Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Eye for an 'I'

 

Signs of the self are everywhere. Each time we use an ‘I’ statement, I aver, we subtly surrender objectivity for subjectivity. Difficult not to, since every observation, sensation, feeling, touch, taste, and smell arises directly from our apprehension of particularities. (Even when most empathetic, we are hardly able entirely to see another’s point of view.) Yet, as I know, an ego preserves boundaries; we have a lifetime of experience, at whatever age. We live in terms of a relationship to persons, to things, and even to our geography. Our entelechy, or degrees of inquisitive energy, propels us. We assimilate, at once selfless and selfish, subordinating our selfhood to desires, proclivities, preferences, and wants. Yes, I know, “But, I am me.”

Yet if I begin and end here, and you are there, how can we really be ‘One’? What’s with the ‘third eye’? What’s with the Collective Consciousness, an Ubermensch? How can we be an admixture of individual souls as interdependent as the molecules of the sea, each subject to the vicissitudes of tide and time? How can my energy, like all energy, not actually die, but simply become transmuted into the collective whole? Surely, I shall retain my own identity! Still be me? Yes, belief, assurances, and inexactitudes are yoked in streams of traditionalisms that define groups, sub-groups, and the individual: I believe. (Closely aligned with ‘me,’ can also be a ‘we.’)

Where the subtleties of ‘self’ arises (and here I do not speak of narcissism,) there is the propensity to project onto others the subjective sensations of the self in our given moments, in thought, feelings, attitudes, or even beliefs. Because you do not appear to feel the same, we are not kismet. Because you do not think the same, we are not compatible. Because you have so much passion about this, or that, and I don’t, we are not commensurate. And because you believe in this, or that, politically, religiously, or even traditionally, we cannot easily share, or even communicate. I am different from you. You are different from me. Let’s leave it that. The one who is rightest gets to feel like the winner. The other, being less right, more wrong, or decidedly put out to left field, simply is not to be included into my oeuvre of connections. I do not wish to abide with him, or her. I cannot share. I cannot easily communicate. And my time is precious; I do not choose to waste it. “I feel that...” and so on. Indeed, our disinclinations, we honour.

Peace comes dripping slow. Enlightenment would have one become more and more accepting of every moment, of every person, of every thought, of every contention, of every philosophy, of every... well, of everything. (And which part of Everything is not?) But ‘I’ can get in the way. I am irritated. I am disgruntled. I am discombobulated. I am inaccurate. I am guilty, shallow, avaricious, greedy, and impatient. As the song goes: “Let’s talk about me!” Yet narcissism aside, the subtlety of our self-involvement perpetuates as we bring reference to everything around ourselves from our own point of view. It naturally is so. But at issue here is that the degree of compassion we most can exhibit, resonate with, feel at core, is dependent on our instinctive and intuitive connection to others. We are relational. We are ‘the family of man.’ Still, self-preservation, self-sufficiency, selfishness, self-interest, selfhood, and self-indulgence pervades.

“Do not take anything personally,” (according to The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.) Paradoxically, an integrity of self-hood allows for not needing, seeking, wanting, or caring about the approbation, approval, applause, reciprocity, or flattery of others.  It is a sufficiency unto one-self. My spirituality. My progress. My health. My worth. My interests. My self. Still, as Morrie (on a given Tuesday) asks, I do wonder if I can settle for being ‘fully human.’ Ha! All are but components in a universal whole, I think. Now then, as for you? What do you say, eh?


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Rock in the River




                                                                                  *


Some rocks are called just that, rocks. The one I slept the night on, alone in the middle of a gurgling river, was really a boulder. While all boulders are rocks, but not all rocks are boulders, I certainly begged to sleep atop the giant rock. And Rev Moore, back in circa 1968, or was it 9 (?), was hesitant from the outset about giving me permission. He oversaw about 20 of us, boys of varying ages, all from Pretoria Boys High. We had bicycled to the Hartebeest Dam, and some tributary river near to it, to camp for the night. Rev Moore had followed us in a rented white van. Perhaps it was the Outdoors Club outing. Perhaps it was the Cycle Club outing. Whichever, we were there, all of us in the woods, beside a stream, around a campfire, and I, being obstinate, adventuresome, or plain selfish, wanted not to sleep in a tent with others, but by myself, alone, atop a rock, surrounded by water. It would feel like an island of solitude. It would feel as though I was protected by a moat. And it would feel special.

“I have to see it,” Rev Moore demurred. And he accompanied me there. I remember him not electing to follow me as I goat-leaped the rocks across the rushing stream, scrambled up the big boulder (in my memory about as big as a modern-day SUV,) and demonstrated the flat-top. “Alright,” he shouted across at me. “But if you get too cold you know where we are!”

Thing is, it grew very cold, lying there, all alone. I recall the brilliance of the stars. And mostly, I recall the perseverative gurgle and trickle and cacophony of the forever rushing current. While no real threat was expected, I knew at least that I was alone, on my own island, and as hard and cold as the rock itself was, I would be safe.

The next morning, having spent a very restless night, I came to the camp fireplace a mite downcast, huddled into myself. I remember him looking across at me, this gentle Reverend Moore, and he said something like: “No man is an island. A poet wrote that. But you had to experience it for yourself, even if for just one night. Right?”

“Right.”

“Well then,” he went on, “since we really are surrounded by others, the very water of life, we are better off to share ourselves with them, than just to be an isolate. Do you think?”

I smiled. (I think.)

Somehow, in the manufacturing of the images and words from memory, we may be guilty of inaccuracy. We are creative beings, after all. But the essence of the man, our revered master, Reverend Michael Moore, remains. More than fifty years later, we still see him as a fulcrum in our lives, a man who served us by example. A man who was compassionate, caring, understanding, insightful, and gentle.

He may not have been an island ‘just for me’, but certainly he was the rock of safety and integrity and kindness for so very many of us. And sometimes, in the stream of consciousness that is one’s memory, he rises to anchor me in the security of knowing I was seen, cared for, appreciated, respected, and honoured, just for 'being'. Rev Moore. Some souls among us are boulders of integrity, indeed.


                                         *Rev. Michael Moore, circa 1968, and again in 2011. 
                                                                      
                                                                         [Photos provided by Justin Neway]

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Such Sweet Sorrow



A wailing escapes me. Raw, unchecked, I am surprised by the sound. It is a wallowing cord of connection to an alien universe, in which my moaning grief is transported to my conjecture of an ethereal other, a ghostly you, there, just simply no longer present in my small world. It comes wuthering out of me, uninhibited. Still, I am conscious that I am alone whenever this freedom from the self, this almost startling catharsis, occurs. I choose not to contain my grief when in privacy; at last, alone, the release of it can gush from me. Yet still, it does not empty my pain. Years and years may pass, decades even, and still the tears at some sudden memory of you will, unbidden, leak from me. I am watered by my grief. The garden of my consciousness is made richer for having known you, and though you do become but a memory, I am sustained by the sweet sorrow of having shared your essence. Such is love. It does not die, not as long as I feel it.

Such sweet sweet sorrow. Perhaps that is why we cling to the memories? Perhaps the sense of keeping our loved ones with us is carried in the groundswell of grief irrigating our containment of them. Photos. Stories. Recollections. Places. Experiences. Smells. Tastes. And sounds. Have I left something out? Yes, even texture will have one recall an ‘Other’. And a sad tear, a tug on the heartstring, a catching of breath will give pause to the immediacy of activity engaging me, and I then feel, however differentiated, my connection to you, You, who is no longer available to me. You who cannot write. Who cannot speak. Who cannot touch. Who is beyond any reach other than that which I so very subjectively choose to conjure. Such sweet sorrow, indeed.

Does it really matter that I tell someone else, particularly those that never knew you, that I have lost you? That you are dead.

We each can relate: Pet; Granny; Grandpa; Mother; Dad; Child; Sibling; Aunt; Uncle; Cousin. Whom have I left out? Oh, yes, Lover. Withal, what actual names shall I recount? Will someone else identify? Will they send condolences? Will their words really succor me? Will they assuage my pain? Will they give me support when what I really want right now is the privacy of my grief to cry for my loss to the real-life connection to you. All else of you now becomes conjecture. You become ethereal. You become a memory. Yet you sustain me in my sense of appreciation for your contribution to the very value of my experience. In my gratitude lies the sweet sensation of thankfulness, and the sorrow that you are no longer there to reciprocate. Shall you be named?

An alphabet of names here can follow. Certainly, for you, reading this, hearing this, too; we each have lost and loved and lost and loved and keep on loving. We each have variously experienced others in differing degrees of intimacy, accord, and relevance. As such, our grief, sweet grief, can even attend our projection of love toward those we actually never knew, or could know; at least, not know personally. Funerals for kings, for queens, for presidents and politicians, for movie stars, rock stars, and troubadours; they are the stuff of the collective. Let us share our sorrow that we lost Leonard Cohen. A single star in the firmament brightens up the dark. Yet who can possibly name every star surrounding us? And surely my sorrow for Doris Day’s demise is felt too, unless you knew her not, and her actual name no longer provokes your consciousness as she flits from scene to scene. There are too many to cry over. Yet loss is continuous. Shaka Zulu decreed a year of mourning Nandi. But who now still cries over that?

I miss you. Revered master. Teacher. Mentor. Friend.
I love you. And in that much, I feel so very deeply for your passing. Always.



Monday, July 6, 2020

Raising Reciprocity



After the initial excitement, what? We make contact in the instant, and check in with whatever story attenuates our daily struggle, and then, naturally, drift apart. Yet though our pathways are expected to diverge, the feeling of having reconnected leaves one pleased. It is good to know that friendly accord persists, despite the years that do separate us. We can honour the past. We can recollect the memories. We can communicate with some, especially nowadays, thanks to the many mediums at our disposal. Yet in the bullseye metaphor of a dart board there are comparatively few persons in one’s inner circle who are obliged, or feel compelled, to reciprocate frequently. Some maintain contact, intimately by degrees. A special friend. But very many persons we know, naturally, prick into one’s consciousness, but stay on the periphery. (Surely there are none that "doesn't matter," or, "never did," surely?)

Outer circle relationships can know little of the facts of our life. The pleasantries with the familiar receptionist, the clerk, the secretary, the milk man may all slip away. We forget their names. We enjoyed their presence, their energy, their helpfulness, and even our chatter. But eventually, we, or they, move on; (that is, even those with whom we share intellectual intimacy.)

Closer circle relationships evoke more touchstones. People with whom we’ve worked. People on whom we’ve depended. People with whom we’ve shared stories. Old school classmates. Old office colleagues. Old neighbourhood camaraderies. Then there are present day persons circling the immediate apex of shared interests. Ongoing reciprocity is in the instant. We give, they give back. And all the care and empathy and sympathy and assistance and generosity can be heartfelt, sincere, and treasured. We learn personal things about them, and they know our stories too. But then way leads on to way, and we move away, or they do so too. Yet always, we recall that we had a relationship of some sort, however peripheral that may have been. Coming back into consciousness, an itch begins. We need to make contact. To reconnect.

But let’s face it. Some relationships, like watching a drifting leaf in the streams of life, bob and glide and pass on, away. Each person we meet, have met, are yet to meet, appears interesting to us, depending on the degree to which we give them focus. And yes, then too, it can depend on the degree to which they give focus back to us too. How often do we stay communicating?

Thing is, within the dissection of memes of continuing behaviours, preferences, proclivities, habits, and interests, three arteries appear: Conversations dwell on a predominant interest in things; or delve much into an interest in others; and some explore amongst ideas. All three, generally, engage us. The first is easy. Things can preoccupy. The second is more subtle. We talk about people with care and love and compassion, or some talk can be mean-spirited and poisonous. And if overtly preoccupied by ideas, that too can be too political, contentious, self-righteous, or too abstract easily to integrate. So, yes, we are an admixture of all three, and by degrees are swirling in the very chemistry that makes for the recipes of our individuality. It is the kismet soul that invigorates us most. Especially in the moment. (Hello there, fellow traveler!)

Well, who amongst our friends maintains a steady and loving contact? Who among our family? Some of us have old colleagues, old neighbours, old school chums, and old relationships that continue to dip into our lives (and we in theirs) as the years turn to decades. Such is the nature of an unconditional reciprocity. Yet still, how deep do either of us really, truly, delve?

To provoke a sustained contact, now there’s the rub. Personally, I find Penelope and Percy to have reached out, to have shared their story of the journey from a then to a now, and then to disappear again into ‘the new now’, full of the circumstances and involvements and interests and preoccupations that naturally absorb each of us, individually. “Anon,” and, “Toodle-do!”

Recounting catch-ups goes only so far. The ball is in your court. Or is it in mine? And friendly as our interaction may be, when do we again meet? Or must all relationships, except the ones in an ongoing comfort of reciprocity, circle and cycle around the circumstances of living one’s life as it evolves? When will you write, or respond, or reciprocate, or reach out, yet again? Hm?



Thursday, June 4, 2020

Subtle Sensibilities



Dissolution is everywhere. We easily tear down, minimize, shame, or dismiss others. It takes too much energy to absorb, include, integrate, and assimilate. Rather, we expunge, cauterize, and ignore. Knee jerk reactions can even incite us to violence. We can swear at, mock, and vilify those who are different from ourselves. Our impatience, perceptions, and cultural appropriations set us up for non-acceptance of that which does not suit our status quo. And such negative judgmentalism is endemic to every culture, to every group, subgroup, and clique. Worse even, it is harbored in the individual. We walk around with the censorship deep in our psyche, anchored in our adopted values, and yet too often can unleash it on the tip of our tongues: “Disgusting. Idiot. Shame on you! Buttocks’ hole! Fool. Lowlife. You’re a bastard.” And worse: “Retard!”

Thing is, too often, the very subtlety of it all can disguise it. Our own self-righteousness can feel laudable. “It’s beneath me. She wears dreadful colours. I hate people who do this, or do that!”

All our lives we get taught by others what to think. And we even take on other’s feelings too. A child learns fear responses, learns racism, easily adopts a sense of hate. Taking on the sense of self, a child begins a journey fraught with the acculturation of ages, tradition, expectation, and of maturation toward a plateau of regular and steady personality and character; it is a stance from which one may ineluctably choose not much further to grow; yet for some it is a conscious choice. Such are the pathways for most of us. We evolve rather slowly along the continuum of enlightenment as we adopt the main behaviors and sensibilities of our ‘being’, as opposed to our ‘becoming’. And being ‘just fine for who I am’ becomes our happy place, or our main place, (or our being accustomed to accepting a Thoreauvian sensibility of unrequited desperations.)

We eschew the imposition of being called out, pigeonholed, labelled. Or perhaps not. Some of us are at ease with wearing white capes and hoods, like living ghosts. Some of us are at ease with brandishing swastikas, or badges and emblems and identifying slogans. We care not that we are purposefully and utterly committed to what amounts to a petri-dish of convention within the whole spectrum of mankind. We cling to the sense of our culture, unable easily to ascend beyond it. At most we may side-step the Venn Diagram of our birthright, or even of our particular pathway, but we do tend readily to settle into another. We replace the Bible on the shelf for the book of Tao, (but we do not necessarily read either, let alone immerse ourselves in their preferential practices.) We are content to be as we feel, rather than to understand, deeply, profoundly, entirely, what it is that we are really, truly, being. And so, our prejudices mount. It is natural to flock together with our own species. Different sports for different sorts. Different cars for different drivers. Different houses. Different clothes. Collective, acculturated thoughts. Yes, it can become natural to be divisive, exclusive, demeaning, and self-serving. Differences become reference points to judgmentalism and prestige. 

Thought drives us. Emotions can anchor us. It is thinking about our thinking, (the perpetual practice of meta-cognition,) that can invigorate our evolution through the multi-dimensional dynamics of aspirations toward more and more enlightenment. Like compassion, it is a journey, not just a product. We are too much of everything to be ‘perfect,’ entirely with consistency. As Bob Dylan puts it: “I contain multitudes”. At issue is the choices we make, moment for moment, however caught up we are in survival modes; familial anchors; competitive striving; the fundamentalism of political stance or religious segregations; the inviolate dispensation of being self-righteous; the inarguable need to level the playing field; or then the dreadful insecurity of feeling fraught by one’s individual ineffectiveness; until the paradigm shift of a generalized integration becomes ‘the new norm’, such that one’s actions can begin to contribute more and more effectively toward the health of the whole. Acceptance is all. Integration is everything. And compassion continues in its dendrite-like veins of more and more understanding. If ‘Everything’ is important, and ‘Nothing’ really matters, how then to suspend negative judgements? How to accept, assimilate, absorb, integrate, and nurture the edges of insight? Whatcha thinking? Hm?



Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Keys to The Kingdom




We seldom can see everything at once. We take things in briefly, training on specifics. The horizon, with Denman Island, was my focus. For another, I knew, it would be the foreground of Qualicum Beach. For someone else, it would be the dancing flowers in my camera lens. Without your seeing my picture, how could you possibly find the keys to my meaning? We each make metaphors of our lives, turning the past into symbolism, significance, and perspective. But seldom do we see everything. In retrospect, or when viewing an image again, one may notice something altogether missed, (as did I, recently, when taking the photo (above), more than a week or so ago.)

The key to an effective composition lies in the rule of three. The key to another’s heart lies in treasuring not only the lock, but how to open it. The keys to the kingdom lie in the phrases passed down through history. The key to mankind lies in his ability to marry with her kind too. We are inundated with keys. We carry them like jingle bells, each opening a portal to the new present. And sometimes, oft times, frequently, we come across a key and no longer know what it is for. Our rules of conservation, of co-operation, of collaboration can so easily dissolve trust and security with the loss of keys. We are both collectively and independently dependent on keys. So too for the attainment of them. We get keys to lock something in, or to lock something out. And putting one’s address on the name tag of a key is hardly the way to ensure against future loss. We are conscious of where we keep our keys, most of the time. And sometimes, we give friends a spare key. But the keys to our bank accounts, or to our computers, or to our castles are kept private, secret, secured, we hope. The rule of three applies both to our artistic and practicable sensibilities: head, heart, and kept somewhere filed away for reference.

In that singular adverb, ‘somewhere’, lies the problem. The key to a life is somewhere. Thing is, should we die (when we die,) there is the need of another (preferably one’s trusted loved ones) to unlock one’s ordinarily private files in order to access the bank accounts, the computer files, the life insurance papers, the mortgage and tax papers, as well as the photos and letters of a lifetime. And the key to it all, in the necessity to disburse, or to preserve, or to discard, lies in the value given to everything in one’s will, or given by the subjective decisions of the one who retains the key. Undiscovered wills leave great confusion. Un-updated wills can leave a great sense of inequity. And too decisive wills (“I’ve left all my millions to Fluffy,”) can drive some to despair. Somewhere, somehow, sometime or another, we each must become responsible for knowing where we, or those we care for, keep our keys.

To get to the point. Unlocking one’s thoughts is seldom a direct process, especially if one is right brained, an abstract thinker, or of a metaphorical mind readily given to a predilection for the propensity to prevaricate. Words are not always clear-cut keys. Stop. No. Go. Shut up. Rather, like the very many brush strokes attending the making of a painting, words are as layered and as multifaceted as a moving stream that gurgles and burbles its way to the ocean. And somewhere in all of the tumble of activity and surge of energy that allows for the song to be created, the essay to be written, the bruited meaning(s) to become clear, are the key phrases that invigorate another’s understanding, that unlock the symbolism and the metaphor and the meaning. Or do we not get the drift? Do left-brained apprehenders prefer precise impeccability of phrasing?

We keep our keys close by. We find another’s keys and we hope to help the owner rediscover them. We decide to be more secure, more conscious, more responsible, more prescient, and, yes, even more-better with our lives. We look at others more closely. We look at our landscapes with yet more appreciation. And we look at ourselves with more circumspection, with yet greater metacognition, and with more clarity. Clarity. How very obscured all else can be when we no longer have the keys to our kingdom. Or is my meaning lost too? Look yet more closely at the picture provided to you, (above); like the overview of one’s life, the keys we might have lost are there. We need but see them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Insidious Insights



The cages are of my own making. Is it not so for most of us? Except that, at this age and stage, I can walk quite easily through the first-floor bars, their being neither too tight for my older frame, nor yet all clad up so that only an open door might provide egress. It is now as though the ribs contain but light-filled spaces, allowing one freely to breathe. We each know such cages. And we each know the other cages too, the ones that we keep dark. We each can have these conscious curtailments that define our existence, mostly of our own making. We can draw our curtains. We can close our doors. We can lock away our treasures. And from our own windows we can survey that which is without, from within. But not all cages are of our own making; many get imposed on us by our acculturation, our circumstances, and by the power of others. How to stay clear?

Such has been the insidious effect of this 2020, with its social distancing, its laws and regulations forbidding this and that. We find ourselves in the cages of our dwellings; or in the confines of our automobiles; or visiting each other from a distance; like prisoners of our collective dilemma.   

As a friend writes, “[I’m] Going into my mind because going out of my mind is not an option.”*

Yes, the cages that define our comfortable rooms, that contain our hopes for the future, that outline the very superstructure supporting our individual existence, needs be thought about. Or else we shall but go our habitual way from room to room, or mayhap venture outside, yet stay leashed to the expectations, and the conditioning, and the perpetuation of unquestioned traditions imposed by our history. Since babies, have we not been stopped from unfettered freedom by the bars of our cribs; by the locked doors and cabinets of our childhood; by the fences of our yards; by the rules of the classroom; by the expectations on us of being a responsible adult? It all has been structured to keep one safe. The societal cages make of us a species apparently free to move around the globe, (particularly before the advent of Covid-19,) yet still, we were enabled to do so precisely because we were expected to follow conventional rules, regulations, and expectations; it made no matter how different the society was into which we were able so freely to move about. After all, barring places like North Korea, we did travel fairly easily. After all, except that one needed a visa, and a passport, and proof of financial wherewithal for the journey, one could just about go anywhere.

Given the new framing (as seen in the picture above,) that sense of freedom is what I got when actually walking through the walls of the superstructure of the building in situ. There was the delight of being entirely within my rights. There was no guard to harry me off the property. There was no time-constraint other than that which I chose. There was nothing other than the differentiation in the sizes of rooms that could curtail my process. Except that all the cages were on one level. And the stairway, although nailed down the first five steps to the landing, was entirely loose up to the second floor. To hazard going the next four, to the loose board at the top, merely to get a glimpse of the vaster expanse before me, was risky at best. But at the very least, provided I thought about where to place my balance, I was safe enough, temporarily. The superstructure was not yet ready to ascend to a second floor.

We progress through the Memes of evolution in simultaneous apprehensions of horizontal and vertical accretion. We comprehend but barely, at times, the significance of the cages into which we become conditioned. We at times do “go out of my mind.” And that fear of not being able to understand, to be conscious, to be alert, can indeed be scary. So, yes, it is best advised to keep ‘going into one’s mind,’ for in our better perception of ourselves, within our world, we shall indeed be broaching the universe of what it means to be free, to be compassionate, integrative, and healing.

(*By permission: Mike Jablonski) 

                            “Going into my mind because going out of my mind is not an option.