Of Angels and Deep Water

When I moved to the Hawaiian islands over twenty-five years ago, I shouldered a bit of cynicism and not a little buried anger. Living in a land of volcanoes was illuminating. Time and again, my feet were held to madame Pele’s fire. Time and again, I tried to minimize her impact upon me. Goddess be damned! I rebelled. Still and yet, the earth kept metaphorically shifting and rumbling beneath my feet. Transformation was inevitable and profound.

Deceptions of a human mind unaware never fail to amaze me – what we think we know versus the facts materializing before our eyes. And although we have senses to guide us, too often we hear, see and feel only what we choose in any given circumstance. Some consider themselves brave, others boldly court hubris. Depending on the circumstance, I suppose it could be either. Or both.

Picture a brilliantly blue sunny day in Paradise. Variable tradewinds whip sand playfully on a two mile stretch of deserted beach. Sparkling turquoise waters and medium swells invite the initiated; this is a popular surf haunt, but only for the skilled. I have sat on the pali overlooking this location during winter with enormous banks of water rolling in, sounding for the world like a freight train chugging along miles of open track. This is not winter. Still, rip currents can arrive out of nowhere and the locals have warned me, time and again, to always wear fins. At least one. Never, they repeat, go out in the ocean without fins. Hell, I think, I grew up bodysurfing The Wedge in Newport Beach! I appreciate that you are looking out for me, but I know what I’m doing …

Out we go into these unknown waters, my husband and I. This is not our usual swimming site. And he’s not such a keen swimmer in the depths, has never really been. Loves boogie boarding, goes out into secondary breakers by a small reef to catch bigger waves at our regular spot. As long as he’s on that board with those fins, he’s a happy camper. I, on the other hand, prefer merging swells and body into one, as much as possible. I head out. He backs off. Out I go, where the waves are breaking. I mean, I really. Go. Out. At this point, it seems I have no choice. The undertow is severe. There is no longer sand beneath my feet. I flow with the ocean’s decision to carry me further into uncertainty.

Big waves, at least those large enough to surf, usually come in what are called sets. That’s why, in those surfer movies, you see lots of waiting. Sets arrive, boarders paddle out, wait for a ridable wave, joyfully cruise on in.  Six is an average set; really, a person is fortunate to get more. I grew up near the ocean, have studied wave patterns since my youth. Today all my knowledge and perceptions go out the window. There is no rhythm, only unrelenting, pounding oceanic swells. One by one, surfers return to shore. I remain out in the water because I have no other choice. I cannot return, no matter how I try.

Rip currents have swept me down and out, far from loved ones on the beach, further from any recognition of topography. Wave after non-negotiable wave assaults me; I dive under and under and under again until I begin aspirating saltwater. I become afraid, something I rarely feel in the embrace of Mother Nature. In marked contrast to what’s familiar, Big Blue is thrashing me now, as I offer a silent prayer. To be faithful to the truth, I offer many. I ask, Am I going to die out here? In answer comes a firm No. (Gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.) What, then, I query, Is happening? I hear – and believe me, I could not invent a more lucid, nor more vexing response – Rebirth.

Moments feel like hours and later, I notice a lone Hawaiian man on the beach, waving his arms in my direction. Someone has spotted me! Gesturing wildly, he points to a visible section of a large, mostly underwater a’a lava outcropping blocking my way. If I get pulled closer to it, my skin will be torn to shreds. He’s now flagging me down, down and further down the beach. Far from others but closer to him, my port in this frightening storm. He’s the only one who seems to sense the depth of my peril. Still more precious moments later as my strength is waning, he signals. I glance backward and notice the waves are at a lull. I swim. And swim. Waves break, but carry me now. Landward. My feet touch sand for the first time in what feels like hours. The man rushes out and into the water. Staring at me hard, as if to assess my sanity, he asks, Are you okay? Weakly I reach out my arm, croaking Help. As he clasps my hand, I look into steel blue eyes. Once I am safely on the beach, he disappears.

I rejoin my family. They have no idea whatsoever of the degree to which I have just faced down mortality. I am perhaps a quarter mile from where I started. How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?

Weeks later, I am still querying residents of this very small island about a blue-eyed Hawaiian. The locals just shake their heads. There is no such person. Not here on this rock. If there were, we would know. My good friend, a kindhearted street fighting big braddah offers, It must have been an angel. 

To this day, I wonder.

 

Papohaku Beach, Molokai

 

(republished from January 2012)

 

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.

 

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.

Subterranean

Whether sharing your body
or changing your views,
the blind mole of magic
is following you;

In the cubicle days
or the tropical nights,
what exists in the shadows
remains hidden from sight;

Clutching those hands filled
with fabric or fame as you place them
in pockets and tap out your name
like the hustling hordes that are docilely
bridled when you file alongside them
in that sideways sidle;

Somewhere inside lies the sweet
serene forest, a place that you visit
when your soul needs a deep rest;
the trees hanging brilliant
with garlands of fire, unaware
of all meaning, the insulting mire;

Along streaming bubbles
of illusory time dribble sonnets
and lyrics, the unending rhymes;
there are tunes and tonations
held secret by Masters, you can hear
if you listen while sifting
through ashes of self immolation
transformed, as it were,
by the humming of bees
and the flight paths of birds;

Without guile, you are stripped
of the need to be wise, to be teacher
or student is only a guise; in degrees
all are both in the mounding of ages,
no frenetic obsession to turn all
of the pages;

Thus, true knowledge is gained
while all secrets unfold into books
lacking stories before they are told,
never giving a care that what’s written
is gold.

Of Cabbages and Kings

When first I met you, bright-eyed one,
brow creased, corners of that small mouth
turned down in concentration,
trying to understand the mind of God
as if I might help you do that;

None you sought failed in this,
not even those blue foggy mountain ridges
where eagles soared above scanty
treelines, altitude heady even as it slowed
your increasingly ragged breathing,
beloved four-footeds trotting by your side
uncomplaining, ranging wide and low
over earth’s most sacred ground;

Each conifer holds in her tangle of hair
enough wisdom to stack all the ancient
philosophers on a ship bound for nowhere
listing heavily, as may be, to one side,
while Mother Nature holds court
on the other, no comparison, try
as we might to capture a fragment
of enlightenment in this time capsule
known as life;

But you understand this now in your place
of refuge, don’t you, smiling from
that small sliver on the great wheel
of continuum, and all those bored games fade
into oblivion in the face
of the knowledge you have gained
since residing in that Great Beyond.

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

Shhh …

We can only hold what we can bear.

Silence brooks wisdom, and if one attends
to the whooshing din of atoms, secrets
of the universe unfurl themselves,
invisible flags scaling stanchions of awareness,
defining human drama and its opposite, quietude,
in the infinitesimal smallness
of the infinitely possible;

Last night (or should I say in the wee hours
of daybreak), I heard them gnashing; ears aching
with the largesse of incomprehensible awareness
and I understood collective fear as never before,
quake of existence, dread of comings and goings,
insanity of metal tubes slicing through air
and across borders as if thrown
from the well muscled hand of Zeus;

Even deeper did I apprehend the shuffling gait
of the ancient plantation laborer, content now
in self captivity on an island in the middle
of nowhere, simplicity of routine, old dented truck
and loose dentures, eyes creased
with cataracted wisdom that this and no more
is what can be managed and must;
one is meant to live, after all.

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