Six Impossible Things

`Only it is so very lonely here!' Alice said in a melancholy voice; and, at the thought of her loneliness, two large tears came rolling down her cheeks.
`Oh, don't go on like that!' cried the poor Queen, wringing her hands in despair. `Consider what a great girl you are. Consider what a long way you've come to-day. Consider what o'clock it is. Consider anything, only don't cry!'
Alice could not help laughing at this, even in the midst of her tears. `Can you keep from crying by considering things?' she asked.
`That's the way it's done,' the Queen said with great decision: `nobody can do two things at once, you know. Let's consider your age to begin with -- how old are you?'
`I'm seven and a half, exactly.'
`You needn't say "exactly",' the Queen remarked. `I can believe it without that. Now I'll give you something to believe. I'm just one hundred and one, five months and a day.'
`I ca'n't believe that!' said Alice.
`Ca'n't you?' the Queen said in a pitying tone. `Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.'
Alice laughed. `There's no use trying,' she said `one ca'n't believe impossible things.'
`I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...

I used that last line as the motto in my high school yearbook a very long time ago. That statement and the hope that it expresses have stayed with me my entire life. So it was with considerable surprise and delight that I found John Tarrant using it as the epigraph to his discussion of the "Rhinoceros" koan in Bring me the Rhinoceros. Tarrant says "The inconceivable is the source of all that comes into being." This is the principle of what medieval theology called apophatic theology. Olivier Clement speaks of an apophatic anthropology. That is just what Tarrant is proposing as one of the many ways of understanding the emptiness at the heart of zen. I love his profound, slender book.

And as a really unsurprising example of the predictability and ubiquity of the opposite approach to life is this: As I searched for an online version of Lewis Carroll's tale (from Through the Looking Glass by the way) I came upon THIS - biologist Lewis Wolpert's tale of evolutionary psychology. I have no doubt it's a fine book and a very good read, and I would probably enjoy it. I'm just not interested in living that way anymore.


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