Scraps

Do not torture yourself with what-if’s,
unknown to you now or in future times,
mind-blowing images the result
of imagination in overdrive, time to regroup,
redirect into something worthwhile;

Humans are creative beings who do not
do well when long sated, beacon-like rays
of mental anguish beaming fore and aft,
searchlights meant to discover what lurks
in the shadows of dissimulation;

We all go thence, mindfulness is telling,
indulging fantastical ruminations
in the lax moments of a perfect day;
Better to dwell upon beauty in unexpected
places, focus on wind and weather,
the wet noses of dogs and the crumbling
of fertile soil, bending palms in waning light
or perfectly veined golden birch leaves
dropping onto crystal-encrusted ground;

I will never cease asking questions
despite education to the contrariness
of Whys, neverending hamster wheel
of insanity yet still I query, Why this life?
To what purpose the suffering?
I have read abundant teachings,
there is merit in all wisdom,
little snippets meant for stitching, warp
and woofing into wonder meant to comfort
both our bodies on the coldest winter night.

Postponing Joy

Remember Wimpy from Popeye cartoons? I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today! That guy knew what he wanted and couldn’t wait to enjoy it, although I’m not entirely sure about the indebting part, but I digress …

Some truths are hard to swallow. Yet is it possible we court death in postponing joy? When you die, says the Koran, God will call upon you to account for all the permitted pleasures you did not enjoy while on earth. From the Talmud, A person will be called upon to account, on Judgment Day, for all the permitted pleasures he might have enjoyed but did not.

I possess a wicked work ethic, and don’t consider it a bad thing. No matter the pressures of daily living, no matter what sticky situation I find myself mired in, I can always source joy through creative expression and participating in nature. If I find myself making excuses or justifications (some indeed compelling), it is important to recognize them for what they are so that I do not delay any longer. If I sense the corners of my mouth are cranked down in frustration or too much concentration, I know it’s time to get out into the garden and/or with the dogs and start smiling again.

Deepening consciousness through whatever avenues requires that I open my eyes to what is around me, to awaken further to how thoughts and desires co-create my life, moment to moment. Perhaps if one were ever mindful of temporality, one would live that much more fully. We could prioritize like never before while dismissing grievances and getting on with engaging ‘best possible self’ more than occasionally.

 

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Refract

How easy it is to reveal our best
in writing; reflective, unlike life
which requires reflexive, interactive,
unpredictable; like it or not the mirror
is held up and there we are refracted,
simply human, the same myriad collection
of jukebox tunes flipped out and panned
in turn on impulse perhaps, able to
be present to the situation or not, with
or without guile depending, personalities
the stanchions we prop ourselves up on,
unfurled in part or fully fledged;

Merely to be is to remain surprised,
for instinct requires nothing less nor more,
existing unpretentiously as the dance we cut
in on just as the rhythm changes, slow and blue
to whiplash fast, sparks arcing off heels,
forget dusting off the old, the new sweeps us
up and up into unchartered territory,
realms felt to be inhabited only by the gods
and yet here we clearly stand, two feet planted
on this earth, gobsmacked into wonder
once again.

 

Regroup

She cannot begin to know grief, difficult
as it is to penetrate veil upon veil,
self deceptions and descriptions, the torment
of pleasing in order that one
might feel loved;

She is sure she knows at such a tender age,
and life has but toyed with her up
to this point, lovers and love, planes
and trains and automobiles speeding her
away from any unpleasant experiences; has
yet to encounter a wall she cannot vault
over, the one that demands we climb it brick
by brick until, exhausted beyond weariness,
we glimpse the other side;

By that time, we are no longer concerned
with vistas, even as the most extraordinary
perspective unfolds before the eyes.

 

This Sweet Life I

How can we begin to understand the nature of simplicity, here in the Western world? Is our restlessness symptomatic of a deeper yearning to know our sense of place more profoundly? Many of us are feeling called to a life less fettered with consumerist trappings and meaningless work. How ironic then, that nations only recently diverted from an agrarian base which ensured meaningful work with unwavering family and community support and time-honored sacred daily rites and practices now want what we have in the way of “quality of life.”

Has one nation tipped the balance of an entire planet? What are we collectively seeking? In his essay The Orphan and the Angel (Ways of the Heart: Essays Toward an Imaginal Psychology), Robert Romanyshyn seems to encounter, as we all must from time to time, the dark night of the soul. “Today we desperately need a transformation of soul, a spiritual revolution. And we need to be awakened in this way not in order to save ourselves or to save the world. Too much of the old arrogance clings to such dreams, too much of our busyness, our hyperactivity, our stubborn refusal to listen. On the contrary, we need to be awakened in order to be saved. We have forfeited our birthright in the scheme of creation, and as such we have lost any right, if we ever really had one, to save the world. Only the world can save us. We need this humility. We need to learn again how to pray.”

Finding time to meet ourselves honestly in the quiet and solitude of our own hearts seems key to discovering the nature of our place in the world. Only then may we feel the pulse of creation flowing in our veins; only then can we taste the sweetness flowing from the fount of Mother Earth. The speed at which many of us hurl ourselves through life can be measured by reflecting on the past day or week or month where we feel time steamrolling by, leaving us flat and dry. It causes us to wonder, wander and ultimately feel a growing sense of isolation from our own skins, our own kinship to nature both phenomenologically as well as from our own human nature. We become orphans on alien ground.

In A Sense of Place, Wallace Stegner offers, “In our displaced condition we are not unlike the mythless man that Carl Jung wrote about, who lives ‘like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary human society. He lives a life of his own, sunk in a subjective mania of his own devising, which he believes to be the newly discovered truth’.”

Does this subjective mania describe our cultural malaise as well, and if so, how has our American way of life inflamed virtually all of civilization with the desire to possess a lifestyle which promotes attachment to things and detachment to a deeply rooted sense of place? Is this forgetting something all human beings must collectively move through in order to reencounter a lasting, harmonious relationship with the planet we call home, else lose our place in nature’s scheme? What are we looking for, but more importantly, what are many of us attempting to reclaim? To delve deeply within, to explore our inner life is not the same as isolating ourselves from family, community and our world. To meet the sweetness that life already offers us without condition, we need to reclaim simplicity, meeting life on its terms, not ours. When we meet creation with a certain sense of wonder and enchantment and a lack of guile, life is and has always been infused with the nourishment the hungry ghost within us seeks. In Universal Dharma Realms, Maha Thera describes these ghosts that “always live in the atmosphere of anxiety, illusion and fear. Their desires are never satisfied. The hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throat is as narrow as a pin, but their stomach is as large as a drum.”

Americans might discern the difference between being alone with ourselves and being alone with no sense of place or belonging. We are still a young nation on borrowed soil, needing to come to terms with our arrogance and national philosophy and practice of eminent domain. We need to see ourselves less as owners of the land and more as citizens of Planet Earth. However this plays out in our psyches, ownership is illusory, for our bodies are made of the same earth we stand upon, regardless of where we locate ourselves mentally in space and time. Yet our minds continue tethering themselves to another home, we know not where. How can we remain grounded with this kind of duality in a time where escape seems more desirable than ever?

We are given what we need for this earth walk. Every emotion, every bodily organ serves our path. Many of us have become surgeons of the soul, cutting loose whatever pulls us into discomfort. Yet we also possess the threads which attach us to community, to our sense of place in the world. When we reckon with our innermost yearnings, we reestablish a rooted inner life. When we encounter life on its terms, we find common ground in an unpredictable world. Ultimately if we are to create a quiet life, a serene existence, unpredictability becomes an acceptable state of grace. Without expectations of what life is here to provide for us, we take refuge in the wonder of existence. We meet life profoundly with openness and a sense of being in a place we are meant to inhabit as fully as we are able.

 

(@2005 Bela Johnson – formerly published in Inner Tapestry Journal)

 

Temporal

The exquisite beauty of youth
is lost on the young, ego
in overdrive, unseated soul;

We’re as deep as what we
think we know, but oh!

A fragile petal waiting
to be plucked; and from
that very moment, life
begins winking off and on
until, settled into its vase,
it crescendos, withers
and dies;

But in the interim,
what informs the flower?

Song of the Soul

I grew up amidst plenty, Depression-era
lack transformed into expensive Japanese
silk paintings hung above a cut glass table,
black lacquer chairs, raw silk seats reserved
for holidays unfit for seven children, dreams
of people I never really knew, though
they precipitated my life;

I might have preferred distressed plank flooring
and a wood-fired oven over cork and carpet
and all the confusion, byproducts of too much
striving and not enough stillness;
motivations well understood by me now,
having thrown myself into enough fires
to acknowledge and amend miscues, misdeeds;

Like Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita,
many have have beheld the face of divinity
as it exists in all creatures and life forms
everywhere, whether perceived as good or bad;

I, too, tremble at the feet of this knowing.