When the World Speaks, Listen: When We Speak, Who Do We Imagine is Listening?

It’s the day after Earth Day. Snow ⎼ big, slow moving white flakes are falling onto red-winged black birds, blue jays, gold finches, robins and cardinals. And the snow weighs down the flowers in the yard breaking some of the stalks ⎼ yellow daffodils, blue squill, lavender crocus, hellebores ⎼ and it buries the new grass.

 

The bird calls grow stronger. Are they telling each other the location of seeds, warning of other birds or animals, or calling for a mate? Or maybe proclaiming “this branch is mine,” or the joy of eating and flying between snowflakes? They probably don’t yearn for any moment other than this one.

 

The trees, apple, cherry, and oak, seem unmoved, unbent by the cold or the snow load or even by the wind.

 

My wife and two of our cats sit with me on the bed inside the second-floor bedroom. The cats, not my wife and I, clean each other. Then they sleep. They wrap themselves so softly around each other, one’s head resting on the other’s belly, you could hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. Even after almost twelve years, I feel amazed by how these semi-wild creatures are so comfortable with each other and want to be with me.

 

And I am amazed, no, in awe maybe, joyous, that my wife is here with me. Despite all the craziness in much of the human world these days, we can create moments like this one. In between caring for our families, concern for the future or for our health, or shortages of supplies, we can sit with our cats, watch the snow fall, and listen for bird calls. We can cuddle, even without physically touching, just by giving to each other what the other most needs, giving support, acceptance, and warmth. It’s clear that she feels this moment strongly, like I do, but in her own unique way. She does a puzzle; I puzzle with these words.

 

In her book Evidence, Mary Oliver says:

 

   This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

 

   …It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving

 

Maybe that’s the key. To see that the world is not just something we observe at a distance but is as close as our own pulse. It includes so much more than the pandemic and political chaos. It includes not only the birds and flowers, cats and all of us people, not just the snow and the cold, but more than we know and all that we imagine. It shows us that giving deeply can be the most meaningful gift we give ourselves….

 

To read the whole piece, go to The Good Men Project.

 

The Question We Ask Each Morning

The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote:

“Every morning

The world is created…

 

The heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

 

and fasten themselves to the high branches…”

 

It’s night and the world outside my window is so dark. There is no moon that I can see, and my house is surrounded by woods with no streetlights. But inside, I am lucky. There is another sort of light. My three cats sleep on the bed with me. Two are siblings. Tara, the female, sleeps with her head tucked in her brother’s belly. My wife is changing into sleep clothes.

 

Such trust is here, such vulnerability to each other, that I almost can’t believe it. We do more than keep each other company. We provide the most meaningful light. Together, we release the day and all tensions and questions. We let go of everything except for this moment that we share together. And with great extravagance, we will hopefully let go and sleep.

 

And in the morning… Even though it is still winter, and snow covers the ground, I am awakened early by bird calls. So many species of birds are calling at different volumes and qualities of sound that I feel the earth itself is speaking. Blue jays and crows cry the loudest. But there are also chickadees, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and cardinals. My wife is dressed. One cat is still sleeping. The other two are sitting by the picture window looking out. The light shines so brightly it almost hurts my eyes, until clouds pass overhead and dull it.

 

Each morning asks us the same question, whether we listen or not: what kind of world will we create today?…

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

My Favorite Dance Music

My wife was watching Sleepless in Seattle. Such a classic scene, at the end, when the two destined lovers finally, after so many twists and turns, let go of their own resistance and embraced their lives and each other. Jimmy Durante provided the musical background.

 

Make someone happy

Make just one someone happy

And you will be happy too.

 

And I pulled my wife up from the couch. She laughed, and we danced around the room. Milo, our cat, was sleeping in a chair and I stopped dancing and sang to him and he started purring.

 

And then, a new moment. My wife went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and I went upstairs to the bedroom with a book of poems, Cold Mountain, written by the Chinese hermit, Hanshan.

 

Such moments, ordinary and yet not, make a life full.

 

Cold Mountain says, Seeing the empty sky, things grow even more still. And I realized stillness and dancing arise from the same root.

 

Dancing with my wife

The cat purrs.

 

The moon in the window

So still, so full, so empty.

When the spirit is right,

The cat and the moonlight

Provide the perfect dance music.

 

To read the whole post, please go to this link to the Good Men Project where it was published.

Big Sky Mind and Perception

How often do you look up at the sky? I mean, just look at it? I am more likely to do it at night. I walk out of the house, onto the deck, and the stars are just there. Of course, it’s easier for me than for most people because I live in a rural area where the night sky is not hidden by the lights of a city. But usually, especially during the day, I look at the sky only as the distant background, like when watching a hawk fly off from the road into the sky. My mind is usually taken up by human affairs, plans, news, and the remnants of a conversation, not the empty sky.

 

But when I do look at the sky, I can get lost in it. The vastness overwhelms me and, interestingly, I then see more clearly. This can be a great lesson. When my mind quiets, my perception improves. Why does that happen?

 

There are so many questions about perception and the best ones are not only scientific but philosophical. We look at the world and think the world is as we perceive it. When we see a tree, we think it is just there, entirely separate from us. We see the blue sky and don’t feel the blue is our own artwork. We think it is out there, on its own. But is that true? And, if so, to what degree? To what degree, if at all, does what is perceived depend on the perceiver? I won’t even go into the toughest question of them all, and that is how is it that I can perceive, or be conscious, at all? Teachers need to ask these questions of themselves and their students.

 

Remember the game of peek-a-boo? It’s a common and wonderful game to play with children, who are not sure that the world, you, their parents, will not disappear when they close their eyes.  The question is, if you close your eyes, what is it that remains of what was seen?

 

To better understand the role of the perceiver in what is perceived, maybe start by thinking of a person who is colorblind. If you’re color blind, can you imagine the world full of color? Or if you’re not color blind, can you imagine how your sense of the world might change if the world was less rich with color, closer to grey and white? Or can you imagine seeing the world with four primary colors, like some fish, instead of three? Or, better yet, try to imagine you’re a dog or a cat. A cat has less visual acuity than a human, but their ability to perceive movement or see at night is far superior to your own. A dog’s sense of smell is at least 10,000 times stronger than yours and a cat’s is almost as strong as the dog’s. This sense of smell is further enhanced as the nose has the quickest route to the brain of any sense. Smell, even in a human, is also the first sense to fully develop. The messages received by the nose go directly to the older emotional centers of the brain.  The cat or dog thus moves through a world of emotions arising as scents. They move through a world defined largely by scents just like you move through a world of sights.

 

What our eyes sense is light waves, not color. Color is the way we perceive a certain wavelength of light to which our senses (and brain) are sensitive. There is so much light out there that we just aren’t equipped to see. So, the world without beings who can sense is full of different wavelengths of light, but not colors. Wavelengths of sound, but not symphonies. Floating molecules that can stimulate smells, but not the delicious aroma of liquid chocolate.

 

What we see and who sees are thus inextricably tied together. They are one.

 

So, when you look at the sky, I recommend that you just look, without any inner commenting. Or, if you’re in a room, use your imagination. Let your body settle down. Focus on breathing in and then breathing out. And let come to mind the blue sky in all its vastness. No wind, no disturbances, just an open, bright, blue sky. How do you feel when the sun is shining and the sky is clear? A wonderful feeling, isn’t it?  Just sit with this sense of openness, this clarity and spaciousness.

 

When the mind is open and spacious, then self-concern, self-description, self-commentary are all dissolved. There is not a you, here, and the sky over there, separate, off in the distance. The sky is no longer a baby blue color off in the distance on a cloudless and quiet day. The sky is right in front of your face. It is so close, you don’t see it or think of it as sky. You don’t label it, separate from it, but you do breathe it. Or, better yet, it is simply breathed.  You do nothing. Openness of sky just meets openness of mind.

 

Can this be done? Can you perceive the world and other people with such openness, with no distance, and with everything beginning with a breath?