See You In Another Life day 6: Love

Thanks for staying with me on this trip through In Another Life.

We've arrived on the last day, at the heart of the album - Love (As When). It pulls together some of the themes we've seen in the other songs - the idea of being born again into a new life, the nature of love, dream-like non-explicit imagery.

This song dates back to a Zen Buddhist retreat I did in Wales several years ago. This involves a week of silence and meditation, and this particular retreat involved koans, or questions, for which you had to struggle to find a personal answer from deep inside. I had the question What is love?  The retreat exhausts all the glib answers, all the thought-out answers you can come up with.  On a hill overlooking the valley, on the last day, my answer appeared. I can't articulate here what was a very personal experience, but the flavour of it was that love wasn't something to search for or dream about, it was freely available, all round me, and I just ignored it most of the time.

Hence:

I looked round
I saw where I was
I was in love.

I wrote the song a couple of years later. The scenes in the verses have a man being shocked into awareness, whether it's by pausing for a moment to feel alive, or realising suddenly his own self-destructiveness.

The poem at the end has a bit of resonance for me. It was a favourite poem of Alan Watts, whose writings introduced me to Zen as a young man. It's adapted from a 9th century poem by Ji Dao (Chia Tao). Watts loved it so much he named his autobiography Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown.

I asked the boy beneath the pines

He said: the Master’s gone alone
herb picking somewhere on the mount
cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown

 

Love (As When)

As when a man
After a night of beer
Ascends the stairs
The unforgiving stairs
If such a man
Should pause for a moment
He’d feel his pumping heart
Fill the walls with song

I looked round
I saw where I was
I was in love

As when  a man
With a bitter wound
Sees friends and family
As enemies

I looked round
I saw where I was
I was in love

Here in love,  you laugh like a baby girl
Here in love,  you’re sober like a cat
Here in love,  you can’t say what it is
If you say what it is, it isn’t that

I looked round
I saw where I was
I was in love

Embraced by love
The feather touch of love
The silence of love
The open sky of love
Spinning dizzy in love
The dumb face of love
The empty hand  of love

Where’s the old man gone?
Up on the mountain side
Cloud-hidden
Whereabouts unknown

Love Itself - Leonard Cohen

The light came through the window
Straight from the sun above
And so inside my little room
There plunged the rays of love
In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the nameless makes
A name for one like me
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
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 I came back from where I'd been
My room, it looked the same
But there was nothing left between
The nameless and the name
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
Love itself
Love itself was gone
Songwriters: Leonard Cohen / Sharon Robinson
Love Itself lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

This song shares more than just the title with mine. It's a song about a moment of insight, from Cohen's most Zen-steeped album Ten New Songs.