Tuesday, August 31, 2010


                     FOOL'S JOURNEY

I used to have a lot to say     or thought I did
now I sit quietly    facing silence    emptiness
immense snowdrifts towering across my mind
they're almost too deep    too perfect   to mar

living alone    lost among these white summits
no rushing or straining        desire or demand
why would I want to go back to that ballyhoo
my spirit's at home here    my heart finds rest

if you want to know me    climb to this place
lofty and secret       hidden among the clouds
the way is steep yet clear to one who is ready
but to all others it seems the journey of a fool


Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

-- Han-Shan --


     I used to love to strut at center stage, charged with poetry, passion, energy and, yes, plenty of ego too. All eyes were upon me, all ears riveted to my words. I was damn good, and I knew it! A huge side of me adored this limelight.

     But another, withdrawn, private me felt acutely exposed, embarrassed and vulnerable. That part just wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. I was split between alternately experiencing myself either as a dramatic, solar, irrepressible extrovert, or as a solitary, lunar, inaccessible introvert. The showoff and the recluse struggled for supremacy in my soul.

     Somehow though, over many years of trial and error, I've managed to discover a third place, a pivot point of difficult yet artful balance, a spiritual center neither compulsively expressive nor obsessively retreating. It's far removed from the hectic hurly-burly of the everyday world--"cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown." But it's also a beacon of welcoming openness, an invitation to intimate encounter and transparent communion.

     This third place is the home of my spirit, that transpersonal dimension most directly identified with the infinite and eternal Essence of all life, all being. Those "white summits" are both symbol and metaphor. The extreme challenge of physically climbing a great mountain is the dangerous outer counterpart of the soul's inner pilgrimage, its arduous ascent to a lofty height of vision, wholeness and serenity.

     This necessary journey of transformation is the original purpose of all authentic religious practices--to serve as a structured, supportive, yet purging crucible in which the base lead of opaque ego might painstakingly be transmuted into the pure gold of selfless illumination. Another, softer, metaphor: religion as the cocoon in which a caterpillar dies, to emerge reborn as a butterfly...

     Like all other traditional institutions during our chaotic age of upheaval and disintegration however, the world's religions have calcified. They've lost their capacity to fulfill that original, indispensable function--as a bridge across which the human soul might escape from its tragic enslavement to fear, rage, pain and death, at last attaining true liberation.

     But this spiritual exodus must be undertaken nevertheless. By default, it's become the responsibility of each individual, unaided by surefire answers in the back of any book. All those old, reliable climbing ropes, even the sturdiest of ladders affixed long ago, have been torn down or swept away. Each of us now must be prepared to risk radical uncertainty, to enact a willingness to face courageously into the Unknown.

     I say this, and I know this to be true; while at the same time I'm scared--right down to the innermost marrow. Although I can only complete this total spiritual metamorphosis as an individual, not as part of any group, I also realize I can't do it alone. I'd perish from loneliness, plunging into the gaping crevasse of my own fear, anguish and despair.

     It turns out I have a crucial need for spiritual companionship: "If you want to know me, climb to this place." There's no way I can pass through the eye of such a cosmic storm by myself. As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "No words can express the abyss between isolation and having one ally."

     One person climbing alone is a fatal accident waiting to happen. But two, climbing together, become a saving lifeline, each for the other. The way is steep yet clear to those who are ready, though to everyone else it may seem a journey of fools.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Deep Ocean


for the ten thousand things

for every no-thing else

sooner or later
you're heading to deep ocean
words love to play on the shore

they're happiest there
frisky!      at home among
crowded beaches     busy docks
people coming and going
all that hustle and bustle

but the farther you swim
alone into uncharted waters
the panickier words become

cold   exhausted   one by one
they sink beneath the waves

until at last only a handful

struggle on blindly


like this


What else should our lives become
but a continual series of beginnings,
of painful settings out into the unknown.

-- David Malouf --


     Every true writer who practices the craft long enough, pursuing it with unswerving dedication, eventually arrives at a humbling reality--the profoundest insights and experiences are beyond words. At best, language can recognize those depths, describe them meticulously, even strikingly evoke them. But the mind alone, although bringing to bear its entire, potent arsenal of symbolic expression, ultimately encounters a threshold which human speech cannot cross.

     Here's an example. For many years a graceful plant has sprouted improbably from a crack in the wall behind a washing machine in the basement of my apartment building. Every winter that plant seemingly shrivels up and dies for good. Yet each spring it grows back again, never failing, inspiring me with hope. I don't even know what kind of plant it is, but this doesn't matter. It's my friend. We've bonded.

     But today, when I went down to do my laundry, I glanced at the space behind the washing machine and saw--nothing. The plant, which had flourished there each summer for as long as I can remember, was gone--uprooted, destroyed. In a corner of the room I found a pile of brown, disintegrating stems and leaves--all that remained.

     I was stunned, angry, incredulous. Why would anyone do such a thing? The plant was harming nothing, hurting no one. It wasn't even in the way, just quietly living its own beautiful, sacred, innocent life, reborn miraculously every spring behind the washing machine. Its perennial resurgence encouraged and inspired me whenever I did my laundry. But no more...

     This has been a painful, disturbing experience. And I could go on to write many more words about my intense emotions; my concerns over nature and the environment, the wider implications of what this type of wantonly destructive, desecrating attitude means for the future of our planet. And all that would be well worth saying. But it could never get to the crux of the matter. It could never adequately articulate the void of loss, this grief over a severing, I now feel. There are no words for these.

     So yes, absolutely--let our marvelous languages frisk and cavort on the busy shore! May they continue to delight, challenge, instruct, amuse, suprise, provoke and engage us. As one who's called to create with words; who loves to work and play, quarry and build, explore and discover with them, I'm overwhelmingly grateful for such a transforming gift.

     But I've also had to learn inescapable limits--those times I'm forced to venture alone through uncharted waters, out to dangerous depths where even the bravest words finally panic, then grow cold, exhausted, and sink beneath the waves.

     After that, there's only silence, the unknown, and my naked, speechless soul...


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

True Seeing


not a world to possess but a way to see
looking slantwise at just the right angle
everything's the same yet utterly different
we must go blind to our everyday eyes

not a noise to make but a singing silence
we live by a music which can't be heard
when the ears inside my ears are opened
these chains that grip my heart will break


How do you know but every bird
that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight,
closed by your senses five?

-- William Blake --


     We live in many different worlds. One is the everyday, sensory, material experience of tangible things, practical activities, survival priorities, and inescapable laws of cause and effect. Another however, is eternal, invisible, mysterious and profound, a realm of Infinite Spirit interpenetrating our lives at every point--although we're usually blithely unaware of its existence, since it's hidden so transparently in plain sight.

     Our soul's primary challenge isn't simply to awaken this vital spiritual dimension; but also, through a long and arduous journey spanning many lifetimes, to learn at last to place the imperatives of Spirit uncompromisingly first, no matter what. This is the soul's supreme task and everything depends on our accomplishing it--even as we lurch distractedly along, enmeshed in the most secular, cynical and drastically materialistic civilization in history.

     Here's the reason we must become deaf to our everyday ears and go blind to our everyday eyes. Our ultra-commercialized culture bombards our minds, senses, emotions and instincts relentlessly through the overwhelming and ubiquitous assault of the Information Superhighway. By every advanced technological means available we're seduced and manipulated to focus our undivided attention on external rewards and addictive possessions--to such an extent that the very existence of an internal, transcendent, Spiritual Reality is largely forgotten or even outright rejected.

     As the poet/artist William Blake wrote: "We always believe a lie/ When we see with, not through, the eye." What he meant was this: our true locus of meaning, value and wisdom doesn't originate in what we perceive with our senses, as vivid and even enthralling as that can be. Rather, significance only evolves from inner vision, that limitless universe of our unfettered, far-ranging creative imagination. This interior cosmos, at its highest, most intimate source of illumination, is the essence of the Eternal Spirit.

     The polar opposite direction from the material, sensory, pragmatic, everyday world--that's where I must go to acquire the distance, perspective and insight I need to ratify my own identity and engage more effectively with the events and forces constantly impacting it. Otherwise, as the saying goes, I can't even see the forest because of all the trees.

     Invisible Spirit is the messenger of content, meaning, purpose, direction, pattern, relationship and understanding. Without its wise teaching and clear guidance I first flounder and then drown in a chaotic sea of objects, hungers and sensations destitute of all those indispensable qualities. Only when the ears inside my ears are radically opened, will I discover a music which can't be heard. Only after I go blind to my everyday eyes, will I finally begin to see...


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Staring Into The Abyss


Is it a choice then       to stop rappeling
deeper and deeper into the dark   to say

I will halt here               turn back now

yet the rapture of the void's so powerful
the sucking pull to plunge down   down
crooning the shivery anthem of oblivion

part of me's in love with that      always
no one could ever find me there     hurt
me there  flung beyond fear   rage  pain
snuggled between gone and nothingness

but I think I'll stop here   turn back now
my last frayed lifeline just might    snap

this is no place to strand a human heart


We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
for a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold
And the empty desolation.

-- T.S. Eliot --


     When we suffer a grievous soul wound, especially as a child, the psyche splinters into many pieces, and we become those pieces. For the rest of our lives, we may careen back and forth from one jagged shard of our being to another, struggling to achieve through a precarious, sequential balancing act the barest minimum personal coherence to replace that original wholeness and integration we've lost.

     So it was with me. And like all broken ones, I had a certain "favorite" fragment of myself, a compartmentalized aspect of my identity where I felt strongest, safest, most protected and secure. This seeming security was an illusion of course--an ultimately sterile, polarized, self-defeating dead end. Yet at the same time, for a terrified and desperate child, that secret hideout provided an indispensable refuge. It was the lonely, pitch-black, storm cellar where he could hunker down to survive an otherwise devouring tornado of horror, anguish and despair.

     I speak of the void. Not just the wilderness, the desert, or the untamed frontier. The Void. Off the planet. Outside the solar system. Beyond the galaxy. A sliver of my being launched itself like a rocket toward the coldest, darkest, emptiest reaches of the universe, escaping into a dimension as physically, emotionally and spiritually alienated as possible from the intimate, suffocating family cocoon--that ground zero of my scathing trauma and brutal shattering. No one would ever find me here, I thought. No one could ever hurt me like that again--not here.

     In one sense, I was right. I'd plumbed the nadir, discovered the absolute antithesis of all interpersonal relationship. Not only this, but in doing so I also experienced a species of perverse epiphany. Except instead of uniting in transcendent Oneness with all creation, I felt almost completely obliterated by blasting Nothingness--and learned to my chagrin there was a side of me which craved just that. Make no mistake--the compulsion toward heroic extinction can be profound, powerful, addictive, even ecstatic. We'll never fully come to grips with the deepest realities of our existence unless we comprehend this.

     Here's the great danger of a pathological isolation which strains to break all emotional bonds in order to insulate the self against any threat of vulnerability and every devastation of grief and loss. If my drastically solitary soul can no longer fulfill its intrinsic need for healing connection with others, inexorably it will plummet into the bottomless abyss gaping at the core of all such radical estrangement.

     But since the essence of the soul is always to worship, and always to seek ultimate oneness with whatever it worships, this psychological disintegration must inevitably devolve into a torrid love affair with death--a hypnotic seduction by the rapture of the void.

     I said "almost" completely obliterated. That "almost" has been my salvation. Wounded and terrified as I was, nonetheless I never totally surrendered my thirst for authentic communion, my hunger for consoling companionship. The relational bond I could not salvage with my family, somehow I managed to forge anew with my friends. They became my surrogate family, a Godsend which literally made the difference between life and death.

     So it's come to pass that my closest, most trusted friends are now my staunch and irreplaceable spiritual lifelines--for we each understand a painfully hard-won truth: the void is no place to strand a human heart...


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Code Of Nothingness

                    BLIND SPOT

logic tumbles into it     common sense
even warning sirens which should howl

snap out of it stupid--that way's disaster!

it's the black hole devouring my galaxy
the shifty bermuda triangle I drown in

no matter how hard I try     I can't see
the train wreck      can't see I can't see

how do I crack the code of nothingness

bless me father for I have sinned  sinned
knowing      not knowing      this heart

blundering and dangerous     this heart
unable to leap even the smallest chasm

not in a single bound    not in a lifetime



     No one could ever accuse me of not being passionate and impulsive in my affections. When my heart's engaged, my imagination inspired and my desires aroused, I become obsessive, projecting the most optimistic outcomes on the most unrealistic relationships. Once in the grip of such self-delusion I throw caution--not to mention common sense--to the winds.

     This happened again just recently when I tried to rekindle a connection I myself had severed many months before. Nevertheless, I could not get the person out of my head. Lonely, frustrated, looking for someone special to love, I rationalized away the reasons I'd ended the relationship in the first place--even convinced myself the mistakes, the issues, were mostly all my own. Yikes! Did I ever get slam-dunked--emphatically rejected so fast and furiously I'm still feeling bruised.

     What did Pogo say? "We have met the enemy, and they are us." I brought this minor but painful emotional catastrophe on myself, because I still hadn't bridged the dangerous divide between the intensity of my passions and the vulnerability of my soul. Additionally, I permitted my extravagant imagination to overwhelm my careful attention to the cold, hard, elementary facts. In short, I got pulled off my spiritual center, skewered out of psychological harmony. The universe responded with a sharp and virtually instantaneous correction.

     Have I learned anything--finally? Can I now avoid making the same addictive blunder in the future which I've made so many times in the past? Surely, even the densest personal blind spot can be penetrated if we become desperate enough--battered into surrender from beating our beings bloody over and over again against the same, unbudgeable brick wall. What's the secret to transcending this excruciating impasse?

     The only answer that comes to me: balance, Balance, BALANCE--finding the essential balance between my emotion and my action; my imagination and my perception; my desire and my intelligence; the freedom of my spirit and the imperative of my flesh.

     Like everyone, I have stronger aspects of my personality, and weaker ones. Like everyone, I tend to over-invest in the former, while shortchanging the latter. Seeing with unvarnished clarity just how and why these imbalances play out in my own psyche is one crucial step; taking effective measures to correct these imbalances as a result of such illumination--that's the next.

     I have to face it--I'll always be a romantic idealist, believing against all odds and repeated adverse experiences that "love conquers all." My heart will always be eager to plunge recklessly ahead, following its deepest longings and keenest visions, all flags flying. This will never change. What must change however, is my assumption that just because I'm wired that way--through the convergence of inherited nature and parental nurture (or lack thereof)--I can unreservedly charge forward on those terms. I can't. I've tried. It hurts too much.

     With this realization, won so dearly, I reach the threshold of a greater wisdom. The pivotal point where everything pouring out so uniquely from my inner universe encounters everything unknown and uncontrollable approaching it from the world outside--that's my indispensable locus of true balance, adult empowerment and realistic transformation. It's the only arena where this particular romantic idealist can both meaningfully influence, and sensibly adjust to, the indisputable facts of life.