One : Chasing Our Tails
(For thoughts about being in the present moment, go to: More About the Now in eThoughts.)
Somewhere in the foothills of Southern California, a young man stood desperately trying to practice what he had been taught to practice: attention to surroundings, critical analysis, synthesizing information into a cohesive unit, connecting the dots of reality into an appropriate picture of reality, to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, etc., etc.
These were the mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual bricks that gave the tensile strength to the house and reality of one’s character. These elements stood in sharp contrast to the straw components inherent in character flaws like slovenliness, unclean thoughts, impure moments, anger, lying, emotionality, neurosis, irresponsibility, inattention, disrespect, failure to floss and so on. In such a house, one was not safe from that perpetual wolf that staked out every door.
The old story about how it all worked was quite simple really. Good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. Or at least some powerful entity was looking for an excuse to bless those with the correct symbol above their door and curse those without it.
Though it was acknowledged as somewhat of a mystery and certainly well beyond human comprehension, staying within the parameters of the chosen characteristics was a powerful talisman, the garlic to keep away the other mystery that stalked humans for the purpose of devouring their soul-energy.
This life, this narrow path, was a terrible predicament. It seemed like the confines of a WWII submarine in the midst of a continual depth charge attack. This was the Inquisition that never ended, the ongoing Cosmic Spelling Bee that one could only eventually lose. After all, just how long can one endure?
What was it like to be a POW, or a woman raped, or a people gassed, or a person terminally ill (or were we all terminally ill?)? Were these people devoid of the proper character? Had they failed to adhere to the appropriate dictums? Or, even worse, had they thumbed their noses at the cosmos?
Oh, we have answers for all of this–Plato and Socrates; Jesus, Buddha, and Muhammad; Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, and Geronimo; Jefferson, Lincoln, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King; Lady Godiva, Dorothea Dix, Helen Keller, and Rosa Parks; and countless others of every race, gender, age, ethnicity, weight, height, and humor.
What had Erich Fromm said, the problem was fear of freedom? If freedom was the issue and freedom was part and parcel of its opposite–well, how does that work? Were we the flotsam and jetsam in the cosmic river, the pawns of the Gods? Did we just have to accept our lot, play with pain, sacrifice and suffer, thereby proving our worthiness to be graced by a Godly atta-boy? Or were we the alchemists that transformed space into matter and vice versa, or perhaps the co-authors in the creation of this Great Script?
All these questions. All these answers. Images of the dog running in manic circles after its tail. Madness, sheer madness–clearly a one-way journey into psychosis.
Somewhere in all of these questions and answers there seemed to be this inescapable paradox. Death was life and life was death, joy was inexorably tied to sorrow, freedom to determinism, lying to truth, love to hate. It seemed that the very same talisman that guarded our spirits also seemed to leave us unguarded.
Indeed, to that young man on a hill in Southern California, the assault of a thousand voices from the collective unconscious and the learning stew from which he sprang seemed to shout at him to acquiesce, to capitulate to the ancient wisdom. It felt like a thousand anchors that immobilized consciousness.
But the questions that had brought him to that hill, the perceptions that at first seemed so foreign to him had also awakened something. It lay in the nature of the questions and in the very nature of perception.
There were always answers–correct answers–even if they were contradictory. “If you snooze you lose” was just as correct as “Look before you leap.” “The early bird gets the worm” is no more right nor wrong than “The second mouse gets the cheese.” “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” dovetails with “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”
So what was that young man on a hill to believe?
Back to the issue of creation, of choice? But what of all that imprinting–born human, but fixated on the teachings of a dinsoaur? That would be some powerful shape-shifting to Etch-A-Sketch® those series of connections. And would he now find himself lost upon some spiritual Sargasso Sea having abandoned the sail and rudder of culture and family? What was the meaning of life?
Learning is a relative term. Birds don’t “learn” to sing, animals don’t “learn” to walk. That sort of thing is genetically programmed, even if it was originally encoded because of behaviors that worked.
Psychosis is also a relative term. What feels like crazy may be the shedding of crazy. But stopping the speeding boat of ourselves can be dangerous–somewhere there’s a big karmic wake bearing down on us back there.
It’s too much. The young man on the hill in Southern California cracks. The compartment in which he’s been living is breached and he is the antelope whose neck is in the death-grip of the lion. There can be no more escape, no more struggle. The worst has happened.
The cacophony of cultural and family voices spewing advice and wisdom goes quiet and turns away from the loss of the wayward child. That broken being becomes just another example substantiating all of the established behavioral norms, mute testimony to the importance in following the dictums of the wise, nodding, knowing heads.
In the quiet, in the abandonment, the young man hears laughing from somewhere.
What is so funny?
It is a gentle laugh however and not from a single source, though it seems to merge as one laugh.
It is funny.
The young man smiles.
Smiles? Why? This was a disaster, was it not?
But it is funny.
There we go with the questions again, and the search for answers. Ahhhh – that seems funny. All of that was just killed off, wasn’t it? But it arises anyway, the Phoenix of the question/answer paradigm. Did one have to be free from questions/answers?
Oops, there it goes again. Funny.
What was going on here?
Oops, again. Funny.
In the hills in Southern California, a young man sits, kneels actually–having been brought to his knees, while the sounds shape themselves into gentle laughter. Finally the young man cannot help but laugh either, his laugh becoming part of the larger one.
All of these questions, pursued like the answers were important harbingers of the truth. And in the silence, the space between the sounds of gentle laughter, the questions and answers were just that–questions and answers.
The truth seemed to be awareness, attention. The questions that were being directed toward the cosmos were seemingly being asked by the cosmos. What is the meaning of life?
Well, the answer came: What is the meaning of life? Ask your questions, live in your cave, have fun, whether pathos and angst are your choices or silence or laughter or work or play.
It is funny. All those anchors worn with pride, all those purple hearts and our wagon of wounds. All of those beliefs from the dawn of humans (and surely before that) coalesced along with behaviors and random mutation into a genetic blueprint. Thus was born the phrase “the sins of the father…” It is a powerful and transfixing bait, a subtle sleight of hand, an illusion created by smoke and mirrors. And from this illusion was born the many reasons to lose our individual and collective voice.
And so we fill the space with the knick-knacks of our journey and honor the substance and forget the space. As the Zen people say, the bowl is the structure, but it is the space in the bowl that holds what we need–one cannot put anything into a full bowl. The house is important, but it is the space in the house where we create. It is not the events in our lives, but the lives in our events.
Sometimes, learning is not the product of questions and answers, of connecting the dots, of linear thinking, or of putting this with that. Sometimes learning can be found in the spaces between this and that. Sometimes, psychosis may actually be a journey back to sanity, found in the craziness of letting go. In such places, in the space between genetics and behavior, behavior and genetics, one may find the fountainhead of creation and the soul of learning.
So, what was all of that worry and madness and questions and search for truth that seemed so worthwhile and ever so noble?
Another question, and surely another answer.
Somewhere there’s the gentle sound of laughter.