Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Death And Rebirth


I think I'll start all over again      and I do
but then almost choke on a gulp of coffee

so begins another day    the angel is mute
there are various achings in different places
many paths branch off   which should I take?

not to be too cavalier about such things
each heartbeat subtracts me toward--what?
heaven   hell   oblivion   dark energy waking?

I don't want to slide from my old dead skin

I don't want to feel utterly bare and new
defenseless at dawn    exposed to noon
shrouded by the cold shadows of dusk

I don't want to grow  change   die   be born
still    it happens    I surrender    then bow

the fist of my wound hasn't unclenched yet
I still brandish it before me like a shield

but     little by little     fingers break open

as petals packed inside a bursting bud
unfurl to drink the golden light


There is no death. Only
a change of worlds.

-- Chief Seattle --


     No indeed, I don't want to shuck off my old dead skin. It may be worn out and useless now, even an impediment. But at least it's familiar. Once it served and protected me. I could not have survived without it. When I emerge completely and abandon this threadbare husk, I'll feel naked, exposed, vulnerable. Why can't I just stay here, hunker down, and somehow still get by?

     Well, for starters, because I won't "somehow still get by." If I don't grow forward, then inexorably I'll slide back. The status quo is no longer an option--if it ever was. To be alive is to be changing. My freedom is a choice: continue to evolve, facing courageously toward the unknown; or retreat into a suffocatingly decaying shell which ultimately will become my spirit's shroud.

     There's no going back to how things were. I've burned my bridges behind me. I must commit wholeheartedly, keep exploring. What I seek to discover is nothing less than a new, integrated, more authentic self--not totally altered, not utterly unfamiliar; yet transformed, balanced, whole, in a way I've never known before.

     This sounds like a grim struggle, and there's no question at times it's just that. Fear is a powerful false god. I hold on fiercely, let go painfully, grope onward grudgingly. Often it seems I only break out--break through--when I'm forced to, because staying where I am deteriorates into a living nightmare.

     But if that's all there is--desperately trying to escape more suffering--I realize it simply isn't enough. As Thomas Hobbes contended, my existence would be little more than "...nasty, brutish and short." Temporarily avoiding more agony is no sufficient prescription for curing my deepest wound. It reads more like a motto etched with acid over the gates of hell.

     The greatest incentive for embracing growth and change doesn't drive me on, it draws me on. Not desperation, but inspiration, is my overriding motive. I've caught the scent of something miraculous--a healed soul, a redeemed love, a renewed life. Now, nothing less will ever satisfy.

     Here at this pivot point, with these words, I choose life, not death; change, not stagnation; the future, not the past. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow I must make the same fateful choice again and again and again. This is my stringent trial, my divine right, my sacred gift. This is the decisive crossroad of my human freedom.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Never Surrender/Always Surrender

                  REPORTING FOR DUTY

ticktock says the clock    click-clack the brain
daylight scuttles in   mincing on naked rat feet
right behind it humps   this hungry world   this
earth-plane shimmy-shake   old slug with teeth

got the heart for it once more   scribbler man--
spewing gouts of incandescent blood at dawn?
nobody knows the password    upside is down
so start over again   like always  scratch  claw

scramble  find a way  bust out   break through
the demon   the angel   they wait in the cracks
zigzagging crazily from Ground Zero  just take
that first wound on the left     you can't miss it


And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses--
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.

-- Anna Akhmatova --


     There are times, like now, when just trying to cope with what this world throws down seems more than I can bear. Stuff keeps on coming, from every angle, and each hit feels like a bull's-eye. Multiply this across so many decades, and you could say my resistance has worn pretty thin. It doesn't take much anymore to stick it in and twist it, right to the bone.

     I'm still juking here, jibing there, doing my best, straining to juggle all these rusty knives. But I'm getting terribly tired; my will falters; my concentration slips. Sooner or later I fear, I'm going to miss one, badly, and it'll wind up quivering blade-deep in my own chest.

     Whatever this particular combination of personal karma, deliberate abuse, or the way life often just happens, there are limits to my endurance, to my will to keep on despite every adversity. After I exceed those limits, I simply can't take any more. I want to give up. And yet...I don't. I go on anyway--without much hope, against all odds, no matter what the cost. How can that be?

     The best answer I've been able to come up with is pure paradox: "Never Surrender/Always Surrender." Unless I consciously live both sides of this paradox--and in exacting priority and relationship--I'm cooked. But if I can somehow penetrate the conundrum, solve the riddle, and achieve the transcending synthesis, then there's no obstacle I can't overcome.

     The key: know what never to surrender to, and what always to surrender to; and also understand that these two crucial choices must occur simultaneously--they're each just halves of a far greater whole. I can only have the courage to never surrender, if at the same time I have the humility to always surrender. Without practicing both realities, I'll never make it.

     What is it to which I must never surrender? Every soulless, fractured, cruel, negative, ignorant, violating, hateful, selfish, greedy, terrifying, brutal, dehumanizing energy--both inner and outer--which threatens to crush and consume me. No matter how overwhelmed I feel, how battered and beaten, against these I must stand bravely and hold my ground.

     Which seems of course an impossible demand, and surely is, unless...unless it's coupled inseparably with the second part of the paradox--always surrender. But always surrender to what? To the infinite and eternal Essence which inspires my beleaguered heart, instructs my fallible mind and animates my mortal flesh; to my deepest Source and highest Self; to the Divine Presence which is always there, nearer than my own breath, hidden within me.

     Where my ego's limited self ends, my spirit's Greater Self takes over. When my mind's finite capacity maxes out, my soul's boundless intuition begins to play. As my heart's waves of passion and courage subside, something much older and wiser inside sinks down roots and grips hard, thrusting below time, grief, suffering, even death.

     All are facets of the Holy Mystery I discover at the innermost core of my being; and it's to that Holy Mystery alone I must always surrender. Only then can I find peace at last, whatever assails me, and no longer be afraid.

     Never Surrender/Always Surrender: these are two declensions of a single reality. We are transient flesh--inspired by Immortal Spirit!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Healing And Serving


sit in silence now    let your heart come to rest
you've ridden the passionate wave long enough
words jetting forth   gouts of blood on the page

such was the sacrifice you were called to make
and you poured it out to the last agonized drop
the syntax of horror     transmuted into ecstasy

your choice was neither sublime nor ridiculous
only the needful work of service in this world
if or how it made a difference--not your concern

but you were changed by it    purged through it
what was blinding wound     now teaching scar
the giving brought the healing     it set you free


My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

-- Dylan Thomas --


     From the wound came the word. The word was the spoken blood which kept on pouring--dark and clotted or bright and burning. Poetry began as the blind, groping voice of my anguished soul.

     I didn't know this then, as a teenager. Or, if I did, I wasn't aware of knowing. I just wrenched open an inner spigot and out it came. Nor did I realize how crude and clumsy those first fumbling literary efforts were. Yet they were the only way I could express a reality I didn't even understand. Something enormous, horrifying, implacable, had smashed into my world and splintered my being. Writing those earliest poems was my desperate, brave, lonely, impossible attempt to impose some kind of meaning and order on what seemed utterly meaningless, totally obliterating.

     So began what turned out to be the creative challenge of a lifetime. Gradually however, over the years, writing poetry came to stand for more than just an indispensable cathartic outpouring of emotions; more even than my imagination's keen delight in discovery, or my mind's growing mastery at crafting those inner visions into finished works of art.

     During a later period of raw personal upheaval, poetry emerged as a spiritual vocation. I was called to surrender my ego; to open my consciousness as a conduit for a higher Creative Energy, to offer myself as a vessel of loving service. The cost of making this choice cannot be exaggerated--other than to say "everything." I lost my life as it had been, as I wanted and expected it should be. In exchange, I was given the chance to experience a Greater Life--the Life of "We" rather than "Me"--the Life of the healed, boundless and liberated soul.

     But the only way to this new, Greater Life led through an ever deeper plumbing of the depths of my shattered psyche. That speaking blood still had to stream forth, whether in agony, ecstasy, or from somewhere--everywhere--in between. The long, slow, difficult struggle for psychological healing, and the equally long, slow, exacting labor of creative offering merged, became one.

     There's no redemptive climax to this arduous inner journey if the blood simply flows on forever, the vital healing never happens. Explore a primal wound profoundly enough though, and eventually--blessedly!--you pierce right through to the other side; to the soul's original, pristine wholeness, before all violation or betrayal, any stain of grief and loss.

     The core breakage doesn't go away. Damage was done which can't be undone. It changed me, permanently. But now I've reached beyond it to a purer, clearer, transcendent dimension of my being. Coming home to this Eternal Reality inside; living wholeheartedly from this Universal Consciousness, I experience my childhood trauma and its aftermath not as a blinding wound, but as a teaching scar.

     Poetry--the speaking blood, the unhealed wound's witness--is finally draining dry. There's only a little left at the bottom of the well. But I can understand and accept this now. It's not a symptom of writer's block or creative burnout, but rather a sign I've stayed the harrowing course, sounded the terrifying abyss, and so at last become truly healed, down deep in my soul.

     At the same time, inseparable from the essential task of personal healing, I've sought to express the fullest measure of loving service, from the Highest Source within me, through every spiritual gift in my power. The giving brought the healing. It set me free.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dubious Blessing, Hopeful Curse


nothing learned nothing changed
an old man as confounded
as I was as a child

old fool     old fool
when will you grow up!
fairy tales don't come true
and the fiercer you chase them
the more ridiculous you feel

so chill out   get a grip
you'll die soon enough
in what little time's left
why give yourself more grief?

it's just that I got stuck with
this heart
this heart won't cease wanting
what it can never have

this heart lurches on anyway
dreaming   hoping   searching

you'd think by now
it'd be worn out   broken down

you'd think by now this heart
would stop recklessly
floundering over and over
through love's bitter sea


The heart has its reasons
of which reason itself is unaware.

-- Pascal --


     A dubious blessing, a hopeful curse--that paradox pretty much nails the bittersweet drama of my emotional life. My heart has swelled with inspiring visions of all-fulfilling love--only to be cruelly deflated when they turned out to be actually all-consuming mirages; or else it's crashed and seemingly shattered into irretrievable pieces, only to be miraculously reborn--almost healed and whole again--from the bitter ashes of grief and loss. But one thing never changes: this heart won't cease wanting--wanting something apparently it can never have.

     What can I do? Lecturing my heart about being realistic, practical, using common sense, doesn't work. It laughs in my face and goes right on dreaming, longing, searching. But letting my heart charge full steam ahead chasing after hypnotic illusions doesn't work either. It always ends up lurching disasterously off the rails. The answer, if there is one, most be found by penetrating the glare of the chronic blind spot lying between frustrated inhibition and reckless compulsion.

     For me, the blind spot has proved to be a conditioned incapacity to consistently think and act like a mature, responsible, balanced and empowered adult. Reluctantly, I've had to face it: this vital training was one of several essentials which were short-circuited--deleted from a childhood scarred by family dysfunction, a sibling's tragic death, self-alienation and engulfing emotional trauma.

     Nor did my own intensely subjective, extremely imaginative nature help matters. As a consequence, in too many ways I remained a needy and rebellious adolescent, unable to attain or even envision the centered, integrated adult consciousness indispensable to overcoming this emotionally arrested self-dividedness.

     The still, small voice of my soul's intuitive wisdom was drowned out by the huge, restless clamor of my heart's yearning, my body's desire. There simply was no reliable adult occupying my being's halfway house who could effectively mediate, prioritizing between these polarized inner worlds.

     Understanding this hard-won truth awakened me at last to a redemptive psychological reformulation: aspiring to a hopeful blessing, while also repudiating a dubious curse. Now I could see--there is a means to bridge those two previously sundered sides of myself, a third place, a middle ground: the poised yet flexible stance of a centered, balanced, responsible, assertive and empowered adult.

     No, this heart will never cease wanting. But now it's reconnected to an older, wiser spiritual wisdom deep within me. It's learned to disipline those passionate desires, integrating them with my life's larger meaning, my soul's greater purpose. The pivotal instrument for this transcendent synthesis has been a painstakingly matured mind--a new, balanced, seasoned perspective, achieved through the fullest, most dynamic and creative authority of the living word.