Zen Meets a Boojum with Snark

Alan Watts tells a story about translating Zen texts into English and the selecting of those books. He consulted a Zen master who found the translation idea pretty preposterous, particularly the selection of certain books. After all, any and every book is Zen, be it Alice in Wonderland, the Bible, or a dictionary for “the sound of rain needs no translation” is what the Zen master had to say on the matter.

There is no separating Zen from being alive.

The first time I came across the Alan Watts story was some years ago, when I was on my own quest for anything Zen, wanting to capture and analyze Zen so I could keep it as a constant companion, completely oblivious to the fact that everywhere I went, there I was, in the eternal presence of Zen.

For everyone there is a way but there is no one way for everyone. I get that now.

But then, I explored quotations and Zen memes to suit any occasion, read books about Zen, and listened in rapt attention to Pema Chodron offer Zen just as it is as. And from her lips to my ears, the sound of rain needed no translation but only when she whispered it.

So, still translating with no Zen of my own or so I thought.

It may have been in the fall or spring. In Florida it is the color of the leaves that distinguishes those two seasons, so similar in temperature. It was raining with a constancy and clarity I have come to know of early morning rain, steel rod straight without wind.

It was just an hour or so into the light of day, and I was in the middle of monkey mind meditation. I have long forgot the pressing issue of that day—so important it was—or it may have been the frustration of yet another monkey mind day of meditation. Agitation has such an array of possibilities.

And then I was one with the rain. Just like that.

I don’t know when it started. All I know is that once I realized what was happening, it stopped, and I was back watching the rain with an awareness, an evenness of mind, that would stay with me for at least a few hours. I was completely present to each task but soon my mind started wandering and trying to explain that which does not translate.

I have had this happen to me three times in the years I have been meditating and it is much the same each time. I am aware of returning but not where I have been—that is a complete blank. And for the next few hours in the day, there is a heightened awareness, which I do my best to make stay, but I think too much about what was and not what is.

The moment is all I have and I don’t let it be enough.

Twice this meditative state has involved nature and once it involved what I can only describe as a feeling of knowing I was going somewhere. I was particularly tired that morning and quite low on energy yet I remember thinking “Oh, this will be good.”

And it was.

It was the longest time I have been “gone”—two to three hours—the heightened sense of awareness stayed with me for some days afterward and has never completely left. I turn to it when I find myself moving away from the moment I have. There is nothing back there and everything right here.

I questioned whether I had simply fallen asleep and maybe I did. It was some time before I told a friend, and she said Eckhardt Tolle had described a very similar experience and wondered the same thing about falling asleep. We always know when a moment changes us. And that is enough. The sound of the rain needs no translation.

There is no way to analyze or translate what is beyond our knowledge of the physical dimension. And considering human limitations, not the least of which is our penchant for labels, I have no doubt we deny what we know to be true. We have words but they are not always what they once were.

Consider the Snark in Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark.” The poem might be about the unanswerable theological or philosophical questions or simply nonsense, without meaning at all. (However, the idea makes a very interesting episode of Inspector Lewis [Series 5, Episode 1]).

In the poem, there are nine tradesmen and one beaver who go in search of the Snark—and if this reminds you of a snipe hunt—when they find the Snark, it “gently and softly vanish[es] away [to] never be met with again.” And to this end, the episode of Inspector Lewis offers an interesting twist.

Detective Constable Hathaway tells an anecdote from the late 1870s about a young girl who writes to Carroll, wanting to know why he didn’t explain the Snark to which Carroll responds, “Are you able to explain things you can’t yourself understand?” It works well with the script but I can find no tell of such tale.

Reverend Dodgson, an early Carroll biographer, writes in 1876 of a young girl who loves the poem so much that she recites it at will, whether or not she has an appreciative audience. Her favorite venue, it seems, was the carriage ride. She knew a captive audience when she had one.

Lewis Carroll, writing to an American friend about the Snark says “I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense. Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them” (The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, 1899).

The last line of the poem is “for the Snark was a boojum, you see,” an animal of the imagination and in 1922, Godfrey Sykes would name the Boojum tree found in the Baja Peninsula for it is like no other. Even in physics, there is a geometric pattern on the surface of helium known as a boojum. At the moment, there is a brewing company in the Carolinas with the name of Boojum Brewing.

It seems to me that once again, everywhere we go, there we are, in the eternal present defying definition. All we have is awareness, preferably heightened.

And somewhat tangentially related is a “what would you choose” scenario of two choices: a.) $1 million in cash, free of any taxation burden; b.) returning to my 40s, knowing everything I know now, as I approach 70.

Even if this were a multiple guess question my answer would be immediate and the same. (In full disclosure, forced into either or, I chose returning to my 40s but life is neither this nor that. It is on its very good days, a Boojum).

Money has never been an attraction, much to the chagrin of those who love me. I am not good with money because I just don’t care about having more than enough to meet my needs, and only this has been true in the last act of my life. For most of it, I followed the magical thinking form of finance, of which the worry was harder than maintaining a monthly spreadsheet.

And I have to admit that I enjoyed my 40s but mostly, I became comfortable with each decade as it revealed itself, a series of leit motifs in the overarching experience of life, not that revelation is always pleasant. Each decade has required adjustment but I have no wish to return to any time, even the past nanosecond. Been there, experienced that.

Only the eternal present offers what is new under the sun.

Into a Forest Darkly: A Moving Experience

Into a forest darkly—the act of moving household after 11 years—making one’s way through leaving and arriving, often simultaneously, with lots of bumps, bruises, and breakage at both a physical and fiscal cost. As the physical toll makes itself known in the days and months to come, the fiscal total is immediately clear, just when a bit of obscurity would go a long way.

It is a forest dark indeed.

Moving undoes daily life, which is its purpose, leaving one life for another and in-between are boxes, which are always in short supply no matter how many are ordered, borrowed, begged. Boxes become the bitcoin of the moment.

And while recycle and up cycle are the catch words of living responsibly, not everyone wants what you have to give but the best of your friends will take it as you sort pans, Christmas bulbs, and shampoo into their respective boxes, hopefully.

Those same best friends ignore your babbling and just tend to what needs to be done. Later, they brush aside your inept attempts to thank them for being the wonderful people they are. However, they warn, “Don’t do it again.” And I won’t. I am too old to walk this forest again.

I have moved quite a bit in my life, more as a renter than as a homeowner, with much the same furniture and usually books in the hundreds, sometimes the high hundreds but this move is different, the last I make on my terms. The next is nursing home or death, and I prefer the latter. On my wheel of fortune there is no assisted living.

I keep what I love deeply and only that. In books that amounts to 33, mostly nonfiction; in furniture, an antique, mahogany bedroom set of my childhood from Aunt Mary and an oak rocker from Aunt Susie, which is the one item of a temporary nature. Someday, it will reside with my brother.

For everyday living, there’s a brown leather love seat and two black mesh filing cabinets that sit below each end of an oak door painted black years ago. Atop are the books, the fountain, yoga cats, pinecones, and meditating dog. I chose carefully and thoughtfully, keeping my eye on the prize, life on the other side of the move.

I had no choice but to leave my 690 ft.² apartment. My rent was raised twice in six months; the COLAs from both of my pensions no longer come close to covering the rent of “affordable” housing. So now I am in HUD housing in a market rate efficiency apartment of 222 ft.² It’s like tiny house living in a room with a view.

I had three weeks to move, which seemed like more than enough time to sort through belongings, box up what was left, and at night, watch home design shows on Amazon Prime. My challenge was a 12 ½’ x 17 ½’ room with galley-like kitchen and pantry (eight square feet total) to fill with furniture and 23 book-size boxes.

The hourly rate for professional movers is not insignificant. Even with boxes packed, the cost was staggering but within a forest darkly the only way is through and sometimes that means delays and detours.

The movers arrived late and then took their time, which was concerning not only to me but to the occupancy specialist at my new apartment building who values promptness and a singular way of doing things, such as signing papers upon move in (not a moment earlier or later). It’s her system of 20 years and I am not that fool to question it.

While I was signing, the movers were wandering, first to the wrong apartment building and when they found their way to my 12-story building, they entered the underground entrance improperly. Underground discussions ensued as captured on CCTV. It was the kind of day when it seemed certain the elevators would go down and so they did.

Time turns only on its dime.

Ultimately, I had less than 10 minutes to look at my actual apartment before the Tempurpedic adjustable bed, furniture, and boxes turned what I had known only as a floor plan into reality.

My nights of design time were well spent as only the vanity/desk and chest of drawers exchanged places (yes, those same best of friends were again on the scene), after I was notified of a building-wide apartment inspection in three days. A neighbor’s son and daughter-in-law were kind enough to hang my wall art.

Yet, my move was not yet complete.

For reasons I no longer understand (if I ever did), I decided to combine moving to a new apartment with donating my car to PBS. So much seems possible in the beginning of any life-changing event but then reality smiles and says, “Hold my beer.”

To be sure, there was far too much back and forth of I’ll donate the car/I won’t donate the car. Oh, I have yet another someone to buy it and yet another someone who cannot drive a stick shift. I had been done with driving for some time but to be done with car ownership is to be caught in a game of bumper cars with PBS, its vehicle vendor, and the state of Florida yet no thing lasts forever, even in the Sunshine State.

There are lots of conversations with truck drivers before the actual pick up of the vehicle as dates change, messages are mixed or parking spots are taken. Regardless, the truck drivers travel back and forth from Alabama with car trailers full or not for there’s always another run.

Here in historic, midtown Tallahassee, parking spaces and street sizes are from another century; the cement street curbs are steep, vintage 1950s, met by sloping, narrow boulevards of St. Augustine grass. A semi with a car trailer stops traffic in every direction so efficacy is appreciated.

When the day finally arrived for my car to be hauled away, I was instructed to put the title in the glove box and the key where the truck driver and I had agreed.

I don’t do well with sloping boulevards so I stood at the curb and locked my Traveler (walker) in place on the boulevard, away from me, so I could use the side and front of my white Toyota Psion XB for balance—there was enough room for a feather between my car and the car in front of it—as I lifted the weaker of my legs from the street over the curb and onto the boulevard, stabilizing myself with my stronger leg still left at the curb.

I did not feel the fire ants immediately, a testimony to my focus on getting the rest of me onto the boulevard so I could unlock the passenger door, put the car title in the glove box—THEN I felt the fire ants, tossed the key somewhere inside the car and slammed the door.

Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing. I was done except for brushing off the fire ants, which is no mean feat as they go wherever they want, especially between your toes, but this was my moment, too, and I made the best of it as the ants  scrambled but not without leaving me stinging and later scarred yet all of us to home eventually.

It was weeks and days after my move began that I finally cleared the forest. In the subsequent months, a new chapter writes itself from my room with a view but sometimes I nod to the world as I once knew it.

A Murderer Among Us

A murderer lives in my apartment complex and has for the last eight years.

Marie stomped her 82-year-old mother to death, after throwing her down the stairs. Marie then encircled her mother’s body with all the things they had fought about: the gas money purse, the television set, various foods, mentholated rub. It would take some days to find both mother and daughter.

No one in our apartment complex knew about Marie’s past until recently, when she fell in love, so much so she told her beloved what happened just over 15 years ago. Predictably, he dumped Marie and then told everyone else in the complex that they could find Marie’s story online. He and a new girlfriend moved away.

The story of Marie falling in love with a man who leaves her for another is a repeat scenario, although this time there was no child that had to be given up for adoption, but falling in love seems to be the catalyst for Marie to stop taking her bipolar medication and to begin grasping at whatever story will give her oxygen: she was raped, she wasn’t raped; she’s a danger to others, she’s not a danger to others; she loves everyone, she doesn’t love anyone.

“I’m not a danger to myself or others but I guess I am” is what Marie told the judge at the sentencing hearing for her mother’s murder. Marie is and is not a danger, often simultaneously, a reality whose boundaries only she can perceive. The rest of us draw different lines in the sand that she crosses almost daily.

We call the police, record and video her outbursts and send them to the apartment complex managers but mostly, we wait until she injures herself or somebody else as she systematically destroys her own apartment.

Every day is pretty much the same with Marie. Sometimes the police come, sometimes not, and other times it’s the sheriff, whoever draws the short straw is what it feels like. “I’ll f**cking kill her (or you)” is a favorite rant as Marie asks for money or to borrow a phone that she will never return.

She is being evicted and sometimes she knows this but mostly she just tells us “this is “MY f*cking neighborhood.” We really are all she has but we don’t want her, and she doesn’t want us, either, yet we all need a place to live.

Because she’s leaving, Marie gifts her neighbors with used deodorant, perfume or dead batteries, delicately placed on the tiny shelves beneath the message blackboards outside resident apartment doors. It’s not that she’s not crying for help or that we don’t hear her. A torn window screen hangs from one of the window panels of her second story apartment, like a flag that just can’t catch a breeze.

About every four or five days, she is taken to a mental health facility where she is held for 72 hours and then released. Her own father and his wife, now in their late 80s, are so scared of her they sold their house and moved into an assisted living facility. They don’t want to be beaten to death during a psychotic outburst, and they no longer know how to help her.

With me, Marie keeps her distance. She waves whenever I drive into or out of the parking lot. I suspect she knows that eight years ago I figured out her story, when I was thinking about putting together a writers group. Marie was rather excited about it and told me her psychiatrist was, too. There are many solid reasons I never started that writing group, but it would be a lie to say that Marie was not the major one.

Eight years ago the story of Marie was more prominent on Google with pictures of the family home and sidebar stories about her activist mother. It was a tragedy, the headline read, and it still is but this time—so far—no one has died. We have two weeks until Marie leaves us for nowhere and anywhere. In either direction lies homelessness.

We do the best we can with who we are in any given moment, which doesn’t mean we choose right or wrong, even when either is evident. Life is not that clear cut, and there are always consequences. Choices are not words alone but actions, too; together, the best and worst in us.

UPDATE 4/13/21: Marie was evicted effective April 2 but not before there was a small fire in her apartment, perhaps accidentally started, perhaps not. Nonetheless, that was the last access Marie had to her apartment. In the waning hours of April 1, she sat outside her apartment, leaning against the door of what had been home for eight years. I don’t know how long she stayed, only that she is gone to the streets, maybe jail, possibly the mental health center but she can’t come home anymore.

A Country of Compassion, If We Can Keep It

In what now feels like a year that never was, I drafted a new year’s blog post. But then it wasn’t a new year anymore but more of 2020, albeit a bridge too far. Soon, 2021 overshadowed almost every year of this republic’s history with the attempted overthrow of the government, deliberately deadly and publicly provoked by a president of the United States.

We knew Trump did not lose well but we gave him sense enough not to incite an insurrection. No one had taking hostage/killing members of Congress on their bingo card, all to overturn an election that had been won fairly and soundly, one of the most secure we have had in the U.S.

Shakespeare warned us of such a man: “O, it is excellent to have a giant strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.” But Trump was less a giant and more an orange balloon inflated with lies, flying the skies of the world of alternative facts, where, it turns out, Trump did not have leaving the presidency on his bingo card.

Sequim Bay, Olympic Peninsula (Paulie Jenkins)

Leaving was almost more than he could do that final Wednesday morning. More than once he looked back before boarding Air Force One for the last time, hoping that something, anything, would change but it didn’t. He had lost the presidency. In those last moments reality dawned, and the magnitude of his loss was laid bare. Within 24 hours, The Proud Boys and QAnon denounced him as “flaccid and weak.” Turns out he was not a messianic warrior but just an American citizen who was once a president.

And in this moment, I found an ounce of compassion for him, as he surveyed the waste land of his brand, all of it all his doing. Not one of his last words moved me for they were the same old lies. It was the pain on his face, the realization that he was losing the power of the presidency and the standing in the world it gave him—all that comes with being president—so much of which he never bothered to learn. Maybe that’s why he sounded somewhat presidential; he finally felt the depth of what he was losing. Even thugs have moments of revelation.

On Martin Luther King Day I found these words from a very young Thich Nhat Hanh, re-printed in an article from Parallax Press: “this country is able to produce King but cannot preserve King. You have him, and yet you do not have him.” We are a country that has produced Martin Luther King and Donald John Trump, a divide we have lived for centuries.

We are a cacophony of ideas and beliefs, opposing chasms whose common ground lies buried with truth, deep within a myriad of caverns. We fly hashtags as if they were our flag, hoping the romantic will take root and with the dawn, we will see in each other what we daily deny. These are not easy bridges we must now build. We do not lack the wherewithal but can we keep our compassion?

Living without just a drop of empathy for Trump left me empty, fertile ground for the bitter roots of snark and cynicism—my time in his wasteland—that I left with him on inauguration morning. It is ours to write “…the story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history. We met the moment. That democracy and hope, truth, and justice, did not die on our watch but thrived” (President Joe Biden).

It’s hard to bring the better self to the surface every day but just an ounce of compassion will keep us afloat.

Stupid Does Have a Darker Side

Some of my days begin with refrains of songs and sometimes the refrain stays the day.

The wood is old

The wood is tired

If the weather holds

We’ll make it fine.

But if the weather holds

We’ll have missed the point

That’s where I need to go. (From “The Wood Song,” Indigo Girls)

The weather cannot hold if we are to become better than we were, different, do more with the life we have rather than wishing our lives away for the perfect day, which will neither come nor stay. We can no longer miss the point, which has been our history.

We have one more chance to make good. Some version of this idea comes through my morning meditation almost daily now but none quite take me where I need to go.

I guess I could meditate for the rest of my life to feel better.

The thing about stupidity is determining whether people are just so dumb they don’t know better or they do, and they are just that evil.

If it no longer bothers me to appear in public with a tampon up my nose, I’m beyond blushing about any of my behavior.

It’s this last thought that doesn’t leave my mind too many places to go, so I jump off in this time of viruses jumping species. This is the world we created, in our own image as it were, and it’s not such a great place, yet here we are.

Our resoundingly resilient planet has pronounced, “Time out!” offering us a moment to consider another way of being, a chance to demonstrate we are better than we appear. Most of us are not evil but a lot of us are easily misguided. There is no longer time to ignore the point.

Which is not expressed in positive platitudes and memes of generality, none of which are about being alive and learning to live, which is messy and full of mistakes, painful but valuable in its daily experience. I eschew the word positive as it has become a way to spin whatever the weather is as–all will be well when it won’t.

I prefer to face the weather as it arrives, leaving the spin to those who brand life with one label or another, a constant commentary about absolutely nothing, utterly feckless (by design). Stupid really does have a darker side.

For me, mindfulness separates the wheat from the chaff, as long as I do the work, which I don’t always. I’m as susceptible to branding as the next person. Some days I want the weather to just hold so I don’t have to do my part (just for a little while) but I’m not alive not to live, not to experience. That’s the point.

During these days of distance from people, I look into the woods outside my window, so many worlds within worlds, where sometimes, too, chaos reigns. Viruses are known to all species but it is also true that some are of our own making. Maybe the world is setting itself right, whether or not we stay in it.

Time is a construct of our creation, meaningless to all of existence except to us. It isn’t that we cannot have routines in which we work and play but we will not pigeonhole the planet. The weather will not always hold. Sounds like a conspiracy theory, I suppose, but regardless, it is mine (with a nod to The Indigo Girls).

We are witnessing the fall of all we believed. We thought it would always hold. Turns out, it was unsustainable, the stuff of branding. It doesn’t mean we will not do better. It means we must.

I could meditate for the rest of my life and probably feel better but one day, the world would come knocking and I would be found wanting. Been there, done that. I’m not missing the point again.

So Much Life, So Many Lenses

Extrapolate. It’s what’s possible when truth is present, which it is not in these days of COVID-19, not completely.

As always, there are exceptions such as New York Governor Cuomo’s daily press conferences. New York is a state and a city whose Adirondack mountains and Met opera I know only virtually, now the predominate means of viewing all life. So, I extrapolate to get a view of the state of my Florida, which I once traveled up and down and back-and-forth, as I did my own city of Tallahassee. No more.

No doubt my view of the news is skewed but I have a sense of comfort, an overall understanding, and that’s enough. What happens in New York City is not the scene in Tallahassee, we don’t have the numbers, but Miami creeps closer every day, and they must extrapolate, too, because they don’t have enough tests for their own numbers. Unlike the rest of the country, New York does have tests.

It is a virus unlike any other, one that literally takes the breath away as it gobbles up the way we once lived. Now we know the meaning of what can happen when a virus jumps from another species to ours. The only way to sustain life is to stay away from each other.

Even the word quarantine has a hard sound to it, as if social distancing were a punishment, which it is not. It’s a different life lens. It’s the view we have when life changes from what it was.

I really do know something about this as I’ve been social distancing for 10 years. It happened gradually, for one health reason or another, distancing myself from large gatherings, shopping the early morning weekday hours, giving up long distance travel. My immune system is compromised as is my spinal cord. It is best for me to keep my distance, less chance of falling or getting the flu.

Acceptance arrived but it took its time, as it is wont to do. Ask anyone you know who lives a differently abled life and they will tell you that binging anything–movies, TV shows, podcasts, gaming, reading, audiobooks–is not a way of life. Each is a welcome distraction from the discomfort of being disabled but not a one is life itself.

In Randall Jarrell’s poem, “The Sick Child,” a young boy confined to bed and beyond boredom cries out, “all that I’ve never thought of, think of me!” I first came across the poem when I was teaching college English in Wyoming, a lifetime away from the moment that all I never thought of, think of me would become my mantra. Then, I was in my mid 30s believing remission was forever, as if anything ever is. Yet, there was so little I didn’t know. Mostly, I had an answer for everything because magical thinking works like that.

Now I know nothing but opening myself to the reality of each day, whatever it maybe. I cannot possibly know what I need until the day dawns, as if it were that easy. My mind will not still the scenes of who I was or where I once walked. It insists on showing.

Sometimes, it’s the crushingly cold mountain streams of Wyoming where wind will steal the breath away. None of its bouldered paths will I walk again, gasping for breath above timberline, cursing at the caught tip of my flyrod in the ponderosa pine on my way to a lake that was once snow. No less in my mind are the woodlands of live oak and longleaf pine, sandy soft roads of shell and sandstone, sabal palm, and the shores of Saint George Island.

Florida and Wyoming, so physically distant and forever together virtually, sometimes so much so it hurts and then angers. With a ferocity of focus I cry out, “all I never thought of think of me!” It’s the words on the air that make the fury fade, as the energy of emotion reorganizes, evens itself out.

Something I never thought of does comes to me, not so much life changing but a broader perspective like  Pema Chodron’s we are always in relationship, even with the insect in the room. So, a change in perspective. Tunnel vision does tend to skew. None of life is perfect. There are cracks everywhere–they’re how we cope–these streaks of hope in a time of novel coronavirus.

It’s closing the window of what cannot be and opening the door of what is, meeting reality with equanimity, no longer blind by wishing and wanting. That is viewing life through a new lens. It is the past that takes us to the door of the present but it knows its place. Here, we live. There, we remember.

So much life, so many lenses.

Where We Live

The past is a well deep, full-bodied and well-aged hope. Just a single sip, sweet and cool, can quench the thirst of an arid and errant present. It’s tempting to drink away the life I have in favor of one already done. After all, I know how it all turns out but that’s not why I visit.

The past is a draft deep enough to launch hope full-sail, an acceptance of what is done is done and cannot be changed– at the helm am I, confident in the knowledge that it cannot. If there is value in the past, and I think there is, it is to immerse myself in the thought of then–remembering who I was–without judgment and with the benefit of who I am now.

After all, I am only visiting the past, not staying. I have no intention of repeating it. In acceptance, I study what happened, turn it inside out, peel back every layer of the why and how. How else to learn from being alive? Experience primes the pump.

There are times I am tempted to stay, like these days in a world growing dark with fear but my well would soon run dry without me living in the day to day. To drink of the past is sobering, no matter how refreshing its waters, but it’s not where I live.

Acceptance exposes all lies, opening my eyes to life as it is, especially when it isn’t the life I would have. Acceptance frees fear and without it, I can do a lot, even as one person. Living without fear is to live with equanimity, it knows no bounds, but that takes courage. Finding it may be the hope of the present.

The world seems drunk on fear. Increasingly, it is a globe of nation-states (large and small), each devoted to its own brand of isolationism, every day another hill to die on. It is as if the world has lost its past with its walls for the white, the straight, the binary. Everyone else, excluded.

Nationalism has never served our species other than to take us back to the cave, guard our fires fiercely, and stay drunk on stories inflated with glory that cannot stand the light of day. Without acceptance of who we have been, the past is a well too deep. To sip of hope is not for the faint of heart.

Sexuality and the color of skin are the story of humanity, a well of experience that never goes dry because it is never revisited for its failure because of what might be found: another way to live. Not one way for everyone but for everyone a way. Accepting who we are as we are.

Until now, there was enough time and space to accommodate world wars, nuclear bombs, and xenophobia but our lust for more has eliminated resource after resource. Rain forests have been generous for millennia but we have not been grateful.

We are at the end of thousands of years of history, on the precipice of deciding who will sip from precious waters and breathe air not yet too thin. There is no cave left in which to hide.

It’s tough, beginning at the end, having squandered all we once had and tougher still accepting what we have done but we are not without hope, and we can live without fear if we live without walls and with boundaries. I wonder how many generations will have the opportunity to try.

Endings are beginnings. There is a true fondness for that idea among us. It has a clean slate feel to it, but slate scraping will not take us to the core of who we are, a deeply flawed species. Best to begin as we are, ragged and rough, without lofty ideals, alive in our pain, but with succor from where all beginnings flow, our past.

I have spent time in caves sitting round false fires–too many years those– nothing I can do but accept every moment of them and not return. There is no life in firelight, its glow becomes all, only with the rising sun does light blind, like truth.*

Our planet can do very well without us but for now, it is where we live. May we be generous.

*My recent post, “Fascism, a False Twilight,” explores Albert Camus’ idea of light blinding like truth. The post seems a prequel to this one. 

One with the Wood

Morning mantra…I wanted a way to define the moment for if I could confine it, then I could experience it. Ha! I lost the control and kept the mantra, which is more than I will ever be: to meet each moment with compassion, lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity, a frame for every day. I’m not setting goals just reminding myself to open the door of each day and begin there.

Just waking to some days is easier than others. To meet what happens after that–looking to the heart and not only the face of life–is never easy. Feelings may not be facts but they are powerful, for at their core is pure energy.

Mindfulness–awareness like no other–helps me open that daily door, which is (sometimes) to a forest, rare and rich. Every day is a stroll, indoors or out, but a forest floor with sun shadows is stuff for my memory banks.

It is summertime in the Florida panhandle (although the calendar considers it spring), the humidity almost as high as the 90°+ temperatures, some of my best days for my body.

My walking stick is wood, a live branch now fallen, stripped of bark and varnished clear, its knots remembered. I have added black rubber tips to its top and bottom, one to ground and one to grip, for ease of grasp.

My left side is weaker, so much so my left hand cannot hold the stick with any certainty but my right hand, used to leading, finds the walking stick a useful prop. Sometimes, balance looks lopsided.

I waddle and wobble, a slow stagger sometimes, but an evenness of mind and body down a forest path on a late spring morning just after sunrise is–to me–all that and lots of birdsong.

This greenway is 50 acres of forest and meadow with 12 miles of dusty sand trail but to me it is boundless, yet forests have their limits these days and are now carefully tended not to exceed…what is done is done.

I walk until I tire, reaching a picnic table made of concrete, its bench table tops painted brown for natural reasons I suppose. Still, I am grateful for such tables, as well benches, for there are days I stop briefly at each one but today, it is the second picnic table where I will stay.

Not far along, I know, but in the forest, distance ceases to matter, like time. It’s forgotten. To neither, the forest bends. Rather, it gives its all.

Regular readers of this blog may recognize the above picture of a magnificent live oak split down the middle by lightning some six or seven years ago, not even nanoseconds in its life. See how its heart has sprouted so many new lives.

In the distance, in stark contrast, stands another oak, a sentinel stripped of its bark, possibly by lightning but by life, nonetheless. At the tip of one of its limbs, I notice movement, the shape of a turkey vulture when its head switches to profile, but mostly it is one with the wood.

In awe, I watch as all else disappears.

Not even the heart of the magnificent tree with all its new lives distracts from being one with the wood. No sound nor single thought or emotion, only nothing consumes mind and body. I am neither on the ground nor in the air, only nowhere.

In some moment I return to being alive with the energy that animates everything rather than being one with it. Such soundless moments never repeat in the same way or in the same place. I know. I’ve tried. I no longer search for the silence. It is enough to know it is available in any moment I open the daily door.

Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything” (Gordon Hempton, Ecologist).

Questions Are the Helpers

Seeds of doubt disturb. What else their purpose other than to poke and to prod? Only life’s discomfort opens my eyes.

I’ve lived most of my life without that appreciation but as John Muir said, “the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” I’ve walked my years. Mine was not to waste experience but to live passionately, which is to say rarely did I look before I leapt.

I may not have been averse to risk but I missed its potential, the fluid intelligence that is life and its infinite supply of questions. With few exceptions, I walked passed the gold. In a flurry of abandon to answer I didn’t realize every answer morphs into a question, again.

That’s the gold.

And then one day, I stopped running around the forest, in and out of life’s caverns, to experience it in daily doses, appreciating the uniqueness of every dawn and its dusk, each day fraught with doubt, eventually evening out.

It’s fluid, that evenness of energy, and there are days it seems impossible another sun will rise but so far…. That is the power of the present, never absent, even in rage and the time of Trump.

If I watch the world through his lens, I have the perspective of a pinhead, ego run amok, a desperate need for attention at any cost. At his rallies of like-minded MAGA hats, all are assured of answers as if they are forever.

Perhaps they would hide the sun–control its narrative–if they could, but that is not the nature of life, no matter the determination of mere men. I do my best to remember that and view them through the broadest lens I can find.

And that means questions.

What is it in me that brought them to the world stage? It’s an intimate question, a BREAKING daily dose, but I don’t have to go deep to discover my own egoic need for attention and what feeds it. Fortunately, mine isn’t magnified by the office of the presidency. Ego loves a circus, the more sleight-of-hand the better, but the question is, why do I pay the admission of distraction?

I do, far too often, and it is a high price to pay. Trump cannot exist in a world that doesn’t hear him as a human being or as president. True as well for his followers. All oligarchs need a platform in addition to a puppet president or the like. As I say, it’s a high price to pay.

Like the forest wild, I look through a glass darkly. Every day. Awareness grinds my mind, broadening my life lens. How else to clear my way to the universe? Certainly not by looking behind me or holding onto a way of life already gone.

I’ve tried that so many times, expecting different results by doing the same thing over and over. That’s paying the circus to go away which it won’t. It is always here but each time I face it, it loses a bit of its attraction and thus its attention.

That is the power of the present and what a gift it is. Always available, every event a teacher, ultimately one a traveling professor. For me it is a chronic disease whose assured outcome cannot be changed but everything else can. How’s that for empowerment?

Any circus, no matter how many monkeys, just doesn’t compete, which is not to say I ignore the tenor of the times. Far from it. I just won’t go to the circus. My attention is elsewhere, a freeing of the narrative from any who would control it.

Fear is quite vulnerable. It’s the minutia, every day details, even a single sentence, that chips away at control. The pause for thought is the stuff of change. It interrupts the flow. Like I said, it’s an intimate experience but its effects are external. Anyway, that’s what I do.

It is not mine to tell any human being how to live. Life is constant choice, one question after another. My beliefs are not sacred but fluid, alive with potential. I look to the questions for they are the helpers.

“There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen).

The Magic at the End of the Lane

Not long ago, I wrote a post about where magic lives, at the end of a rutted lane, canopied in cypress and live oak, a sanctuary of second chances.

It is a farm of family, no species denied. No one is turned away for being too old, too young, too sick, too maimed. Those who find their way to Second Chance Farms find home and love that lasts a lifetime.

Sometimes, that life is a short one, as it was for Phoebe Louise Dooley who died of pediatric brain cancer at the age of six. Her time on earth and at the farm was only a moment, but that’s all love ever needs to live on, as hers does in Bruno, the first Phoebe’s Foster.

Emily and Bruno

Her farm family misses the light that was Phoebe, her laughter and love of all dogs, the old and the overlooked, those so far from the ideal.  And that pretty much describes Bruno:

“It’s like he’s always been here at the farm. He is intelligent, eager to please, extremely gentle and of course–as all hounds should be–a bit stubborn and definitely very goofy. He is definitely Phoebe’s dog and just having him here helps to remind us that sweet Phoebe is still at work in this world.”

She was no stranger to the farm and understood how and why animals came to live at the sanctuary, a second chance not necessarily free from pain but a life of love nonetheless, however long it lasts.

And that’s what Phoebe’s Foster continues in Bruno, who comes with considerable medical baggage, living life as a hound, on a farm in a forest where magic lives.

Phoebe’s parents miss her every moment of every day, and this first holiday season without her is especially difficult but Phoebe was born not only out of their love but their courage. They share their daughter with the world through the works of the Phoebe Louise Dooley Foundation.

May we follow in Phoebe’s footsteps.