In Limbo, While Live Lambs Burn

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IMG_2506I won’t be writing here for awhile. Probably. Maybe. I don’t know.

I’ve started several blog posts but can’t finish them. All my energy is drawn elsewhere. As if I’m in Limbo, waiting for some axe to fall.

Here’s a pretty poem to tide you over until I return. Something I wrote years ago. Hid away.

See if you can guess what it’s about.

All the Little Lambs

I swear

Sometimes I feel like
I lay in a loft,

Peeking
Through a warped
floorboard,

Watching havoc
burn hay.

And I feel
Distant, somehow,
Remote, dismayed.

While live lambs
Burn
Below
Betrayed.

Easter and Earth Day – “O Sweet Irrational Worship”

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Bobwhite Quail-Colinus_virginianus_USFWSA timely blending to celebrate Easter and Earth Day by poet, monk, and mystic, Thomas Merton.

O Sweet Irrational Worship

Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.

by Thomas Merton

Many thanks to Nancy Adam and her lovely blog Saints and Trees for bringing this poem to my attention. Read her commentary about the poem HERE.

My Roman Oaks

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IMG_4687Recently we had visitors who had just returned from Italy. We talked of how easily you can stumble upon ancient Roman ruins lying beside the road or tumbled along the edge of a parking lot. Paving stones from some ancient road where the legendary 13th Legion once marched; the foundations of a fallen aqueduct; broken urns and shards of pottery. None of it cordoned off to protect. None of it of much value.

It’s a common sight for the native populations, but an unexpected pleasure and exciting discovery for visiting tourists. In some ways these ruins impact us more deeply than the ruins we find with tourist guides or behind museum walls.

As we were talking, I pointed to the “Roman Oaks” in the meadow outside our window.

I’ve come to see these fallen giants, the ruins of ancient oaks that lie scattered in the hills outside our home, with the same sense of tender regard and respect. Once they had been huge and thriving ecosystems, little cities providing shelter and food for a vast variety of creatures large and small. Some dominated the landscape for centuries. Children were born and grew old and died in full view of their robust splendor. The trees that now surround these ruins were tiny saplings or green shoots or still bound within round acorns when these giants spread their roots across the hillsides and threw vast shadows across the land.

I’ve come to love these ruins. There’s beauty in the sleek stripped limbs, sculptured by the wind and rain and passing predators. Beauty in their moss and lichen painted bark. Beauty in the way their sharp ruins rise like flames against the sky. Beauty in their hollowed trunks and upturned roots. I walk among them with their fine mulch crumbled underfoot and feel a sense of timelessness. The past and present tangled together.

I’ve gathered a few photos here to share with you.

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This Mud-Luscious World of Woe and Bliss

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HP_2Lately I’ve had a hard time getting a grip on myself. I seem to be sliding in so many directions. The better parts of me, the parts I enjoy, are becoming lost or shunted aside. While the wilder, unreasonable, agitated parts are trying to take over.

Sometimes I feel I exist in multiple layers with different parts of myself coming to the surface at different times. Some are easy and comfortable, the ones I’ve spent a good deal of time articulating on these blog pages: poet-writer,  spiritual seeker, nature lover, art enthusiast, literary critic, philosopher. The one who seeks to understand what this mud-luscious world of woe and bliss is all about. These are the layers I love to dwell in. They play well together. I can move seamlessly from one to the other without difficulty.

But there are other layers of myself that are torn to pieces and hard to make sense of. Parts that fume and rage and groan and don’t know how to let go or wake up or walk in a straight line. A part of me that seeks to control what’s uncontrollable, change what’s unchangeable, even if that means banging its head against a very hard and bloody wall.

A lot of that is mixed up with what I’ve experienced trying to help a son afflicted with addition. But part of it goes way back. It comes from all the years spent down in the trenches, fighting for worker rights and social justice and protecting the environment. Trying to right the wrongs of the world. Beating my head constantly against a wall of greed and exploitation, intolerance and hypocrisy, that would not budge! Doing it for so long and so hard, I had to walk away. I had to.

I feel like I’m getting sucked back into that fight mode again, and all I want to do is fly away. But I can’t leave my son behind.

That old head-banger is resurfacing and I don’t much enjoy her anymore. I understand her. I know where she’s coming from. But I don’t see a happy outcome for all her troubles. She can’t help herself. She’s an optimist, a passionate reformer. Perhaps all optimists, all social reformers, are born head-bangers, trying to break down insurmountable walls. We truly believe we can effect change for the good. We can make a difference in the world. In small but important ways we can help move the direction of society toward the greater good, toward health and peace and prosperity for all. And we do, we do, inch by inch we move that needle, but at great cost.

It’s more than that though. More than social change that many of us are after. We want to break through to new states of thinking and doing and being. To experience more peace and joy and power in our own lives. To experience heaven on earth right here, right now. Maybe that’s what happens to all the head-bangers of the world. When those outer walls don’t come tumbling down we turn inward, toward the walls within our own consciousness and try to break through.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Maybe that’s the most and the best we can do. Maybe it’s enough.

I’m still trying to get a grip on all this. To reconcile all the different parts of me, the world of woe with the world of bliss, both inside and out. The two are inter-twined. I can tease them apart at times, but they get all rolled up together again. There must be a way to walk in this world of woe while still experiencing that state of bliss. Some of our spiritual teacher/reformers have walked that path: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela.

I’m trying to figure out how to let go and hang on at the same time. How to let go of banging my head against an intractable wall, while not giving up on my son. How to accept this world of woe and bliss, inside and out, all rolled up together, in all its mud-lusciousness. Bear with me.

A Dream Within a Dream Within a . . .

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Sweet_Nothings_by_GodwardMy daughter’s wedding day had arrived and everything that could go wrong went wrong.  We arrived at the church only to discover no one had come to decorate it. The food we’d ordered was half-prepared.  My daughter showed up in her beautiful gown, but we’d forgotten to get her hair done or her make-up.  It was so horrible, we cancelled the wedding and sent everyone home. The wedding party climbed into a car and was driving away when my daughter said, “Stop! I can’t take this anymore, I just want it over!”

So she forced the car to pull over at a tiny diner and announced that’s where she was getting married.  I tried to talk her into going to someplace nicer, where it wasn’t so shabby and dirty. But she insisted. I remembered how I had planned to hang all the beautiful photos of her wedding on our walls at home. But how could we take photos of this! My worst nightmare was happening and it was all my fault. I shouldn’t have left the wedding planning up to her. I should have taken charge. I should have had a check-off list and made sure everything had turned our as planned. But it was too late. I screwed up. And now all my dreams for her wedding were ruined.

Then I woke up with a raging headache. And a sense of doom I could not shake.

It was crazy! Why was I having this dream?  My daughter had already had the most beautiful wedding imaginable just last year.  And she had planned it all!  I hadn’t had to lift a finger. Why would I be worried about her wedding?

Then I had a flash of insight. One after the other.

#1 Flash of Insight

This was just a dream! There had never been a reason to be so upset and despondent.  I could have changed the dream at any point–decorated the church, fixed her hair. I could have created the perfect wedding, if only I had realized I was dreaming. If only I had known I had the power to do so.

#2 Flash of Insight

This dream wasn’t about my daughter! It’s about my son. About the terrible addiction that has ruined his life, the beautiful life I had dreamed for him. And I blamed myself.  I shouldn’t have left something as important as his life up to him! I should have taken charge. I should have planned better. But now everything was ruined and there was nothing I could do about it.

#3 Flash of Insight

Maybe I’m still dreaming!  I remember how real it all seemed in my dream. Like it was really happening.  So much so that even when I woke, I couldn’t shake the sense of sadness and failure. Maybe I will wake up and find out that this is all just a dream of addiction.  Maybe in “reality,” he’s living the perfect life I’d always wanted for him, just as my daughter had had her perfect wedding.

Maybe I’d wake to find him in his perfect house with his loving wife, surrounded by his beautiful children, happy and healthy.  He’d flash me a big grin and put his arms around me and say, “Silly mama. Why so sad? You were just dreaming!”

#4 Flash of Insight

But if I can’t wake up, maybe I can at least practice lucid-dreaming, wake up enough to know this isn’t real, and that I can change things, if I could only figure out how. It’s possible, right? Isn’t change possible?

#5 Flash of Insight

Maybe this is what they call “magical thinking.”

I keep thinking of those talks by Alan Watts that I posted here not long ago. He talks about the interconnectivity of the universe and how it has evolved into human consciousness–how the very cells of our bodies and brains are made of star stuff. We are the eternal universe, he tells us. Each of us, individually, is a pinprick of the whole, and altogether we are the whole itself.

Is believing this more fantastic, more “magical,” than believing in the Big Bang in the first place? Or that an infinite number of galaxies are spinning out in space, or being gobbled up by black holes? Or more magical than the “fact” of all those electrons and neutrons spinning in the cells of our bodies like tiny galaxies?  What could be more fantastical or magical than reality! The reality we accept on “faith” because we believe what science has revealed to us.

Watts also mentioned this possibility: That we each are sparks of the divine–whatever force that created all we know–living an infinite number of lives over and over.  Sometimes we choose easy paths, sometimes difficult ones.  Sometimes we just want to see how much we can take, how far we can push ourselves, how bad it can get before we turn ourselves around.

Did my son choose his path? Did I choose mine?  Are there layers of reality, as I wrote about in my last post? Are our night dreams and waking dreams just various stages in the ever-expanding understanding of who we really are? Will we wake to another understanding of reality and realize this life is just a dream within a dream within a dream . . . and each life is just as “real” or as “magical” as the next one?

We once believed the earth was flat and the distant ocean spilled off into nothingness. Later that the sun circled the earth, and we felt smug and special at the center of the universe.  Then we woke up.

What more will we come to understand about reality–the universe and ourselves–as the eons unfold?

Wake up, Deborah, wake up.

 

 

Layers of Reality in Bergman’s “Franny and Alexander,” and in Us

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franny and alexanderIn several of his films, Ingmar Bergman plays with the notion of multiple layers of reality.  This can be seen as early as The Seventh Seal, and continues with Autumn Sonata, and Wild Strawberries, culminating in what was intended to be his final film, Franny and Alexander.

In some ways, Franny and Alexander is a tour de force. It speaks to us on so many levels. It can be seen, in part, as a family saga, a farce, a fairy tale, a theatrical play, a Gothic Romance, and a supernatural horror story. It is, in fact, all these things at once.

Yet each differing perspective can be seen as a different level of reality, a different way of looking at the same material. Each appears as a separate backdrop against which the film can be seen, which, when lifted, offers a new view, a new level of perception, a new “reality.”

We can see this in the opening sequence. The first shot reveals a close-up of what appears to be an ornate building. As the camera moves down the building, we see a row of footlights and what now appears to be a stage. A series of painted backdrops are lifted to reveal new scenes. But it is only when the last backdrop is raised that we see a child’s face, huge, behind the scenes. This is when we realize that the stage is but a child’s theater and the row of footlights are candles. The camera seems to be inviting the viewer to see through these multiple layers of “reality,” perceptions of the real, to the final revelation, the child, or rather, the child’s imagination, as revealed through his dreamy gaze.

The film continues to pull back layer after layer of curtains to reveal the tenuous and shifting nature of reality.

In the final scene, the grandmother is reading from Strindburg’s “A Dream Play.” She reads: “Anything will occur. Anything is possible and likely. Time and space do not exist. On the tenuous ground of reality, imagination reaches out and weaves a new pattern.”

Reality is seen to be not singular, but as consisting of ever-deepening layers of reality, one on top of the other, in a richly dense and complex multiplicity.

I was reminded of this film when listening to Alan Watt’s talks that I posted last week here. And I wonder if the reason Bergman’s films resonate with so many people is that we sense a truth here. We see this perspective not only in film and art, about the mystery of things, these shifting perspectives and “layers of reality,” but we see it in science, how beneath these seemingly solid bodies lies unseen, shifting worlds that swirl and collide and contradict each other.

I question often what is real and not-real, and wonder if it’s more complex than that. Perhaps it’s not a case of what’s real or not, of one or the other, but shifting perceptions of what’s real, some dark, some light, that weave together a reality that is deeper and more complex than our superficial lives allow us to see.

I’m still piecing this together and will explore this further in another post.

In the meantime, what do you think? Have you seen the film? Does any of this make any sense?

POSTSCRIPT

In searching for some photos and links for this post, I happened upon Roger Ebert’s review of the film, which also, surprisingly (or maybe not so), refers to the film as having “shifted into a different kind of reality.” I’ve added an excerpt of his review here:

“There are fairy-tale elements here, but “Fanny and Alexander” is above all the story of what Alexander understands is really happening. If magic is real, if ghosts can walk, so be it. Bergman has often allowed the supernatural into his films. In another sense, the events in “Fanny and Alexander” may be seen through the prism of the children’s memories, so that half-understood and half-forgotten events have been reconstructed into a new fable that explains their lives.

What’s certain is that Bergman somehow glides beyond the mere telling of his story into a kind of hypnotic series of events that have the clarity and fascination of dreams. Rarely have I felt so strongly during a movie that my mind had been shifted into a different kind of reality. The scenes at night in the Jacobi house are as intriguing and mysterious as any I have seen, quiet and dreamy, and then disturbing when the mad Ismael calmly and sweetly shows Alexander how everything will be resolved.”

“You are the Eternal Universe” – Alan Watts

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Image from Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

I found this amazing video “You are the Eternal Universe” on the Dionysian GENERATOR blog, where Cody describes it as “a beautiful kind of moving, throbbing zazen.”  I could not agree more.

I’ve long been a fan of Alan Watts’ writings on Zen and Tao and Christian mysticism. I’ve also been a huge fan of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” book and series when it came out so long ago, and I’m now watching the new Cosmos series narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  This video brings the two together in a beautiful and inspiring way.

If you like this and want to hear more, the video below contains a playlist of Watts–his best hits, so to speak.  As Cody said, “Enjoy.”

 

Self Portrait – “Melt into that Fierce Heat of Living”

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a-sunset-to-remember-by Maurice Sapiro

A Sunset to Remember by Maurice Sapiro

Self Portrait

by David Whyte

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel
abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need
to change you. If you can look back
with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand. I want to know
if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward
the center of your longing. I want to know
if you are willing
to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter
unwanted passion of your sure defeat.
I have been told, in that fierce embrace, even
the gods speak of God.

From “Fire in the Earth

It’s such a pleasure to find poetry and art that come together to speak the very thing you need to say, the very thing that captures you, where you are, now, this minute.  My deep gratitude to poets and artists everywhere, and today, especially to these two.  You can find more of their work at these links.

Maurice Sapiro Art Gallery

David Whyte Poetry

Surrender, let Silence have you

deborahbrasket:

Just what I needed to hear and do this morning. Wishing you all well.

Originally posted on Zen Flash:

Surrender to the source,
Surrender to awareness,
this is the only place of protection. Surrender your heart and you will know all.
Surrender to Consciousness and Bliss.
Surrender means to surrender your bondage
and to simply be Freedom.Surrender is the ego bowing down to its Source.
No more demands or commands,
but putting all in the hands of Source.

Submit to Consciousness and Bliss
and you will be happy.

Surrender the addiction to your senses.
You don’t need to stop them,
but you need to have perfect control over them.

Ego is a poor driver of these five horses,
but the Atman charioteer will not make a mistake.
Surrender the reigns of your senses to the Atman.

As the river surrenders to the ocean,
surrender yourself to the Self, the Source.

And if you find you are still swimming
on the surface of the ocean:
stop swimming and you…

View original 14 more words

Art and the Mystery in the Midst of Things

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Promise Resting,16-x-20-oil-on-canvas by Terrill Welch 2014

Art points to something beyond itself, toward “something more,” something that we sense in things and reveal through our pen or brushes, in our music or dance or writing.

What is this thing we glimpse in nature, in life itself, that so excites and inspires and compels us to re-create what we see in a form that we can share with others? Some see what art evokes, or points a finger toward, as the mystery in the midst of things.

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” -Rene Magritte.

“The artist’s function is to love the enigma. All art is this: love which has been poured out over enigmas – and all works of art are enigmas surrounded and adorned by love.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” -Francis Bacon

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; It is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein

We don’t have to be artists to see it and respond to it. But artists are those who try to capture it in such a way that others see it, and feel it, too.

An example is the painting at the top of this page by Terrill Welch. She blogs about her art and the creative process at Creative Potager, and generously allowed me to use her artwork here. The painting above was inspired by following scene shown here in a photograph.

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Photo by Terrill Welch

The artist’s painting brings to the surface something that had lain dormant within the natural scene that the photograph captures. It points to something beyond the original, to something more, something the artist sensed, and the receptive viewer can also sense though her work. We may each interpret what this “something more” is in different ways.

Perhaps we perceive a hushed tranquility, or wondrous luminosity not apparent in the original scene. Perhaps the colors of the sky and sea in the painting, the way they blend together and echo each other, elicit an underlying sense of unity or connectedness. Or the gently flowing lines of the hills and those rounds of dark isles lying beneath evoke a soothing sense of sympathy.

Or perhaps we see something more tumultuous going on. Perhaps the tumbling texture of the brush strokes, each unique, each saturated with hues that complement and oppose each other, reveal an intricacy and liveliness that lies beneath what seems to be so simple and still.

Perhaps we see how all of this—the unity and sympathy and complexity–plays together, and we see in that something of the mystery in the midst of things.

Making art, or responding to it, takes us out of ourselves, our ordinary perceptions of reality, while at the same time, deepening what it means to truly be ourselves.

Carl Jung calls it “the state of ‘participation mystique.” He writes: “The secret of artistic creation and the effectiveness of art is to be found in a return to the state of ‘participation mystique’ – to that level of experience at which it is man who lives, and not the individual.”

Joseph Campbell explains further: “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization.”

Art does that—it breaks through, as with an ice-ax, what Franz Kafka once called “the frozen sea inside us.” And doing so, it sets us free to explore that “something more” we seek, or the mystery within the midst of things.

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