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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Competing

The Author Reading Aloud



In my misguided youth I took a step outside my front door, and then I took another step. The road opened itself before my eyes like a flower unfurling itself to the morning sun. Marveling at the mystery and with each new sight competing for my favor I wandered ever on.
Many years later having no other direction I found myself traveling west; I came to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in the Badlands of South Dakota. The road was dusty; I was dirty, my hair long and unkempt. I saw a dirt road leading into the desert; I pondered on following it but being thirsty I instead made my way to a neon-lighted tavern that squatted in the dust. I’d never seen so many Indians! They were lined up three-deep at the bar. All the tables and chairs were taken so I took my drink to stand in a quiet corner where I would not have to compete for space.
The floor was dirt; it was sprinkled with sawdust; every once in a while one of the Indians would look at me and spit derisively onto the ground. I thought how much they must hate me; not just me but the sight of any white man. If I had been older and wiser I would have perhaps been filled with fear but being young and stupid I feasted on the competition.
As the night wore on the liquor took effect; I grew bolder. I bought drinks for complete strangers not out of a sense of camaraderie but rather to insinuate myself into their good graces. Soon I found myself sitting at a table full of alien-sounding people to whom I must have seemed equally odd.
I met a girl who sat there; she was very quiet but when I asked her she said her name was Angie. She wasn’t particularly striking but she had a pull that attracted me; I must have had the same affect on her. We drank and we talked and we stroked each other with our eyes; standing close while dancing each dance we inhaled one another’s breath. We reveled in our meeting one another. Our lips brushed. Later that night when a group of big Indians began making remarks about smelling a honky in the bar she said I should come with her.
So I did.
She took me on a journey way out into the desert to her home where she lived with her father and with her two sisters. I recognized the dirt road as the one I had been tempted to take before entering the tavern. I wondered how I knew. She told me how her father was the nominal chief of their tribe, the Hunkpapa Lakota. Their house was very poor, the furniture sparse and the cupboards empty.
In time I fell in love with Angie and she fell in love with me. I supported her as she supported me. We spent our days entwined together in each other; we spent our nights drinking. Since she gave me her heart I had no need to compete for it. When I gave her my heart I lost it without competition.
She told me how if anyone in the tribe in their poverty needed anything they came to her father. Since he was the chief it fell to him to provide for them. She said he sometimes gave away the very clothes hanging on the line outside to dry and how she took to hiding them by tying a clothesline out behind the storage sheds and the junk yard in back of the house.
The people loved their chief; they supported him as he supported them. He instructed many ceremonies each according to the seasons. Serving with humility he guided his people, knowing if he was to lead that he must follow. Ruling by following meant that the people didn’t feel oppressed. When he stood before the people he would not be harmed.
His name was King of a Hundred Streams. He was like the sea. He knew many of the old songs; each morning before the dawn I would hear him outdoors chanting to the sky and to the wind and to the water that ran brown and rank in a creek behind the house. Though I listened intently I couldn’t make out the words.
When I asked him what he sang about he told me the music and the ceremonies surrounding it were essentially the same. The styles of the musical pieces were different but he told me how they promoted the same feelings of love. Some songs he sang at pow wows, others at the changing of the days, still others in the different seasons. Though the occasions and forms of the songs and ceremonies differed he said how they expressed the same feeling of respect.
Since he knew the essential nature of the music and the ceremonies he continued them as he found them; in turn he said how he would pass them on intact. In the visible world there were ceremonies and music; in the invisible world were the spirits that guided them. I noticed how he often left small sacrifices for them, a bit of food or a scrap of clothing. If I was eating an apple he would always nod his chin towards the sacrifice bowl intending me to place the core there when I finished.
King of a Hundred Streams talked sadly about how no one really knew the music any longer. The young people compete in songs like monkeys, he said, with boys and girls mixed together, and no distinction between father and son, mother and daughter. Such music could never be talked about, he explained, as it was not the music handed down by the ancestors. What they like is the sound, he told me, but music and sound should never be taken as akin to each other.
Music springs from the mind while ceremonies appear in outer movements. So it is a rule to make ceremonies as brief and few as possible while giving music its full development. This rule for ceremonies leads to the forward exhibition of them where their beauty resides. This rule for music leads to the inner consideration of it where its beauty resides. If ceremonies demanding this condensation were not performed with this forward exhibition they would disappear. If music demanding this full development were not accompanied by introspection it would lead to a dissipation of the mind.
So it is that each ceremony has its proper response; for music there is introspection. Ceremonies bring pleasure while music brings about a sense of repose. The responses to ceremonies and the introspection of music spring from one and the same idea and have one and the same object.
Music arises from the modulations of sound; its embodiments are in movements of the body. These modulations and movements are the changes required by nature. They are found complete in music. King of a Hundred Streams lamented that even though people today like the sounds they produce and it brings them pleasure if the embodiments are not suitably conducted disorder arises.
In the time I spent there with Angie and the chief I learned many things. If I had stayed I might have learned of the mystery without searching so long and hard. But my wandering ways pulled me to the road early one winter. I would never see them again.
Since I do not compete I have no competition.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Description

Video of the Author Reading Aloud



When I was a child cigarettes cost just thirty five cents a pack. I remember my uncle the priest standing in the church parking lot smoking one after another while saying goodbye to his parishioners on Sunday mornings. When he came to visit our home my mother didn’t like him smoking in the house so she refused to provide him with an ashtray. Rather than going out of doors to smoke he flicked his ashes into the palm of his hand and rubbed them into his pants.
Before he left our house my uncle would always reach a coarse hand into a deep pocket to pull out some change. Sorting through the coins he would hand me a quarter and dime holding it out to me in his ashy palm. As he did so he would wink while cautioning me not to take the money and buy cigarettes with it. I always felt like winking back at him as I promised not to; when I retrieved the coins they felt dusty and smelled faintly of tobacco.
Reaching into that leathery wrinkled palm always reminded me of the moveable feast called Ash Wednesday when my uncle would make a cross on everyone’s forehead out of the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday leaves while admonishing them to turn away from sin. I thought how he might well have used cigarette ashes instead of burning the old palm leaves and how no one would know the difference.
When I grew older I wondered why my uncle was tempting me. If his goal was to keep me from buying cigarettes it seemed odd he would always give me the exact amount required to purchase them. I wondered if his intention wasn’t to provide me with a little spending money so much as it was a test of my resolve. Perhaps he thought temptation must be present before a person knew if they were strong enough to resist it. A description of temptation might not have been enough; he sought to make it real.
Other people have goals in their lives. They have purpose. They know where their life is heading. The experience of their lives is real and concrete. They hold an image of the perfect world in their hearts as they spend their days striving towards it. To these people the description of the world is of paramount importance. Nothing else matters. By ignoring the mystery they keep to the description; by succumbing to temptation their lives are filled with desire.
The strong attack the weak. Great countries look to conquer small countries to prove their greatness. They muster armies along with myriad weapons of destruction; when the small countries have been laid to waste the learned of the great countries write down the history of these exploits. As they grow up the students revel in their learning. Thus war is repeated generation after generation.
While he lived my uncle always seemed disappointed both in me and in my actions. He expected me to live a life without sin and yet I was a sinner. In his descriptions of heaven there was no room for a person of my caliber. He made a point of informing me how much I would have to change in order to become a man of god. I wanted to tell my uncle how I had no expectations of heaven or of god but I knew I would only disappoint him all the more.
I suspect my quiet cemented his suspicions.
Having no expectations I find I am never disappointed. By following the source I forego the description of experience; by stilling desire I leave temptation behind; by acting in the moment I let go of the promise of tomorrow and the sadness of yesterday’s regrets.
By keeping to the mystery I am without substance. People enjoy pleasant music and good food and fine paintings. They smoke their cigarettes and drink too much while telling others not to follow their example. They describe the way of the world; they caution me to be aware of sin; they do not walk the way of the mystery. These are all descriptions of experience. But the mystery is without flavor; it cannot be heard; looked for, it cannot be seen. Use it and it cannot be exhausted.
So I cultivate peace and happiness; I allow the mystery to rest in my heart.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Without

The Author Reading Aloud

After my young wife died during childbirth I was left without direction or purpose. We had been a family. We were building a home together, a life. Though her parents disapproved my wife had seen something in me no one else ever noticed before.
I’d been working at a job site some thousand miles away. Though I worried about her she allayed my concerns by assuring me it would be months before she gave birth. Since we needed the money I left her there in the care of her family.
When they told me what had happened I was consumed with guilt. At their funeral I was sure everyone was looking at me knowing it was my fault my wife and my son lay dead. In every spoken word I heard her name. In every waking moment I longed for the peace sleep would bring. In every dream I saw her. She was standing in a doorway waving goodbye. When I called out she turned away as she closed the door softly.
I drank to find solace in forgetfulness. For a time I did. But I would always sober up and the memories would come rushing back. So I drank more. Though I knew she would never approve I also knew she was gone. So I drank.
I found myself lost in a strange city on a chilly autumn night. A store window showed me my reflection. I looked disheveled, hungry, and alone. A black cat sitting on an orange pumpkin grinned at me. There were dusty bottles in the store window too with dirt and junk piled in the corners as if someone was going to fix it up but then grew tired and stopped.
Standing there staring at myself I smelled something bad; it was me. I hadn’t bathed in weeks. I felt ashamed of how I had deteriorated. Looking about me the street was empty. It pleased me to be alone in such misery.
I walked on. I came to an old church with a rusty padlock on the door. A hand-written sign taped to the door said closed. It must have been closed a long time; the sign looked faded and weather-beaten. I recalled my uncle’s church as being bigger but I was young then and the whole world seemed bigger.
I walked around back to the alleyway to test the back door. It too was padlocked but a window up high was broken out. By turning a rusty metal garbage can upside down I was able to stand on it and gain entry.
The old church was darkened; a nearby streetlamp threw enough light in the window that as my eyes adjusted I could make out overturned and broken pews with trash—empty wine bottles, discarded food containers, old clothing—covering the floor. I kicked aside the garbage to turn an unbroken pew right side up as I lay out my bedroll on it. I fell into a troubled sleep.
I dreamed it was springtime and I was a boy again suffering under one of my uncle’s rages. As the crack of his words dissipated he looked at me a long time, a sad kind of look; as if he knew whatever he said would be lost upon me, as if he were gauging whether or not to waste any more of his energy. And then he thundered that I would go to hell for my sins.
Waking I could still hear his words echoing through the abandoned church where I found myself. I wondered if hell was where I was. Listening to the rats scurrying under the pew where I lay it seemed as if it might be. I remembered how I wanted to tell my uncle that once I got to hell my sins would no longer matter. It dawned on me that if I was in hell then all my sins had been absolved.
The guilt I had carried with me for so long began to evaporate as I realized the world does not reside outside of me. The world is me. Looking up through the gaping fissures in the roof of that old church at the autumn stars wheeling through the heavens I realized they did not exist on their own apart from me. Though that night of my grieving seemed never-ending I realized when the dark is long it is because I make it so.
When those who are loved pass away they are bitterly lamented. Mourning taken to its absolute depths should stop there, however. The living glory in life, not in death; the virtuous take their mourning to the extreme and then let it go in order to go on living.
The good, the clean, and the careful people of the world are thieves of virtue. Having never suffered great loss they have yet to achieve their desires so they are full of anxiety. Once their desires are achieved they are full of anxiety that they should lose them. When they are anxious they will lose the things of their desires there is little they will not do.
I left my wandering and my drunken ways. I cleaned myself up. I took a new wife and found a job someone of my nature could perform well. Together we grew a new family of laughing babies and happy times. I never forgot but I ceased to wallow in my memories; instead I learned to revel in the moment.
Now I am an old man; once again I find myself alone in the world, without family, with no purpose, and without any clear direction. Since I have the mystery to comfort me, however, I know my non-purpose and non-direction as signs of it and not of my misery.
Without leaving my mat I know the whole world. Without gazing at the sky I see the ways of heaven. The farther I travel the less I know. From a distance I appear stern. When approached I am mild-mannered. When listened to my words are firm and decided.
I see without looking. I listen without hearing. I know without learning. I work without doing.
This is the way of the mystery.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Interfering

The Author Reading Chapter 48 - Interfering



I always thought there must be a mystery in the world about which no one would tell me. The mystery wasn’t to be found in any book; I had read them all. The mystery wasn’t to be found in the universities; I had attended all the classes. The mystery wasn’t to be found on mountain tops; I had climbed them all.
I always thought people were interfering with me so that I would stop seeking for the mystery of the world that no one wanted me to know about. I imagined them outside in the dark hiding in weeds watching me through lighted windows ready to pounce upon me should I come too close to my goals. Though I pulled down the shades and stayed up all night lest they break into my abode during my sleep to steal my dreams I never saw anyone at all.
After a while I began wondering if I was wrong about the mystery in the world. I reasoned that if such a mystery existed everyone would know of it. Libraries would be filled with the knowledge. The mystery’s splendor would be written across the mountains and reflected by every ocean. Every scholar would be aware of it and teach it willingly.
I took a family and a job. In time life interfered until I forgot about any lingering trace of the mystery. Once in a great while I might hear a snatch of song that reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on; once in a blue moon I might catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a fleeting image that seemed both foreign and familiar at the same time; when I looked it was gone.
I immersed myself in the world of desire; I no longer had any time to dream of the mystery. I told myself I had imagined it all. I scolded myself for letting my sense of the mystery interfere with my life for as long as it did. I knew there was no one waiting outside my windows watching me; I knew there never was anything in the world like the mystery I had chased after so intensely that I exhausted myself. What a fool I had been.
Sometimes it seems as if I’ve done it all. I no longer have the strength of my youth. Everyone wanted to make me into what they thought I should be, not what I wanted to be. When I wouldn’t be what they desired they turned on me. They always had to have more. I gave them everything asking nothing in return; that is what I got.
Sometimes I wonder what it was I wanted. It must have been something.
In the days before I knew of the mystery I went to school eager to learn all I could from the great masters. In the pursuit of learning about the world, each day I obtained new knowledge and precious ideas.
When I heard of the mystery I quit school and scorned the masters. In the pursuit of the mystery, every day I dropped a little part of my knowledge and let go of each one of my precious ideas like dropping pearls one by one in the dust.
Though I know I will never attain great virtue, by gathering up a store of small virtues I may gradually pass and repass the boundary. Still, these branches of learning that are picked up in answering and replying, in advancing and receding, leave me lacking in essential wisdom. Even in mediocre work and study there is something worthwhile; but if I stay with these pursuits for too long a time there is a danger of them proving inapplicable. Therefore I do not practice this mode of behavior.
There are those who say not to associate with people who cannot be a blessing to me. I have heard it said these people will interfere with the path I walk, leading me down dark corridors. This is different from what I have learned. I honor the talented and the virtuous yet I bear with everyone. I praise the good and pity the incompetent. Since I have no great talents or virtues are there those who refuse to associate with me? What right do I have to pick and choose who is right and who is wrong?
For one word people are often taken for being wise; for one word people are often deemed to be foolish. Therefore I take much care in what I say. Without knowing the force of words it is impossible to know people.
Pursuing the mystery means less and less is said and done until non-action blossoms into being. When nothing is said and done, nothing is left unsaid and undone.
The world is ruled by allowing things to be as they are. The world isn’t what we think it is or proclaim it to be. It cannot be ruled by interfering.
That is the way of the mystery.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Wholeness

She was diagnosed in the spring of her fortieth year. Though she had been troubled with pain for years the doctors all pooh-pashed it, gave her some pills, and sent her on her way. When the spasms of hurt became too much for her to bear she collapsed at work.
The hospital called me on a Tuesday afternoon so I left my job to rush right over. By the time I arrived the emergency room physician had done some scans. The doctor discovered a mass in my wife’s pelvis. The physician referred us to an ontology specialist who said a biopsy was in order. Two days later the cancer was confirmed. It had metastasized by the time they caught it though. They advised us that her chances for survival were nil.
She insisted on aggressive therapy. I felt it was my wife’s call to make. The children were only in their early teens. She wanted to be there for them; she desired for our family to remain whole. I guess she hadn’t reckoned on the side effects of the treatment being worse than the disease. When she died six weeks later on a cold September night I had learned hard lessons about how to insert catheters and intravenous needles and other niceties that go hand in hand with late-stage cancer. As she withered away the children watched in helpless horror by her bedside.
Sometimes even now I awaken wondering why her part of the bed is empty. Is she fixing breakfast? As I come more fully awake of course I remember. I wonder if I should have advised her not to have the radiation and the chemotherapy that so sapped her strength turning her into a living skeleton. I know she would have died either way but she went through so much suffering for nothing.
We take what authority figures like doctors and nurses say as gospel. But they aren’t the ones who will suffer when the treatment ends up killing the patient more quickly than the disease it is meant to alleviate.
When I follow the dictates of society I am ensnared by it. I am constrained in my choices. The moral choices that I make are identical to the values of society. Everything in life is an ethical activity. When I do this instead of that I do so because it is better.
The children are grown now and on their own. My wife has been in her grave for many years. These days I often travel deep into the mountains far from society; I am free to follow the mystery. When I am all alone from my vantage point I see there is more than one moral structure called society; there are many.
All these moral structures are little empires onto themselves. Each of these moral codes is fighting one another for supremacy. They are not simply conflicting rules; there is a deep underlying clash between the old and the new, the good and the evil, the haves and the have-nots.
By following these moral codes people are forced to pick and choose which ones are of value. They choose the one and neglect the rest. Their lives are never complete; they are full of desire forever grasping for that which they do not possess. Rotten wood cannot be carved; a tower of dirt will not stand. While others may rival their wisdom no one can match their stupidity.
When I follow the mystery there is fullness. Though I have nothing I am complete and whole. Since I have no desire I practice non-action. I let go of that and do not choose this. I keep these four characteristics in mind: I am humble in my conduct; I am respectful in serving others; I am kind in dealing with people; I am just in leading others.
When I rise from sleep and stumble onto the dusty mountain path I see no east and west in the sky; it is whole and clear. When I climb high on a ridge and look down upon the world below I see no north and south; the earth is whole and firm. When I see my reflection in a clear mountain lake I see no separate body and soul; I am whole and strong.
Naming these things I see no up and down in the valley of experience; it is whole and full. The clarity of the morning sky allows me to see. The firmness of the humble earth allows me to walk. The strength of my spirit prevents it from being used up. The fullness of the valley of experience prevents it from being exhausted.
Learning virtue without proper cultivation, not thoroughly discussing that which was learned, not moving towards a righteousness that I have discovered, being unable to change that which is not good, these are things which occasion me concern.
So I see that being humble like the earth is the core of nobility. I see that the low valley is the foundation of all high knowledge. I see that too much success is never an advantage. I do not draw attention to myself by showing off my wealth and chattering of my hubris.
I consider myself worthless, orphaned, and widowed, and I am free and whole.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Beginning of Folly

I seem to remember when I was very small how my older sisters used to read me fairy tales from children’s books. They were scary stories full of wolves and bears and crocodiles and though the colorful characters all wore smiles on their faces those grins were always full of sharp and pointed teeth. Though I was frightened I couldn’t bring myself to turn away.
I learned to write my letters by tracing their geometric patterns with a finger on my thigh as my sisters read. After the reading was done and I was supposed to be sleeping I would crawl from bed to get my crayons and my coloring book to try my hand at tracing the letters for real. Though I tried again and again I remember how I could never seem to get them quite right.
I thought how the patterns of my creation should mirror the objects of my ideas. It surprised me when they did not. I thought if only I mastered those patterns then they would be true representations of the world. So I practiced all the time. But I never got them right. When I grew older I knew this as the beginning of folly.
Though we tell ourselves we are creatures of intellect and reason we live within a myth-bound world. Science has taught us that only the objective world has value. This is called the myth of independence.
One day I learned to sit quietly; the world began to slow down. The more I practiced the more the world slowed until in the stillness of my heart I came upon the memory of the mystery. How could I have forgotten?
One who remembers the mystery comes to see that objects begin with the idea of those objects; objects do not exist as independent things apart and forever separate from the observer of them. By neglecting the mystery the world is its own beginning.
When the mystery is forgotten, goodness arises. When goodness is forgotten, kindness arises. When kindness is forgotten, justice arrives. When justice is forgotten, ritual comes into being.
Ritual is the belief in these representations of experience, not in the mystery of the source. Ritual is the beginning of confusion. To know the future is to believe in the trappings of experience. This is known as the beginning of folly.
Fine words and an insinuating appearance are seldom connected with true virtue. I am neither proud of my wealth nor do I flatter others in my poverty. Though I find myself living a life of wealth I uphold the rules of propriety. Should I lose all my riches to become mired in poverty I hold onto my cheerfulness. This is known as sustaining the proper sequence.
When people are guided by laws they seek to avoid punishment but have no sense of shame. If people are led by virtue and learn to follow decorum they develop a sense of shame; they become good of their own accord without threat of retribution. For a person to sacrifice to a god that doesn’t feel right to them is known as flattery. To see what is right and not to do it is known as lack of courage.
These days I write the stories that others read. I call them my stories yet they are but mirrors of the mystery. If I tried to force them into being in the same way I used to work at copying those letters from the books my sisters read to me I would fail to get the stories right. Rather, these stories arise from nowhere; they are not my stories any more than is the world. They are not meant to impress the readers but to perhaps inspire them to lead a better life.
When I do a good turn I do not see the good that I do. When a fool tries to do a good turn they brag about it and so it is not good. By not-doing anything I leave nothing undone. A fool is always doing something and so much remains to be done.
It is needless to speak of things that are done; it is needless to remonstrate about things that have run their course; it is needless to blame things that are past. Why should I contemplate high offices filled with indulgent generosity, ceremonies performed without reverence, or mourning conducted without sorrow?
I dwell on what is real and not what is merely on the surface. I focus on the fruit and not on the flower. I accept one and reject the other.
The cautious seldom err.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Heaven's Net

My uncle was an acknowledged expert on what it took for a person to get into heaven; I listened to him many Sunday mornings preaching his sermons, his eyes alight and his hair ablaze in the glory of his god. Even as a child I knew his words were but foolery. He spoke them with such certainty that he had to be mistaken.
He no doubt looked at me as an expert at what it took not to get into heaven. He counseled me to walk in the certain light of his god. Instead I walk in the uncertain darkness of the mystery. He counseled me to take Jesus by the hand and forget all my troubles. I have known nothing but trouble all my days yet my heart is serene.
I loved my uncle as a man while he loved his god as his servant. My uncle’s god asked him to devote his life to teaching that which everyone already knows. The mystery asks nothing of me so I devote my life to not-teaching that which no one knows.
My uncle and I were together only a short while—less than fourteen years—before a horrid fire in his church took his life. At his funeral the priest said how angels were sent down by God to bring home the faithful folk like my uncle. I envisioned heaven’s net being cast down from on high gathering in his ardent spirit to be hauled before his god for his day of reckoning. For a long time after I prayed that day went well for my uncle.
I’m sure my mother loved her older brother as I loved mine yet I always sensed a splintered crack separating their love. When my uncle visited our home my mother returned to her little girl days eager to please him but she always seemed to be falling short. Today I recognize the same sickness in the love I felt for my older brothers.
A troubled person is drowned in water; I am drowned by my mouth. Water is always nearby yet those who know it not drown in its depths. Its nature makes it easy to play with but dangerous to approach. The mouth is loquacious and troublesome for words once uttered have scant repentance; people are easily ruined by them.
If people are taught lessons of virtue and uniformity by rules of ceremony their minds will dwell on what is good; if they are taught by laws and uniformity is enforced by punishment their minds will be thinking of how to escape. If I bind people to me by my good faith they do not turn away from me. If I show them courtesy their hearts are docile to me. I watch how others use restraints of punishment against people calling them laws. In this case people become bad and are isolated.
Words begin as threads but when spoken they become as rope binding the speaker. Therefore I do not take the lead in idle chatter. I never speak words which may be spoken but not embodied in deeds nor do I perform actions which may be done in deed but not expressed in words. In this fashion my words are carried into action without risk and my actions can be spoken of without risk.
I once met a brave and passionate man. We were traveling together on a passenger train going west to the sea. Over the course of the trip we talked of many things while watching the scenery flow past the windows. He must have come to feel comfortable in confiding his secret to me as he whispered how his wife had run off with another man; opening his coat he showed me a pistol he carried; he told me how he planned on killing them both or to die trying.
I once met a brave and calm man. We were traveling together in a truck while working as barkers in a carnival. Our talk served to pass the long hours driving down one Interstate highway after another. On the last day in each others’ company he whispered to me how his wife had run off with another man; he showed me his tears; he told me how he planned on letting them go. He said only God had the right to judge them.
I often wonder which of these two is good and which is evil? I suppose some things aren’t favored by heaven but no one knows why. Even the wise are not sure of this; so I practice disinterest and revel in not-doing.
Now I am as old as my uncle the priest on the day he perished. Unlike him I don’t talk much but of course I never did. Our natures differed in that. While he made a life of standing before his flock leading them to the nets of heaven I sit silently staring out of the backdoor screen at the hummingbirds flitting about and dancing bumble bees and lazy cats sleeping in the sunshine.
Because the highest virtue is found in disinterest I never yelp about God. When I think of heaven I think of the mystery. It doesn’t strive but it always overcomes all obstacles. It never speaks and yet it is always answered. The mystery asks for nothing yet it is supplied with all its needs. It seems to have no purpose yet its every aim is fulfilled.
It is said heaven’s net casts wide; though its meshes are coarse nothing slips through.
This is the way of heaven.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Body and Soul

When my uncle told me I would go to hell for my sins I knew he didn’t mean I would go there bodily. I knew he meant my ever-lasting soul would burn in that lake of fiery torment for all time. I wanted to tell him of the mystery but I had no words. I still don’t.
There was a time when I was the world, not a part of the world. I know this instinctively although there was also a time when the feeling was quite foreign to me. I rejected the one by embracing the many.
Now I embrace the one by rejecting the many.
I don’t remember being a baby. But over the years I have learned what it means to be a baby by watching my own children as they grew into the world. By learning to be a baby again and what it means to be a part of all this I see a mirror of me studying to be a part of it all.
There are those with whom I may learn in common but I find them unable to go along with me in principle. Perhaps we may go along together in principle but I find they are unable to become established with me on these. If we manage to become established in principle I find them unable to weigh occurring events along with me.
I was taught to look at the world objectively. I studied the world like it was something quite apart from me, like it might be nothing more than pictures in a book. I thought I could disappear from the face of the earth and look at it undistorted, like God looking down from heaven. What rubbish!
Growing up I was known as a big part of all the trouble in the world. My uncle warned me to stop doing the evil things I did. If I could have made him understand I might have told him the only way I knew to be part of the world was to be parcel to the misdeeds that were the foundations of everything. I knew such talk was blasphemous in his ears so I kept quiet and in continual trouble.
I would have told him the only way to find out about the world is to care for it, to win its love and respect. The only way to learn about the world is to believe in it and to have it believe in me. The only way to learn about the world is to immerse myself in it and to let it immerse itself in me. The only way to know the world is to suffer its pain. That makes all the difference.
A baby is one with the universe. Soon, though, a baby grows into two people. One is the world; one is the baby. One is the body; one is the soul. One is full of suffering; one is disinterested.
I am like two people: one who feels at home and the other who wants to leave. The first person doesn’t show itself to others. It will never be any count and knows it. The other person loves to show off. It revels in pride. The first person never speaks. The second person never stops speaking. The first person is the mystery. This second person I know.
I say I have a body and I have a soul. Why do I embrace the one and neglect the other? There is no telling them apart. By cleansing my soul of desire my body is without blemish. By discovering the face I wore before I was born I dream the original dream.
I hold loyalty and sincerity as first principles. Having no friends unequal to me I am unafraid to drop my faults. I dislike none; I covet nothing. Should someone refuse my words of admonition they shun that which is valuable in the manner of changing their conduct. When they are displeased with my gentle advice I can do nothing for them.
My uncle the priest worried about my soul. I wanted to tell him my soul was eternal and so it might be better to worry about this frail and mortal body. But I hadn’t the method to inform him of the mystery.
By keeping compassion in my heart I am without cunning. By understanding the shadows from which I came I see the root from which experience springs forth. By quieting my thoughts I open myself to all things. By considering the gloom behind my eyes I do nothing and yet achieve everything.
I take what I need and leave the rest. My load is light for I possess nothing. I let others take the credit so I can better lead without dominating. The wise are free from perplexities; the virtuous are free from anxieties; the bold are free from fear.
This is the way of the universe.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Achievement

The world is full of achievement. Most people spend their lives seeking to attain success, wealth, and fame. These are all great things to be sure but they are not the highest achievement.
Almost everyone lives their life alone though they are surrounded by the mass of humanity. Almost everyone has a secret they never share; they spend their life hoping no one guesses what it is. By living in pretense they deny themselves the truth of their achievement.
The truth is that all their wealth and success are built upon a foundation of folly and futility. It may comfort them to hold these things dear but when death comes a-calling they will be willing to pay any price to have just one more day of life, nay, another hour, even a minute more. All those high and mighty achievements pale beside that one little thing that sneaks in through the back door when no one is looking.
I never tell anyone that I know their secret. They think I don’t see how weak they are and how confused. I let them pretend they are big and strong; I let them imagine I am soft and feeble. If they think I am as mixed up as they are then they will leave me alone. If I smile just right they believe I am as unhappy as they are.
One summer many years ago while crossing from Tennessee into Arkansas over the wide Mississippi in a place which had no bridge I marveled at the expertise of the ferryman. I asked him if such a skill could be learned. It can, he replied. Good swimmers learn quickly but a diver who has never seen a boat manages it at once. I thought perhaps he had misunderstood my question as he hadn’t answered me directly so I asked him what he meant.
He said good swimmers since they forget the water and its dangers acquire the skill of sailing the boat quickly. As to those who are able to dive and having never seen a boat, they manage it at once. They look at the watery gulf as a hillside and the ups and downs of the boat as a ride in the country. Such happenings have occurred to them a multitude of times so they do not affect their minds. Wherever they go they feel at ease.
I’ve been told I was a troublemaker as a child. My parents would send me to church so that I might there find salvation but instead of turning left at the fork in the road and achieving my goal I would somehow end up turning right to spend my Sunday mornings smoking cigarettes I bought with the money I’d been given for the collection plate while playing pool with the other miscreants at the pool hall.
Of course word trickled back to my folks from my uncle the priest who missed my shining face sitting in the familiar pew. The following Sunday I would be driven by my scowling father and my mournful mother in the family automobile to the church steps with stern words of warning from my folks. But again, instead of turning left into the church I somehow got sidetracked into turning right invariably finding my way back to that smoky old pool room.
My uncle came to our house one dire Saturday. He sat me down to talk to me, words of doom and how disaster would follow me the rest of my days lest I repent. He always said I would go to hell for my sins. But I figured when I got there my sins would no longer matter. I wanted to explain that to him but I knew he would never listen. So instead of learning to speak I learned not-speaking.
I talk very little even when spoken to. I learned from my uncle that those who talk much know little. He always spoke of what he knew. Of what I know I cannot speak.
By taking the world of troubles on his shoulders my uncle could never rest easy. The great problems of humanity weighted him down with baggage he couldn’t seem to shed. By masking my knowledge I simplify my problems.
I once observed a contest of skill between several groups of pool players. In the first contest the prize was but a shiny ribbon worth very little. I noticed how the players were able to put forth all their skill. The second contest was for a large trophy with the winner’s name emblazoned upon it for all to see. I witnessed how the players shot timorously. The final contest was for a golden medal. I noted how the players shot as if they were blind.
So I shield my senses from bright objects of desire and temper the need to possess them. I am at one with the choking dust, with the swirling water, with the temptation of fire, with the high hard sky, and with the wind that speaks my name. This is called original union.
I am unconcerned with friends and with enemies. Though I walk alone I am surrounded with virtue. I am unconcerned with good and harm, with honor and disgrace. Though I am full of dishonor and hold my disgrace as a natural part of myself I am as innocent as a newly born baby.
This is called the highest achievement.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Executioner

I’ve worked many jobs never becoming proficient at any of them. In time the ax would always fall. While living in the north woods and unable to find any other work I hired on to cut trees and clear brush on hillsides in Canada.
I needed the job but I hadn’t reckoned on the sacrifice it demanded of me, of my family. I na├»vely believed I could leave my young wife safely behind while I made like Paul Bunyan and cut down tall trees in a land far from home.
I made a bit of money but when I got back home there was no one to share it with. While I was away the executioner had paid a visit claiming a prize too horrible for my mind to consider.
Our world is built on a foundation of mythology. In our superior times and our wondrous age we overlook that even the names we use to denote the passing of the days are remnants of the old gods who once ruled our desires and terrorized our nights; we forego the customs but we still perform the rituals.
The old gods demanded sacrifice. At first simple prayers were enough to pacify them if accompanied by a gift of grain or a spot of wine. In time those sacrifices became more complex with a whole class of priests sprouting up to act as official executioners, splitting open the chests of willing victims offering up to the gods the blood of still-beating hearts torn from the torso of the sacrificed.
The ritual of sacrifice became connected to the good resulting from it and on a par with natural law and moral behavior. In time the ritual of sacrifice came to mean religious merit so the performance of certain virtuous conduct would automatically lead to a better existence: to a secure life, wealth, and family. Ritual became the bonds which held a society together. When the priest came to be viewed as the executioner magic disappeared from the world.
When magic disappeared virtue and righteousness followed. By establishing their way as the only way, by becoming overpowering and overawing, the executioner pursued people even to their deaths. Yet life is what most people desire; death is what they dread. By shunning the execution I welcome the season of my death even as I relish this flavor of life.
Her ghost comes to me often even now, decades after her death. Our son stands with her. They are holding hands while standing in a green field dotted with summer flowers; he died a newborn but in my dreams he is a handsome man fully grown who in his looks takes more after his mother, although I see he has my eyes. I desire to linger there with them however I realize my place is here in the world; it gladdens my heart to know they wait.
Knowing their spirits watch over me I act respectfully even when I am deep in the mountains many miles and days away from other human beings. By being reverent and sincere I maintain harmony with the world. By offering my desires as a sacrifice I enrich the heaven of memories that flow at times unforeseen.
I had no money to buy a casket in which to bury them. Though I tried borrowing no one would loan me even so much as a dollar so I built a coffin myself out of scraps of lumber stacked in the attic of our garage. It was exacting work, the kind I had never before attempted; since I hated the doing it required all my skill. Each cut was an epiphany; as each nail sank into the uncaring lumber I felt a scream form deep within my soul. The salt from my eyes stained the wood. Though I tried to wipe away the tracks of my tears I am confident their marks yet remain.
As my young wife and our unborn son lay sleeping the slumber of death in that horrid plywood coffin I remember how I thought of my brother, of how he and his lover gave up their baby for adoption rather than marrying and raising a family together. They said how they weren’t ready to give up the life they had to raise a child. I wondered why some are blessed and yet turn away the proffered gift while others yearn for that same blessing and yet are denied.
Still, to offer oneself up for sacrifice is not to be taken lightly. When people identify with the son of heaven and not with heaven itself they fall back to the ways of the jungle whereby everyone approve of their own views and disapprove of the ways of others. Mutual disapproval arises resulting in the disorder of the world.
I thought of my uncle who being a priest had sacrificed any happiness he might have found in the warm arms of a woman and the shining eyes of a child. I questioned if the ache of my loss was equal to the wondrous feelings I experienced during the short time together with my family; upon reflection I knew I would have never forsaken the wonder of the love I felt for my wife and child even while knowing it would end as it did.
By returning to the mystery I witness once again the magic that creates the world. Though I will always carry the guilt by understanding the sacrifice as ritual I am absolved of my sins. By recognizing the executioner I leave him to his own devices as I hold close to the center. By using my death as a guide I forego the fear and revel in life.
In times past I understand the executioner dressed in a black cloak in reference to thoughts dark and unseen; he was shunned by others except during the ritual. Over the years customs have changed but the executioner is still avoided six days a week; instead of dressing all in black he now wears a white collar; the only time people come to see him is on the day of the Lord when fear drives them to his house of sinners and the cross holding a god of unrepentant pain.
However fine the viands may be if a person does not partake of them they will never know the taste; however perfect the lesson may be if a person does not learn it they will never know its goodness. When I learn I come to understand the paucity of my knowing; when I teach I realize the difficulty in learning. After I know my deficiencies I am able to examine myself; after I know the difficulties I am able to better stimulate my efforts. Teaching is half of the learning.
Most teachers today speak of how rapidly their students are advancing paying little regard to what they acquire. Their lessons lack sincerity; neither do they put forth all their effort into teaching them. What they inculcate is contrary to what is right and their students are disappointed in what they find. They may seem to finish their work but how quickly they give up their lessons.
The executioner knows all too well that prohibition from evil after it has manifested meets with opposition; instruction given after the time for it has passed is done with toil and difficulty; the teaching of lessons indiscriminately and without suitability produces disorder. Understanding the nature of proper instruction makes for both a good teacher and an excellent executioner.
So it is I know that even today there is always an official executioner. If I try to take the place of the teacher it would be like trying to cut plywood like a master plumber. If I try building a coffin like a master plumber I will only hurt my hand.
I know someday death will reach out to tap me on my shoulder but I am untroubled. By being a reflection of the mystery I hold both life and death dear in my heart yet neither find anywhere to enter. The mystery comes before the first breath of life and it remains when death has stolen the last gasp away.
Who in the world does not fear death? Those who are not afraid to die do not fear death; in fact they welcome it. For those who do not fear death it is no use in threatening them with the executioner. But for those who fear death, if breaking the law means they will be executed, who will dare break the law?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Strength

People look down on me and pretend that I don’t know that they do it. I can never talk to them, not really; I can never say anything to them about things of importance, things like the nature of good and evil; how these things we take for granted are merely imposters for the reality we can never know. If I make an attempt to tell anyone these things a look of befuddlement crosses their face; I know I have made a mistake.
Sadness and pleasure are symptomatic of my depraved nature; joy and anger cause me to go off course; love and hatred are a failing of my virtue. So it is that I find being free of joy and sorrow is achieving excellence; focusing my unchanging mind absolves me of the desires of pleasure and anger; to be conscious of no opposition allows love and hate to fall away. I find simplicity where there is no mingling of thought. I find the strength of purity where my spirit is unimpaired. When I take no action I engage in a constant manifestation of spontaneity.
By leaving the middle way and following the promptings of my mind I forsake my nature by invalidating the simplicity of my spirit and letting go of the essence of resting quietly in the world. By continually adding to my knowledge I grow perplexed and disordered in all things as my problems become increasingly more numerous until my mind drowns in multiplicity. By being still, by waiting patiently, by acting without any trace I rectify myself bringing my strength back to center.
My uncle was a priest; he spoke to everyone as though he knew all about good and evil. At the funeral people pretended they liked him but they talked about him behind my back, just loudly enough that I could hear. They said how the fire had sent him to hell. I remember being embarrassed for my uncle but neither did I speak up in his defense. In those days I always seemed outnumbered. I hadn’t the strength to oppose them.
Throughout my young life my uncle made a special point of telling me that I would go to hell for my sins. He had an enormous portrait in his office on the wall behind his desk of a man crossing a river in a boat that seemed to be sailing toward an island, only it wasn’t a man and it wasn’t a real river. The boat was full of shadowy souls on their way to hell; the boatman was a wraith enshrouded in hate, the river was full of flames that didn’t consume what they burned; they just blazed on and on, an eternal torment.
Being a priest my uncle had no children of his own. My mother explained how her brother had sacrificed such worldly things such as a wife and a family for his love of God. I remember him as being much older than my mother but as a boy anyone older than forty seemed as ancient as Methuselah to me.


I remember how he called me into that office one day after my mother informed her older brother of another of my endless parade of transgressions. He sat like a black mountain in a huge leather-bound chair behind his desk sternly lecturing me on the virtues of goodness. Sitting there on my hard wooden stool feeling small and the strength of God descending upon me all I wanted to do was to stare at the portrait that framed my uncle’s face. My eyes kept straying to it until I was chastised for not paying sufficient attention to his admonitions.
The portrait burned up along with my uncle and that old church of his when it caught on fire one cold January day; I remember how my mother had insisted on making me go with her to church that day. I thought it was a day like any other.
When we got close to the church we found the road was blocked by a fire truck. People were standing everywhere, watching. My mother parked and we got out of the car so we could see what had happened too. I saw flames pouring from the church windows; I saw how the firefighters drenched in sweat all had icicles hanging from their mustaches and eye brows; the people watching the fire watched in silence as if they feared drawing the boatman’s wrath as he swirled into the air in a haze of wrath and hate, smoke and soot.
I wondered for a long time if it was the portrait itself that caused the fire. I was young yet and impressionable. One day I recall how I had entered my uncle’s office alone. Standing before it I remember how detailed the picture was and how the deeper I gazed into it the more alive that portrait became. I thought how the flaming river might well have crept into the wall upon which it hung.
As a child I was of the habit of going to the church alone, knowing the doors were always unlocked. Rummaging through the dungeon that served as a basement I discovered a gang of gargoyles lurking in the darkness. Though hideous to behold I couldn’t take my eyes from them. They were grimed in dust and spidered in cobwebs as if hidden there centuries ago, held against their will until the day someone like me came along to set them free. As I stood there watching the church burn I wondered if the gargoyles would survive. I knew my uncle would not.
I remember how the policemen standing nearby had to hold my mother to keep her from bolting with all her strength into that church to save her brother. Later she cried for him, endless rivers of tears that seemed to belie the distance I always sensed between them; I missed my uncle too and wept for him along with my mother but I was not unhappy when that portrait had turned back into the ash from which it sprang.
Months later when springtime arrived and the robins were singing in the treetops I ventured into the charred ruins of what had been my uncle’s church finding my way to the dungeon where the gargoyles slept. They were cracked by the heat of the fire; most of them were broken into many pieces. I gathered up two of the unbroken ones and although I had no idea why I wanted them I carried them home, wrapping them in cloth and hiding them in the attic where I kept my other treasures. Many decades later, though I have lost all my friends, nearly all my family, and every one of my lovers, those gargoyles have followed me across the years like demented angels panting at my door waiting to come in.
My uncle was a leader of men; through guiding the shadowy souls in the boat by his force of wisdom he made sure his congregation sought out the isle of heaven instead of landing in the smoldering pit of hell. He couldn’t save himself. Being a master of myself I go beyond heaven and hell to seek out the mystery.
To be a leader of others requires the force of wisdom. To master myself requires the strength of enlightenment. Trembling and in solitude I remain where I am, seeking the restoration of my true nature. Nothing more is needed for my enjoyment.
When I know I have enough I am rich. By staying where I am I endure. By persevering I cultivate my willpower.

By being eternally present I die and yet I do not perish.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Failing

My love affair began decades ago. Though born and raised in the flatlands of the Midwest I’d been drawn to the Rocky Mountains ever since I learned of their existence. When I was still a boy leaving my home and family behind I journeyed deep into forested peaks not knowing what I would find.
I discovered love. I walked on uncharted paths. I worshiped the high places. I adored the low valleys. When I came home from my travels I found adulation in the eyes of those to whom I told my stories. I inspired others by my tales of mad adventures.
To my horror they sought out the unknown even though I told them they were not ready for what they would find there. Most of them died in the wilderness failing to perceive their danger until too late. Some of them returned to curse me for not having warned them more strenuously. A very few of them looked at me and nodded.
Like the mountains I thought love was unbreakable. I thought love was something apart from me; I thought I fell into love, like it was there waiting for me. Because I did not understand the nature of the universe I failed to understand the nature of love.
The universe is relative and subjective. What do I mean when I say the universe is relative and subjective? I mean that all time and space are relative to the observer of that particular time and space. By failing to see the universe is relative and subjective I see the universe starting with objects, not with the perception of them.
I fail to fathom the mystery.
By offering the mystery I bring others back to what they have lost. Living in obscurity I am manifest. By taking care with small things I overcome calamity. My generous largeness cannot be kept in obscurity. My courtesy keeps shame at bay. By knowing the mystery I set order to confusion before it happens. In this way trouble is overcome before it starts.
By my gravity and reverence I become stronger every day; by indifference and want of restraint deterioration sets in. Since I never know when my death will find me I cannot afford to allow myself any irregularity even for one day lest I die in dishonor. Those without honor are familiar and insolent. By being so they may bring death upon themselves yet they give it no thought.
There is a perfect path, the righteous path, and the calculated path. Those who see the perfect path naturally and easily own it; the wise practice righteousness for the advantage which it brings; those who fear being found guilty of transgression practice it by constraint.
Humanity is like a heavy vessel and a long road. If I try to lift the vessel I cannot sustain its weight; should I try to travel the road I fail to accomplish the distance. There is nothing that has so many different degrees as humanity; should I nerve myself to it I find it a difficult task. If I measure humanity with the scale of righteousness I find it difficult to discover what I seek. When I look at people and compare them with one another I know who among them are more worthy.
By never giving up the way, by forgetting the winter of my age and taking no thought that the years ahead will be insufficient to the task, by urging myself on with earnestness from day to day, I only give up when I sink into death.
These days in speaking I reflect on what might be the end of my words and examine whether there may not be some error in my conduct. By being circumspect in all I say while keeping reverence in my heart I am unstained in my ways.
When I have doubts and perplexities I lead others astray. By not discharging my duties others in my purview groan beneath their load. By dealing reverently with infliction of punishment I spread my lessons wide. By taking care I set examples for others and so I am treated with respect. I do not consult with others before acting. In this fashion I never by little counsels fail at great enterprises.
If I act I defeat my own purpose. If I grasp I am lost already. By not acting I am never defeated. The small is easily scattered; by not grasping I never lose it. The brittle is easily shattered; by not holding on too tightly I never break it. I do not cling to ideas; in this way new ideas continually arise.
This is the way of the mystery.
A great tree wider than my embrace begins as a tiny seed. A skyscraper a quarter mile high begins with a pile of dirt. A journey of ten thousand miles begins by taking a single step outside my door.
Once while walking deep in the mountains I suffered a broken ankle by taking a fall on a slippery rock. Alone and in pain I struggled mightily expending my strength when I should have been conserving it. Just when I felt my will ebbing away like a spring drying up I saw the buzzards circling above where I lay waiting to feast on my rotting body. Without understanding it I spotted something red flickering through the trees. It was my truck. I had made it back to camp without realizing it.
People usually fail right when they stand on the edge of success. So now I take as much care at the end of my journey as at the beginning; in this way I never fail. I seek freedom from desire so I do not collect precious things.
By knowing the mystery peace is easily maintained. By allowing everything to find its own nature I practice non-action.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Space Between

When everything gets to be too much I run away; I am a coward; I cannot face my demons head-on. Instead I seek out the space between the desires that drive my life and the mystery that is the foundation of experience. Each time I find myself overwhelmed by the world I seem to find my way into the mountains where the air is hard to breathe and my dreams are surreal; they are filled with a potency they lack in the lowlands.
Deep in the mountains day breaks very early. Everything is quiet. A late January dawn comes stepping so quietly over the mountains that they are barely visible above the nascent pines. I don’t quite know what it is that wakes me... the chill of the air, perhaps, or the crack of stone falling from on high.
Or maybe it is the mystery.
I crawl from my bedroll intending to kindle a fire to brew coffee but first I stop. I stand without thought drinking in the morning. The breeze rattling through the trees is speaking in tongues. Though I listen long I cannot decipher its message. The wind has no interest in me. It does not care if I am here or not here. The days are constantly being reborn without any help from me.
I am alone. I have walked four days to reach this spot; I have not seen anyone else during my journey. Hunting season is over so like every year at this time the forest seems abandoned. I know I have never been so far away from another human being. If only I could I would go even farther until no one remembered my name or that I ever existed at all. I would dream a dream of myself and know I was dreaming.
I would become as disinterested as the mystery.
The mystery that comes before experience is like the crack of dawn deep in the mountains; it is disinterested. It sees these things that I name as that which arises, flourishes a short while, and then all is destroyed. In this way experience is constantly renewed and yet it is never exhausted.
I’ve known countless people in my life. Each has left an indelible mark upon me. Some of these people were takers who would never think of giving; others were givers who never thought of taking; a few neither gave nor took. Were I more like the mystery I would inhabit the space between this giving and that taking.
By attempting to injure others I am injured in return. By trying to please others I am merely adding fire to fire and water to water. There is no end to these signs of deferral. By entering the space between these two I bend to no one and yet I accept the world in all its suffering. I have heard of knowledge of the wise. I have not-heard of knowledge of the unwise.
In all manner of human discourse there are two cautionary considerations: one is what is naturally right while the other is the conviction of what is right. A child discovers duty in the love of the parent; a follower finds their obligation in serving the leader. When the child and the follower, the parent and the leader, do what they cannot but do virtue enters in the space between these two.
In all things this is so; people are at first sincere but always end by becoming rude. In the beginning things are treated as trivial but as the end nears these matters assume great proportions. Hasty vengeful thoughts arise and no one knows why. By keeping a reference to unavoidable obligations the mind finds enjoyment in the circumstance of position. The best thing is to be ready to sacrifice oneself; this is the most difficult of my teachings and the most far-reaching.
I am disinterested. I witness people being born, flourishing a short while, and then passing back to the mystery from which we all both move away from and back toward. In this way this gathering of lovers is constantly renewed and yet it is never wearied.
As I walk the rocky paths high in the mountains I recall a time when I held onto hope even when everything seemed hopeless. I could think of no reason to expect anything better so I quit expecting anything. I took a breath and then another. In my defeat I found victory. In my every victory I am defeated.
The space between that which I name and the mystery of the nameless is a breath, nothing more; it is merely an inhalation followed by the exhalation, a heart skipping a beat, the whispering grass under the rustling serpent meandering through the weeds.
The shapes of these things change but their forms remain. If this were not so I would wander like a new-born baby full of wonder and empty of regret.
Long speeches weary the listeners. By keeping to the center I avoid the extremes.
This is the way of the universe.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Knowing Myself

There is always someone trying to make me feel inferior by offering ways for me to improve. Of course they do this without any expense to themselves. I call it ego-climbing but there is plenty of just plain meanness involved too.
I suppose they are mad about something though I can never be sure of what. I have heard it said that there are places in the world where living in poverty still offers a sense of dignity. But I have learned living here if you are poor, you are just poor. If you are rich you are somebody. If you are poor you are nobody.
At one time I found myself down and out, no food in my belly and no place to lay my head. I saw a fine house up ahead of me and thinking surely these people could spare a bite and a bed in exchange for a bit of work I knocked upon the door. No one answered and so I knocked again. An angry man answered telling me while pointing a shot gun in my face to be on my way before he called the police to have me arrested for vagrancy and trespassing.
I wandered on. The night grew darker and the threat of rain became real. I saw a tiny shack hidden in the weeds with one dim light filtering through a filthy windowpane. I knew these people would have nothing to spare but in my misery I hoped perhaps they might let me spend the night under the overhang that served them as a porch and so keep out of the coming storm.
Before I could knock the door opened. A ragged man stood there. He seemed happy to see me, as if he’d been expecting someone but couldn’t be sure who and now that I had arrived he was glad to see it was me. He invited me in and fed me a meal of fine soup and freshly baked bread. When I went to roll out my bedroll on the floor he provided me with an air mattress to make it all the more comfortable.
In the morning he fed me a good breakfast of pancakes and real maple syrup he was proud to say he had collected and boiled down himself. Afterwards he gave me a ride out to the Interstate highway in an old rickety pickup truck with bald tires and a loud muffler. Before we parted he pressed a five dollar bill into my hand saying that I had more need of it than he.
I never saw that man again but I hold his kindness in my heart.
I sit quietly to empty myself of all thought. My mind becomes still as a pond reflecting the sky. Like the quiet mountain meadow watching the coming and going of days I watch as these thoughts arise, flourish, and pass away and then return once more. They grow and flourish and return to the source.
I ply the depths of the water and emerge intact; I walk over hot coals without burns; I climb the highest of heights without fear. How do I attain this state? It is not to be described as skill or daring; by maintaining perfect breath I am without form and so beyond the capability of being transformed. I lie concealed in the clue which has no end and so nothing can injure me.
Returning to the source of experience is stillness. This is not the way of knowledge but of insight. The source of experience is the unchanging mystery. Understanding its constancy is insight. Not realizing its constancy will lead to disaster.
By opening my mind my heart is opened as well. With an open heart I act royally. By being royal I obtain the divine. By being divine I am at one with the mystery. Being one with the mystery is eternal. For though my body will one day die, the mystery will never pass away.