A Sad Song

The heart understands not its void
Incessant seeking
Expecting deliverance
Dangerous assumption.

Soaring hope near-touches the moon
Misses by a thread
And the longed-for embrace
Is grasping for shadows.

Enigmatic, impenetrable
The Soul resists capture
Though enemies besiege
Though lovers assail.

The rib may be shared,
But an eternal flame
Burns not from two wicks–
A Soul in captivity perishes

Like a Lion once caged
Roars in despair,
Not deadly but dead,
Living, but no longer alive.

Infinite consciousness
Bound in finite shackles:
Fear, envy, the self-awareness
Of Adam; shame in nakedness.

Sing me a melody, a song
Of a Soul enthroned in flesh
Abiding deeply in gentle repose
Finding nothing, already found.

Sing me with harmony, a song
Of that Soul’s light
Emanating in every direction
Finding everything, renewed.

Bolted gate and shuttered door
Open not easily
With grievous knocking,
The pathetic love-song

 

Of a half-souled beggar
Though adorned with silver
Thinks himself poor, in need.
He wails in the streets.

Bolt and shutter fall away
When hawkish observance abates
As the fairies of the wood dance
When watchers avert their gaze.

The Soul’s programmed disease
Is psychosomatic–
A phantom emptiness
Though nothing was amputated.

The tiniest threads ensnare
Until She arrives for dinner–
Venomous desires,
Deadliest appetizers.

Stones lie restless in a river bed
Dry.
Mountain boulders look down
Dry.

Particle Kings reigning over
Dry stones and fossil hearts:
Slumbering Souls,
Suicide victims.

Pursuing and Relinquishing

The pursuit of one’s calling in life requires a constant process of letting go. Many of life’s possibilities are incompatible with my calling, and others are incompatible with yours. The ongoing effort of discernment is the way in which we discover these incompatibilities, and the work of depression is the labor required to let go of them. 

But each time we let go of such an incompatibility, even though there is first pain, it is followed by intense relief, for it is a realization that we no longer have to worry about it. It no longer needs to cloud our judgment or figure into our already difficult calculations about how to allocate our time and mental energy.

To achieve our full potential in life, to do what only we can do, we must let go of so many things. We must mourn their loss over and over, without lingering in our mourning. Then we must rejoice in the clarity and freshness that follows the dark cloud of the work of depression. For who I am and who I am to become is made perfect by shedding anything that is who I am not, and which makes me into what I am not meant to become.

You are the embodiment of the qualities required to produce a Mozart or an Einstein, but are held down by the attempt to retain or gain qualities that are not. Mozart was not Mozart because he was special. Mozart was Mozart because he was nothing else than Mozart. He did not endeavor to be Caesar or Da Vinci, but removed all of the half-formed qualities of Caesar and Da Vinci which prevented him from being fully and only Mozart!

What we could be, in the minds of others, is a fixed idea based on an only partial and incomplete perception of our talent, a dim peek into the cavernous depths of our soul which reveals little true and honest insight to the observer.

Yet how much stock do we put in the opinions of the observer? How much do we judge ourselves against such alien measures? How much do we injure ourselves with the broken shards handed to us by other imperfect, struggling beings who can barely manage themselves? If we do not let go of these expectations, if we do not drop these jagged shards, we bleed ourselves to death trying to please one and all.

Let go of all that is outside of you. Far from the vanity of solipsism, the search inside of your own soul is the antidote to vanity, for it is the ultimate repudiation of any concern for how you appear to others or what they might think of you. Only when we succeed in such a repudiation can we truly also be present to others as a healing force for their lives and their pain.

It is not, however, a permanent state of affairs, for our nature is inconstant and indiscreet. The cheap reward of external approval is always in the offing, and it lures us away from the deep reward of what springs eternally from within.

If we hide within ourselves, we will be robbed of everything human. If we seek outside ourselves, we lose our identity, that ungraspable quality that makes us unique in all the ages of man.

Let go of the need to please others, and you shall be gracefully pleasing at all times and in all places. Let go of the need to imitate others, and you shall imitate the greatest souls who have ever lived. Let go of the need for perfection and you shall help to perfect the world.

Let go of every fear which immobilizes you, for when you fear you are guaranteed to suffer at least once. With fear you suffer all the pain of the worst possible outcome even before it happens. With courage you suffer at most once, and only when the worst comes to pass.

The stern courage to be you, to pursue your calling to the exclusion of other callings is the wellspring of any lasting joy, any persistent peace you can hope to find in this mortal life. Find that courage and make it your chief counselor, your ultimate confessor, so that you might not falter under the weight of doubt, or be conquered by a new genesis of fear.

The soul of the world is calling, and the answer to that call is inside of you. Ready yourself within, and proclaim that answer without–every remaining day of your life.

The True Friend

The time I spend explaining
Struggling to justify myself
To win approval from friends
Who want to display me on their shelf,

What waste, what squander
Of precious health and time
On shallow acquaintances who
Would deny me at mere rumor of crime.

‘Tis sweet the rare encounter
Of soul with soul when
“All is well, all will be well”
Assures without, assures within.

Keep Slogging–Then More

You want to do a start-up?

You want to write a novel?

You want to be a social revolutionary?

You want to do anything meaningful with your life?

Imagine your goal–what does it look like? Who is with you?

Now, imagine your path to that goal as if it were a movie. Tell yourself the story, scene by scene. Envision yourself in the middle of the action–dealing with the problems, rushing in to meet the needs of the crisis, and then reaping the rewards of your success.

I’ve had these sorts of daydreams ever since I was a child. I would go through in my head the way I wanted my life to go. Unlike many daydreamers, I imagine, I always built in crises and difficulties into my daydreams. I never liked when I got to the end of the story, in fact. Reaching my goal was the worst part of my daydream. I always imagined the thrill of the process. I did, however like moving from step to step. I like the process, but only when it was progressing.

slogging

Let’s go back to your daydream, though. Play it through in your mind again. But this time imagine it playing, but with somebody hitting the Pause button on and off and on and off over and over and over. Think of the frustration of living out your daydream that way.

Well, that’s reality. If you want to do anything of merit in life, it’ll be just like that. It’s a lot of slogging. Inevitably you will have a great day–triumphing over some near-disaster. Rarely will you even have time to enjoy it for a minute. Then some other facet of reality sets in, or a new problem arises.

Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled that “life is a series of problems.” Nothing truer has ever been written. It is a hard truth to confront–and an even harder one to accept.

In order to accept it and continue pursuing your calling in spite of it, you must learn to love what you are working toward more than what you are working on. Invariably, what you are working toward will require you to work on many things that you find tedious, boring, or downright miserable. There’s no outsourcing this misery. You can hire employees to do the work you don’t like, but then there will be new things you don’t like.

Every solution creates new problems. Progress more describes a process than a result. Progress is simply the willingness to solve an ever-more difficult set of problems in succession. It is harder to solve the devastation of the world’s fish stocks than it was to solve the problem of catching fish more efficiently. And yet, those solutions made the world a better place in spite of creating a new set of problems to solve.

Acceptance of this succession of problems should not lead to resignation, even though it will always be tempting. It’s easy to say “well if we do this, then we’ll have to deal with that, and that, and that.” Undoubtedly, but that can’t be a reason not to act.

You must learn to solve today’s problems today–and tomorrow’s problems tomorrow.

As the ancient wisdom reminds us, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Two more thoughts in this same realm of lessons learned:

Worry more about what will debilitate you than what will kill you. If you are dead, you won’t care. Much worse to be alive and helpless.

and

Get some Italians in your life–especially if they are from the South. They’ll make you smile and laugh even when you don’t want to. And that might be just the levity you need to pick yourself up and go back to the slog.

 

The Truth Shall Set You Free

There is only one reality.

Whether we are dedicated to an increased, enhanced understanding of it is the chief determinant of our ability to grow and progress in life. To do so requires ultimate humility. It requires us to relinquish claims to having our own truth or our own reality. It means we must live in the same reality as everybody else around us.

It means we must subordinate our interpretations of reality to an ethic of uncertainty. Dedication to reality does not necessitate that we subordinate our dreams and desires to those of others, but it means we must craft them in a way where coexistence and community with others is possible. The ethic of uncertainty allows us to do this without doing unnecessary harm to our identities.

Whenever our identity is impermeable, however, we will do whatever it takes to preserve even the most absurd notions.

Truth sets us free from our absurdities. Truth sets us free from unrealistic expectations. Truth sets us free from all of the things that hold us back from love, peace, and self-actualization.

This is a paradox. We must first sacrifice our rigid identity in order to emerge into an authentic identity. Only when we have humbled ourselves can we actualize all of our possibilities. Like a fruit tree requires pruning, so do our egos.

We reach Truth through self-reflection, to be sure. But the more powerful and effective path to truth is friction with other people and in the cooperative sharing of our “maps” of reality with other people. Through friction and cooperation we are able to acquire better and better information about reality and our unique places in it.

Few people are truly open to this process. It is threatening. It means we must be vulnerable. It means we must disarm ourselves instead of engaging in an arms race of ego that prevent us from relating to other people and building community with them.

Don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to see the world as it is. Don’t shrink from friction with other people. Embrace others, their differences and all.

Nobody else can do it for you.

The Suffering Matrix

 

 

The following is my proposed lens through which to view suffering. The two axes are Voluntary/Involuntary and Legitimate/Illegitimate, forming four types of suffering. I will be writing an extensive exposition of this at some point (hopefully I will get around to it somewhat soon), but I wanted to go ahead and post this to start soliciting comments and thoughts on the subject. This is a by-product of the curriculum development I am doing for Exosphere.
Suffering Matrix

A Prayer for Divine Sensitivity

dark-water-darkness-pitch-black-Earth-Universe-Genesis

 

O Spirit of God,

That didst hover in darkness over the waters that covered the shapeless world,
Thou Eternal Soul and Source of all life, all love, and goodness,
Quicken my heart to Thy vibrations, that I may hear without ears and see without eyes
Thy sovereign movements in and through all creation,
Thou who dost connect the alienated lives of this mortal existence through Love;
That I, one of the alienated may find rest from my travails in the feeling of unconditional compassion
Shown to us wounded men, through the sharing of wounds and the breaking of bread.
Open my being to the vulnerability of others, that I may be an instrument of healing and whole-making,
And that in so doing wouldst myself be healed and made more whole.
If Thou wouldst but grant me the sensitivity to hear the cries for help of my fellows,
And the courage to cry out in my own distress without fear of being weak.
As Thou made the void infinitely full at the foundations of the earth,
So I plead to you, O Spirit, fill full the void in my heart, and the hearts of all Thy sons and daughters,
That we would not, in our finitude, tear each other down with unreasonable expectations of fulfillment.
O Divine Fount, we all yearn to belong, to come home, to love, and be loved,
And we beseech Thee, grant us the fortitude to humble ourselves perpetually with one another
And create in each of our hearts the space for others to belong, to be at home, and to be loved
So we might ever mirror Thy eternal embrace–
Thou Fundamental Essence of All Existence.

Amen.

 

Learning How to be Irrelevant

We all strive for relevance. We want to be relevant to the concerns and cares of the day, so that people will pay attention to us. Politicians and large corporations hire consultants and engage in endless focus grouping in order to be relevant. Churches have transformed themselves from sanctuaries of quietude and holy reflection into entertainment venues apt for a Lady Gaga concert in their quest to be relevant.

Each of us has some inner longing to fit in somewhere, to something. It stems from our existential pain of alienation. And so we strive to be relevant, wanted, even needed.

I submit that we must learn instead how to be irrelevant.

Relevance means attending to the shallow cares of the day, worshiping at the altar of the Gods of the Marketplace. It requires that we look around, rather than inside. It is a cultural mandate to focus on the superficial plane of existence. This is especially true in the present age of instant gratification and frenetic busy-ness.

The message we hear is “if you aren’t helping my immediate concern, I don’t want to hear from you.”

Reflect on how this affects all of our human relationships.

irrelevance

We should not be surprised that so much of our interaction with others seems to be commoditized.

Relevance is almost always at odds with authenticity. Because each of us is unique. Because each of us has a fragmented and divergent experience and perception of the world around us, the quest for relevance takes on a road away from our true self and toward a projection of what we think other people want from us.

The truth is I don’t know what anybody else really wants from me, or what anybody else wants me to be. The truth is that they don’t even know themselves. So why should you or I journey away from our genuine being to try to be relevant to them?

Instead, we must learn to be irrelevant, not for the sake of being different. Not for the pseudo-individuality or spurious uniqueness pursued by teenagers and hipsters. But rather that our irrelevance should flow outward from the depths of our truly unique and special souls. If we change our way of living in such a way, that our spirit goes out into the world rather than the spirit of the world coming into us, we will not need the approval and affirmation of others in order to feel whole or complete. We will not need the gratification of feeling relevant.

As we are putting ourselves out into the world, then, we have the chance to attract other beautiful and irrelevant individuals, and we will find ourselves being attracted to them as well, who through their own irrelevance call us to understand different experiences of the world, and thereby grow and learn to live better, more loving, more giving lives. But we must take this risk in order to attract such people.

If we live to be relevant, we are likely to attract many of the wrong people into our lives. Relevance, as we have said, means we are appealing to the instant gratification zeitgeist. Who doesn’t want to be instantly gratified? If we are living outside-in rather than inside-out, we will be nothing more than one option among many on the consumerist buffet.

Taking this path will mean enduring much rejection. It will require us to see our efforts to give of ourselves for the growth of others frustrated–probably more often than not. We must be careful not to allow this frustration to lead us into despair and to abandoning our irrelevance for the easier path.

I am here reminded of the Parable of the Sower.

“Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

We cannot love and give with the expectation that the return will come to us from those to whom we give ourselves. We can only live united in spirit to the Unknowable, feeling and reveling in the unconditional love we already have. Then, and only then, will we have the strength to practice irrelevance. Then, and only then will we have the power to take up our calling to be ourselves.

Calling From Silence

Much if not most of our behavior stems compulsively from our boredom. We spend hours on Facebook because we are bored. We fill our lives with appointments and events and functions because we are bored. We watch TV, read books, and fill our lives with endless distractions principally because we are bored. Sadly, we even take up social causes for this same reason. We are bored and we think it will not only rescue us from our boredom, but give our lives meaning at the same time.

Such motivation will only lead us to a growing emptiness over time. Our boredom is an incontrovertible part of human existence, and the more we fight to alleviate it, the stronger it becomes, like a bacteria with consistent exposure to the same drugs. Until we realize this–that we cannot conquer our boredom–we will never be able to reach deep within ourselves to find the spiritual motivation to do what it is we are called to do.

Frequently we hear career counselors and academic advisors and other such people ask us the question “What would you do every day if money were no object?” with the implication that our response to that question ought to be what we choose to do with our time anyway. This superficial nonsense is perceived to be a show of wisdom, but it couldn’t be more distant from true wisdom, for it is a rationalistic question that has a rationalistic answer.

 

Valle de la Luna 3

 

The deep mysteries of life–those things that cannot be measured or studied with the scientific method–are beyond the scope of rationalistic inquiry. We may attempt to treat them rationalistically, but this is perhaps why there is a growing spiritual emptiness in our generation. We probe these questions with the mind and come up short. We should be probing these questions with the heart. But that is a far more difficult thing to do.

To explore this question of calling from and with the heart requires us first to quiet the noise inside us, and all around us. We must withdraw ourselves from the endless calculations of the mind. We must withdraw ourselves from being in constant communication with the world around. This means not only that we must cease sending signals outward, but we must barricade ourselves from receiving inbound signals. We must make ourselves totally inaccessible to the world, and the world totally inaccessible to us.

Then we must continue to fight against our proclivity toward processing. Processing and Contemplation are two different, and indeed mutually exclusive activities. Processing is what we do most of the time. It is where we make our pro & con lists in our head, where we review what was said, preview what we might say, where we rehearse and rehash conversations and scenarios, where our mind is at the peak of its activity. Contemplation, on the other hand, is the struggle to stop processing and start listening to the still small voice of the Divine that is always speaking to us, but whose words are rarely heard because we are too busy drowning them out.

We need to learn how to create a desert in our mind so that we can hear perfectly clearly the words being spoken to us from our hearts, out of the Soul of God. The noisome chatter must give way to the providential symphony of silence. Then we might be able to hear that calling. Then we might be evoked to right action, not out of compulsion or boredom, but out of a response to the call.

 

 

My Most Joyful Moment

Chugach

Seven hard days of hiking (and carrying a 60 lbs backpack), through rain and hail, difficult river crossings, a few bear sightings, and lots of thick tundra brush culminated in an ascent up one of the steepest inclines a person could climb without needing special gear. Then there was the moment I looked up and saw the mountains pictured above–the ancient architecture of God standing before me in perfect harmony with itself and its surroundings, carefully crafted–and as yet still being crafted. It was truly the most joyful moment of my life.

But would it have been as joyful had I seen it on the first day of the hike? Would I have appreciated the splendor and majesty of the Unknowable in and through his creation had I flown there by helicopter? I submit that in both cases the answer would be a resounding “No.”

I was asked yesterday by a person I had only just met if I really believed (as I had suggested) that suffering was so essential to the human experience. In my slightly inebriated state I could not give a cogent defense of my position. But I think that suffering is the currency with which we are able to purchase true joy. As long as we understand that all suffering is not equal, and all suffering is not legitimate, and can distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate suffering, then cautiously I say yes, suffering is essential, because it is only through suffering we can emerge into joy. Just as community can only be entered into after going through the stage of emptiness.

Indeed, my most joyful moment would have been dulled without the struggle that preceded it. The joy we have in relating to other people and being in relationships with other people likewise can only be truly achieved after the chaos and pain of realizing we are each unique individuals with conflicting and fragmented perceptions of the world, different wants, different needs. But if we embrace the struggle to transcend those differences, and transcend our egos in the process, then we are able experience the joy of relationship and community.

G.K. Chesterton, in his inimitable work Orthodoxy cites Oscar Wilde’s statement that we cannot appreciate sunsets because we cannot pay for them. Chesterton’s response is “But we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.”

Hence, joy is derived via negativa, by stripping away, rather than adding to. (Legitimate) Suffering is the friction that helps us strip away all that is unnecessary. When we are climbing the mountains of life, we can only carry with us those things that are absolutely essential, and we must shed the rest. Then when we reach the top, not only do we have the elation of seeing the handiwork of God, but we are able to do so without the weight of those extraneous things that had weighed us down along the way.

 

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