Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Finding Meaning

                A POINT OF VIEW

that across the gigantic rolling universe
spawning billions and billions of galaxies
seedbeds to trillions and trillions of suns

upon this single infinitesimal dust mote
among innumerable other specks of dust

one oddball talking ape no crazier than
seven billion others   should sit here now

diddling with these convoluted symbols
fascinated by their imagined importance

stones would guffaw if they had a voice


And I said to my spirit:
When we become the enfolders of those orbs,
and the pleasure and knowledge
of everything in them,
shall we be filled and satisfied then?
And my spirit said:
No, we but level that lift
to pass and continue beyond.

-- Walt Whitman --


     Here's the perspective of our planet which modern astronomy reveals--Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot"--except much tinier and even more insignificant. Consider just one drop from all the world's oceans, or one grain of sand from all its beaches and deserts--these still wouldn't be as overwhelmed by number and immensity as Earth is by the breathtaking vastness of our ever-expanding universe.

     Then add to this cosmic revelation the fact that any individual is merely one of almost seven billion other human beings crammed onto this infinitesimal dust mote--well, do the math. Any appraisal of a person's worth based primarily on size, power and quantity must equal virtually absolute zero.

     It's hard to over-emphasize how much this staggering awareness now pervades our contemporary consciousness and underlies the taint of meaninglessness which increasingly infects it. We can so easily feel annihilated by the billions of light years suddenly encountered through this explosion of the boundaries of time and space.

     In reality though, most of us, most of the time, aren't thinking about this at all. We're too busy scrambling to hold onto a job, make a buck, pay the bills, sort out our personal problems, and basically just keep our own private little boats afloat. Who cares about the Big Bang, if our intimate, immediate, emotionally riveting world is collapsing all around us?

     This split between the background of our cosmic condition and the foreground of our myopic obsession exposes the crux of an existential crisis. We no longer celebrate a communal, over-arching spiritual narrative which could healingly reconnect these two extreme polarities. Instead, we're left with a claustrophobic preoccupation with practical survival and material consumption on one hand; and modern science's strictly secular and empirical insistence on a gigantic but soulless universe on the other. It seems the little question of what it all means--what we all mean--got lost in translation somewhere between the shopping mall and the void.

     What can we do about this? How do we restore real meaning and true purpose to our lives, when those sustaining myths and religions by which so many lived in agreement for thousands of years no longer speak to us?

     One answer: abandon belief in the legitimacy of any such redemptive metaphysical explanations, concentrating instead exclusively on worldly success, material rewards, and the illusion of lifelong security. This is the huge majority's cynical choice in our capitalist Western Society, despite mainly token religious affiliations, and we see by now where it leads.

     But there is another choice, for those with the courage to make it: to discover and express our own personal myth--that compelling and transforming narrative which reveals the hidden meaning, directing purpose, and intrinsic destiny of our unique, individual existence. This path is demanding however; it requires our complete inward surrender.

     That's one half of the challenge. The other: to weave this personal meta-story, along with the just-realized vocation which accompanies it, into the ever-expanding fabric of a new spiritual community, one composed of other intrepid explorers who are doing exactly the same thing.

     This new spiritual community now emerging--in actual fact, a new paradigm--is intuitive, unconventional, flowing, creative, multi-valanced, and largely invisible. We won't be officially joining up, following the rules and procedures, nor attending regular meetings or services. There'll be no Ten Commandments engraved on stone tablets; not even helpful answers printed in the back of any book.

     The only sure guide will be that Still Small Voice whispering from our innermost souls, inspiring us to focus all our private destinies into a renewed public vision of spiritual community--and then, once more, as we've always done, to poise this beacon bravely against the towering scale of the stars...


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Small Gifts

         WILD HEART

a poem can freeze to death
like a kitten in a blizzard

or burrow down deep
beneath drifts of snow
and ride out the storm

this poem does neither

instead it asks to be held
comforted     crooned to

it wants you to take it home
feed it     make up its bed
from some old blanket
chatter to it about anything
stroke it while it purrs

this poem says love me

its wild tiny heart
beats like a prayer
in your hands


Great ideas come into the world
 as gently as doves.
Perhaps then, if we listen attentively,
we shall hear amid the uproar
of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings,
the gentle stirring of life and hope.

-- Albert Camus --


     Sometimes very small, seemingly unimportant gifts come our way which are easy to overlook. They're so quiet and unassuming. Our first impulse, if we notice them at all, is simply to persist in the direction we're already going, focused intently on reaching that next dazzling goal. Without achieving it we believe we can never be truly happy or blessed. Yet all the while the real treasure is right there in front of us, offered freely into our hands, if only we have the humility to receive it, the ears to hear, the eyes to see.

     You know what started this whole universe? Not the much-ballyhooed Big Bang--that was just the climax of a miracle, not its genesis. The beginning of everything must have been an infinitesimal blink in endless nothingness, a change so seemingly insignificant not even the nothingness itself registered it. But when that original, minute, solitary point appeared in otherwise overwhelming pointlessness, a cosmic seed suddenly awakened which ultimately sprouted into all the numberless blossoms of the galaxies!

     It took me a long time to realize this. My ego trip was all about the Big Picture, the Grand Gesture, the Dramatic Impact, the Earth-shaking Revelation! I was convinced that's where the action was--so that's where I wanted to be. I couldn't be bothered to slow down, quiet down, simmer down. I wanted nothing less than to save the world--and for the world to be eternally grateful afterward.

     Well, the world has yet to be saved--by me or anyone else. Meanwhile though,  I wonder how many simple but priceless gifts I missed out on because I was too busy and distracted.

     No more. "May my heart always be open to little / birds, who are the secrets of living" e.e. cummings wrote. Those "little birds" show up in multiple guises--usually unexpectedly, often inconveniently, always as messengers whose meanings are inseparable from the mystery of their own irreplaceable existence.

     Whenever they do arrive, it seems we find every excuse imaginable to blank out and walk heedlessly by. Yet if we don't; if instead we stop, turn, pay attention, and gently receive them, we discover a passageway to the secret reality of things, and our lives are changed forever.

     One such humble messenger might be a poem--if that poem speaks from the deepest truth, its words entering your soul and planting a kernel of illumination there. If this should happen, it means for one timeless instant the poet surrendered his or her own self-centered ego, thereby permitting a usually narrow, limited, individual consciousness to expand into yet another wide-open channel for the still, small voice of Divinity.

     That still, small voice is the hidden Essence of every truly humble yet infinitely precious gift. Its message is Joy, and its fulfillment is Love.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild Card

                     (for May)

we can't reckon with this wildest card

it's always gotta tango bass-ackwards
always break out from the wrong end
always careen fiercely against the grain

I wonder which perverse proto-quark
right there in the throes of the Big Bang
before direction was even conceivable
decided "I'm gonna do things MY way!"

since then the deck's been unstackable

smirking inside the fiery nuts and bolts
of the Universe   that Contrary does a jig
then a jog       then a reverse dipsy-doo!

so if I kiss you you might just smack me
if I search for God    I may find a pickle
if I leave now     I could arrive yesterday

what a weird   subversive   unholy mess!
it's a head-on collision--with ourselves!

each night I pray my life will Shape Up

each day I take back my chicken prayer


Energy is Eternal Delight.

--William Blake --


     Something there is that doesn't love a mall. Something there is that absolutely loathes whatever seems too tidy, proper, conventional and predictable. Something there is that always busts through unexpectedly out of nowhere, upsetting all our self-satisfied expectations, knocking all our fastidious plans into a cocked hat.

     We can call it the Devil, the Shadow, the Duende, Old Chaos, the Dark Side of the Force, it doesn't care. It just goes on doing what it's always done--heaving a big, nasty monkey wrench right into the workings of even the most perfectly meshing gears.

     It took me a long time to grasp that this subversive, uncontrollable Wild Card is in fact a necessary, inescapable part of existence. It not only pervades the entire universe, but also coils--perverse and untamed--deep down inside me. Whenever I get too cocky, too over-confident, too proud of my mind's presumptuous determination to chop logic, keep everything in precise order, control all important events, I can be sure that one way or another this primeval side of my nature will rear up and pull the rug fiercely out from under me.

     For which I'm finally learning to be grudgingly but genuinely grateful.

     Like most of us, I was condition by my upbringing, and in general by our global, westernized, supremely technological and materialistic civilization, to over-value mental mastery at the expense of my innate, unconscious, instinctual wisdom. On top of this, I was afflicted by deep personal doubts and often intense anxieties, so I found it all too easy to clutch at the delusion that my exceptional intellect could somehow conquer, or at least effectively manage, my worst insecurities and fears.

     But this desperate, stopgap, non-solution merely served to split me apart inside, polarizing sense and spirit, heart and will, mind and gut. The more obsessively I tried to dominate my mounting fear and rage through rigid enforcement by my intellect, the more ferocious and rebellious my still wild and stubbornly primal nature became. Talk about a no-win scenario!

     There was only one ultimate cure for this profound self-alienation: I had to acquire the hard-won humility to surrender my intellectual arrogance and so return once more to a holistic condition of psychological balance and healthy spiritual centering. Little did I realize when I started: my whole being's inner realignment would be nothing less than a life's work.

     To achieve this essential transformation, I've had to become less eager to flaunt my brain power, and correspondingly more attuned to the promptings of my core instincts. Compulsively denying them was never a viable option.

     My only real choice is between either repeatedly suffering the destructive eruption of these unnaturally repressed urges, again and again capsizing my world; or else finding some way at last to effectively integrate intellect and instinct--which also means fully accepting, rather than chronically resisting, those dark, irrational, elemental energies of existence.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everyday Things


after you're blindsided by the avatar of a wound
after the exposed nerve
                                 gets bull's-eyed once again
after you recoil with knee-jerk
                                            shock and disbelief
after fear    rage    pain
                               ricochet through your bones

after you blunder on anyway   
                                             exiled from reality
after crashing finally   
                               unstrung with grief and loss
after you freeze solid under
                                         the glacier of despair
after blindly clawing a way out    death by death

don't try to come back just yet
                                             to the living world
or expect to stroll among others as if you belong
even sunlight glaring off a crust of ice
                                                      will agonize
the crow's caw-cawing
                               slices you like a rusty blade

water those plants first
                                    you know they're thirsty
then take care of all that laundry that's piled up
at the smell of fresh towels you'll begin to heal
sanity returns
                  in the sorting and matching of socks


Before enlightenment,
chopping wood and carrying water.
After enlightenment,
chopping wood and carrying water.

-- Buddhist Teaching --


     Sometimes only the simplest, most basic and routine experiences stand between us and going off the deep end. A new crisis can strike violently out of nowhere, or an old wound gets ripped wide open again. Nothing seems real anymore--especially not ourselves. Anything unknown, unfamiliar, feels fraught with danger, bristling with threat. At such hours, more than ever, we cling gratefully to the everyday--what has always been and always happened the same way; what we desperately long to believe always will.

     The plants need watering. You know how to do that, the same way you always have. The water pours from the spout as water has always done, and the thirsty soil soaks it up at the same reliable rate. The torn heart can find a brief refuge here; the shattered mind focuses on a practical task, the scraped-raw senses are soothed and calmed. It's not an answer. Maybe there isn't one. But for a little while at least you're granted a temporary respite, and it seems more than blessing enough.

     Yet is this merely a case of retreating miserably into the mundane, boring and predictable? Or has the soul unexpectedly been wounded so ruthlessly awake, been knocked so far off its customary somnolent traces, that now--maybe for the first time--you discover how precious, sacred and meaningful every single living moment truly is. To the busy and distracted, watering the plants is a bothersome chore. But those who cringe before one of the countless faces of death know otherwise--it's a privilege, a trust, a miracle.

     Whether we admit it or not, here we encounter one reason Carl Jung wrote: "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." The miracle of the everyday is always present, but gradually we allow our childlike wonder and openness to become blunted and dulled as the years pass by.

     We get so caught up brooding over the past or worrying about the future--trying to control life instead of living it--that we go blind to the sacred beauty hidden in plain sight. But when a great trauma overtakes us, we're forced back into the arena of Here, the crucible of Now.

     Then we must wrestle with the affliction which dragged us back, but we're also given the opportunity to soulfully reconnect with the supposedly unimportant, humdrum minutia of our daily existence--not only watering the plants, but feeding the cat, chopping up vegetables, washing the dishes, taking out the trash and, yes, doing the laundry.

     In a world where nightmare can morph into crushing fact in a heartbeat--and does so every day, somewhere, all over the planet, for millions--is there any salve more healing than the smell of fresh, warm towels, just pulled from the dryer? Can any grace exceed the humble sanity of sitting quietly in the bedroom, sorting and matching socks?

     These everyday things we need, if we treat them lovingly, love us back--by being familiar, useful, trustworthy and enduring. They help us to bear the relentless harrowing of time...