Sunday, June 28, 2009
Once upon a time, there lived an old man in a strange land. Strange because he had never felt at home there. And something else peculiar about him: he had always suspected that some dark wizard had cursed him at birth...and the curse was this: he would grow old like all other human beings, but his heart would remain young and passionate. The old man knew this had to be true, because he felt things that only a young person should feel. The curse would torment him, because it made him young inside an old body. And an old man feeling certain things...well, that just won't do.
And one thing he felt strongly. He knew deep inside that there existed, somewhere on the far side of dreams, another land. And in this land, a beautiful princess lived. He could picture her so vividly and forcefully. So strongly, in fact, that sleep could find no purchase. It reached a point that the waking world took on a quality of dreaminess. He became lost in this bizarre world of waking dreams...and on the surface of those dreams, the face of that princess swirled.
He decided to make a butterfly in his mind and send it to her across his dreams. (See...by this time, our old man was pretty far gone.) He thought that creature could fly on the wind of his dream. All he wanted was for his “butterfly” to gently brush against her heart. He simply wanted a measure of communion before his time ran out. So...it flew, colorfully, out of his young heart and disappeared into the blue.
Time went by. He was in his garden, and a large, beautiful black butterfly alighted on a flagstone. Its back was bejeweled with delicate blue markings. It stayed on the stone for quite some time, then began dancing around in delirious circles...then it lifted off the ground and began swirling about in the air before him.
And he knew. He knew that his princess had magically sent this creature. In defiance of time and space. Just pow, there it was! A fairy spell. And as it swirled and waltzed, it seemed to be etching out feelings on the air. And the old man could read this “language” of the butterfly. And this is what it said:
“Yes, I know you. And to be finally known by someone is the gift I give you. But we live in two worlds, and in my own world, I have found my prince. I have sent this creature to dance for you my dance of sadness. Sad because you are cursed to feel too deeply and too dreamily...unbecoming for an old man. But this butterfly I send to bring you peace. You will always remember its dance, and your own sadness will be turned into bittersweetness. Goodbye.........”
And the black butterfly with delicate blue markings flew away on the warm breeze.
The old man sighed, then smiled. And the young heart beating in his old body was glad. She was really real. And she knew him. And that is more than even he thought might possibly come true.
I was reared a Southern Baptist, up until 18 years of age. At 20, I was introduced to the Gurdjieff literature.
Head, meet wrecking ball.
For the next five years, I read those books over and over. One can't become absorbed in something to that extent without stark changes taking place. The world is turned inside-out. Years later, you might fumble around, trying to turn it outside-back-in, but the fabric has been permanently wrinkled, so to speak.
Ouspensky: In Search of the Miraculous, Tertium Organum, A New Model of the Universe, The Fourth Way.
Rene Daumal: Mount Analogue, A Night of Serious Drinking.
A. R. Orage: On Love.
G. I. Gurdjieff: Meetings with Remarkable Men, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson: All and Everything.
And by a natural extension, some books by Idries Shah, including: The Sufis.
Well...that's a bunch of unusual stuff. It can soak way down into your mind, and before long, the world begins to look topsy-turvy. I don't think I ever fully recovered from that period of reading and reflecting. Many others back then used those books as mere stepping stones to actual action...to finding some Gurdjieff group, wherein they could systematically work on their conscious evolution. Me? I'm too much of a dreamer. I just wanted to sink down into those strange books and swallow their dark nectar. I think I turned that literature into an exotic dream, whereas it was designed to wake someone up.
Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales is the strangest book ever written. Reading it once through, and your brains will liquefy, oozing out your ears. Reading it twice will cause part of you to become permanently stuck inside another dimension. For goodness sakes!...whatever you do, never read that book.
But all that reading and thinking prompted me to no firm action. Can I be blamed very much? For not wanting to be fully conscious and awake? And a nagging thought followed me around even back then: so what? Ultimately, what does it gain someone to be a Fully Realized Being? If we're all eventually destined for the Big Sleep?
No, I'd rather spend my days just walking funny: a semi-wakeful foot followed by the one tinging and numb with sleep. Just limping through life, half awake, half sighing. Off-balance...yeah!...that's the ticket.
My life shall be lived equivocally...so stop looking at me that way, Mr. Gurdjieff!
You are half a world away from me tonight. And half a world away in years. How can I communicate with you? Through an electronic satellite? No...that only gets part of the message through.
Another satellite orbits.
I shall transmit to the moon, and it will receive what I feel. The moon cares not for space and time. It is a moving, dreaming sponge...soaking up wishes and unspoken words. It doesn't care that I am old and that you are young. It doesn't care about the languages of Earth.
Tonight, the moon will take my thoughts and translate them. Then transmit them to you. Purely, transparently...on the wind of gravity.
And you will know my heart.
I guess that's a good word for it. Though I think "smacked" is probably better. You see someone's image -- all it takes is one second -- and whap. Love slaps you in the face. Your head goes spinning like Linda Blair's. Your emotional breath is knocked out of you.
Thinking becomes farcical. Pining becomes paramount. You have become a dream.
Yes, all it takes is one second. And the world has changed forever.
I think extra-terrestrials have better things to do than visit Earth and probably better judgment: part of this planet elected George W. Bush four years after he was selected by judges. And I don't have whatever it takes to believe in horoscopes. I'll let Shelton from the TV show The Big Bang Theory speak my opinion: "... the mass cultural delusion that the sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality."
Mediums and psychics? Please. Further, I don't think ghosts are wandering around in the night, looking for something to do. Dead is done.
Something happened 10 years ago that I can't explain. Just because I can't explain it doesn't mean it was an unnatural phenomenon. But it came as close as anything in my life to being a candidate for the truly uncanny and down-right spooky.
In the middle of the night I woke up, needing to pee. No bad dreams, no bumps in the night. As I got up and walked around the end of the bed, my brain was merely idling, in neutral gear. A couple of steps took me near the wall on my right side. Something zapped me right then and there, causing me to stop for about a second and a half. A huge chill ran up my spine, and goosebumps spread over my arms. It was a horrifying sense of dread, of an invisible presence just over my head and up to the right, where wall meets ceiling. And this presence was focusing some intention straight at me. The feeling was that it was aware of me. Like I say, this all happened in less than two seconds, so I advanced a few more steps, nearing the bathroom door.
At the end of those next few seconds, my daughter, sleeping in the adjoining bedroom, let out a blood-curdling shriek. I was instantly paralyzed for at least three seconds. On any other occasion, such a scream would have gotten an instantaneous reaction from me. But I had just been zapped, see? My brain was still numb, and I couldn't instantly process her scream and translate the signal into physical action. But only for three seconds was I so unmanned.
I dashed into her room not knowing what the living or dead hell I was about to tangle with. She sat up in bed and switched on her lamp, looking up at me with sleepy, though startled eyes.
“What is it?” I asked loudly and a mite quivery.
“I don't know...I was sleeping and then I had a dream, I guess. There was something on the ceiling above me. A presence pushing at me from the ceiling. Like a weight. I woke myself up screaming.”
Below are my favorite responses from Shiva to Devi in the section "Centering" from the book Zen Flesh Zen Bones. That section is considered to be over 4000 years old and a source from which Zen drew much of its inspiration.
O Shiva, what is your reality?
What is this wonder-filled universe?
What constitutes seed?
Who centers the universal wheel?
What is this life beyond from pervading forms?
How may we enter it fully, above space and time,
names and descriptions?
Let my doubts be cleared.
9. Or imagine the five-colored circles of the peacock tail to be your five senses in illimitable space. Now let their beauty melt within. Similarly, at any point in space or on a wall -- until the point dissolves. Then your wish for another comes true.
13. Touching eyeballs as a feather, lightness between them opens into heart and there permeates the cosmos.
36. Sweet-hearted one, meditate on knowing and not knowing, existing and not-existing. Then leave both aside that you may be.
50. At the point of sleep when sleep has not yet come and external wakefulness vanishes, at this point being is revealed.
51. In summer when you see the entire sky endlessly clear, enter such clarity.
62. In rain during a black night, enter that blackness as the form of forms.
64. Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop.
68. Pierce some part of your nectar-filled form with a pin, and gently enter the piercing.
82. Feel the consciousness of each person as your own consciousness. So, leaving aside concern for self, become each being.
91. Wherever your mind is wandering, internally or externally, at this very place, this.
102. Suppose you contemplate something beyond perception, beyond grasping, beyond not being, you.
Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings
Compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Sensazki
Tuttle Publishing, 1998, Boston, MA
I have a cool Facebook friend from Serbia, and I've spent the last hour reading information on Wikipedia, etc., about that country and its fascinating history. Talk about turmoil! Serbia has been a volatile East-West crossroads through the centuries, its culture enriched by so many influences. Reading about all the rulers, Medieval conflicts, and struggles for independence, my head is still spinning.
This land-locked country is refreshed by the beautiful Danube River, and I like to imagine young Serbian lovers, strolling along its bank in the evening...under a ruined castle's shadows......well, I imagine their hearts are pumping a rich, passionate blood. That blood flows from many tributaries: Slavic, Roma, and other sources, blending together from time immemorial.
I like my new Facebook friend. Her eyes have a depth and soulfulness that tell me more, perhaps, about Serbia than any text I could read.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I was lookin' out my back window and witnessed a Kung-Fu encounter between a blue jay and a red-headed woodpecker. Jay was about 18% larger than Woody. I suppose there was a dispute over that prime worm ground beneath my large sycamore.
This warn't no ordinary back-yard bird fight. This was ritualized, stylized, and very entertaining.
The only things missing were a formal, roped-off ring and a crowd of nodding turtle dove monks.
It was obvious what martial art each had adopted. Jay had chosen the peripatetic Monkey-form, while Woody, poised and low to the ground – half-visible in my needs-to-be-mowed-again grass – would counter with the Snake-pattern.
Jay hopped hither-and-thither, trying to confuse and unnerve his opponent. Around in circles went his berserker simian dance. This is the truth: at one point, he approached close to Woody's noggin and cocked his head back and forth just like an arrogant organ-grinder monkey. Then he backed off and jumped to the right. And up into some sycamore shoots that I need to cut away from the big trunk. I could almost hear Jay chattering, egging on the quiet, but-ready-to-strike woodpecker.
Back on the ground. More prancing and dancing and circling. More ridiculous antics.
Every now and then, Woody would lash straight out at Jay, just like a freakin' snake. These guys had their styles down pat. Each time Woody attacked, Jay bounced back. The look on his face was astonishment. “How in the world is this little guy not impressed by me...and dang, that long bill looks sharp!”
Eventually, the match petered out with no clear winner. But if I were to judge the competition, I'd have to give Woody the laurel, even if just on style points. Such self-possession and such refusal of ostentation.
You scraped me up off drunken ground.
No other loved me or would.
You even reached out and hugged me.
Your head against mine felt quite good.
We tumbled together into life's chance.
Loneliness hurts and time is tight.
Night and day sometimes meet
to make a child of graceful light.
You've stood by me for 27 years.
Good God! You must be a saint.
Human with vaguely legal papers,
sometimes I'm normal or ain't.
That girl who struck us out?
I was about 12 or 13 and played 2nd base (occasionally SS and RF) on our Little League baseball team. One evening, a game took us out of El Dorado, Arkansas. To a little town ("town" is pushing things) 10 miles dead-East. I can't remember the name of that place, but I remember that game.
I recall warming up beforehand, playing catch with Randy Bourne. He had blond hair, was slim and a year younger than me. Boy, he sure could fling a ball straight at you. My tosses had a 10 to 15% chance of being wild.
Game starts. Lo and behold, the other team brings out a GIRL to pitch. Ha! This is going to be sweet! We're gonna annihilate em.
She was compact and rather attractive. Had short-cropped blond hair. She wasn't wearing a cap.
Our first batter didn't know what hit him. She fired three strikes in a row, and he didn't even think about swinging. He was worried about physical survival.
If my memory ain't too vague or tricky, she struck out nearly every one of us all night long. I'm sure it must have been at least a no-hitter, if not a perfect game. She never looked cocky out there on the mound, just confident. Simply enjoying what she was doing.
I got three at-bats and, like the others, just went through the paces. I mean, you couldn't even see the damn ball, much less try to hit it.
So...I do wonder where she is now. How her life went. Did she get to play more coed-style ball? Or did she become a great softball pitcher? I hope she had and is still having a wonderful life.
She was just so heroic-looking to me out there on the mound. Whizzing those scorchers past us and right over the plate.
Female people are neat.
[I just remembered the name of that little place: Old Union.]
[This was written about three months ago]
Season of rebirth and desire's agony. It's here, in spirit. Roots stir, beginning their new plunge into dark dampness. Soon, the sexual gear inside blooms will pulsate enticingly with the nomadic pulse-dreams of pollen. Life's timepiece is being rewound. A new cycle of steaming chemicals and tumescent thrusts into the bright air.
For the human male, this season is not that much different from others, romantically speaking. We're ready to fall at the drop of a shapely hat. Romantic love is not what it's cracked up to be. Sure, the brain buzzes pleasurably like a mass of mesmerized bees serenading a forsythia bush. But all that sound and fury also signifies a darker aspect: helplessness. And lacerations, some of which are slow in scabbing over, if ever.
Life is a mystery. Spring is her druidic handmaiden. The parade of royal nonsense moves through forest and village. The fauna applaud in a racket of howls, whistles, grunts, and love songs; the flora break out their sycophantic, colorful banners, which flap and wave in the new breeze like dizzy jesters.
Nature is also helpless. It is being pushed once again into the ancient process of time and matter. Things come together in countless complex arrangements, echoing the nascent forms of life -- clay crystals self-organizing into platforms for cells and enzymes. Things are coming together in a choreography of love and heat. Sentience catalyzing into new hopes. Lips seeking lips.
Restless. Woke up at 3:30. Streamed a couple of The Office episodes. I love Andy.
Dawn light. I drive to the convenience store for smokes. With windows open half-way. Cool air flows in, caressing my face and arms. Nice.
The young lady behind the counter looks at me pleasantly and announces:
“I have a friend who has purple eyes.”
“Hmm...,” I manage. But feel that more is called for. So:
“You know, I've seen pictures of women with gray eyes. Is that real? Have you ever seen anyone with gray eyes?”
“Oh, yes,” she says, “mine turn gray depending on my mood.”
While quickly pondering this, for me, new fact – that mood can affect eye color – I reply:
“Yours are a real light green, aren't they?”
“Yes...just like my father's, and his used to turn gray sometimes, too.”
I pay her and leave.
Was she channeling some impromptu Daoist spirit? A voice...an unseen oracle who knew I needed to hear a koan this morning? Something spontaneous and strange, like purple eyes?
I guess I'll be OK.
It's not so bad, really. Being mildly psychotic. Makes things interesting. If you're not blessed with my condition...are completely free of the symptoms...I do sort of pity you. You would be cut off from the strangeness of my world. You wouldn't have access to all my sparkling, sizzling thoughts shot up from daemonic depths toward the quaking, nervous moon. You wouldn't "get" the odd things that occasionally dribble out of my mouth. You would interpret them conventionally.
Actually, if I perceived normality and conventionality swirling around you like dry desert dust, I'd clam up forthwith. Wouldn't say anything. I'd just mumble like a zombie...maybe smile awkwardly until the encounter faded into the nightmarish past.
See...I know some stuff. Weird stuff.
Eccentricity comes in different grades and flavors. Drooling hobos are superficially attractive to me. But I prefer that weirdness be complemented with sensibility. How does one acquire a sensibility? Thank you for asking.
If you aren't already freaked out by the bare, brute fact of existence -- realizing that your mind and flesh are RIGHT NOW moving around on an arbitrary planet while the vasty cosmos is RIGHT NOW swirling around you in violent palpitations -- then you need to set about freaking yourself out. That's the first step toward becoming an interesting human being.
Step 2: read Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles. Read it until your soul is sucked into its strange, poetic vortex. Until you "get it". You could, of course, read a bunch of other neat, oddball stuff. But I'm talking about a precipitous intervention: an emergency transfusion, replacing the dull liquid of the psyche with hot plutonium plasma.
And should you find yourself in ordinary, conventional situations, stop a moment to ask, along with David Byrne: "How did I get here?"
See...to be a first-class eccentric, you need to develop that inner eye: that squinched-up third eye that looks slightly (or muchly) askance at everything going on around you.
Now, it might be the case that you are satisfied being a normal, sane human being. You might be saying to yourself right now: "I don't want to be a mild psychotic." Fine. I'm just here to guide those who suspect something is amiss in a world of reality TV shows but who can't quite put their finger on it. I know a few weird things. I can assist in the transit through rabbit holes and looking glasses.
Okay. Ghosts. If you believe that ectoplasmic resonances of previously breathing human beings could be a real phenomenon, well...that's just silly. Trust me: the TV show The Medium should not be viewed as a possible documentary. Dead people stay in the ground.
But...ghosts are important. They represent a means by which we're reminded of the freakishness of being. The ordinariness of experience gets juiced-up inside our unconscious. Those un-thought thoughts become liquefied in the back of our mind and eventually froth over: that frothing manifests as creepy symbols by which we remind ourselves that being is strange.
Bumps in the night? Moans outside the window? Footsteps in the empty hall?
Those are auditory hallucinations from our subconscious talking to itself. We occasionally creep ourselves out. And we have every right to do so. The nature of consciousness remains unknown...an enigma to philosophy and science, despite the confidence and brazenness of some silly neurological theories. Some (excuse me while I chuckle) think you can get from the physical to the experiential (to what it's like to be a paralyzed-with-fright armadillo caught in headlights). Nope. Read David Chalmers and stroll into the Mysterium.
What about visual manifestations? Look. A human being takes in 1 million bits per second of sensory data through the eyes. Only 40 bits per second gets squeezed into awareness. Ghosts are just the occasional peripheral data leaking into awareness from the large storage tank of unprocessed (unconscious) sensations.
But like I said: ghosts are important. They're a relief-valve. The steam of existential perplexity gets vented and forms into the vaporous symbols of the undead. Be nice to your ghosts. They're just here to prevent your moving from mild psychosis into full-bore madness.