Lofty Mount Lu by Shen Zhou | Blue Birds at Night by Watanabe Shotei | Pear Blossoms by Qian Xuan | Apricot Blossoms and Peacocks by Lü Ji | Plum Blossoms by Sun Long and Chen Lu | Moran Hojeopdo by Joseon | A Pair of Peacocks in Spring by Imao Keinen | Summer. Blooming wisteria and fish by Watanabe Shotei
Tina Chang: Do you think that absence has a presence, too?
Li-Young Lee: I love that question. I’ve been thinking about something for a long time, and I keep noticing that most human speech—if not all human speech—is made with the outgoing breath. This is the strange thing about presence and absence. When we breath in, our bodies are filled with nutrients and nourishment. Our blood is filled with oxygen, our skin gets flush; our bones get harder—they get compacted. Our muscles get toned and we feel very present when we’re breathing in. The problem is, that when we’re breathing in, we can’t speak. So presence and silence have something to do with each other.
The minute we start breathing out, we can talk; speech is made with the outgoing, exhaled breath. The problem that is poses, though, is that as we exhale, nutrients are leaving our bodies; our bones get softer, our muscles get flaccid, our skin starts to loosen. You could think of that as the dying breath. So as we breath out, we have less and less presence.
When we make verbal meaning, we use the dying breath. In fact, the more I say, the more my meaning is disclosed. Meaning grows in opposite ratio to presence or vitality. That’s a weird thing. I don’t know why God made us that way.
It’s a kind of paradigm for life, right? As we die, the meaning of our life gets disclosed. Maybe the paradigm for living is encoded or embedded in speech itself, and every time we speak we’re enacting on a small-scale, microcosmic level the bigger scale of our lives. So that the less vitality we have, the more the meaning of our lives get disclosed.
(thank you to ahuntersheart)