Bolt and bar the shutter,
For the foul winds blow:
Our minds are at their best this night,
And I seem to know
That everything outside us is
Mad as the mist and snow.
Horace there by Homer stands,
Plato stands below,
And here is Tully's open page.
How many years ago
Were you and I unlettered lads
Mad as the mist and snow?
You ask what makes me sigh, old friend,
What makes me shudder so?
I shudder and I sigh to think
That even Cicero
And many-minded Homer were
Mad as the mist and snow.
- WB Yeats, "Mad as The Mist and Snow"
* * *
There comes a time when it all cracks open and you can never go back. Never go back to a life unthinking, a life unawares, a life unknown, a life unlived. Never not ever. The wildness of your freedom shudders and shatters the paltry foundation you've been standing on and all is in play, everything in play and you are the wind that howls and storms and blows: free, driven by your own force. Even Cicero and many-minded Homer were mad as the mist and snow.
And now you are, too.
* * *
Yeats' poem moves between the wildness of a storming night, the cage of a lettered life and the wildness of childhood. Like most of his poems there is a foolish verve to believe, to look over your shoulder and see the pattern and to mourn for being unawares at the time. This poem came back to me the other day after being tucked away for thirty years. I found it and read it aloud to my empty house - not in some posey, prosey, poetry, simpering way, but at the top of my lungs, full throat and there it was: another gear, another crack in the foundation, another blow to my foolish ego.
As I like to say: boom.
* * *
There is a tendency to think that we once held freedom and madness and wildness in our veins when were children. The woes and wearying responsibilities of our adult lives blotted out the sun of those days. We learn. We grow. We matriculate. Our wildness is left for weekends and vacations and office parties with lampshades on our heads. And we die a bit each day to live separated from the force that once drove us, that made us laugh at the miracle of having a body that could run and fall and bleed now and again and heal and dare ourselves to do it again.
And so it is. Childhood becomes adulthood and we are done with childish things. And I am not here advocating for a return to childhood. That is, like all things sentimental, a betrayal of the life in your veins.
We get fucked because we lose our way. We get fucked because either we forget who we are, or never make our own acquaintance. You don't find your way by pretending you can start from zero. You find your way by putting one foot in front of the other, by letting go of the things you've carried with you for too long - loss, fear, doubt. You find your way when you quit living by others' demands and instead restore your senses to being alive at this very moment. The past is dead and gone, yet it exists because you exist; it informs who you are moment to moment. The task before you is to move through your life informed, but unburdened by your history. When you come to see that it can be done your life cracks open and the gift you once knew as a child - to be mad as the mist and snow - is restored to you but with the hard earned burnish of having gotten there as the person you now are: history and freedom rhymed.
* * *
It is an easy thing to laugh in the tents of prosperity and in the vintage and to sing on the wagon loaded with corn. It is easy and small and misses the point of being here at all. Better is to sing like a howling wind, a survivor's gale, restored, completed by the force that still drives you, unburdened by the pain, many-minded, mad as the mist and snow.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
Supposed to make for better living
Are we better human beings?
We've got out wires all crossed
Our tubes are all tied
And I'm straining to remember
Just what it means to be alive
A life worth living
Now you can feel it in your chest
Buildin' like little birds
Just building up the nest
And you build it up strong
And you fill it up with love
And you pray for good rain
All from the lord above
- Jim James, "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)"
* * *
There is this: the life you are living is entirely your own creation. If it is fucked it is because the wires are all crossed. You have chosen to let others' ways of being dictate how you will respond to the life in your hands. You are a stranger to yourself. Nothing makes sense. Everything you try, everything you hope will correct, amend, adjust and re-align your life comes to ash because you are still dialed into to living at the (nonexistent) mercy of circumstance. The corrective is not to appease, or acquiesce. The corrective is to reject the premise, quit the field of someone else's expectations and find out - for yourself - just what it means to be alive.
Your story isn't over yet. This fuckedness is not the last word. It changes when you change, when you have had enough of clinging to the idea that things will get better for you by buying in deeper and deeper to someone else's vision of what life, your life is for.
You are the only one with that answer. Start acting like it.
* * *
You know there is a life worth living. You know it. It is what haunts you, trails after you, makes you feel like shit every time you copped out, got drunk, stayed in bed, refused the call to get going. It was there when your employer upped his productivity demands and refused to compensate you for it. It was there when your husband/wife/lover treated you as an after thought and you jerry-rigged an excuse for their poor showing. It was there when you talked big, but delivered nothing. This sense that things could be better if only... If only, what? If you answer that question with anything other than, if only I'd had the balls to live by the light in my head, then you still don't get it.
The decisions others make about their lives can and will spill over into yours. Some of it is benign, some malignant. It is what society does - it imposes and defines and sets down rules. Right on. Have at it. I'm all for stopping at red lights. But right here is the crisis for each of us. Because we are swaddled in rules and defined by paths laid down over millennia, we matriculate through our lives without testing our own knowledge, or if we are aware of the life in our veins we hesitate to live by it because we don't know how to slip the bonds of expectation.
Here's the news: imagined as a zero sum game, then you will always falter, always be wrong to the light.
Life, your life, does not have to be lived as either a conformist or an outsider. It is simply to be lived by you, by what animates your higher self. And, motherfucker, you know this feeling, this call to your higher self. You feel it in your chest. It is love. It is strength. It is forgiveness. Mostly though, it is love, and if you pay attention to that love you'll always know what to do next (which is to love the life you have).
* * *
Nietzsche wrote about loving one's fate. This is a terrifying idea to most. If your life is filled with pain or sorrow or regret or physical malady how can you possibly love that fate?
There is a Buddhist teaching that says those who harm us are the cause of their own misery, that in striking out against us the damage they do to themselves is deeper, more intrinsic than what they lay on us.
Put the two together. At the core lies forgiveness. Is your life hard because your choices made it so? Then forgive yourself. Is your life hard because of injustice and violence? Forgive your oppressors by being free of hatred. The journey we are on is one whose center is unconditional love and acceptance of the life we've been given to live. The mystery of our days is that we wait so long to embrace it.
Love your life. It is what you are here for.
* * *
Boom, sweet babies. Boom.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
- Isaac Bashevis Singer
* * *
In the end all that matters is kindness. Were you kind while you had the chance to be so? If your life is fucked, ask yourself, when was the last time you were kind to anyone? Let that answer guide you.
* * *
In the story of the Fisher King, Parzival, a knight of the Round Table, has stumbled onto the Grail Castle, wherein lies the wounded Fisher King. The wound is grievous, emasculating and the kingdom surrounding the castle is barren because of it. Parzival's first impulse is to rush to the king's side and ask, "What ails thee?" But he does not. He overrides his impulse to kindness with the intellect that tells him a knight doesn't blubber. In so choosing, the castle disappears, never to be found again. It is then he realizes he had the Grail within in reach and lost it for a lack of kindness.
I love that story.
It is easy, so very easy to only see your own pain, your own suffering, your own needs and be blind, indifferent or afraid of what others need or are experiencing. Multiply that by a factor of ten if you are fucked. You hurt so much, you focus so intently on the problem in your hand that you fail to see that others are fighting tougher battles. You want and you need and those needs are not met and so you wall off your life in an attempt to keep your eye on the prize: an end to your own suffering. You can build empires this way. You die anyway.
There are thresholds, passages you'll move through as you live, as you unfuck your life. It is different for each of us, the path we take, the fears we leave behind in order to take another step. It can be agonizing to let go of the ways in which we have lived and thought about our lives. So much pride is vested in each decision that it becomes difficult to change, to grow, to become our very selves. The last threshold that you must step through before you can unfuck your life is kindness. You may think yourself kind and decent, and maybe you are, now and then, when it is easy, when it is reciprocated and acknowledged. I'm talking about a different sort of kindness, one that is never doubted, or looking for reward, but simply is - at all times: present, willing, generous, selfless.
The pain here is a spiritual pain, a breaking through of forms, shattering them, learning to walk without them. The end to dichotomies, duality - there is only kindness.
Parzival, as you know, wanders for seven years trying to re-find the Grail Castle. But it cannot be done, such is the nature of the quest. He has lost his chance. He continues on knowing it is so, but believing it might still be done. One day he finds himself in the hall of the Fisher King, the wound still fresh, the land still barren. Parzival is battered by his search: pummeled, weary, sore. When he sees the king in such agony he rushes to his side and asks,"What ails thee?" And so the Grail is found.
Do you not know what the Grail is?
It is kindness, above all. It is kindness. It is forgetting about yourself and seeing what others need. It is letting one who has hurt you have your love nonetheless. It is understanding that all whom you meet are stumbling on their paths as well. It is knowing, knowing, knowing in the marrow of your soul that this threshold, this agonizing moment before you step through is that last of your fucked life.
And so you take that step.
* * *
The wounds of others can distort them into hateful, unkind forms and they can cause tremendous harm. Kindness means little to them. The road they are on is a long one. Bless them and move on. Be kind to yourself by moving on. They will have to wander like Parzival until they see what you and Isaac know: kindness is everything in life.
* * *
Friday, November 1, 2013
|Don't forget the fucking joy part of it.|
And the stars held up the night
Destiny set me free, destiny
I miss the games we play
With innocence we place
Oh, yes you still amaze me with your
Joy, joy, joy.
- Daniel Lanois, "Joy"
It's all hard, man. Real fucking hard sometimes to put one foot in front of the other. All around it seems like your life is pinched and cut off from the good shit you always figured you'd somehow have. Things narrow. Things hurt. Things suck. Love, money, peace - it's all outside your reach. Right? That's fucked, no doubt, no doubt. Get to this place and maybe you just harden yourself against it all. Your life drains a bit of color each day and though your life is hell, at least you are familiar with it. Maybe you turn inside and start scratching at the door of your soul. Religion, gurus, the spirit seems to invite you out of the dolor. You believe, man. You believe because you are told when you believe all the bad juju goes away. You turn to Christ. You turn to Buddha. You get all esoteric and deep and solemn and you're a right regular pain in everyone's ass with your depth.
All that won't do you any fucking good, my friend. Not a goddamned bit. You're missing something:
Joy, joy, joy.
* * *
You have been down so long, my sweet friend, that up is a joke. No worries. I have been there. Shit, most people who draw breath have been there. It is all encompassing. It is claustrophobic. It is a bitch. So much of our religious education focuses on the suffering part of living as proof that we are born in sin, born unclean, born broken and only through self-flagellation of the body, and more insidiously, the spirit can we be shed of our troubles.
That's a hard road, man. Real fucking hard and having walked it I can report back there's nothing at the end of that road. Let it go.
Oh, Lord, heap mysteries upon us, but entwine our work with laughter low.
That's a bit of Joyce from Finnegan's Wake - maybe the only part that's intelligible, but that's the key right there, my brother, my sister.
Yeah, man, there's pain here. There's getting lost. There's suffering imposed and right next to it there is joy and laughter and peace and love. There is nothing you can do about the chaos that surrounds you, but you can reduce to perfect order your response to it and if you neglect to see the joy in this life you've excluded yourself from the fullness that was possible only by you.
A bodhisattva forgoes nirvana in order to hang out with us and help us get there. He or she won't go until we all go. Right on. I dig that. Joseph Campbell writes that a bodhisattva participates joyfully in the sorrows of the world. I dig that, too. I promise you, you have met and known and been helped along the way by bodhisattvas of unending colors. You were so wrapped in your sorrows you didn't notice or recognize them, but they were there. And here's the thing: we are all each others bodhisattvas. True statement.
* * *
Our worries blot out the sun of our joy. Don't let what is hard convince you there is no joy here. It may not arrive in the shape or form you want or expect, but it is here and without it your life will never get unfucked.
* * *
Welcome to the world, Hailee Rae. So glad you made it. We're good to go now.
* * *