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 21, 2018 at Cohencentric.
The Causal Level
Also known as formless mysticism, Keter of Kabbalah, the Seventh Dwelling of Teresa of Avila, Zen Emptiness, wahdat or witness of Sufism.
This is level of the formless un-manifest: pure, vast, Emptiness. Wilber describes this as the opening or clearing in which the manifest world of forms (including you) arises out of formlessness. This is not theology; it is the direct experience by men and women who have seen this realm and returned to confess the wonder. The experience of the causal landscape of the spirit is rarified, but has been reported countless times over the centuries. This is the true abode of the witnessing consciousness that observes the small self, the one with a name and a story. Witness consciousness has no name; has no story to tell.
Cohen’s exquisite song Alexandra Leaving from Ten New Songs is informed by this causal insight:
They gain the light, they formlessly entwine;
And radiant beyond your widest measure
They fall among the voices and the wine.
All the fully developed wisdom traditions have a version of the following: at the moment of death, the costume that we wore, the physical body, is dropped, and consciousness returns to consciousness, to the world of the formless, to the Light, to the Source. Some of the wisdom schools go a step further and say that formless consciousness is always and already free of time and space, which accounts for the possibility of a seeker to awaken and experience their authentic “original face” as Zen calls it, while still in the physical body: you can glimpse oneness because you are already and always One with spirit.
And so, in the song Alexander Leaving, Alexandra is now free as formless consciousness, is leaving the world of forms, and is entwined with formless consciousness. The sense here is an example of mystic reversal: the one who seems to be leaving, who seems to be lost, is actually enfolded by a truth that is transcendent. Say goodbye to the “thought” of Alexandra leaving, and then, say goodbye to the “thought” that Alexandra is lost.
In 1972, during a concert at Binyanei Ha’uma Hall, Jerusalem, Cohen felt that the night was not going well. The distraught singer addressed the audience, apologizing and attempting to explain himself: “It says in Kabbalah that unless Adam and Eve face each other, God does not sit on his throne…” These are the words of a poet who understands what the sacred marriage to the Muse is about, and his blackened pages, many of them written on a table in his home in Hydra, give us intimate evidence of the lifetime love affair. A verse from the song Did I Ever Love You says it all:
Did I ever leave you
Was I ever able
Are we still leaning
Across the old table
Also known as non-dual mysticism, Ein Sof of Kabbalah, ‘consciousness as suchness’ of Buddhism, Zat or absolute consciousness, Leonard Cohen’s Unified Heart.
When all dualities and the tension of all opposites collapse into formless un-manifest pure, vast, Emptiness, it is called non-dual. Ken Wilber, our guide through these landscapes of the soul, says that, “It is really not a discreet state, but the reality of all states, the Suchness of all states.”
It should be no surprise that Leonard Cohen’s work is rich in referents to the non-dual. Here are just a few examples:
In Ten New Songs, the song Love Itself, is a confession by the Zen monk of a meditative encounter with the collapse of love itself into emptiness. Love is a duality, in that it takes at least two: a subject and an object, to “love”:
All busy in the sunlight
The flecks did float and dance
And I was tumbled up with them
In formless circumstance…
I’ll try to say a little more:
Love went on and on
Until it reached an open door–
Then love itself, love itself was gone
Then love itself
Love itself was gone.
Again, the reference to the formless: “In formless circumstance.” This is the domain of Leonard Cohen’s Unified Heart, where the Heart is not-two: is neither male nor female, and has no inside or outside. Any sense of an observer is radically transcended, as in the song The Window, with the line “and leaves no observer to mourn.”
I will close with two quotes from the poet. They are transcriptions from the 1996 French film by Armelle Brusq, Leonard Cohen Portrait, filmed when Cohen was living at the Zen Center at Mt Baldy. Here, perhaps more than any other time in his life, Cohen was able to immerse himself in sustained meditative practice. The interviews from this time period are most revealing. His focus was sharp, and his articulation of the landscapes of his interior world was detailed and succinct. He must have felt very comfortable working with Armelle Brusq, as can be sensed by the soulful intimacy of his words:
“When you get out of the way of your own love it becomes true, and it’s not fixed, it’s not solidified, when it’s not focused rigidly on another object…it broadcasts in front of you, to the right of you, to the left of you, above you, and beneath you, and you are in the center of a force field that includes everything. It has no inside, and no outside. It doesn’t look at anything, nor does it need to be looked at.”
“I’ve always felt that poetry and song were the ashes of experience, and you know, if the ashes were well burned, you could clarify them, you could purify them. You could get rid of the clinkers, the chunks, and it could be beautiful fine white ash, which is what a good song is, or a good poem…and it is something that can blow away in the wind. It can blow right through you— it can blow right through your heart.”
As Allan Showalter and Cohencentric ride off into the luminous sunset, I want to add my voice to the many who are effusively thanking “The Doc” for his tireless devotion to all things Cohen. Allan has always brought out the best in us, and I feel honored to have been able to make my own small contributions to DrHGuy’s Tower of Cohen effort. My humble thanks as well to my astoundingly talented friend, Martin Ferrabee, for gracing this essay with so many transcendent and luminous images. Thanks again to Jill Harsant, who dug me out of my monastic retreat in the Woods of Maine. My old friend Jim Bernier, a modest and deeply meditative soul, has many times amplified my scraps of thought and sent me into fresh creative avenues to pursue. My partner and live-in Editor-in Chief, Dr. Steph, (along with her Red Pen of Firm Correction) deserve the credit for any lucidity that has found its way into my essays. Finally, many thanks for the kind and thoughtful responses to my posts from friends on Dose of Leonard Cohen. They have kept me from breaking my pen, and going into a profession where I can’t be found.
As always, I close with a deep and abiding gratitude for the “gates of mercy in arbitrary space” that Leonard Cohen left behind for us, and for the ages, in his poetry and song.
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]