Saturday, January 26, 2013
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.
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.