Monday, March 15, 2010

Staying Alive

There are Secret People on the beach.

They generally have no official address, and hide within heaps of driftwood or in thickets that blanket some of the cliffs. After dark, they make hollows in the sand or beds of leaves and sleep, only to fade back into town during the day, before any tourists arrive.

Sometimes they build fairly elaborate shelters against the wind or rain, digging spaces out between two large logs, adding a roof made of limbs, complete with stumps for seating and a fire pit at one end. Occasionally, they are so well-camouflaged that a bedroll, some clothes or other signs of occupancy are allowed to remain. Other places are more open, torn down or added to by kids from Kansas or Arizona during the summer, repaired in the evening, reclaimed by the ocean in the winter.

I drive to the beach in a car, since it's too far to walk there. Mail comes to a house that I say is "mine". But I am one of the Secret People, too--just as much as the nomad Rainbow children, the alcoholic panhandler, or the ousted spouse-turned-poet.

I seek shelter from the wind, also; I lie on my back in the cool sand, and stare at the blue sky through bleached and twisted branches that someone else placed so carefully. I know that we are all hiding, on some level, especially while I'm writing to you from deep inside this analogy where my body can't be seen...but my heart is evident.

Home is a powerful word. Palace or ditch, it isn't just about shelter from the elements. It's a representation of what we think we want or need, a result of building materials collected along the way. These mental/emotional sticks, stones and tools are given to us by our (generally) well-meaning tribe, along with detailed training on the best way to build and maintain security.

is at the bottom of it all, isn't it? Staying protected, away from suffering or harm? Staying alive? Most of us are steeped in threat, trained to imagine our own demise so that we may guard against it. The business of guarding and protection is a serious one, indeed; we grow up patrolling our inner borders while trying to figure out how to acquire new territories, places and people in which we can somehow belong. The blueprints and instruction manuals all say that a mix of blood, sweat, tears and the correct work will result in a secure and peaceful place, a home defended effortlessly by God or Human Right, from which we will reign supreme in our little world...a world we have earned.

This idea could be titled "The American Dream", "Family Manifesto" or "Single Parent's Guide To Success". Like me, you probably have a copy tucked away somewhere in your bodymind. But anyone who has lost home, family, health, way of life or any other deep attachment (in spite of all your dedication) has come face-to-face with a universal reality that demolishes all our guides and construction materials in one fell swoop--laughing in the face of our grief, dervish-dancing upon the remains of our physical and emotional investments. Then it departs, as storms do, leaving us wailing or railing against fate or gods or rotten luck.

When this happens (it always does, sooner or later), we stand on a cusp of being so deep and profound, so perfectly all-encompassing that we tend to completely miss it. There is a moment of clarity when the heart of Truth is most evident, even while we are lashing out in pain.

So what do we do? We rebuild, usually the same design on the same spot, because hard work, blood, sweat, tears...etc., etc. Because no storm is going to outsmart this human! Because no blank is going to take blank away from blank! Because I don't know what else to do...because this is how it is.

After many rebuilds, we become our own cynical voice, patronizing the younger folks with a shake of our heads and "This is just how it is," without even knowing how it really is. We pretend a wisdom that is actually despair and confusion in disguise. We pass on our well-worn copy of whatever version of the Book we carry, maybe adjusted a bit for new technology.

We face the truth of our existence over and over again as if there is no escape, as if it haunts us through everything, as if we must constantly be punched awake. We fear this Reality thing like no other because we can't control it, predict it, tame it or use it to our advantage. It refuses to behave according to physical or spiritual law; it defies explanation or ownership and leaves no apparent proof that it was ever there at all! Yet we feel it, and react, generation after generation.

The Truth seems harsh and unforgiving when we compare our fragile, feeling selves to its unimaginable size and scope. It seems to taunt and test. All of its lessons seem to involve some form of suffering. Why? Is it just to prove that "what doesn't kill me will only make me stronger"? Is it to remind me that I can only appreciate light by way of darkness? That I am but a speck in the eye of Gaia, an insignificant cell of a process I will never understand? Yes...and no.

Looking up at the changing sky through a driftwood roof, I consider my complete and total lack of security. I have no weapon against human predators except my instinct to fight any violation of the boundary of my skin. There is nothing--not even my life--that can't be somehow taken from me. There is nothing I can do or say that will not go the way of my footprints at the water's edge at this moment. Existence, as they say, is terminal, is fleeting, is a mere flash. Pointless, says a footnote in my instruction manual...right next to *see Depression, chapter thirteen, Overcoming Life with the Correct Medication.

That didn't work very well for me.

Truth has a frightening reputation, and there is only one thing it asks of us. We must take it, claws, teeth, storms and all, as a lover. We must stop fighting and thrashing long enough to feel how it is there, faithfully, pressing the crumbling walls at every opportunity. Something completely unexpected happens upon the realization that the shelter I built, supposedly to protect this "I", is made of fear--and fear is the very substance I have mistakenly adopted as a form of identity and protection.

So the truth, which we equate with death, will have me upon physical cessation. Why not meet it on its own terms, suspending disbelief and my violent opinion, while I'm still breathing? Easier said than done...but post-storm comes a space, that silence before damage assessment and control, that point of contact due to the temporary inability to toss up another wall. Ahhhh. I recognize it, dry off my face, and let it have its way with me. I am swamped with clarity, with the seeing of all my thoughts thrown out of typical context and made more beautiful for the tossing.

Now this is being alive.

For a while, I walk as my lover does, watching the tides pull down the sand, the stones, the driftwood. There is an abundance of freedom and something like oxygen to my lungs--but it nourishes my soul. It is an essence, a truth only experienced upon my willingness to open, to give, to take. Some universal perfection blossoms through my body, through the senses--I say "perfection", because without a sheltered sense of self, I find my being exactly at home, quite contrary to what I was taught to expect and fear. I don't dissolve in a heap of babbling insanity, I don't stop feeling responsible or capable. I do, however, feel at ease, at rest, like a child, like an ageless being generating a human experience. There is no such thing as insecurity or weakness or defense. None is necessary.

I return to the house I live in without the shell I have been carrying. I am terribly in love, grateful for the solid roof, the old couch, the three blankets on my bed. To whom am I indebted? The open sky, the unexplored, the unexplainable spaciousness and constriction of Who I Am. I feel the people in the house move through me in precisely the same way I feel waves, wind, copper chimes or sadness as they explore this locus point. I feel the degree of vulnerability and tenderness deep within various members of the family, buried under layers of frustration, anger, boredom and seeming disregard. I am painfully in love.

I say "I love you" to all of them, in turn, and they say "I love you, too", embarrassed, defensive, cynical or distracted--not joyous, not tender. Too frightened, too immune to such nonsense. But the Secret People within them hear me and dance a little.

I am painfully in love...

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