Category Archives: religion and spirituality

Letting the “Bud” of Life Blossom

A friend of mine posted last week a quote from Anais Nin quote that has always really grabbed me, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
This brought to my mind several other literary references to the “bud” of our life, referring to life at its earliest point when we had just taken that quantum leap from non-being into being. At that point we were the quintessence of vulnerability, a vulnerability that will always be present in our heart but one from which we are protected with the “fig leaf” of an ego. Then later in our adult life we have the task of loosening the pernicious grip of that ego to the point that some of that vulnerability can come to consciousness and invigorate an otherwise barren life. When that happens, what my spiritual tradition calls the “Spirit of God” begins to come forth and we find that we can engage in the “flow” of life, no longer tyrannized by subterranean fears of annihilation.  T.S. Eliot described this “bud” as, “that tender point from which life arose, that sweet force born of inner throes.” And in another poem he offered another relevant thought, seeing this “bud” as, “some infinitely gentle, infinitely suffering thing.”

But Shakespeare so brilliantly described this “bud” in his first sonnet and the peril of not allowing it to open and blossom, letting the essence of our life flow into the Void that we all live in, into the Great Round. In this context, the “blooming” he noted was in reference to some unknown friend who refused to get married and start a family. He described this friend as being unable to escape a narcissistic shell, accusing him of being “contracted to thine own brights eyes,” or seeing only what he saw…not able to see beyond the private world that he lived in. This is related to the Conrad Aiken line I quote so often, “We see only the small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.”

Shakespeare believed that in getting married and having a family a person had the opportunity to let one’s tender “bud” break open and blossom into the unfolding of life, to participate in the “mundane” task of perpetuating the species. In one of his plays he described a character as being unable to “spend himself” and that consequently said he, “spills himself in fearing to be spilt.”

In the first sonnet, he chided his friend for feeding “thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel, making a famine where abundance lies, thyself thy foe, to the sweet self so cruel.” He saw this friend cowering within his bud, feeding himself with “self-substantial fuel” and not participating in life, not engaging in meaningful relationship, having “fled to a nutshell” where he could there safely be the “king of infinite spaces.” Shakespeare lamented this friend’s narcissism, seeing that he was his own worst enemy, to his “own sweet self so cruel.”

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.
Now, speaking from experience, it is possible to find other ways to open that bud, that “tender point” without marriage or family. I utilized the Shakespearean sonnet merely to note one “contrivance” that life has afforded us to “die to our selves” and focus on a greater end. But, I will admit that, personally, getting married but not having children illustrated this “cowardly spirit” that Shakespeare had in mind. And perhaps that is why that late in life I am finding the vulnerability in which life appears to be flowing, my “bud” timidly and often half-hearterdly trying to open and blossom.

Nin vividly discovered the painful quandary of not letting that blossom come forth in some dimension of one’s life. The pain becomes so intense that we feel we are about to burst. The “einfall” (see a recent post on the subject) is so persistent that we cannot but surrender and find a symbolic death offering us the hope of resurrection. Jesus also grasped the importance of letting this bud die and then blossom, noting that unless a grain of wheat, “fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

Life often appears to be merely about finding a meaningful way to slowly die, to artfully approach the end of our life and in the process leave something meaningful behind. Now I certainly do not think that life is a grim enterprise in which we morbidly focus on our brief span of life and ultimate death but that we do need to realize that death and life are always intertwined. And I am made to think of the wisdom of a very astute psychologist of several decades ago, Irvin Yalom, who noted that in his practice he had discovered that those who lived in fear of death were actually very fearful of being alive. But when unconscious fears rule our life, we cannot acknowledge our vulnerability and spend our lives glomming onto whatever contrivance our culture affords us in order to avoid that “tender point”, that bud from which life wants to emerge, that “bud” that Nin so pithily referenced.

 

 

“Grab a Word and Pull On It”

I am taking a writing class from a local author who is very talented and accomplished. The experience of offering my written thoughts to face-to-face feedback has been very, very helpful on a personal level and with the writing process itself. This teacher has helped me to “pay more attention” to what I am writing and how I am writing it,” and to “pay more attention to the prospective reader.” That is a subtle but very important shift in focus. Here I’m going to share my first effort in this class, after revisions made as a result of the feedback from the class and from my wife.
“Grab a word and pull on it. Grab a word and pull on it.” Hmm??? So to
make a poem, all you have to do is, “Grab a word and pull on it? Huh?” He
pondered about this for days but just had trouble wrapping his head around the
notion of “pulling” on a word. “Words just don’t get ‘pulled on’” he told himself.
“A word is a word is a word and that is the end of it.”

Now the notion of writing a poem sounded pretty cool but about the only thing
he could manage was, by his own admission simple teen age doggerel. So pretty soon he just forgot the idea and busied himself with his thirties and forties; though even then he was often teased with the notion of “grabbing a word and pulling on it.”

But then “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” began to work their magic in his life and he began to “get it,” to “feel it” and found that poetry was worming its way into his heart. Sure enough, just as T. S. Eliot told him the week before, words do “break, slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place. He realized that this internal chaos that Eliot was describing was the subjective rush of words being “pulled on,” and torn apart, allowing them to burst and meaning begin to flow. “Sounds like an orgasm,” he thought.

However, this literary tumult he was experiencing went much deeper than mere
words. He often felt he was swimming in the aether, that he had lost his grounding, that nothing was certain any longer. He drew upon linguistics to facetiously describe his anxiety to some of his friends…those who might be familiar with Derrida…announcing with feigned desperation, “My signifier is floating. My signifier is floating. Help! Help!” Yes, subject-object distinctions were not as pronounced as they used to be as poetry had lured him into its murky, mysterious depths where only metaphor was to be found as an anchor; and with the metaphor the signifier is always apt to float away to points unknown.

 

My Marriage and “Einfall”

Several times I have referenced my participation in a local reading group of Karl Jung. One of his notions is that sometimes the depths of the unconscious will spontaneously break forth into one’s consciousness, almost like an invasion. He used the term “einfall” for this experience. (I will include a link to some very witty, and insightful, cartoons about this experience.)

My “einfall” is still underway and has mercifully been piece-meal, my Source knowing that I could not take it all in one fell swoop like the Apostle Paul on the Damascus Road or Eckhart Tolle on a park bench. One pivotal event in this process was getting married which I blogged about yesterday, marriage definitely being an “invasion” into my pristine, narcissistic world of Paul Tillich’s “empty self-relatedness.” A very interesting anecdote illustrates the impact this marriage was having on me just about the time of our first anniversary in the spring of 1990. One beautiful, cool, dewy spring morning I discovered the first tulip bloom in our yard and I knelt down to pick it and take it to Claire. Immediately afterward a wisp of thought fluttered through my mind, “I don’t know if I was plucking or being plucked.”

A light bulb turned on in my heart. I didn’t know as much as I do now about object-relations theory and the subject-object distinction but I realized that this “wisp of thought” illustrated that my boundaries were in transition and that this was very much related to having finally gotten married, and to the “work” of marriage described so vividly in the Wendell Berry poem provided yesterday.

Now, let me share a related thought that later came to mind. Some clinicians hearing this report of “not knowing if I was being plucked or being plucked” would be alarmed and think, “Uh oh. Psychotic break approaching! Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” And, spiritual growth is a coming apart as with a psychotic break but for some mysterious reason…which I can only describe as the grace of God…I knew there was nothing to be alarmed about, that something beautiful was underway. “Coming apart” is necessary at some point in our life so that we can be reintegrated as a more authentic person than we thought we were. This is very much related to the pithy wisdom of Fritz Perls who advised, “Let go of your mind and come to your senses” for he knew that senses or “feeling” will provide the redemptive healing that all hearts need.

 

(NOTE: I could not capture the link for “einfall.” But if you will simply google “einfall” you will see a selection entitled “images of einfall” which you can open. It is very funny…and illustrative of the idea.  Also, the reference to “Will Robinson” was from a stupid 1960s sci-fi tv show, “Lost in Space.”)

Tolle’s “Pain Body” and the Unconscious

The blog-o-sphere teaches me so much! Just several days ago I came across this quote from Eckhart Tolle which just grabbed me and shook me, even though I’ve read it before and understood the notion of the “pain body” already:

Whenever you are in a negative state, there is something in you that wants the negativity, that perceives it as pleasurable, or that believes it will get you what you want. Otherwise, who would want to hang on to negativity, make themselves, and others miserable, and create disease in the body? So, whenever there is negativity in you, if you can be aware at that moment that there is something in you that takes pleasure in it or believes it has a useful purpose, you are becoming aware of the ego directly. The moment this happens, your identity has shifted from ego to awareness. This means the ego is shrinking and awareness is growing.

Relevant to this subject, I am now part of a serious reading group of the work of Karl Jung who approached a relevant issue nearly a century earlier with his focus on the unconscious. In our present reading, (“The Roots of the Psyche”) Jung shared that he had discussed the unconscious with one philosopher of his day who candidly admitted that he could not acknowledge the presence of the unconscious; for should he do so would be opening up Pandora’s box—it would mean acknowledgement of subterranean forces in his heart which were beyond his control. Likewise, when we are in the grip of this “pain body”, we resist acknowledging its power over us for to do so would mean that we are powerless in some sense in the depths of our heart and make really bad choices that we cannot help. It is like we deliberately bury our head in the sand, choosing to live in our anguish rather than break free and tippy-toe into what one poet described as our “ever lasting risk.” As is so often the case, Shakespeare nailed it centuries ago when Hamlet noted that we prefer to “cling to these ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of.”

Well, how do we break free of this pain body? How do we escape the grip of the unconscious? Well, technically we don’t but with simple awareness we can lessen its tenacious grip on our heart. If we can dare to “name the demon”…so to speak…the monster that is wreaking havoc on our life will have a battle on its hand. Tolle teaches that simple awareness of this “pain body”, and acknowledgement of its influence, is the beginning of gaining freedom.

And since I began this process of honesty, I have found freedom from some of these monsters but admittedly there are more to face. And I think that is probably part of what the Apostle Paul had in mind with his admonishment for us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (i.e. emotional duress) for he saw “salvation” as a process just as people like Eckhart Tolle today present spirituality.

Now, I can’t fail to kick my own faith in the shins on this issue, my faith being Christianity. So often people use religion as a denial system, approaching it only with their head and using doctrinal creeds and dogma to insulate themselves from life, from spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical life. Instead of exploring Holy Writ and spiritual tradition to find its meaning in the warp-and-woof of their life, they have been taught to use it as a repetition compulsion which serves as a mechanism to keep their “pain body” at bay. And, of course, their “pain body” is then seen outside of themselves in other people who need their intervention, at times in the past even at the point of the sword. Now, how do I know this is true? Well, I don’t. But I do know that it has been true for me nearly all of my life AND I suspect that it does have relevance to many other Christians. There are many other writers and thinkers, Christian and otherwise, who are honing in on this issue right now, one of note being Richard Rohr.

Life is painful. But it is more painful when we don’t accept the pain when it comes, discovering that it can wash over us and not lodge in our cognitive machinery…and behavior patterns… and keep us prisoners. Scott Peck said decades ago in his very astute book, “The Road Less Traveled,” that “Neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Neurosis…and worse…can be viewed as maladaptive patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that we have adopted in response to painful moments in our life, overt pain and even perceived pain. But the only way to get beyond the pain is to go into it, to own it, to “embrace it” as Stephen Levine teaches and discover that its grip will begin to lesson. We have to “feel” our way out of the morass. “Thinking” alone will never suffice.

Poetry is Dangerous!!!!

Yes, it will wreak havoc on your life; so, if poetry beckons, just turn around and go the other way or at least give it a wide passage for if you let it come to close it will insinuate its way into your heart and then, katy-bar-the-door, your life is over! Your are a dead man….or, at least, the man (or woman) you think you are is going to die.

Let me explain. I was in my early thirties and had quit teaching school and was beginning Dante’s venture into a “dark forest.” And then a young man who purported to be a friend had the audacity to give me a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden and I was almost immediately on the road to perdition. To make it worse, about the same time I discovered T. S. Eliot and his “Four Quartets” where I learned that words were ephemeral, that words “break, slip, slide, decay with imprecision, will not stay in place….shrieking voices always assail them.” you deign to venture into words to the extent that suddenly you awaken and discover that you are knee-deep in…ahem…the Word!

And since that point in my life, poetry has continued to worm its way into the depths of my heart, relentlessly delving into the secret corridors of my inner most being where I have discovered that, just as the Apostle Paul said, it is “quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Wow! Wow, wow, wow! That poor friend had no idea what he was doing to “literallew”…but, on the other hand, perhaps he did. He was a very astute soul.

But, how can “poetry” do this? Well, “poetry” as such does nothing. But poetry is a process, a dynamic process which is an expression of life, and if it happens to present itself to a heart that is ready to discover “penetrable stuff,” magic can unfold.

Why was I so ready? Well, the first clue was my fury at literature in high school and those dear schoolmarm teachers who would deign to force me to answer the question, “What does that mean to you?” I reacted with mute anger, dutifully trotting out whatever I thought they wanted, not daring to tell them what was really on my heart, “It means just what it says!!!!” Certainly, I did “protest too much”; and, yes, Shakespeare was my worst nightmare at that time as he just would not speak plain English, and certainly not Arkansas redneck, “po white trash” English.”

But now I swim in poetry…though I cannot write even an inch of it! As my wife told me not long after I met her and was obsessively quoting poetry (ncluding Auden’s note re Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry), “Mad Arkansas hurt you into other people’s poetry.” That was a veritable “word fitly spoken.”

Poetry is the Spirit of God at work, tearing words apart and allowing their hidden meaning to flow. Poetry is the word, broken….crucified, if you please…which allows its innermost depths to burgeon forth. This reminds me of a note by Gabriel Marcel, that words have meaning, or value, when they “burgeon forth into a region beyond themselves.” The literalist will not permit this as the “words” they use are concrete and will not be permitted to “break” and that is because the “ego” that they are will not be allowed to “break”…or, as Jesus taught, “die.”

 

Waging the War I Am

I quote W. H. Auden’s observation “We wage the war we are” so often that I think it should be the name of my blog. And, it is so readily available for my “usage” because it is so relevant to me personally, revealing to you and the millions who read this blather each day that my heart is a war zone. (Oh, well…hell…let me be truthful, the number is far less than “millions”.!)

My heart has always been a war zone, a battle field where conflicting impulses sought for primacy and dominance in my life. But I could not handle that duress, the “duress” of being an “alive” human being, and solved it very early in my life when I adopted the stance that I now refer to as “literal lew.” “Literal lew” allowed me to live above the fray, ensconced in my analytical cocoon, obsessively “standing in the rear of my affection, out of the shot and danger of desire.” (Hamlet) But even then, looking back on my life, the underlying tension and duress was trying to seep through, just as it did with Macbeth who lamented, “my dull brain is (was) racked by things forgotten.”

But in my mid-thirties, “literal lew” began his “Damascus road” conversion, a process which is still underway and will always be underway; for spirituality is not an accomplished fact but a process, the “process” of being human. So now I am very conscious of this duress that I earlier could not handle and it comes to me in the form of…for want of a better term…anxiety. Rollo May called this “existential anxiety” and said it is the experience that we “feel” when the battle between a basic drive in the heart comes to the surface—“to be” or “not to be.” This is the conflict between the Spirit of God leading us to authenticity, i.e. “be-ing” and the antithetical drive to remain inauthentic, desperately clutching our fig leaf and trying to cover our nakedness.

I just recently realized that what is happening is that my ego, that part of our heart which I so often castigate, is gaining maturity. With this maturity, my ego is not so “full of itself” and can be a bit more humble, allowing the experience of reality to seep in. (I like to think of this as “the Spirit of God” seeping in.) My ego can now handle this duress which used to scare the hell out of me though as I make this assertion, I’ve given pause and want to add, “Knock on wood!” Another dimension of this ego maturity is that my mind can now more or less comfortably live with contradictions, realizing that in my heart diametrically opposite things are present; such as, I am “good” and “bad” at the same time, ultimately meaning that I simply “am.”

The most important dimension of this ego maturity which I purport to be finding is that I can now handle the tension and at the same time realize that what is most important is not my internal tension, not the “war” inside, but what I do in the outside “real” world which always leads me to the wisdom of the Buddhist notion of “chopping wood, carrying water.” Though the internal machinations of the heart are powerful and important, I find that I can remember to focus most of the time on the mundane responsibilities of day to day life, tending hearth and home– loving my wife, doggies, friends, and family–and hoping that my feeble efforts each day will make the world a bit more hospitable for others.

 

GOD IS IN THE WATER

Taos, New Mexico  continues to teach me. I have long since learned to “pay attention” to what we think and do in our life, especially when it is a significant change. When I arrived here in early February, one of the first things that serendipitously offered itself to me was a weekly get-together with those who would enjoy reading and discussing Karl Jung. Shortly thereafter I “knee deep” in dream work again and paying attention to how the unconscious was guiding me and my wife. And I began to understand what this whimsical move to a new state at age 62, leaving friends and family behind. It was a “cutting of the cord” of sorts and an opportunity to explore worlds unknown.

One of the first things I noted was, “Where are the white people? Where are the white people?” Brown-skinned people appeared to predominate i the population, Hispanic and Native American. And for the first time in my life I experienced “being different” in terms of skin color though this “difference” is not as significant as I felt. Statistically, there are many “honkies” just like me. But it was interesting and emotionally provocative to feel in a minority. It was also provocative to see and feel the whole of a different culture and to take up residence in a house far different than that to which I was accustomed to.

There are many, many differences present which are teaching me. But I want to focus on one of them, the Native American presence here which is reflected in architecture, art, and….skin color, all of which is beautiful. Present just north of Taos is the Taos Pueblo which dates back over a thousand years. This Pueblo is officially not part of the United States and has its own legal and educational system. For more information, see (http://www.taospueblo.com)
And there are many other Native American tribes represented here which contributes significantly to the cultural atmosphere of the region and the state.

Just two weeks ago I attended a poetry reading at our local literary society, SOMOS, Society of the Muse of the Southwest. I was privileged to hear a lovely young Cheyenne woman read several poems and was just stunned at the wisdom she offered. Here is one poem that she recently published on Face Book.”

GOD IS IN THE WATER
by Lyla June Johnson

When I close my eyes at night
I can feel the rock being cut open
by water.

I hear a grandfather song
and it sounds like sand
walking down the river bottom.

In this song they talk about how even
the mighty canyon rivers began as
a meandering stream.

Beneath the gentle waters there are people.
Not people like you and me.
Stone people.

When I close my eyes at night
I am one of them
and God is the water.

Over lifetimes She eats at me
until I am polished and smooth.

She teaches me
about being gentle and persistent,
about patience and commitment.

Her voice
hums in my blood
quiet as a stream in the night
and it is a song about how
we are all
just
so loved.

When I close my eyes she says to me
in trickles and bubbles:

“Journeys.
Take them.
Try to remember who you are along the way.
I have nothing for you but these words.
Take them with you
and I will see you again when you arrive
at the ocean’s throne
as one million kernels of sand”

The eagles dip their talons into Her soft body
and pull a fleshmeal
from the water.

They sing this grandfather song with her
and it sounds like feathers
cutting into the sky.

It is a song about how even
hatred surrenders
to wonder.

Breaking my heart apart like
a stubborn puzzle of granite.

Even the hardest doubts and sorrows crumble
into bits and give way to
Her infinite grace.

And who knew that
growth can sometimes mean
standing in the wind until
everything we think we own
is torn away from us
and replaced with a weightlessness
so profound that we can’t not cry
tears of absolute praise
and run all around the river banks shouting to the
the minnows and the cattails and the crawdads
about the truth of beauty?

The truth of a God that
breathes through the trees
weaves winter from water and night
weaves bodies from dust and light
and carries us down the river of life over
and over until we finally understand
the meaning of forever.

In the language of the stones there is
no word for mistake.

Only the complete understanding of what it
means to be a beloved son or daughter.

I am the rock
and God is the water.

 

I would suggest you look her up on FB. She and many other young men and women have much to offer this world and are now establishing their roots and getting ready to shake up this dog-and-pony show that we are “strutting and fretting” in.

Belated Easter Thoughts

Easter Sunday always brings back pleasant memories though always tinged with sadness for so often my dear momma had to work. And then, in retrospect, there was the “hell fire and damnation” emphasis of the sermon and the obsessive, self-indulgent emphasis of the passion of Christ….recently vividly illustrated in the Mel Gibson movie. Oh, I believe in the “death, burial, and resurrection of Christ” but I’m now mature enough to venture into the work of hermeneutics and interpret it for myself. I now see the obsessive emphasis of Jesus’ suffering on the cross….because of our complicit presence in the “eating of the apple”…does not have to be taken literally and in fact, should not be. I would never minimize the suffering of Jesus as he was certainly, like “moi”, a human being (at least) and torture hurt. I do not like pain and would not have the courage to endure what he did when, according to American hymnology, “He could have called ten thousand angels, to destroy the world, and set him free.” Jesus knew that life involved pain and offered to us “the way of Cross” in which, per W. H. Auden, we must climb the rugged cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”

But, while Jesus was being tortured and humiliated on the cross, he uttered the incredible words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” My “guru”, Richard Rohr, in recent months explained that Jesus was saying, “Hey, they are not conscious. They do not know what they are doing. Forgive them.” Now I have been mistreated, misunderstood, and have “suffered” to some degree in my life. But my “sufferings” were always of the neurotic variety but I have yet to find the courage to offer the words to oblivion, “Father forgive them. For they know not what they did.” Why not? I certainly realize and understand that “they” were conscious and didn’t know what they were doing and their “mistreatment” of “moi” was so minimal, weighing so heavily on me only because I was a “highly sensitive person”, meaning
I was “thin-skinned” and vulnerable. So, why don’t I let the memories of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” just fade into oblivion? Well, I think that Shakespeare had the answer to his own question, suggesting that we would “prefer to cling to our present ills than fly to others that we know not of.” In other words, our present misery…or “discomfort”…is preferable than letting it go and deigning to encounter the mystery of life part of which will be “pain” of some sorts.

Twenty years ago a psychiatrist, Scott Peck, offered incredible wisdom in his book, “The Road Less Traveled.” In the opening chapter of that book he noted, “Neureosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Neurosis is a maladaptive response to the difficulties of life, some of which are very intense.. Likewise, psychosis…or worse…is an even less adaptive to these same circumstances or perhaps even trauma. Now psychotics are not really capable of forgiving their malefactors. But neurotics are very capable. So, why not? Why do they cling to their pain? Why do “I” cling to my pain? Well, I have to follow my own reasoning and admit that I just don’t have the courage to abandon the neurotic structure that has comforted me all these years and in the primordial Absence that follows, dare to make a choice that can be
“Redemptive”,  not just for “moi” but for those that are nearest and dearest to me. In other words, do I dare to be “real” or, better yet, “Real.”  As T.S. Eliot asked “Do I dare disturb the universe?” It comes down to “getting over ourselves” which for some of us is industrial strength neurosis. Do we dare to escape the safe cacoon of our anguish and engage the rest of the world?

Nah, nah! Personally, I prefer my lofty thoughts and the smug satisfaction that I am in control. But then I, again today, avoid the redemptive power of the Resurrection which is always available in any spiritual tradition though expressed in different imagery.

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

“Scare the world. be exactly what you say you are and tell the truth.” Someone posted this simple little admonishment on Facebook last week and it grabbed me, making me think of T. S. Eliot’s famous question, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” For, if I ever gain the courage to become authentic and act and speak out of that authenticity, I will “scare the world” and “disturb the universe.”

Now, the “world” and “universe” that I will startle will be very small for I am not a person of note; or, as I like to facetiously put it, I am merely a “small clod of cholesterol in the mainstream of life.” The first universe that I must disturb is the private one that I live in, that narrow prism through which I view the world which, if unexamined, is but a prison. And, if I can find the courage to experience the disturbance of “awareness” this cannot but have an impact on my thought, speech, behavior and consequently my little corner of the world.  (W. H. Auden noted, “O blessed be bleak Exposure on whose sword we are pricked into coming alive.”)

The key is awareness. The key is realizing that we “have eyes to see but see not” and “ears to hear but hear not” and if we ever understand that…in the depths of our heart, and do so with feeling, it will give us pause. For then we will understand that we will never be able to do anything but “see through a glass darkly.” And to see, and feel, this “darkly” dimension of our perspective field is very humbling and even frightening. It has been, and is, for me for I was taught that I could see things objectively.

Authenticity is a dangerous phenomena for the world as it mechanically, relentlessly grinds on day to day under the collective dictate of “the way things are.” The unexamined life is always driven by unquestioned assumptions which are merely those which we have imbibed from the little corner of the world in which we were born and have not dared to question. And as Adrienne Rich once noted, “We cannot begin to know who we are until we question the assumptions in which we are drenched.”

A Dalliance with Meaninglessness

My “church” yesterday was a discussion-group with some other retired people who are associated with the local Unitarian church. The announced topic for this occasion was, “How to find meaning in your life.”

Well, let me explain. This group was comprised of highly educated and successful men and women who were “imports” to Taos, New Mexico from various parts of the country. So it didn’t take but a few minutes for “literallew” to stir and want to announce with resolution and ardor, “Back to the bible! God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Of course I didn’t as I too do not look at life through the narrow prism of conservative thought and see…and feel…the ambiguity inherent in life. For an hour and a half we sincerely and honestly shared re our struggles for meaning through the course of our lives, struggles which continue today. Initially “literallew” did feel the leering glare of meaningless and want to revert to “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” But as the discussion deepened, my spirits actually lifted as we wrestled in the morass of meaning/meaninglessness.

On the way home I mused with my wife about why this discussion had lifted my spirits. And it was readily apparent—I felt connection! I realized…and felt…that I was in the midst of other human beings who had, and still do, wrestle with the same doubts and fears that I do. And there is a “nakedness” that is apparent in moments like this but a very appropriate “nakedness,” simple acknowledgement of human doubts and fears. And it is this “nakedness” that ultimately unites us all. Beneath the surface of our “strutting and fretting,” beneath the veneer of civilization, we are vulnerable, fragile little boys and girls who hunger to know that we are not alone.

This discussion demonstrated “faith” as I now see and feel faith to be. Now certainly many of these people would not describe themselves as persons of faith and even more so, certainly not “Christian.” Faith is the word I wish to use to describe their courage to live their life purposefully when life often appears to her without purpose.

Here is a perspective on the matter from T. S. Eliot in his Four Quartets:

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.