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. 


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.