Sunday, January 8, 2012

What Keeps Me Sane

Hard to find words in poems
                    to carry amazement:
on its ninety-thousand-mile wind,
the huge inner bird is soaring.
O wind, do not stop --

                              -- Qingzhao

     These past many weeks have been tough ones. My brother's been very sick-- hospitalized, then mostly bedridden in a rehab center. Because of his family situation, I had to step into the point position, phoning from Kansas City to New Jersey several times a week; trying, long distance, to serve as his health care advocate. Sometimes I wasn't sure which was the bigger obstacle, his several serious health issues, or the mind-numbingly dysfunctional health care system which is supposed to help him heal. He's home now, thank God, and slowly starting to piece his life back together again, although he still has a long way to go.

      Meanwhile, now I have to piece back together my own focus, energy and commitment as a creative artist. Fact is, by the holidays I just didn't have anything left in the tank, I was totally drained dry. I'd sit in front of my computer, "reporting for duty," then stare numbly at the blank screen--zero inspiration, zero motivation, zero concentration. But as any true writer knows, if you just don't have it, there's no use trying to force it anyway. The result will be dead in the water.

     Yesterday however, my desperation finally trumped my exhaustion. I found myself obsessing on my own mortality, dreading the latest undeniable signs of an aging animal gradually but inexorably slipsliding toward death. I was stuck in a negative thought loop, plunging into depression, flirting with despair. As daunting as the blank computer screen still seemed, I realized anything was better than all that awful brooding!

      Then something amazing happened: as soon as I typed the first groping, imperfect, but authentic line, my sense of dread disappeared! In facing my worst fears head on, writing about them, beginning to transform them into art, I was aligning myself with an inspiring, creating, transforming Spirit which is also the eternal Essence of who I most profoundly am. And that Spirit transcends even death. After several more hours of serious, hard-nosed revising, editing and polishing, the completed poem represented both an artistic expression and a spiritual catharsis:


against the sickening dread    which seems
inescapable   this bottomless void gaping
inside   an indisputable proof I'm awake
one living thing watching itself slowly die
what saving talisman will keep me sane?

there is no magic charm    just a choice
nor any graspable rescue either   only Spirit
when Its huge breathing shivers through me
I know a Reality that transcends even death
out tumble these bloody births called poems!


     "just a choice"--  Either I identify with my mortal, limited, creaturely self--the animal ego which, no matter how temporarily robust, famous, rich or powerful, inevitably must die; or I wake up at last and wholeheartedly embrace that invisible but eternal Spirit which is the inspiring, creating and renewing Source of all I am. Whenever I'm able to do so; whenever I commit any act of unqualified creativity, then I myself become a living conduit of "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." My cringing dread is swallowed up in cosmic praise!


Thrusting up and outward, groping toward the Light--
a green shoot, a tunnel quivering between worlds,
a wormhole for elemental forces. Stripped on down
to the bottom line, we are this--the bravest edge
of Spirit, the farthest flung probe of consciousness.

Which means here, where I am now, facing you,
naked, utterly exposed, bare to the innermost bone,
aware of my own terror, aware you're perceiving it,
aware there's no hiding, no bluffing, no disguise,
that beyond the cleverest word games, this is Real!

What will the brain babble next? What can it try,
how get a grip on the Unknown, the Incalculable?
We shiver at these crosshairs of space and time,
one foot planted in the grave, the other in Eternity!
We teeter on a tightrope splicing birth and death.

Our intellect fathoms just a crumb of the Whole.
Our senses grasp the flimsiest shards of Grace.
We've been juked and jived, fried and fricasseed!
No computer chip can ever replace the human soul.
Be a green shoot, a lifeline spanning all worlds!


     Creativity which expresses the Spirit within us isn't simply a certain type of activity, or even just a life-absorbing commitment. It's a conscious way of being in the world, no matter what we may be doing. It's a freedom, openness and energy which quickens and transforms everything it touches. It's what keeps us green and growing inside. It's our soul's fertile and abundant garden, watered by the fountain of youth!

Move through transformation, out and in.
What is the deepest loss
                                that you have suffered?
If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.

                               -- Rainer Maria Rilke    

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