Introduction: I am republishing selected posts from Cohencentric (my former Leonard Cohen site) here on AllanShowalter.com (these posts can be found at
). Guest posts are at the top of this very limited category. And, among the crème de la crème are the contributions made by David Peloquin and Martin Ferrabee. This entry was originally published Oct 20, 2018 at Cohencentric.
As we noted in Part One – Initiation, the inner landscapes of spirit are experienced as an infinite spaciousness. At the subtle level, the initiated inner traveler experiences a deepening sense of inhabiting this vast openness. The traveler finds that he or she is learning to sustain stillness for longer periods in these deepening interiors.
The Subtle Level
Also known as deity mysticism, Chokhmah/Bina of Kabbalah, ‘moonlight’ of Tantra, the crown chakra; the Sahasrara of yoga, the ‘angelic’ or soul of Sufism.
As Ken Wilber describes it,
The subtle is said to include …high order visions, ecstatic intuition, an extraordinary clarity of awareness…beyond the ordinary ego, mind and body.”
At the psychic level, the traveler had one foot in the physical world, and one in the subtle. In this landscape, pure awareness is free to travel the path of Light.
In the song Night Comes On, from the album Various Positions, we are fortunate that Cohen has given us clear insight into the identity of the luminous woman:
“Here there is this vision of the woman, neither the mother, nor the wife, but another feminine presence that touches all the others and is responsible for the songs…it’s the feminine Muse”1
The more seasoned traveler, having been initiated by the Muse in the guise of “Suzanne”, can now develop a relationship with Her. This kind of exchange in the luminous darkness can take the form of a dialogue, an intimate conversation. He is “lost in this calling.” As he dives deeper into Her world, she reveals to him what the nature of this calling is about:
Now I look for her always; I’m lost in this calling;
I’m tied to the threads of some prayer.
Saying, “When will she summon me, when will she come to me,
what must I do to prepare?” —
Then she bends to my longing, like a willow, like a fountain.
she stands in the luminous air.
And the night comes on, and it’s very calm,
I lie in her arms, she says “When I’m gone
I’ll be yours, yours for a song.”
And the night comes on: it’s very calm;
I want to cross over, I want to go home,
but she says, “Go back, go back to the world”
The verse ends with a reference to the traveler’s desire to cross over, to go home to Her. The Muse gently points out to the poet, this dancer between worlds, that he still has work to do in the physical plane before he can completely and formlessly entwine with Her. She is gentle, but firm: “go back/go back to the world.” In an interview with Paul Zollo,2 Cohen declares that, in order to write the song:
[The Muse] “wants you in a condition of receptivity that you cannot produce by yourself.”
She hangs in the “luminous air”, luminosity being a signature image of the subtle. “I’ll be yours for a song,” sounds rather off-handed, but the Muse is not so easily summoned. She is intimating that the price of Her presence, Her intimacy, is the song, as is the process the poet must endure to realize it, to make it authentic, and then to offer it to Her.
The voice of the narrator in Cohen’s work is often “unreliable”, meaning that the character in the song, the narrator, is being used, inhabited by the poet to explore a particular theme. In the sublime song, Waiting for the Miracle, from the 1992 album The Future, we have a narrator that appears to confuse the luminous Muse with an actual, physical woman. He is a man who has received “lots of invitations” but has never taken the Muse up on Her offer:
Baby, I’ve been waiting,
I’ve been waiting night and day.
I didn’t see the time,
I waited half my life away.
There were lots of invitations,
and I know you sent me some
but I was waiting
for the miracle to come.
The miracle he waits for is union with the Muse without doing the inner work required, without the diminishment of the small self. Note that She is waiting for the miracle as well: the miracle of his turning towards Her with a willingness to surrender, as the narrator in Suzanne does.
The sands of time were falling
from your fingers and your thumb
and you were waiting
for the miracle to come.
He even suggests that they do something “absolutely wrong”, to marry:
Baby, let’s get married,
We’ve been alone too long…
Let’s do something crazy,
something absolutely wrong
while we’re waiting
for the miracle to come.
When you look at a level above from a level below as we have here, serious distortions may color the perspective. We could say that this man wants to skip the initiation, the dialogue of communion, and go straight to the union of the sacred marriage.
The thread of promise that leads to the sacred marriage with the divine feminine is there at the beginning, when the traveler first encounters the Muse and says, “Yes” to the calling. The sacred marriage, as we will see, if finally realized and consummated in the upper, rarefied atmosphere of the causal realm.
Update: Leonard Cohen’s Landscapes of the Spirit Continues in Part Three: Union
David Peloquin is a lifetime artist, sound engineer, writer, and internationally known folk musician. He teaches Insight Meditation in seminars, talks and in private instruction. His work draws from the well of the all the great wisdom traditions. He is an independent Herman Melville scholar focused on spiritual themes and symbolism in Moby-Dick. David offers talks and seminars on the songs and poetry of Leonard Cohen, and offers a concert program, Songs of the Unified Heart: The Music and Poetry of Leonard Cohen. David can be contacted at: [email protected]