Saturday, July 18, 2009

Poem by W. Szymborska

Island where all becomes clear.
Solid ground beneath your feet.
The only roads are those that offer access.
Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.
The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.
The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.
The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.
If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.
Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.
On the right a cave where Meaning lies.
On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.
Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.
For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.
As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.
Into unfathomable life.

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~
(A Large Number, trans. by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Architecture of a Cloud

Many anonymous sensual contemplatives have said, in so many words: "If you can't figure it out, feel it out."

Naturally, I am in total agreement with this instruction, especially now--being alive seems so utterly complex, the plot so convoluted, that getting to the bottom of anything is like trying to stuff clouds in a box.

Clouds...tiny water particles forming where heat and cold meet. Freezing, melting, appearing and vanishing. Taking on the color of the world. Soft and fluffy as a lamb's tail or able to carry a death charge. Concealing, framing, revealing. Sort of like Being, no? Being human, being world, being universal.

The intelligence of clouds is such that they cannot be preserved or confined; holding them within something tends to transform them into a contented puddle somewhere, happy to evaporate or join some larger body. Our systems are catching on to this easy morphing in a crude and clumsy fashion (think "cloud computing")--and indeed, if we could view ourselves and our universe from the very edges of The Big Picture, we would see everything--from our local bodies and land to very nonlocal-seeming galaxies--as appearing and disappearing particles, gathering and dispersing, flashing the colors of a greater sun.

In case this view seems incredibly impractical or suited to poetry and romance rather than the "real" world of harsh edges, I might point out that intellect has not made it to the bottom (or the heights) of life or humanity. That particular journey is more the imperative of the heart, which (sometimes to our great frustration) does not seem to depend on the intellect and its narrow languages. Without some kind of feeling, mind starves and falls back on rote, on eating cardboard, on mechanical motion, like an angry anorexic in prison. Feeling seems to become the untouchable scenery outside the bars, the damn free birds flashing by, uncaring people who don't even spare a thought for the inmates just out of reach of daylight.

Too many years of this self-imposed sentence, and any release is just a binge and a crime-spree that lands the psyche right back in the familiar confines of walls, rules and routines--a punishing life. The reasons given for this are varied and suited to individual stories and levels of comfort. It's as if the prospect of full openness of feeling, of admitting responsibility to and for lambs and storms, is simply too frightening to such a person.

I think, if only--if only!--he or she would rest for a moment without the defining, rearranging, lockpicking tools of the mind, the walls would begin to evaporate as they do in the face of effortlessness. Sometimes we are so enchanted with our human ability to build, contain and reinforce thoughts of ourselves that we forget to feel.

But like clouds above, feeling goes on all the time underneath, a vast and often unused source of intelligence and vital, energetic "fluid". Feeling is not confined to the local, and is naturally shapeshifting and limitless. Feeling is immediately apparent in any pause in inner or outer language, and is so thoroughly evident to an open heart that it is understood as the medium for all expression and impression.

I am not speaking of "a feeling", as in a bracketed and named emotional response. Feeling is not just the content, images or words which arise in answer to a question, as a solution to a "problem" or a direction in which to travel. Feeling is also the context, and the very ability to feel, the very fact that we are as much heart as head.

Feeling has a "pure" form, before taking on any intent or movement away from itself; this is experienced and inadequately named Bliss or Love. Traces of this bliss remain, even in intense suffering.

Returning to the ruins of a former prison is perfectly alright, and can be quite an adventure. The willingness to become immersed in such intensity is a direct invitation to be "carried", expanded, uplifted. After that, one can never actually believe in imprisonment again. Period. So much sky, where there used to be ceiling...and what appeared as desperate graffiti before is now poetry, lying in heaps in the long grass.

Colors change with the reflections of yourself, you of permeable edges, open borders, shifting density...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Letting Go Of Safety

There is an old story about a monk who, finding himself stalked by a tiger, does what any unarmed human would do in similar circumstances--he runs for his life. His escape is halted abruptly when he comes to the edge of a ravine. He decides instantly to make the risky climb down.

Clinging to the steep wall, he realizes there is a second tiger waiting for him at the bottom of the ravine.

Tiger above, tiger below--certain death awaits our monk. What does he do?
He spies a strawberry growing in a crevice within his reach. He releases his grip to pluck the most perfect, sweet fruit he has ever tasted...

The story has multiple layers of meaning, although it generally points to the wisdom of living in the moment as it is presented. It has the feel of the ultimate Zen shrug...ah, well. Under the circumstances, one can panic and go out screaming in fear, or eat the Strawberry of Enlightenment. No regrets.

Unlike our best entertainment action flicks, this story has no happy ending (unless you are a tiger!). There is no real resolution. Death is not managed or escaped. But the quality of presence is noted.

Although lunging tigers are perhaps an extreme example of our greatest fears, we face them in one form or another all the time in our personal legends. I grew up with a regular and distinct sense of unease, anger and fear in both my household and society at large. Peace was found in the arms of an oak tree or under the stars in the desert; the "motivations" for violence in the natural world made sense to me, unlike the things people did to each other for no apparent reason. Rather than getting to the bottom of fear, people just seemed to cycle through endless expressions of frustration and a sort of hopelessness.

Even when times were relatively good and stable, and my mother was optimistic in her assertions that God would provide and things would work out, the subtle threat of loss was always communicated in her actions. I understand that this was not her fault and that she did the best she could with what she had; but insecurity was the default program for living. She called it "common sense". Varying degrees of fear, I grew to understand, are indeed a sense shared by most of us.

Being steeped in a culture of defensive thrift and idealistic history has its benefits, I suppose. I learned to actively scan my environment for resources like food, shelter and clothing, never assuming that what I had was permanent. I learned to believe that "something better" was always just around the corner (because things better had existed in the past, somewhere, for someone, often American). My job was just to work. Very. Hard. Tough things out. Get up and do it again. Cling to the face of the cliff.

I noticed strawberries early on in my practical career of eternal vigilance, and they were very tempting. But letting go was somehow equated with irresponsibility, hedonism, and luxury, if not downright stupidity or insanity. Letting go would make me some sort of deviant. I was already pushing it by insisting that I was an "artist".

Of course I let go. I got very tired of hanging on.

In the process of falling down through strawberry fields (yes, forever), I continue to learn. I am always surprised at the cellular depth of the "steepage" I underwent in my formative years, at the degree to which even my physiological self wants to cling to the handholds of the world. It is initially dismaying to watch the psychosomatic knots wanting to persist and the habitual tendencies to tie new ones, even while consciously paying attention.

But, onward into the depths...and the knots are seen as contractions toward an idea of security and safety, a place of eternal lack of loss. Gripping and letting go of myself, I see that I have no control of this process, and that the very sensation "I" is just another knot in the weave. Hanging on is one religion and letting go another, but reality is That which is doing both.

There is a perfect freedom in falling, a crystal clarity in which there are no absolute answers, but only appropriate questions. Would I do anything differently if physical, mental or emotional safety were not a concern? What am I afraid to lose, and what do I believe is to be gained? Is this a dance I am interested in, or can I step out? And who cares? Am I going after the strawberries because I love, or because some monk told me it would save my apparent life? Is fear another form of love? Am I even real?

All the questions are appropriate, because followed fully, they arrive back in the questioner and become a kind of strawberry that one doesn't have to leap through tigers for! The sweetness, it is discovered, arises with the tongue, the body, the capacity for fear and desire and asking. The sweetness is a self-fulfilling, timeless "event" we tend to refer to as This. Tigers are optional.

Even options are optional. :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Shocking Experience

Over the last few days, the concept of "shock" has appeared several times for me in various places--an economic article, and another the same day about Kundalini; in a book about PTSD; at the gym; on a TV medical program; and overheard in a grocery store: "Why do these stupid shocks always happen to me?"

It's enough to get me contemplating. I tend to pay deep attention when something like this comes up and grabs me by the eyes and now, I understand it's the larger dream talking to me (the busy, local end of the dream).

Physical shock in the event of an injury to the body involves the progressive slowdown of systems (circulatory, etc.) while the body absorbs the fact that injury has occurred, and begins to marshal the necessary defenses and healing processes. It will recover, or not; a similar process happens in the event of a shock to the psyche.

We call large shocks "trauma", and smaller or frequent ones things like "bad luck", "crummy weekend" or, with a more positive spin, "challenge". But describing an event as crisis or opportunity does not change the fact that a shock is basically a change--in perception, modality and function. By nature and in essence, a shock is a surprise, and involves an unlearned, instinctual response to an event...which, by the way, activates our deepest potential.

The old saying, "What doesn't kill you can only make you stronger!" has a ring of truth for a reason. But we are so good at defending and pretending, that our strength can take the form of a very hard shell, a calcification and rigidity which limits our range of motion and intelligence. Hanging on to fear can interrupt the real purpose and benefit of shock, which is a process of maturity and expansion. Enlightenment, if you will.

Life has shock built in. Falling on one's face is necessary in learning to walk. A creature free of any kind of change, stress or trauma does not exist. But there are humans who have become walking shock-absorbing, integrating and expressing events within the Great Event. Prying open the shell involves a conscious shock and a kind of death; but inside is a priceless range of colors, a matrix turned at last toward the sun.

Enlightenment, realization or maturity is just another fascinating and ongoing story. Chapter one is dealing with the shock of being human and mortal. Chapter two is about developing skills to handle the shocks thrown at us by life. Chapter three is figuring out how we shock ourselves. Chapter is always ourselves. Chapter five might be about chasing a shockless way. Chapter six is a screeching halt to this activity. Chapter seven...hmmm, chapter seven!

It's all about experience, isn't it? Some of us are driven to retell, to point beyond the shell into the wide-open spaces. I don't know why.

One day, through intention, spontaneity and both, shock stops being the one-pointed, injury-causing mosquito bite, stubbed toe or blow to the skull that is an imaginary ego confronting a greater Self.

In that moment, the fiction of ego-versus-Self is dissolved as salt in the sea, and being becomes an everlasting shock, accompanied by a sort of awe. And no matter what stories are written or told, this total contact never stops. It accompanies every thought, every motion, every "choice", every change in such an intimate way that it feels like the world is my heart. I am terribly vulnerable to this life, and it is equally vulnerable to me, and we/It hangs in perfectly wordless balance.

People speak of the shock of a near-death experience, when everything is suspended and an apparent choice between life and death--to continue the story, or not--becomes a sudden option. Many come out of this experience fundamentally altered. They bring the lesson, the enhanced vision and sensitivity back into life with them. What is permanently changed and understood is that we are that choice, that fulcrum point between the known (life) and the unknown (death).

Integrating this paradox transforms being, which is suddenly not just a job, but an adventure--and exposes sacred vital organs to a new kind of air. Simply not resisting what is happening in each moment during any kind of change, welcome or not, teaches one to breathe, to be reborn in flexibility and innocence, somehow evolved beyond our assumed story, which defined us as a mere shelled animal. Eventually, we grow into our true identity, which is the entire, endless process of becoming priceless pearls--irritating grain of sand, to valued gem, to grain of sand--and all universes contained therein.

Feeling this is an ongoing, always unexpected kind of ecstasy. New "shocks" occur and deepen everything.

Why does this happen to...?