Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Start Anywhere

                  BETWEEN LINES

Start anywhere        say with the letter f

fame fails   fashion   faces   the first kiss
and the last fuck    fables die too    so do
frozen pop tarts    fried chicken   friends

one day      last gasp      no guts or glory

glazed donuts  the best   go  vital glands
stop secreting  goodbye goals  goofy gifts
grain by grain    even grief   wears away

our whole life's alphabet       gobbled up

from a to z     expunged     what a thrill!
until   useless as an expired prescription
we shrink to absolute zero   case closed

or not     replies a voice without a mouth

I'm the one between lines   beyond words
where you end I begin   while you empty
I fill   as you vanish   I become crystal clear



     Living in such a stridently materialistic civilization has definite downsides. For instance, because we're inundated with so many things, and assailed by so much noise, we're often blind to the significance of empty space, and deaf to the importance of pregnant silence.

    All the real action, it seems, is where all the "stuff" is. After all, one of our main identities is "consumer," isn't it? We've been bombarded nonstop with evermore manipulative and addictive advertising throughout our lives. Most of that sophisticated huckstering is designed to sell us various, seductive conglomerations of matter--and by the way to convince us we can't live without them.

     At the same time the manufacture, transport and merchandizing of all this metastasizing stuff requires enormous resources of the latest (and usually loudest) modern technology. The tool-using primate is nothing if not brilliant at devising and constructing powerful machines! And most of these are noisy as hell.

     There's no such thing as "noise" in nature--only softer or louder sounds, each one contributing its sacred thread to the vast tapestry of universal music. And that tapestry, in turn, is woven on the great loom of silence. The human race invented noise the first time some "genius" decided expendiency should trump reverence--and that was a long time ago.

     To rediscover my true essence as a human being; to come back once more to right relationship with the cosmos, I must commit to reawakening my alert awareness of empty space, and redeveloping my acute attunement to perfect silence. The capacity for such consciousness is intrinsic to my authentic identity--and utterly essential to my happiness. Only by rapt attention to emptiness, only through inner surrender to silence, can I connect inspirationally with the spiritual dimension of existence.

     What I discover "between lines" is not absence, but Presence; not meaninglessless, but a Meaning so profound I can't possibly encompass it.

     What I encounter "beyond words" is not nothingness, but ultimate Reality--communion so intimate even the humblest prayer erects a barrier.

      We inhabit more than one dimension of being. But the hugest of these worlds is both invisible and inaudible. How then can I approach its threshold, unless I become the beloved companion of emptiness; unless I welcome the deepest teachings of silence into my heart?


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Waiting For Dawn


the triumphal arches   they're crumbling away
lost outpost off the map of the known world
heart full of shadows    heart full of shadows

who walks beside you now of all who began
just a few   a ragtag band as spellbound as you

and what were you searching for          what
absolution perhaps
                            a kiss set in dazzling crystal
the elixir distilled from thunder and moonshine

but we forgot the implacable fury of chainsaws

that abyss inside our fear was still undreamt of
and who could foretell such complete betrayals
who could say    I bargained for this    even this

hope    so frail     riddled by a great black wind
battered bird       shred of life     desperate cry

will we ever see dawn light etching the horizon


And yet there is one great thing,
the only thing--
to live to see the great day that dawns
and the light that fills the world.

-- Old Innuit Saying --


     I've hung on by my fingertips to the narrowest edge of hope, dangling over a bottomless abyss, unable to inch either forward or back. All I could manage in such extremity was to keep gripping that ledge with everything left in me. The only reason I'm here now to write about it--somehow, against all odds, I never let go.

     Many great blessings I could do without indefinitely if I had to: belief, approval, nurturing, security, happiness, acceptance, achievement, intimacy, even love. Lord knows, I'd be miserable. Eventually, if nothing improved, my life wouldn't even be worth living. Yet I could scrape along for quite a while--as long as I still had hope that things would change for the better. But if my hope dies, I'm done for. Despair kills.

     "Hope is the thing with feathers--That perches in the soul," wrote Emily Dickinson, "And sings the song without the words--And never stops at all." Hope's not just a positive feeling, or even a bulwark of character. It's the indomitable cry of the Spirit--a soaring testament from my Higher Self that even though caught in the teeth of the grinding gears of a seemingly implacable fate, I still have a chance. I can yet overcome, even transcend.

     Recently, I was just about to surrender an almost lifelong dream. No matter how hard I've tried, across how many struggling years, I've never been able to attain it. Now it seemed I was further away than ever. What was the point of forever banging my head against a brick wall? Time to become real, grow up, get over it. I conjured half a dozen perfectly sensible reasons to justify tuning out "that thing with feathers" perching in my soul.

     For a while, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I might actually turn into a respectable adult at last! But then, gradually, life began to lose its color and zest. I became more cynical; my existence seemed pointless, the meanings all drained dry. I found myself acting out those lines from Shakespeare's Macbeth: "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time..." I'd acquired common sense, but at the price of no longer giving a damn.

     I learned a few lessons from that experience. For one--what we call "common sense" is often just a euphemism for a critical failure of imagination. For another--there's a crucial difference between pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams and authentic, indispensable hope. The third lesson I learned: my own hope must be the truly authentic and indispensable kind, because to abdicate it felt more and more like a living death.

     It can be lonely as hell to wait for a dawn that seems as if it will never break. The heart moans a thousand reasons for wanting to abandon this vigil. The mind recites its feckless litany of fear, doubt, frustration and skepticism. What am I doing here? Why do I keep hoping, despite everything? What's the point of holding on?

     But then, just when I'm about to give up, that first, luminous glimmer of light kindles on the eastern horizon. And at the same hushed moment I hear it--clear, irrepressible, sweetly heralding--the thing with feathers; the Spirit Bird that sings the song without the words, and never stops at all...


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Uncharted Waters

                   NIGHT SAILING

farther out      farther    uncharted waters

bottom nowhere     heart everywhere   far
far from shore    faceful of spray and stars

tiny red boat in a big black night      wave
after wave coming on      compass broken

lost           can't even remember my name
loving   hating   both scoured clean   gone

is this the way     is this the way    tell me
bailing and bailing       ocean still pours in

farther out     farther     uncharted waters


O seekers, remember, all distances
are traversed by those who yearn to be
near the source of their being.

-- Kabir --


     Only the bravest, or craziest explorers willingly seek out certain places, chancing the farthest, wildest edge of nowhere--going alone, afraid, exposed, pursuing some extravagant dream, wondering why they even started to begin with.

     Once, these "fool's errands" were undertaken mostly in the outer world--up the frozen, windswept face of a mountain; into fierce, nearly impenetrable jungle, or across a stormy, uncharted ocean. But all such former unknowns have been thoroughly mapped and tamed by now. You can even make a cellphone call from the top of Mount Everest! As far as external exploration goes, it seems that space is indeed the final frontier.

     Not so, however, for our inner world. As the possibility of geographical discovery has dwindled to almost zero over the past century, the potential for psychological revelation has grown exponentially. Despite the pharmaceutical industry's non-stop propaganda, calculated to convince us all our inner demons (and angels) can be banished by popping a mood-altering or mind-numbing pill, the next great unknown opening up to our boggled awareness is the kaleidoscoptic cosmos of the human psyche--from the harshest primal instinct to the most exalted mystical epiphany.

     Yet this inward Terra Incognita is even more unpredictable and dangerous than the outer one. If you've spent much time there, deliberately or not, you know what I mean. If you haven't, you're only putting off coming to grips with an essential rite of passage. Sooner or later, these dues must be paid, this journey must be taken.

     Unless I'm willing to keep risking, learning, changing, growing, I begin to die--if not immediately in body, then surely in spirit. The only way I can transcend this trap is to dare to let go of what's known, familiar and safe, and plunge into what's unknown, strange, and therefore threatening. This exploration may involve little outward discernable drama. I might never move an inch geographically. But deep inside, "where the meanings are," as Emily Dickinson wrote, entire worlds are ending and others being born.

     Once I accept this inescapable challenge, facing into it with hard-won courage and humble grace, an interesting thing starts to happen. Not only do I get better at coping with these scouring episodes of personal upheaval--more sure of myself, less terrified; I even begin to enjoy them. The excitement of movement; the awareness of transformation; the sense of an old, outworn skin painfully sloughing off, of a new, fresh one secretly forming beneath it--never do I feel more excruciatingly yet exhilaratingly alive!

     When did I adopt the illusion that such wintry seasons won't inexorably cycle back around inside me? They're just as much a normal and necessary part of my being as they are of nature. How else could the decaying past be turned into fertile soil, so the vital, green shoots of the future can thrust up through it, hungry for air and light? Although it's taken a long struggle, many hard dyings and rebirths, I've finally learned. When the time comes around again to let go, to head out into the deeps and dare the unknown, I'll be ready.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Unexpected Visitor

                 WHAT IT WANTS

it wants to hide alone in the white silence
it wants to care and not to care    it wants

not to want   it wants to be quiet and still

it wants to scurry with the ants
              getting high on a crumb of sugar
it wants to glitter from the crow's eye

it wants slithering back under a wet rock

it wants ten soul kisses and twenty slaps
it wants a river cascading wildly through it
it wants the trees to whisper oracles again

it wants you to hold it and start singing
it wants to soar far away but never leave

it wants not to have to count mountains

it wants the night to seduce the daytime
it wants sunlight sowing seeds on the abyss

it wants to say your name over and over
it wants curl up and sleep by the fireplace

it wants to smolder like a ruby in your heart


The unexpected and the incredible
belong in this world.
Only then is life whole.
For me the world has from the beginning
been infinite and ungraspable.

-- Carl Jung --


     Where do we come from? Who are we? Where do we go? What does our meeting here, now, actually mean? Why have our distinct journeys converged at this time, this place? How have we been conditioned to no longer ask these questions, cease even to think about them?

     We might get together every day, chatter away on Facebook, text till our fingers are numb, twitter like magpies--yet do we even know each other? Have we ever really even met?

     To truly encounter another--The Other--this confounds me, staggers me, stops me in my tracks! Somehow, as never before, I finally meet myself. Most of us, most of the time, do all we can to avoid such a soul-capsizing experience. Our typically busy, noisy, rushing, acquiring, consuming, goal-oriented lifestyles guarantee we'll succeed.

     Our hugest blind spot is right smack at the bull's-eye: authentic connection, transparent interrelatedness--nothing less than an unmediated communion of souls. Which takes unhurried time, uncrowded space, uncluttered silence, undivided attention--all those treasures we carelessly squander, because we sacrifice them on the altars of success, achievement, appearance, or simply the harsh, daily struggle just to survive.

     Yet this genius for direct empathy, for intimate identification, is what above all makes me human. To avoid and deny it dehumanizes me. Nothing else I try to substitute will ever work. It will only morph into another addiction which further alienates me from my own nature, and so from any meaningful, transformative relationships with others as well.

     Here's a paradox: I can't deeply know and unconditionally love my innermost self unless I'm willing to risk deeply knowing and unconditionally loving someone else--and to being deeply known and unconditionally loved by them in return. The mindset which blares we're each fundamentally separate, isolated, competing entities is a lie. The truth: at the elemental core of what it means to exist, we're all One.

     Can you bear to have the naked reality of another smolder like a ruby in your heart? Can you bear that another enshrines you in their heart, throbbing with the same dusky, glowing, unfathomable fire? Can you bear to discover how this alarming, unprecedented love inspires you to embrace--for the first time!--the unalloyed Essence of all you most supremely, profoundly are?

     Say "Yes." Don't hold back for one wasted second. Say "Yes." Now!


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guarding The Gateway

                    THE SENTINEL

not one redoubt left    not one
                              on this whole planet
nor in all history where the gods still live   undefiled

even a tree at night--flensed now
                                 by splintery mirrors

what were they but the offspring
of our infinite gaze
         bridges between worlds
                    when we believed in worlds

feeling so terribly small then was grace
not nightmare
        we curled deep inside
                the tall breathing of mountains

I keep searching for the doorway
    the wormhole
             the secret passage of their return

I'm a last sentinel 
             loitering at the gates to nowhere

don't expect from me a snicker-doodle
or even a kiss
       I'm not in my right mind
                   my heart feeds a strange fire

the gods the gods are coming back   
                                       I must be ready


There is a world beyond ours,
a world that is far away, nearby, and invisible.
And that is where God lives, where the dead live,
the spirits and saints...

-- Maria Sabina --
Mazatec Shaman


     Feeling terribly small can be an experience of grace, or a sojourn through nightmare. Everything depends on what I feel small in relation to. Our contemporary dread is rooted in a sense of paralyzing disproportion--we feel tiny, insignificant and powerless before enormous, seemingly all-powerful, depersonalizing forces oblivious to our welfare or, even worse, actively hostile.

     Yet there's another way of feeling terribly small which liberates us from fear. When I come home there, I open up inside, surrendering to a humble trust in my littleness. This consciousness is perfectly true and good--a recognition of just proportion, right relationship. Far from feeling insignificant and powerless, my limited, individual ego dissolves into an all-embracing Higher Self--the infinite, transcendent Source of that finite ego's very existence. Now, when "I" feel so terribly small it's an epiphany of amazing grace, because I'm in primal communion with an Immensity suffused by love, wholeness, freedom and joy!

     Almost everything in our 21st Century global civilization seduces or coerces us into perceiving our identity in relation to those enormous, external, all-powerful, depersonalizing forces. The consequence is grandiose self-inflation if I delusively believe they've finally anointed me; followed by crushing personal defeat when I discover it's now my turn to be crammed into the system's endlessly churning meat grinder.

     I'll never escape this heart-pulverizing cycle of ego boom and bust, until I conclusively break an addiction to defining my essence as someone or something I need or fear from outside myself. Ultimately, that way lies madness, no matter how compelling or alluring the idol may seem. I'm like a person searching for a priceless Treasure, who frantically looks everywhere--except the one and only place it can be found.

     Dying to my ego, being reborn to my spirit, is anything but easy. Old, stubborn, ingrained patterns die hard. Scarcely a day goes by I'm not either tempted by a familiar, intoxicating illusion, or derailed by a queasy, insidious anxiety--each threatening to drag me away from my spiritual center, my indispensable core. Maintaining such faithful soul orientation has never been easy at any time. But in our frenetic, alienated age it's dicier than ever.

     That's why I need a consecrated warrior standing guard over my soul--"a last sentinel loitering at the gates to nowhere." Through many long years of difficult, dangerous trial and error, this internal guardian has honed in on the secret portal, the vital conduit connecting my necessary, everyday, inescapable struggle with a profound, universal Reality that both transcends and redeems it. My soul's sentinel watches at this crucial gateway--to ensure it will never be transgressed, to make certain I can always cross its threshold again and be healed.