanted to also tell you about one of my new collections! I collect other things, too, but I can’t talk about them because, you know, that secret mission thing.

But this collection is just for me and I can talk about it all day long! It’s these little funny guys all dressed up like a mad scientist and an Indian princess and a girl from anime and a little glasses guy. They’re really cute and funny. I would send you one if I could. But since there’s no time and no space where you are, I don’t think they could fit.


Instead, I’ll think of them really hard, and you can see if you get the picture, OK?

I think I will keep writing to you. Is that OK?

You’re one of my best friends.

I was going to write that I missed you, but just as the idea came into my head, I got the feeling of you smiling, so now I think I’m sitting inside your smile. And I don’t miss you at all! Can you feel me sitting there?

I’ll write again!


Your friend,


p.s. Now that you are somewhere nowhere, I will tell you my real name. It is Giuliana Kruse.

<< Giuliana’s Previous Letter | Giuliana’s Next Letter >>

Forgotten Art: Jasper -Seth 3

A reply to: A letter from Seth


Hey, Seth. Thank you for your letter.

I hope the sun isn’t so hungry today.

I went out to the bluffs this evening. Here, the fog slides in from the bay, and even the wrens are still.


I liked these sentences you wrote: “The human species is a great big mirrored funhouse. It’s distorted projections of the self all the way down.”

This ties in with my response to your request:  “Tell me, about your words; when do you know they are lies, and when do you know they are true?”


I guess it depends on how one defines “lies.” I’ll assume that we both know what we mean by true. We feel it, right? Or at least, that’s how it works for me. For example, I feel the truth of your words.


If we take a lie to be an intentional diversion of truth, through misdirection, omission, or distortion, then my words don’t lie, for I don’t intend to divert the truth.


But if we take a lie to be a softening of the harshness of direct perception, then, yes. Sometimes, my words lead down a softer path, and that’s the only path I have the strength and resolve to follow, sometimes.


If we take a lie to be our accounts of our travels through the mirrored funhouse, then yes. All words lie. Or at least all of mine do, for my perception is colored by my existence in this form, with my particular and individual neurochemically driven responses and interpretations.


My wife, Bess, used to talk to me of the vertical and horizontal currents of energy. I never understood what she meant during her lifetime, but I am beginning to feel those currents now that I’ve been relieved from the demands of my career and I have time to feel.

I’ve been practicing qigong with a group that meets most mornings in the grassy area near my house. Qigong, according to my teacher, is about these two currents of energy, the vertical and the horizontal. What she says fits with what I feel.

The vertical channel connects us with the universe, with life energy, with the abstract, and with the earth. The horizontal connects us with the social.


It’s the vertical that’s got my attention right now and that I want to experience and explore. For me, that’s the connection with truth.



What happens–and it’s happening even now as I write this–is that as I try to translate my experience of that vertical channel of energy into the horizontal, so that I can communicate it with another person, the words tangle it. What I write feels like a lie, though I am intending to write the truth.


I don’t possess your genius for communicating unmediated truth.

Have you ever read Wittgenstein? I love that man. Six multi-part propositions, expressed in a treatise of nearly 70 pages, to lead to this single observation:

The right method of philosophy would be this. To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.

My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


I haven’t yet mastered the art of silence, though that is what I am working on now–though you can’t tell it’s part of my practice from my nonsensical ramblings in this letter!

I don’t know how to be a silent pen pal. Send you a blank sheet of paper, I guess.

Bess used to talk to me about etiquette. I had a phase, early in my career, when I was fed up with academic politics and anything that felt inauthentic. Etiquette felt inauthentic to me.

That’s when I stopped shaving. But I also took up expressing exactly how I felt exactly when I felt it to exactly whomever I was speaking.

My “bout with unmitigated authenticity” just about cost me my career.




Eventually, Bess got me to understand that the conventions for social communication helped to form a space for safety, and within that space, authenticity might occur.

We need to know the other person’s not going to stab us with a knife before we’ll show him our soft spots.


I hear a lot of pain in your words, a history of betrayal.

On this planet, so many people have been so hurt, and most of it, for no purpose and so avoidable. I am sorry to feel that you, too, have been hurt. This pain, caused by others, it is so often so needless.


We’re all so vulnerable, really. Soft, fleshy beings, with nothing between us and infinity but the structures of our minds, the chatter of our thoughts, that form a wall, a barrier against the indefinable silence.


At one point, a person can decide: I will do my best not to add to my own pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can not to contribute to others’ pain. Then they might decide: I will do what I can, within the scope of my responsibility and path, to help alleviate the suffering of others.

Maybe I can do some good.


That’s the commitment I’ve made to life. Right now, my scope feels very narrow: my family. A few neighbors. I would like to help anyone that will let me, anyone that I have the capacity to help.

It starts here, with me, hooking up with life, the grand mistress. From there, maybe I reach out to as many as I can hold in my arms at one time: my niece. My grand-niece. My nephew, if he’ll let me.

Then, I walk through life, and I see who shows up. If I’ve got the capacity to show up, and another person has the capacity to show up, maybe we can help each other. Maybe, we hold out our hands–see? No pistol. No knife. Maybe, we can become friends.


I know you can read into my words, Seth. I hope that you can read into the silence beyond them.

I’m not wise enough to know when not to speak. And I hope you’ll forgive me for being a foolish old man.

With love and gratitude,


<< Jasper’s Previous Letter | Jasper’s Next Letter >>

Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 2

A reply to: A Letter from Seth


Dear Seth:

Right. So it would happen, every year or two, that a student would see right through me. I’d be faced with a choice: posture or respond.

Posturing was easier.

Responding, for me, is tough. But even saying this puts up a mask: the mask of authenticity.

You want to know? What I hide behind Shakespeare is the part of me that is terrified of your intelligence and insight and refusal to go along with social norms. What I hide behind the finger-moon nonsense is an old man who’s infatuated with his own self-assurance and the mask of nonsense he wears to facilitate interactions with others. It’s a way of keeping anything authentic and real at bay. That’s all.


I’m not ready to dispense with social niceties. I’m not ready to take off my masks. I need them.

Obviously, my masks don’t hide anything from you. Fine. I accept that.

I’m still not ready to take them off.

I don’t think I’ll answer your question about my nothing. Not today.


I’m a happy person. I’m naturally cheerful. It’s the way my brain works when I step outside and a mockingbird sings. That’s all. It’s simple chemistry.

I’m feeling defensive right now. I could put this letter away, work through the feelings on my own, come back when my own peace had returned. But I think I won’t.

I think I’ll sit here at the keyboard and breathe.

Tell me a story of grace, Seth.

So: I wanted to reach out to you because you seemed lonely and you seemed to be asking to be heard. My story about listening wasn’t to tell you to listen. It was to remind me to listen.

It was a round-about way of me saying I’d do my best to listen to you.

My story about Johnson was to point towards that communication that happens without words. For me, even as a man who’s spent my life with words, words lie. They are artifice. They twist and bend the truth. I’m not saying that your words lie: your words point at the truth. I hear that. I’m saying that my words lie. I cannot have a deep conversation and approach truth, for as I fit the unbounded into the construct of words, it shifts into something I don’t mean. It’s the finger pointing at the moon: and this isn’t me hiding. This is me trying not to hide.


The communication that happens without words, when I meet another in the spark of energy that forms between two beings, that is true for me.

I have a grandniece. She has quickly become a favorite person of mine. She doesn’t understand a word I say, unless I speak Urdu, and I know very little Urdu. But we communicate beautifully.


All right. I’m feeling less defensive.

I’m sorry if I can’t meet you in the level of truth that you demand. I will do my best. I’ll do my best to listen. I’ll do my best to let you have your cares and your worries. You know I want to save everyone, you included. I’ll do my best not to try.

You know what I like about silence? Everything settles out. There are no worries. There’s not even any separation.

I’m wondering if I should even send this letter.

Here’s what I don’t understand about using words: These words that I’ve written are my responses, complete in all my insecurities and defensiveness. In that way, this is an honest communication. I’m not hiding behind composition.

This is a rough draft, a discovery draft.

I could keep this letter in my “Drafts” folder and not send it. Then I could compose a letter revealing my composed self. That would be the way contractual conversation could occur: the writing would be designed to communicate. This letter is not designed to communicate. It’s a spilling out of my thoughts and feelings. This letter reveals.


I have a feeling that if I were to compose a letter to you, you would look through the words, seeking what was beneath them. Whether I send you something composed or something spilling over, like this, either way, you’ll see through the artifice, and I’ll be revealed.

I guess that’s what I try to avoid. With the wordless communication that I love so much what is revealed is grace, that spark of being within each of us. I crave that contact.

When I communicate with words what’s revealed is the structure of the mind and the clutter of the emotions–all that detritus. Why would I want to share that with anyone?

Is that what you were trying to look behind in my previous letter?

I seem to talk a lot when I listen, don’t I?

Wishing you grace and unexpected kindnesses,



<< Jasper’s Previous Letter | Jasper’s Next Letter >>

Forgotten Art: Jasper – Seth 1


Greetings and salutations, Seth Morrigan.

I heard your words when I read your profile on the Pen Pal Project.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
… full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (Shakespeare, Macbeth V.v)

It’s not that the tale signifies nothing. It’s that the tale signifies Nothing.


This walking shadow points its finger, where? Towards Nothing.

Don’t mistake the finger that points to the moon for the Moon.


When I was a child, I had a rat for a friend and companion–I refuse to use the word “pet,” for if anything, I was the rat’s pet.

We developed a way of communicating, not through words but through thought-images and feeling.


I would be playing in my room, and an image would come into my mind. A full water bottle. A corner of my flannel shirt. My new round super ball.

I would look towards my rat, and I would find him studying me with his soft brown eyes. So I would fill the water bottler, cut off the corner of my shirt and place it in his cage, give him my super ball.

And the feeling of happiness would infuse me.


When I wanted to take Johnson (that was the rat’s name) out of the cage and play with him in the cardboard box city I built for him, I would imagine the cage door opening, holding him in my hands, and setting him down amongst the cardboard skyscrapers. He would look at me with his brown eyes, and then scamper onto my hands when I opened the cage door.

One day, he told me in this fashion that he no longer wanted to live in a cage. We opened the door, set up his water bottle on the outside of it, placed his flannel shirt blanket beneath the Empire State Building, and he moved into New Cardboard City. We were very happy.


You ask, “Do you know what it’s like when no one hears you? When you can’t say anything that anyone else would understand even if they were listening?”

I was a college professor of American literature. Yes. I know what it’s like when no one hears me. I know what it’s like to speak for 52 minutes on the significance of a thawing ice flow and the revelations of creation that Thoreau found there and how this relates to our own burning questions of how to proceed in a millennium when the thawing of an ice flow threatens our own survival, and to look out to see that of the classroom of twenty-five students, the two who were listening have no idea what I was talking about.


I stopped talking.

I asked my students to move their desks out of the rows and into circles. I wrote a question on the board. And I walked among the circles, and I listened.


That was when my students said they began to learn.

When my wife was alive, she loved to talk. She talked about her cares. For the first twenty years of our life together, I thought it was my job, as her husband, to remove her cares. And so I did, one by one. Each one that I removed was replaced by another, more difficult and more problematic to resolve. And then one day, when we were young only in heart, I realized that she loved her cares. I was not doing her a favor by removing them: I was making life more difficult for her. I let her have her cares. We became happy. She would fret over her easel. I would ponder behind my texts. In the evening, after supper, we would stroll through meadows or sit in a golden corner by the lamp-side, and we would talk. But our words signified nothing.


It was only in the last months of her life, when, together, we faced the approaching visage of Nothing that we came to find that wordless form of perfect communication that I had when I was ten with my friend, the rat, Johnson.


I don’t know that I understand, Seth. Understanding is a long process–sometimes arduous. Sometimes easy. Sometimes, it happens as quickly as a silver shadow!


But I don’t think that understanding is everything. Mystery–mystery is Everything. Curiosity is Everything. But Understanding? Understanding is Nothing.

And I am all for gazing into the face of Nothing with another.


With wishes of silver shade and moonlight,

Jasper McCumber

Jasper’s Next Letter >>