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.

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)

 

Walking the Perimeters

But I don’t want to go among mad people, said Alice.
Oh, you can’t help that, said the cat. We’re all mad here.

~ Lewis Carroll

There are days and there are days. Today is one in which I awaken with the insight that all of us are mad. All. Some seem to revel in it; just look at the cartoon debacle in the US political arena any day of the week. Others appear to hold it together extremely well until something jolts us into our most vulnerable of places (the death of a loved one, a terminal illness). Even birth itself can inaugurate the unraveling. The cosmic egg is cracked. Brilliance emerges; the artist, the ballplayer, the botanist, the lama. The ecstasy, the suffering. Who wouldn’t go mad in the face of it?

What form, our pleasure? The madness of the composer, the scientist, the athlete, the saint? Are we hard wired to push boundaries, frontiers of justice, mercy, of knowledge or compassion? The fleeting forms of beauty or fame, of times in forest or studio, do we seek the expansive ocean or the surging tide of faces? Knowing the challenges one encounters in courting excellence, do we instead select the cloak of invisibility, of mute complicity, of service so selfless that we dare not ask another to share our burdens?

We do the best we can in managing life; enjoying it, even rejoicing. And the further we deplete that expressive bank account, the more surges forth to be revealed; the greater the challenge in ushering or stemming the flow, as dollop by gush it seeps from our pores onto the page, the canvas, into opulent anterooms or out onto the squalor of the streets. Drip, drip, dropping into the core of our humanity, dislodging the veils until we stand shivering and naked, the mime unmasked, the orphan turned out into the cold; is it possible, we wonder, to contain the truth of what lies revealed? Who are we, and to what purpose on this green and growing earth have humans been fashioned like gods and demons? Surely it is not simply to consume everything in sight, Pac-Man-like until, exhausted, we mulch back into soil from whence these formerly fecund bodies were contrived by a hand both delicate and careless, in turn?

The Yoga of Christianity, An Easter Contemplation

The unity of the human race dictated by the global village we anxiously inhabit –
while still looking for a safer place to settle – is a unity that far transcends the sexual attraction of opposites. It is rather a unity that issues from a profound identity that needs urgently to be understood.
~ Marion Woodman, eminent Jungian therapist


If Jesus preached that the Kingdom of Heaven lies within each of us, how is it that two thousand years later many Christians are still searching for an external Messiah? We arrive into this world replete with bodies harboring an enormous drive for knowledge and creativity. Denying these innate impulses over time renders us impotent to inspiration and we languish, afraid we have lost our connection to the divine. What might be the genesis of this belief?

In The Four Agreements, Miguel Ruiz reflects on how our childhood need for acceptance from parents, authority figures and peers tends to overshadow our dreams. Once we realize this is fairly endemic to all children, however, we can utilize these agreements to move us through fear of non-acceptance into a world of possibilities, grounding us into an inner sanctum of authenticity:

1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.

As we throw off layer upon layer of familial and cultural conditioning, we evoke new depths of awareness. We transcend much of the background mental chatter, the voices in our head that keep us small and self doubting. The more we practice, the further we downshift into our bodies and away from feelings of alienation.

When Jesus was crucified and resurrected, scriptures note that he revealed himself to his disciples eating, of all things, fish and honey. In pre-Christian times, fish was only allowed to be eaten by priests during rituals devoted to the goddess Atargatis, in the belief that they represented her body (Wikipedia). Wouldn’t this seemingly bizarre act by their Master (and later to be replicated as sacrament in many churches) represent that holy teachings or wisdom needed to be internalized, that spirit required ingestion, digestion and embodiment, just so? 

To understand concepts in the mind is profound. To make manifest in flesh allows one to trust, to walk the talk, to encounter life on its own terms in this wondrous physical universe. Most of all perhaps, it helps us manage the quaking fear of existence, itself.


Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness
of the self; in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the
robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt,
and sometimes discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives
one the power to change one’s robes.
– James Baldwin


bj image: Keokea trestle

Chicken Water

Adrift in a sea of fog; no sign
of shore nor sounds of waves lapping;
only maddening silence.

I cry out for a god but hear
only my own echo, a desperate voice
of desire flung on the shoals
of a ghost land.

The life I have constructed is crumbling.
The new has yet to unfold;
the whys, hows and wherefores vanish
like mirages.

As kids we called it chicken water, cast
upon blistering asphalt, cutting
through endless miles of low desert scrub;
sunrise, sunset, nothing changed fast
enough for us then.

Now here I write from the comfort
of my chair miles from those desert sands;
yet and still, the road beckons.

Caked earth yields to concrete laid
down everywhere to accommodate
our leave-taking. My dry mouth waters
at the approaching oasis,
as nearer it appears and nearer;
then vanishes.

~ bj 2001, bj image Upolu Pt., 2006

DSCN0809.JPG

Iconic Irony

All we know of another
may be only what our illusions support;
if we want a savior, they become that
in our minds, even our cells;
if we need a lover, a mother,
a brother, best friend, they become that
as well, until, exhausted from the weight
of the world’s expectations,
a pin is pulled, the makeup slides off,
holy garments slip from slumped shoulders
and the beloved appears, just like us,
in their naked humanity.

If I barely know myself,
how is it I suppose I can know another,
save for my own projections;
we are complex, we are selfish,
the most noble among us gets angry,
even cruel in our way, and we jump
back stunned, barely able to witness
what materializes before astonished eyes;
we observe, questioning, not them
if we are lucky, but our own
perceptual distortions.

photo: bj, ‘Through the Looking Glass’ 2015

2014-11-22 08.06.42

Journey to the Center of the Earth

 

 

Ever since I was little, I’ve been exploring the underside of things. As a small child, I’d toddle down behind our house in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, wading into the stream bisecting a grove of eucalyptus before, that is, it was turned into a golf course. In the water whose level varied with the seasons, I would discover rocks and water bugs and tiny fish trolling about in the rust-colored streambed. It was long before such places became overrun with people – I rarely saw anyone else around. Drawing in the odor of pungent eucalyptus leaves, I’d search until discovering just the right sized branch or twig for poking. Then, crouching down to turn over rocks and chunks of damp leaf mold, the fun began. Worms and bugs and salamanders, not accustomed to the light of day, would wriggle and squirm or wad their bodies up into little protective balls.

Fast forward twenty years and I found myself repeating the same fascinating ritual in the woods of eastern Maine. I don’t know if I experienced some past life, lending me a preponderance for prodding the flipside of things – I only know, at this later stage of the game, it is simply who and what I am – physically, mentally, spiritually. In Maine I would take faith walks in the woods at night; would lie on my back in a canoe for hours, floating freely on the pond, gazing upwards at the star-pocked heavens, pondering the imponderables of existence. Was I searching for something; longing for home? Or was it just that I found the home I had right here on earth infinitely captivating to its depths?

It’s not like I shun the light of day like some vampire. I delight in the daytime and all it offers. Despite my love of darkness and its thrilling, often unacknowledged world – I would be foolish, say, to swim in the ocean at night. It’s when sharks come in to feed. I’m not into tempting fate. And though most owls fly at night, the Hawaiian Pu’eo flies during daylight, sweeping over fog-drenched fields in search of tiny prey. Think of what I’d miss seeing if I only sought the shadows.

I suppose, then, it is only natural that I am a lifetime student of depth psychology. Humanity yearns for the light; Christians and Jews alike look heavenward for their father in the sky. Many Native Americans refer to Father Sky and Mother Earth. Gazing up, we search for answers, for guidance, for ‘higher intelligence.’ Surely life out there must be superior to that which originates down here. Yet the irony for me is that so much wisdom seems to lie right here inside and upon our dear Mother Earth.

University of Cambridge and Harvard educated scientist Rupert Sheldrake is best known for his discovery of morphogenetic fields, or the energetic imprints of all living matter which transcend time and space and are sometimes described as the soul of the world. These energetic fields contain all the intelligence ever derived from all of life, past and present, and may well be what sensitives such as Einstein tap into when discovering something ‘new.’ Perhaps it’s like throwing sticks in the air, and being perceptive enough to make sense of patterns as they fall, seeing an order to things that was previously unrecognized. Like reading tea leaves.

The late “Magellan of consciousness,” Terence McKenna, may best have been known for his experiments with psilocybin mushrooms and might still be marginalized because of it. But he’s always been after something – a fellow mulch-turner, I suspect. Eating fungus tapped him into what he terms the Gaian Overmind, which appeared to him surprisingly, at least once, as that which we’ve been conditioned to believe is extra-terrestrial. This apparition possessed the same features and face of ET; the same large eyes. He had come to believe these beings are not extra-terrestrial; rather they are super-terrestrial, “more or less a kind of integrated intelligence that pervades the entire planet.” (source of quotes: Twilight of the Clockwork God, John David Ebert, pp.92;98).

I had my own experiences with this so-called Overmind when small. Repeatedly. In that sacred canyon aforementioned. And that’s all I’m going to mention here, except that if you wish to know more, start with Ebert’s book, or listen to my interview with him via podcast.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

~ William Shakespeare