All Paths Lead to Me

Tags

, , , , ,

He who knows me as his own divine Self,
As the Operator in him, breaks through
The belief he is the body, and is
Not born separate again. Such a one
Is united with me, O Arjuna.

Delivered from selfish attachment, fear
And anger, filled with Me, surrendering
Themselves to me, purified in the fire
Of my Being, many have reached the
State of Unity in me.

As people approach me, so I receive
Them. All paths lead to me, O Arjuna.

Composed between the 5th and 2nd century BC, The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord) is Hinduism’s best known scripture. The Gita is presented as a dialogue between Sri Krishna, a divine incarnation, and his friend and disciple, Arjuna, a warrior prince who is trying to live a spiritual life in the midst of worldly conflicts.  

When I read this excerpt this morning I was reminded of the current conflicts raging in our troubled world. The Middle East and civil war in Iraq, the Palestinians and Israelis, the Ukraine. Many of these wars are fought in the name of religion, us against them, each claiming the only road up the divine mountain.

The belief in exclusivity or specialness is just another aspect of our egos that fear extinction, if not by physical death, then by return into the One. This belief in separation is the original sin, the apple which closed the gates to Eden. To think that we are or can be separate from our Source is the real meaning of suffering.

As the Gita says, we are not in charge, the Operator is in charge. We do not have a life, we are Life. There are many paths up the mountain and who is to say that one is better than another when God himself does not make that distinction.

 

“Seen From Above”

Tags

, , , ,

On a dirt road lies a dead beetle.
Three little pairs of legs carefully folded on his belly.
Instead of death’s chaos –neatness and order.
The horror of this sight is mitigated,
the range strictly local, from witchgrass to spearmint.
Sadness is not contagious.
The sky is blue. 

For our peace of mind, their death seemingly shallower.
Animals do not pass away, but simply die,
losing – we wish to believe – less of awareness and the world,
leaving – it seems to us – a stage less tragic.
Their humble little souls do not haunt our dreams,
they keep their distance,
know their place.

So here lies the dead beetle on the road,
glistens unlamented when the sun hits.
A glance at him is as good as a thought;
he looks as though nothing important had befallen him.
What’s important is valid supposedly for us.
For just our life, for just our death,
a death that enjoys an extorted primacy.

 Seen From Above, Wislawa Szymborska, 1921 –

I stumbled upon this poem the other day and found it quite touching for the modesty of its subject – not many poems are written about the lowly beetle – and because it reminded me of a short essay I wrote a year or two ago on a similar topic. My experience was not seeing a dead beetle but a beetle in the process of dying. (See Archives 2012, August 9)

“animals do not pass away, but simply die.” I like the irony Szymborska uses when she infers that the beetle’s death is so much less in importance than our own. Their death need not be draped in euphemism but baldly declared. The lowly beetle knows its place in the hierarchy of value. Its death is of little importance in the grand scheme of things. In contrast, how important we believe ourselves, how world-changing our own demise.

Yet when “seen from above” does not the same life which animates our hearts, also animate the beetles of the world, and the trees and rocks and birds? Isn’t the one life that connects us all, the one life that is All That Is? Perhaps this hierarchy of life in which we imagine ourselves as the evolutionary edge is, in fact, not a vertical structure but a horizontal configuration that moves from the center outward in all directions at once with no one form having primacy, all being equal and equally loved.

And, if by chance, we fulfill those dire prophecies of Armageddon who can say the world will miss our heavy footsteps and loud quarreling voices. Perhaps the meek will one day inherit the earth.

 

Flag Day

Tags

, , ,

A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray & Dim

A sight in camp in the daybreak gray and dim,
As from my tent I emerge so early sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the hospital tent,
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there untended lying,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woolen blanket,
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.

Curious I halt and silent stand,
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest the first just lift the blanket:
Who are you elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-grey’d hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?

Then to the second I step – and who are you my child and darling?
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming? 

Then to the third – a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man I think I know you – I think this face is the face of the Christ himself,
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.

Walt Whitman

This poem would have been a good selection for Memorial Day but I didn’t find it until the other day when perusing a book titled, “A Book of Luminous Things,” an anthology of international poetry edited by Czelsaw Milosz, Nobel Prize winner in Literature. But I think the sentiments of brotherhood expressed also serves for Flag Day.

We don’t really celebrate Flag Day much – ever since the Vietnam War and the days of flag burning I think there has been a confusion between patriotism and nationalism. Love of country, which is patriotic and can be symbolized by a flag, seems to me to be a good thing and one that is bred into our bones – who can forget where they spent their childhood – whether those years were good or bad? Who can ever leave behind what is held within in the word “home,” the emotional landscape of our life.

In Whitmans’ poem we are reminded of the great brotherhood of man whether those ties are felt on the battlefield or around the kitchen table. I, for one, am grateful for this land of ours and the opportunity to live here. As a people we are certainly not perfect and have made, and continue to make, bad choices – but the mountains and lakes, the rivers and valleys, the great vastness of this land and the inherent brotherhood of our people are worth celebrating.

MILES TO GO 9X13Side Note: I learned yesterday that one of my ink wash paintings, Miles to Go, has been selected by the 9th National Exhibition held at Axis Gallery in Sacramento in August. It is one of 58 pieces chosen from more than 1300 submitted.

Climate Change

Tags

, , , , ,

A middle aged man in Bermuda shorts
pushes a white-haired woman in a wheelchair
along the path that leads to the pond
where today the ducks and geese float peacefully
beneath the high shooting fountains
whose spray is blown eastward in fine droplets
by the offshore winds which have finally arrived from the south
where great walls of fire and spiraling columns of flames
have been scouring up and down hillsides
in a feeding frenzy that consumes most homes but not all,
serendipitously sparing one or two to stand testimony
to what has been but now is no more,
and are now slowly receding from the banks of towns
and dry seas of grass that cover the undulating hills
which flow down to meet the metronomic waves of the ocean
while black clouds of ashy air chokes the throats
of birds and men and coyotes whose long residency
of this place once called the Land of Smoke
by earlier inhabitants will be over
when this purge of fire finally gives way to quaking ground
and the earth shakes her shaggy head
and reassembles the hills and canyon in new formations
while in the east, lands are swept by raging rivers
that topple towns and swiftly cover meadows
and to the south great shelves of ice plunge into Antarctic seas
which, a millimeter at a time, are creating new shorelines
that will in the days ahead make of Phoenix a harbor and Lake Erie a Gulf;
but until then a pale-winged butterfly, the color of lemon flesh,
lands lightly on a bright dandelion beneath the blue Madonna sky
that holds just one cloud that peeks over the horizon of trees
that edge the parking lot where a mother is calling, “Come on, let’s go!”
across the field and down to the playground
where two small children are climbing the monkey bars
and swinging in unison until she calls again,
“Hurry! Now!” and the four sneaker-clad feet race
to the black station wagon that waits, tail gate open,
bats and bikes spilling out on a mild and cool Sunday morning.

Spring Rhythms

Tags

, , , ,

Last night a roar like the rumble of a heavy-laden truck broke the stillness of evening and rapidly grew in intensity. The sky came crashing down in short staccato bursts of small hard ice pellets that hopscotched across wet sidewalks. The sudden storm was furious but passed in moments, leaving behind a slowly sinking sun and a faded blue sky stained with blotches of pink and crimson and orange clouds.

Today, within the small world that is the neighborhood park, the dew lays heavy on the grass, muffling the sounds of passing traffic and the strident barking of a dog. The sky is clear of even the thinnest clouds. The gusts of sweet air jostle the trees, their long limbs shudder and their leaves wave back and forth in the morning light.

People walk down streets and around paths, collars turned up, briskly keeping pace with tail-wagging dogs whose noses twitch as squirrels race up and down ancient oaks. A black-jacketed girl with knee-high boots and short shorts struts across the parking lot, high heels clicking and purse swinging. A jogging man takes off his shirt to bare his young brown skin, then sprints off to the track. At the playground children squeal and chase elusive bouncing balls thrown by weary mothers looking forward to afternoon naps.

Two mallards waddle in stately procession across the wide lawn, twin tails swinging in tick-tock fashion, four webbed feet keeping cadence to a goosey rhythm only they can hear. Overhead two dragonflies dart and dance, their biplane wings a circular blur against the sky. From a nearby branch a black crow looks on with interest and caws in reply to the noon bells of St. Philomene’s. Time for lunch.

 

Art-ful, Art-less

Tags

, ,

I started a new cycle of art making a couple of weeks ago, and, as usual, do not have a method or destination in mind. I try to approach the ink and watercolors and rice paper with an empty mind, just as I did when in kindergarten, not expecting any particular outcome and always a little surprised at the end.

As can be expected, there are a lot of ‘botched’ attempts with this approach, usually the result of too much rather than too little. It is really not a practice I would advocate for an artist ‘serious’ about making money or a reputation. I am painting for fun, to be surprised, to meditate, to explore.

This also puts me in mind of some pondering I have been doing regarding writing. I made my living as a commercial copywriter for many years, writing poetry, short stories and essays mainly for my own enjoyment. In the 90’s I made several concerted efforts to get some of the creative stuff published but except for a few poems nothing caught.

In my reading lately, I have noticed how many professional writers have a list of 20, 30 or even more books to their credit. Now they, my mind tells me, are the real deal, the real professionals who have dedicated their career to their craft.

So then how do I measure my output, my success or lack thereof? Am I by definition a writer simply because I write? Or, is there a measure of commitment or public acknowledgement or commercial success in which I do not meet some standard – either self-defined or societal?

As usual, I arrived at no conclusion but I was reminded how I am defining my ‘self’. I am not a writer or artist; instead, I write and I do art. I am at the age now when roles are optional and there is no need to play any. Rather than do, it is time to be. So I be writing and I be painting and I be sitting in the sun. 

When this art cycle is over I will add some of the better pieces to my gallery. Meanwhile, here are a few previews.

april showers

April Showers

on the range]

On the Range

Sunset

Sunset

Morning dew

Morning dew

Great Falls

Great Falls

Violets

Violets

Lucky

Tags

, , ,

After several days of heavy rains the sky was clearing, the clouds drifting slowly into high, white masses. The sun shone down peacefully as if grateful for the respite. The air was clear and clean and after many days of silence, the birds were once again singing.

He was a middle-aged man, still slender but showing streaks of gray in his hair. Behind the wall of his brown eyes, a sadness and disappointment shone. He said he had grown up in a single parent family and although they had never gone hungry, there was never any money for the nicer things of life.

He had put himself through college, worked hard, and eventually rose to an executive position within a respected company. He had a devoted wife and two healthy children; a big house with a view, a sports car of his own, a travel trailer for family vacations, electronic gadgets and toys – in fact, all the things he had dreamed of owning as a young man were now his.

He said that when he looked at his life he saw many of his business associates starting their own companies, getting even bigger paychecks and bonuses, receiving recognition from peers in their industry. He wanted to know why he wasn’t lucky like they were. Why wasn’t he happy too?

Lucky. When we feel lucky we feel full, complete. When we feel unlucky, there is something empty inside us that wants to be filled. Some want to fill that hole with money or fame or love or God. If only something ‘out there’ could be obtained and put ‘in here’, all would be well. We would be complete, we would be happy.

This ‘thing’ that we believe we need is always just ahead of us, just a little out of reach, around the next corner, in the next relationship or the next job – and if we just try a little harder, run a little faster, we can get what we need and finally relax and finally be happy.

And when we do get that prize, we do feel better for while – a few hours, a few days, a few months – and then that awful ‘wantingness’ comes back. The happiness we felt with that fulfillment was not because of the ‘thing’ we finally obtained but because, for a while, we had no desires. It was the cessation of desire, not its fulfillment that allowed the joy to be felt. Joy fills all emptiness.

So it is not how many things we have, or their quality. In fact, possession has nothing to do with peace. We are lucky, we feel fulfilled, only when we stop wanting. When we stop wanting, we can recognize how lucky we indeed are. Gratitude for what is, no matter what that is, is the foundation for all joy.

It was not many months later that the man developed cancer which seemed to prove to him that he really was unlucky. But when he left this life he was surrounded by all the people who loved him for his courage and devotion and then he understood.

The Good Samaritan

Tags

, , , , ,

The man down the street answered the cry
of the young man with the child’s mind
who was being bullied by the neighborhood gang
and for his trouble was knifed in the stomach;
now beneath the giant oak with the rope swing
that stands in his front yard under a blue sky
are a dozen votive candles resting in peace
and a poster sized picture of his face
which now smiles down from heaven
where no bullies are allowed and all children
are smart and beautiful and strong and safe.

Ears High, Tail Waving

Tags

, ,

“I had a dog once
Who liked to fetch,”
I wanted to say,
To the man with the white beard
And the baseball cap
As he flung the ball
High in the air
And the lumbering lab
Barked twice and ran,
Ears high, tail waving.

“I had a dog once,”
I wanted to say
As I remembered
Boulders round a blue lake,
Pheasants rising
From red bushes,
Deer tracks in new snow,
And Beau running to me
At my call,
Ears high, tail waving.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 205 other followers