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.

The Joy of a Tango in the Morning: Even Our Shadow Can Surprise Us

Despite the recent horrendous killings in Boulder and Atlanta,  there were two moments this week when somehow I broke out into a deep smile and dance. Somehow, we must find joy between the sadness.

 

There have been so many large scale downs and ups in recent years. January 6th was an historic down, January 20th an exciting up. Before the inauguration, I too often felt fright, anger, revulsion, grief and sadness about our world.  I had taken refuge from the viruses of DT and COVID in friendships, meditation, creativity, political action and exercise.  But this week, two seemingly small events turned moments of my life from a waltz to a tango.

 

The fact that it’s spring and it feels like multiple winters are ending at once certainly has turned up the volume on life. On Sunday, a blog of mine that referenced morning light and sounds was going to be published and I wanted a photo of the morning to put on my website. So I woke up and went for an early walk. I walked for maybe an hour and a half, taking twenty or so photos, not trying to capture but simply express the moment. And what a moment it was. The clear, almost baby blue of the sky. The freshness of it all. The expansiveness.

 

Part of the joy was the newness. I usually walk in the late afternoon, when the sun is already partly hidden by the hills. But not today. Today I was not caught up in doing things in the house or in cold shadows.

 

Over the last year, I have walked this road so many times, almost every single day, and the familiarity has transformed it into something else, not just a home, but a way of greeting myself. On a steep section of the road, a tree stood on the edge of the bank, three feet of roots exposed, it’s inside turned out. There is an old stone foundation just beyond the pine forest that was abandoned decades, maybe a century ago, a house-sized unknown reminding anyone who looked that even here, where now there is forest, there is a human past.

 

Sometimes, I get lost in thought as I walk. I’d remember passing an old tree that is half rotted, with a metal fence growing through its belly. And then I’m 200 feet up the road, in the oak and maple wood, where an old house lies snapped in half, like some giant named age and abandonment had just grabbed both ends and broke it in half over his knee. I take a few breaths and continue.

 

And then, around a bend in the road, between two trees, I saw my own shadow. It surprised me. It had been tailing me all along but because of the angle of the sun relative to the road I hadn’t seen it. Now, what had been behind me was in front. And my focus deepened. Any thoughts that arose sprouted into reminders to look around me at the snowdrops and other new flowers, or to listen to the sound of water running in the streams and ditches along the road….

 

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

How Does the Wind Move Us?

The wind can storm, tornado, hurricane as well as breeze. It can frighten or comfort depending on what shape it takes, or we take in our response. It can also play tricks on our hearing.

 

I was walking up a portion of our rural road that is forested on both sides, and suddenly I heard and felt a roar of sound, like thunder, or like a massive truck was headed in my direction. I looked around and there was neither a truck nor a storm. All there was to see were the trees, some bending, moving in their own way, and the sky, a clouded blue. But what a sky it was. And those trees, so stiff and yet firmly rooted. And my attention now so awakened by their thunder.

 

A road can become a funnel for sound. When I served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone,I lived in the bush off the unpaved main road. Between villages, huge trees covered the road on both sides. I could hear a truck coming from many miles away. Flagging down a lorry was the only way for anyone in the village to get a ride anywhere. So, if I was intent on going somewhere, I could go into my house, finish packing a bag, and walk leisurely out to the road in time to flag down the lorry for a ride.

 

Hearing, like smell, is a sense that spreads out on all sides. We can home in on a sound by moving our head. But unlike sight, which is mostly aimed directly in front of us, or touch and taste, hearing sweeps our entire 360-degree sensory environment.

 

Each part of the day has its own music. We hear the morning, for example, not just see it. In the spring and summer, birds, and in warm weather, cicadas welcome the rising sun. When I lived in Sierra Leone, as sunrise approached, the jungle awoke with an increasing volume and variety of sounds, culminating in a concert of insects, birds, possibly monkeys and other creatures. It felt like the earth itself was waking up, a mouth opening to speak. The dusk is another time the world clearly speaks to us. What does an eye or an ear opening and closing sound like? Is one sense a chorus for another or do different qualities of light have a specific sound component?

 

For some of us, yes. Synesthetes, for example, can see or feel sounds. A strong wind might be perceived as a specific color.  The word ‘synesthesia’ derives from the Greek meaning “to perceive together.” People who have the condition unite or switch sense modalities, hear color, or taste sound. The condition is rare, about one in 2,000 people share it. It is a biological condition, not a hallucination; it runs in families, and is more prevalent in women.

 

What is the weight of thunder? The shadow of a car horn? The taste of the words we speak?…

 

 

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