Preface: The Pratyeka’s Garden

The  Pratyeka’s Garden

 

Preface

Mining the Tropes of Our Lives

there we were again, inside,
drawn down the narrow shaft of perspective
past mind’s open maw
into the pit of coal and diamonds
where the empty ache of eons rests
above, below, and all around us
in the bones of the ages

there we were again, inside the mind,
mining the tropes of our lives
for archetypes

and blinking at each other
faces blackened with soot
our eyes startled out like headlights
when we remembered
what we left above
for this dark

the light
the breeze
the open field

the leaves of fall
the winter sleep
the green spring
the light summer dresses rippling in the breeze

Introduction

In the development of different Buddhist canons certain paths were recognized and Buddha consciousness was characterized according to the actions of the awakened one. Self-realized beings like Gautama Buddha are denoted by three things. They teach, bring enlightenment to others, and leave a legacy in the form of a canon, community or religion. They came to be characterized as samyaksambuddhas.

Other Buddhas give moral teaching reluctantly and do not bring others to enlightenment or leave a legacy. In some traditions these pratyekbuddhas are devalued or marginalized on the basis that their paths are unique, personal, eccentric and eclectic. They can be seen as exiles or outlanders. This seems to be thoughtless, considering that all great samyaksambuddhas are also pratyekbuddhas because their newly brought forth wisdom is gained on a personal, unique path.

Traditionalists rightfully see the unique path of the pratyekabuddha may offer more confusion and distraction to the seeker than the carefully blocked out orderly steps of the traditional path, which is reasonably homogeneous across varying schools sharing the particular root. The path of the canon, community and religion is embraced, assigned a favorable status, institutionalized. Ironically it becomes closed to that which it grew out of; the newly brought forth wisdom gained on the personal, unique path of the first message bearer, an unknown pratyekbuddha.

A pratyeka’s garden may not be combed and perfected to the simple elegance of the classic zen garden. It is unruly in its ways. It is a tree, a meadow, a river in four seasons, by turns riotous in spring and silently stark in winter. Perfection is there in a dynamic chaos which does not obscure that perfection.

Pratyeka is my path, not my status. I can’t confirm or deny my status, it eludes me. It defies measure, although many people think they can take my measure quite handily and assign me a status accordingly. I can’t deny my consciousness, it would be pointless to do that.

I can confirm my path. The expressions of my path have been and may continue to be indeed eccentric, personal and eclectic. I will nudge whoever is put in my way toward consciousness in my manner. I tender offers, I do not instruct. I rarely chatter idly, but it takes a certain discernment and willingness to consider what I say and how I say it to see there is more than prattle in my expressions. I can be contrapuntal to the point of offering what is wrong as being right, because people often learn more in the excitement of catching a mistake than they do when the clean and perfect truth stands before them.

I offer odd koans with tone, manner, content and whim. I have faith that all these expressions come when and where they do because they are meant to be there. I allow it without regard for propriety. Idle chatter is rare in what I offer. The eye of the beholder sees what it will. Light is missed when the eye looks only for the ray in its own neighborhood. Yet even so, the ray leads to light.

Everyone has a perspective. The pratyeka follows the rays seen locally to the source of all rays. It is perfectly acceptable to dance and sing and laugh and celebrate before the altar of known truth. The celebrant in the eye of the traditionalist is often perceived as an idle chatterer, or worse. The consciousness which does not locate the content in the pratyeka’s message in no way diminishes the message given. Often gold given turns into ash in the hands of the recipient.

The path which teaches there is nothing through meditation, and seeks and finds union in the practices of purification and singular attention and detachment, is the way.

The path which teaches there is everything through joining and finds union in the practice of simultaneously knowing One and More Than One, is the way.

The simultaneity of the two paths, reconciled, is the message here, and the message is the path. Spiritual bliss and existential woe are the two primary polarities of human essence. We are able to move toward either pole, and we are able to be balanced between the two.

On the Path of Parity the pilgrim comes to know the divine and the existential mutually comprise life simultaneously, and without conflict. The first is inexpressible, the latter inexhaustibly prone to perspective, relativity, and the wordy, rationalistic expressions thereof. It’s the paradox of being, this dualistic ability to simultaneously know the universal divine and yet see existence from only one perspective point. It’s a humorous predicament, laughably absurd and poignantly clear. The tears of each, of laughter and song and samsara and grieving, are the same perfect tear.

On my path, I experience both my natures. I chose this, and it chose me. The divine and the existential comprise my life. I am simultaneously untroubled knowing the first and troubled in my experience of the latter.

Aldous Huxley speaks of the difficulty encountered when we attempt to express this paradoxical knowledge in rational terms. To paraphrase, he said,

“To describe existence as a continuum, rather than as what it appears to be to common sense, expressions of syntax and vocabulary are quite inadequate. We must be patient, then, with the linguistic eccentricities, the frequency of paradox, the verbal extravagance, sometimes even of the seeming blasphemy of those who are compelled to describe this paradoxical knowledge in terms of a symbol system such as language.”

We humans are able to suspend belief easily. We do it nearly every time we are offered the chance by the well-crafted story, whether it be about super heroes, cartoon trolls, people in the farthest reaches of the past and future, animated furniture, mad rabbits with English accents, and so forth.

What is more difficult for us is to suspend our disbelief.

When one hears another say, “I awoke,” where is the hubris? Is it in the mouth of that which speaks its own truth? Is it in the ear of the listener who denies such a thing could be? Is it in the mind which does not know it, too, is awake? Is it in the mind which believes it is small, and separate?

When one hears the self say, “I awoke,” why does it condemn itself?

Sometimes encountering the awakened condition which speaks without false humility becomes an occasion for desire or envy or disbelief. It can inspire perspectives seeing only precious, egocentric specialness and give rise to condemnation and negative judgment.

Individual identity, either your own or that of others who say “I awoke,” is not important. Suspend your disbelief in every encounter, if only so far as to allow the beginning ground to be open to you, to clear of the fog of prejudgment. A spirit of mutual identity serves better than a belief in separation. Believe instead that we are all awake to that which seems to be lost.

If you are a seeker, you have awakened. If you had not, the thing which informs you something has been lost would not exist, and you would not seek it.

Many people think this thing informs them they do not have something, and so they go forth in life getting things, but their instructions have come from other people who believe the same thing, that getting material things will fulfill the feeling that something has been lost. Obviously, it does not.

I awoke. I learned, simply put, that we know that we know. This is a simple thing hidden behind much difficulty. If your path has brought you here, welcome. If your path carries you to other places, fare well upon your path. Go about your business, expressing and being and doing as you are.

We are all awake, sometimes thrashing in the unmanageable complexity of existence, at other times resting in the simplicity of the essence of life itself.

On the path of life waking comes when we awaken to knowing we are awake. You are awake. You are an awakened one. Waking can happen anywhere, at any time, and we have all had those moments. It can be overlooked when the sight of the world beyond that moment looms, and the self-mind begins to calculate its strategies and speculate upon possible hardships there. It can be forgotten or discounted by our own disbelief that we are awake and the moments we have had which told us to disbelieve.

I awoke.

Suspend your Disbelief

Suspend your disbelief and know that you know. If it is enlightenment that you want, go about your business, expressing and being and doing as you are. God does not deny you what you want. This is so. So be careful. You may not know what God wants. This is how we learn. This is how we are taught. Suspend your disbelief and know that you know.

Introduction 

There is a Hindu saying: “None but a god can worship a god.” You have to identify yourself.

My journey is the hero’s journey. The archetypical roots in the story of my life confirm that for me. I will share the story with you and speak of the wisdoms I gained there. The personal how and what and why of my particular life circumstances don’t always speak to another’s experience and perspective. Yet I have chosen to include autobiographical and personal, eccentric expressions here in the hope that the story of what I have encountered and learned on my path will be of use to you on yours.

The unique, eclectic expressions shared here from my perspective point are forms risen out of a local experience, nothing more, nothing less. The value offered is the object of the perspective point. Follow the rays you see there to the source of all rays. Follow the rays you see from your own perspective point as well. Forms will fade and the source of light appear in the triangulated perspective produced wherever two or more are gathered together. You will see your own path, you will know when you awakened there.

I speak about what I have learned which is universally real and known. I speak sharing my local view of social, cultural, and religious matrices of understanding. I speak of how to know and navigate and reconcile the seeming separation between our known essence and the local perspective seen by our existential self. I speak in bits of practical information gleaned from my own path about thought, feeling, and action.

If one were to tot up the sum of my life it would depend on what kind of a ledger was used. If one were to assign a value of success it would depend on what success meant.

I have characterized my life as being one that took the road less often traveled. I honestly would have to say I didn’t take it, it took me. It seems in retrospect to have been the only vector which could have possibly been plotted out of the calculus and chaos of my nature and my nurture.

The thing not spoken of about the less traveled road is how unruly it is. It’s unpaved and uncivilized, full of deep potholes. Wild things stalk the traveler there and savage the unwary wanderer mercilessly, teaching harsh lessons. There, when the pilgrim has an inspiration and decides to bang the rocks together, the advent of divine fire is no more likely than smashed fingers. At the end the reward of it all is the simple, surprising development that somehow you have managed to survive, for better and for worse, with a few graces, a bit of wisdom, and a large catalog of experience.

There are wisdoms found and good choices made on my road. There are revelations gained and the great, good, solid joy of love ever-present there, often overtaken by shadows, then shared in brilliant light.

There are also blinding winces and aching regrets. I used to say I have no regrets. Now I temper that by saying instead that, while I have regrets, they have informed me and made me stronger, and I see no possibility that things could have gone any differently than the way they have.

It is all unruly and perfect. It is the tree, the meadow, the river, all in four seasons. Perfection is there, moment to moment in the dynamic chaos and confused joy of living.

Perfection.

This story is a “tropeography” of my early life; a biography embedded with the archetypal tropes of my own experience.  It is the record of my passage from the palace of Siddhartha out onto the roadways of samsara and the suffering there. It is the story of my odyssey through the dark wood, my fall into the pit. It is my speaking of the places where I met the crone and angel and devil and god, and how I came home to Penelope and Ithaca, to the cross, the gods, to God. It is the story of the journey to the beginning of the second leg of the heroic journey which commences upon awakening to who we are, really.

It is, too, an invitation to you to discover your own moment of awakening, to own its presence in your life. To remember what delivered you to it. To recognize where and when and how it happened, and how it has delivered you here, to where you are now.

I will speak my story and pass it on, not as support for my own conclusions about what life is, or to glorify my unique particularity, but to pass down a story which any beholder who comes to it might use to identify their own path and conclusions. My experience is unique, as is the experience of every person. My conclusions have served me. My story, and the story every person tells, serves us all. Our conclusions may be different, yet still each story serves us all.

I suppose there are stages of aging just like there are stages of grieving. I am older now, and beyond the stage of justifying my life. I think more now about what I could pass on to others which might be of use to them in their own lives.

After the age of seven I was raised with much less nurture than most, and as a result I did not form a perspective largely guided and informed by family, church, community and society. I encountered life relatively unencumbered by the direction of people who would have taught me the ways and means of social value systems and the cultural institutions human beings are incorporated into as they grow up. I encountered life directly, and by my own means formed my own perspective. It left me often not submitted to the ways and means of the society I live in.

We are formed by our past and move within it until we don’t anymore. It’s as simple as that. Until then we move thrashing in chains of emotional memory, mindful of the point sources of past pain. We reside in small domiciles, walled off from the great world beyond. The remembered past sifts like a dark miasma inside those walls and comes to us in daylight memories and dark dreams.

Until it doesn’t matter anymore.

I am connected to the events of my youth. It is natural, I think, to want to speak of those events, to pass my history along to others. Consideration of those events has occupied a large part of my life as I strove to understand myself in the place where my nature, my essential identity, intersects with my nurture.

There is a certain cathartic detoxification available when we bring our past to light. Yet when we tell our stories with ruthless honesty and share our pains, relief is not the end sought. If relief alone is gained it will be a momentary gain and the old shades will come round again. We will walk the same old round with them. It is only when, speaking the story, the story is released into the world once and for all, that we transcend our past and engage the present.

This transcendence is not an abandonment of the contextual matrix of our lives, which is intrinsic to our being. It is more about knowing that the walls surrounding us do not need to be opaque. We can see beyond them and behold more. When we look, we see the universe we are part of, the creation we are joined with, the inseparable reality which suffuses us all and which is no respecter of walls.  

People have been passing their stories down through the generations ever since there was language, and for the same reasons – to leave a record of their passing here and, more importantly, to pass on the story as information about what is in play in the human experience; what causes proceed into what effects; where the ground is certain and where it is uncertain; where light shines and where darkness prevails; where planting produces the harvest and where it comes to naught; what acts produce peace and which lead to war; how victory is gained and loss endured; what random, powerful, uncontrollable events await the sojourner in life, and where they are encountered, and how they are received, and what effect they have.

And finally I need to say I am not a polished writer in the sense that I can produce a consistent style or tone. I have many voices ranging from coarse to overly refined and they speak as they will here, so this is not a coherent work in that sense. I pray you take the essence here and forgive the form.

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The Pratyeka’s Garden

The Common Clay, the Ephemeral Dust

            My name is the name of my father. In 1948 I was the first born child and grandchild of my family. I had a Siddartha-like childhood. I was the son of a prince of a small midwest farm town, shielded and loved and pampered by all, the first-born princeling of a generation. In my beginnings I was loved. I grew strong and confident and spirited and loving, and life sang in my veins like a hymn.

             We are all here, rising in consciousness. Here, where the eye turns the image of things seen upside down. It is a place of complexity where poles of light and dark pulse in majesty and the divided mind struggles with separation and illusion.

             We are here, where the Christ is in each, the Buddha. Here in a place beyond the divided mind where a whole and holy Universe includes and reconciles its every manifestation in its own supreme, absolute perfection.

             We are engulfed in a great mystery where joy and pain and fullness and emptiness all abide. It is a place where the solution to our sojourn is found in the answer to one small and simple question:

             What happened here?

My mother told me once that she remembers the first time she really looked at my father. They were fifteen. It was mid-summer in the dry and brilliant heat of July, at the town swimming pool. She said, “He was young, and strong, and handsome – as handsome as any movie star. He was tall, and lean, and in the water his muscles rippled under his skin and his skin glowed in the sun.  I was overcome with how beautiful he was.”

My father cared for me, took me places with him, proudly introduced me to his friends. He taught me to ride a bike, towed me through the snow on a sled tied behind his truck, helped me build a tree house. Once my father and I sat together on the roof of his car in the middle of a field of ripening wheat in the dry land farming country of eastern Colorado. He talked about the beauty that surrounded us, spoke to me of the wonder in a seed and the glory of harvest. He never talked down to me. It was understood between us that I would understand, and I did. He shared with me. He showed me what he had discovered here because he had come here before me.

Amid the unfathomable fullness of what it is to be here, alive and living this hard and wonderful life, the presence and the loss of my father is a profound, elemental part of my experience. I’ve lost, I’ve gained. I’ve failed absolutely, and succeeded to my own satisfaction. I’ve been broken, I’ve been healed. I’ve gained my dream, found true love. Many of the satisfactions present in my life today were borne in seeds planted by my father. The pains of my life began with his death.

Perhaps my way could have been easier. I have no doubt if my father had been here longer we would have shared a deep bond rooted in our personal struggles. If he had been here longer he would have passed to me much more of what he found here. But he wasn’t. The time I had with him was not enough, but what he gave me was. While we were together, before his own dark plunge, he loved me.

I was seven years old when my father died. It was 1956. My grandparents, my father’s parents, owned and operated a pharmacy in a small farming town in northeastern Colorado, the Haxtun Drug Store. In those days the pharmacists of small towns often didn’t have an assistant pharmacist. My grandparents did, and so from time to time they would go to another town for a week or two and serve the needs of that community while the local pharmacist went on vacation or responded to a personal emergency.

They were in Arriba, Colorado doing that when the call came. They had taken me with them. It was summertime and school was out, it was a vacation for us all, a working vacation for them but an opportunity for us to be together.

Arriba was a dusty, wind-blown plains town in southern Colorado. In the heat of that summer we went out to the edge of town one day to an ancient railroad depot. A canvas mailbag hung from a tall hook at the edge of the tracks. A train roaring past the town at fifty miles an hour snatched it from the hook. It was as though the mailbag had suddenly disappeared into thin air.

I was playing canasta one evening with my grandmother. When the phone rang I looked at it, I looked at her, and I knew. As she rose to answer it I said to her, “There’s been an accident. He’s gone.” It was one of those very few moments of my life when I have transcended the local and been connected with the great mystery we are all part of. She stared at me for a long moment as if I’d suddenly grown a second head, and then answered the phone.

I saw her falter as she listened, saw her as she stood there and took the blow. But she did not break and I wondered what kind of iron it was that could stand at all after such a blow, even if only as a husk with the heart cut out of it as she was for that single moment. Then I saw her gather herself, and straighten, and rise to meet the unspeakable loss.

By midnight I was at my mother’s childhood home, a farm in northeastern Colorado. My younger brothers were still up, playing with toys in the middle of the living room floor, arguing and laughing and loudly ignorant of what had happened. I watched them detached, felt a pain of sadness and anger at their unknowing. I said, “Don’t you know what has happened? Don’t you know what this means?” And looking into their eyes I suddenly knew that they didn’t. They didn’t know. Years later, after the death of my brother Tony, I would learn that he did know. It hit him the next day, when he saw the wreckage of the car our father had died in.

The next day we went home. In the early morning I climbed up on our garage roof and lay on my back, staring up into the sky. I had been taught that God was there. I needed to speak directly to Him, to the source and the power of the universe. I knew that light is the fastest thing in the universe. I thought if I could look unceasingly up into the sky and through it to the stars and beyond, eventually my line of sight would reach to God in his far-off place. In the slow numbness of deep shock I was able to stare for more than four hours, forcing my eyes to travel ever deeper and deeper into the universe.

Finally I began to waver, to suspect I was not going to reach God that way. But I felt my line of sight was like a long, thin, tenuous tunnel stretching through the universe to the vicinity of God, and it was as close as I had ever been, and I thought while this tunnel existed I could send a message, and it would be heard. So I sent this thought:

“I know it is in your power to do this, even though you haven’t done it often. I want my father back. I want him to be alive again. I want him to come home, and have his life again. And you can have anything of me. You can have everything of me. You can take my life in exchange for his, and I’ll give it to you. Just make my father be alive again. Even if I have to go with you the very same minute he comes back, I want to hug him one more time, I want him to hug me…”

But this was not to be.

My father was adopted in 1929. The love my grandparents had for him transcended every convention of those days and he became the heart of their heart, the flesh of their flesh. His father was a compassionate yet stern man, the son of a family of doctors and judges. His mother was firm, possessed of an ethical and righteously applied social mind, the daughter of an educated minister. Both were university educated.

My father and his brother were raised with the classics and encouraged to form their minds and manners from an early age. Both learned to play musical instruments, and my uncle was a noted child prodigy, described once as “a piano virtuoso before he could do long division.”  My fathered played strings, most notably the viola, and woodwinds and the flute as well.

Under the tutelage and unremitting urging of their parents the two brothers were taught to work hard, refine their instincts, absorb knowledge and art and music, and in all ways prepare themselves for their own ascendancy in the world of attainment and success, where intense preparation was the prelude to a life of intense industry pointed toward social elevation and material gain.

The dinner table conversations in their home were consistently divided between broad-ranging intellectual and artistic subjects, and cautionary tales about the depths to which the ill-educated, unrefined and lazy fall. There were many examples of the latter in the small, provincial town of dry land farmers they lived in, where the hardships of the Great American Prairie Desert were best met with a stolid stubbornness best not confused by rare, idle airs where ideas of justice could be casually considered in the light of history and philosophy and weighed upon the scales of intellect.

The land was not just, it was the land, and survival there required vigilance and perseverance and hard temper which did not afford time for high art, genteel music and sophisticated thought. Art in that hinterland was whittled, hand carved and rough; music was the fiddle and harmonica playing in the barn, thoughts were encapsulated in ancient, hard-won facts of survival methods and idle thoughts reserved for speculations about crops and weather. Mental acuity was tuned and vigilant for sudden, odd acts of neighbors, who might turn dangerous after a presaging appearance of nonconformity, or give the opportunity to celebrate one’s personal righteousness in light of another’s fall from the graces of the conformed herd.

My father was more physically robust than his fragile younger brother and was the explorer, guide and protector during their forays into the sunshine and open skies and vast plains beckoning them from the orderly walls of their childhood home. The land, the sky, the sun, the turn of the seasons caught my father and held him there to the end of his life.

My grandfather was a minister in pharmacist’s clothing. While my grandmother managed the accounts and the help in the Haxtun Drug Store and painted the seasons on the front windows in brilliant water colors, my grandfather quietly counted pills in the back with a spatula, and then came out to pour sodas and make sundaes for the afternoon trade at the soda fountain in front. He enjoyed people, and served them sodas with friendly humor. In his home he was fair but not so expansive. There was a flatland sternness in him that the polish of education had not completely moderated.

My grandmother was created in the image of that class of finer people defined by her time; a fine-boned, high-strung, intelligent and intense woman keen on the ascendancy of her family to success by the means of her own unflagging administration. She was firm and practical. She was a teacher, an artist. She manifested a strange mixture of love and devotion and artful sophistication and ruthless society in her relationships. She was a matriarch of convention and a champion of the better sorts of all kinds of things; education, the fine arts, music, the people one chooses to associate with.

She lived a large part of her life in that small farming community in northeastern Colorado among a population numbering less than a thousand souls. I wonder if she regretted at times the lack of better company. Yet she cleaved to her conventions and convictions with unfaltering constancy.

I knew she loved me, but her way was as foreign to me as if we had come from different worlds. Something deep within me rebelled against her forms. I could not understand her when she set about instructing me on how to succeed in her universe of conventional society. I was not part of that. I had come to a universe of sky and trees and grass green as fire, where I wheeled and danced and spun dizzily onward in untrammeled joy and celebration. It was in my father, and it was in me.

My father went to Duke University to study medicine and become a doctor according to the designs of his upbringing. He rejected that and eventually returned to that small farming town. He became a successful farmer, and at the age of 26 left his widow and children a large estate and a world of uncertain ground.

One night, speeding in a frenzy of driving rain, chased by his own demons, he lost control and drove into the end of a bridge at eighty miles an hour. Minutes later he left that body with a bridge timber rammed through it; left it laying in the arms of a friend who came upon the scene within a minute after it happened; left it in the rain of God’s tears.

In the small town mortuary less than an hour later they lifted the sheet for my mother and she saw the wooden splinter in his gut. She put her face against his neck, and he was still warm.

The heart cracks, the mind breaks, the fullness of life wells forth in aching, terrible fury.

Samsara

His father had lain on silk, its soft sheen pearled with living light. He had reached across the edge slowly and gently touched the back of his father’s hand, half-hoping that touch would spark some subtle, final sign of life, a tiny curling of fingertips or a tiny, secret smile at the corner of the mouth. The rock-still deadness which met his touch he had never had from his father before; it told him all of death he sought in the reaching, told him all the answer to his child’s question, which was all he knew to ask. Not even warmth of blood answered his touch, the hand could have been cut from granite, no vein pulsed. He had watched hard for that. A hand had touched his shoulder, a hand burning with warmth and thundering with coursing blood and animate flesh, had gently walked with him as he turned away. His eyes burned silently, silently misted.

When my father died my mother moved into the city, a place she was unprepared for. She was farm-born and raised, uninstructed in the ways of the world beyond the chicken yard and garden and prairie fields, fresh and ignorant and innocent of the ways of  the world beyond and the sly pitfalls awaiting her there. She milked cows, gathered eggs, rode a horse to a country school situated far from town, came home and wrapped a bandanna around her head and drove a tractor in the field, gathered produce from the garden and canned and cooked and cleaned up. At night she listened to ballroom music on the radio and gazed at the Milky Way from the barn roof and went to bed listening to night birds outside her window and dreamed of the boys in town.

She was highly intelligent, as were her parents, but like them she was not afforded the leisure time of the town merchants in which her innate gift could bloom with refinements. The farm life was demanding and all-consuming. In the days when she was growing up neither my grandparents nor my mother were able to occupy their keen intelligence with anything other than the ongoing struggle for life in a landscape savaged by the Great Depression and dust-bowl days of the 1930’s, where famine and drought and scarcity were mortal, ever-present enemies at the farm gate.

My grandfather once told me that he never owned land until 1942, when he was 42 years old. The Second World War was bringing prosperity back to the farmland with demands for greater supplies of dry land wheat and corn. The land, long locked up in the vaults of banks, was coming back into cultivation stimulated by suddenly available farm loans and government encouragement.

My grandfather told me once he allowed that the Great Depression was “maybe not as hard on us as it was for some folks, because we had nothing to lose.” Yet the stories of that time I heard as a child were not so charitable. My grandfather had a temper enraged by the times and he was a fighter. Once he cursed my mother so fiercely she never forgot the savagery in him, snarling “God damn you.” Another time he kicked her in anger. He was no saint. Time and success mellowed him and by the time I knew him he had developed a softer side as well, a side which bloomed late and took precedence in his later years – although there was always a hard strength in him which never disappeared.

My grandfather’s stories of the time during my mother’s childhood were stories of dresses made of grain sacks, worn out shoes soled with newspaper, harshly given charity, miles walked in search of a quarter to be earned with shovel and axe deployed from sunup to sundown under the gaze of merciless overseers. The banks, the railroads, the barons and the bosses road the backs of the people in that land in those days and ground them down without pity or remark, as cruel and pitiless as the powder-fine dust held at bay with rags, wetted many times a day, stuffed in the cracks around the farmhouse windows and beneath the door.

My mother’s father had a hard, adventurous youth. He left home in his mid-teens shortly after World War I broke out in Europe. He rode the rails with hoboes, worked in mines and logging camps and on railroads, learned to play “Red River Valley” on the harmonica. He picked up pocket money playing baseball on local town teams, and wrestling in Saturday night “circuses,” and shooting three-cushion billiards in small town taverns and public houses. He and a friend worked their way west ahead of the Post War Depression of 1920-21. The work dried up in 1923 while they were working in uranium mines in the Navajo nation near Shiprock, New Mexico, when cheaper uranium from the Belgian Congo became available.

My grandfather and his friend road the rails back to Colorado. At the top of the Rocky Mountain continental divide they parted ways, his partner saying he believed he’d try for California and go west. My grandfather decided he’d go east and see what lay out in the farm country on the plains. They shook hands there, bidding one another to fare well, and never saw each another again.

My grandfather told me that as the train rolled down out of the mountains and into the Great Plains he watched the land roll by him while he sat in the door of a boxcar, and when he saw the farmlands of northeastern Colorado he proclaimed to himself, “By gosh, this is the country for me!” He hopped off near Paoli, Colorado and walked to the nearby farm where my future grandmother lived, and got a job there working as a hired hand for her father.

My grandfather was highly intelligent and in his later years, when he had gained the leisure time of a successful farmer, he proved to be a voracious learner, reading about archaeology and philosophy and history. He read the dictionary. He read the Encyclopedia Britannica. He considered the Bible in depth and taught a humanistic, liberal Christ in Sunday School at the Methodist church, which inflamed the Calvinist roots there and drew the ire of less compassionate Christians.

Yet if my grandfather was intelligent, my grandmother was marked with genius. She was quiet, self-contained, kept her counsel and judgments close. Yet when she spoke it was with a depth and insight and wisdom which even my grandfather deferred to.

My mother remarried two years after my father died, when I was nine. She married a sensitive, diabetic, homosexual musician who lived with his parents. They maintained an open marriage and shared a love of music; my mother was a gifted pianist and that was the sole ground upon which they met. Shortly after their marriage my two brothers and I were adopted by our stepfather. At the hearing the judge asked me if I wanted to be adopted, and I said yes. What I meant was, I wanted my father back.

In a little over a year my first stepfather managed to spend a large part of my father’s estate on a concrete block building housing the largest stereo system in six states, a recording studio, and the largest pipe organ west of the Mississippi, which remained in storage in the stables of his childhood home where we lived. He installed a TV in his Desoto, played the organ in two churches every Sunday, and made vinyl records of local musical events. He attempted to be a father to me and failed so miserably it embarrassed both of us.

I was independent and out on my own a lot, and a lot of carnage was happening back at hearth and home. I don’t recall much of that time. I could have been ignoring it all. I do remember getting in trouble for the disconcerting habit of every once in awhile getting angry, carefully taking off my glasses and deliberately slamming both lenses into smithereens. I guess I got tired of what I was seeing.

Around two years after their marriage my mother had become pregnant by a music professor, my stepfather killed himself in the music studio with insulin, and my youngest brother was delivered and conveniently promoted as a tragic, posthumous child.

We had to leave town about a year later, for about seven or eight months. My sister, conceived outside the local city social limits, had to be born in Oregon. When we returned nobody was able to figure out where she came from. In those days this sort of thing somehow served to derail a big illegitimacy aversion that socially appropriate people enjoyed pounding short-sighted romantics over the head with.

It wasn’t all bad; most of the time I was on my own. I went fishing a lot, walked and ran and bicycled all over creation at all hours of the day and night, and had a lot of fun. I was the boy who raised himself.

When I was 11 years old, my mother remarried again. In the space of three days she met and married a sick and ignorant man. His right hand was gnarled and deformed. He was verbally and emotionally abusive, and in varying degrees physically abusive as well. The physical abuse came in the form of beatings with a belt, usually six or seven strokes, and were supposedly for “breaking the rules”, but were really just a form of anger that came out whenever my three brothers or myself were perceived to be uncontrollable by him.

His forbears had left Europe for the ends of the earth and found them in a hill-country backwater in Tennessee. His father was a dirt-poor redneck, a fundamentalist hell-biter preacher who taught Jesus to his children with a bloody, iron fist. Fear and self loathing made him imperious and hateful. He practiced and transmitted his spiritual deformity, mocked and made real in his son, to this creature born with a congenitally withered hand, the punishment of a wrathful God. This partially explains my stepfather but it does not excuse him. He always had a choice

According to the Wechsler scale my stepfather was a genius, so the warpage he inflicted was truly diabolical. Two and a half years into this marriage my mother was committed to a mental hospital for the insane and took a turn through electro-shock therapy. It was a testament to his ability to break a person’s spirit. She returned wan and frail, but over time developed a facade of functionality, a coat of varnish over her fractures.

We three oldest boys quickly learned to stay out of the way. If we had the misfortune of crossing his path we would do what he told us to, which usually involved a lot of work around the house and yard which kept us out of his way. He ran the family with a military metaphor. We were privates, he was the general, there were inspections and punishments.

He had never been in the military, disqualified by the congenitally gnarled and withered hand that had in many ways gnarled and withered his life. Strangely, I still see him in old broadcasts of Adolph Hitler, to whom he proudly claimed to be related. The resemblance in appearance, temperament and behavior is uncanny. It was a specious conceit on his part which, in his embrasure of the image, revealed his nature and his character. He lived in a hell of his own choice and making, and imposed it on weak and innocent people when he could.

My youngest brother didn’t know how to give the impression that he was under the control of this man. He was only two years old and could only be what he was—a child.

Toilet training my brother became a goal for this man who had no love, no patience, and a fanatical requirement to be obeyed. My brother was beaten frequently, to the point that black and blue stripes and welts covered him from the back of his knees to the middle of his back. I was the oldest, and took to sneaking in behind my stepfather’s back. My brothers and I worked with Pete on the toilet for hours each day.

In the mornings we would sneak into Pete’s room and take his sheets away if they were wet, change him, and put him back to bed dry. This set the tone for our life. Since Pete couldn’t keep himself out of the way, it was up to us. We did the best we could for him.

Mamie, our live-in maid, helped us until she told my stepfather he “shouldn’t treat the children the way he did,” and she was fired.

Then we had a day-maid, Rosie, a 6-foot tall black lady with a heart as big as God who took care of us until the day she found bruises on my brother. She went straight to our stepfather and confronted him about it. He said it was none of her business and if she wanted to keep her job she’d remember her place. She called him a bastard and told him to go to hell. He called her a nigger and that was that. I watched Rosie walk away for the last time from the highest place in that house, the attic window, so that I could see her as long as possible. I’ll always remember that wonderful, classy, loving lady walking down the street away from us in her cloth coat and scarf.

The house we lived in at the time was a 3-story Victorian mansion, built in the 1890’s by a gold miner who struck it rich in Colorado. It had belonged to a relative of Roy Chapman Andrews, author of “Born Under a Wandering Star”, who was responsible for bringing to America many of the skeletal and fossilized remains of dinosaurs he obtained on expeditions to China.  Our basement was full of his trunks and miscellaneous artifacts which he had left there, and never retrieved.  I remember using his photographic chemicals, and I found a tin of wonderful Chinese tea which I brewed up.

My stepfather bought the house with the money still remaining from my father’s estate after my first stepfather’s music studio adventure. In two years it would all be gone.

The previous owner of that house was a doctor and the house came with a marvelous library which included not only extensive medical references but an equally well-endowed collection of spiritual and metaphysical works. I was a reader and got quite an education in history, spirituality, and human sexuality while we were there.

A street ran down the north side of the house and the open field below us. Our neighbors were arranged down the hill on the opposite side of the street, and there was a low fence on our side.

When my brother was 34 years old he got a call from a person he had forgotten but who had not forgotten him. The caller, Shirley Mayfield, was a nurse and lived across the street on the north side. She told him she had become quite involved with him as a caretaker and always carried him in her heart. She wondered what happened to him and decided to find out. After thirty years she managed to connect with him again.

As the conversation unfolded the story became clear. When Shirley would come home from work at 3:00 in the afternoon, My brother was always waiting for her at the fence. She told him he was a wonderful little boy, gentle and loving, and she remembered us all as good kids, hard-working and kind. As time went on she began to take him home with her when she got home from work, and over a period of time began to care for him up until 9:00 at night, when she would bring him home. She had a bed set up for him there, and he had toys, and she cared for him. As my brother began to hear what was being said to him he realized that this person loved him very much.

I recalled after learning about the call from Shirley that Mamie the maid, my mother, my brothers and I were all involved in a collaborative effort to keep Pete out of the way of my stepfather, and Pete was kept somewhere a lot of the time. I’d forgotten all about where.

Shirley hesitantly told him that he had been an abused child, and while he had heard it from me before, it suddenly struck home when he heard it from Shirley. She also told him that because of his presence in her life she and her husband had later decided to adopt and raise two children.

My brother has always had a gentle and loving nature. I was always surprised that no overt angry behavior had ever manifested itself in his life. When telling me this story he told me that he had always felt a sort of “alien” well of anger present within himself, and had never known where it came from.

Now he does. Now he knows why he has managed to stay true to his gentle nature in spite of that experience. At that particularly critical stage in his social development, angels named Mamie and Rosie and Shirley were sent to help him and care for him and love him and protect him, and the rest of us, too.

When I was fifteen my stepfather broke my spirit. At the kitchen table one day my hatred of his meanness and arrogance overcame me. During one of his hateful harangues as he bullied each of us in turn during the noon meal, the deep anger in me finally erupted in uncontrollable rage and I took a swing at him and struck him in the side of his face. I weighed 130 pounds and he weighed two hundred and forty. I was 5’-4” tall. He was 6’-4”. I couldn’t believe what I had done, it was a reflexive act that stunned me, and I just stood there in shock at what had happened. He knocked me down, sat on top of me and beat me mercilessly.

It was the beginning of a dark age. During the beating my mother and my brothers did nothing. I went to school concussed, bruised and cut, my skull lumpy with knots and bruises, lip split – and my friends and teachers could do nothing. I wrote to my relatives, and they did nothing. I was too afraid to run away, and did nothing. The total, abject fear I felt as I snuck around the house slowly gave way to anger and despair.

The beating proved that I was alone in a brutal world where the people who truly loved you died and when you lost them they were gone, dead, and they couldn’t come back, not even to help you. A world where few cared and those few who did couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything anyway. A world where I couldn’t even save myself. It was a deep wound. It began at my father’s death and was completed in the beating.

The effect of the wound was odd and subtle. I moved on. I was young and strong and smart, quick and witty and wry and funny, caring and kind and helpful to others. I had joy and dreams and talents. I had an early childhood full of love and attention that told me I was worthy. I was capable. I had a strong spirit and a highly developed sense of justice, of right and wrong.

I fell in love and married. We loved and cared for each other. We had three beautiful children together. I pursued my dream of becoming a writer.

But there were strange places in my life. Soft, bruised places. Upwellings of fear and pain. Melancholy, self-loathing. The wound grew larger, spreading, festered by every echo of that first, ancient trauma. The assassination of John F. Kennedy a knife twisted in my heart. In 1968 the thundering forge of the world. A Viet Cong officer is executed, his brains photographed blowing away from his head. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated. Robert F. Kennedy is shot dead. The 1968 Democratic National Convention turns bloody in the streets. The White Album is released by The Beatles. On it is the lyric “…blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly…”

I moved further and further toward the outside edge of human society. I was afraid of the world “out there.” I participated only in my writing and my marriage. And slowly I became estranged even there. I began drinking for recreational relief. Later it became anesthetic, and finally, punishment.

In 1979, after a painful divorce, I got up from the kitchen table at my brother’s apartment, loaded some hand tools and books into my car, found a wool blanket in the dumpster where I shed the remainder of my belongings, and drove to Coos Bay, Oregon. I parked the car on the beach. I entered a deep depression there, ultimately winding up derelict, my only possession that wool blanket. I wandered up and down the beach like a wild animal, eating out of the tidal pools, sleeping by driftwood fires, smelling like wood smoke, mad as a hatter.

I stumbled back into town near the end of myself, and after a suicide gesture found myself in a mental hospital for 3 days. The diagnosis was “acute depression, situational in nature”.

After that I tried to go back to my family, but my ex-wife was involved in a new relationship and that final stroke plunged me into total hopelessness. I felt at the time that I had lost my children to circumstances crueler than death. Truth had nothing to do with that feeling, but it was real, and absolute to me. My children were gone from me. We would never be together again. That is what I felt, what I believed. I grieved beyond my ability to describe. I was living mostly dead. The day came, finally, when suicide became more than a desire and a possibility. This time it was not a gesture. I killed myself.

I fired the electrical impulse which would end my life. I made the decision, I made the choice, I committed the act. And a real voice, not a voice of the mind, said “No.”  It boomed through the air around me, and I actually saw iron gates slammed shut in front of me. I still hear that booming echo, still see those gates. And I am still amazed.

Never, before or since, have I been denied my freely-willed choices. In that one moment, my choice was not allowed. My decision had been made, the impulse fired. In slow and perfectly clarity I felt the spark leave my brain and fire through the nerves of my arm on an irretrievable mission to make real my will for me. The actual physical electricity in my nervous system simply disappeared, evaporated into nothingness somewhere in my forearm. Something reached through a rock-solid universal law and shattered it to stop me.

There was still a lot to go through. I had to die to my old self, to become a child again. That path became a freefall down the known world, through many losses. I passed through grief and madness and arrived at the holy ground stripped bare. Then began my actual awareness and participation and experience in the spiritual life; that transcendent, pivotal movement from thoughts of God and desire for God and the suspicion that there really is God, to real knowing.

It would be three years before I began to crawl from that pit. My recovery began after I crashed a motorcycle at high speed on a lonely country gravel road late at night. A woman from a nearby farmhouse, investigating the sound, found me with a flashlight. I lay in a field pinned under the wreck. Her screams for help and the light bobbing across my eyes were all I was aware of.

—–

The Pit: The Legend of The Fall

The only written record of the last three years of my “dark age” is the following poem. After the first four stanzas it has to be read backwards, i.e. from the end forward, for the actual chronology.

How long have I been here? I just woke up… I had dreams a hundred years long.

The crew’s all dead. The star-screen is empty… Something’s gone terribly wrong.

 

I remember…

Staging.

The walk to the time lock.

…lonely white

chambers-cold, so

very cold-

a blinding burn of arctic indifference… my heart ached… I

froze.

 

And dreamed. Those dreams.

…monochrome, red-washed rooms of images, each

suspended in stasis I roved with my eye—each

a perfectly hung holograph… no death… No life.

 

They are all. Cubicles from long ago… now

I wander the hall in a folded matrix,

a tunnel in a tesseract core.

…time turns each facet of that geometry

toward the axis of my face;

turns each vision through my eyes…

Time runs backward from here in place.

…i remembered the motorcycle slide the crashing the slam against the earth a screaming woman flashlight bobbing against my eyes…

…i remember the bar-fight smoldering rage shoved my attack slamming holes with that redneck’s head through the bathroom door…

…casey, lovely casey, you feel it and i feel it let’s go to nebraska and raise kids you leave the tough beery indians and the street and i’ll leave the rest…

…lonely drunk fourth of July midnight suicide in the mobile home park, turned off the gas as i fell and woke up after all…

…another try bitterangryproud lovely woman i will not see you again goodbye to my children in the rear-view mirror goodbyedaddy goodbye…

…cold winter commerce and heart-wash college B.B.King blues and YouCanChangeTheWayYouFeel Jacuzzi respectability at 8:30PM MWF in my urban hive cold thin light of winter mornings on my balcony over the tennis courts…

,,.death on the scope in ICU i felt the flutter sigh and saw her die several seconds before the flat line…

…the cerebral slow-kill four months dying i died too and cried on monday made the wine run to the coast and sped to Reno/called on thursday and you died empty i already knew and understood…

…mustang ranch michelle Scandinavian blonde and blue we drank creme de menthe and listened to the doobies you held me and we talked for you lazy puppies in the trick-bar after and dumfounded the bartender peace and calm in central babylon…

… a suicide in skamania county, a life so cruel it felt like murder the investigation revealed she was only brutalized, born in bangkok boiled in the cauldron fleeing with losers and walked on her own into the wind river and died…

…married a shadow four months of delirium the object still lived and the shadow faded my temporary two-year-old son stood beside me in the driveway leaned against the car with me wrapped his arm behind my leg and said it’s ok it’s sad and i love you i know you’re going and i went away…

…rockyhorrorpictureshow with her and a sixpack and of course that lovely mexican neighborhood tavern fixed the boys’ bicycles and square-danced in portland and damn we were good…

…grief so real it broke my knees and i soaked my shirt with tears i remember kneeling in the south pasture crying numb eyes to the impassive sky…

…i laid in the jail on the concrete floor for six hours never moved a muscle watched the distant cage-light come through a door/barred-window and run under the cup of my hand…

…broke down your door and stunned by your boyfriend if you wanted me gone you had to have me thrown out i spin-kicked the cop and terrified his partner you said take me that was the killing  i lost the fight…

…finally exhausted i rest in the crazy house making miraculous contact with one who won*t talk i’m depressed about losing and watching love die there is no indicated pathology and if i find a place to live then i’ll probably live ‘til i die…

…on the beach i’m a wildman sleep in the sand by a fire at night i smell like woodsmoke wander mad as a dog up and down the seacoast drink with the bikers in red’s tavern at night a man lost his leg in traffic at noonday and the raped indian girl found her way to my safe fire one midnight…

…smoking hash we all laughed with each other with flashing eyes i still, numb confusion fell the lights died…

…i left my home my heart and my family you had died 8 months prior and i still thought we were alive i went out and let the whirlwind take me i went out to live and die…

—–

It’s hard to articulate the root of my eventual resurrection other than to say I think I owe it to my father and his love for me, and the love of others as well, in those early days of childhood when I became aware of and it was impressed upon me, again and again, how much goodness there is in this world. In my own experience a manic-depressive nature and deep-trauma stressors aimed me for death. That love made the difference, and somehow it stood between me and the abyss.

There is no magic bullet that will erase wounds. Wounds are injuries that cause changes. Wounds go two ways; they fester or they heal into a healthy scar. Healing a wound doesn’t mean it is erased from memory or consciousness. Wounds don’t disappear. The so-called healing process is not marked by a wonderful return to a former status quo where the wound is not present.

There are wonderful returns to happier mental and emotional states nearly identical to healthy pre-wounding conditions. The amputee returns aided by a prosthetic. The broken mind returns supported by an orderly coping system. The isolated, broken spirit returns with a spiritual connection. The shattered heart remembers how to love.

Yet scars are real. In my experience there are still times when dark offerings of despair and depression and hopelessness appear, threatening to open the wound again. So I am careful. I am plainly aware of my limitations. I carry scars from things too painful to forget.

When my father died I was uprooted, flung into tumbling chaos, buffeted by the storm, helpless in the fury yet to come. He died young, raging and thrashing with the pains of life. Somehow, I didn’t. That’s what happened. There’s no answer here but that.

On my father’s last day my mother remembers sitting in his lap and sharing a watermelon with him. She remembers a searing moment when everything changed, and he stood up and looked at her with a terrible clarity and said, “I know every way there is to live, and I don’t want any of them.”

I know that time, that place, that feeling. It is my father in me. It is the world we encounter, the separation it confronts us with, the anguish found in the hard and horrible facts of life. It is our shared nature, our genetic make-up, our rejection of every unloving thing here. It is our defiance of evil, our unwillingness to allow it to stand, our willingness to sacrifice all in order to end the unbearable horrors we encounter here. It is the deep, driving urgency to end the pains of life and find peace. It is the force which ruthlessly drives us.

My mother remembers the instant, knowing exactly what he meant, realizing that she had to fight for his life with everything she had, knowing that what they had between them was not enough to win, knowing that every lever she could find had to come to bear in that very moment.

She looked at him gravely and said, “I can’t raise these kids without you.” Hoping that love would hold him back. He looked at her and said, “Yes. You can.” And he was gone.

That’s what happened.

ENDINGS and BEGINNINGS

When I was seven my father died. The gate of the palace of my childhood opened onto the roadways of samsara, and I left the palace and began to experience the suffering of the world.

On that path as a young adult I decided I wanted to live a full life.  I didn’t know what I had chosen until it became terribly real. I found myself compelled to go out into the world to live and to die, and managed to do both. Like Mithridates I sampled all of earth’s killing store. I became as empty of life as a husk.

Then, at the end of a road in high mountains, I found myself in a place of learning where there were sages who knew and lived and embodied truths I had despaired were not present in the world. It was a spiritual oasis in the materialistic, mechanistically complex wastelands of modern society.

It was a time and place marked first by forgiveness of myself and healing from the wounds I had given and taken from others and myself on the road of suffering. Study and contemplation and meditation followed, and the ruthless discovery and explication of my divine and worldly selves. In that place I woke up to many things.

After a season there a choice appeared. I could continue to refine the spiritual clarity I had found in the contemplative life, or I could leave and walk the road of the world. I deferred my decision and waited patiently, trusting that the way would be made clear to me. It was, and no choice was necessary. I took the path of living in the world and experiencing the existential joy and woe of humanity. I chose it, it chose me.

It’s the path of returning to the stream of life we re-enter after the first satori, after awakening. Satori is often seen as an end in the mirror of mind. Yet in essence it is the opposite of what is seen in that mirror. It’s a beginning. Most people reading this have already achieved satori, yet seek it still. They are already far on their way, engaging in a process of refinement through attention to their unique existential experience until reaching the realization that the divine essence and the existential experience are not separate.

I returned to the stream of life. Out into the world I went, open and cheerful and free and agreeable and at peace, not far removed from the purity of the transcendental forge. In my passage from the pristine chamber of pointed mindfulness into the world of Baudelairean flowers and Levitttown tracts, a certain grace came out into the world with me.

The perspective shift was massive. The whole and holy core of being, pure and inchoate and known, was in my chosen return into the world once again overlaid with perception, language, emotion, movement, polarity. Dualistic mind asserted its function as navigator. I employed the map of mind overlaying the universe.

I carried on embracing the earthly life, making choices, becoming familiar with what it is to be chained to karma, to be influenced and coerced by perception, language, emotion, movement, polarity; to experience free will and its triumphs and defeats and be guided in this existence by the returns of the karmic principle.

I expected to encounter others who knew the divine mysteries of human existence. People who had found the key, unlocked the door, found the answer to the great question; others who also knew the secret of life. I thought I would encounter many people practicing awareness in daily life, perfecting their existential ways and means, learning to be reflexively aligned and balanced in their apprehension of spiritual and worldly being.

I was surprised when I discovered that while many named it, and named it well and extensively, there were few who claimed it and knew it truly. What surprised me most was that those who taught it, while being good teachers, often knew not of what they taught. That is to say, they knew it, as truth is always known, yet they did know it well enough to live it. They were awake, yet sleeping. They were connected, yet not incorporated. Their words were clear, yet the manifested nature of their lives involved status, power, money and self glorification. They were in the stream, yet caught in powerful eddies and whirlpools which had conducted them far from the natural flow into backwaters and brackish pools which would eventually, slowly, find their way back to the river.

In the mountains of Colorado I did find a person awake to the spiritual nature of being and living in it, walking with a breathing grace and tenderness, embodying the insight and knowledge of experience and the wisdoms gained therein, emanating daily the simple, practical essence of love. I could no more turn from her presence than the earth could flee the sun, or the moon spin away from earth, and so we became friends.

Our friendship grew and deepened and one day we were welded together by what is called the “thunderbolt.” I reached out to gently touch her hand during a full, quiet moment together, and without warning the lid of the universe exploded and an indescribable fullness beyond filling poured in and permeated us both simultaneously.

In that instant we became one whole and indivisible person, mysteriously bonded by the unknowable essence of wu wei; a natural, wholly harmonious and inexplicable union. It was a heaven of a thing. We went together on the karmic path, cosmic wolves mated forever, loping down from the high places into the town below.

We lived the way we knew. In our early lives we had passed through the dark wood and the pitfalls there. Now we shared the desire to experience life on its own terms, in the light of our knowing, and we proceeded to do so. We carry that light still, and always will. It’s come a far piece with us down the river and road of our lives, down through the peaceful stretches and panoramas and the rapids and hard rocks there, and sustains us.

On we went together, laughing and loving and dancing and living this life. I found satisfaction and fulfillment as a carpenter. We had a child, we lived in an ever-expanding realm of love in the home we created.

We were challenged by the world. It’s a narrow path, walking through a civilization defined by hubris and fear. Several times I attempted to incorporate myself into the ways and means there. I conducted myself in an open, honest, agreeable way and succeeded after a fashion. Yet it became ever clearer that my assimilation there would be a spiritual tragedy, a life compromised.

I could not lend my energy to the enrichment of ignorant, greedy bosses, could not in good conscience strengthen the snares they were caught in with my own participation. I knew that what I give my attention to I give power to, and I did not want to empower the separations of spirit I saw there. I left that world as an employee and decided it was best if I deployed myself rather than be directed by the appetites and desires and the authority which others imagined they had.

We started our own construction business. We rendered unto Caesar the forms and taxes required, we dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s  necessary to be regarded as a legitimate, acceptable entity in our business community. Behind the veneer of our business façade we conducted ourselves quite differently from business as usual.

We worked side by side in the service of others, designing and building things which enhanced the quality of life in the homes of good people, avoiding projects and clients infected with selfishness and arrogance and uncooperative spirits and desires for excess and wasteful luxury. We charged what we thought was fair, and what we thought was fair were the wages a worthy laborer is due, and no more.

In America such a decision has grave consequences as people grow older and are no longer able to work. Older now, we know that had we done it differently we would be much poorer in spirit as a consequence of having devoted ourselves to material wealth. In the eyes of some we lost a fortune of money, left on the kitchen tables of our clients. In that sense we paid a price for what we have and do not have as a result. What we have received in return is beyond price to us. We lost nothing, and gained much.

We were not driven by societal and cultural values. We were in it for the satisfactions of a humble, honestly-earned livelihood and the rewards of generosity of spirit. There were days working together when the pure joy of work was so present it became a dance of exultant, wonderful being, in the world.

While we were conducting ourselves according to our light we encountered over and over again people beset with troubles and fears. We encountered people who sensed a mutual resonance and the wisdom behind the model we presented to them in the conduct of our own lives as we worked in their homes. We met others unable to see anything more than their own closely held troubles and fears.

We saw and knew the ways people employed to hold the dark beast at bay while it chased them down the halls of their lives. Some staved it off with blind, societal religions wherein good principles of love were twisted in toward special selfishness. Some sought to outrun it with furious, unceasing industry and earnest pursuit of vague, promised satisfactions which would magically appear as soon as they had obtained enough money, power, or prestige.

We knew the root of their unease. They had come to believe their souls would be fulfilled as soon as they met the laws and demands of the materialistic world they believed in. They feared homelessness, poverty and hunger. They feared ostracism and loss of community. They feared the vast, open expanses of the universe, they feared imprisonment. They feared death, they feared life.

Who among us can say we have not experienced these same fears, have not felt chased by the same dark shadows? I certainly can not. They appeared from time to time in the shadows of my existential experience, and in those moments they seemed very real to that part of me. They still do, there. This is how it is. The divine and existential coexist in seeming paradox, simultaneously in conflict and reconciled.

God is troubled, God is without troubles. This is the life the Buddha awakens to. This is the life the Christ lives. This is the life humanity lives, the knowing it seeks.

 

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Mara’s Assault

I am back writing on this blog after a season of separation from the light Lenore and I shared. There is indeed a season for everything, and awakened persons are not exempt. That’s one of the developments of my sojourn through grief. I have come to own even more consciously and firmly the awakened awareness we shared together. It is a brighter light in me now, the light she said I needed to share here rather than go with her to where she is now.

I am doing that now, one day at a time. I have no idea what the next day will hold. I still want very badly to be with her where she is. I have not “healed” or “passed through” the grief I have experienced since her death. If anything my grief is deeper and more piercing and poignant than ever as I remember who we were together, what we gained together, and how we lived together before she died.

Last night I had an unusual experience I want to share.

Three days after I spoke openly and without reservation on Facebook about the satori, the awakening, Lenore and I had experienced together, Mara appeared in stealth in the darkness of my dreams. I didn’t recognize him. Warriors say the best time to attack is 4:00 am, when the adversary sleeps and is at their most vulnerable. Mara is at war with heaven and is well versed in the tactics of attack upon it.

Until the morning when I awoke Mara assaulted me with the ways and wiles of his art. He was a grinning hound slinking slowly forward, then cavalry charging head-on in full force, then Mara himself wheeling in the field to bear in from a dark, unseen vector of battle.

I was unprepared for the attack, vulnerable in the drift of sleep. I tumbled and turned and rolled and each onslaught pierced me and I had no counter and bore the full force of the onslaught until morning.

In the morning when I got up and went outside, the fog of that night still drifted in thick fingers of cloud across the sunrise. The rising light came flooding across the desert and as darkness faded I awoke and I realized I had been attacked by Mara.

I remembered something the Buddha had said in a similar encounter. “I see you, Mara.”

Doubt is Mara’s goal, and creating doubt in the mind and heart and spirit is Mara’s expertise. I had spoke of the mutual union which manifested in satori for Lenore and I. Mara, drawn by the light of our truth, came to throw up a curtain against it.

Mara attacked Lenore, attacked me, arguing that our love, our faith, our devotion and the resultant revelations and awakening we shared were all illusions; our truth was false, our light benighted, our vision distorted and what we saw together was only meaning given to a universe which held no meaning at all. It was a pretty impressive attack.

Mara appears in the Buddhist canon, and is one of many similarly personified symbols in various religious systems representing adversarial things which we encounter before and after awakening. Satan, in the Judeo-Christian canon, is another.

Mara is doubt. Satan is the small, selfish ego which offers false promises of grandeur and attainment and mundane and temporal gratifications in return for forsaking awakening to the deeper, whole truth of life.

Both Mara and Satan represent powerful influences encountered in the human experience on the path to fulfillment before and after our awakening in conscious awareness of who and what we are really, and before and after we are enlightened.

That’s important to note. They appear before and after awakening. They appear to the Buddha and the Christ and to all awakened and awakening people. They attempt to obscure and prevent people from seeing and owning what they already have: a divine self, a connected self, a true self.

People think they couldn’t possibly be capable of living at the level of awareness I described when I spoke of the satori Lenore and I experienced together. Many doubt that anyone can except for rare, special people who exist far above the station they assign to themselves. That’s just not true.

Mara and Satan are tricky. They turn seeing upside down and attempt to convince us that we are small. One of their ploys is to misuse the quality of humility and insist that it is a good thing – which it is in and of itself – but for the wrong reason. They twist it into the belief that we must be “humble” because we are not great, we are small. They attempt to convince us that we are not who and what we really are.

There are a lot of good reasons to practice humility, but that’s not one of them. True humility grows out of seeing and knowing, simultaneously, the unique beauty of our individual experience in the universe and all the gifts it bestows, and also how small a part of it we are.

The idea that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and the idea that we need to be guided by others and rely on their understanding and depend on the action of some unknowable, omnipotent, mysterious entity outside of ourselves which we have no way of directly connecting with because we are small and weak and not strong and powerful is a historical, institutionalized and socialized power play rooted in the small ego self, the thing which insists it must be in control of our mind and heart and belief and knowing.

Own who you are really. Own the divinity and awareness that you already have – or at least try it on for size and then look for evidence proving it is so. It’s there.

Then when Mara attacks you see what is happening. Then you can say, “I see you, Mara.” Then Mara leaves, defeated, as the sun rises.

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Finding Enlightenment with the Buddha: A Parable

My journey of seeking the answer began at the university, and proceeded on to the library and then the seminary. I lived the devout life for many years. One day word came that the Buddha had been found. I traveled years more, over land and sea and trail, on foot and horse and by every vehicle, by day and night and in storm and fair weathers until finally I arrived at the place where the Buddha was. I waited at the gate, daily supplicating the guardian servants for admittance until, finally, many months later, I was granted an audience with the holy one.

I was conducted to a garden gate. I was instructed to enter when I was ready, and left there alone. I gathered myself, I centered myself, and when the holy Om resonated in my being I entered.

My first sight of the Buddha dissembled all my preparations and I was suddenly adrift. He was peeing in the garden.

The first odd thought, sprung unbidden into my suddenly unsettled mind, seemed irrelevant and nonsensical, a product of my derangement;

My God, He has a bladder! He has urges he must satisfy! He is… he is… he is peeing!

The Buddha saw me then and, arranging himself, beckoned to me and settled himself on a cushion beneath the Bodhi tree. Stupefied and frozen, absent of the presence of mind to even perform the simple act of courtesy and seat myself in his presence, I gaped like a fool before him as a question followed my first thought as if on a tether – a question I had previously held a thousand certain answers to: “What makes Him any different then from me?

I had not spoken a word. Yet he focused his eyes upon me and said simply, “That is a very good question.”

He regarded me for a moment further and then signaled for a servant to show me out.

When the servant’s hand gently touched me on the shoulder it happened. The lotus bloomed; time disappeared; heaven arrived. I had my answer:

Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing… nothing at all.

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Reflections

This morning with coffee on the porch I reflect upon several things: the recently passed equinox and the gathering of Fall; the discovery that another old friend has died; the summer past; why I am the way I am; the relative perspective of mind; the gathering monsoon prologue due to sweep in from the Pacific this weekend with torrential downpours which will pound on our roof here in the mountains.

The days are shorter than the nights now and we are descending into darkness, slowly. The forest air is poignantly sharp, russet maple leaves blanket stretches of the river bank, the green glow burning in the canopy above us as we walked through summer now casts faint autumnal shades.

The weather shift took me to my barometers. I have a digital one, the sensor mounted outdoors and magically informing the station indoors. Next to the sleek station an ancient brass Proteus barometer leans propped against the wall. It is analog and I suppose obsolete, yet elegant in its craftsmanship and comforting in its humanity.

I noticed, not for the first time, that the Proteus needed to be recalibrated, and as I thought about that I recalled how and where I had acquired it. I bought it from Hazel in 2006. One thing led to another and I found myself searching for Hazel on the internet and learned she had died in 2011. The sort of message one expects in the fall.

I wrote a story about Hazel in 2006. A true story. All of it. Like most of my writing it has become a part of my personal archive, rarely shared. It wants “polishing” I suppose, and from time to time I visit it and tweak a bit here and there, knowing even as I do that the tale is told perfectly, and is done. I titled it “The Bridge of Souls,” and in this moment I’ll share it once again.

The Bridge of Souls

I never forgot her, and never will. We encountered each other for less than a half hour long ago. Forty-five years later we met again and shared another moment together. In between those moments more than twenty-three million minutes passed for each of us. Nearly 400,000 hours. Over sixteen thousand days. A lot of living. A lot of people, places and things met, known and left behind. A long sojourn of now forgotten specifics, merged and distilled into a broad gestalt marked by certain bright sparks. In our lives we spent barely more than an hour together. One of those certain bright sparks.

I met her the first time in 1961 when I was 13. My family was on the Great American road trip, leaving Colorado Springs, Colorado in mid-June, motoring across the northern plains of Utah, Wyoming and Idaho to the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon we took US 101 and drove down a rugged, beautiful coastline. At Bandon, Oregon we left the highway when it curved inland and followed a back-country road along cliffs overlooking remote beaches that wandered between volcanic rocks towering above crashing surf. It was mid-morning when we pulled onto the gravel shoulder at a remote wayside gift shop.

I remember it like a photograph; an elegantly solitary story-book shanty situated at the edge of a gigantic ocean beneath an endless sky.

There was no-one inside. My family milled around the porch, waiting for someone to answer our calls and knocking. I saw her first, walking across the road with a bucket in one hand, a surf-casting pole in the other. She called out to us, saying it was too beautiful to be indoors, so she’d gone fishing. She unlocked the gift shop door and told us to go in and have a look around while she put her gear away. My family went ahead, but I followed her through a gate on the south side of the shop.

In the bucket there were surf perch and agates, a glass fishing float, a piece of net, driftwood, old colored-glass bottles. “Neptune’s treasures,” she said, winking at me. It was the name of her gift shop. She sparkled with an intrinsic curiosity and kindness. Her eyes were framed in lines drawn by wind and sun and salt and humor, etched deeply by a constant look-out for the good, the interesting, the treasure of each moment.

She was kind to me. Independent and plain-spoken, wise and strong. She shared her life. She showed me her garden, the corn on the south wall with a surf perch under each stalk, the lush tomatoes gleaming, the deep and delicate garden colors burning like fire and ice in the coastal sun.

She told me what it was like to live on a cliff overlooking the ocean and sand and rock of southern Oregon, where wind sweeps the dune pines and plows inland under afternoon thunderheads rising over inland valleys. A place where she could feel the very earth breathe.

It was a place where new treasures appeared daily, on the beach and in the heart. In plain words, in paused moments when our eyes met and reflected each to the other, she informed me of life, and joy, and the choices to be made on the long road ahead.

I wish that I could add you to that moment we shared, instill it into you so that you would share the ground, the baseline instinctual substance of it. But words have limits, and beyond those limits there is a universe, solid and brilliant, the source of all reflections, its wholeness so soul-filling that when we try to catch it in words we find ourselves returned to a small place, neither as satisfying or as real. No video recording, no faithful capture of the form of the moment when souls meet souls can capture the substance there.

When I returned to the area 45 years later I began following the memory. My wife Lenore and I and our dog, Charlie, were on a camping vacation on the southern Oregon coast. I left the coast highway at Bandon and headed west toward the ocean. At a gas station I asked the attendant about the old beach road. I described the rocks in the surf, and he told us how to get there.

The rocks were the same, the beach, the cliffs. We observed them from behind steel railings at a new, large, elaborate concrete lookout. Now the road was bracketed by hotels and expensive vacation houses and burgeoning developments. It seemed doubtful that anything had survived the years.

In my memory she had been old, ancient to my young eyes. I didn’t think she would still be there, but I had hoped perhaps the house had survived. Maybe there would be someone who remembered her and could tell me her story. We got back in our truck and continued down the coast. Soon an old house with a cluttered front yard appeared on the left. As we got closer I said, “I think that’s it.”

It was. Older, faded, worn by the years. The sign that burned so brightly under the clear blue sky in 1961 was nearly unreadable now. A seeming tsunami-borne crush of debris had overwhelmed the place. Driftwood burls and roots, huge nets and glass fishing floats, bottles, signs, bells, hatches, transoms, a fractured dory, an endless volume of flotsam, jetsam and wrack had piled in the yard and washed up against the walls.

A piece of paper tacked to the wall instructed visitors to ring a painted cowbell on a rope, or the watch bell nailed to the wall. In sun-faded, sand-blasted windows there were colored bottles and eccentric collections of salt-air bric-a-brac. Looking through them I saw worn display cases piled over with bounty. Overflowing nooks and groaning shelves and corners piled high. Decades of sea-wrack and treasure. Neptune’s vault.

There was no answer to the bells. Exploring, I could still feel her presence. Yet there was something else. In the attached open garage, an anomaly; a clutter of garage sale debris and detritus. Clothes and skillets and plates and cheap flatware, electric heaters and faded linens, old curtains and shoes and chairs, a dumping ground of not-quite-used-up throw-aways. An incipient seediness working its way into the place.

Her spirit was still here, the foundation-rock beneath the burgeoning clutter and ruin, but I suspected she was gone. It looked to me like someone else had taken over, some sort of commercial pack rat peddler living in ruins soon to be razed for cash and yet another view motel. Finally, finding no-one there, we left.

Driving back through town we passed the local museum, and I decided to stop and ask about Neptune’s Treasures. I wanted to get the rest of the story if I could. The Director there listened to my story and said, “You must mean Hazel. Why, she’s not gone.” She smiled and said, “She looks like she could be a hundred and ten, but she’s probably only around ninety now. She’s still there, far as I know.”

She began looking through the phone book on her desk as she spoke. “She’s a bit of a celebrity, as a matter of fact. In the late 1980’s a famous writer mentioned her in a book. Not by name, but everybody here knows it was her. He was a photographer, and his photograph of some glass bottles out there was displayed in the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art. At least that was what the story said. Yes, here she is. I’ll call and see if she’s there.” She was. And she would wait for us.

On the way back a slow, breath-holding rise of anticipation. I had tracked down a memory more dream than real. Soon I would see her again. A broad arc in the patterns of my life, returning to where it began. In the truck with Lenore and Charlie we are three companion souls on a shared sojourn, a bubble of fullness gathering around us now, the rising swell of a looming epiphany. When we got there I walked through the yard filled with Neptune’s treasures and rang the ancient bell.

        And there were her eyes, sparkling at me. Wise, interested, knowing; still on the lookout for treasure. And I felt it. Across time, in a near-complete absence of the usual familiarities of connection, we were still connected.  I reached for her hand and ended up giving her a hug. We both smiled, each knowing the other wholly in a single holy instant. There we were, together, in the place where paths begin and swing wide across a grand creation and return again. In the place where time disappears and we are home.

I introduced her to Lenore and Charlie the Lab. She said Charlie looked sort of like a sea lion, and gave him a pat. She looked into Lenore’s eyes and then nodded, giving her a big hug. “Come on,” she said, “I’ll show you around.”

“It’s been a long time,” she mused. She went behind the counter and lifted up a guest register, old and tattered, bursting with comments of travelers from around the world who had found joy and delight in Neptune’s Treasures. It went back to 1964, too late to have captured a memento of that first visit. Folded inside was a newspaper article about the book she was mentioned in.

She didn’t remember much of the man, just a fellow in a hurry who took pictures of some colored glass bottles in her window. “People ask about it, so I show them that.”

She pointed out the window, across the road. “Been some changes here. When that hotel went in, it blocked the view. Now when I want to look at the ocean, I have to close my eyes.” A little smile. “One of these days I reckon I’ll just keep’em closed and see it all the time.”

Waving her hand at the shop, she said “The place is worn now, but I don’t see harm in that. I know it’s run down some. I can’t keep up with it like I used to. I’ve got a bad sciatica and can’t get down to the beach anymore. But there are still treasures here for those who care to look for them, and I’m still here with them.

“When the locals sold out and moved away they put the stuff they thought was too good to throw away in the garage. It’s not exactly treasure, more of a dumping place now, but there are useful things in there, too, if you look.”

Treasures for those with eyes which see. The oldest lesson, learned again.

Too soon it was time to go. I had found the barometer as she showed us around and paid for it. She rummaged in a cabinet on the wall behind her, and produced a seed packet of forget-me-nots. Emblazoned on the front of the packet was her name. I signed the register: “May, 2006 and Summertime, 1961. I forgot you not.” Feeling the fullness of the seed planted in me so very long ago.

I hugged her in the leaving with tears in my eyes, and she told me I’d made her day. In the truck the fullness overcame me and I cried, filled with an extraordinary and ineffable joy.

Later, driving slowly toward the end of day, I wondered about the writer/photographer who passed through that place. Did he know his source of light? Or were his eyes open only wide enough to catch the single ray captured in a piece of glass?

In Hazel’s realm there is a brilliant grace woven mysteriously and subtly into the fabric of a well-lived life. When his itinerant eye caught a certain quality of air and light in five colored glass bottles, did he also see her? The shimmer of her ancient harmonies in the salt-wind and sun-glazed panes? Did he see the spirit of Hazel centered in all the array of patterns? Did he know her as the all-pervasive, radiant source? Did he see the thousand perfect pictures behind the bottles?

Or was he content to click a shutter and leave behind the crunch of tires on gravel, carrying away only the merest hint of a profound and pervasive grace? A piece, like a heart in a cooler, to be transplanted not into another human breast, but merely to the wall of a museum where the harvester is glorified and treasure is contained and controlled and does not burst the soul into light, but only tickles it a bit?

I wondered. Sad at the thought that the fullness of life available to us all at every moment can remain unknown to us.

A day later I am sitting with Lenore and Charlie at a table on the veranda of a sidewalk bistro in a coastal tourist town. It is a community of artists and shopkeepers, of tasteful promenades and reworked coastal architectures where the soul’s art crosses paths with capital. The collision produces a jarring, odd juxtaposition of truth and lies.

At the next table over four people have met to share their religious histories. They pray publicly and earnestly and courageously before lunch. They converse and the biographical fragments drift over to us, threaded with affectations of speech and precise articulations. There are dry, memorized liturgies of personal epiphanies, regurgitated as easily as an eye blinks.

Usually I’d leave them to their paths; leave them to their journey and recall myself to this place at a table in the sun where I sit with two great souls. But today is different.

It is like a snake has entered the garden. My hackles rise as the too-loud conversation, on display, proceeds. In their conversation “I” reigns. It is the single word most often spoken. God has been retrospectively inserted into their histories like an all-purpose, all-explanatory footnote. Each story is egocentric, varnished to a faux-theocentric shine. Their tightly circumscribed consciousness radiates patterns. These are not the soaring, singing, crystalline perfections of Hazel’s life. The lodestone is unknown; their needles spin aimlessly within the local. Separation prevails. Ego and Deus, unreconciled.

And I wonder, seeing once again the knowing in Hazel’s eyes: Do we grow into it? Are we born with it? How have we come to be the ones who see and feel and know what others don’t, or can’t, or won’t?

I still wonder about that at times. And when I do, I close my eyes and see Hazel’s eyes, now closed too, looking at the ocean. And then I am at peace.

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Give me a moment. I’m considering the Hemlock.

I check into the website Grief Speaks Out everyday, looking for expressions that reflect my own experience since Lenore died. I find reflections there which are informative and helpful and descriptive of some of my own feelings and thoughts. It’s a very useful, thoughtful, compassionate, helpful website – and in some cases I suspect it even saves lives. That being said, there is at least one thing it cannot do. It cannot provide a roadmap for the griever. In the end, every grieving person walks a path that is unique. And it leads to a larger perspective that is equally unique.

The day Lenore died her loss and my grief appeared in a shattering explosion and was nothing like what my previous speculations about what it would be like. It consumed me. That’s what an explosion does. The aftermath was pieces and numbness, of living in a totality involving only grief and loss and mourning. It was inchoate emotional pain and unmanageable mental chaos. My world view blew up, the basic root of my life paradigm vanished, the matrix of my own understanding broke down into senseless chaos. My spirit broke.

As time goes on for me I’ve realized that grief is just one part of my experience. The shattered pieces of my paradigm and my understanding have come back together in a new configuration, informed by new, critical information; Lenore is not here with me in this life. She is in me, she still speaks to me and I to her, I can imagine her presence with me. Yet she is not here anymore. She is somewhere else. My perspective has had to be rearranged to accommodate this new, massive fact.

In moments of reflection I wonder why I have the impulse to share with others what is my uniquely personal experience when everyone has their own in play. Near as I can tell it’s simply because I am human and therefore self-involved. I don’t want to be thought of poorly by others, I want to be understood by others. I would rather not hurt others if possible. If things go the wrong way in these matters, my chances of survival go down.

If I remove my selfishness from the perspective, then why am I writing this at all, and why would I share it? People think what they will of me. I have no power over that. People understand in their own way and their understanding is informed by their personal perspective, and I have no power over that. People can get hurt whether I mean to hurt them or not, that’s up to them and not me, it’s a manifestation of their own unique perspective. I have no power over that.

Yet also because I am human I am more than just an individual – I am also communal. I’m social by human nature, part of a collective. That collective is also selfish because it’s human, but its needs are different. It wants to know what its members have encountered and use that information to survive. So I have an innate desire to inform the collective of any useful information I have acquired which might be useful for that ongoing mutually selfish desire to survive.

Survive! It’s the commandment so universally assumed that even God did not feel compelled to tell Moses to chisel it in stone: “Thou shalt survive.” It’s written in the bio-code that stretches all the way back in history to the first living cell. It’s still, even in the most recently evolved part of the human brain, the primary purpose we put the prefrontal cortex to use for. Survival.

Why is loss and bereavement nearly universally regarded as a thing human beings pass through on their way to more life, to survival? The assumption proves itself true in all but a few cases. Grief, loss, bereavement – it’s something human beings pass through, live with, bear with, suffer with – and survive with. They go on, recover, reorganize, rebuild. It’s assumed. It’s fact. Options need not apply. Start as far away as you want, but when you drill down to the foundation that’s where you’re going to end up. You survive. It’s an unquestionable underlying basic assumption of human existence.

But what if we take the unrecognized, underlying basic assumption in all that and throw it out the window? Declare it crap, and start putting everything back together without assuming that survival is the be-all and end-all fundamental focus upon which all human purpose is based? We  assume that under all circumstances, at all times, the first critical requirement of the individual and the human collective is to survive.

In a place where everything dies.

Even if you’re walking dead, even if your mind tells you it’s time to go, even if your heart is full and your life completed and you have become useless to yourself in the attainment and conclusion of your reason for being, even if everything ahead is dénouement, a slow slide into deterioration and eventual death – still you are required to live because even in that condition your simple presence can still be used by others to fulfill their needs.

The purpose of this thing I’m writing right now, telling it like it is for me, is about describing how survival could not always the best way to go. Survival is an option if you’re consciously aware of it as such. And it could be not the best option in certain circumstances, including mine.

I know, I know, this sounds suspiciously like a long, slow, tedious rationale for suicide, and already the more sensitive and perceptive readers among you, having detected that possibility, are forming up responses from your own perspective if that proves to be the case. A body of information is already in play, gently but firmly opposed to my view of survival as an option, putting harder weapons on alert for self defense in case this proves to be heresy or an attack on the fundament of basic beliefs and instincts. Will I need to be marginalized, explained by my condition and circumstances, my thoughts rationalized until safely reduced to a comfortable perspective?

Or wait. Has that already happened? Upon rereading this I realize I’ve already said what I came here to say, and the reactions by my readers are already in play. I could explicate further, but the essence is there. I could stop right now.

Yet if the explication isn’t as full and developed as I hoped it would be when I set out to write this thing, one thing remains to be said out loud.

Yes, I’m a potential suicide. But a slow one. I am aware of the joy life still offers me, aware of the others I can still serve with my experience and gained wisdoms and simple presence. I’m still aware of how wonderful and magic and full life is. I still laugh, dance, listen to music, think, feel, move, have places to go and things to do, people I love, people who love me and care about me. I still know the unexpected amazing development is just around the corner, waiting to delight and engage me in something new and unforeseeable and wonderful.

The thing is, I don’t hope for any of that any more. I don’t not hope – I just don’t hope for those things anymore. I don’t have a driving desire burning deep inside me to have them. I don’t need them in the sense of filling a void, removing a lack in my life. I’ve had them. I’ve been there, I’ve done all that. It’s been enough. And the context I gained them in, my life with Lenore, is perfect. I have no need of a different one. I’m happy with what I’ve had, and with what I have from it now. I’ve had enough. I’m done.

I’ve come to that place where all truth is only a matter of perspective. It’s all relative, even what we sense about the universe behind the curtain of consciousness. Even the sense we have of the eternal nature of the stars and earth and natural life is a result of interpretation rather than fact. It’s an illusion of vanity, a manifestation of our separated individual identities. It’s all pretty great when we live within it and find our way there, but in the end it is still a limited place to exist within. Exhaust its possibilities, master it, and it becomes superfluous. It becomes time to move on, to explore further, to discover what’s on the other side of the curtain.

I think it would be ok to die today, but I’m not going to get all inspired and enthusiastic and energetic about it. I also think it would be ok to kill myself today – but ditto. All I know right now is that when the time for me to die comes, whether naturally or by suicide, it will be the right time.

It will be the right time. That’s all I want people to remember about my dying. It was time, it was the right time. The rest, hopefully, will be about my living, about the wonderful, beautiful, full, hard, strange, amazing, loving, thoughtful, interesting, fulfilling, completed life I had, and how it all came to fruition and completion in the life Lenore and I shared together.

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The Suicide: An Insider’s View

He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then—the watcher at his pulse took fright.
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little—less—nothing!—and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

‘Out, Out—’ by Robert Frost

The first time I read this poem I was fifteen years old and the last two lines impacted me so much I’ve never forgotten them. They were so cold and ruthless and true. I’ve seen it happen all my life and done it myself, survived loss and moved on. In the wake of Lenore’s death and the throes of my bereavement so much has come forward from the past about death and loss. I’m considering everything I know about that.

Grief is indeed unique to the individual and so this is only about my personal experience.

First there was the concussion that hit the day Lenore died, the shock that slowly shattered my heart into pieces as I drove away from the hospice, and the numbness and disbelief even though we’d both seen her death coming. She was reconciled to it and at peace and met it with unbelievable strength and grace, but then that was her, who she was, how she lived.

When I was with her the last time, after her body had been washed and cleaned and arranged by the hospice staff and the stuffed Murphy puppy and my wool shirt were nestled up to her neck, I saw the slight, gentle smile of a Madonna on her face and knew she’d died the way she lived.

I’d had a near-death experience when I was young and had told her about it and in those last days reminded her of it again. I hoped in that final moment with her body that at least in part her peaceful smile was because she had experienced the peace and timelessness and connection and time to decide to go on I had experienced when near death. I came back, I had a choice. She did not, her circumstances were different. I just wanted her dying to be as beautiful and gentle and easy as it could be for her. That was all I ever wanted for her, in life and at the end.

There is no order in my grief. It’s a random, unnumbered hopscotch of days where I land in unspeakable places, fall into deep holes, teeter on the edge of precipices, walk through life with the thousand-yard stare of concussive aftermath. I often meet the daily events of my life in an outwardly unremarkable appearance, having conversation with others, beholding the beauty of nature, eating, cleaning, and taking care of the daily mundane chores of life in a body. Inside it’s a different story. I’m a gutted, hollow hulk, living by habitual rote, more robot than human in my actions – but very, very human in the pain at the core of it all.

Memories come unbidden now; they’re random emotional tics that hit my heart like a spear point. I wrench my mind away from them and go do something that requires my full attention. They return.

My external impartial observer notes daily that I’m living dead. Everywhere I go my face is numb and my mind barely engaged. I don’t smile except when it happens reflexively when I meet and talk with other people. The behaviorally conditioned responses of politeness and cordiality during engagement with another human being bring a smile here, a sympathetic agreeable nod there, all the appropriate requirements of the rite. I am merely an automaton, but a good one. In those moments I am engaged, registering, responding, identifying, sharing. Without joy.

There are people in my life who are worried that I won’t survive Lenore’s loss in my life. They should be. I am.

They know how we lived our life together; know how deeply we were bonded. They suspect at some deep level, either consciously or subconsciously, that perhaps the life we lived together may have abolished any chance I might have for living this life without her. One of them called me just last night and I was so very grateful that she has the insight and sensitivity to know what I’m experiencing; the sad, hard, terrible, beautiful, terminal truth of it.

That’s the place I’m in now. I doubt that there are very many people at all who have grieved and not considered suicide at one time or another in the course of their passage through the pains of loss. The most open and honest confessions of people who have experienced profound bereavement always include a time when they felt like dying and wanted to kill themselves. It’s a consideration, an option. I have to look at it. I have been.

I have to find out where I stand, if nothing else.

I’m not in a condition to act upon my conclusion if it all adds up to suicide. The friend who called me last night reminded my yet again that I am in no condition to make any serious decisions right now, and I know that. At this point I just want to know where I stand. I’m willing to forestall any decision or action regarding suicide until I’m standing on certain ground and know without equivocation or reservation that it’s what I desire more than life.

Writing is part of my process, it helps me sort things out, put them in order and articulate my experience. It’s necessary for me because I process the things I encounter in life at a high level of complexity. I can see and hear Lenore responding to my saying that, raising one eyebrow in my direction with a smile on her face, loving me because I am that way. “Oh, really Bob? Do you think?” I can hear her pleased laugh. It’s who I am. Life gets pretty confusing for me if I don’t do that.

I will add, however, that her heart is in me as well, as my mind was in her. We were/are both intelligent, loving human beings. In my regard we were/are, together, one of the best examples of the potential humanity can reach in the practice of true love.

That’s what this is about. It’s about putting in order my complex confusion about my life now. A lot of this writing goes into my archives because it’s very personal. I’m writing this with the intention of sharing it with others for whatever understanding might be made available to them about this part of their own grieving, if only in a general way.

In particular I hope it might provide some understanding to those people who do love me and might be affected by my suicide if that turns out to be the choice I make. I think it might be easier for them to return to their own affairs if they knew I made a reasoned, solid choice for myself, and why, and know that I was not a victim of a temporary despair or derangement.

What I do want to know is whether or not my life ended when Lenore died or if there is a measure of life without her left to me.

My bereavement has slowly moved from the place where all I can see is her loss to a place where the perspective is larger and broader. Bereavement does that, it leads people to consider not only the life and death of their beloved but their own life and death as well. It does not diminish the loss of the loved one. That will always be there. No matter how broad the perspective, that loss will be at the core of everything in even the broadest of landscapes.

Bereavement is part of the ground in this life. We live, and we die. Many of the bereavements we encounter are brief, glancing encounters, times when we are reminded of the fact of our own death but return quickly to our own affairs. The loss of former acquaintances, former friends lost in time, even the occasional glances we have of obituaries in the newspaper or word of someone’s death in social media give us at least a short pause for thought about death and loss and lives lived and ended.

Some of the losses we have involve significant bereavements. In my case I count the loss of my brother Tony and the deaths of my maternal grandparents among those. They struck hard, their loss lingered in me, and it took time to return to my affairs. I was changed significantly by their loss, yet able to go forward in much the same direction I was going before their deaths.

And then there are the profound losses, the life-changing bereavements that changed my life forever. I’ve had two of those. One of those bereavements took me out beyond the edge of life, into a complexly rooted insanity and a time when I was homeless and mad as a dog, wandering aimlessly on the beach in southern Oregon, eating out of tidal pools, smelling like wood smoke from the fires I slept by at night wrapped in a wool blanket, my only possession.

The roots of that hit were very complex and involved an element of traumatic stress disorder taken on in my childhood as the result of the loss of my father, who I loved and who loved me very much, at the age of seven and then my exposure down through the ensuing years to more death, an exposure to evil and abuse, and many more conditions which wounded me and did not heal for many years.

It was also complex in the fact that no-one had actually died during that bereavement. My first marriage had failed due to my own failings and afflictions. I loved my ex-wife but I was young, tortured, and incapable of embracing the behaviors that are necessary to sustain a marriage, and it ended. We had three children. It wasn’t right and not even necessary, as I realized later, to view the separation from my daughters as bereavement, but in the condition I was in and because of the past that was bursting like an infection from the encysted pains of my early life, I felt like my children had died.

They were gone from me, just like my father was gone from me, and what made that sense of loss so terrible for me was the feeling that while at the same time I grieved them as lost forever, they still remained here in this world. I think the pain of that conflict is what finally, utterly broke me at the time.

I tried to commit suicide twice in that time, serious attempts, and I learned then that it is difficult to do, and can even be denied to you by the grace of God when you have seemingly succeeded. In retrospect I’d have to say the toughest part of committing suicide is the commitment that has to be in place before you can accomplish it. You have to be certain beyond doubt of where you stand.

Somehow I survived even that, the time of my life when I walked through the darkest valley I’d ever been in. I went on, I slowly healed the old and recent wounds, I found myself reconciled to the pains of life and the scars I bore, accepting what had gone before and my own part in it, willing to face more of the same while hoping for better then I had up to that time. I found a spiritual core in me that did indeed consist of faith and hope and love.

And then Lenore and I, seeking one another across the face of this earth for as long as we had been alive, finally found one another. We lived 33 years together and had a life together that was whole and holy and indescribably wonderful and beautiful.

Now she is gone, and I’m here in this landscape, considering what is left, and what is next. Regardless of whatever decision I might make as far as suicide goes and regardless of how fully and wholly reasoned out it is, it needs to be fully recognized that the emotional and, more significantly, spiritual impact of her loss is the largest element in my considerations. It can’t be otherwise.

How can I not contrast my knowledge of knowing what life can be when it achieves the highest level of love with my knowledge of what life is like without it? Even when I consider the unknown future, which always holds a measure of hope simply because what is unknown always has a possibility of hope attached to it, I see no life available to me which would even come close to the life I’ve had. Even if there were one I could clearly see I doubt that I would take it up simply because I’m completely satisfied with what I’ve already had in this life.

And that’s another thing. In addition to the typical manifestations of grief I recognize in my own experience, most of which involve pain, there is something very unusual present. I feel like my life has been fulfilled, and is completed. It’s a feeling that’s not painful at all. It’s a peaceful, quiet recognition that I’ve lived a full life and done everything I needed to do, had all the experiences I needed to have. I’m satisfied with it all. I really do feel that way. It’s one of the places I already know I stand, certain and with no doubt whatsoever.

So here I am at this existential milepost, trying to decide which way to go. When I make my final decision it won’t be just a head thing, or just a heart thing. It will be a head and heart thing, reasoned and felt to a degree of certainty that has no doubt left in it.

Those of you who are reading this by now have an idea of my inclinations toward suicide, and hopefully some of the revelations here will give you an understanding of why I did it if I do choose to end my life voluntarily and not wait for nature to take its course. And if it’s more than you can take on right now, take hope in the fact that I’m still here – a surprising thing considering how deeply I’ve desired to be dead and with her – and so it seems that there is at least a small possibility that my life may go on a bit further without Lenore in it.

On the other hand, you deserve a full picture of where I’m at right now, just in case you find yourself having to meet and reconcile my suicide. Here are some things to think about, the thoughts and feelings that are prevailing in me right now. Some of it I’ve covered here already. I’m just bringing it up out of my archives into the light of day.
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Though life is what I want, there is something I want more than life. I wish to go on. I want to die. I’ve considered my options. I’ve had the very best that life offers. People tend to avoid all things unhappy or undesirable in the belief that this improves their contentedness. Avoidance is fine, but why would we want to live in a constant state of denial?

I’ve always been one of those who can do what others don’t, or can’t, or won’t. I can look at things others turn away from. I can’t say how or why I am what I am exactly. I have a good heart and a good mind. I’ve had a very full experience. I know that the choices I made, good and bad, and a willingness to learn from my mistakes and missteps helped me gain the life I desired. I know that a mysterious grace helped with the rest.

This is my final choice. It is my hope that with the help of that grace I will gain what I desire yet again. And if dead is dead and all we believe is dust then so be it. I will be with her. That’s what I want.

I choose to not avoid or deny my circumstances, condition, or prospects. I have had a good, full, complete life. I am not compelled by incompletion to fulfill myself. As a matter of fact, everything still available to me here in this life I have already visited. I have no need to retrace those tracks or engage in future facsimiles. I am content with my history, it is enough.

I am old and my body has lost much of its vigor. I’ve held much of my physical condition close, not even telling Lenore everything, although I shared enough with her so that she knew enough. She was an observant girl and I suspect she figured out the rest. My lungs and heart are in bad shape, not retrievable to a condition approximating some form of reasonable health. The symptoms of their further deterioration are showing up in the mirror and my days as they are ravaged further by the stress of grief. I don’t care to deteriorate a piece at a time until death comes. I prefer not to wait on death.

Lenore’s loss and my resultant grief and sadness and despair are a part of my perspective, and I have reckoned with that. It is real, and it is a large part of the choice I make. It is not the only factor. When I consider everything, I’m certain of the choice I’ve made. It’s time to go on.

To many my choice will be a weakness, a sin, a failing, a tragedy, or the result of a temporary derangement. It is none of these. I know what I want, and I know what to do. It is an act requiring strength and resolve and certainty. It is an act of faith, and hope and love. It is an act of faithfulness and devotion. It is an act of completion. I go to her; I go to join her where she is. It is what I want more than I want this life itself.

Those who know love, and know me, will know this is my time to go on. They will know their love didn’t fail me and will not suffer wondering if they could have done more. They will know this is my time to go, and nothing could have held me here.

What about my best friend, Kay, what about the regained connection with Alicia, the loving child I adore, what about the friends and family who love me and would like to have me around for awhile, if only to know that I was still here in this life with them, what will this do to them?

Well, it will hurt them. That pain will also enrich them, but it certainly isn’t my aim to sensitize them to the poignance of life and the nature of death any further than they already are. They’re all exceptional hearts and minds, and know the score of life already. They will understand. They will understand that life without Lenore is not really living for me. They will know that for me, in my circumstances, suicide is a reasonable option. A preferable one, actually.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.
A time to be born…

I have been there. I have done all that.

… and a time to die.

That time is coming, I’m just bound by the fact that until it does come, it is for now that day and hour no one knows. When it comes, it will be that day and hour. Either nature will have taken me to the end, or I will end my life and I will be with her, wherever that is, because that is where I wanted to be more than any other place in the universe.
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And if, in the end, this all proves to be only the blood-letting of dark humors in one of the normal stages of grieving, then let it be at least a cautionary tale of the dark ground that will be encountered there in the loss of true love.

 

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