“Finding Nirvana is like locating silence.”
– Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
When I point the focus of my little ape brain outward into the immensity of nature, the people, the busy world around me, I’ll feel a scared chuckle build, like: “Fuck, this moment is all I have.” It’s fear. It’s beauty. The possibility of finding happiness or losing happiness or is this happiness?
Wikipedia defines the state of nirvana as “the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.”
It’s not the storm, it’s the calm after the storm. And there it is, the thought I have often is that the most real, rich moments are those punctuated by sadness. It’s the leaving that makes the staying for a moment fill with the life-affirming feeling of quiet meloncholy. It’s the snooze button of love, friendship, experience: just 5 more minutes and then we’ll go. It’s the violonist giving his best performance on the deck of a sinking Titanic.
And that brings me to a poem by Charles Bukowski called Nirvana. Bukowski, like many poets and writers, from the vulgar to the refined, chase the capture of this feeling in their work. Some give up, some patiently don’t try. So here it is, the poem, read by Tom Waits:
Nirvana by Charles Bukowski
Not much chance, completely cut loose from purpose,
he was a young man riding a bus through North Carolina on the way to somewhere.
And it began to snow.
And the bus stopped at a little cafe in the hills and the passengers entered.
And he sat at the counter with the others, and he ordered, the food arrived.
And the meal was particularly good.
And the coffee.
The waitress was unlike the women he had known.
She wore a tiny skirt and Lashes by Lisa.
She was unaffected, and there was a natural humor which came from her.
And the fry cook said crazy things.
And the dishwasher in back laughed a good clean pleasant laugh.
And the young man watched the snow through the window.
And he wanted to stay in that cafe forever.
The curious feeling swam through him that everything was beautiful there.
And it would always stay beautiful there.
And then the bus driver told the passengers that it was time to board.
And the young man thought: “I’ll just stay here, I’ll just stay here.”
And then he rose and he followed the others into the bus.
He found his seat and looked at the cafe through the window.
And then the bus moved off, down a curve, downward, out of the hills.
And the young man looked straight forward.
And he heard the other passengers speaking of other things,
or they were reading or trying to sleep.
And they hadn’t noticed the magic.
And the young man put his head to one side,
closed his eyes, and pretended to sleep.
There was nothing else to do,
just to listen to the sound of the engine,
and the sound of the tires
in the snow.