Wednesday, May 24, 2017

You Better Take

You better take your time
You know there's no escape
The future sends a sign
Of things we will create
Baby it's alright
And so have faith
Oh yeah, you invent the future 

That you want to face

- Fleetwood Mac, "Future Games"

* * *

Everything you need is at hand, is within your reach right now. It may not be what you imagined and it may not take the shape you'd hoped for, but everything you need to begin is already here. You do not need to search for it. It is not hidden and it is as elusive as you want it to be. 

The Buddhist concept of "the supreme meal" touches on this. It says, with care, the ingredients you have on you - no matter how few or how common - can be transformed by your attention into a supreme meal, a meal shared with others. What transforms water, rice and onions into this supreme meal is the mind that touches those staples, the hand that crafts them, the spirit that offers it to others. There is no longing for what is not there. There is no guilt in its humble state. There is only its transformation in the heart and mind of the cook.

Everything you need is at hand. It's what you want that is killing you.

* * *

How often have you postponed doing something because you were waiting for some more perfect moment, a moment when you felt you had everything under control, all the questions answered? It is one thing to plan, it is another to act. I can tell you, from the bottom of my soul, that choosing to act is how you bring about change. If you are fucked and stuck you have failed to act, failed to act from the well of your being. 

Paralysis. Doubt. Fear. These are the bedfellows of postponement, delay, excuses. But know this as well, not all acts are equal, or viable, or to be desired. Only those acts that are drawn up from the well of your consciousness, only those acts that are awake and aware of themselves, only transformative acts like rice, water and onions bring relief. It is by using what is at hand, and not wishing for anything else, that you free yourself from the traps and snares that limit you.

No one ever believes this. No one ever believes this.

We are told from our earliest memories to want the sun and moon and stars, to look at what we have and only see what we lack. There are entire nations without clean water and we value a green lawn. I say this not to create a false equivalence, but to remind you that you have more than you know. When you wake up in the morning you have two types of water: hot and cold. This is a miracle easily taken for granted. If you are mired in the muck of doubt and fear remember you have a mind capable of transforming rice, water and onions into a supreme meal. This, too, is a miracle easily taken for granted.

It is this innate, untapped, latent power that we each possess that is the answer to the question of how do I unfuck my life? You begin by boiling some water, cooking the rice, chopping onions. When you're done clean your tools, care for them so they will be there, ready, tomorrow. Do nothing absently and all things are transformed. If you rush, if you cheat, if you cut corners and are satisfied with good enough, you will never move from the spot where you are glued.

* * *

1971. Worth, Illinois. Through the open garage of our neighbors, the Lahey's, I hear Led Zeppelin pounding out about levees breaking. I had no idea what a levee was, but my hand to God, I wanted them to break. Music poured out of that garage: Zeppelin, Edgar Winter, ZZ Top, Black Sabbath, The Who, The Stones and Fleetwood Mac. Future Games was the odd man out in that lineup, but that was where I first heard it, first heard Bob Welch's high, nasal voice see-sawing thorough the lyrics. I fucking loved it. Time and tide and no one really remembers the Bob Welch era of Fleetwood Mac. Maybe the Peter Green moment, but with all that came later, Future Games disappeared. 

Except in my head, because my memory is like velcro holding onto bits and pieces for no good reason.

I've been playing this song over and over for a month or so and I still fucking love it. It teeters right on the edge of completely drippy and awesomely cool. And as I sat down to write this morning, it was at hand. Right there. Within reach. Present. I always need a push from something I've read or heard to get started on these things. Sometimes it is a direct link, sometime oblique. No matter. It gets me started and that is more valuable than any attempt at consistency.

The future is unwritten. It needs a hand to write it, to form it. Waiting on occasions will not fashion it. Only those who act, only those who work with what is at hand, available, within reach can transform what happens today into the reality that brings tomorrow into being. And those acts are transformative to the exact degree that they are mindful, shared, wanting nothing more than to be.

* * *

I wish you well.

__________

Monday, May 8, 2017

I've Been Blinded

I've been blinded but
You I can see
What in the world has happened to me
The prince of stories who walks right by me


- The Velvet Underground, "I'm Set Free"

* * *

Ages, epochs, eons, eras, they do but one thing: they end and are birthed again with a different set of eyes and hands.

* * *

The easiest thing for anyone to do is to glide along, to not notice time, to move the day in and day out to the year in and year out until it is life in and life out. Closed parenthesis. So it goes. So it goes. If you happen to stumble, if you fall, if you are stopped in the glide by forces larger than your intention you are given the opportunity to leave the glide path. Make no mistake: what has stunned you offers you a new way of being in the world. The question is will your attachment to your losses keep you silent, or will you find a voice in your throat?

This is bitterly unfair. But there is no time left to speak of fairness, only of what are you going to do about it?

* * *

If time has slipped a bit too fast, if the works you'd imagined for your self are drafts, or unstarted, if you have meant better than you have shown, I can only say you must begin now. You must bury every scrap of self-recrimination, every scrap of fear and make one brave push to complete the tasks set before you, the ones you create, the ones you finish, the ones that demand a new iteration, a new genesis, a new shot at coming to fruition. This is not because it is about you and your, as yet, unknown genius. No, love, it is about those who might see your work and so get started on their own. Hiding your light under a bushel leaves the path darkened for those who follow.

It is never about you, but what follows, what is coming into being: emergent.

You do your work because you must. You fail to do your work because you feared it. In either case, others will follow and you either hand off something useful or you fade into the shadows. And what is the most useful thing? Companionship, friendship, love, the sense of not being alone: confidence in your life.

* * *

The only way that I am aware of to do your work so that you can give voice to the forces that move you, that dreamed of you and brought you here is to do it with unabashed commitment. You must soak in it. It is the only way to learn what you are capable of. If it isn't all, then it is nothing. I know that sounds awful, for it is easier to give something, but if you want to sound your depths, then deep you must go. 

Many years ago, I was taught by, mentored by and worked for John Schultz. He was as maddening as he was generous: engaged all the time, fierce in his opinions, fierce in his loyalties. Not everyone dug it. He intimidated the foolish and supported those who tried. John lived a life of depth, of immersion, of always working with the materials at hand to fashion some new thing. Though he was a writer, his true work was as a teacher and the materials he fashioned were the lives of those who encountered him. 

He died a few days ago. I hadn't seen him in 16 years and never will again. Our relationship was complicated, but he was unfailingly supportive of me, of my attempts to find my voice and use it some.  This blog, this website, these words would not exist if not for his influence. When I learned of his death I could only breathe in and hold it there, suspend the news while I checked my pockets for all I owed him. And this is what I owe him: my best effort, a further completeness, a deeper immersion, a re-write based on what is at hand.

* * *

When I was a child, I loved going to church. It was so odd, so beautiful. The buildings seemed bigger inside that outside. My favorite part of the church was the large bank of votive candles off to one side of the altar: dark red glass and white candles. I always asked to light one and I always lit several, taking the light from someone else's prayer and using it in a new one, using it because I liked the light they gave. Though all candles gutter and die, every Sunday that bank of votives was always lit in a new pattern. The light never dying because it was tended to: new life at its term.

* * *

Thank you, John. Thank you.

__________

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Waking's My Care

Waking's my care-
I'll make a broken music, or I'll die.

- Theodore Roethke, from "In Evening Air"

* * *

The only measure of poetry that matters is its ability to startle, to plunge a knife and keep moving.

* * * 

The task set before us is to live the life we have: the one with the imperfections, losses, fears, strengths, joys and desires that are unique to our shape, our skin, our presence. There is no other work for us. What we call work is the carving and parsing of that essential task. What we call ambition or hope is the manner in which we go about being in the world. There are lots of answers, lots of ways to respond. We travel through various forms and stages trying things on, trying them out, believing without knowing why, knowing why, but not believing. We move through our days often, it seems, on a conveyor belt to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. It is as if our feet are still and the world whirs and spins on ball bearings: mere passengers, we.

This is the how and why of being fucked: a lack of agency. Which is bullshit, of course, because that is the one thing that always remains, always is at hand, a tattoo on your soul: choice. For you always retain the freedom to choose how you will respond to the unbidden facts of your days. If you glide by, that's your choice. You did that. That's yours. It will remain in place as long as you allow it to. But if you want to unfuck, what's gotten fucked, then read poetry:

Waking's my care-
I'll make a broken music, or I'll die

* * *

None of it is easy, but it can be beautiful. Easy is the glidepath to your grave. Beautiful demands your commitment. It is a daily thing, an hourly thing, a breath by breath thing. It is never fixed in the sky, but changes as you change, moves as you move. What is static is dead and gone. What pulses creates. By your wit and will you bring forth the future. You alter it by adding your voice. Nothing is predetermined. Should you remain silent, another voice will take the place you could have held and the thing you could have given will be lost, unused.  Should you give half, then half is all we'll know. And if you hesitate because you are unsure of yourself, or find that your voice cracks, or is somehow, in your mind, lesser than the gifts of others you've misunderstood the question. All music is broken. All of it. What Roethke called music is simply his voice, his life standing where he could, John the Baptist-style, and crying out what it was like to be in that skin, with that soul, at that time, in that place. 

It is what each of us, in our own ways, are called to do.

Roethke wrote. Constantly. Less than 2% of the lines he wrote made it into the final poems. He burned, burned out and burned again. My father, no poet, but an embalmer, put his hands to over 10,000 deaths, 10,000 lives, families, hundreds of thousands of friends and acquaintances. He could give one last look, when one last look was the way things were, and he helped bridge the sudden gap. That, too, is a broken music.

* * *

You are here to move your body in space. You are here to fill the wilderness with your voice, broken as it may be. Its brokenness its virtue. We bring forth life when we do so. Neglecting it, or working against it brings misery and desolation. That is why the easy glide to the next and the next and the next must be resisted, fought against. That sort of matriculation does not serve you, but serves the well-worn grooves of the powers that be: the cults of youth, money, politics, religion. No, to serve the truth that only you can express requires one thing of you, a choice: make a broken music, or die trying.

But, if the choice is so stark, why bother?

Easy: you don't know who is listening and what effect you might have on their lives, their music.

When you are awake to this, when you see this in your own way, by your own effort, you will see that instead of being just one voice, you have become a choir - no heavenly host, but flesh and bone birthing the future.

* * *

I wish you well.

__________


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Was Better

What was better then

Than to crush a leaf or a herb
Between you palms,

Then wave it slowly, soothingly
Past your mouth and nose

And breathe?

- Seamus Heaney, "A Herbal"

* * *

A prideful thing: my children refer to him simply as Seamus. As in, "I'm reading Seamus' Beowulf." Or, "Was reading some Seamus last night." Such things make me glad.

* * * 

I'll ask, is there anything better than crushing a leaf and slowly breathing it in? The oils in the leaf are released and your nose becomes the conduit for those smells to touch deep centers of memory: I know this place. I have been here before. And if the place is already familiar, known to you through daily encounters, then that fresh perfume renews your vows to that place and you know your part in it. The simple, almost absent-minded pleasure of taking in a fresh, green smell - mint, grass, hay, woodruff, lavender, creeping thyme - has the ability to place you outside of time, to hold you for the length of time it takes to breathe in and out, above past, present and future, to arrest your thoughts and bring you to an unnameable, wordless understanding of your life, all life and your place in it. And as quick as another breath it fades. But it was there and your body and mind know it now and become alert to the possibility of its return.

My father had the habit of taking a handful of grasses and rubbing them slowly in hands while he talked to you. He'd occasionally bring them to his nose, take in a deep breath and go back to rolling them back and forth in his hands. It was a habit he learned from his grandfather, a farmer at the turn of the 20th century, who, it was said, spoke few words, but could listen for days. His name was Alphonso Burdell Child, known simply as A.B.. Taciturn, hard working, gentle, a church-goer, A.B. passed along to his grandson the quiet habit of taking in what pleasure there was and so stay rooted in that moment listening to others talk, or to the wind whistling a bit. Somewhere near Castledawson, in County Derry, around the same time, Seamus Heaney learned that same habit. In time it became part of a poem to that place.  I learned it from my father and when I read Seamus' poem I was held, caught in the memories of green oils and my father as a young man. I could see him and smell the grass and time was nothing to me.

Poems and crushed leaves are the same thing: they hold you for a moment, lift you out of the toil and moil, and anoint you with their fresh relief.

All of which is to say, that the means of renewal are ever at hand. You simply need to reach out and breathe.

* * *

It is green today. It is that deeply saturated green infused with yellow that only appears in April. It is a rain soaked green. It looks like a velvet of moss on cool, wet rock. When you walk on it the ground gives an inch or two (or so it seems). The world, for now, is lush and cool, inviting, unconcerned with anything whatsoever, and everything what so ever is at peace in it.

My yard is a playground for crows, fat, lazy rabbits and a neighborhood cat who likes to sun himself on the drive. The tree outside my window is active with cardinals building a nest. Red-winged blackbirds, juncos, starlings, sparrows and swifts pierce the view as well. It is a reminder to not focus on the self too much, to not build up thoughts about the problems and trials of the day. For it is green and wet and Spring is promising to stay this time and though you know it won't, you indulge its optimism and feel it leak into your bones.

Old men crush leaves and herbs and grasses and so reclaim the green of their days. They draw in the freshness of it and for a moment they are not old, but wise and lithe and strong to know the way leaves smell when crushed. The green of April is the same: not old, but wise, renewed in a breath, a relief from what is weathered and worn.

It never leaves me, this notion that our cure, our balm is always at hand. It is in the paths of swifts rising like smoke and sparks; it is in the tiny purple and white flowers insisting upon their rights in all this green; it is in a half-feral cat making himself at home. It is also in the eye willing to notice such things, the mind that alerts the eye to be on the lookout for the return of a green and fragrant idle: cityside, exurb, emptyfield, no matter - it surrounds.

* * *

This green will harden and then brown out. With each day's turning everything changes, if only by degrees and it takes months to notice. But it is in those degrees of change, imperceptible, persistent that the cure for what ails you remains ready and at hand. The problem we fucked fuckers encounter is a problem of too much mind, too much pacing back and forth over a thought, a slight, a wound, a betrayal, a tragedy, a missed chance to be who we thought ourselves to be. While I will never suggest that anyone stop thinking or learning, it is not, on its own, an absolute good. Context matters, and if you cannot see the paths of birds, or know enough to stop and crush a leaf in your hand for no reason other than the pleasure it brings, then you have trapped yourself in your pain, or worry, or fear.

To know which leaves smell best is to know something other than your pain or worry or fear and that, my best beloved, is the start of something that can carry you for a while while you regain your footing.

It is right at hand. Crush a leaf or herb between your palms. Breathe, and you will understand.

* * *

May your well run deep.

__________

Saturday, April 8, 2017

This Life Is

This life is more than
Flesh and bone
Turn back now before you're gone
When you go your spirit lives on
This life is more than
Flesh and bone


- Buddy Guy, Flesh & Bone

* * *

I have been away for a while. It has been important to be elsewhere, to be away from words. From time to time I need to step back, to silence my thoughts, to drain away the habits of thought and see if/when I might say something again. I fill my days with the day job, painting, music and cooking for my best beloveds. It is good. It is a good life and I didn't know if I had anything left to say and that was fine, just fine, with me.

A few days ago something new arrived. Something unexpected. It is the song above: a duet between Buddy Guy and Van Morrison. The song caught my eye because it was dedicated to the memory of BB King. So I listened. I listened and a dam I didn't know existed burst within me and I could write again.

* * *

Viktor Frankl wrote that happiness could not be pursued, it cannot be aimed for. Happiness, he said, could only ensue, could only occur if one did not aim for it. It was the by-product of living for a cause greater than yourself. 

In the Dhammapada there is this:

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.

These two comments are the saying the same thing.

* * *

The way to unfuck your life is to live it so that others will know they are not alone. We, the living, assume we are the most important to have ever lived, for our time is important to us. But we are waves, cresting and falling again and again, each wave thinking it was the ultimate. You know what's the ultimate in this metaphor? The ocean, the thing that holds, supports and is changed by waves. To presume a greater significance to your life - over and above the dead and gone, over and above others now living who are not you, not like you, over and above the ones making their way here - because you are the one living it is the very mechanism of fucking things up.

Listening to Buddy Guy and Van Morrison trade verses about the nearness of their deaths, the recent death of BB King, and the call and response of a sweet by and by, it split me open: thunderbolt and sword. We come and go. Others came and went. Our time to depart will have its day. The ones yet to be will know the same. It is here, now, now while we have breath that our work is to be done. And that work is to set the table, to leave clues, to live so that stories of our days outlast our days. Not for immortality's sake, but for the comfort it may bring to those who stay behind, the solace our effort might bring those we could never know. It is kindness, generosity, courage and the strength to choose such a life.

* * *

There is no promise made to any life. There is no guarantor of happiness, wealth, love, peace. None. It is up to each life to sort through what is at hand to craft a life. Some lives are a torment throughout. Others run in a greased groove. What is essential regardless of what is suffered, is how it is engaged. We retain, in all circumstances, the freedom to choose how we will undergo the life we have, the life we create, the life we live. In that freedom lies the seed of all wisdom: our lives are not solely for ourselves, but are part of other lives - present, past, future. What we choose we change by the choosing. This, too, is the law, ancient and inexhaustible. To live with that forward in the mind changes the things you say and do. It makes you kinder, gentler than you might otherwise be.

But don't fall into the trap of perfection. Such a thing is bloodless and nothing to aspire to. No, it is precisely because we are fallible, imperfect, often inconsistent, forgetful, fearful that these choices have the power to encourage and embolden others to live closer to the bone. Imperfect is within reach. Never forget that.

* * *

Our work is to be free and act like it. Those acts hold the possibility of touching other lives. What message you send is entirely yours to choose. It can be for good. It can be for ill. Your call. It does not matter how many know your story, know parts of the story. Again, your story may be one that encourages by example; it may encourage by rejecting your example. Your call. Your freedom.

I will venture this, promise this: if you find your way to some place where your fevers have cooled, your anger quieted, your hurt healed, you cannot help but be generous to others for you will have passed through the fire they are walking through. Buddhas are perfect - fuck that. Bodhisattvas reject perfection in order to stay close to those in need. They stay because of compassion. They stay because they know much it can hurt to be stumbling and they choose, from the well of their being, to lend a hand.

This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible: happiness ensues when you give your live to a cause other than your own.

* * *

May your well run deep.

_______________

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's The Same

It's the same old lie they tell you when you're little
Try to make you forget just what it is you're really made of
And follow on just like most everyone
But you and me, we ain't like most everyone
Pure individual, bright as the shining sun
And sure as hell we know where it is we come from
And where it is, yeah, we probably going back to it
But now we gonna live a little, try and get a little truth


- Jim James, "Same Old Lie"

* * *

There is a truth you once knew. It was not separate from you. It wasn't even recognized as something outside of you, or something you could name. It could not be pointed to or talked about. This truth existed in the space between left foot, right foot; it lived in your breath, the unthinkingness of sight, the phantasmagorical processes of neural pathways and a body in motion. You and it were one and had no need to call out its name because it was self-evident. You were the truth itself. The fact of you, the gifts, limits and impulses of you when you arrived here, before learning anything, these were the cloth of your truth. In time, over time, for most of us, that time when we were as one, indivisible from our self, ebbed away or was yanked away as the business of growing up took hold. But the truth is, if your life is fucked today, if it is off-kilter, you need to reclaim that once upon a time truth, the truth you knew when you were a kid, when you ran like a dork and sang to trees. Somewhere, behind the fog of memory, your truth still exists and waits for you to reclaim it - bright as the shining sun.

* * *

The task set before each life is to know itself as it is - not as others would have it, not as we imagine ourselves to be - but as we are. This is the great challenge: who can bear to be themselves? Who can bear to be themselves when everything around you wants you to be what your father expected you to be, what your mother hoped you'd be, what your employer wants from you, what your loves hope to find in you? To please is to be accepted and to be accepted is to know where you are, who you are, to have ballast to your days and direction to go in. None of which is bad or wrong or to be judged with a self-righteous eye. No. Everyone craves some version of that. The crisis, if it ever comes, occurs when you can't remember if what it is you are doing and the sort of life you are living is one you have chosen because it reflects what is innate in you, or if it was chosen in order for others to be pleased with you. Matriculation and compliance are the coin of the realm. Look around you. The tribalism of our politics demands compliance to one of two poles. Look at the language used to enforce the in group versus the out group. How much of that is bred in the bone and how much is a program to follow?

But you and me we ain't like most everyone.

We struggle to remember our truth. It troubles us when we cannot, or when we think we have a sense of it, but it still doesn't seems right, like something's missing. We can find ourselves lost more often than we want to admit, but even in that lostness, where the right road is wholly lost, that truth still lives in us and it calls out our name.

What is beautiful, what is terrible, what is beautiful about all this is that no one can help you. You can be encouraged (that is why I write these things), but you alone have to find your way to the truth you knew before you knew words. It can be harrowing. It is also, when you get there, a liberation, a communion, a silent exaltation as you restore yourself to yourself.

* * *

There is no one way to get there. There is no plan you can follow, no steps to memorize. There is no promise made other than you get to venture the effort. What works for one might influence another, but it can never replace the inescapable fact that you alone know this truth and you alone can live it. I am sustained by music and words. Recently, I have found that color, the making of images, playing with shape and color is the doorway to the truth I knew once, but lost sight of. By needs be, you will have to clear away the rubble and find what sustains you and where it might lead and what long closed doors might open. Perhaps it will be faith, perhaps sound. It might be the natural world. It could be questioning everything. Only you can know.

But don't take that to mean a life of isolation. If that's where you wind up, please note you haven't gotten to the truth yet. For no matter how it is expressed, no matter the form you give it, the inner truth, if it is the true thing itself, always and in all cases leads you outward, towards generosity, towards the giving away of your gifts to a cause greater than yourself. You know this is true if you but think of those who have moved you in your life: their spirit was always generous. And here lies a paradox that you cannot resolve (to resolve it is to kill its inherent mystery): you are pure individual, bright as the shining sun, whose gifts belong to everyone, who is a part of a larger whole, a larger mystery that cannot be riddled out except to be the truth you are.

You are near and far at the same time: cosmic and smelly, eternal and corporeal, a timeless creature with a clock around its neck. Don't try and resolve it. You'll pick one over the other. That's how you got lost in the first place: mom and dad didn't want you to make their mistakes, the church wanted your bended knee, the boss wants your weekends and your sweet love wants you to fill what is empty inside them. There is a truth you once knew. It was not separate from you. It wasn't even recognized as something outside of you, or something you could name. It could not be pointed to or talked about. This truth existed in the space between left foot, right foot; it lived in your breath, the unthinkingness of sight, the phantasmagorical processes of neural pathways and a body in motion. You and it were one and had no need to call out its name because it was self-evident. You were the truth itself. 

And you can be again.

Listen back. You are forever being called into your name.

* * *

May your well run deep.

_______________

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Some Time When

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden, and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

- William Stafford, "Ask Me"

* * *

I once was plagued by trying find and secure ultimate answers about God, meaning, the depth of the cosmos, an answer to the question, "Why?" Because my goal was impossible, nothing satisfied and I could pride myself in the search, as if futility were an accomplishment. Such thoughts no longer trouble me. Instead, I only want to know who I am. Should I ever figure that out I have a sense the other questions will be answered as much as they can be.

* * *

Ask me whether what I have done is my life.

It is written as a dare, no? Ask me, go ahead, ask me. I'll tell you. Or maybe it is written plaintively, a request to be relieved of the haunting of the unasked question: who are you? It is a loaded line. Everything else in the poem turns on this question: doings, love, hate, distances, forces of nature beyond our control. Is who we are the origin of these things? And if we don't know if what we have done is who we are, what have we created by not paying attention? 

Here's the thing, it is impossible to always be aware of how each step, each breath, each glance somehow reveals, projects, makes manifest who we are. And those projections are often default settings we operate under just to manage getting through the day. We move by rote and muscle memory in order to move more smoothly, with less friction because to pay closer attention would, invariably slow us down. By moving through our days this way it is both easier to manage and harder to ever know our own names. Layer upon layer, fog upon fog, we mute and muffle what we might have once recognized as our soul, our spark, our fire in order to simply get through. A day of it makes a second day more likely - less pain - and a year of it makes a decade of stifling the thought of who were before we learned to love a frictionless life a done deal. Into the mix we find every sort of justification for turning down the flame and come to believe, honestly believe, we're better off doing as everyone around us is doing: American Dream, mortgage, debt, Netflix and chill.

And if we came to those choices unencumbered by expectation, if we came to them by knowing whether what we have done is our life, then those choices would be fucking gold.

But, that's not the way it is, is it?

* * *

Ask me whether what I have done is my life.

How to clear the fog? How to know if what you are doing to clear the fog is even up to the job? Again, there are bookshelves full of justifications, programs, models for getting at this question, but, love, listen, a book can't do it. Neither can a poem. All they can do is ask a question. The rest falls to you. Should you demand more of them, should you follow someone else's trail of breadcrumbs, nothing much will change. Maybe the language you use will change (psychology, theology, poetry, philosophy, etc.) but the underlying facts will not. The muting of your one precious existence will continue. No, you have to use what is at hand to go beyond whatever they might offer.

That is the risk, the challenge, the privilege.

That would be challenge enough, but should you choose to embark, like smoke and sparks, you will have to do so surrounded by the fears and aspirations of your time, your culture, your society, community and family. Of what possible value is such a journey in the time of Trump? Aren't there bills to pay? Walls to build? Others to blame? 

Well, every life has had to move through the politics of their time. It is always, in all places, a limiting factor, an impingement, a threat to life - if not yours, then the fellow you have demonized. Joseph Campbell, in one of his lectures at the Cooper Union, spoke of the limiting horizons of the in group versus the out group. Each society claims affection and protection for their own against any who are deemed outside the group. Tribal, you know? But as mankind moved from hunting and gathering to cultivating, to the origins of landed society and civilization each step brought about the destruction of the previous horizon. Each step exploded the horizons outward until you reach Copernicus who places the sun in the center, instead of the Earth, instead of man, and suddenly the horizons are now cosmic. What was true for the pre-Copernican society of western Europe, was no longer true. This change occurred because of an expansion of conscious thought. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969 another expansion occurred, or least it held the possibility of it. It seems to me we have contracted from that possibility of redefining horizons. Things have become narrower, meaner, more cut-throat than they otherwise should have been. Why?

Ask me whether what I have done is my life.

We have conflated the things we do to secure shelter, food, to find a partner, to maintain a home, with who we are. We have let slip any knowledge of ourselves for the certainty of borders and limited horizons. We have become afraid.

The cure is to stand along a frozen river and know that its currents still flow below what we see, to know, without saying, the distances covered, how rivers are the past, present and future all at the same time, to know that what appears to be present for us is yet to be for others, is already past for others still. Rivers move to the sea. Their horizons expand and still they flow. 

Rilke:

And if the earthly no longer knows your name,
whisper to the silent earth: I'm flowing.
To the flashing water say: I am.

* * *

Ask me whether what I have done is my life and I will tell you no. The things I have done, the mistakes I have made, the kindness I have managed are not my life. They are the externals, the ice of the frozen river, the thing you see. My life is in the current below all that. It is part of a past I did not witness, a future I will not see.  The only worthy goal is to integrate the two, to introduce my shadow to the light so that what feeds from below is made manifest above. We live, to our great detriment, too much in either one or the other, with no harmony or rhyme present. It is easier to endlessly search, or ceaselessly comply than to challenge either. Justifications abound for both and it is very easy to get lost, to be made afraid. Justifications are constrictions, a limiting factor, a narrow horizon. To know who you are no justifications will do. It can only be you and your experience of the river.

* * *

What the river says, that is what I say.

* * *

I wish you well.

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