Photo by by Rachel Cudmore

Photo by by Rachel Cudmore

Author David James Duncan lives with his family in western Montana, where he is working on a novel that combines his loves for Asian wisdom traditions and the land and people of the
American West.

strategic withdrawal:

any movement inward

—as into a chair by a window the light of which you use simply to stare into a cup of tea

—or as in letting the eyes come to a standstill in some space on the page of a book you’ve been reading in order to stare at nothing, or at something inside, or at something neither inside nor out—an association-sprung scene, an entire small world, maybe; a place so pungent you leave the body to stand in it for a time

strategic withdrawal: any move away from the battle lines of your incarnation—as in the term spiritual retreat but without that

term’s once-in-a-blue-moon connotation, for inward movement is the rightful night to outward movement’s day

—any refusal to man our habitual psychological or geopolitical trenches, for though the turf we’re defending is holy our defenses, once they grow automatonic, are anything but

—a quiet refusal, then, to engage  with that ideologically rigid, dangerously doubt-free, agitatedly political, compulsively-processing co-worker, parent or (God-help-you) spouse who refuses to grant peace till you’ve installed the same clanging banging brand of editorial machinery

strategic withdrawal: any move away from your ramparts, news sources, screens, position, sworn causes, strengths, weaknesses, irritations, shames, memory, philosophy, identity, toward 




a journey then into ignorance (that underrated state of being the acceptance of which precedes every fresh influx of knowledge); a pilgrimage back to the very Beginning (as in Tao te Ching 1, Genesis 1, Diamond & Heart Sutra Kalevala Ramayana Mahabharata Gita Mumonkan Monkey Odyssey Torah Divani 1) & to our own “In the Beginning”, Origin being the source of every original synapse, cell or molecule we ever borrow & feign to own

strategic withdrawal: any attempt to step from who & what & why we are into whylessness

—as in an extemporaneous walk to a destination so unknown that everything but your movement through God-knows-where becomes the God-knows-what you’re doing

—or as in fishing with no desire for fish, so that desirelessness-by-water becomes the prey you begin to catch

—or as in strolling to a cafe two or three neighborhoods removed from any in which you’re known, which you then enter not to socialize, read the paper or eat the (probably mediocre) food, but just to nurse the one drink as you imbibe, without judgment, the riverine flow of your forever unpredictable tongue

strategic withdrawal: any act you can devise, any psycho-spiritual act at all, that embodies a willingness to wait for the world to disclose itself to you rather than to disclose yourself, your ideas, your skills, altruism, creativity, energies & (let’s face it) agenda, myopia, 

compulsions, preconceptions, addictions & illusions to the world

—a willingness to renounce your trajectories, boot up with all extensions OFF, & let the world disclose itself to an alert but fallow you whether anything seems, even after long waiting, to be disclosing itself or not

—an act of faith then, really, that the world is always disclosing itself; faith that lack of disclosure is impossible; faith that what blocks awareness of Creation’s ceaseless creativity is our callouses & callousness, our injuries & injuriousness, our ruling manias, divided minds, crossed purposes, absurd speed of passage, lack of trust, lack of faith—or surfeit of faith, as when Merton cried: “Real prayer is possible only when prayer is impossible!” 

strategic withdrawal: to step away from the possible & take rest in the impossible; to stand naked in the godgiven weather till the soul’s identity begins to appear in the body’s weathering; to step off our own laboriously cleared & maintained trails into the pathless pristine by moving, any old how, into the surrender Francis calls Sister Poverty, Bodhidharma calls Absolute emptiness & nothing holy in it!, Ikkyu calls Wonderful, no?, & Eckhart calls Desirelessness: the virgin who eternally gives birth to the Son

strategic withdrawal: this prayer

When I’m lost, God help me get more lost. Help me lose me so completely that nothing remains but the ancient originality that keeps creating & sustaining this blood-, tear- & love-worthy world that’s never been lost for an instant save by an insufficiently lost me

“We’re all in the gutter,” Oscar Wilde said in the throes of just such a withdrawal, “but some of us are looking at the stars” 

strategic withdrawal: look at the stars

This Lake Is Within Me

This Lake Is Within Me

Gus & Pika Strike Again

Gus & Pika Strike Again