How Do We Find Peace in the Noise? How Can We Understand the World and Our Lives More Deeply?

I went to see an orthopedic surgeon about hand pain, which comes to me in a great variety of forms and places; just to keep me interested, I guess. Before I left home, the pain was mild. But once I arrived at the office, it was very notable, showing it’s face in 3 or more places, dressed in different clothes. Often, when I see a doctor, whatever is bothering me seems to run and hide. Not this time. Why?

 

Some might say the body has its own wisdom, and that’s certainly true. But it doesn’t help me very much. Even worse, the high level of pain continued, on and off, for a day or two afterwards. Did this occur because I was trying to understand the doctor’s recommendations for treatment? And with the pain so clear, it was easier for me to analyze what might be the best way to proceed?

 

Understanding the more subtle messages our body-mind constantly gives us can be tricky.

We are often more concerned with comfort or security than truth, or with preserving an old viewpoint than checking its accuracy. Recognizing contradictions in our beliefs and beloved stories is not always at the forefront of our minds. But all views are fragile. They’re intellectual constructs, and once created, we might be tempted to treat them as prized possessions, or personal works of art. We must be careful not to cover the walls and windows of our intellectual home with them so they’re all we see.

 

One book I love is The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah. The character of Nasrudin, with his humor and deep insight reminds me of stories from the Zen, Taoist, Desert Fathers, and other traditions. One famous story might be relevant here. Nasrudin illustrates how we often search for answers in the wrong places.

 

A man saw Nasrudin searching on the ground and asked, “What have you lost, Mulla?”

“My key.”

The man went down on his knees and they both got involved searching for it.

After several minutes, the other man asked: “Where exactly did you lose it?”

“In my own house.”

“Then why’re you looking here?”

“There is more light here.”

 

Muscles, senses don’t speak in words; but they’re an inherent part of the thinking process. In making decisions or thinking critically, questioning assumptions, researching with multiple reliable sources, and thinking logically are all important. And so is self-reflection, mindfully reading ourselves and pausing before final judgment, maybe by taking a walk, sleeping on it, or taking a breath or two.

 

An awareness of our internal and external, moment by moment sensations helps us better discern when we and our thinking feels “off.” When we feel a clenching in our stomach, a rush to judgment in our breath, or a grimace in our face we might be lying to ourselves.

 

We might become aware of how our perceptions and emotions are constructed in stages….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

An Experiment We Perform on Ourselves: Our Heart is Shaped Not Just by What Happens to Us, But the Stories We Create About What Happens

 

I felt very anxious today, like so many other people I know. Anxiety is becoming a national malady. Years ago, if someone said they felt very anxious about the state of the world, it was often considered “not normal,” as an indication of underlying pain, trauma; of a psychological or medical state contributing to the person being “overly” sensitive to social-political conditions. Not anymore. Now, we’re all facing some degree of trauma. If someone doesn’t feel anxious, it might be considered not normal.

 

And I decided I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to spend this whole election year so anxious it interferes with enjoying my life.  So, I resolved to do experiments on myself. To try different mindfulness, artistic, and other practices to see what really works to help me feel some joy along with the fright. To notice, “if I do this, then that occurs.”

 

I’m not so much in a search for something like an idea of a desired goal, but for how to turn the light inward to create an awareness of what’s already there and perceive all that lies beyond it. The former creates a distance between me and the goal, now and some possibly future time. The latter involves an awareness, a curiosity about what’s intimately there, in myself. Now. To be present. This curiosity fosters clarity of mind and a readiness to act.

 

I realize that to even do such an experiment, I need to keep reminding myself that anxiety might even be helpful if I could interpret it as helpful.  If I could allow it to simply wake up awareness and be mindful of it. To try to hide it away adds fear to the emotion. Susan Murphy, in her book A Fire Runs Through All Things:  Zen Koans for Facing the Climate Crisis, points out our anxiety is one way the world tells us it needs something from us; and that what is needed is “already forming.”

 

But it can get heavy when I allow it in. Anxiety can take over my attention. Letting go can be difficult. So, I started periodically stopping what I’m doing and saying to myself, “hello, universe. Hello moment.”

 

I also notice that when I feel anxious, I think nothing will work. When I feel good, there are so many possibilities. So, what often works for me?

 

I close my eyes. Stand still where I am; and feel my breathing. Sometimes, I do a “square breath practice,” which entails counting to 3 for each exhalation, each pause, inhalation, pause. This develops focus, clears the mind and heart, to do nothing else but feel the breath. Without trying, I let go, for a moment or ten. But even for one moment, the chain of fear, of rumination stops. And I learn a valuable lesson: I can be free. I can feel what clarity is like and be it.

 

But my basic practice is breath counting, a simple practice of curiosity. Many traditions teach it. And I find it usually works for me. I sit in a quiet room, on a supportive chair, eyes maybe closed, open, or partly open. Hands resting in my lap. And I breathe in and do nothing else; then breathe out and say to myself “one.” My attention is placed, as completely as I can, on breathing the count. Not hurrying to get to another number, not pushing aside any thought or feeling. But just being there with one breath. Aware of that moment of breath counting, present with whatever is there. And if I lose the count, and I do it often, I just notice it and return to “one.”

 

Something indescribable, sort of like a clear blue sky, arises when I do this. Paradoxically, it’s also sort of what’s always there, except in the forefront instead of animating the background. If words do come to me, they’re like trees simply observed. Emotions that arise are like wind. They’re there, but do not possess me. Then there’s a pause; then a breath in. Then a count of “two.” This counting continues until I get to “ten,” and then goes back to “one.”

 

But breath meditations don’t feel right for everyone. We all need to experiment for ourselves.

 

Years ago, I learned another meditation, using artwork as a focus, or a natural object, like a pinecone or stone. This is based on an exercise I first learned from psychologist Lawrence LeShan. One object I found particularly fun and wonderful was a painting of a Buddha on a piece of slate.  It’s a copy of an old painting discovered on a cave wall in Asia. It came with a metal holder, so I could place it on a small table in front of me and sit with it.

 

After taking a few breaths, sometimes with my eyes closed, I then open my eyes and look at the whole piece. Allow my eyes to flow over it. To not only see it but feel it. To welcome it. I then shift and look at specific points in the painting, or the stone. One segment at a time. Slowly. After a few minutes, I then close my eyes and bring up the whole artwork. See it in my mind. Then see details, one after another. Then I open my eyes and enjoy it anew. I look at the details, to see if or what I had forgotten or not seen the first time. When I do this, I feel like I’m in that cave with the Buddha.

 

Sitting with a work of art, or a waterfall, stream, the ocean or a lake, a tree or mountain…..

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Noticing the Rhythm of Life: What, if Anything, can we Ever Hold on to?

Breathe in. Notice a pause.

 

Breathe out. Notice.

 

Such a basic rhythm. Ever notice the urge to hold that inbreath? Keep it still? Remember it?

 

When I’m walking or meditating and a crow or mourning dove calls ⎼ or all the voices in my head go silent and I feel rooted where I am, so calm ⎼ sometimes I feel an urge to hold that moment. Stop everything. Or we’re in our car and hear the music we most love, we might try to extend the listening forever. We hear our best friend’s voice or hear the “I love you” we’ve been yearning for ⎼ or we smell the aroma of our favorite food or see a sunrise that shatters the dark, or have an insight ⎼ how do we hold that? Can we hold onto that? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

 

We want something pleasant, good, beautiful to last; but it doesn’t. We can feel so focused as we inhale. So alive. And then we breathe out and it’s gone. The urge to make a moment last ⎼ to turn a disappearing sight, sound, feeling into a permanent one ⎼ is something we all sometimes experience. But before we realize it, the moment has passed.

 

We want to feel young. We want our life to last. Then arthritis breathes us in. Pain breathes us in. Or we breathe in and dislike the feeling, the memory. Or we fear it.

 

Sometimes, we want the exhalation to last. We want to push away the inhale; but what we push away somehow always bounces back. Hate is one form the pushing away can take; denial, fear and pain are others. We can also breathe out and let it go, happily or not.

 

We live moment by moment. But if we try to study any moment by attempting to keep it still, then it’s gone. We can’t even find the moment because as soon as we notice it, it’s already passed. Or we‘ve lost it by trying to hold it. Like picking a flower to keep it always with us, and we thereby kill it. We breathe in; holding it can feel so calming, momentarily. Then we come to a point where we must let it go or we suffocate ourselves.

 

Daniel Kahneman, in his wonderful book Thinking Fast and Slow, talks about experiments showing that people prefer to have a good memory of an event over having the lived experience be wonderful. In one experiment, Kahneman and colleagues asked volunteers to endure three episodes of submerging their hands in freezing cold water. In the first, they put one hand in water that was painfully cold but not intolerable for 60 seconds. In the second, with the other hand, they repeated the experience of 60 seconds of painfully cold water. But this time, for an additional 30 seconds, the experimenter allowed some warmer water into the tub.

 

A few minutes after the two trials, the participants were given a choice of which experience would be repeated. 80% of the participants chose the second, despite it being longer. It was the end they remembered most clearly, which was only slightly less painful.

 

Likewise, he asks us to imagine we face an extremely painful operation during which we are conscious. However, we are promised an amnesia-inducing drug that will completely wipe out any memory of the pain. Most people, he conjectures, are fine with that. They consider what he calls the remembering self as more important than the experiencing self….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to the Good Men Project.

When I Was Blessed by A Crow: We Soar on Wings We Never Knew We Had, into A Sky We Never Knew Existed

Were you ever blessed by a crow?

 

When I was around 13 or 14, I started playing tackle football on a sandlot team. We played in a park less than a mile from my home. For three years, a crow used to come to the practices and for almost every game. We sometimes fed it. But mostly, it was just there, hopping around, watching, and we began to think of him, her, them as a friend. I never had the superstition that crows meant misfortune, but rather I associated them with good fortune. A blessing from nature.

 

If, when walking, sitting, or standing somewhere, ruminating⎼ lost in thought amidst the noises or silence around us⎼ and a crow flies above us, its harsh call can save us. We can listen, and then silence arrives as if summoned. Other times, the call comes so intermittently we can barely stay with it. But if we can accept its offer, however brief, and listen closely, our attention is re-awakened. We open to whatever is there in that moment.

 

It’s like hearing a friend call to us, or a voice from a dream, or from deep inside our bones. It comes to us, and we can fly into it. We can fly into a sound so full it makes room for everything. And then we soar on wings we never knew we had into a sky we never knew existed⎼ a sky so empty it welcomes us home.

 

Or if we allow ourselves to feel the life of a crow, or maybe anything, to feel that it feels life, feels wind and rain as we do⎼ or maybe differently, but just as crucially, and then we become more alive. It’s so tricky to let go of ourselves and our concerns, our schedules, our anything, or the theatre of our lives. Crows can be a blessing to us all.

 

But it’s not the only call we can focus on. When we meditate, natural sounds like the speech of crows, or chickadees, the rain, wind, or ocean⎼ or the sight of a waterfall or smell of a honeysuckle, or an artwork, anything we find beautiful⎼ can give us something to disappear into. If we welcome it, listening to the calls of whatever we find beautiful can be a wonderful way to let worry and anxiety fly away, leaving a clear sky, or mind, behind.

 

I’ve read meditation teachers advising us to find the emptiness before a thought. That’s so difficult. And I don’t know how much crows think or hold thoughts, or whether they’re adept at finding the emptiness before thought. I do know they are incredibly smart. I once wrote a blog about 3 crows who often visited my yard. I’ve tried to take their picture. But even though I’m inside the house, if I pass a window, they follow me with their eyes. If I just look, they look back. Or they simply eat. But if I pick up a camera, they know. They fly. And when I allow it, the crows fly me to silence. They reflect to me different shapes of myself, exposing who or what is watching, or doing the watching….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Touching Life in All Its Forms: Summer, Walking, and Treating Living as Learning

I so enjoy spring and summer. Despite the drought this spring, and the continual rains that have so far marked the summer, I feel like I’m once again a child on vacation. I hear the song “Summertime” in my head, and feel that every day I can play, do something new, create, get together with friends. Everything is so alive. In both spring and summer, so many birds, peepers, cicadas, etc. speak up, and seem to speak to me.

 

So, taking a walk during the summer or spring, in any natural setting, or in the blocks or parks of a city, immerses us in this beauty. It can be a meditation if we bring full attention to it. We don’t need to do a formal walking meditation. We just walk normally, and let the exercise remind us it’s not just what we do that determines how we feel, but how much awareness we bring to it.

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, two things I’ve been doing even more frequently than before is reading about and practicing meditation, and taking long walks or hikes. And I’ve found a few things that increase the joy I have when walking. One particular reading that inspired me was Old Path White Clouds, the Story of the Buddha, by the revered Zen teacher and activist Thich Nhat Hanh. It was recommended by a friend and co-worker. The book gives us a wonderful insight into the deep history of meditation and mindfulness practice.

 

In the book, the Buddha is described as walking “just to enjoy the walking, unconcerned about arriving anywhere at all…[not] anxious or impatient… [T]heir steps were slow, balanced, peaceful…yet they covered a good distance each day.”

 

I’d like to walk like this. How did the Buddha and followers do this? One method described was making a moment of walking a moment of practice and potential insight, “observing each breath,” step, and part of the breath. In other writings, Thich Nhat Hanh explicates further how to be at one with the walking, so we notice the whole universe walking together.

 

It’s so easy to get distracted or lost in thoughts or worries, or to lose awareness of where we are. So, whatever reminds us to pay attention to where are, who we’re with, what our body-mind is telling us, can help our overall sense of well-being.

 

Even before we start, we can stop. Close our eyes partly or fully, and just greet our body, be aware of what’s going on right now. Or we feel our feet on the earth, or the pace and depth of breath, how tense or relaxed are our shoulders and belly. Then we walk.

 

Walking, the capacity for upright, bipedal movement, is, after all, a major defining characteristic of being human. It can be great fun when we do it just to do it and it’s not solely a means of transporting us from where we are to where we aren’t. Or we don’t do it only to meet exercise goals recorded by devices like a fitbit or apple watch or satisfy societal created images.

 

Such motivations can lead us to walk only to get it done, to check off a box in an accomplishment ledger. This focuses us on the future, and we miss what’s here, now. And 10,000 steps can seem a lot; one step can be simple and easy….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

How We Look Is Not Separate from What We See: Giving Form to What’s Most Intimately Ourselves

Sometimes, we surprise ourselves with what we can do, with what we know and don’t know.

 

I retired from teaching secondary school ten years ago. But last night, in my dreams I was once again teaching. In many classes, ten, twenty, thirty students or more showed up. In others, only one or two.  Maybe students had begun to assume that I would always be there and took me for granted. Or maybe they were too distracted by their personal lives, or I was getting too tired. Whatever it was, my dream-self decided it was time to retire.

 

In one room, a large group of students came to hear and join me in saying goodbye. It was surprising how full of feeling the situation was. We accepted each other so deeply. And I had nothing planned. It was all spontaneous. What I said emerged extemporaneously, as if from all of us together, and included nothing about goodbyes.

 

The way a moment forms has so much to teach us and is teaching us so much as it forms. There is so much there if we can see it and feel it. It’s the ultimate teacher. In fact, we are this forming of a moment. But will we look? Feel?

 

And I woke up. Sort of. The light outside was a gray mist emerging from the dark night, a dawn just beginning to gray. Outside the window, almost no discernible objects emerged from the mist, no trees, or bushes. But in the mostly dark inside, I could discern the placement but not the details of the bed, dresser, and other furniture. And as I wrote down the dream on a pad of paper by my bed, I wondered if anyone in the dream, any student had understood what I was saying.

 

Then I realized the answer in the dream was also a question. Do I understand my own answer?

 

Research and theories by psychologists and neuroscientists speculate one purpose of dreaming is to integrate emotional, and other material from our daily lives. Was the dream an example of that integration process? Was it telling me what my conscious mind couldn’t figure out or was it merely putting into words what I had already concluded? We often underestimate the role the unconscious and the resting mind plays in conscious and critical thinking. Our conscious understanding never gets it all. But if we humbly accept that, sometimes what we find surprises us with its depth and value…..

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Sometimes, It Seems I’m Split in Two: Taking Us Where We’ve Always Wanted to Go but Never Knew We Needed to Go There

Sometimes, it seems I’m split in two. Did you ever feel that? Don’t we all at times feel divided against ourselves?

 

I hear a catbird complain and a cicada call out, continuously. A background concert the universe plays for me right now. Other birds join in. A car races down the road. A raven responds raucously. And I write about that. I write a blog about the comfort of nature, love, meditation, art, overcoming fear, feeling at home.

 

Then I hear the news, about DJT, the Supreme Court, Jan 6, new legislation in Congress, climate emergencies, people being flooded or burned from their homes. All accentuated, fueled by a warming planet that so much industry and GOP politicians want to hide from us. I feel anxious. I feel a desire to meet people and bring us together, to act, to speak. To change it all and resurrect justice. And I write about that.

 

And the two sides of me can feel so different, in opposition even. I feel wonderful after writing the first blog. There’s so much appreciation, gratitude, joy there. So much anxiety, worry, anger in the second. Concern. Care. I am so glad I wrote not only the first but the second blog. I feel I had to write it. There is power, strength in saying it. But it hurts.

 

There is care in both. Compassion. I touched on this in my last blog. They are both fueled, I realize, from the same yearning.

 

There are not two sides, but many. Maybe an infinite set. And maybe we always wish to be one being in agreement with ourselves, but we’re not so easy to pin down. Maybe it’s not that I’m split in two, meditative on the one hand, angry on the other. Maybe it’s just that since the universe itself is so indescribably complex, interconnected and ever-changing, it presents us with so many different faces that our face must change, too⎼ a new face with each meeting.

 

Sometimes, we’re just damn lucky. We see a person smile. The wind bends two trees together, so we hear them speak. Or it rains, and instead of a flood, it ends the drought, and the air feels lovely, cooling. Or we read a passage in a book, and it takes us right where we’ve always wanted to go but never knew we needed to go there. Nothing in or around us stands in our way or fights with us. We see it all up close and personal and the person we see or passage we read goes right to our heart and beats for us.

 

Other times, it’s more difficult to see how we and the universe fit together. But who said life would or should be easy?

 

In the first blog, ‘I’ disappear. It’s not just that my being at peace and yours are not separate. Looking at the tree in my front yard, hearing the catbird, the cicada⎼ that is home. It is where I live. And in the second type of blog, ‘I’ jump to the forefront clothed in fear, hurt, and pain.

 

Pain so easily closes us into ourselves or consists of us closed into our self. But what if we noticed some space between the beats of pain? Or we felt how much space there was around us, in whatever location or whatever room we were in? Or instead of taking in less, we took in everything? Then the pain becomes just one beat out of many, one place in a vast universe….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Somedays, Everything Feels Synchronous: The Quiet Underbelly of Everything is Everything

I was walking down our rural road yesterday afternoon, just approaching a pine forest, and I heard the trees shake, then a gentle boom in the air, and looked up to see the white-tan underside of a huge bird, a snowy owl maybe, fly about 40 feet over my head.

 

And today, while walking I remembered and looked around for that bird. And I thought of asking my neighbor, who knows a great deal more than I do about the local animal population, what kind of bird it might be. Just a minute later, off to the side of the road, was the neighbor. He lived nearby and was removing old tires and other garbage people had thrown there. I greeted him, told him about the bird and asked if he thought it had been an owl.

 

He wasn’t sure. Owls, he said, are usually silent. Eagles change colors for the first four years of their lives, and there are increasing numbers in the area, so maybe it was a young eagle. And after I thanked him and left, I felt grateful for my neighbor, and realized how wonderful and weird it was that I had thought of him, and suddenly there he stood.

 

When I returned home, I started thinking about coincidences.

 

Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh used the term inter-being to explain the Buddhist teaching on interdependence. We all inter-are, in the sense that without the air, what could I breathe? Without the solidity of the earth, what could I walk on? Without the fertile soil, what food could grow? Without other people, would I know who I was? Thich Nhat Hanh said if we look at a sheet of paper, we can see a cloud in it, sunshine, rain, the tree that supplied the pulp for the paper, the loggers who cut the tree, the bread they ate that day, the wheat that went into the bread, the logger’s partner, their children, and finally ourselves.

 

But I don’t always feel this. I don’t always feel the soul of the world or that the world is alive or I’m part of it or it is me. I don’t always feel a connection. I don’t usually look at a stream flowing alongside the road and feel its waters as the blood of my veins.

 

And then, from the bookshelf next to where I was sitting, I picked up Devotions, a collection of poems by Mary Oliver. I randomly opened the book to a poem titled, “Some Questions You Might Ask.” The poem starts with the line, “Is the soul solid, like iron?” And later, “Who has it, and who doesn’t?” Does an anteater have a soul, she asked, a camel, or maple tree? A blue iris? A rose, lemon, or the grass?

 

Or the world itself? And I thought of my cats—and I felt such closeness to them. But do they have a soul, whatever that is? Do they feel they’re connected to the quiet underbelly of everything? And is that quiet underbelly soul?…

 

To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project. Enjoy.

We Are Always in Conversation with the Life that Surrounds and Sustains Us

The world is constantly in conversation, talking with itself, or maybe singing to itself.

 

As I stood in the front yard this morning, gypsy moths by the hundreds fluttered around our trees in the yard. Sunlight bounced off their brownish wings, a blue jay was flying between the moths, leaves dancing with wind, while a car crunched the gravel on the road and a crow cried out. I disliked what the moths represented, the oak, maple, and apple trees stripped bare of leaves. But at that moment, all was different. The air itself felt alive and was speaking.

 

Peter Doobinin, in his book, Skillful Pleasure: The Buddha’s Path for Developing Skillful Pleasure, describes how we can use thought to improve thinking. When we are working on a complex task, or we have an appointment later in the day, we talk ourselves through it or to it. We remind ourselves what we need to do or what time we need to leave our home in order to arrive on time. Likewise, when practicing mindfulness, or maybe anytime, we can remind ourselves to arrive right here, now, to be present, to fully focus on whatever task we undertake, or be aware of the quality of our breathing.

 

For example, before a meeting, or engaging in an important conversation, we might remind ourselves to first stop, take three conscious, deeper breaths. Notice how fast or slow, deep or shallow are our breaths, then our thoughts. Notice how we feel before engaging with others.

 

We use thought not only to arrive on time or complete a task but to construct an idea of ourselves, or an identity. We plan our future, select labels for our character, write mental reviews of past actions as if we were writing a review of a movie or play. Thoughts can pop up so easily.

 

In Buddhism, thought is considered the sixth primary form of consciousness, or sense consciousness, following sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch/feeling; it is closely tied to sense experience. So we need to remember that a thought has a different quality than direct perception. It can weigh a great deal emotionally. It can block or expand our viewpoint, aid or obscure the senses in discerning how completely tied we are to the universe. But when isolated from the senses, thought colors are less brilliant than that of bird wings, flowers, or a sunset.

 

Bruce Chatwin, in his book The Songlines, takes us to the Outback to learn about the First Nation People of Australia and the creator beings who sang the world into existence; song being the original language of people. The original songs are called songlines, or dreaming tracks, and mark the routes followed by creator-beings as they carved the earth during the Dreamtime, or time of creation.

 

But dreaming tracks are not solely about the past. They mark both a where and a when, a time and all time, or the continuous process linking the Aboriginal people to the land and heavens.

According to Wikipedia, a knowledgeable person even today can navigate vast distances, cross deserts and mountains, by singing and following the directions in the songline.

 

In this way, maybe we sing a songline to reach ourselves, or sing ourselves into existence through song.

 

Two metaphors, songs and conversations, or songs as conversations and vice versa. I don’t know which is more apt. We hear the universe singing; we hear the universe in conversation all the time but maybe don’t know exactly what we’re listening to….

 

*To read the whole post, please use this link to The Good Men Project, who published the piece.

 

 

Living with the Unknown in Ourselves

I was watching the Ken Burns documentary on Ernest Hemingway last night. In the second hour of the program, the narrator was describing the difficulties Hemingway had beginning his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. He had already published a critically acclaimed book of short stories, where each sentence was a work of art. Suddenly, he needed to shift to the length and breadth of detail a novel required. Hemingway told himself, write one true sentence. Then another and another. Which is what he did.

 

Hemingway was both a great artist surrounded by friends and family, as well as a solitary narcissist. There is both a loneliness and a luminosity to words. They can be used to mask as well as unmask, to torture or heal. We have to be totally alone in ourselves to write. Yet, words can fill us with a sense of connection and ecstasy. We might try to hold them to us as if they could warm our bodies with their heat. But when we do so, the words dissolve into air. It’s not the words themselves that warm us but the breath we give them as we speak and listen, and the paths to others they might reveal.

 

Two days ago, in the woods near the top of our hill, maybe 25 feet from a road, my wife and I came upon two circles in the earth. We had never seen these before. The bigger one was about 12 feet across, with a moss and stone foundation and one young oak tree growing inside it. Maybe it was once a silo. And the smaller circle, now a depression in the earth lined with rotted leaves and stones, was maybe once a well.

 

The more we looked, the more we found. There were stacks of old boards, maybe an old wall or roof. Further in the trees was a wood railing on an old porch attached to nothing and leading nowhere. It was like someone had built an entrance without knowing where it led. Even in a forest that we think we knew well, we were surprised. There were histories hidden here we had no knowledge of. What we didn’t know was way more prolific than what we did.

 

The night before we discovered the ruins, I had a dream. It started out understandably enough. I was outdoors at a party, a celebration, but no one was wearing a mask, not even me. I felt naked and more and more afraid. Everyone was acting as if there had never been or wasn’t now a pandemic raging in the land, or maybe they had somehow forgotten. Occasionally someone, usually a former student from when I taught secondary school, called out to me, inviting me to sit with them and talk. I waved and walked on, intent on getting out of there as quickly as I could. But I couldn’t. There were people everywhere.

 

Then everything changed. I was in a new dream, or the old one had transformed itself. I was watching a play, also outdoors. A young, attractive, strong looking woman came on stage. She looked Tibetan. The crowd heard her words, maybe the dream me also heard her. But me, the dreamer, did not. I heard no words, just saw her lips move.

 

Then she left the stage, to return wearing a huge mask….

 

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