Chapter 18

A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.                                                                               Carl Jung.

Columbia River bwAs I watched the sun come up on the longest day of the year, I was parked near Vantage, Washington, by the Columbia river. A huge wind ripped down the gorge. One moment the sky darkened and it looked like a storm was about to break in the burgeoning shadows. The next moment, the weather is blown down the river and the sunlight pours in. Millions of years ago, the flood that made this canyon was 500 feet above where I stayed and rushed down the valley at 60 miles an hour. I can see that in my imagination. The wind was bashing and bending the trees that day, following the path of the ancient floodwater, making a roar that sounded like I was standing next to a busy superhighway.

Alice at Liberty WA bw smallThen, 60 miles further north, I was parked by a stream near Liberty, Washington. Every one’s dream on the road. Surrounded by forest. Sitting, listening, hearing only the water gurgling over the rocks, felt odd at first. I could almost feel my brain sorting out the frequency of the stream from the hum of all the roads I have slept next to in the last couple of years or the busy freeways that were in the distance. I was sure I heard people chatting in all the bubbling, as if there were a party going on, just out of sight.  After my mind sorted it out and settled in, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t be too long before I would be looking for a little quiet.

It takes decades to train a human being to deal with all the opposites that appear to run our lives. With that kind of investment, there can be profound resistance to seeing things another way, even when the conditioning isn’t working. Most people are too busy interacting with machines … taking care of business. That is the blessing of old age. I feel like I have less to lose now, in terms of self-image. I don’t need a lot of money. I don’t mind being wrong. I am calmer, less likely to get run over by a bus while wandering around, discovering how it’s all a projection.

In the highest moments, when I ‘have the world on a string’ and all the things are in order, I still have a subtle sense that there’s something more, at the edge of my perception. In the darkest moments, when the sadness washes through me as if there had never been joy, there is still a slight scent of something beyond. It is an echo, a resonance that comes with being ‘whole’, whatever the size and whatever the name … being swept into it, all of it, then and there … giving up the precious position of being me. I am open to the world coming apart. Like the Buddhist mandalas, which are built out of fine colored sand and then are blown away, the image of a world built out of commas, periods and capital letters is ultimately a surface, a temporary measure. A bardo.

The person I became in my formative years was a reaction to the world, not a contribution. Spirit has a presence for me. I can bring something. I have had time to watch threads spin out over the course of a life. I have faith that those brief experiences, when I felt myself to be a part of something so much bigger, revealed a dimension for which there are no words. I have felt it. I know it is everywhere. An experience in its own time. And I know that it is me that is in the way.

It’s easy to assume that old age has lost its promise in a world built on the future tense … who I am is who I am going to be. The fact is that Life happens before we know it. Science shows that the field around the body reacts to a stimulus seconds before the mind catches up. Carl Jung wrote that it’s about what I do, not what I say I’ll do … or not even what I say I’m doing. The future can be a refuge. Words themselves are late to life.

But words and the way they are put together are what got me here. They are what got you here. Words are what get anyone anywhere. It is Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey to catch a glimpse of the light behind it all, unpack the illusion that carried the story so far and let the sun shine in.

 

Flower bw small

When spirit is a reality for me, living becomes a process of refining my thoughts, feelings and behavior to be in accord with these largely invisible forces. Small mind matching big mind. Energy pours through when I am true to myself. I am that energy … before it becomes positive or negative … before it has a name. I make at least three mistakes for every one effort that ends up feeling right, but I will gradually refine my approach so that more of that energy can pass.

A better person is formed on the other side of the construction (grammar) … de-construction (no grammar) … re-construction (new grammar) cycle. In the West, the alchemists called it The Great Work. Turning unconscious lead into conscious gold. In the East, wise men called it waking up. Growing is a refining process. It is never over, but it doesn’t begin until I take responsibility for creating my own life on the spot.

Flowers and fruit are the results of a seed refining its nature. The growth of a tree and the course of water returning to the sea … processes of refinement. The nuclear heart of our solar system is refining itself. Re-finement. Not ‘Finement’. This is not making something out of nothing. It is the creative essence … the first impulse in finer and finer terms as it bursts into the universe.

Heaven is here … as it is everywhere. It’s just not useful. And it doesn’t insist. Michelangelo said that the sculpture is already there within the marble block, before he started work. He just had to chisel away the superfluous material. The same is true of the soul.

If I can’t name it, it must not be there … even though it is only a tiny slice of the universe that my regular senses can accommodate. Even if it does exist, I can’t deal with it, if it doesn’t have a name. I live in a dream conjured by the names I do know. On my journey, two things happened when I loosened up the way I was punctuating my experience and looked more carefully at how I was naming things and imposing sentences.

First, I became more aware of how I have already seen spirit flow through my life, when words didn’t manage my feelings. In joy and grief, it is the same. When my mother died, I was overwhelmed with grief. But I never felt closer to God. The experience was the loss of reflection … the sense of me. There was no time between what I saw and how I felt. It was the same experience as the awe that filled my senses in front of the magnificent landscapes of the Northwest. This is a dimension that I live right next to, but it’s hard to see through the screen of words. When the information flowing from Nature doesn’t have to bruise its way through a complicated pattern of unfinished beliefs, I am reminded.

Airplane over ice

Secondly, on the journey through the Northwest, I began to realize more consistently that I am that spirit … where I see it, when I feel it, it is as though the ‘I’ dissolves. The experience of spirit is participation. I see this life, not as a ‘thing’, with a beginning, a middle and an end … but as a cycle, a period of transition while I uncover who I really am. The individual identity … what I have named … like the mandala made of sand … will blow away in the breeze. The quality of the experience, the heart, the spirit that made the picture in the first place, will endure. It is not a poetic fantasy. It is the new science. It is a fact. In essence, we are all one.

Nature eventually forces me to unlearn the ‘either-or’ approach that words create. There are no dualities in Nature. Not even light and dark are separate. In this world I have created, there have to be opposites for there to be anything at all. I was taught that measuring a scale between those opposites properly is the way to navigate through this life. When that mechanistic approach breaks down, I can see that life just radiates. I, the observer, impose a scale with which to distinguish things. No scale, no observation. No observation, no thing. There are no straight lines in Nature, so disorganizing my grammar will disorganize my thinking. It can be a mess for a while. To me, it’s worth it. The business of living is just the beginning.

Soon, 65 years-old will be two-thirds of a lifetime. 61.8%, within a margin of error. The Golden Mean. The turning point. The Fibonacci ratio that accompanies transformation may be a fundamental constant of Nature. What I can leave behind are old nervous responses to what I see around me. I can revise the grammar that preserves ancient (and incorrect) assumptions about the world: things which are similar may be treated as identical; parts may be considered without relation to the whole; actions are one-way; ‘qualities’ are properties of ‘things’; an event has a ‘cause’ and to be myself, I must not be you.

And what I will find in the future … I just can’t know for sure. There must always be a verb in the present tense, but the other tenses work only in the imagination … they are not real.

Living in this world of opposites will always mean suffering. If I want to know I am good, I must know what bad is. And so on. In order to act more efficiently, I forget that big, small, rich, poor, up, down, here, there, good and bad are all relative terms. They depend on the observer. I have become complacent about the implications of everything being relative. After all, it’s that ambivalence I was trying to stamp out in the first place, by putting names on stuff. I want to stabilize the chaos that threatens to engulf me when I lose the handle on things.

In those moments when I am a little more awake and I experience something more than I am used to, I get a sense of a bigger picture. Carl Jung calls these experiences numinous. As subtle as these forces (numina) are, just at the edge of my sensory equipment, they nevertheless remind me that everything matters, sooner or later, because everything is connected.

In order to grow up, I must work my real self out of the shadows. I must show myself for who I actually am, behind the words … because who I am is unique. That uniqueness is a key. If I am not coming from who I am, then the feedback I get back from the world will never help, in terms of taking responsibility. That’s a big reason to pretend … to avoid responsibility. I must face the consequences of my perceptions like a grown-up, instead of like a child. Perceptions don’t just happen. Pretending to be at the mercy of circumstances leaves me no power to make a change. I can refine the energy that is me by taking responsibility for it. It is what I am doing anyway. I might as well own up. I have been running the show all along.

So often, I forget about this completely. I feel helpless and blame basically everything within reach. As a child, I had not yet realized that I am accountable both for what I do and what don’t do. The way I operated back then – if you didn’t see it, it didn’t matter. Older now, I know that it is what I did not do that made life the most difficult … situations where I avoided responsibility for my perceptions, by switching the words around. If I said it … and didn’t do it … it is unfinished. If I thought it and didn’t say it … it is unfinished. The only way what I believe changes is if I answer for it. Slowing down for a moment, becoming an observer of my own mind, reveals how busy I have been, building my own story, embroidering a life upon the fabric of the non-local universe. Refinement is a process of picking up the stitches.

In everyday life, grammar is flexible. It will bend but not often break. When I am angry, I chop the world into short sentences, with lots of exclamation points. When I am sad, my sentences slide toward a conclusion, usually not finding a period at the end. I can take the subject out of the sentence by joining in an uplifting experience with others in church or in a sports arena. Have you noticed how you can’t be carried away by the spirit of a concert, a football game or a romantic movie and be noticing where you are at the same time? The paradox of the non-local universe is that as soon as you look for it, you separate yourself from it. When the grammar does break, it is no longer everyday life.

Growing up requires that I re-visit the rules I used to make my way in the world. Words will never buckle life into place. Re-learning how to ‘punctuate’ experience is the art of living. The key is to find and restore that being that chose all those words in the first place. Rebirth instead of retirement. Refinement of a spirit that has always been there.

Runner on dunes b&w

I began this journey two years ago truly believing that I would find what I was looking for in the Northwest. What I saw in the mountains and the forests moved me. Nature took my breath away at times. I had forgotten I could feel that. I had such large feelings, seeing something that so extended my senses, Something ‘inside’ me matched something ‘outside’ me. I had lost track in the whirling abstract mess of machines, concrete and steel that I had been dealing with for years. Nature was waiting. It has no case to make of its own. Nature is just there. It is the destiny of people to pick and choose.

We have been misdirected by thinking of words as tools. Tools have limited use. Consider a shovel. If you don’t discard the shovel when you are finished digging … if you insist on carrying it with you wherever you go … you will forever be seeking a place for a hole. As Heidegger pointed out, we continue to act as if language were a tool, when in fact language has become the master. How often does someone, in the midst of an argument, exclaim, “Well, that’s not what I would call it!”?

Angels wait behind the veil of words. I believe that. The harmony beneath the world we babble on about is unimaginable to a person who considers his or her self to be separate … who thinks they are seeing, rather than being, during an observation. Emerson made the point that resonance with Nature is happiness to us. During the first phase of life, Childhood, we are lead out of that inherent resonance, in order to be an Adult. We are conditioned to ‘rise above’ our nature, to ‘get a hold’ on ourselves. Adulthood, the second phase, is when we find a scheme that works to take care of business. We find a way of thinking that keeps us out of trouble and manages all the information coming at us every day … filters that keep our self-image safe and make things appear to be predictable. Adulthood is a limbo, a loop the spirit takes in order to learn.

There is a third phase, whose time has come now that we are all living longer. Re-union with the spirit. Carl Jung called it Individuation. Refinement. Coming into one’s own. We had to think with things before we could think without them, but, ironically, when we take the ‘I’ back out of the sentence, we uncover a whole self that mirrors a larger spirit, which is also undivided. It is an opportunity that is uniquely human … to be a mirror for the divine.

A lifetime is not meant to be a bell curve. It can be a diagonal, lower left to upper right. Who I am is not a linear thing. I am a radiation, a frequency. a presence. Who I am is not a body. I am that spirit with which I feel connected every now and then. I am not the learned ‘me’, but I am in there … in that space between what is behind the words and what may be coming next … the dimension of free will.

If I believe that the source of creation, the reality behind this world, is out there somewhere, then I can’t change on my own. Even worship assumes a powerless position. On the other hand, once I truly experience how I am making it all up, how I am the one shackling my experience into chains of sentences … I can’t forget that it is up to me.

Our destiny is Heaven on earth … whether it’s for a moment, a day or a lifetime. In the East, this is called Buddha Consciousness, since everything has to be called something. In the West, it is Christ Consciousness. The names don’t matter. It is the awareness that arises when the words fail. The edge of my senses is becoming aware that spirit is returning. Not because it ever went away, but because words are losing their shine. It is the same for one as it is for all. We are ready to see again. As Joseph Campbell said, the whole deal with Buddha Consciousness is getting to know you’re it.

What I am calling it, in the dark, when nobody’s looking, makes it so for me. I must start from there and weave my way through the shadows … the unrecognized thoughts and feelings for which I never found the words to put in their place. Internally, the landscape is not unlike the mountains and the forests through which I have roamed for the last two years. Without direction, it can be overwhelming.

Eagle diving b&w

The way the eagles handle it, out in the sound, west of Vancouver Island, is to divide the unlimited territory into about 200 yards of shoreline each. Each bird rules their territory absolutely, not missing anything that moves. They called to each other across the water. There was a pattern in which even we in the boat were a part, as we floated from territory to territory. Every perception blended into the next. There was a rhythm. I was absorbed. Everything fit.

The irony is unavoidable. The way that can be named is not the way. The rush of the wind down the valley is the way … the songs in the stream … the sun that tumbles down through the trees. Silence is the way. The still pond. Not doing anything. Not going anywhere. It is all here, now. Darkness is the way. It reveals the value of light. All one can do is point … even though there is no thing to point to. We come from the light, not to it.

Spirit is simply the background behind the fabric of time and space. It is not a special something that has to be conjured somehow, available only to saints. In the beginning and in the end, spirit is all there is, just as water is the background to life. Attempts to stamp and shape spirit are always temporary measures, like holding a stream. Loosening the grip that the subject-verb-object view has imposed on the world opens the way for the real nature of being: participation not separation, uncertainty not knowledge, us not me.

We can never take the awe out of the presence of the divine … that is how we sense it … but it’s time to stop pretending it’s a mystery. Acknowledging the presence of spirit means that I am accountable for my point of view. Being accountable for my perceptions opens the door. That process starts with me using the words, rather than the words using me. The divine is not a someday thing. When I don’t realize that, there’s a reason. I am not ready to give up being sure.

I am reluctant to acknowledge the divine because there are implications: I should treat others as myself; I am no longer powerless to make change; I can no longer blame. Sometimes I have felt that I wanted to know God … but not just yet. I want to be more irresponsible first. What I see as my life is no one’s fault but my own. I wasn’t in a hurry to know that. I am free to see things any way I want, but now I see that some approaches will not work in the long run because they are not good for everybody. Growing up so selfish, the way I did, it takes time to learn that, especially when there are still childhood ideas that I want to hold on to. My life has been a process of opening up and letting go.

Spirit is not something I can keep in words because its nature is to be in motion. Spirit moves. It flows from a dimension that is underneath, into time and space, like dreams flow into sleep. Spirit must be respected because life is barren in its absence … and magic when it overflows.

This two-year journey for me is ending in fire, all over the Northwest. Old growth, piled up over years of drought, bursting into flames. For weeks, in Northern California, the blue in the sky has been stifled by a blanket of grey haze. Magnificent horizons are invisible, as if the landscape isn’t even there. The giant sequoias on the coast are testimony to this being the way of things. One way or another, balance will be restored.

For a while, I was too busy to bother with things that are only in-visible. Grammar does not apply there, so I can get confused. Sometimes, when I lose the label on things, I can hear that bus gearing up around the corner, but there does come a time to sit back and sort it all out. That can come early or late, depending on how sturdy a structure the words have created. The pattern emerges, when I look back. I see that who is looking has always been the same, from my first memories. Who is looking is still un-scarred by my losing battles and un-heralded for my victories. Who is looking sees the fear but does not tremble, feels the fire but does not burn. Who is looking knows the sadness but does not cry, and knows the joy, but does not laugh. Who is looking is richer for being alive. Who is looking, before the sentence starts, is who I am.

Lighthouse bw small

 

Chapter 17

Here is my secret. It is very simple: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.                                                                                                                                                                                       The fox to The Little Prince.

There are many wiser than I will ever be, who already have this stuff sorted. Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. People going about their business, enjoying life. I am probably testing the patience of old friends, who are still waiting for me to get a clue. It could be that most folks are just not bothered. Who am I to know better? Those who speak about it, according to tradition, clearly don’t know anything. I wonder about that every day. I usually reach a conclusion something like, ‘I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense, I’m going to do it anyway.’  … a trait of which I have never been proud. It is time to reach down behind the words to find meaning. Words are failing us. Meaningful language is being slaughtered. We need to restore the integrity between words and what they represent or the world will literally fall apart.

Dutch Flat waterfall bw smallWords have been torn from what roots they ever had in the real world, in terms of having consequences. People will say anything now, knowing they are just words. Eventually, promises won’t matter. Stories become mythical as the left brain loosens up its grip on the flow from the right brain. How someone sounds becomes more significant than what they are saying. There will be no such thing as giving someone your ‘word’. Life will get complicated and messy.

When I was young, I used to whine to my mother that the writing just wasn’t happening for me. Her unconditionally-loving, North of England response was “Maybe you don’t have anything to say”. For the longest time, I see now that I resisted taking a position. My time out of the system, falling into the arms of the Northwest, changed all that. If I can manage to write from the heart, others will know what I mean. Heart is what we have in common.

The heart is at the middle of a spider web of vitality that vibrates to the slightest pulse. The heart knows the essence of the thing. It perceives everything without names, in whole moments that the busy brain can’t put together. The heart feels the whispers and sighs of a world that does not reach the ears and eyes. What every heart shares, no matter what the size, is being the center of everything. When seeing from the heart, there is nothing else. When I am in the heart, I am everywhere.

The heart reaches beyond the subject-verb-object view of the world, sensing spirals instead of straight lines, resonating to the swirling, subtle currents that sweep around me. Joy and sadness are songs the heart sings in harmony with the world as it passes through me. This is life before a sentence is imposed. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, put it this way: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things”.  If reason does not know, aren’t we fools to follow? Pascal was big on faith.

When I open my heart to the world, something in me is elevated. When I close my heart to an experience, something in me sinks. I can see how most of my own choices were made by heart. That’s probably why I spent so much time dodging busses and starting over. I never did get all the rules right.

It has taken me 69 years to develop a more articulate sense of what’s really going on. It’s ironic that this in-visible fabric that underlies our world has been there all the time and I didn’t have to actually do anything. But I wanted to know. That’s taking the long way around and will never really work. A fool’s errand. It’s not for everybody. Smart people have faith.

Besides Zen, another finger I saw pointing to something more in my early days was Roberto Assagioli and his work on Psychosynthesis. Like Abraham Maslow, Assagioli wrote that there is more to me than I am aware of, except for brief moments. I have the potential to transcend the sentence, if I let go of the illusion of control that grammar provides. I can make adjustments, once I see that it is all me. To change, I had to first admit what I was doing. One exercise Assagioli suggests is to review the day. What did I think happened today? How did I feel? What did I say? I followed this meditation for years. Being an English teacher in graduate school for behavioral science, I found myself wondering more and more about what I had said in various situations. I thought, why did I say that? Or why did I think one thing and say another? While looking for answers to that question, I took a seminar with a professor who was teaching a course developed at Stanford, about why people do what they do.

Any behavior that is repeated, is repeated because it is successful. The words I use all the time work for me in some way. In order to know what that success is, look at what happens next. The key is that it isn’t always pretty. And I don’t always own up. I came to see how my true intentions were not always as noble as I would have others believe. I am still un-learning a couple of those behaviors. I may have, in my younger days, presented myself with various amounts of subterfuge and nefarious purpose. The irony is that when I saw how good I was at hurting someone or getting away with something selfish, I felt guilty, but not such a failure. That’s one of those patterns that’s hard to point to: until I own an action, I don’t have the power to change it. Blame doesn’t work for anybody.

As I wind my way north, I parked in the woods by Annie Creek, south of Crater Lake in Oregon, for a couple of days. It was cold. There are no waves on that lake. It seemed to be all by itself. James and his wife Judy were parked in their motor home nearby. Their three sons had come from surrounding towns to celebrate Father’s Day. James is 78 and didn’t like to stray far from home … their house was only fifteen miles down the road. This was his secret spot. Judy, who is from Deadwood, South Dakota, would still like to go to Alaska someday.

Crater Lake bw smallFrom Crater Lake – almost a mile deep below that swirling surface – I drove up to National Forest land, across from the Cascades. The snow-covered mountains were in the shadow of rain that was falling on the hills to the south. There were few distractions up there. The world built by words fades away. The rain will come and go. Water looks harmless enough. And then I remember the glaciers and how they tore through solid granite. The landscapes I pass through have all been made by water: the desert … by the lack of it; the forests … by the abundance; the mountains … by glaciers; the beaches … by the ocean. My body is 90% water, apparently.

For me, it’s useful to think of spirit like water. The essence of life. No shape. Every shape. I can keep it in a container, but it doesn’t stay useful for long. From flowing water to hard ice to vapor in the air, water can be invisible and it can be a flood. It always leaves and it always returns. That is flow. I love those mornings when, as clouds gather in the sky, I can sense water in the air. The edge of something coming.

Try as I might to impose a mental image, an intention or a memory on the way I feel, if the heart isn’t happy, it will let me know. Sometimes it takes a while for me to notice. New situations, as are common on the road, open up the heart. Imposing imaginary restrictions on the heart, binding it this way and that to fit a certain pattern, jamming experience into sentences, tires it out over time. I am learning a sense of what expands and what contracts. Like consciously learning to breathe.

There is a rhythm to everything. It all comes and goes. Some historians say that whole civilizations have come and gone. Maybe whole planets have lived and died. I have trouble enough sometimes, just getting through the day.

The difficulties begin when we name things, in order to keep them the same. This works for a while … and a while has often been good enough. But the illusion built with grammar eventually falls apart. Nothing stays the same for long. For Father’s Day, my sons posted a picture. I remember these guys coming up to my knees and running around in ninja turtle outfits.

Dad and sons bwLooking inwards has been important to me. The experience of who I am reveals how I am projecting inner feelings on the outer world, to the point of actually creating what I notice around me. I set the stage in the first place by where I place my attention. Working on myself, on who I believe I am and what I believe I see, is something I can do. Working on the bits and pieces of the world without knowing who’s looking is like shuffling the contents of a jigsaw puzzle without the cover picture. It’s never over.

As a grown-up human being, I want to renew the experience of the spirit I trampled on so blithely when I was young. The spirit I live for. The spirit I am. It has occurred to me more than once that if somehow, somewhere … once upon a time … the choice were up to me, I would have chosen to do this. How many challenges can there be for an awareness that is everywhere, all the time? In words, it is impossible to realize anything that has no opposite because there is no scale. We are in the middle of all this. Heart with hands. We are not just meant to be. We are meant to do. We are supposed to take care of life.

Joy and sadness flow through me, despite my efforts to corner joy in a memory or to call sadness something else. Nothing stays without effort on my part. Rollo May wrote that if we truly understood what a person goes through to maintain an identity in this world, we would see every person as a hero. There is no right way through the bits and pieces, because they are an illusion. The spirit is the same in each of us. That is what we realize in the end. The differences are what we think we are and what we think we are doing. Before words and grammar, before the naming of things, you and I are the same. This is what all the stories are about.

Chapter 16

Language is froth on the surface of thought.                               John McCarthy.                                                                                                               (Father of Artificial Intelligence)

I have always been fascinated by the existence of a world behind words. As an English and Psychology major at UCLA, I wanted to explore that feeling I had when I wanted to tell a friend something and I struggled to find the right word. How did I know what I wanted to say? The look of recognition on a friend’s face when I found the right word was revealing, as if something clicked. Sometimes it took more than a word … it took a word picture, a description. Getting information from a nameless place in me to a nameless place in someone else. From my ‘right brain’ to my ‘left brain’, out to the other’s ‘left brain’, then to the other’s ‘right brain’ for recognition. The long way around. Talented artists take a short cut, ‘right brain’ to ‘right brain’. The direct approach. A viewer is attracted and may not know why.

Glacier rock b&w

These days, the biology is aligned with the physics. The scientists are telling us there is nothing without the observer. How I see things, what they mean, is up to me … up to the person I have learned to be. During my time in the Northwest, I began to see the side of a cliff as the face of millions of years. It isn’t just the vastness of space that makes me feel small, it is the vastness of time. What do ‘things’ mean, in terms of millions of years? Every time, in every place, what life comes down to is right here, right now. There is nothing else.

Nobody wants to limit his or her experience of life to words. The label is not the thing. The map is not the territory. The most common 100 words in the Oxford English Dictionary have 14,000 ‘meanings’. The same word can have many different ‘meanings’. It’s a wonder we get anything done. Over these last fifty years, I have come to see how I project ‘meaning’ into an objective world that is basically just being there. Things happen. A person has to be there for it to ‘mean’ anything.

All I ever see is the surface of something. What it means is what that pattern implies to me. Words are like waves on the ocean. Experience is what lies underneath.

When a friend sees my face, it is a surface of many complex patterns for him or her. When you touch a favorite object … when you hear a favorite song, it is the surface that touches your senses and it is your mind that recalls the patterns. The greatest art points to the greatest patterns. Like the proverbial Zen finger though, all any art can do is point. Same thing with words.

The patterns themselves are only in-visible. Can you point to how you get through the day? Can you point to a partner’s devotion? Loneliness? Love?

The world is the surface of things

A surface results from the presence of a pattern. It can have no thickness, no mass at all. Unless it is perceived, it is not even there. I make surfaces when I measure and count … when I am looking for things, pulling pieces out of the flow.

Grass bw small

Whatever is going on, I will not be aware of it, unless I sense a surface. I am usually seeking an object of some sort, but it may be a feeling, bubbling up. I navigate by choosing some surfaces over others. Sometimes I get the implications wrong. I learn.

As I get older, I am discovering that I can change the implications themselves … instead of forever seeking the right ‘thing’ or the right ‘place’. Surfaces are everywhere, depending on how I look. A critical step in my own growth is to make the effort to navigate by the in-visible patterns that resonate with a deeper feeling, rather than the shiny surfaces designed to catch the eye.

I’m not sure I will ever get the bits and pieces right. By ‘right’, I mean that state where everything fits. The wisest of us say that this moment … now … is perfect, just the way it is. Everything else is nonsense. I have had that experience, but for me, it doesn’t last. What I have done is simplify my life as much as possible, but there are always tires to be fixed and dues to be paid. Being in a body has consequences. Those not paying attention do eventually get run over by a bus. That has nearly been me, many times.

Stream chair bw

What is coming clearer is the effect of living closer to my spirit … that is, my tiny share of spirit. Business being done, it is so much easier to feel connected in the woods of the Northwest. The light. The smells. The laughing of the rushing streams and the singing of the early morning birds. Life has been that way up here for millions of years. Everything fits. A volcano erupts and changes the entire landscape. Nature adapts. A miles-long sheet of earth tears through the surface and a mountain range is born. Nature incorporates.

The spirit I feel personally sometimes is the same spirit that resonates throughout the magnificence of Nature. It is the same spirit that great art points to and great music sweeps into being. The same spirit awaits athletes in triumph and monks in meditation. We all have had that experience, esp. as children. Usually we are trained to associate that experience of no boundaries with winning and losing. That scares many of us off.

As adults, we learn that wonderful as it may be, dwelling in non-duality does not pay the bills. When taking care of business is the priority, spirit can be a distraction. When wanting to be the best or the biggest, spirit can be a distraction. When not wanting any thing, spirit is all there is.

So many people know much more about these realities than I do. All I can tell is my own experience. As I blunder around the Northwest, I see life, larger than me, at every turn. I am so small, but my experience is that I have something in common with the universe that bursts into view in the night sky … something in common with the millions of years that are wrapped up in the ancient landscape that glows a soft white under the starlight of billions of galaxies. My body is made up of the same stuff. It sings the same song. For a moment, here, now, I belong to something absolutely inconceivable. It is a chord that cannot be captured, because it is everywhere, all the time.

Cultus Lake b&w

These will always be only moments. For the longest time, I held on to the notion that once I got it – joy ever-lasting … communion with the universe … it would stick. Now I know that as long as I am in this world, there will be stuff that is not I that I have to deal with somehow. Last year, in the wilds of the British Columbia woods, it occurred to me that I chose this … that if the whole deal were up to me, this is where I would want to be … in the middle of the mystery.

If I had the choice, I would not want everything to be settled. The person I have learned to be wants a perfect world. In a perfect world, I would lose consciousness and stop making an effort. Being perfect is fine, but there would be nothing to do. I am learning that the experience of what lies behind the veil of words is part of a cycle, not a goal in itself. It can be too much of a good thing and distract from organizing the bits and pieces around the body. Being in both worlds is what it means to be human.

In the Northwest, the powerful presence of the landscapes extracted my mind and shook it up. I saw what the mystics tell us, how it’s all perfect, just as it is. That is not where we humans fit. We come from the perfect, into the bits and pieces. Our purpose now is to restore the awareness of the spirit that is being hammered out of our lives. Spirit should flow through people like it does through the rivers and the trees. It will leak out when the observer loosens up the punctuation of his or her experience.

I interrupt the flow by trying to keep the good feeling that comes with belonging to everything, worrying it will leave, forgetting that is who I am and where I come from. I want to manage the world. Another misleading consequence of imposing grammar on the flow of being is that the world appears to be linear, one thing after another. Subject-verb-object. I do this to that. This allows me to believe I am in control. In reality, ‘that’ also does something to me. When the bat hits the ball, the ball also hits the bat.

MLB: APR 05 Indians v AthleticsThe sentence structure that I have learned to think with implies that I am running the show, that the world is at my command. As a kid, I was taught to take control, to get a handle on things. Emphasis on sentence structure stifles the power of the imagination to reach beyond the grammar machine, but it puts the rush of information that assaults my senses at every moment into an order that is manageable.

We are deceived into thinking that life is all one way. I do this to that and that doesn’t do anything to me. Growing up, we discover that real life is reciprocal, although we have a hard time thinking about it. There are two sides to every thing. Right does not exist without wrong. There’s no good without bad, no here without there, no now without then, no me without you.

In the business world, they plan for “unintended consequences” by keeping a reservoir of resources, just in case. This is an acknowledgment that when you act on the world, the world acts back. This is true down to the level of perception. Perception, picking one thing out of all things, is an act, not a passive receiving. As an act, it has consequences. How you see is who you are.

I get carried away with all the mystical mumbo-jumbo, but I feel strongly that this position has to be advertised. The confusion in the brain about what’s going on can be a serious problem, in terms of long-term health, when we stick to perceiving everything in concrete terms and deny responsibility for what we assemble as reality. We ignore the ocean below the waves at our own risk. It is the ocean that heaves and swells, moving the whole world here and there. It is the ocean we come from and return to … while the words flap about on the surface, whipped around by the current weather. It is the ocean that runs through us, when we let things be and look from the heart.

Out on the water small bw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

“You see what you want to see and you hear what you want to hear”.                                                                                                                                       Rock Man to Oblio

As I was leaving Casa de Fruta, a few days ago, I stopped at the Chevron station to check the tires. The left rear was low, so I put some air in and then took off east along the Pacheco Pass, stopping at a Walmart in Los Banos for supplies. As I checked my pocket, getting out of the cab, I couldn’t find my wallet. I realized that it must have fallen out of my back pocket, while I was scrambling around with the tires. I retraced the 35 miles up the pass. No sign of the wallet at the air station, so I went inside and asked. The clerk said he didn’t think so, but automatically opened a drawer. There was something. He pulled it out, looked at it and said, “Yup. That’s you”. Talk about two sides to everything.

By late afternoon, I made it to BLM land, just south of Yosemite. Early in the morning of the next day, I saw that the left rear outside tire was completely flat. I am embarrassed to admit that I had neither a heavy-weight jack nor a suitable lug wrench. I had bought, in the first week of my travels, what I thought was a jack. It was actually a pair of jack stands. I had been relying on CoachNet, which had come to my rescue twice before, so I called them. Juan, at CoachNet, did note that I was a little far away, but he called back to tell me that Safe Towing, out of Fresno, would reach me in about an hour and a half.

About four hours later, Kurt and Shannon show up in a beat-up pickup truck. They have been married for 31 years, living in Fresno and Bakersfield. Kurt is a mechanic, Shannon handles the paperwork. We chatted for a bit, then Kurt set to work. He noticed right away that he did not have the correct size lug wrench. He mumbled something about ‘they’ having neglected to tell him that it was an RV … even though he found me immediately. I pulled out a little compressor that I bought at a Walmart a year ago, but I had, for some obscure reason, disassembled. Kurt put it back together and, using the generator, we powered the compressor and pumped air back into the tire, up to 70 pounds. It took a little while. Kurt agreed to call me the next morning at 7:00, since I was doubtful the tire would hold.

First thing the next morning, I checked. The tire appeared to be holding. I drove around the gravel lot. Must have been something with the valve. These matters contain an element of mystery for me. I checked it twenty times that day. Never did hear back from Kurt. Just another day on the road. Being from the North of England, I was looking for the third trouble. They come in threes, it is said. Maybe it was going to be when I tried to get back up the hill.

I have spent sixty-nine years trying to be right and trying not to be wrong. Now I see it’s more a matter of what works and what doesn’t … in the long run. Smart people would have had a lug wrench and would have tried replacing the air first. I might have, if the compressor had been working. I had taken the outlet valve apart for some reason … and then lost part of it. I had bought what I thought was a replacement, but I had not had the confidence to put it all back together. Kurt assembled it and attached the tire pressure unit. I can take apart a sentence syllable by syllable, but mechanical systems are like another language to me. I am far too ‘right-brain’. I don’t have the kind of imagination that puts parts together in 3D. It has been a long process, discerning inside what is a natural inclination and what is a learned process. Finding the lack of engineering talent was an easy one. Subtly, I aspire to it like some people want to go to Heaven. But for me, in this lifetime anyway, it’s never going to happen.

The best explanation of the left brain – right brain state of the art science I have seen is by Jill Taylor (A Stroke of Insight). She explains that the right brain is connected to the universe and consciousness at large. It works in pictures. The left brain is the inside-outside interface with the world and works with words. Right brain deals with ‘whole’ impressions and is the realm of archetypes and myths. The left brain looks to connect the bits and pieces and fit into the world. The communication between the two is what our lives are all about. Julian Jaynes tells the story well in his book about the origins of the Bicameral Mind.

I grew up learning to be ‘David’. That took a while. I’m not sure I ever did it properly. Along the way, I have been distracted by internal glimpses of something more going on, just beyond where I can sense. This was a saving grace for me. I had no real sense of home as a kid. Touching non-duality is like the experience of Love. Feeling a part of something so big, it is everywhere. For a moment, there is no this and that, no judgement, no good or bad, no right and wrong. No me. Only union. What works these days is for me to represent that. But no one, except a monk, can stay in that place … and get anything done. There is nothing to hold in memory. That’s why it takes faith. We need reminders. It’s ironic, writing a book about something that is impossible to know.

I have faith that there is a resonance. There is a pattern to follow, if I want to rise up out of this conditioned self. What has to break down is the illusion that life is a subject-object deal. This works as an operating assumption in the handling of things, but it’s useless in a field where the observer cannot be separated from the observed. It’s easy to see it as an impossible task. How do I use grammar to see beyond grammar? How can ‘I’ be the subject and the object. With the discoveries of quantum physics, we are having to come up with new words, otherwise we have no way to think about it.

As with everything, it’s making the effort that matters. As I rode around the Northwest in my little Tioga, I was often faced with choices. To go to north or south, to this park or that. To leave now or later. What didn’t work was not choosing at all. It’s difficult to just squat on the road. I have to do something. Why be on the road if I don’t want to make the effort? Stay home and stay safe. (Where is home now anyway?) Last year, I found that the good pictures were often an hour shuttle ride and a two-hour hike away. It took me four days to get to the eclipse last year. For a single moment. Sometimes, on entering a new park, I would make every possible wrong turn first. I knew I would get there, if I kept making the effort, because there are limited ways to go wrong in a park.

Sometimes it didn’t work out at all. I missed the light, in one way or another. I didn’t mind, because I did all I could. It’s taken a lifetime for me to see that not trying is the travesty. In the smallest of ways. It’s so easy to project ahead and see how something’s not going to work or is not really necessary. Common sense tells me it will never go exactly the way I think. Experience whispers that, if I start something, things will change because I started something … it’s already out of my control. If I’m not prepared to be uncomfortable, I probably won’t go there. I used to berate myself for not stepping up to a be a better person. Now I see that it just wasn’t time. I wasn’t ready. I had to clean up the mess first. That has been my style. I had to have nothing left to lose.

Growing up for me has been a process of owning my intentions. As I realized last summer in a torrent of feelings, what I really wanted wasn’t always pretty. The words were often a disguise. If I don’t own it, I can’t discard it. I have come to see that is how it works. Just thinking about it, being mighty in my own mind, is an experience that is safe from the slings and arrows. Manifesting those intentions, bringing who I thought I was into being, was risky business for my sometimes oddly still fragile self-image. As I changed social situations … over a dozen schools by the time I was 15 … the most consistent identity I developed was that of the outsider, although I always tried to fit in … like learning a new game. Deep down, I was scared to reveal who I really was … what I really wanted … not being clear about it myself and having no idea how it would go over and with others. That’s when it grew. The intention to hide.

Redinger Dam b&w smallRedinger Dam Spillway bwAs I sat there in the morning, watching the rising sun light up the hills above the little Redinger Dam south of Yosemite, I could see how inside, I withdrew certain precious feelings from the world at large. I learned to rely on the outside for clues on how to be. Blissfully ignorant of my own role in custom-processing that information. With no clue about how I was emotionally projecting everything, my being became the world’s fault. How I really felt leaked into what I thought I was seeing. There was no escaping who I was. The only way back to feeling connected with everything is through that personality. Who I really am is the looking, the wondering in the first place. The impulse behind the words.

In first grade, I was taught that the basis of all communication is the sentence. A sentence is made up of a Subject and a Predicate … that Subject has to be doing something. Out of the gate, we learn that there is ‘I’ and then there is everything else. Early on, we step out of the union with everything and begin separating stuff. It is a necessary step, if we are to get on in the world. Not learning to connect the bits and pieces leads to getting run over by a bus.

Taking that grammatically constructed world apart is not for the faint of heart. Historically, many lose their way. When the journey is successful, the abyss of ‘no meaning’ must be crossed. On the other side is the understanding that it’s all up to me. Some want that role. Some don’t. Those who do must come out of hiding.

Rudolph Steiner called it “sense-free” thinking … freeing perception from the learning stage, terms designed to operate on things and deal with outward impressions. To him, the brain (beyond the extension that is the eyes) perceives ideas, just as the retinas perceive frequencies of color and the eardrums perceive sound waves. For Steiner, the spiritual world existed objectively, in a range beyond our normal senses. He, like many others, emphasizes the requirement of genuine effort to make a change. For Steiner, this is the origin of free will.

It’s easy to drift off into this world of ideas in the right brain, sitting back, feeling the light breeze coming off the lake, lightening the summer sweat on my forehead. The first meditation I learned, from Thich Thien An, was to just sit and watch my thoughts. I still do that, virtually every day. Sometimes the thoughts are wrapped up in emotions and are hard to see clearly. Sometimes thoughts flower from emotions, almost more of a feeling. And sometimes, thoughts just occur to me. The left brain wants to modulate the energy emerging from the right brain, to get it under control, to shape it, keep things the same. The left brain wants to identify stuff. Put things in their place. Having worked so hard to create a picture of the world, it is not giving up without a fight. Still, the only way to be aware that I am moving forward, is to be aware that I am leaving something behind.

As I write this, I am sitting in my little Tioga, watching the sun rise through the huge pine trees at Dutch Flat. I have come here for a couple of days to be sure of the tire situation, before I move on, which I have to do because I can’t afford to stay here. One reason I’m here is that it is close to free BLM land in the Sierra foothills. I was very good at making money, once upon a time, when I was raising a family. Had to be done. These days, it doesn’t matter. I want it to matter. But it doesn’t. So I change everything else accordingly.

I am coming to see that guiding my life by these subtle senses is an occupation for artists and the elderly. Artists feel obliged to share their view of what may be invisible to others, through their inspiration. Old folks like me have taken decades to add up what is going on. I can see how, when I feel dissatisfied, it is because the left brain can’t find the right fit. In my mind, I can see myself returning to the wrong size wrench to turn the screw. Over and over. It must have worked, somewhere along the line.

Older people have had to make that left-brain interface with the world work in some way. Maybe they have settled in and closed the door. It is their right to do that. What I am discovering is that what I have felt so far in my life is a tiny, tiny slice of what’s possible to experience. It is a long process, deconstructing the templates that I have been using to bind time. Can’t let them go without paying a price. That price is any sort of certainty about what will happen next. Some older people are not so bothered by that.

I have been on the road for almost two years. I am leaving behind who I used to be … or how I used to present myself.  The roles I used to play are long gone – teacher, salesman, husband, even father. I am back to being a drifter. A drifter in a larger world. What time something happens is not as vital as it used to be. Where I am can vary and I don’t mind. Maybe that’s what we should do when we get old. Let the younger folks know, it’s ok. Things may not go the way you want, but what do you know? Everything changes, as you will come to learn, however hard you try to keep it the same. Relax. Make a genuine effort to bring that flow that rushes through you to life and everything will take care of itself. It is the effort that counts. Growing up is not a comfortable path. Being accountable for every perception goes against the conditioned urge to be right all the time.

This morning I’m not sure if the constant hum I hear is the traffic on Highway 80 or the wind brushing through the tall pine trees. I can’t tell if the energy I feel around not-knowing what I will do tomorrow is fear or excitement. I suppose I can call it what I want. Underneath it all, this morning I am glad to be alive. Being alive means to me being connected to Nature, being part of the bigger picture. A tiny part. Re-presenting the whole.

Leaf and water b&w small

As a character on the life-stage, I fumble around quite a bit, often not getting this or that part right, not conjuring the correct reality, not knowing what I really want.  On that path, I never got the proper handle on seeing things in a linear way. I am certainly in that place now. When my mind settles down, into the subtler spaces, I can feel the sense of who I am spread out into frequencies just beyond my senses. I get lost in the larger forces, the energy making up the other 99% of the spectrum. All around me. All the time. How can that not be home?

Chapter 14

 There’s been a lot of mountains and valleys in my life, but I keep smilin’.                                                                                                                                                          Billy Martin.

To be honest, I have my doubts about going in this direction in the second half of this story. I am not one to tell anyone else what to do. Too often, I have seen sensations I was sure of go out of style. As I grew older, the chance to learn through the experiences of others … reading about what went on in their minds, was valuable information to me. In the early days, it was a chance to think new thoughts, see things in a different way. As I grew older, I looked for confirmation … validation of a manifesting, invisible world. Once I was sure that there is an emerging dimension out there, just beyond our regular senses, the challenge became what to do about it. Again, I turned to words. So here we go.

God is everywhere, all the time. This book is about how I know that.

Narrow PassagewayI learned to look inward by looking outward first. That’s what this trip has done for me. Expanded my reflections. Images linger, but don’t remain without being called something. After-effects. Impressions. Echoes of direct experience. Words that are meant to describe the outside world actually create the world on the inside. All words can do is point. I am here, now. In between both.

I learned to be separate, in order to operate. The only tools I have to create an inner world are copies of those I have learned to use on things. It’s hard to keep it all in order, especially over a lifetime, when the scenery changes so much. Some of us, eventually, want to learn our way back. That’s all that Heaven is. Lack of separation.

The journey really has been on the inside all along. I wanted a reminder of the larger sense of life. That’s what the Northwest did for me. As a child, I was led into agreement with this world of apparent opposites, in order to see with a scale, to count and measure things, naming things to keep them the same. The counting and measuring is an agreed-upon illusion, to take care of business, dealing with others. Naming things works for a while. As long as everyone agrees to pretend. Having retired, I wanted to get away from that. Only I can know how I got here. Only I can find the way to open that habit-ridden, automatic self and climb out.

I can only picture life by what I have seen. Artists can create a vision. I have seen how, but it is not easy for me. Some smart people learn to do it with mathematics, which is way beyond me. For others, life is music. If you live on the range in Wyoming, you see life differently than a resident of New York. What you have available to think with is different. I found that on the road in the Northwest. Merging into the vastness and power of Nature, in its’ cycles of millions of years, had showed me my place. The bigger identity I felt, wrapped up in that landscape, took my breath away. I was a small version of something very big.

For moments, here and there on the journey, the inside seemed to be the outside. I was what I was looking at. For an instant, there was experience without an observer. In a flash, I could see how such moments cannot be remembered. There was nothing to point to. There was nowhere to go. It wasn’t useful, in terms of getting anything done. An experience impossible to remember. So there is Heaven on earth. Now what?

While I was out in these open spaces, it was all about the light. I spent hours waiting for the sun to rise or for the earth to roll into the right place. It seemed like Nature breathed in during the day and breathed out at night. The darkness is as essential to the process as the light. The key to enduring the darkness is to remember the light is there, on the other side.  In my mind, I can see it. One is part of the other. There can be no such thing as light all the time.

Long Road

As I write this, I am on my way back up to Canada. We are planning a reunion of old friends near Vancouver in July. I spent the first part of this year at the Oasis RV park, just south of Palm Springs, spelling out Part One. This year, instead of seeking something, I feel like I am taking something with me. A point of view. The travelling … seeing something new every day … keeps this process alive.

Inside, where Time is not an issue, I see mountains I climbed … the main one being raising two great kids … and mountains I avoided … I never finished my Master’s degree. I see valleys, deep gorges, like my first divorce. I have felt long, lovely days when sunny fields stretched on forever. Navigating this internal landscape has everything to do with how you look at it. And, eventually, who is looking.

That my body was a tiny speck in the universe didn’t matter. I saw that mind is much bigger than what I thought of as me. I saw my place in the scheme of things. The way lay before me. No less than a grain of sand or a leaf on a branch. No more than a day in the sun. Something inside is shifting. As if I am moving forward with time, instead of standing outside of it, counting. Things aren’t so much about what was and what will be. Each moment falls under a magnifying glass.

In Zen class, I learned from Thich Thien An that each of us lives in a bubble (he pronounced it ‘berble’). Penetrating that bubble happens rarely. The key is to find resonance with other bubbles and hopefully, the Big Bubble. Resonance does not know time or distance. In the end, as the brain recognizes, it’s all about patterns. A mess of incomplete bits and pieces can’t relate to anything and can’t get anything done. That’s a pattern all its own.

I saw how, when I skip a step or compromise in a process, I am making a pattern through which I will experience the world. I grew up in a world of short-cuts. Not the way to actually get anywhere. As my wife Nancy often reminded me, “If you’re going to wash the dishes, wash the fucking dishes.”

I was always fascinated by that place beyond words. Growing up, I remember watching Olympic champions on TV when asked to describe their feelings, saying that there were no words, literally speechless. I wondered early on what that was all about. Seemed like an experience worth pursuing. I believe we were once all of one mind, before we got serious about taking the world apart.  There was a time when there was no ‘I’ or ‘me’. Anything that came after “I am …” was just made up. Love is a reminder.

The way to opening up begins with seeing how you and I punctuate experience.

Sunrise over Salt Valley b&w

Chapter 13

A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything. – Malcom X.

I remember being sure, once upon a time, that it couldn’t be that easy to be blessed. I knew, in my heart, that I, for one, did not deserve it. That character, that socially deformed renegade who had faked and side-stepped his way through the business world into old age, had run his course. Handling the world was never going to be my thing. Finally, just being in the world was enough .

I had discovered, lurking in the shadows, secretly layered into the landscape I grew up in, was the conviction that I would find redemption in various sorts of self-destruction. In the mountains and the forests, in the cliffs and the canyons, I had seen clearly that it was only me that was in the way of understanding my place in the world. I was worth whatever I thought I was worth.

The road to Aspen was easier than I anticipated. A gentle slope. Along the way, I visited a couple of old teammates. Bill, in Grand Junction, bought me my first bottle of vodka when I was a freshman at UCLA. He helped Bob and me start Santa Monica Rugby Club in 1972. John, from the North of England, lived in Parachute. He was the scrumhalf on our first championship team.

On the 12th of September, I pulled into the downtown driveway of the house being cared for by Jerry, the President of the Gentlemen of Aspen. They were putting on their 50th Aspen Ruggerfest. I had been there in 1972, winning the 5th Ruggerfest with The Pumpkins. This year, the age brackets ran up to The Over-50’s, who platooned substitutes every five minutes. Even with those old guys, I was surprised by how few people I knew. Mine wasn’t just another time, it was another era.

Aspen b&w

Ruggerfest is a very social week in Aspen. Parties everywhere. I realized that I had not been in such an environment for years. At first, it was puzzling,  seeing all the beautiful women in torn jeans. I thought it was just very casual in a mountain town. But the torn pants did not go with the five-thousand-dollar jackets and the thousand-dollar shoes. I realized that it was supposed to be a statement of some sort. Back in the world, it was all about signals. All the women did it. The jeans were for sale that way in the shop windows.

After Aspen, I followed the better part of valor by driving around Independence Pass. My 20-year-old Tioga Arrow had performed well so far, but the risk wasn’t worth it. We, more maturely, took Interstate 80 and then Interstate 25 to Colorado Springs. From there, seven hours hard driving into big desert winds got us to Alberquerque. A couple of long days.

Three days after leaving Aspen, I was sitting at my brother’s bedside. We worked at talking for a couple of hours. When I held up fingers in front of his face, he couldn’t tell how many. Diabetes had robbed him of his eyesight. Jim talked about what he had been doing in his mind. He was a victim of his emotions. When he recalled an old girlfriend, he cried. When he recounted his latest imaginary meeting with a celebrity, he laughed. I held his hand and sat there. Before I left, I asked him if there was anything he wanted. He said, “To be cremated next Tuesday”.

I stayed at Western Skys RV park, outside of El Paso. I got to know Rosa, the manager, and her two sons … one in college and the other just graduated from high school. On the drive to and from downtown, where Jim was staying, it became clear to me that this weight, this guilt about having lived a life of indulgence while my brother suffered horribly, was just a part of who I was … like my broken collarbone that now sticks up on one side, or the corner of my eye socket that wasn’t stitched back properly, or the arthritic knees … I could go on. I sat with Jim for as long as I could for a couple of days. I saw that he recognized, too, when the time had come for a visit to end. We had to be careful. We were holding on to something fragile.

Driving with the wind, back across the New Mexico desert, I felt as if I were emerging from the landscape. From what I had seen that summer, it seemed the next logical step in the evolution of this magnificent earth. Awareness. The planet was waking up. I was waking up. I could not separate the two. The first step is to see what a mess we have made of things. Then it is time to see another way.

It occurred to me, as Alice and I wound our way through the canyons of southern Arizona, that words have become so powerful for us that we have forgotten what to do without them. We are losing our sense of the sacred. We want to wrap syllables around the experience of the numinous, to use language as a lever to access an experience of the divine. We want to feel the joy all the time. But words are not meant for that. The best words will ever do is point. The underlying assumption that naming something keeps it the same is an illusion.

Jean Piaget, psychologist, showed through his legendary studies in child development that logical and mathematical operations result from the internalization of operations originally executed externally, with solid objects. We have to think with ‘things’, before we can think without them. Survival depends on learning how to operate in the world. Contemplating the wonders of the universe comes later … and can only be thought about in terms of the language we created to deal with ‘things’. We don’t have a way to think about something that is everywhere, all the time … that is no thing. We can’t see something that is everywhere, all the time … where would we be looking from? Grammar is designed to remove the ambiguity when perceiving the world … an ambiguity that must be re-experienced in order to be removed.

The most insidious habit is the desire to know … all the more so because it appears to be the most successful approach to taking care of business. That’s why language started in the first place – to keep things the same. This is what binds us to the earth and obscures Paradise. When we grow up, we each have the opportunity to become a unique mirror to an unspeakably wonderful reality. One day, we will laugh at that feeble period in our history when we believed the meaning of life could be manufactured. Heaven is still there, waiting, unknowable, behind the veil of grammar. One has to be older, I believe, to understand all this and to realize how awareness punctuates experience.

But awareness is fragile, like my time with Jim. Awareness will spill into all the cracks … and we will turn our eyes from what we don’t want to see. Real awareness is almost too personal for us to talk about. Out of the gate, I only see things that are important to me. The awareness that shimmers over the Grand Tetons at dawn, skimming over icy mountain lakes and whistling through the tall pine trees … the scale I had experienced that summer, put my tiny point of view to shame.

Runner on dunes b&w

As I watched a storm pour rain on a patch of desert in the distance, I felt a warm appreciation for my age and a deep gratitude for being older. Ironic as it sounds, we each have to outgrow our initial identity, like shedding a skin, or leaving a cocoon … except this is a disintegration of a point of view. We all learn that nothing is good or bad all on its own. We know that karma is real and life is short. We understand that, eventually, we get what we deserve. As we watch the body grow older and do less, we learn that who we are … the spirit that is aware of all this going on … is ageless. This is growing up.

I have been aware of something just beyond the normal senses, a numinous world, ever since I can remember. Most people have had a similar experience along the way. I have always had a sense that there was more going on somehow. As a child, I was happy just to play there. As an adult, I wanted to know.

Crossing the Colorado river, returning to California, it was clear to me that I would never know, because I would have to separate to look. I saw too that being enlightened and feeling enlightened were different experiences. Being enlightened is not feeling enlightened all the time.

I remember when I saw my first Zen teacher, Thich Thien An, at the doorway to an extension class at UC Irvine. Thich had escaped the purge in Viet Nam. He was smoking a pipe. My friend and I thought he must be a phony. Why would an enlightened being smoke tobacco? Looking back, it’s as though I was expecting him to be drifting a foot off the ground and surrounded with a glowing light. In the first class, I asked him what he thought about the TV program ‘Kung Fu’, which was popular at the time. He said he hadn’t seen it, he was too busy teaching and driving on the freeways, fulfilling his duties as the resident monk at the Los Angeles temple.

What to do with what I had seen on this journey of thousands of miles, wandering through the mighty folds of the northwestern landscape, was a uniquely personal decision. How do I want to see things? How do I live behind the scenes? Growing up is just the beginning, once we have found our own path. We are always on the road.

Alice by the River Bank b&w

As I pulled into Palm Springs, from where I began a year ago, I remembered the last day of that first Zen class. At the end of the semester with Thich Thien An, we gathered at the Los Angeles temple, in front of an altar which was decorated with flowers, incense and a statue of Buddha. It was time to ask questions of the master, expecting an instant, hurricane-force transformational reply, as was legendary in such situations. Personally, I was concerned about the altar – the worship, the placing of personal power outside oneself … all those Seventies psychological clichés.

“Is it possible,” I asked him, “to reach enlightenment without ever having heard of Buddha?”

“Buddha never heard of Buddha”, was his immediate reply.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

“This world is but a canvas to our imagination”.                           Henry David Thoreau

I can imagine how taking credit for the eclipse worked for the Egyptian priests, back in the day, when they used such occasions to instill the fear of God. It would have worked on me. It would seem natural that someone who could turn the day into night should tell me what to do.

Tetons 7 b&w

From the granite of the Tetons and the frozen lava of Idaho, I drifted down to the red rock of Utah and Arches National Park. My experience was still rooted in the power of the landscape. I remember touring some of the ancient stone circles in England. I have a book that points out that features of the landscape surrounding these circles of stones often resemble super-size human features, esp. a pregnant woman lying on her back or the dominant presence of a mountain. In Utah, the Hopi Indians considered these arches to be sacred, portals to spiritual dimensions.

Arches 8 b&w

I loved having these grand ideas, but I was brought down to earth on a regular basis. I left a window open while driving and lost a piece of the blinds; I left the step out again; I forgot to put the clock away. I had to get more gas. When I was backing out of the RV space in Moab, I clipped a faucet that was standing up in a corner, crushing the plastic cover for the dump hole. Fortunately, I didn’t damage the faucet. Literally another half an inch and I would have torn it out. As simple as my life was by that time, it still didn’t work to take anything for granted.

I was near the end of my circle of the northwest. After the rugby tournament in Aspen, I was going further south to see my brother in El Paso. Hiking around the arches for hours in the soft morning light, my thoughts became cloudy and my true intentions worked against each other when I thought about Jim. I had stifled how guilty I felt, deep down … I only knew how undeserving of success I felt at times. I had never been clear about that.

Jim is younger than me by four years. He was an emotional kid. I remember, when he was about six years old, he cried while watching an episode of ‘Wagon Train’ during which a young girl sang ‘Silent Night’. He was a brilliant actor in high school, winning all sorts of awards. While studying acting in junior college, he attended a summer ‘drama’ camp in Northern California. At the camp, he took acid. This was the Seventies. Everybody took acid. I had been taking it for a while, even playing in rugby tournaments. For me, the experience seemed to turn me right side up. For Jim, it went the other way. He appeared to slip over a mental edge.

He didn’t get around to furnishing his apartment that summer. Clothes strewn everywhere. He stopped showing up for classes. He lost his job. This was the time of the draft. Almost all my friends ended up in Vietnam. I thought that if Jim enlisted, he could avoid the war and get himself sorted out. I drove him to the recruiting office. After barely making it through boot camp at Fort Ord, Jim was assigned as a cook to a base in Germany. One night, as he was being pressured by a sergeant on an overnight shift, Jim lost his temper and unloaded on everyone. He was shipped back to Letterman hospital in San Francisco and diagnosed schizophrenic.

When I picked him at Letterman in 1976, his hands shook constantly from the effects of the Thorazine … which he stopped taking immediately. He found a job in Long Beach as a janitor and obtained a degree in Theater Arts from Long Beach State. He participated in Community Theater. After about three years, he lost his job and began to fall downhill. Eventually, my parents took him into their home in Costa Mesa. Unbelievably, my father would take him out and drink with him. One night, Jim apparently pulled a kitchen knife on my father, who was dangerously obnoxious when drunk. When he wandered into the neighbor’s house by accident, Jim was arrested for trespassing. My mother was afraid to take him back in the house, so he sat in county jail for a year. She was clearly in pain from the guilt, but felt she had no choice.

When Jim got out of jail, he made his way to El Paso. I think it was because he didn’t want to be a burden. He lived in downtown El Paso for 25 years, in an old apartment building with a roommate on the other side of the bathroom. He wrote letters every week and I visited every couple of years. He survived on Army disability pay. During every visit, I would point out that he needed to take of care of himself. Walk. Climb stairs. Exercise. He seemed not to have the heart for it. I watched diabetes gradually take hold of him, while he refused to go to the V.A. During his lost years, he had crashed his motorcycle and the handle bar had ripped into his stomach. They reversed his large intestine. He had, at another time, driven the bike off a cliff and broken his hip. He believed he couldn’t walk. In his mind, he was done. He had given up.

I would sit by his bed while he told me stories of imaginary encounters with old girlfriends and celebrities. In his mind, he is married. His wife was away. He didn’t care whether anyone believed him. He was bed-ridden and nearly blind when I saw him last. I had tried to get him to get to use a cd player, so I could send him books on tape. That didn’t work. When I asked him what he did with all the time, he said that he took trips in his imagination.

I had always wanted to do more, but sometimes an hour with Jim would drive me around the bend. I had brought him out to California to visit his sisters, back when he could walk. I didn’t have any money to help. I felt like a failure as a big brother. I was supposed to protect him. I had spent my whole life just looking out for myself, while my little brother’s life came apart. I could imagine how alone Jim must feel. I felt like such a jerk feeling so impatient with him.

As I illegally crunched my way over the surface ecosystem of the national park, looking for the right light, guilt streamed out of my heart and blossomed into the canyon around me. I was never a good person. I had stolen lunch money from the counter of the pie shop as a kid in Darwin. I cheated on homework at Dulwich College, where I felt I was in way over my head academically. I avoided the ‘O’ and ‘A’ level exams in England by going to California. I always took the easy way out. In my first marriage, I never really put Bonnie first. I was too busy being a rugby star. I didn’t finish the Master’s degree in Applied Behavioral Science because I was getting divorced. I never finished anything. I talked my second wife into marrying me, before she was ready, before she caught on to what a bastard I really am. I pressured her to have children and it turned out to be twins, really locking her in.

For years, as a manager at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, I took advantage of people, taking some of their money for my own. Looking back, it was like three-card monte. Consumers didn’t stand a chance. For most of my life, I have been able to see weakness in others quickly. A plus on the rugby field, but not so much in personal relations. It felt natural to take advantage. And, of course, back then I dealt with the guilt I could see by drinking every day.

I grew up taking short cuts, ignorant of any character lesson involved in doing a thing the right way. I had heard about it, I suppose, after all I was an English Lit. major in college, but I was busy surviving. It poured over me that I had not been a nice guy. I had been selfish beyond belief. Karma was going to crush me. I was a useless mess.

Arches 0 b&w

I saw how I had maneuvered and manipulated the world into a shape that I imagined would work for me. I didn’t trust it on its own. That shape was only in my mind. For years, I had been unwilling to let go of these secret beliefs. I did not deserve an easy world. If anyone saw who I really was, they would punish me and take everything away. If I let the world be, it would hurt me … or, at the very least, I myself would disappear. Every time I looked for my place in the world, I had to slog through this mess I had made of my identity. I had stopped looking after a while.

Wandering in those magnificent desert canyons, I disappeared into the grander scheme. Stripped of the history, there is an ‘I’, an identity, that we have in common with everything.  I could not feel the Bigger I, but the vista took my breath away. There were no boundaries. I felt as if I were riding the edge of a wave that stretched out forever. All the power behind me. All the unknown in front. My regular senses were useless, since all they did was measure things, including me.

I was a spirit dressed in habits.  I had to have routines to make sense of the world. I saw how the world took the shape it did because of me. Layers of identity that I had wrapped around me over the years fell away. There was no need for any more of that. I wasn’t competing for survival anymore. I wasn’t going to anywhere. I was coming from somewhere. A heaviness eased out of my body. Letting go of a layer left me in more doubt … just as I was afraid it would. This was how I was holding the world together. But mixed in with the uncertainty was the undeniable experience of relief.

In my advanced age, I had a sense that this was as good as it was going to get. Being a part of it all for a little while. The being that lay behind all the noise. Wanting to know that I am a part of it all the time will never happen, because I separate when I go to look.

It was as if my whole summer piled into those three days, hiking through the arches. There was a thrill to seeing who I really was, even though I had to struggle through such a mess to even catch a glimpse. I knew I wouldn’t remember the experience itself, but I would never forget how I thought about it afterwards. I grew up believing that I am the subject and the world is the object. I would always remember that moment when I absolutely knew that wasn’t true. For a time, I felt a part of it all … as if there were no further to look. I could see nothing that wasn’t me.  I recall thinking that there were no words that would work … joy, treasure, destiny, bliss … words break experience into bits and pieces, not even coming close.

Sunrise over Salt Valley b&w

I had been in the landscape long enough to pull back the curtain of my individual history and see with unburdened eyes. I knew there was more, but it’s like trying to look at the back of your head. You need a mirror. The landscape had been that mirror for me.

As I watched the sun rise over the Salt Valley on the last day, I was filled with the unmistakable feeling that there was so much more that I did not know. My mind was open and there were no words. I had journeyed for a year, just to catch a glimpse. For a moment, just a moment … so fast there is no way to count … I saw why there was nowhere to go and nothing to have. My breath was the light and darkness and my soul was vibrating to the presence of the universe. I knew it wouldn’t last. That was life. But I was good to go for now.