Archive | April, 2016

The Form and The Light

22 Apr
In an obscure night
Fevered with love’s anxiety
O hapless, happy plight!
I went, none seeing me
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be
     – Saint John of the Cross

Cold and wet, dark and stormy, solitary and anxious: I stood on the edge of a great chasm. All the layers of clothing could not protect me from the way Earth evoked the internal dialogue of my soul. Although I was above a great river on the Colorado Plateau, I could have been anywhere, in any time. To my soul, it was 10,000 years ago. To my mind, it was now. The bereavement of this lifetime was trying to catch up with me, but my anxiety was working hard to suppress it.  Once again, I had found myself in the transformative cycle of grief and love.

The context: I was guiding a river trip for a group of clinical psychology students on a stretch of river I know well – a stretch on which I have spent over 70 days of my life. The first time I ever saw Labyrinth Canyon, I was in the midst of heart-wrenching loss, and I was looking for the godhead in the Earth. My journey has led me back to the river over and over again. And now, I know the deep intricacies of those 60 miles of Labyrinth. I know the deepest recesses of Trin Alcove, the pour-overs and petrified forests of Keg Springs, the wastelands above Cowboy Steps, and if I were blindfolded and led into the canyon somewhere, I could take off the blindfold and tell you exactly where we were.

I wish to know my soul like I know the Earth. I have spent much of my life on the material plane, mastering its trade. I can walk the mountains and survive for months. I can build a business and thrive in it. I can teach others my trade and inspire them. I can design programs and package them into the world for the sake of humanity. But do I know my soul, my spirit? The place where my body and mind meet the utterly frightening light of the sacred?

When I wonder how to know my soul, I am reminded of what Rumi said: “You left and I cried tears of blood. My sorrow grows. It’s not just that You left. But when You left my eyes went with You. Now, how will I cry?” Our survival on the material plane is punctuated by glimpses of the shadow and light behind the veil, but it is so hard to see because we are entrained to see shapes and objects, feel emotions and think thoughts – all of which we name. And when we name things, when we use language, we activate the part of our mind that separates, compartmentalizes, and establishes a way for us to fathom the forms we experience. From Plato to Buddha to Postmodernism, we have established that this is what our individual and collective brains do. We attempt to organize, which works well for us in the flesh, but also determines our cyclical separation from the divine.

Saint John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic known for his work, The Dark Night (others expanded this title to The Dark Night of the Soul), seemed to know the sensuality of the search for spirit, the way our raw experience of earth, wind, rain, and fire can bring us to our knees. The dark night of the soul is not theoretical to me; it is an experience that I have lived over and over throughout my life. And as painful as it has been – especially in the darkest of days when I lost my beloved father – I have found the greatest love through these cycles of darkness. My shadows are the gateway into the light of being, the light of the divine.

I will continue my pilgrimages through Earth – back to Labyrinth Canyon, back to Mount Kailash, across the vast, cold steppe and into the warmer forests. But these pilgrimages will all lead me back to the same experience – the cycle of grief and love. And each time I find love amid the shadows, it is more vast, more frightening, more powerful, and more like the home I somehow know.  I embrace it, and if it seems to leave me momentarily, I have committed to keeping my heart strong and open to its inevitable return.



6 Apr

There is a man in the corner dancing to jazz. He is unencumbered, steadfast in his execution. The boys on stage are wasting nothing. This is the be-all of performance, like making love in the summer moonlight when the world is ending. While the man in the corner is dancing, a couple in the shadows is kissing. Everywhere in this room, the divine is playing her fiddle. And I am with the ghost of the divine, trying my best to tell someone that they are worth every moment of pain they have experienced.

I spend my days with people who are struggling. They are struggling for their identity, or for some substance of life that seems to elude them. And I do my best to bring hope to the chasms of despair that lie along the well-worn trails of disillusion. Some, I have found, have walked these well-worn trails so often that there is no other choice. The chasms of despair are the only logical conclusion. And every once in a while, I fall hard with them. I “accidentally” take in their pain and let it sit in my body.

An old Chinese metaphor goes like this: You have a horse and a cart, and you take that cart to the same place every day. In fact, it turns out that everyone else is steering a cart down the same road. After a little while, the ruts are worn in the road, and it is difficult to steer the cart elsewhere. This is what we do with our brain and body. Rarely does someone say, “Hey, take that cart for a joy ride in the meadow.” Likewise, rarely does our family, our culture, or our tradition tell us to take our brain and heart in a different direction. When it does, it is within parameters, parameters set over centuries.

The last decade and a half has brought to our consciousness some profound, research-based knowledge of how we wire these paths of despair into profoundly stubborn neuropathways (refer to Daniel Goleman, Rick Hanson, Marsha Linehan, Jon Kabat-Zinn, or Daniel Siegel). But they also send a message of liberation. They point toward our mind’s vast creativity, our ability to witness the ruts and stuck places, and our ability to ultimately choose something different.

I look to the man in the corner, dancing maniacally without inhibition. I envy this man. I wish my brain could let go more often and dance in the meadow where no horse cart has ventured. I realize that we suffer when we cannot see the choices, the alternatives that are always present in our lives. Sometimes it takes someone else to remind us of the alternatives – that something else is possible.

So here I am, surrounded by my community and hearing this brilliant cacophony of sound down in the big city. I am finding liberation through the brilliant minds that fill me in this room. I envy the man who dances in the corner, and I envy the musicians who stand up there and play their experience into sound. I envy the uninhibited kissing couple. And I finally envy myself, because I abandoned convention to write this amidst an evening of celebration. I did it because I felt the part of me who was unencumbered and had something to say. And because I made that choice, my suffering fell away and a subtle ecstasy filled my body.

These are choices, and you have them every day: To be encumbered or to surrender to your heart; to give up or to fight for what you want; to brawl in the shadows or to fight with grace and grit.  So go.  Dance to the music in your own corner, or take it into the meadow where no horse cart has ventured. The journey there may crack you open a bit – and it might hurt for a moment – but I can attest: something powerful will meet you there.

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