Monday, April 8, 2013

The Life and Times of Walt Whitman

In 1900, Richard Maurice Bucke, M.D. wrote an amazing book titled, Cosmic Consciousness. In this book about spiritual enlightenment, Bucke discussed the lives of those he believed had very advanced thinking, extraordinary intuitive skills, natural realization of the oneness of the universe, a freedom from fear, and mystical qualities that pervaded their personalities.

Bucke was not just an ordinary physician. He was a devout scientist, a gifted doctor, and he possessed a fantastic memory, especially for poetry of which he knew volumes of the classics by heart. In 1882 he became Professor of Mental and Nervous Diseases at Western University. In 1888 he was elected President of Psychological Section of the British Medical Association, and in 1890 he was elected President of the American Medical-Psychological Association.

In 1867 a friend of Bucke’s brought his attention to the poetry of Walt Whitman. Upon reading it, he went into an altered state. In 1877 he met Walt Whitman for the first time and knew immediately that he was in the presence of a very gifted and spiritually advanced soul.
Bucke wrote that he never met a man who genuinely liked so many things and people like Walt Whitman. He was kind, generous, gracious and grateful. He was especially fond of children and all children liked and felt totally safe in his presence and trusted him immediately upon meeting him. Whitman exuded such enormous charm and love, that he literally transformed the lives of everyone he met.

In the 20 years Bucke knew Whitman, he said that Whitman never argued or spoke unkindly about anyone. If literary critics or anyone spoke harshly about his writings, Whitman would simply say that they were correct, thus mitigating the situation immediately. Once Bucke took Whitman to the mental hospital Bucke was the director of to see how the mentally ill would respond in Whitman’s presence. Bucke watched in amazement as some of the most difficult and dangerous patients hospitalized there began to spontaneously smile and be at ease in the presence of Whitman. For the entire day, Whitman engaged these so called incorrigibles in games and playful activities.

Bucke said that Whitman’s favorite things to do were to meander outdoors, attentively look at the grass, trees, flowers, the vistas of light, the clouds in the sky, and tenderly listen to the birds and the sounds of nature. It was evident that these things gave him an enormous feeling of pleasure, far beyond what they gave to the ordinary person.

Bucke believed that the central teaching of Whitman’s poetry and life is that beauty is all around us and we just need to recognize and appreciate this beauty with our God-given senses. Whitman strongly believed that we are missing out on the splendor of life when we long for something that we don’t have. Instead we can simply open our eyes to see, open our ears to hear, and open our hearts to feel what we already have.

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