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     But another, withdrawn, private me felt acutely exposed, embarrassed and vulnerable.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.



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