Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Between Worlds

                   WINGED ONES

believed in once     angels    winged ones

how much we miss you now      so blindly
trapped    lost here    frantic   twittering

what must we seem to you      wrenching
the  human heart from its chest
  thrusting it aloft like a victory trophy
bloody   dripping   every day    every day

will you ever return to us      will we ever
feel the startled hush of your arrival again

there's been such violent       fracturing
                                     between worlds

winged ones     you
of the serene  wise  ardent  pitiless   gaze
lean down to us
                      lean down to us once more


There is no coming to consciousness
 without pain.

-- Carl Jung --


     There's a terrible absence haunting the cavernous, frenetic public spaces of our Global Village, and increasingly its claustrophobic yet porous private places as well. As a species, over several millennia we've exploded from a beleaguered scattering of Stone Age hunter-gatherer tribes to a largely urbanized, digitalized Worldwide Web of almost seven billion. But in the process we've shredded ancient bonds of kinship, connection and community--and not only between human and human.

     Until just the past few hundred years, virtually all peoples everywhere believed in a God, or Gods, and also in the supernatural reality of messengers sent from that Divine Realm. Yes, sometimes those deities were conceived as wrathful and destroying, and their messengers correspondingly grim. But of one thing there was hardly any doubt: humanity was not callously abandoned to its own blundering devices. We knew ourselves accountable to higher orders of beings; and through certain invoking rituals, we gained access to their attention, their powers, and even at times their intervention.

     Although still persisting among many groups and individuals, this faith in a transcendent world has been all but obliterated as an active, operating principle of government, commerce, culture and society in our overwhelmingly Westernized, secular global civilization. A religious paradigm has been replaced by a scientific one as the overarching vision for nation-states--not to mention for those enormously powerful international conglomerates which have long dominated their political and military agendas.

     We've dispensed with the Gods--and the divorce appears to be mutual. For the first time, humanity experiences itself as utterly alone and adrift in a mind-boggling, heart-stopping, ever-expanding cosmos, one which our own technology has so awesomely revealed. We can't go back to "that old-time religion"--to naive fascination, in effect, with how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Yet how do we grope forward into this agonizing, unprecedented void--both outer and inner--an abyss haunted by the absence of those banished Gods and their messengers?

     But have the Gods really abandoned us, even though we've done our best to abandon them? Or are They still there, as always--more potent, searching and profound than ever!--waiting for us to wake up, to grow up, to realize that those archetypal Essences which we formerly projected outside ourselves, and personified in such a bewildering multiplicity of masks, actually have always dwelt within us, where they still beacon with undiminished urgency, even if we're unwilling or unable to perceive Their existence.

     Every day angelic messengers signal us, visit us, inspire us, summon us--in dreams, through visions, with intuitions, by sudden unexpected insights. Every day we're challenged with the choice either to recognize and receive them; or to ignore and shut them out--clinging instead to the toxic conditioning of our sterile obsessions and mesmerizing addictions.

     Something deep inside knows we're not meant to blunder on alone and afraid through a meaningless and hostile universe. We desperately need the Gods, and the help of Their guiding spirits! And They've always been there, despite our own souls' abdication--addressing, confronting, embracing, inspiring. They emanate from the innermost, transcendent core of all we most intimately are.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Big Windows


O little life little life with such big windows
sometimes I look out      or something
                                                   looks in

nowhere to hide from seeing      being seen

O battered heart battered heart
                                             break open
don't be afraid     let the tiny buds blossom
let their roots be nourished by your blood

walking in and out of buildings is too easy
but when do we pass freely
                                 in and out of worlds

O hidden face hidden face of all sorrows
by the clean light of morning
         smile at me       kiss me on the eyes


Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner--what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
           with the winds of homecoming.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke --


     In a span hardly longer than my own handful of lived decades, the human perspective on our place in the cosmos has exploded to encompass the infinite! Now our vision can leap billions of light years out into space, meanwhile traveling correspondingly far, far back into time. When viewed through the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, what looks like a swarm of phosphorescent gnats--turns out to be a swarm of primordial galaxies! Talk about our little, little life! Talk about such Big Windows!

     Even further, we've learned that this titanic extravaganza, born from The Big Bang, is rushing outward faster and faster--apparently forever! Also that it, and therefore we, are made up of something called Dark Matter, and something else called Dark Energy, which together comprise nearly 95 percent of the entire universe! Scientists call these unknowns "dark" not just because they can't see or in any other way directly detect them; but also because the most brilliant minds simply cannot even understand what they actually are.

     From a Renaissance paradigm only a few hundred years ago which celebrated "man" (at least in the West) as "the measure of all things" and reckoned his concerns the unchallenged center of creation, we've journeyed to an all too pervasive postmodern conviction that human existence is essentially meaningless; and an all too dispiriting awareness that our own unstable planet is merely an alarmingly over-populated yet infinitesimally tiny speck adrift in a violent and chaotic immensity.

     But there's another voyage of consciousness we've undertaken at the same time--one just as incredible, unprecedented and mind-boggling: a fateful plunge into the roiling, uncharted depths of the individual psyche. To counterbalance the supreme importance of the Hubble Space Telescope, we also need to recognize the incalculable significance of the Freudian-Jungian Soul Microscope!

     Through these two marvels, we've not only expanded our awareness outward to confront the infinite; we've simultaneously contracted it inward until we quiver, naked as newborns, poised on the threshold of the eternal.

     There's no longer any way to become authentically awake and fully alive, struggling through these tumultuous, overwhelming first years of the Third Millennium, without embracing this profound paradox. I realize I can only rediscover my true essence, only re-invent my primal self, while skewered on the fiery crosshairs of both a material macrocosm and a spiritual microcosm.

     Here alone I balance precariously yet serenely at that crucial pivot point where the stupendous universe expanding forever outside me, converges to meet the stupendous universe unfurling forever within me. We've even conjured a name for this transcendent state of being--Cosmic Consciousness.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paying The Price

                       YET AGAIN

tears water them   even better blood    look
they're growing back
                          green leaves
                                        yellow blossoms

do we deep down know this         but forget
how costly       those first tips of the crocus! 
something    somewhere    always sacrificed

sometimes it's our own heart
    or a fragment of living yet more precious

a face we loved    gone now under the grass
      what was once seemingly real
                                       lost        no trace

quick a life long the death strange our being
         each moment
                        both petal
                                   and thorn
                                              of the rose...


Only to the extent that we
expose ourself over and over again
to annihilation
can that which is indestructible
arise within us.

-- Karlfried Graf Von Durkheim --


     What is it through which those first tips of the crocus thrust themselves each spring? Rich, fertile layerings of death. Not just that new life defines itself as "I am not that!" Life's engendered by death, dependent on death, inseparable from death. Death's the ransom paid for birth. And sometimes the cost comes very high.

     When I was nine years old, my five-year-old sister died from liver cancer--after months and months of worsening agony, during which she wasted away to a barely breathing skeleton who could not even be shifted in bed without crying out in pain.

     That horror--immolation really--shattered the soul of our family. My parents retreated into their private, isolated cells of fear, grief, rage and despair, and I radically withdrew into mine. Not only did I lose my sister and dearest friend. In the deepest sense, I lost my parents too. I became an orphan in this world.

     All the years since, I've carried her death around inside me--regardless of intensive therapy, committed self-improvement, absorbing creative work, and every other effort at purging exorcism. It's haunted my spirit, distorted my actions, infiltrated my most intimate relationships. That trauma damaged and crippled me in ways I'm learning to face and overcome. But I can never go back and undo them.

     Every significant, hard-won step I've ever taken toward a greater, deeper, freer life, I've taken both in spite of, and because of, the terrible ordeal one little girl endured so many years ago.

     Her death was the engulfing abyss against which I shouted my incandescent "I am not that!" It was the terror stalking my bleakest nights, the wound threatening to swallow my bravest facade. And, yes, her death was the blood-dark, suffering-rich, sacrifically fertile soil that imprisoned but also nourished my bruised, groping roots. It became an elemental part of all I am.

     Each spring then, when I eagerly look for those earliest tips of the crocus, or hungrily listen for that first, tentative, mourning dove's cry, I have no illusions about how costly they are.

     What immense, incalculable dyings needed to take place so these frail yet indomitable flickers of renewing life could finally break forth! I know, down to my barest bone ends, the harsh price paid for them--and they're all the more precious to me for that.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Facing It


hello again my insatiable sidekick

nasty little bristle-covered shadow
                flashing big teeth

I don't even know me without you

nibble nibble chomp chomp thanks
     this must be my usual death

jumpy as a deranged cyborg
  I lurch round and round in circles

all those windmills I've lanced
                           oozing like boils

but nothing changes         nothing

and I know next time        just as
   I'm chugalugging the rosy glow
                 of almost sanity

   once more you'll scuttle
from the woodwork of my brain

purring your mindless little dirge
   spiked with horror and pain
           delusion and loss


     From the tireless labyrinth of
dreams I returned as if to my home,
to the harsh prison. I blessed its
dampness, I blessed its tiger, I
blessed the crevice of light. I blessed
my old suffering body, I blessed the
darkness and the stone. There then
occurred what I cannot forget nor
communicate. There occurred the union
with the divinity, with the universe.

-- Jorge Luis Borges


     Waking early this morning from a fitful, restless, dream-haunted sleep, I immediately plunged into an inner litany of horrors and woes. This time they weren't even about my personal life. I was absolutely convinced the world was going to hell in a handbasket--and in a God-awful hurry too!

     So I whipped out my own custom-made string of apolcalyptic worry beads--the miserable economy, global warming, overpopulation, world poverty, runaway pandemics, rampant terrorism, nuclear proliferation, those rabid, right-wing Republicans...Whatever my fevered imagination seized on, it stuck to, like iron filing furring a monstrous magnet.

     Yet each of these threatening goblins could just as well have worn the mask of anything--from a certainty our planet's about to be struck by a Manhattan-sized asteroid, to my current quandary over how to safely switch anti-virus programs on my home computer. Once again, I had to force myself to step back for some much-needed perspective. What's really going on here?

     The supposed life-and-death issues that triggered my obsessive preoccupation, I realized, weren't actually the underlying causes at all. They never are when my brain runs amok this way. Crouching behind even their most frightening mask always lurks that "nasty little bristle-covered shadow flashing big teeth"--ANXIETY: not an emotion, but a smokescreen obscuring cathartic emotion; not my real problem, but a distraction camouflaging that crippling problem; not a solution, but a retreat, at all costs, from coming to grips with the long sought solution.

     To put it bluntly, anxiety's the self-protective straw I clutched at as a child to shield my consciousness from directly experiencing a devasting soul wound, a terrifying trauma to which I was totally exposed, and one which I was utterly powerless to prevent. As a desperate survival ploy, this tactic worked--sort of. Here I am, still alive if not always kicking! But the price was exorbitant-- relentless stalking by a hoard of phantoms; addiction to an enslaving compulsion; estrangement from the essence of my truest nature.

     There's only one way to break out of this paralyzing trap. With my heart in my throat and my fate in my hands, I need to tear off every garish mask of anxiety, no matter how mesmerizing, until I confront at last the naked face of death itself--that primal soul wound which has always been there, gaping behind them all. As T. S. Eliot wrote, this risk will require "a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything."

     What I discover though, if I have the courage and humility to take even one shaky step into the scary Unknown, is this: the worst wound I've ever suffered is also, paradoxically, the crucial eye of the cosmic needle through which I must unavoidably thread myself if I'm to be reborn--healed, whole, transformed!--into a new and greater life.

     Only in that greater life will I finally be released from my imprisoning anxiety--an ancient, rusty, chaffing suit of armor I'll strip off eagerly and pack away forever in an old trunk in the attic of my mind. Or, maybe, I'll take it out again every few years just to look at it--to remind myself of where I've escaped from; to make sure I never forget what it means to be free.