Flaneur Society

From The Guide to Getting Lost

Like most busy, urban people, I used to dislike “dead” time. Unproductive time. Waiting in lines. Long commutes. A laundry list of tasks and deadlines hanging over one’s head.

I was waiting on a friend and what began as 20 minutes ballooned into what would be over two hours. In the meantime, I wandered the neighbourhood browsing bookstores and observing the people passing through the streets.

A filthy bundle of baggy clothes curled up on a bench roused itself and I caught the face of its wearer. Instead of the crusty old man I’d expected, it was a beautiful woman with whom I shared a smile.

A small toddler and I made eye contact. I winked at the child, who burst into a giddy grin, like we had just shared an outrageous secret. The parents remained oblivious.

A twentysomething couple in front of a closed store were having an intense and uncomfortable discussion about their relationship, clearly unplanned. Half an hour later, as I walked by them again, they were still at it.

I passed by so many people in those two hours: young and old, rich and poor, languages of all kinds, half of which I didn’t recognize. Some with take out or groceries, others on bikes, a few with fingers glued to smartphones. A woman I’d seen browsing a bookstore walked by with her purchase.

All these people, I thought, will smile, will make mistakes, will give, will hurt and then they’ll die. And I thought that this is where I feel most comfortable. In between destinations, in between stories. From a low vantage, creeping the city’s streets and gutters, going nowhere, nothing to do, it’s easier somehow to grasp how marvellous and complex our world is.

These days, I can will my perception to open and find the world expanded and flooded with light. Living things take on a remarkable salience until they are almost shining, hyper-real, incredibly precious. My once familiar neighbourhood is set aflame and the mere thought of it is enough to move me to tears, as if I am too small to contain the vastness of it all so that it must spill out the eyes. I’m not sure what to do with this vision for I still spend most of my life seeing the world as I did before, as a blind woman, an unredeemed woman. But it seems to me that more and more, my default position is to receive everything.

I feel as if I have spent the past two years on fire, but have only recently acquiesced to my own self-immolation. It’s like I can see the last dregs of my own resistance, once so scalding and opaque, now reduced to a silty, bitter semi-circle, smiling at me from the bottom of the cup I’ve been drinking from. Because I’ve been hard at work, processing, processing, processing the power, digesting its impurities and trying resist the impulse to punt it off on any number of ready victims just to take the pressure off myself.

And now, strangely, it seems there’s nothing left for me to do except let the dregs burn clean and witness this world dissolving into light.

People with a keening desire for god and transformative spiritual experiences have always made me a little wary. There is a general ignorance regarding how much suffering this relationship can entail. In an article about mysticism, published in the Fall 2013 issue of Parabola, Mirabai Starr writes:

“The year I turned forty, the day my first book came out, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul by the sixteenth-century Spanish saint John of the Cross, my fourteen-year-old daughter, Jenny, was killed in a car crash.

“Suddenly, the sacred fire I had been chasing all my life engulfed me. I was plunged into the abyss, instantaneously dropped into the vast stillness and pulsing silence at which all my favorite mystics hint. So shattered I could not see my own hand in front of my face, I was suspended in the invisible arms of a Love I had only dreamed of. Immolated, I found myself resting in fire. Drowing, I surrendered, and discovered I could breathe under water.

“So this was the state of profound suchness I had been searching for during all those years of contemplative practice. This was the holy longing the saints had been talking about in poems that had broken my heart again and again. This was the sacred emptiness that put that small smile on the faces of the great sages. And I hated it. I didn’t want vastness of being. I wanted my baby back.”


If you believe in the goodness of god, do you really know what you are talking about? Because life is more complex and contingent than the pat pseudo-spiritual phrases modern, secular culture enjoys trafficking in. Everything happens for a reason. Why don’t you tell that to the mother whose child has just died?



I know this blog is supposed to be an “archive”, but this is worth preserving: a previously unreleased “Red Book” containing Jung’s recordings of his “confrontation with the unconscious” is finally going to be released in October. In the meantime, do read the deliciously long New York Times article with sample photos of the Red Book to whet your appetite. Thanks to The Wildhunt for tipping us off.

[edit: Read a review of the Red Book exhibition at the Rubin Museum by Lillian Sizemore]

In honour of Venus’ transit through Pisces, I’m republishing one of my favourite posts.

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Original Title: Venus-Neptune contacts and the divinity of love
Original Post DateJune 30, 2007 @ 8:10 pm

teresa de avila

teresa de avila

Many astrologers like to emphasize the illusory nature that characterizes Venus-Neptune aspects. Apparently Venus-Neptune people don’t like the mundane, daily gestures that mark a long term relationship, they say. These people need fantasy, romance, escape. They’d rather pine than have the real deal. While that can be true, I’d add that those aspects present the possibility of having a direct romantic relationship (Venus) with the divine (Neptune). This is hardly a fantasy relationship, even if it doesn’t involve a blood and flesh human. Moreover, maintaining this relationship requires incredible discipline exacted upon a quotidian level.


This post is for everyone, in the spirit of the Christmas season. I sometimes forget this, so it’s also for myself.

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Original Title: amor vincit omnia
Original Post Date: November 14, 2007 @ 1:54pm


This Scorpionic post is dedicated to all my friends and readers who fear their death and the brevity of their lives, who fear the void of nonexistence and its meaninglessness, who are abhorred at the degeneration of our mortal coil as it unravels towards its termination.

A beautiful quote from anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who was featured in an earlier post about Venus-Neptune. [will add this post soon – IN]

In this vision he also showed a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and thought, “What can this be?” And the answer came to me, “It is all that is made.” I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, “It lasts and will last for ever because God loves it; and everything exists in the same way by the love of God.”

I do not believe in ideas like heaven, afterlives and reincarnation after death etc.; they are spaces and patterns knowable to the living for in life, one can experience death and rebirth without truly dying afterall. Physical death to me, is the cessation of existence in which you are completely obliterated. The space between breathing in and breathing out. A time where all tension dissolves, that perfect stillness you try to attain, lying in savasana, corpse pose.

I used to desire the nothingness of death that other people feared, the ultimate in nihilism. But now I believe in eternal love. There is no existence after death, only love.