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Autumnal Duende

A little rain before the sun rises, a soft percussion where land slopes south. Night given to fits of sleep and admiring foxes, the neighbor’s chickens down at least a dozen hens, the dog and I stretched out on the floor to breathe. Forgive us what we do and what we don’t do as well, okay?

In the morning I walk three miles, stopping once to study the field where last night a trio of deer leaped away from me at dusk, and once to talk to T. about “the sorry ass state of public education.” The impossible yellow of golden rod is all the proof of God one needs! Please understand that what you long for with respect to me is already yours without exception or qualification because you gave it to me.

Last week at the lake we talked about gaps in our cultural maps and at what point does one simply resign to not reaching this or that particular territory. The pickle recipe I invented last weekend while sitting under the poplar trees, drunk and humming Nearer My God to Thee, turned out better than anyone – including me – expected. We are the moon we remember.

Retying the clothes line, the old maple tree to which it’s linked bit four times by lightening and nearly rotted out now. Three nights in a row I have dreamed of women for whom I have not done enough work. The reading list grows thin the closer I get to what is.

How tired I am of soothing myself with photographs! Oh Maria Callas my arms are neither big enough nor strong enough but for you they are always open. As summer ends, snakes fill the basement, each one of which I rescue and carry in my hands a good quarter mile toward the brook before releasing.

The letter remained on the table a long time, speaking to us quietly where we were saddest. There are old wood piles knotted with clematis, there are stars that you have never seen. Nakedness flaring on folded sheets, clouds pressing up against the glass.

And so the autumnal duende begins. One finds the expression, one learns its justification.

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Forgiveness is Healed Perception

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The best use to which my old zafu is put these days . . . We call her Molly, one of many feline Buddhas who have blessed me over the years . . .

It is important to see the simplicity of forgiveness in A Course in Miracles: it is “the healing of the perception of separation (T-3.V.9:1).” It is not an action, not an accumulation of information and rules. It is a right or coherent way of seeing, a healed way of seeing.

“Seeing” in this case refers to a mode of internal perception. Perception begins internally with names, classifications, memories, opinions and ideals and all of that. It is a vast and complex system and we are aware of very little of its operation. Mostly we perceive only its end result, and maybe the step or two leading up to that result: we call it life, or our experience of life.

A Course in Miracles does not ask us to undo this system. It simply invites us to question its effects and, based on the insights we derive from that questioning, consider there might be a better way. The choice for a better way reveals the better way. It is itself the better way. It is always there.

You have need to use the symbols of the world a while. But be you not deceived by them as well. They do not stand for anything at all, and in your practicing it is this thought that will release you from them (W-pI.184.9:2-4).

We might agree that this tree is a “maple tree.” Okay. But that is merely a symbol for this beautiful thing, right? We could call it “Bob” and it wouldn’t be any less lovely or helpful (in terms of syrup, foliage, shade and fire wood). Even calling it “tree” is a convenience. I could call it “blob” and its elegance and grace would not be compromised in the least.

It is important to see this and to practice it. We are not looking at maple trees (or sunsets or wild turkeys or grains of sand), we are looking at life. And there is not an empty space between the trees and our bodies, but rather vital and dynamic air – filled with oxygen and bugs and water molecules and light and all of that. It is all Life, all connected, however subtly, and we are part of it. We are it and our attention is simply a gift, life being grateful for itself.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the simple pleasures of our lives: eating healthy food, going for walks, making art, holding hands, listening to Chopin or chickadees or the rain. Our goal is simply to see these “things” for what they are: convenient symbols whose implication of a fractured or separated reality is an illusion.

. . . [C]reation has one Name, one meaning, and a single Source which unifies all things within Itself. Use all the names the world bestows on them but for convenience, yet do not forget they share the Name of God along with you (W-pI.184.11:3-4).

This is always so: if we close our eyes and run through our relationships with friends, neighbors, family members, lovers, pet, politicians and so forth we will see it. We give them names and attributes but it is all a matter of convenience. Our internal landscape is one fluid movement – a singular flux – just like its external reflection. There is nothing but the Oneness we mistake for “everything” or “all.”

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the simple pleasures of our lives: eating healthy food, going for walks, making art, holding hands, listening to Chopin or chickadees or the rain. Our goal is simply to see these “things” for what they are: convenient symbols whose implication of a fractured or separated reality is an illusion.

. . . [Y]ou must accept the Name for all reality, and realize the many names you gave its aspects have distorted what you see, but have not interfered with Truth at all (W-pI.184.13:3).

These many names have no effect on reality: they are merely a convenient way to describe oneness. Once we see this clearly – they are a matter of convenience, not truth itself – then we are no longer resisting our Source. We are no longer struggling to defend our fractured perception and confused sense of Love. We have something to offer – we can be of service. We will see the real world, and it will be both instantly familiar and profoundly new.

The real world was given you by God in loving exchange for the world you made and the world you see. Only take it from the hand of Christ and look upon it. Its reality will make everything else invisible, for beholding it is total perception. And as you look upon it you will remember that it was always so (T-12.VIII.8:1-4).

This is a learned skill. We have to study it and practice it. At first it seems impossible, then awkward and impractical. But more and more it becomes natural and joyful. We begin to see that this is what we are in truth. Love is our inheritance. It awaits only our acceptance.

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Letters Come and Go

After a while I stop counting apples and just wonder what the right word for their particular shade of red might be, which my wife – who is busy picking – suggests isn’t a better expenditure of time. A storm is coming, west to east, each breath of wind a little more electric than the last.

Context is helpful, until it is not, and one has to be sensitive to the difference as it occurs. Waking up at three a.m. and entering the field is a kind of pilgrimage, or you can – if you want to – see it that way.

Struggling to read through broken glasses, Macbeth, John’s Gospel, Sylvia Plath’s early poems which yesterday I recalled in conversation, suggesting they reflected a kind of informed bravery mostly missing from today’s poorly-read imitations of that particular confessional mode. Geese crossing from time to time, their oratorical V’s ever a harbinger of what makes me most love the Abrahamic God.

Last night while I wrote, C. sewed buttons on various articles of clothing, catching up on side projects, both of us remembering old pets long gone. Last of the bread dipped in crushed tomatoes and dried basil, a little feta added just to clean out the fridge.

Focusing on word counts is okay at first but leads increasingly to confusion about the difference between quantity and quality. One thinks of Emily Dickinson in the 1870′s, and is not alone, ever.

At night, standing under the stars, you perceive your life not as a series of personal events held together by a narrative self, but as a single stitch in a vast beautiful fabric ultimately incomprehensible to our limited (and limiting) minds. I have called death a darkening but that is only from this side – from the other it is a lightening, in at least two senses of the word.

I woke at 3 a.m. to the neighbors fighting, slurred insults just audible through a late summer welter verging on rain. A dead cardinal come to unexpectedly, gone when I passed that way a few hours later.

We are one movement, which is so hard to perceive and which – once perceived – tends to inspire all sorts of creative resistance and antipathy. J. asks for pancakes and I accommodate, but not without gently observing that most breakfast experts consider them mainly a fall and winter meal, to which he replies matter-of-factly, almost kindly – as if seeing better than me the fear of love from which my wordiness emerges – “then don’t eat them.”

What is it about mystery (other than the satisfaction of solution) that we so love and covet? Letters come and go but language lasts forever.

E. brings a few pounds of cubed lamb by to say thank you for my writing his son’s college application essays and we marinate it in olive oil, lemon juice and oregano, then barbecue it on skewers with cherry tomatoes and red onions, then smear it with shaved cucumber and yogurt, then eat it with a kind of home-made naan, until our gratitude floats away as high as the trees. What I am always trying to say is that one day follows another, or seems to, as if we are loved beyond our puny ideas of love, as if we are fed by a God who relishes our joy, and as if our joy – here, now – were Heaven itself.

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On Ending Projection

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Piper – a young Rhode Island Red – is the latest addition to our flock of chickens. She is a vigorous layer, which is nice as many of our older birds are at best sporadic egg producers. Most people would toss the old hens into a stew pot, but we love them, and feel grateful for their help – egg-laying and composting our kitchen and garden scraps – and so they get to live out their natural lives. It seems only fair.

It is helpful to remember that projection is a mode of perception, not an action that we take, like writing a letter or mowing a lawn. It is a way of seeing that is at odds with reality and is thus dysfunctional. It enhances rather than dissipates our sense of separation from life.

All metaphors are clunky, but we could think of it this way. Yesterday, when I came in from my walk I looked at the calendar. I pulled my glasses from my pocket to read and saw only a blur through shadows. I squinted, moved my head back and forth, shifted my glasses and nothing helped.

Then I realized that I was wearing my sunglasses, not my regular reading glasses (insert embarrassed smile). Once I put the right glasses on, everything clarified. I could see again.

So when we project, it is like we are focusing through a wrong lens. The solution isn’t to do anything, other than focus through the right lens.

Even that is a bit misleading because it makes an image of us picking and choosing between lenses – like trying on this or that pair of glasses until everything comes into focus.

But the shift we are talking about – from wrong-seeing to right-seeing – is simply a change of mind. It takes place internally. There is nothing to do. We don’t have to resolve to stop projecting, we don’t have to apologize to the object of our projection, we don’t have to make an amends to Jesus for screwing up his ACIM program. Nothing.

We are  not seeing clearly and so we choose to see clearly. No more than that. No less, either.

The simplicity of this is both astounding and intimidating. When we see the truth of “the secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself” (T-27.VIII.10:1), we are given the means of ultimate liberation. We may yet delay our release – we may backtrack into denial and projection – but the game is truly over. It is merely a question of when we choose to bring the truth into application. How easy!

And yet, after so many years of resistance – lifetimes, perhaps – how frightening to think that we can at last be happy and at peace forever. We become paralyzed a little. We freeze up. It happens to all of us, and it is understandable.

When we discern that we are holding some external influence (a person, place, thing, event, etc.) responsible for our inner peace, then we are given an opportunity: to continue to obsess over and blame this external influence, or to accept that we can be hurt by nothing except our own thoughts (W-pII.281.h).

If we choose the latter, then we are taking responsibility for own salvation. This alone creates a powerful shift in perception. Our focus moves from the external – the person who impedes us, the job that doesn’t function, the city that’s too loud, the weather that’s too wet, whatever – to our thoughts. We give attention to thought itself.

When we give attention to thought, sooner or later we learn that its flow is no different than anything else that is external – a river, a tree, the song of a bird. Its apparent importance and power are simply affects we’ve assigned to it and then pretended that we weren’t involved in it at all. But the truth is that of itself, it is nothing. It is merely another external detail.

A Course in Miracles meets us where we are, accommodates our illusions of preference, and moves us as far into healing as we are ready and willing to go. It is very practical and efficient, and its efficacy is premised mostly our willingness to let it work without getting in the way.

And so at last our attention moves away from mental thought and towards what A Course in Miracles calls “the thoughts we think with God” (e.g. W-pI.51.4:4).

How do we do this? For me, it is a matter of making A Course in Miracles my spiritual practice, for lack of a better word. I read the text, I do the lessons, I heed my teacher and trust that eventually the requisite insights will blossom allowing me to heal my fractured perception. And, notwithstanding a few bumps and wrong turns here and there, that is pretty much how it has gone.

More and more I appreciate and respect the deeply personal nature of A Course in Miracles. It meets us where we are, accommodates our illusions of preference, and moves us as far into healing as we are ready and willing to go. It is very practical and efficient, and its efficacy is premised mostly our willingness to let it work without getting in the way.

. . . [T]he memory of God cannot shine in a mind that has obliterated it and wants to keep it so. For the memory of God can dawn only in a mind that chooses to remember, and that has relinquished the insane desire to control reality. You who cannot even control yourself should hardly aspire to control the universe (T-12.VIII.5:2-4).

I am not saying that ACIM should be anybody’s spiritual path and, if it is, I am not saying that they should walk it this way or that. I am merely bearing witness to how it has worked – and continues to work – for me.

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Chrisoula won first place at the Cummington Fair this year for this Moss Stitch Hat. The yarn is Cascade 128 in Straw.

There is really nothing to do but give attention to our practice, right here in the world, and trust that we are not alone in it. Tara Singh encouraged his students to bring a sense of order to their lives – to make God their first love – and to know as a result that “the Divine Intelligence is there to help” (Love Holds No Grievances 54).

It can seem boring and insufficiently mystical at first – to clean our house, eat simple healthy food, focus intently on the daily lesson’s directive or whatever – but that is only because, as a means of resistance, we insist that God be a mystery, or distant, or conditional.

God of course is none of that. God is here now, a present reality presently unrecognized. The slower we go and the simpler we live, the more vividly and clearly our recognition of that fact – that truth – dawns in our minds.

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With Respect to Photographs

Sean_Reagan_camera

Yours truly in a rare moment with a camera . . .

Earlier this year I began to add photographs to my posts. I can be long-winded and sometimes a little illustration of one kind or another helps to break up the long chunks of text.

Initially I used paintings of famous – or relatively famous – works of art that are in the public domain and seemed related in some way to the content I was writing. But more and more I have been using pictures that we take in our family. There is a reason for this.

Though I love A Course in Miracles as a curriculum, and feel somewhat competent in talking and sharing about it, I am much more interested in how we bring it into application. How do we live as students of the course? Intellectual understanding is helpful – I think it is a big piece of ACIM, actually – but it is not, of itself, sufficient to awaken us. In fact, it can very easily become an impediment.

That is why I am so devoted to Tara Singh as my teacher – why I glommed onto him so quickly and attentively, and why I continue to so closely read his work. He was not interested in explicating A Course in Miracles but in facilitating its application, in making it the lived reality of those who were ready to be its students. The difference may seem subtle but it is significant indeed.

I am trying to share – within the boundaries of what is acceptable to my wife and children, and my own sometimes confused sense of propriety – what life looks like when one struggles in a sincere and wordy way (which I do) to live and practice A Course in Miracles. My sense is that there is a need for this sort of approach and – more to the point – I am not much good at writing about it any other way.

Thus, more and more, I am going to be posting photographs that reflect our family life – gardening, walking, raising chickens and children, playing in the forest, making food and clothing and so on and so forth. The pictures may not be necessarily germane to the post itself but I hope they will witness in a general way to the happiness, beauty, community and productivity that informs my life as a student of A Course in Miracles. I hope they are helpful.

The pictures are taken mostly by Chrisoula, my wife, or by Sophia and Fionnghuala, my daughters. I don’t dislike cameras – in fact, I love visual art very much – but it tends to distract me from the wordiness that is my own humble and humbling art.

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In Her Glances

There is no “without you” though this is admittedly at present mostly a matter of language.

All day the breeze tumbles in from the approximate west, redolent with smoke, reminding me somehow of trout frying over an open fire at twilight, river humming a few hundred yards away, both of us bundled in sweaters.

Love the silence that asks nothing but your presence.

Most of what we do must later be undone though sometimes – no warning – there is a grace, an insight, there is a single maple leaf spiraling down through the dusk.

Oxen bellow in the far field then lumber over to us, restless and curious.

All morning clearing trails, coming back tired and sweaty, drinking cold tea and eating salad tossed with cider vinegar and a splash of red wine.

Some days your eyes are so far away it doesn’t matter what I do.

T. said “my wife sure does love Florida in winter” to which I replied “mine sure does love working with fiber.”

Pending decisions are merely opportunities to learn again – perhaps for the last time – that God provides.

And after I come into the side yard – shadow of maples and poplar, the old lawn chairs and table picked up at a tag sale – to write, exhausted but wordy, torn as always between the dual inheritance of hard labor and language.

The few years I lived in cities, I smoked, and my poems were long and almost always featured a mountain, the top of which I could never quite reach.

Last week I spent half a day in Vermont, mostly driving but here and there stopping to walk an old trail, seeing at last that so much of what I call spirituality is simply my resistance to relationship with writing.

Yesterday J. and I carried cold sausage and bread into the forest, working all morning near the brook, eating by the old cellar hole, and walking back without talking, as sometimes we do.

Distance forever consumes itself, as if to remind us that all means of identification and measurement are merely a convenience and should never be mistaken for reality.

Dragonflies, deer tracks, old nails in the riverbed, and an effort – surely not the last – to write a long poem with Jesus.

A good dictionary matters, as does a firm grasp of Latin and Greek roots, because we think in language – words shape our reality – and only in relationship with them – which is a question of attention, gently given in a sustained way – can we at last discern what is true.

How happy apples make me!

D. comes by with a wooden spoon he made, a gift before he leaves for California, and I hug him despite his aversion to touch of any kind, and he says quietly – as if surprised himself – “thank you.”

Piano notes ascending – or flowing maybe – are forever the music that most intimates Heaven to me, as perhaps Chopin intended, my confused and beautiful brother who, like me, was never quite at home save in her glances.

The minutes pass while watching goldenrod in late summer sunlight, dreaming of a bear we might one day see together, and writing writing, this writing, for her.

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The Shadows of Falling Veils

Walking old trails past the gravel pits – remembering the old dog – and crying hard, blubbering really, like the sad old men I was scared of growing up. We are not what we think we are, nor what we long to be, but something else that neither changes nor knows what change is. How easily the miles fall away in late summer!

We stopped to watch a turkey vulture circle away from us, its vast wings deepening our breath, the way life often does when one understands the nexus between luck and attention. We are saying the same thing but differently and pretending that “differently” matters. We stop at the brook to soak our feet and end up sitting there for hours, not saying much of anything, but happy the way that you can be when you relax your reliance on thought.

One begins to perceive how wanting Jesus is related to defining Jesus and how both obscure – fatally though temporarily – actually learning from Jesus. I still cannot find the words to describe how birds sound when they rise as one from the hay field. Calf bones buried forty-two years ago at about this time may yet be the color of moonlight.

One becomes a traveler by relinquishing their investment in arrival. Often while sitting quietly in Center Cemetery – acres I have mowed, graves I have dug – I reflect on the nature of acquisitiveness, striving without irony for understanding. Eschew theology.

Bear tracks discovered just as the sun rises, a “big ‘un” as my grandfather might have said. One says it – makes it manifest in language – and only then perceives their obligation to undo it. Late – but not too late – one learns the sacred art of clearing trails.

The self perceived through language – study “me” and “I” in particular – arrives later and later, doesn’t it? The dance floor filling with the shadows of falling veils. She whispered “yes now yes” and it was a sweetness, it was a right settling of one into another.

You pass some towns and others you stop, you buy bread, you walk around in the twilight. I am in bed later than usual, sunlight ascending the northernmost wall, so grateful and happy it came to this.

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