Holy cow!...er cow patty..or something! No dirt under the fingernails..*GASP*...but, but..where's the fun in that?! Honestly, if I could, I'd open our pasture behind our house here to everyone that's an "urbanite" so they could just experience it on a misty morning. Heck...even on a non-misty morning. Everyone would get educated on how to avoid the "bombs" and the abysses that are hidden by grass...lol..not to mention experiencing the critters and the sounds.
And yeah buddy, thankful I am for the Sanka crops!!
Honestly, if I could, I'd open our pasture behind our house here to everyone that's an "urbanite" so they could just experience it on a misty morning.
That sounds like a splendid idea. This home-body doesn�t travel well, nor does he like to invite himself or be a nuisance. But if you ever do set up such a thing I would be more than glad to volunteer to help with a shakedown cruise. If you and your husband are the kind of people who enjoy company, who enjoy hanging over the fence gabbin� to the neighbors, if you�re the type who enjoys cooking and light entertaining and socializing and whose version of heaven on earth is sharing the splendors of hay stacks and corn fields and horse rides and dips in the crick or pond, then I would say that you seriously should consider such a proposition.
One of the most fun times we ever had was having a class party for our now 18-year-old down in our pasture. We brought a volleyball net, a grill, and lots of food. They had a scavenger hunt, played volleyball, ate, and just hung out...it was really great. We took them by pickup loads down to the bottom part of the pasture next to an old creek, which only has a trickle in it most of the time. They got to get muddy, get poison ivy, and poke around all the old logs and rocks and such...lol.
If you ever do decide to travel south, give me a holler because it would be very cool to have a visit .
If you ever do decide to travel south, give me a holler because it would be very cool to have a visit
It's a deal. And the same goes to you if you ever are near Seattle. Anytime you want to tell more farm stories then go ahead. I find them interesting. There's a lot of interesting logging stories on one side of my family. Imagine five brothers, all loggers, up in Forks, WA. One of my uncles was a company cook. Apparently you just would not believe how much energy loggers spend and therefore how much they eat. Just imagine...and then double or triple what you imagine.
Random Thoughts from the Transformation Trail:
(I'm sort of giving someone else a much-needed break.)
One must come to grips with the fact that life is hard. I must come to grips with the fact that god will shape my life in kind and gentle ways and in hard and cruel ways. I honestly don't know why, and I'm having a very tough time coming to grips with this. When one has been badly injured one needs to be nurtured, not tortured, and yet it is for sure that growth is a very ugly and painful business. I don't know why this should be so but it is the nature of existence. The sooner one accepts this and comes to grips with it, without oneself becoming perverse or cruel (to others or one's self), the easier it will be.
Quite logically then it seems to me, our death becomes the ultimate guidance and learning experience.
The paradigm of my life doesn't feel like it is one of tearing off big slices of anything, of carving my initials large into the landscape, so to speak. So what is the, or is an alternative to that?
Walking down this rather remote dirt road, I noticed quite a few houses that surely looked more like bunkers than homes. Barking dogs on long chains, "Keep Out" signs, and just the remoteness seemed to be saying that these people were hiding from something. They didn't want to be bothered by the outside world. Other places, other roads, you will come across bright gardens and cultivated grass and trees as if the whole property were a welcoming matt. I saw a home for sale on one of these more isolated dirt roads. It was then and there that there was no longer any question in my mind that I do not want to hide from the world. I want to learn how to exist in it.
This interesting thing I�m running into in my transformation from Pagan to theist, and this in combination with the self-work psychology that I�m attempting to do, is that "Out with the old", while laboriously difficult, is only half the battle. "In with the new" is leaving me quite perplexed.
There�s a "fear factor", of course, of feeling insubstantial and uncertain in the wake of change, but I believe that through abandonment and patience I can get through that part of it for the short term. But one never really knows if there is something on the other side for the long term or even medium long term, or even long short term. I could very well be a street person in a matter of a year or less. I have no visible means of support other than the sheer momentum of what I�m doing now and what has sort have been built up. And I know that it is all of these things -- feelings of insecurity, of being abandoned (not voluntarily abandoning to god), of feeling absolutely useless and out of place � it is all of these things and more that typically drives us nuts, to addictions, bad choices, panicked choices, fearful choices, bad relationships, etc., etc. And yet I don�t feel particularly vulnerable to any of that. I feel I have enough of the broad basicss down pat to avoid too much needless trouble (but it�s the needed trouble that has me white-knuckled, but I digress). I simply am quite literally sitting here wondering if new life will ever emanate from me and through me. It�s sort of a "Hello? Is anybody in there?" phenomenon. I�m not driven yet to do anything in particular. Oh, it�s very EASY to mint "In God we Trust" on the back of a coin. But try living that for more than five minutes. Then you find out what you really believe.
I'm open to advice/suggestions.
Beautifully said Brad. I like your "fear factor". I know who I was, that was easy, automatic pilot. I do not know who I am becoming. I am so uncomfortable. Nothing is easy. Everything is intentional. How do I want to do this? How do I say that? What do I think of that? What am I feeling? My life, my choices. HELP! It was so easy to do what dad said or mom said, or the pastor said, or the boss said. Now what do I say? How do I choose to "do" whatever it is I am doing? My way. With present moment thought. I feel so incapable. What if I make a mistake? I am learning life goes on and I know more and I am finding out who I am. Shocking. And I am a pretty nice person. Not always a nice person, sometimes downright rude. Hem. Thats ok. There is grace in this world and I am and can be imperfect and still survive. And even having a different belief than my pastor, I may still even go to heaven.
You are brave. You are on the journey of discovering who you are and who you are to be. Good luck. From what I have read, you are asking the right questions! Hem. I am not comfortable with the word right - how about, sounds like you are asking the questions you need to ask for your life and stepping out in faith and following them. Bravo!!!!
Diane, that was a real treat for me to read your comments. The only visible (somewhat intangible in this case) means of support I have for all this stuff is from the few people I trust concerning this subject matter and those people are my internet friends. Thanks for being one of them.
More Musings from the Transformation Trail.
There's something about liquid, flowing water that reminds me how we should be. Pliable. Smooth. Able to flow over bumps and rocks, and to do so not only gracefully, but beautifully. It makes a pleasing, soothing sound, not despite of, but because of, turbulence. It seems to reveal its nature only when in motion. When still, in pools, it could be solid for all we know, but it is not hard. It is at peace. And it sparkles and shimmers and uses the shadows on its surface to set off and highlight this light and give it life. It wastes nothing. Uses everything. Flows happily. And has no fear of evaporation.
I do not know who I am becoming. I am so uncomfortable. Nothing is easy. Everything is intentional. How do I want to do this? How do I say that? What do I think of that? What am I feeling? My life, my choices. HELP!
That was quite well said, Diane. And I'm starting to get small glimpses of the direction that abandonment is taking me. Right now I'm pretty sure it's the equivalent of detox. I'm spending time alone but really alone in this case (as opposed to struggling to escape aloneness when alone) -- and yet I�m not quite alone either. But it seems that, slowly, a lot of neediness is being bled out of me and at least some healing is taking place in terms of the feelings of shame and valuelessness. And along the way I�m asking a number of big questions and half expect to get answers to at least some of them. This process will continue and then I have no idea what, if anything, to expect. I could get run over by a truck tomorrow or perhaps quit my job and move to Tonga. Who knows? But I have the feeling that whatever it is will be rather anticlimactic and, frankly, boring�and that might not be such a bad thing in my case. The only persistent idea or vision that I have is of living on the ocean. Doing what with whom I do not know. The scariest part for me is that I see no end to the aloneness. But then if I new how to run my life I'd have already fixed that. I don't, thus abandonment.
More from the Transformation Trail:
One thing that stands out on the transformation journey is my growing sense of humility. And it seems that as this grows there is a growing awareness of, and sensitivity to, just how violent creation is. That violence started with the biggest violence of all, the Big Bang, and it seemingly hasn�t stopped. Violence is everywhere and in everything. It is, strangely, most evident in the creation and birthing of things, including a mother giving birth to her child. And then, a bit more abstractly, there is the violence we do to ourselves and to the truth when trying to reconcile or whitewash this reality and make up other stories about why this should be so. We�ve always before, I think, interpreted the violence as something we deserve, and that is surely so that we may leave god unsullied. But I really don�t think this brings us to a better understanding and it certainly does not increase the quality of our behavior. This alone ought to be seen as evidence that we�ve got a whole bunch of this stuff wrong. Violence begets violence? I do believe our religious (and especially our atheistic) history shows us how true this is. And of all the ways a god might have reconciled a lack of love among his created people, violence (the violent death of Jesus) surely seems a strange way to do so. And yet, if violence is inherent in the birthing process, it seems that this then was not so odd or inappropriate. But we�re still left asking why this should be so in the first place?
Much, if not most, of the violence to which I refer is not "stick a spear in someone" violence. It is the subtle violence that is in so many of the small acts we partake in � even in a tone of voice or body posture. Even making love has a violent component to it. Nourishing ourselves � eating � is an act of violence to it for we are eating what has been killed. Much of what passes for entertainment these days, almost without exception, is infused with violence. The very means of our creation � evolution � is a very violent process. It�s not just that violence is a byproduct. Violence is the driving engine of it. It�s central to the process. As human beings, in our state of development such as it is, I think what we�re seeing for the first time on this earth the ability, primitive though it may be, for life forms to transcend this violence � or at least a great deal of it. The first stage, I think, is to recognize violence as inherent and to come to terms with it. How interesting that evolution, a violent process, should shape a creature to be able t do so. And behind evolution � god?
Given the ubiquity of violence (how it seems such a deep part of creation), I think one can see how easily St. Francis and others can view pain and asceticism as virtuous. It�s a wholly (and perhaps holy) logical conclusion to draw from reality. And somehow, in the grand scheme of things, in the way that nature plays out, it seems entirely predictable and almost fitting that peaceful men such as Jesus and Gandhi meet violent ends. Not all peaceful souls meet such an end, but many do and have � enough so that this has imprinted itself in our evolutionary history so that violence is very much a positive adaptive trait � at least in terms of survival. But whether one is predominantly violent or peaceful, we all seem doomed to meet a violent or semi-violent ending to this life. Many pass away relatively peacefully but many don�t and meet the other end, seemingly the balancing end, of the violence and pain that was there at our birth.
Is our faith meant to wallpaper over all this, to whitewash it, to twist our logic and reason into pretzels until we somehow force reality to make some kind of sense? I would say this is and has been so to a great extent. But to try to make sense of reality is a human need. And to come up with a perhaps faulty conclusion to an intractable paradox is no great fault, at least in my opinion.
So what do we do then? Do we honor violence? Glorifying it? Ritualize it? Or run screaming from it? Well, to run screaming from it is only to add to the violence. Any of the other options do seem to contain the healthy reaction of accepting it but also the unhealthy action of perpetrating it by too easy of an acceptance. One of the reasons that this subject is so personal to me is that I�m quite sensitive to and aware of violence and have sort of made it my life�s work (or my life�s meaning) not to pass it on if I can. Of course I�ve failed badly and have probably been anti-life in doing so and thus it accounts for my personal history which is not full of friends, lovers, children, and such. My sensitivity to violence (one would rightly say over-sensitivity) has isolated me quite a bit from life. There are surely other reasons, but part of this, I�m quite sure, is a sincere desire not to do violence to others. But we must. We have to. That is life. The usual order is that we will engage life, do all our normal stuff (much of it quite violent, instinctive, and unthinking), and then return to our successfully built nests or positions and do penance. But god forbid if we ever did these things in reverse (something like I have poorly attempted). The human species would be wiped out. We might not reproduce in sufficient numbers!
God has not given me the answer to this paradox, if indeed it is a paradox. And I don�t expect him to anytime soon. But in the meantime I will try to live lovingly and non-violently while all the time knowing that this will likely drain me of life rather than enrich it because, ultimately, we just can�t fight nature and if we do we will pay a price. Even when one looks at the life of St. Francis, a life that was SO full of love, one sees that he sort of unconsciously (or consciously) balanced that love with the violence he did to himself in the way that he mistreated his body. Violence wants to go somewhere. It almost needs to make an appearance. If one can control where it goes, and that it does not go to harming other people and creatures (as much as possible) then one will have committed, I think, a moral act. My violence, similarly, has also been directed mostly at myself in lieu of other people. But that is something I will countenance no more. Beating up on one�s self helps no one. But nor will I simply then spread it to others (as much as possible). But that violence has to go somewhere, it seems. The only thing I can think of doing is to quite literally do violence to violence by denying it its pound of flesh, if at all possible. That might sort of be the equivalent of peace, but it might be something just a little different too.
Some violence we do bring on ourselves, but not all of it or even most of it. It�s just the price of admission for living. I think it�s safe to say the god uses the technique of violence quite liberally. I don�t see where it does any good to deny this or to try to pass off all this violence on the fact that we are somehow responsible for it. In an odd sort of way, we simply take part in that which is one of the many truisms of life. We make use of it to live and to make it possible for others to live after us. To what purpose is surely a grand question. An all-powerful god need not be so circuitous. You would think he or she could devise a more direct path to sculpting spiritual creatures. It�s a mystery. But even if violence is endemic to creation we still have this higher pull to overcoming it and minimizing it as much as possible, even while knowing we can never eliminate it completely for if we did it would mean the end of life. With no motion or change it would sort of be the heat death to the universe. If there is no motion then nothing is alive or can be alive, at least in this natural, physical world. And to be in motion is to chance to collide. And perhaps that�s it right there. Violence is simply the price we pay for the gift of life. What makes it so inelegant and obscene to our senses it that this price is seemingly paid quite unequally among people. Some pay much more than others. We sense this and thus the concepts of heaven and hell make a great deal of sense to us. But justice with this scenario (especially hell) is just another form of violence. Violence begets violence. What we really want is peace and love. So the only way to balance out the inherent violence is with peace and love. That is the true balance. Not vengeance.
Ironically, it�s likely that I do violence to my own life (or at least conventional notions of life) by trying to live without violence. And this is my central issue, which I don�t expect anyone else to understand, nor really should they. But I have to make a choice between two possible paths and I know which path that has to be � even though it does violence indeed to a great many notions and ideas that I love.
When I look around at other people, at the way we all generally live, and the way we all generally behave, the world seems to me as if it is a thousand loud, dull, slicing knives trying to chaotically hack through to some unforeseen better place, but the hacking itself prevents that better place from ever appearing which is the spot that we are standing on right now.
Note: Perhaps most, but not all, would recognize that such remarks are the result of a deepening faith, and not the drawing back from same.
Brad, these are deep and penetrating reflections on life and the meaning of violence. I'm glad you've been using this thread as a kind of online journal to share your journey.
I totally concur with your points about a kind of violence being present as part and parcel of nature and its operations, from the Big Bang to life forms consuming one another for survival. Surely the latter isn't much fun for the ones consumed, and must seem the ultimate evil to them (although they, too, consume other life to survive). The grand exceptions, here, are plants, who obtain their energy from the sun and thus make this energy available to the rest of the food chain. I once had an eccentric botany professor who, like you, was so sensitive to violence; he actually wished he could become a plant and not have to rely on other life for his food. He said he even rubbled chlorphyl on his hands and arms one day and went and stood in the sun, begging God to enable him to draw energy from the sun. Perhaps he should have studied the life of Theresa Neumann, who went without food for decades, surviving only on the Eucharist and what she called "Light Energy."
All that said, I think there's a distinction to be made between what we might call "natural violence" and moral/spiritual violence, the latter ensuing from the misuse of our human freedom. I'd happily settle for a world/universe of natural violence only, and I think we'd all recognize that our own eventual demise was part and parcel of "the way things are."
As you noted, too, there's much mystery about all this. I come away thinking that this (natural violence) is just the way things have to go in a physical universe such as the one in which we live. I take, comfort, however, in believing that God has become incarnate and experienced through the medium of a creaturely form what it's like to suffer, grieve, and die. It doesn't answer all the "why" questions, for sure, but it helps to know that the divine understands and is "with us" on the journey. One of the greatest gifts of Christianity, imo, is in salvaging a sense of meaning in suffering -- indeed, of affirming that intimacy with God can be found in that context. This is one of its most significant distinctions from Buddhism.
Thanks, Phil. The interesting thing about violence(and not that I'm telling you anything that you don't know) is that the seeds of kindness lay as latent or dormant potential in such acts. It is odd. It is a mystery. But it is very quantum-mechanicish. Each particle or thing has an opposite. Matter/antimatter. Violence/kindness. And similar to the Uncertainty Principle whereby the more we know about a particle's position, the less we can know of its momentum, the more intense the violence is, the less it is able to overwhelm our sense of compassion. As violence recedes our compassion will also recede in intensity.
I was thinking about such things the other day, particularly in relation to the design of the universe and our old friend, Albert. God does play dice, Albert. He does indeed. How could it be otherwise, for a deterministic universe offers no freedom? Arguably, it would not even be a universe at all but an extension of some other thing, perhaps god's body, but there would be no place for independent beings. There might not even be a place for true novelty, discovery, wonder and growth.
One of the features that is highly suggestive of an intelligent creator is, ironically, the randomness that is built in at the very smallest level of the universe, the quantum level. A deterministic universe is, ultimately, bland and predictable. Nothing truly is created. It's just a bunch of particles set in motion. If one knows the start of things then one automatically knows the end. It's just a matter of letting it all play out as it has to and must. For god to have created a deterministic universe is the equivalent of an adult playing tic-tac-toe to pass the time. The outcome for any halfway intelligent person is known in advance. The game has little interest and no meaning. So, in all honesty, I�m not quite sure what ol' Einstein was so upset about. Surely the brilliance of a universe that allowed true growth and freedom could not have eluded him.
The universe on the macro level, the level of human beings, still behaves more or less deterministically so that life itself is possible. A certain amount of deterministic, Newtonian behavior is necessary for predictability, consistency, continuity and intelligibility. But the true wonder, the true marvel, the true genius is to have this built-in as sort of a front end on top of a micro universe that is ultimately random and indeterministic at the quantum level. Particles pop into and out of existence and the best we can do (can ever do) is to assign probability to their appearance and disappearance. And we have already seen from the double-slit experiment how consciousness has a direct effect on this quantum world. This has direct and immediate consequences and implications. It means that mind is somehow in interplay with matter and energy. In terms of us it means that things such as "the power of positive thinking" probably really do have power, as does the act of prayer. But on our level, the limited human level at the macro level, any changes we may make to this quantum level are probably usually small and unpredictable. But we need only change how one atom or electron behaves in order to effect much larger change in the world. It's the classic butterfly effect where the butterfly flapping his wings in China can cause a tornado somewhere in America the next day or week. And this is where the true genius and mystery of quantum randomness comes in. Whatever changes are made are undetectable. No trail of cause-and-effect is left behind to follow. In fact, all we have to go on that any kind of change is made in this world via thought, faith, prayer or god is through the eyes of intelligent faith. We can see events that, with a keen eye, jump out at us as more than just coincidence or random. True, there's no proof that they are not but that, again, is the very nature of how cause and effect can be tinkered with, by man or god, at the quantum level. Normal macro cause-and-effect seems totally unaffected and continuous and yet the quantum randomness allows for an extraordinary amount of on-the-fly change...change that we can not notice any other way but with the eye of a knowing faith (in this case the mind is the appropriate instrument, non-exact though it may be; faith is the operating system software; and both together form the scientific instrument, the only instrument indeed that can detect these occurrences which by nature [by quantum nature] are random, not fixed, and not strictly reproducible).
In such a scenario the idea of "god's will" does not seem all so strange. In fact, although we probably can effect things beyond normal cause-and-effect with our will as well, this would surely show that it would be a much better idea to stop butting heads and allow the mind of someone far more competent to tinker with creation on our behalf rather than us bollixing up the works, although, of course, we are free to do so. But when our mind and will are willfully in play we are, it seems, automatically crowding out a mind that is much more adept at changing things for the maximum benefit for ourselves and others.
The genius of building this quantum "back door" into the universe can not be understated. Although Einstein saw quantum randomness as a threat to an intelligible, consistent, manageable universe, I'd say the opposite is true. I say (with all the advantages of hindsight, of course) that we should have seen this coming.
Brad, you're slowly but surely talking yourself into process philosophy. See the works of Charles Hartshorne for an example of this. Overall, I like it, but it's nothing new, really. Listen to Angela Merici (16th C).
Exercise pleasantness toward all, taking great care what you have commanded may never be done by reason of force. For God has given free will to everyone, and therefore never forces anyone - but only indicates, calls and persuades.
And so the creation is free to respond to God's loving influence, each with its unique and limited measure of freedom and intelligence.
Pere Teilhard de Chardin developed a high theology using this approach -- another good one to know about.
Overall, I like it, but it's nothing new, really.
Nothing new under the sun, eh? Yes, that�s another one of life�s great balances and humblers we must all deal with. So much has already been said before, and yet we�re surely getting to the point where so MUCH has been said that nothing gets heard. It�s all lost in a blur of old books sitting on countless shelves, and now in a billion or trillion internet pages with unique content of their own. There is not time in one lifetime to probably read even 1/10 of one percent of all the books ever written that are still available to be read. Why, it�s doubtful that even the greatest speed-reader alive could simply keep up with reading new books as they are published.
So what we�re left to do is to try to develop some very good filters. We have to be very choosy and yet not too choosy or else we�ll be reading only what we want to, but not perhaps what we need to.
And so I am proud to be stumbling my way to process psychology, whatever the hell that is , and no doubt I may one day be stumbling my way to St. Augustine, Aristotle (Onassis, I think), and even Al Franken. If I stumble upon some of the same signposts then I�ll take that as confirmation that I�m an awake human being and not simply a plagiarist. But I know of no other way to go about these things since I do not have the time, and will not take the time, to press my nose into so many books in hopes that I might, someday, say something completely original. And besides, when it comes right down to it � perhaps process philosophically speaking � no human being has ever invented or discovered a single thing. We�re all sort of in the situation of Columbus who "discovered" American. Well, that would have been interesting news to the natives already living here. Such is the case with the things we discover or invent. Surely Someone is already on that continent and would be quite amused that some human should take credit for discovering, say, the quark.
But it is surely, sincerely, and truly a humbling process to know that so many great minds have come before us. It is humbling to know that, on average, at best, that perhaps the only truly original thing most of us can do is to express ourselves. If I write a poem expressing my love for apple pie then surely someone before me will have written a better one. But it still will not take the place of my poem unless it is scholarly accolades I am looking for instead of the joy of giving praise to apple pie. And may I always and only be wishing to give praise to apple pie because I recognize, truly (because I�ve run into a couple of those minds here, including yours) that there are other minds far more learned, schooled, and fit than mine to be information explorers. And to top all this off, all I need is for JB to come in and tell me that my above thoughts were already expressed in one of Merton�s books. And the more I read of him the more I suspect this might be true.
Oh, and thanks, Phil, for the recommendations of Hartshorne, Merici, and de Chardin. One day we should organize all these authors (and more) into subject areas so that later (often much later), when someone is ready to pursue some avenue of inquiry, they might have a convenient resource at their disposal to be able to get at the cream of the cream.
And so the creation is free to respond to God's loving influence, each with its unique and limited measure of freedom and intelligence.
It�s the limited part that I have been finding so interesting of late. Rather than just making for incomplete and often dysfunctional human beings (which it does), this limitation also makes for incredibly one-track-minds and creative individuals. As human beings we seem built to take any imbalance or incompleteness that is either innate or learned and, I guess in an attempt to repair or right ourselves, turn it into a creative passion. That creative passion can often times be destructively creative, which is surely the long way home for us, but can anyone doubt that our obsessions and yearnings for justice, healing, balance, and/or retribution do not strongly drive us onward? I think part of becoming moral is to become awake and aware of these dynamics so that they may serve more loving purposes. Except perhaps for the rare saint (and even then!), it�s probably unlikely that we�re ever going to rub out or erase our obsessions. But we might be able to steer that energy toward better ends.
Something tells me that I am very, very lucky that I do not see the journey ahead for if I did I would turn back now. I fear that all I am heading for is a different kind of desert, but a desert all the same. My biggest hardship on this journey is trusting the seemingly aimless silence that now even has crossed over into my once voluminous desire to write. And the constant temptation I face is to part from this silence and to act out in some way. To do something. To act in all of action's ego-loving glory. It is not fear of silence that drives this. It is the deeper, bigger, all-encompassing fear (sort of a temptation, really) that I am not boldly facing the challenges that I ought to be, that by staying where I am I am shirking my manhood, being a coward, avoiding the trials by fire, that I am becoming dull and not battle-hardened. It has long been my belief it is not so much bravery that drives the soldiers on the battlefield but the fear of stepping outside that all-important code of honor which says that to be a man and to do one's duty that one must do certain things or, frankly, just don't bother living, thank you. I'm not saying there aren't brave and heroic acts committed by people. There certainly are, but you're going to have a difficult time convincing me that peer pressure and "fitting in" are not the primary things that men die for.
And so it is that I have to resist what I feel is an enormous temptation to die out on that battlefield and to die figuratively an honorable death (for I surely know that I would fail). I have no angel sitting on my left shoulder assuring me that staying the course I am on is indeed the bravest act I could perform. But I have to trust this is so. But it is hard.
I saw a bird flying yesterday. I was resting and meditating at the end of a long pier that extends out over a salt marsh when a little bird settled down on the railing about twenty feet away. It was closer than it really should have been had I been a predator, but no doubt it had become somewhat habituated to people. It spent quite a few luxurious minutes preening itself in the warm afternoon sunshine before it once again took flight.
For whatever reason, this bird had grabbed my interest and I watched its flight sort of wondering what sort of thing might come next in the life of a bird. What does one do after cleaning one�s feathers? Go looking for a date? Eat? Get dirty again doing whatever? So for the next five minutes or so I watched this bird�s course in the air. I watched its every twist and turn, bob and weave, glide and sail. I watched it play the rather stiff breeze that was blowing, sometimes gliding into it and coming to a momentary stall, other times being pushed along with the wind and gaining speed easily. It twisted and darted in all direction. Up and down. Over and out. There seemed no pattern or logic to its flight other than, strangely, that it would likely be the kind of pattern I would fly if I suddenly were to become a bird. I would want to try a little of everything. Fast climbs. Short glides. Dashes towards the ground but pulling up just in time. I too would fly low over the mirrored surface of the estuary and perhaps wonder about that reflection that so perfectly matched my own glide path. I would dash up one of the narrow, twisting waterways that, with marsh plants on either side, become like canyons, as if one is in a Star Wars "X-Wing Fighter" attempting to lob a magnetic charge into the depths of a Death Star.
After five minutes the little bird settled down again onto a nearby piling. It did not look like a star athlete having just run a marathon with a gasping, heaving chest looking for breath. This little bird, even after all these Blue Angels aerobatics, had settled quietly on the pier and was nearly motionless. And there was no doubt in my mind as to its purpose. There was no mistaking that this bird had been flying for the sheer joy of it. It was not patrolling territory, for no other bird came into conflict with it. It was not searching for bugs on the wing for at no time were there the telltale signs of last-minute herky-jerky course corrections to hone in on a fleeing bug. It was simply exploring and enjoying every eddy and current in the air as a skier might do with moguls on a hill or a dolphin might do with the pressure wave from the hull of a passing ship.
And truly, after having witnessed all this, it wasn�t hard to imagine plants doing the same thing, growing towards the light just for the sheer joy of it. But a more somber thought crossed my mind at this point. What would have been my outlook and mood had a hawk suddenly swooped down and killed this little bird in mid-soar? And without hesitation the thought occurred to me that this small, artful bird would not be sorry. It would have thought it all worth it.
I shall not look at another bird ever again in quite the same way.
Shall I drive evil out of my soul by wrestling with my own darkness? This is not what God has planned for me. It is sufficient to turn away from my darkness to His light. I do not have to run away from myself; it is sufficient that I find myself, not as I have made myself, by my own stupidity, but as He has made me in His wisdom and remade me in His infinite mercy. For it is His will that my body and soul should be the Temple of His Holy Spirit, that my life should reflect the radiance of His love and my whole being repose in His peace. Then will I truly know Him, since I am in Him and He is truly in me. � Thomas Merton
I wish someone had told me that thirty years ago.
Mr. Rogers Neighborhood
(Okay�I was feeling silly and trivial � so sue me!)
To be driven to do something that I enjoy, to have a sustained sense of purpose, always seemed (and still does seem) like the Holy Grail of life to me. But even if we are driven to do one thing we are driven away from other things. We have to inevitably pare things down and choose one thing over the other. But what if nothing in particular stands out to us? What then? Is it just a matter of turning down the volume on our culture and our own expectations so that we can pick up those small mutterings of destiny that surely must be there? After all, it isn�t hard to lose one�s self, especially when, quite literally, there are big neon signs everywhere telling us "Spend more. Be more. Live more. You need more." Is this even the right paradigm? Is our choice only between different passions (perhaps "obsessions") or is there another choice, perhaps between obsessions and no obsessions?
The things I am doing now, and have done in the past, make sense only in the latter context. But even then, frankly, my life doesn�t seem to have made a whole lot of sense. Maybe that�s because life really is like a Nike commercial and we can all be satisfied only if we can achieve the highest degree of "Just Do It". But I still hold out a smidgen of hope that life can also be like Mr. Rogers where it�s simply enough for it to be a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Even if we could live in such a neighborhood, surely the balanced thing to do would be to construct a new building every once in a while so that there would be a beautiful neighborhood in the first place in which to enjoy one�s day. And perhaps some of us just naturally specialize in building while others specialize in beautiful-day-enjoying, but surely even those on either extreme end of the neighborhood scale feel the yearnings of the opposite ends. Builders tire of constantly building and long to find a sunny, grassy hill on which to look down onto their and others� handiwork and to enjoy it. But have they forgotten perhaps how to simply have a beautiful day?
And surely beautiful-day-gazers long to get their hand dirty and to saw a few boards and maybe extend the boardwalk in the neighborhood. But did they ever learn how to do such a thing, and do they have the capacity to do so? Might they be more likely to saber-saw off a few fingers?
We all feel yearnings for things, but does that necessarily mean that where we are now is not good enough? Could these yearnings be like false labor pains? Can we trust them? Dissatisfaction, after all, is one of the main currencies of our culture. It drives our whole economy, our whole way of life! It convinces us to trade in our perfectly good 2003 Chevy for the 2005 model. There is so much noise in everyday life. How can we learn to distinguish between healthy yearnings that will help us grow and enjoy life, and the unhealthy pulls of pointless dissatisfaction that threaten to pull down what is good that is already around us?
To be able to answer these questions is why we must learn to trust, to have patience, and to learn the subtle ways of discernment which I think can be nurtured with a healthy and gentle faith. My answer right now is to pray that the builders build many beautiful things to enjoy and that they lose no fingers while doing so; and that in being there to observe that beautiful day in the neighborhood that my love for their work might spill over and sort of cross-pollinate a joy for all.
Today I just wanted to proclaim love and gratitude for the people in my life, and if you are reading this you are one of them.
More Thoughts from the Transformation Trail
(By the way, I share private thoughts like this because I need to, because I�m not ashamed to, and I�m hoping that if someone connects in some way with any of these thoughts then it will prove I�m human after all!)
I feel that my heart is resistant to joy�not just because someone else might smite it down but because of the deep sadness and regret that will surely well up upon its attainment. Can I love my desire to avoid deep emotional pain, even if that pain is the avenue to joy, and perhaps to everlasting joy? Is it really so uncomfortable to feel such things? Once felt, are they more apt to stay forever or, once expressed, to fade away? Perhaps I�m aware too of the underground anger that threatens to be unleashed. God knows the last thing I want to do is to drive people away from me.
I have the conceit of needing to be above criticism, of needing to be perfect. Once these were surely fears unwittingly instilled in a person who could not resist or did not know how to. But now they have grown into conceits almost unattached to the original trauma. I think they are large conceits, now that I think about it: not to let go and allow oneself to be an instrument of, and expression of, god's love and joy. But I do not mean to offend. I ask humbly for god's help in transforming these conceits via humility and love into love and joy.
Nature is miraculous, green, and thick with life. There's such infinity in each step that I can't even begin to understand it all. I think You know this. So while I am out and about in the world it is very difficult to know what my mind should rest on or if it should rest on anything at all lest I miss even one bit of infinity.
I don't know the answer or answers, but I do know there is one, and even without this answer in hand it feels right to say, "Why do we make our paths so hard? It could be easy. So easy."
Perhaps the answer is to see every little thing as a miracle made just for us. The logical question then, of course, is "And what of those things we see that we want but can't seem to have? Are these not cruel, tempting miracles?" I honestly don't know. It does seem that way at times. If we could have everything we wanted then we would be god. But we are not god. We are created guests exploring a created world.
I think the cause of that hole that most of us feel inside (some more than others, for sure) is because we want to be god. We're not god, of course, but because we're of god some connection remains, some special pipeline or channel to god's abilities. I think we sense this. It's so close we could touch it and yet we can't possess it. Perhaps the truth is that we can have all that we desire if our desires are in accordance with god. The difference between sanity and insanity, love and hate, peace and agitation is our ability to accept this. And the payoff is that those who do accept this are given more and/or seem to have a lot more than they thought.
We make sense only as relational beings. As just ourselves we are truly nothing. But there is always another's presence. If there were not we would go stark raving mad in minutes. We would drive ourselves crazy in an instant as if in pitch-black solitary confinement. We can not stand being alone with only ourselves. It is too unstable. It is too alone. To me this is almost indisputable proof that man is not alone even when alone. And no matter what, we try to keep this connection open, even if we deny it or aren't aware of it. There is such a need for this connection outside our own heads that we will fill an automobile with 100 decibel noise to drown out the head noise and thus, strangely, but effectively, create a type of silence. And silence, no matter how it's achieved, is the best way to connect with the Other.
I am nothing. I will never be anything on my own. Ever.
We could save so much heartache if we could admit this and truly believe this, for how much of our angst and energy is spent on trying to prove otherwise? And are we ever successful proving otherwise no matter how much we have or how much we have achieved?
Dear god, please help release me from this vicious cycle. I want to love selflessly because now I really do understand from where all love emanates. It�s useless and deceitful to think, even on a randomly good day, that I create it myself. At best I can cooperate with it. This is not a concept, ideology, model of reality, or working paradigm. This is the way things are (if I may be so dogmatic when speaking to myself). We do, of course, have to make choices and carry out those choices. But how quickly when we do we think ourselves the master. And even when we meet with success it is far less our success than we think. We are merely seeds sprouting as planned. We grow straight when it is toward the light, crooked and pale when not.
I am nothing. But I will not learn that lesson today, tomorrow, or likely next week. The temptations around me are too great. The patterns of behavior too entrenched. But one thing I�ve decided to do is to have faith in love. No matter what the rest of the world is doing (and I�ll grant that 99% of them are getting if right far better than I am), I will hang onto the idea that love (which can be expressed in some many diverse ways) is all I need. Such trust stretches me way beyond my limits until I almost make myself spiritually sick from the effort, for one soon realizes the kind of courage and trust that such an orientation requires. It is why it remains so easy to stay inside ourselves and not venture out.
A few days ago, explicitly, in written form, almost like a contract, I made a commitment to live the rest of my life oriented toward love. That is not quite as easy as it sounds. Love doesn�t mesh well with lies or other motivations. It doesn�t fold so easily into deceit or delusion. It stands in contrast to them. And so without a loving approach to one�s self there stands a real good chance of beating one�s self up.
For me it�s a real paradigm shift. And it�s a real "put your money where your mouth is" moment. It�s easy to say "love". It�s quite another thing to be motivated by it�perhaps not completely, but primarily. The interesting thing is that the flip side of not acting out of love does not mean one has been a monster all one�s life. Hardly. Sorry brother Bernie, I love ya dearly, but if humans weren�t inherently good I would be rotting in some jail right now, such has been my orientation to other things besides love. There�s seems enough inside us to keep us mostly doing good things even when motivated by other needs�usually needs that are prompted by fear and shame. But if we ever gave into that fear and shame, even if just halfway, we would be ugly monsters. Such, I believe, is our inherently loving baseline nature that this usually doesn�t happen. I�m living proof of that, I think.
I have a few things that I want to do in the next couple days that are important to me. And it�s important to me that they be done for the right reasons. So this morning a simple prayer occurred to me: "Let me act from loving, God. Not from fear, need, possession or control."
For me, that says it all. And for me that says a lot.
One thing that gives me heart is that, despite all our dysfunctional conditioning and its rootedness in shame and fear, there is something about the human spirit that never completely collapses into that rot. The non-reflecting, observational aspect of our human consciousness is always able to stand back, take stock, and honestly name the reality we experience -- at least to ourselves (if we wish to do so). What follows naturally is a process of questioning and clarifying, ultimately leading to making decisions about how we live our lives. As we do this inner work, we come into hand-to-hand combat with the conditioning of our false self, as it reframes our observations and provides the usual "stock answers" to our questions -- all to keep fear, shame and resentment at arm's length with self-concern running the show.
This commitment of yours, Brad, to live lovingly while honestly attending to the inner process thus awakened is where we all need to be . . . all the time! Only such an approach to life fosters the emergence of authentic human development, whether in the context of religious faith or not (consider the alternative -- living inattentively and robotically). Faith is supposed to encourage this authenticity, as we we build our life foundation in consideration of God's promises, and, hopefully, in living contact with God. People of faith can too easily and complacently rest on that foundation, however, even to the extent of avoiding the struggles that will surely come as we attempt to live more authentically rather than out of the false self. Yes, the false self can cloack itself with a kind of religious persona -- the worst of the worst . . .
Phil, I just want you to know that I found your words to be extremely wise. Thank you for them.
I�d like to be able tell you how gloriously wonderful it is to orient toward love, and ultimately it is (or I imagine it will be), but it�s excruciatingly hard here in the trenches, so to speak. This is my experience, anyway. I will suppose for others it will be easier and for many others it will be even harder and I would hope to make their experiences seem doable and easier if they can see me sort of bumbling and stumbling through this process. It is hard and I don�t know why this is so but it does not mean that we are not fundamentally made for, or oriented toward, love. It just means, I think, that we need to get into the habit and that anything that is so wonderfully rewarding is worth a little bit of work. But, as always, what we find is that it is not only hardest when we start such a process but we are also at our weakest when doing so. Those two elements combine are perhaps inherent in any sort of worthy endeavor. That�s why change is hard, even when moving toward the light, even when there is someone explicitly and implicitly helping us move toward that light, and in more ways than we realize.
All I can say as words of encouragement is that if I�m going to struggle and feel pain (both emotional and physical) then this might as well go toward some goal or foundation where one�s efforts solidly build upon each other towards a welcome accumulation of growth, although this will often happen quite slowly. We do, if we think about it, often expand that amount of energy and pain (or more) on stuff that takes us nowhere and builds nothing.
Trust god. Trust love. That�s my motto for the moment. May my words help someone else out there who is struggling.
One of my most difficult and intransigent obstacles is believing that I am not only worthy of, but built for good things�that I deserve good things. Perhaps this applies rarely or only to people similar to me, but something inside me the other day told me that unless I believed that I was worthy of being loved that I would find it difficult to ever be loved. And that was a real challenge and test to my faith. It�s one thing to believe in god, to believe in a good god, and to believe that we were created in his image (that is, as intrinsically good and lovable). And make no mistake, these are all good beliefs/facts. But it can be quite another thing to really internalize those beliefs and make them real and therefore behave as if those beliefs were real.
I was stunned the other day when I realized that although I wanted a number of things in my life that when I took a hard look at myself I just couldn�t imagine myself with those things. And then I worked the process backward. Well, if I�m not deserving of good things (love, for instance) then I�m not intrinsically good thus when I say I believe in god I�m not really taking that belief to heart because if I did I would know that I was created good and deserving of good. And so eventually it struck me that I was sort of lying to god (although I doubt he was deceived) by saying I believed in him but not me. That state of affairs can�t be. It�s a contradiction.
Believe you are worthy of love because it is absolutely true. Take stock of some of the shades of beliefs you have that don�t affirm this. Take that opportunity to then deepen those beliefs. Please.
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