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.
Words 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.
From 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.
Looking 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.