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Lions Roar : May 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2013 41 As Joni Mitchell put it, indelibly, in “A Case of You”: I met a woman She had a mouth like yours She knew your life She knew your devils and your deeds And she said “Go to him, stay with him if you can But be prepared to bleed” W HAT DISTINGUISHES Leonard Cohen from most is that he has made a special art out of both his fall- enness and his grasp of a higher perspective. He’s given sorrowful and lasting voice to what happens when the self dissolves, even as he’s never denied that his own self may still be fractious and disobedient and ready to turn on its better side. When being in the monastery got too much for him, he’d get into his car and slip off to a McDonald’s down the mountain for a Filet-O-Fish before heading home to watch TV (often The Jerry Springer Show), until the antsiness had been worked out of his system. At the same time, one of the most charismatic and sought-after singers in the world has spent decades driving his aged Zen teacher to doctors’ appointments and fetching him chicken soup. The remarkable thing about Cohen’s recent work is that he can hold a hundred thousand people captive at a concert in Glaston- bury, England, by singing of emptiness and the self as nothing but smoke. More than many a Zen writer, from Gary Snyder to, in fact, John Cage, he harks back to the classic Eastern tradition of devot- ing most of his late work to death. Cage, for example, wrote beauti- fully about the clarity that arises out of meditation and how “the acceptance of death is the source of all life”; Cohen pushes even further, toward not just an accepting, but a shrugging embrace of extinction. He employs the self to cut through the self—writing so personally, he touches some impersonal core in us—and he voices