Category Archives: Spirit

Narrative Stillness

Tragedy plus time equals comedy.
—Steve Allen

bookprintThe bipolar condition describes the fate of humans gifted with the capacity for pleasure and pain, good and evil, ecstasy and agony. If every life is a storyline, then we have to ask, why that story? Can it be told, even described in retrospect, in different terms, flipping tragedy for comedy?

Even in present time, we have the option to cast our lives in starkly opposite terms, by a whim of emotion: getting up on a different side of the bed. In a positive mood, everything is groovy: I’m healthy, free, in love. My drum is singing, the book I’m working on will be a best-seller, my team has won four in a row. Life, in a word, is sweet.

A cloud comes scudding across the sun, and my teeth start to ache. I am trapped in this decaying body, this useless job, unloving and unloved. My art? In this storyline, I’m a wanker, a hack. My optimism came from viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. Disabused of illusions, my life is tawdry, inconsequential.

Which narrative to choose? The point, rather, is that we can choose our own adventure. Not just in New Year’s resolutions, or New Age faith in manifesting our dreams; but in viewing our past and present circumstances, our quality of life. The past is not cast in stone unless it is carved there. sanscrit2.jpgAnd even then, that’s just one version, never the last word.

The present? When we are truly present, in the present, free of past or future considerations, there is freedom also from narrative constraints. Narrative is linear, depending on the sequential flow of time, and of written speech. Stopping time, stopping judgemental interpretations of our lives, stillness arises and spreads. A space opens between narrative dichotomies, where we might sit, at rest, holding these and all possibilities as only that, as potential narratives.

Then we can re-enter the dream in more lucid awareness, where the dream can turn in any direction, as it will or as we might direct. Back to stillness, how does that feel, does it ring true? Try again, see how the next story fits. In truth, our life may not be pinned down to any single narrative. Or if we do so anyway, out of impatience to say something meaningful about it, then we must allow that in the next iteration, the plotline will vary; the characters will show different sides of their psyches; our responses, like those of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, will vary according to our capacity to gain self-awareness, to learn and grow.

In the stillness between narratives, we gain freedom from narrative constraints, and from the bipolar tendency of our dualistic personalities. Neither as good as we hope nor as bad as we fear, we find a more enduring truth of our condition in the undefined, the uncolored, the unlimited grace of simply being. Where what is, just is, as it is.

If you ask or feel compelled to characterize further, in a positive light or negative, go ahead: that is our human prerogative. Just know that either way, however you read or write that story, it’s just that: one possible story. There is always another version waiting to be written.

 

 

duality

Is vs. Should: The Quantum Paradox

When I outline the keywords describing my vision or worldview at the present time (heading into 2016), I come across a snake in the garden: the question of evil, the inevitability of “death and taxes,” the seeming perpetual conflicts of politics and scourge of war, greed, exploitation and oppression. How to incorporate such realities into a vision that is otherwise pure and complete, a picture of natural grace and balance?

I begin with an overview: Universe, Earth, Humanity. Embodied in this organic totality are love, life, beauty; energy, unity and form. Relationship between all things; the music of harmony and rhythm. snakeYet there is this fly in the ointment, this nagging knowledge that all is not right in Paradise. Is it the fault of a distant God, an errant angel, a tempted woman, a blind man? Is the evil wreaked against humans and nature to be chalked up to human nature? A bug in the genome, an alien hack, the manipulation of the many by the few—who themselves have been programmed, seduced or coerced into the game of limitless wealth and power? I can easily posit a nonviolent revolution, a heart manifesto, a transcendence to inner peace; but more, I see now the path beyond manifesto (beyond what should be, in my not-so-humble opinion), to acceptance (what is, at least in our consensual reality matrix) of all. All, after all, includes what appears as good and evil, within an overarching unity. So we arrive at a quantum paradox.

First, a note about definitions. Consensual understanding aside, what is Nature? Is it all of the above, the fullness of what is? Does Nature include humanity, with our baggage of dirty politics, deadly war, inexplicable evil? In its simplest form, we confine nature to our familiar surrounds—the familiar though ever-dwindling nonhuman realms of Earth.

What about Spirit? Is this another term to comprise all of the above, in more immaterial form? Does Spirit include love, life, beauty, energy, unity… even form, its supposed opposite? Is there such a thing as dead form, distinct from live, organic forms we find as art, as living things? Does Spirit include “evil spirits”?

The exercise in definition repeats the core dilemma: how to resolve the paradox of the undesirable within the container of the reality we are given? How do we accept a reality that compassion deems necessary to act upon, to change?

creationAt the heart of Vedic philosophy, the fundamental paradox arises as Unity and Duality. Is there a Creator and a Creation, and are these distinct, or one and the same? The answer would amuse the quantum scientist, who by now is famous for demonstrating that the world is composed of primary elements that are, at once, particle and wave – depending on our perception or means of measurement. Is the yin-yang symbol one of unity or duality? The answer is both: duality within unity.

dualityWhile with all my heart I desire the world to be entirely good, evil persists. There is both light and darkness, life and death, peace and war, abundance and greed. Still I come to my capacity for acting on desire, for exerting my will, for bringing influence to bear: shining light in the darkness. I maintain this stubborn preference for what should be, in the face of what is. For utopia over dystopia; for imagination over reality; for truth over perception; for silence over imperfect words and arbitrary definitions. Yet, what is persists: dystopian, naggingly real, ever dependent on relative perception; ever reliant on the language I have at hand.

So do I resign my ambition to acceptance? Forego fruitless action for blissful stillness? Be happy as a follower instead of striking boldly forward as a leader?

It’s not that simple; the paradox remains. If I accept the duality of is/should for the sake of the should, then I am forced to include also the is. When the duality cancels itself out in an oscillating blur, grace appears, in the form of awareness that is complete, yet open. This is the state of creation itself; of life, growth, evolution. Creation is complete at every moment; and the next moment always proves that it is unfinished.

While compassionate action is unnecessary, perhaps incrementally effective at best, it is also necessary, a result of that very tension at the heart of duality. Action results from potential energy and present passion: like life itself in the face of disease, injury and death; like writing, in the face of linguistic irrelevancy; like politics, for a just cause without fixation on outcome. The Quakers have a term for it: “speaking truth to power.” Not in order to wield power; not in expectation of a favorable outcome; but out of integrity, an inner compulsion to serve the truth and shine the unquenchable light of justice.

The only kinds of fights worth fighting are those you are going to lose because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing—for the sheer fun and joy of it—to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it. (I. F. Stone)

In fact the outcome we know is determined, within the dualistic matrix: death and failure will attend us, regardless of our efforts and intentions and temporary successes. By the same token, however, despite our context of earthly limitation, we do find beauty and love in life while we have it; we can illuminate truth and understanding with the tools of language and art; we can engage in political discourse and action with the sheer impulse of unity with the rest of creation.

Divided, we fall. United, we stand. Thus, we rise and fall, like the sun on its rounds, the tides in their ceaseless motion. The paradox is never quite resolved, except that in our appreciation of it, our universal acceptance, our ongoing participation, it is resolved, just as it is, and should be: one coin, two sides.

ii

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo

yin-yangThe interweaving of unity and duality continues in complexity within the dualism. Unity as a container of duality (the yin-yang symbol) is one thing. Look closer and see that there is also a seed of opposites within each side: white within black, black within white.

So on the Is side of the equation, must be accounted the presence of that nagging should. If an all-abiding acceptance of the world is true to its own standard, it will credit also the small voice of protest, of agitation, of advocacy, of righteous anger. The principle is especially true if those feelings are genuine, core, spontaneous, and resonant with supposedly universal values of human and (less commonly recognized) natural rights. But even the caustic cries of the outcasts, the barbarians, pirates, fascists or misguided missionaries have tickets on that Ark named Everything is Already Perfect. In other words, even if everything already is perfect, there is no censoring the eternal critic, rebel, bard or fool who wishes to stir up trouble, if only for the fun of it.

On the Should side of the equation, we might complain that the Is’s already have it, so we should carve out our territory of equal share. Very well… and so admit, too, the pearl of is into the very heart of Should. If our should is good, and the world as it is (documentation proves) evil, we utopians have a problem. As every utopian who’s ever tried it knows from experience. We cannot build a wall high enough to protect our paradise from invasive species; and as we try, the rot creeps from within.

Another, gentler kind of is also infects the walled realm of Should. It’s not just a bad apple, snake or ants, parasite or coiling vine; it’s the grace of surrender. The grace of surrender is so forgiving that it is unconditional. You can cheat by continuing to strive, with efforts to build, renovate, paint—or even tear down—the walls of the Kingdom of Should; and when you rest from your saintly labors, you still can be soothed at the feet of Mother Is (who we might suppose is related to the great Goddess Isis). Being reacquainted with the deep peace and broad acceptance of what is will come in handy, if only for humility’s sake and practical strategy, when the next campaign or manifesto flames to life within the crucible of the all-possible.

cracks in the wall

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See also: Revolution Tales (four reviews)

The Politics of Life

 

 

 

 

creation

Androgyny, Chaos Theory and Microhydro Systems

– journal entry, circa 2000

Went to fix the alternator today. It was the old, original problem raising its gnarled head again. The shoe-goo solution: make it off-beat, to keep the groove running smooth.

yytreeSee, if we weren’t gendered, the balanced center would start to wobble off course eventually: because there is no such thing in nature as perfection, whether of circle, center or balance. Neither focus or direction stays unperturbed. Time is the wild link, the errant vector, the unstoppable agent of change. Therefore to claim a higher ground in abstract abstinence from any formed opinion or inclination, whether sexual, political or journalistic, is to court at best irrelevancy, and at worst imagined glory: The Ideal.

Meanwhile the preachers fall to more earth-taunted rhythms; rhymesters fall back to prose; and the pelton wheel maker tells me the vibrations will harmonize better with the jet slightly off-line, the aluminum plate baffled with wormy shoe-goo to break up the chatter of too-regular spray. Better to lean one way into this fair wind, or the sails will shred going this way and that undecided, wobbling, careening crazily over.

My ex wanted to split all our childcare fifty percent. Then share our house even after we split up. Not a stable situation: it finally gave way to my purchase, renters aboard now to grumble over grinding from the hydro. Fixing things up—a rusty screw or two, a wooden stay in the wheelrace—allowed me, I’m now afraid, to set things a little too tidy.

There’s no choppy knocking about, as before, but instead a steady, throaty hoarseness to the tone: trying to be too perfect, against an onslaught of slightly divergent spray. Holding the center is all very well if there’s no interplay required with life, nature, the future. But of course outside the philosophic mind, there is no such condition: not even in the so-called void: imagine it and, like the polluting scientist, you stain the sample, like the mirror it is, with your own image.

I will be what the energy of my sex determines: beyond hormones, beyond possibly DNA, to a principle of one-ness, individuality, dismounting the dicey razor for earth-or-sky country, beginningless creation or fertile womb.

chaos theory
Chaos is not what it seems; neither is objective neutrality. Each may start with its own definition as we imagine it, but quickly departs for the opposite condition. All dualisms tend to resolve to oneness, while oneness inevitably splits, asexually, into two. Once two, back again to union: and hence new life, oneness again, a single slant on a mutual idea.

CameraZOOM-20140428115056101Chaos seems chaotic, without pattern, anarchic and getting more and more out of control. But chaos theory teaches the opposite of this conventional sense of chaos. The mathematical, geometric art of chaos is actually finally, if not bilateral in its symmetry, patterned. The circle, however, is not the creature of this geometry. Rather the spiral defines the form of its evolution, incorporating a linear accumulation of defining events that go to make up the life of the formula, the pelton wheel, the human, the sun. The straight fastball is not a very effective pitch. Better the curve, with its one-sided or screwball spin and arc. Or the random knuckler, that floats homeward with an aura of minor movement about its path. The water jet on the cusp between the two cups will wobble randomly but fixedly, rumbling forever caught in the core of the spray with no way out: but if the spray is decidedly, yet ever-so-slightly offset, the wheel on its shaft may stabilize its rotation with a certain leaning-in or leaning-out pressure, giving to the shaft’s rotation its own support: full sail driving mast, woman and man in glad movement.

Boabab tree

Root and Branch

From the writer’s journal, February 2015

thailand treeThe challenge is to keep it simple. On retreat here in Thailand, I have only my own schedule, minimalist with its morning ritual and daily editing quota, to maintain. Then there is the hovering push toward book launch on March 1. After that, the event branches into multiple responsibilities and opportunities: readings, conferences, web announcements, social media engagement, followup blog posts, book orders…

I return to the basics, my crucible of creation: writing the next novel, or revising the next one in the pipeline, with its daily quota, letting the rest subside. That is the matter of priority: the discipline, and the blessing, of a vocation—a calling. Yet even in that root calling, the opening to share with primary content and craft, I return to the meditative mode, the root below the calling, which is simply being. Removing the stress or anxiety element, by returning to the basics: being alive, at home in the skin, breathing.

There is an ongoing paradox, then, or dynamic. Being at ease, at peace, opens the way to deep inspiration, to expressing and creating from a fundamental need, desire or manifestation of personal vision. Once begun, that path brings consequences to pursue: publishing, marketing, commentary, outreach, each a major trunk leading to ever more complex branchings of activity and engagement. As the outer world of manifestation expands, the visionary and creative self shrinks under the burden of proliferating to-do lists, subsidiary inspirations spawned like heads of the hydra at each lopping of an item from said list.

Back to the breath, the primary work, the root and trunk: writing again. Keeping the body healthy, respect for nature intact, humility in the face of life’s limitations… and gratitude for the live connections along the journey.

Boabab tree