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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rhythm

Growing up in a small town the next door neighbors consisted of a family of three boys being raised by a single woman. Her husband had crashed his car into a tree on his way home from work late one night. The rumor was that he did it on purpose but of course I never spoke of that to the boys or to anyone for that matter.
I remember them mostly on account of the dancing. When she got home from working the woman and her three sons would spend the evenings in their garage dancing together to old-time 40s big-band music. Though they didn’t play the music very loudly their garage faced our house so I could hear the rhythm quite well.
Watching from our front porch I often yearned to join them but they seemed so happy together I was loath to disturb them. Each evening their dancing seemed to improve to the point that their rhythm was a joy to watch. Sometimes I thought I saw them looking my way but they never motioned for me to come over so I just sat there and watched.
I wondered if my mother would have taught me to dance should she have lived, like my neighbor woman taught her sons. I never really got to know my mother. She passed away when I was but a baby; I was too young to remember her though at times I have a passing vision of her laughing at something that no one else finds funny. I've been told by those who did know my mother that she loved mirth, music, and dancing so I like to think she might have showed me that affection should she have lived long enough to do so.
These days I love the music still but I have never learned to dance. Long ago I learned if I sat silently no one noticed me; no one noticed I was alone. I sat there too long reveling in the music never learning to dance.
Sadness and pleasure indicate a degenerate ingredient in the virtue of those who experience them. Joy and anger show a going astray in direction. Love and hatred demonstrate a collapse of quality. For the mind to be free of sadness and sorrow is the perfection of virtue. To be of one mind that does not change is the perfection of quietude. To be conscious of no conflict is the perfection of vacancy.
If I toil too long without rest my body becomes worn out. If I trouble myself with desires and anxious thoughts without rest my spirit becomes worn out. Like water when I am free of admixture my thoughts are clear; when my thoughts are not agitated like water I am level and calm. This is known as the rhythm of heaven.
Sometimes I stay too long. Sometimes I don’t stay long enough. I forget the rhythm of the mystery to dwell in the tempo of the earth. Though these two might be mistaken as the same one comes before the other. One cannot be seen while the other is all that is seen.
Being motherless I looked to the forest for solace and for solitude. Wandering alone on lost paths deep in the mountains I could find no water to drink. Listening with parched throat as I walked through the rock-strewn valleys I could hear the rhythm of water dancing under the stones. I knew the water had to be there. By keeping my eyes on the valley I ignored the source.
Following the rock-covered stream down into the valley I hoped to find a pool of standing water. But I was met with disappointment. I began moving rocks aside hoping to find water underneath. The water seemed so close and yet no matter how many stones I rolled away I couldn’t seem to get to the source.
When I looked up from my task wiping away sweat from my brow I saw the snow glittering on the mountain top. I realized the water I heard under the stones was melting on high. To get to the source I had to forego the valley. By climbing away from what I knew I came closer to the source.
As I lay in slumbers my brain starved for oxygen high in those mountains one bitter and cold January night I dreamed how I danced with a beautiful lady who might well have been my daughter. Our rhythm and our timing were perfect. As the dance ended and she walked away she turned her head just so waving a happy goodbye over her shoulder. I recognized her from her striking the same pose as in an old picture I'd once been given of my mother.
Waking I thought how miraculous it was to see and to dance with my mother who was still a young woman when I had grown so old. I thought of the rhythm of life and the rhythm of death and how the two danced with the mystery, eternally renewing each other along with the world.
Action without thought is a rhythm I feel with my heart and not with my feet. While thinking takes me away from experience action without thought brings me closer to it. When experience comes as a surprise I know I am closer to the mystery. When experience is always new I am the mystery.
The mystery formed before heaven and earth. It is alone and unchanging. It is ever-present and yet always in motion. The mystery is the mother of all things. I do not know its name. I call it the source of experience. For lack of a better word I call it the mystery.
Since the source of experience is mysterious it flows far away and having gone far it returns. I follow the rhythm of the earth. The earth follows the rhythm of heaven. Heaven follows the rhythm of the mystery. The mystery follows what is natural.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Loss

Chapter 1: Loss



On the day my son was born he was so tiny and alive! I marveled at the softness of his skin, his tiny fingers and miniature toes, and the brightness of his eyes. He grew too quickly. I often wonder where all the time went; life is like a river flowing past; no one can keep their eyes trained upon it since it is always moving. It flows away to nowhere never to return.
My son came to me one day. He was still a boy but fast becoming a man. I could tell by the look on his face that he had something on his mind. What happens to those we love when they die, he asked. Do they go to heaven?
I knew why he wondered. A boy in his class at school—his name was Eric—had been killed in a horrific accident while playing in a Little League baseball game. Another boy threw a ball to him when he wasn't ready. The ball struck Eric in the neck. He collapsed. Despite frenetic efforts to revive him the young boy died right there on the field.
I wanted to tell my son that I did not know what happened when we die; I wanted to tell him that I was not dead and only the dead knew the answer to that question. But when I opened my mouth different words emerged.
I said to him that when we die we return to the mystery from which we all come. I explained to him everything dies except that which has never been born. I told him since the earth is alive it too had once been born and one day it too would die.
I told him that though everything passes away there is that which remains. It cannot be named nor can anyone see it. It cannot be touched. It has no taste, no smell. The mystery has never been born and so it will never pass away. We are part of the mystery; nay, we are the mystery.
But I do not understand, father. Doesn't everyone die?
Come for a walk with me, my son. So he did. We walked through the apple orchard and into the forest that grew behind our farm. We spotted a pheasant making its way through the undergrowth, its mottled coloring making it difficult to spot.
I noted to my son how that pheasant had to amble along all day to find nourishment; I said how it must make its way to the creek each morning to drink, putting itself in danger of other predators that might be there as well. If it were in a coop all the pheasant's nourishment would be provided for. It would not be in any danger. Yet were we to make a trap to catch it and carry it home that pheasant would spend the rest of its days trying to escape confinement in order to regain its independence.
I explained that this is the way of the mystery.
My son's face shined as he listened to my words. I thought how precious this small insignificant moment we share is. I imagined him an old man one day explaining the mystery to his son and to his grandson. Looking into his eyes I saw all the generations looking back at me, all those who lived before us and all those who would come after. I thought how important it was that we get it right this time.
I explained to my son that what happened to our loved ones when they passed back to that mystery where we all come from did not matter as much as what happened to those left behind. Those who die had finished with their struggles. Their pain had come to an end. It was the living who had to go on even when it seemed all but impossible.
On the day my son passed away he was so broken and so still. I mourned how I would never again see his fine strong body walking the earth. At his funeral I wanted to get up to tell everyone about the wonderful times we had together. When I stood I could not speak for the lump arising in my throat choking me. Blinking through my tears I gazed out at the gathering of lovers who assembled there to see him off yet I could not see anyone. While they celebrated his life I died along with my son.
Yet I go on.
The earth will one day be a dead empty husk rolling through the darkness of heaven. The sun will no longer shine. The stars will blink out. The rains will stop, the fires will fade, and the winds will cease to blow. None of these things are eternal. How is it possible for me?
What we can point to are but logs consumed by fire but that fire has moved on; we cannot know that it is over or ended.
I follow the mystery. I am at one with the source of experience. I am virtuous and so I experience virtue. But those who lose the way to the source and instead cling to what they know are lost.
When I am at one with the mystery, experience welcomes me. When I am at one with virtue, the virtue is always there. When I am at one with loss, the loss is experienced willingly.
To talk little is natural. If I do not trust enough I will not be trusted.
This is the way of the universe.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Starving

There was a time when I thought I had lost everything that ever meant anything. In my distress I left my home behind in hopes of discovering that which had vanished from my life.
I wandered west until I came to the sea; I could go no farther. Being cold I turned left; I walked south until I reached the lean land of Mexico. In those days it wasn't anything to cross over the border. I walked a good long ways under a warm Mexican sun until I gave in to the call of forgetfulness.
The booze was cheap and strong. I drank too much at a little cantina just outside of Magdalena. I woke the next morning not knowing where I was or how I had come to be there. My pockets were empty. My throat was dry. I was too proud to beg.
Finding myself alone in a strange city and hungry I walked into a Catholic church hoping to find solace and a friend. The building felt familiar; door was unlocked; the custodian greeted me warmly. He spoke in Spanish telling me the executioner was out but he would be back shortly. In the mean time he wondered if I was hungry.
I was starving. The old man went to a stained and wheezing refrigerator and taking out a brown paper sack he handed me a tortilla and a bowl of re-fried beans. I knew it was his lunch but I ate it anyway scooping the beans into the tortilla with my fingers. I was never partial to Mexican food but that lunch was one of the best I'd ever eaten in my life. When I finished I licked my fingers clean while thanking the old man profusely.
A few minutes later the executioner arrived. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was angry with the custodian for having allowed me entry into the church. The padre sent the custodian out of the room and then he threw me out of the building with a stern lecture not to return lest he call la mantenimiento del orden. I left the town behind to its dust.
Instead of becoming an executioner I was influenced into becoming a custodian.
From the loving example of one man a whole state becomes loving; from one man's courtesies a whole state becomes courteous. At the same time from one man's ambitions and perverseness a whole state may be led to rebellious disorder. Such is the nature of influence.
If the household is rightly ordered then the people of the state may be taught. When a leader loves what the people love and hates what the people hate then they are called a parent to the people. Leaders of families, churches, and states may not neglect compassion or care. If they deviate to mean selfishness they will disgrace not only themselves but those they serve and their house will not stand for long.
If people are under the influence of passion their conduct will be incorrect; they will be the same if they are under the influence of hunger, or under the influence of fond regard, or under the influence of sorrow and distress. When the mind is not present people look but do not see; they hear but do not understand. To cultivate a person depends upon rectifying the mind.
Rome fell because the people were starving. Why were the people starving? The people were starving because the rulers ate up the money in taxes to fund never-ending wars. So the people lost their land and the farmers could no longer grow crops. Therefore the people were starving.
In a household, a church, or a state, pecuniary gain should not be considered to be prosperity but its prosperity should be found in righteousness. When those who preside over households, churches, and states make revenues their chief business they are under the influence of small, mean people. They may consider these people to be good but when such a person is employed by a family, a church, or a state, calamities from heaven and injuries from men will befall it.
Rome fell because the people became rebellious. Why did the people become rebellious? The people became rebellious because the leaders interfered with them too much. The ritual of taxation demanded too great a sacrifice so the people became rebellious.
By gaining the people, the household, the church, and the state are gained. By losing the people, the household, the church, and the state are lost. On this account the leader will first take pains about their own virtue. Possessing virtue will give them the people. Possessing the territory will give them its wealth. Virtue is the root; wealth is the result. If the leader makes the root a secondary object and its result primary they will only wrangle with the people and teach them rapine.
The accumulation of wealth is the way to scatter the people while letting wealth scatter among them is a way of collecting the people. Wealth gotten by improper ways will take its departure by the same. Goodness obtains the decree; the want of it loses it.
Rome fell because the people thought so little of death. Why did the people think so little of death? Because the rulers made too great of demands on their lives, so the people welcomed death. They could no longer see the good for the bad, the right way to go for the wrongs heaped upon them.
By keeping to the center, by finding a pivot point, one comes to see there are always a right and a wrong; there are always a this and a that; these two produce each other. Those who cling too tightly to one and then to the other vacillate back and forth; they have not found their point of correspondency. By exacting more than is fair, by sending away the hungry and by turning out the tired, even the great state of Rome was lost. What chance did I have against the executioner?
Having little to live on, I know better than to value life too highly.