A Question to Walk With: How do you help someone you love when where they are hurting is invisible?
This excerpt is from my book of poems, The Gods Visit.
This excerpt is from my book of poems, The Gods Visit.
The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.
Jennifer Blessing, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, has said that “artists pursue various methods of liberating the mind in order to access the marvelous.” We are all looking for ways to widen our lens of perception so that we can be more alive. The Black Mountain poet Robert Creeley declared in the 1950s that form follows content. And so we keep searching for forms of expression that will open and liberate the confines of our mind, so we can access and inhabit the marvelous. What we do to find the form that keeps us close to life constitutes the craft of perception.
In 1689 in Japan, a kind farmer gave the lost poet Basho a horse that knew the way. And in 1910 when Ted Shawn was paralyzed, before he knew he was a dancer, a dear friend left crutches just out of reach and breakfast on the table. And in 1938 in Paris, Django Reinhardt’s brother left a guitar at the foot of his hospital bed because he knew the badly burned genius would no longer be able to play the banjo. And when Claude Monet at 82 was suffering from double cataracts, he somehow knew to keep painting what he saw, which led him to retrieve his masterful “Waterlilies.” Even leafcutter ants in Costa Rica will carry another ant for miles.
This excerpt is from my book of poems, The Tone in the Center of the Bell.
There are parts of our psychic system that reject the shocks -- the lessons needed for our evolution because they imagine they’re already flying above the world of troubles. It is this mistaken sense of self that stands between us and true self-transformation.
Nothing that resists life can hope to learn from it.
Until we can embrace the lessons that ride into our lives on the back of events, we walk through an isolated world of our own making. Confined and defined by the content of our own thoughts, we are cut off from reality. And, as long as we remain so, there is no hope of realizing our relationship with that limitless Light from out of whose life pours the lessons intended for our transformation.
So, this much is clear: something within us is acting against our best interests. But what would do this, and why? The following insight helps us to see why our lower consciousness —our false self—resists the lessons we need in order to be born anew:
Real learning requires surrender.
Remember in the movie Aladdin when Genie told him to “Bee Yourself”? Genie was really the Universe telling him to show up in his own truth!
BEE is a joyful reminder of the SWEETNESS of life. That no matter what happens, there is always something to delight in. The bee is also INDUSTRIOUS, a hard worker whose efforts pay off in the beauty of flowers blooming and the deliciousness of honey. She reminds us that we too can create beautiful flowers in our own gardens by being present in our daily lives and giving back to the world in a way that supports the highest good of all. A sense of BELONGING is also offered as a reminder of being a productive and dedicated member of our own hives, our communities that we live and work in.
The other day, I came across the above poem from my great friend and mentor, the late Mary Oliver. Its opening lines made me stop and think.
It‘s really funny how our lives can be changed dramatically with a so-called insignificant event. My life changed completely from a decision to go snow skiing.
No, I didn’t have an accident or a near death experience. I just learned how to snow ski at age 43. Now, I know that does not sound very exciting or like a life changing experience, but it was. That one so-called little decision changed me emotionally, psychologically, mentally and spiritually. That one little decision although not an easy one for me to make, set off a chain of events that has led me here with you today, writing this article.
When I was a freshman in college my girlfriend and some of our friends took me on a snow skiing trip to Tahoe California. They set out intending to teach me how to ski. I had never been skiing before. I was a competitive gymnast and my gymnastics coaches forbid me to do any extracurricular activities that could put my competitions at risk.
The deep irony of my life as a teacher is that I travel all over to affirm that there’s nowhere to go but here. And I’m happy to do it. For every place we arrive at unravels to the same timeless moment in which we are each other. This is the path of lasting friendship: trying to go somewhere, only to land in each other’s arms. The harder we try to run from ourselves, the more certain it is that we will boomerang into the heart of our unanswered question. There, we will find each other.
If, upon such meeting, we accept the truth of our journey and the ways that we have run from life, then we will form an unbreakable bond. If we deny our attempts to escape what is ours to face, then we will push each other away.
I have done both, but I am here to affirm that there’s nowhere to go but here. There is only one, timeless place of truth under every there. The way the same nectar waits in the center of every flower, no matter how it opens. All the friends I’ve been blessed to have know the taste of this nectar. It’s how the spirit of friendship keeps us alive.
When we think of the symbol of PEACE, many of us are transported back to the 60-70’s, the era of hippies, flower power, and free love. We feel a sense of freedom, fun, and unlimited possibilities.
Peace is a gentle reminder of the TRANQUILITY that we can slip into any time we need to refresh and renew. It reminds us of the importance of SILENCE and going within to connect with our higher self. It reminds us that TRUCE is always possible when we see experiences from all perspectives. By tuning into peace daily, we discover that GOODWILL is always an option to share at any time, in any experience.
So, get your bell-bottoms on, adorn your hair in flowers, listen to John Lennon, and let’s “Give Peace a Chance!”
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When not doing well, when full of doubt or pain or worry, when unable to find your way, try, very slowly, to return to moments that feel foundational. By foundational, I mean moments that are solid, however briefly, in which you feel directly connected to life, in which you feel safe and thorough, in which you feel at peace, even if for a few seconds.
You don’t have to name these foundational moments, or explain them, or fit them into some theological box. You simply have to experience them and locate them, so you have a chance to return to them or to moments like them, when you need to.
In time, you will chart a constellation of foundational moments that can hold you up when you fall down. And mysteriously, when identified and honored, these moments of peace and clearness start to join each other. So, in time, our foundational field enlarges when we have the courage to find what will hold us up.
It’s National Poetry Month here in the U.S. and I’ve been rereading some of my favorites and thinking about how poetry is the perfect vehicle for communicating both the individual and universal at once...
It gives shape to the human experience, and can be a place for profound connection as well as a lens into other ways of seeing and being in the world.
The poet Jane Hirshfield goes as far as saying, “Poetry itself is an instrument of resilience,” and I think we could all use a little resilience these days...
So today, I’d like to share a few lines of poetry with you that speak to the conscious journey we are on together in hopes that they will provide you that sense of connection with others that many of us are sorely missing these days, as well as fuel to cultivate resilience during challenging times:
In the way that erosion makes every face in nature more elemental, everything we go through only makes us more real. Once we give up our masks and excuses, we are humbled to accept the tenderness of having nothing between us and this thing we call life. It is this fragile, resilient state that lets us breathe more deeply, that lets us hear what love has to say, that lets us experience Oneness over the idea of Oneness. The more real we become, the more we experience love over the dream of love. Until Love and Oneness emanate in the coffee steaming as I wait for my wife to come out of the shower while our dog is belly up, her tail wagging at the supreme joy of absolutely nothing. It is then that I admit that I am hopelessly simple, gratefully simple, eager for the moment at hand to stay unadorned and free of veils. There is no five-year plan or bucket list or dream of living in another country. There is only breathing in the country of this moment where everything touches everything else. And though tomorrow, I will drift or fall away from this bareness of being, I remain devoted to all the things, pleasant and harsh, that help me return.
After four weeks of lying flat on my back in traction with a broken neck, no mobility or feeling in both my arms and one of my legs, I got a visit from the ‘expert doctors’.
At 20 years old I was told that I wasn’t responding to any of the treatments and I was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life.
“The rest of my life!” rang in my head over and over and over. With a tsunami twirling in my stomach, my heart pounding out of my chest I immediately blurted out; “I don’t think so doc, that’s not my plan!”
I don’t remember much after that because my inner chatter went ballistic, overflowing with worst case scenarios. My mind had dropped a movie screen right down in front of me so I could watch the story of my life as a quadriplegic.
As I watched in horror, I saw my mom spoon feeding me, brushing my teeth, shaving my face, combing my hair, wiping my butt and dressing me. Being chauffeured everywhere I needed to go, never to ride a bike, a motorcycle or drive my car again. Thinking if I was lucky enough to have a wife, I would never be able to wrap my arms around her or be able to hold our baby in my arms.
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