The Chest of a Thousand Drawers

The chest of a thousand drawers lived for years in a shadowy alcove between my grandparents’ kitchen and their downstairs hall. Actually, it didn’t have a thousand drawers, but since I never actually counted the number of drawers, and since the contents always seemed so mysterious to me, it may as well have been a thousand.

The chest was not very tall. It came up to my shoulders as an 11-year-old, was made of some kind of grayish metal with silver handles and little silver-edged boxes and on the front of each drawer that was clearly designed to hold some sort of label to describe the contents of the drawer. None of the squares had any labels. It was wedged under a shelf that had originally been designed to hold one of those old telephones with the mouthpiece on a stand and the earpiece you would hold up to your ear, but which now held a jumble of photo albums and old phone books.

I could and sometimes did spend hours rummaging through those many drawers and their intriguing, though sometimes unidentifiable contents, which seemed almost fluid in that I rarely found the same thing in the same drawer twice. And sometimes it seemed as if the entire contents of the chest had been replaced overnight.

In those drawers, over the years I found an ever-changing assortment of everyday items including (but not limited to); nails, screws, safety pins, bits of sandpaper, magnets, scraps of paper, some with writing on them, some blank and no two pieces the same, stubs of pencils, leaky batteries, hairpins, naked crayon pieces, knotted shoelaces, unopened packets of alcohol swabs, foam curlers, rusty screwdrivers of various sizes, paint brushes, yellowed index cards, the pieces of what must once have been a transistor radio, tassels from the living room draperies, an unopened packet of toothpicks still in its cellophane wrapping, random partially burned birthday candles, long expired coupons, a good number of buttons booth lose and still attached to papers, half used packets of garden seeds, stickers and petrified Christmas hard candies still wrapped in plastic.

Then there were the more unusual items that would seem to randomly turn up.

There was a tiny metal cylinder that moo’d like a cow when it was turned over. This had obviously belonged to some sort of toy and I felt a weird sort of guilt as I turned it over and over, wondering what toy was wandering around without its sound box, mute and unable to communicate with the world. This of all the items seemed always to be in the chest, though always in a different drawer.

Once I found a drawer full of random doll limbs and glass eyes that creeped me out so badly, I didn’t open the chest again for several weeks.

There was one day I discovered a stack of letters written on onion-thin paper and tied up with a faded green ribbon that was knotted so tight I never was able to get the knots open enough to free the letters, which I ended up putting back in the drawer unread.

Once I found a drawer full of leather scraps. The scraps were butter soft and hypnotic to the touch.  I kept finding them (though in different drawers) for almost two whole weeks, and then they were gone. I opened every drawer in the cabinet three times that day looking for those amazing leather scraps.  When I asked my grandfather about them, he claimed he’d never seen them. When I asked my grandmother, she just shrugged and said she wouldn’t be surprised at anything I found there.

When asked where the chest had come from, both of my grandparents gave the same sort of vague answers “oh we just picked it up somewhere” or “we’ve had that for years.” When I asked my mom about it, she shrugged and said that it had always been there when she was growing up. When I asked her if she remembered the contents changing, she said “well of course they change, people put things in and take things out. That’s what drawers are for.” When I tried to expound on what I meant, that the contents didn’t just change, like the normal contents of drawers, but sometimes seemed to change from day to day or from hour to hour, she got concerned and asked me if I was feeling okay. I never mentioned the drawers to her again.

My aunt found me rummaging one day and laughed when I told her about not being able to find the leather pieces. “That thing ate my paintbrushes once” she said, laughing. “I put them in the top drawer on the left-hand side, and when I went back the next day they were gone. Let me know if you find them, will you?”

“Did grandma take them maybe?”

“She claims she didn’t touch them. But someone did.”

“Maybe the chest did eat them!”

“Maybe it did at that.”

In spite of the possibility of its actually eating the things put into the drawers, I was never afraid of the chest. To my 11-year-old brain, the idea that it was somehow alive in some way seemed a better explanation than just the idea of regular people putting things in and taking things out, and though I was intrigued by it, I never put anything of my own in it, just in case.

I don’t know what happened to the chest of a thousand drawers. After my grandfather died and my grandmother, mom and I moved to a smaller house, I never saw it again. I have to assume that it had served its purpose in our family and had now ‘moved on’ to another home where some other 11-year-old is rummaging through its drawers, their curiosity sparking over items they have no name for and coming up with stories to tell themselves about the piles of old letters and odd bits of partially carved wood.

All The Pretty Horses

When I was little I used to go to the fair or a carnival and feel so bad for the merry-go-round horses.

It was so sad! They had a pole through their bodies and never got to go anywhere except around and around foever.

Some nights after visiting the fair I would dream that I was a merry-go-round girl; that there was a pole bolted into the carousel platform keeping me from being free and that I was doomed to forever travel in the same circle, doing the same thing over and over again for eternity.

But most of the time I dreamed that I could set the carousel horses loose.

I used to imagine that when the carnival would close for the night i would be able to say the magic words that would allow those brightly colored carousel horses to shake the paint flakes out of their manes, throw off the bolts and poles that kept them tethered and finally be able to run free into the night.

Some nights I even dreamed about it; whisperimg words into painted ears, then watching as their flat painted eyes would blink in the moonlight and become real eyes; eyes full of life and energy and then watching the transformation of garish painted wooden horse bodies into real, breathing creatures galloping through the night.

I used to love that dream.

As I got older the dream of the carousel horses faded away until it was just a memory. Until one night, not that long ago, it came to me again. Only this time it had a nightmarish quality.

At first it wasnt so bad. I was a child again, awed by the fantastic beauty of the painted carousel horses. As before I whispered the magic words, but this time the horses didn’t break free.

This time the painted wooden horses remained stationary and lifeless. I went from one to another, crying and begging “Wake up! Please wake up!” And I could feel that they had life inside them, but that there was something keeping them from becoming the gloriously free horses that I knew they were inside.

And then the horses began to change. They were turning real like before, but this time they remained pinned to the platform; bolts piercing their hooves. This time they were writhing as they revolved on the ever turning carousel platform, warm bodies skewered by the poles that held them stationary, and there was nothing I could do to free them.

In fact, my magic words had made things worse. They had woken the horses up, but I could not set them free.

They had to set themselves free.

The magic words could wake them up, make them realize that they were indeed living horses and not wooden carnival attractions, but they had to choose to free themselves from the tethers that kept them pinioned to this ever revolving fun house.

I woke up crying.

You see, we are not so very different than those carnival horses. We are born with the potential, with the ability to become those glorious creatures, our imaginations and creativity running free and creating a reality beyond our wildest dreams.

Instead we become tethered, pinnioned, bolted to the ever turning floor of societal religious and familial expectations. Stand still. Sit straight. Smile. Speak when you are spoken to. Time to go to school. Time to get a job, get married, get a house, have children and start the cycle all over again, nailing the baby carousel horses feet firmly to the platform for their own good.

How rare is it that we see a carousel horse break free of its restraints? How often have you seen those painted wooden horses shake the paint flakes out of their manes and run free into the night?

There are no magic words that can set them free. Perhaps there are words that can make them realize who they are deep inside, under the wooden saddles and the layers of paint and varnish. But those glorious carousel horses have to be the ones to shake off the paint flakes, shrug out of their restraints and head off into the moonlit night of freedom and possibility.

~JustSteph

Making Friends With the Fog

We woke up this morning deep in a fog bank. It was surreal. Tendrils of mist crept into the room when I opened the balcony door and quested into corners seeking out whatever it is that fog searches for. So we made cups of hot chocolate and coffee, donned sweatshirts and sat out on the balcony, making friends with the fog instead of shutting it out. Letting our eyes adapt to the swirling,, changing patterns and listening to the deafening dawn chorus of birds and the gentle, underlying shushing of the sea.

There are times when, as a nation, as a society, our vision is clouded. We see the billowing clouds of anger and the fogs of discontent rolling towards us and our first thought is to protect ourselves, to shut them out, to focus inward and ignore what is happening around us, to turn on the TV and binge watch something that takes your mind off things. We close the doors and flip on the electric lights and crank up the heat until it all goes away and we are comfortable once more.

But maybe, just maybe, the sooner we open the balcony door of our minds and allow ourselves to truly SEE what we have become, what is generating the storms, to invite the fog in so that we can come to understand what it searches for and what we can do to help it in it’s quest, the sooner the storms will pass and the fogs will dissipate and allow us all to bask in the healing rays of the sun.

-JustSteph, 6/6/20

Where the Wild Things Grow

I always feel so guilty when I thin out seedlings.  I even find myself apologizing; “I’m sorry sweetie, I know you were trying your best, if I had space each and every one of you would get the chance to grow to your full potential.”

In a way I find myself akin to the ones that don’t make the cut.  In almost every area of my life that has always been the case.   I may be well read and have a lot of knowledge in a wide variety of areas; a lot of skills in a wide variety of specialties, but someone else is always better.  Someone else always gets the lead role, the award, the solo, the contract, the promotion.  In the end I always get weeded out.

I don’t hold it against them, the ones who win. They worked hard for it.  In most cases, they have dedicated their lives to this one thing be it academics, music, drama, a career, or whatever else it is that they succeed at.  They deserve it, and I will be the first one to congratulate them on a job well done. 

It does sting though, to admit that I will never be quite good enough to be best; that somehow I always end up in the supporting role, in the chorus, as part of the team support, or as the wind beneath their wings, the one the successful ones mention when they thank all of those that got them there and made this possible.

It is the dabbling that it is my downfall you see.  So many successful people know what they want to do with their lives from the time that they are kids.  For most it has been their lifelong focus.  They start gymnastics or ballet at the age of three and go on to win tournaments and perhaps go on to the Olympics or make a career out of being a ballerina or teaching others to dance or tumble.

Perhaps they have been playing the violin since the age of six and their dream is to play in a professional orchestra or come up with the next immortal symphony.  Perhaps they have been drawing since they were born and so it should come as no surprise when they open their own art gallery or become a famous illustrator or find their niche in teaching or painting. 

Some people find mathematics or science or religion and throw themselves into their vocation with a diligence that always amazes me.  Seriously, to spend a career studying one type of molecule or a specific type of invertebrate?  I am astounded by their dedication to their chosen topic.  Even more astounded at their insights and the advances that they contribute to humanity’s body of knowledge. 

These successful individuals work harder than I do, I will admit that.  They dedicate their lives to one thing; throwing themselves into their chosen vocation with a focus that is simultaneously admirable and terrifying, so it is no wonder to me that they succeed.

Part of me wishes that I could have that sort of focus, but another part of me shudders in horror at the thought of being locked into any one thing for my entire life.

And so, I will settle for being a weeded-out seedling.  After all, it’s not like they get tossed out in the trash.  They get tossed into the woods; discarded in favor of the bigger, stronger and more beautiful. 

But discarded seedlings still have the opportunity to bloom and grow and become what they were meant to be, even if it is out of sight in the woods where the wild things are.

Uninhibited by containers or boundaries, this seedling’s roots will grow deep and wide.  Her blossoms and fruit will be found in the most unexpected places and at the least expected times.

And so, I will perform for the ground hogs and the rabbits.  I will write stories for the crows and for the hawks.  I will sing for the deer and paint my pictures for the Fisher Cats.  My performance reviews will be written by moonlight and documented in the leaves of the trees and my riches will be in the golden spill of morning sunlight, the silver sparkles on the river, and in the knowledge of a life not contained by anyone or anything, but where every moment has been lived to the fullest.

The Invisible Man

love1There was once an invisible man.

No one knew that he was invisible.  Not really, for the invisible man kept himself impeccably dressed,  and was always active and while the man himself may have been invisible, the clothes were not, and his actions had just as much of an impact on the world as those of a visible man would have had.  But no matter what he did, no matter what he did, no one ever realized that he was invisible.

And so it was that the man went about having a normal life.  He worked a normal job and had a normal wife and normal children and normal friends.  The years went by and the invisible man went grocery shopping and barbequed with the neighbors and went to church and attended school concerts and went out to eat, it never ceased to amaze the man that so many people could look right at him; that they could interact with him on a daily basis; listen to him talk, accept money from his hand and never actually see that there was nobody there at all.

Each person that interacted with saw who they wanted to see.  They saw the employee with the stellar reputation.  They saw the father who took such good care of his family.  They saw the active church member who always volunteered time with the elderly.  Even his wife saw only the good husband who always remembered her birthday and anniversary and paid the bills on time.  And the man would wonder as they talked to him, as they commended him for a job well done, as they praised his generosity and talent, whether they ever bothered to actually look for him, or if somehow they just projected the image of who they wanted to see on his invisible body.  But every time he looked in the mirror, he was forcibly reminded of the fact that where a man should have been there was only the shell of a man; a shell wrapped in nice clothes and defined by the expectations of those around him.

As the years went by the invisible man became restless.  When people praised him or criticized him he would laugh outright.  Who were they kidding?  Who were they talking about?  They didn’t know him – nobody did.

Finally, one day when he got home from work he stood in front of his mirror and slowly took of all of his clothes.  Piece by piece he let them fall to the floor and he stood there, staring at himself in the mirror, willing himself to become visible.  When nothing happened he took a deep breath, turned on his heel and walked out of his house, down the driveway, and never looked back.

The invisible man walked for days.  He spoke to no one.  Without his clothes and without the expectations of his friends and co-workers, it was as he wasn’t just invisible, but that he didn’t exist.  The further he walked the more depressed he became, until finally the invisible man collapsed onto stretch a deserted park bench in a small town during the middle of the night.  Wrapping his arms around his chest he sobbed uncontrollably.  Who was he?  What was he?  How come no one could see him?  How come he couldn’t see himself.

“You know” said a quiet voice quite near to him.  “It can’t be that bad.”

The invisible man startled out of his sobs and looked around him, ashamed that someone had caught him crying.

It took him a moment, but after a while his eyes picked out a young woman sitting on the grass under a tree not more than 20 feet away.  She wasn’t looking at him.  She was sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest and seemed to be in a deep sort of despair herself.

“Are you ok?” asked the man quietly, drying his tears on the back of his hand.

The girl shrugged, a delicate gesture that spoke volumes.  “How about yourself?” she asked quietly, eyes still not meeting his.

“I’ve been better” he said, shrugging himself.

“Want to tell me about it?” she asked.

“Tell you what” said the man, “I’ll tell you about myself if you promise to tell me about yourself in return” he offered.

“You’ve got yourself a deal” said the girl, and she began to talk.

For the next four weeks the invisible man went back to the same park and the same bench every night, and every night the girl was there, and every night they took turns talking about themselves and after a while they moved on from the things that were bothering them to the things that they liked.  They began talking about art and books and movies that they had seen and places that they wished to travel to.  They talked about beliefs and dreams and shared hopes and discussed possibilities.  They began bringing their favorite books to read passages from them to each other and exchange little gifts when the night was through; a pomegranate, a book mark, a small bouquet of wild flowers picked from the fields outside of town.

Before the month was up the man found that he had fallen in love with the sad girl.  Except that she wasn’t so very sad any more.  She smiled far more than she had, and he found himself entranced with how her face lit up when she smiled, and he was more than a little startled the night when she looked up at him, right into his eyes, and smiled as if he was the most wonderful thing she had ever seen.  Except that she couldn’t possibly see him – no one could.  He couldn’t even see himself.

He tried to explain it to her that he was invisible, that she was only seeing what she expected to see, and she laughed at him.

“Don’t be silly” she told him, giving him a playful poke in the ribs.  “I can see you plain as day.  You are handsome and funny and full of life.  You have a big heart and are not afraid to be there for other people when they need you.  Your laugh is contagious, you are highly intelligent, but most of all – you care.  Do you realize what a rare person you are?”

She reached out a hand and traced the outline of his lips with her finger tip.  “I see you” she whispered.  “I SEE YOU”.  And softly she kissed him full on the lips.

In that moment his world collapsed into myriad shards around his feet then reassembled themselves with her at the center of his universe.  And a moment later she had taken his hand and held it up in front of his face.  “Can you see?” she whispered in his ear, and with amazement he realized that he could see his hand.  He jumped to his feet and stumbled to the fountain where the rising sun was casting a thin golden light on the surface of the water.

He looked down and, for the first time in his life, he saw himself looking back,

Collapsing to his knees the man let out a sob of wonder.  “What is this?”  He asked, holding out his hands in front of him and looking at them from every angle.  “How did you do this?

“All you needed” whispered the girl quietly, taking his hand in hers, “all you needed was to be seen.”  She kissed him softly on the forehead then added “consider it my gift to you, for saving my life.”

“I didn’t” began the man

“I was planning on drowning myself in the fountain that night” admitted the girl.  “And then you came and, well, that was that”.

“It’s like magic” murmured the man, turning his face to the rising sun.

“It’s love” smiled the girl taking his hands and pulling him with her to a standing position.  “But you’re right, to be loved unconditionally, to be seen, truly seen for who and what you are, that is true magic” said the girl, smiling, and she began to laugh delightedly, and he found that her laughter was so contagious that he couldn’t help but laugh as well.

And so it was that the visible man and the no longer sad girl stood hand in hand in the sunlight, and greeted their first morning together with love and laughter an they both knew that their worlds would never be the same again.

 

 

The Dark Demon of Despair

“Have you ever dealt with the dark demon of despair? Have you ever invited him to walk with you as you wend your way through life? Has he ever held your hand as you balanced on the razor’s edge of sanity and seduced you with his promises of oblivion?” ~ SSHenry

Sometimes the demon of despair doesn’t need an invitation.  Sometimes he just appears out of the clear blue and swoops you up before you have a chance to protest.  One minute you are on top of the world.  The next minute you’ve been dragged down into a morass of pain so deep that you are sure that you will never find a way out.

And sometimes; sometimes it seems that the only way to be rid of the pain is to stop living.

Yes, I know despair is not the usual topic for this time of the year.  Usually we focus on love and romance and the promise of spring, but here is the thing; there are people all around you who are grappling with this demon even as we speak.  Who knows, you may be one of them yourself.  And it is times of the year like this; holidays dedicated to love and family and having a positive outlook on life that can be the hardest for these people because it emphasizes everything that they do not (or that they no longer) have.

The reasons why any one of us may give in to this demon are as many and as varied as there are people in the world.  Perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you to death.  Perhaps you love has left you for someone else.  Perhaps you’ve received bad news regarding your job or your finances or your health.  Perhaps you have simply become jaded by life and no longer see the purpose of it all. Does it really matter?  If there is one thing about the demon, it is that he is an equal opportunity employer and absolutely no respecter of persons.

And while we may not be able to predict when this demon comes to call or just how hard he’ll impact us when he does, we do have a choice of whether or not we will give in to the despair that is his dark inheritance.

Yes.  There are going to be days when it seems that we cannot take a single more moment; moments that are so painful that the thought of bearing one more instant is physically painful.  But there is one way to ensure that the despair will not consume you entirely and that is to find your anchor of joy.

Your anchor of joy is what keeps you tethered to the knowledge that this clinging fog of doubt and depression is not the way it always was, nor the way it always will be.  And while it may seem impossible to remember the good times when the darkness threatens to swallow you whole, if you can find just one moment of joy in each day and hold that close to your heart, it can be enough to keep you alive.

It doesn’t have to be anything big.  Perhaps it is the contented purr of a cat, the vivid colors of a spectacular sunset, the overwhelming awesomeness of your favorite piece music or the simple beauty in a budding flower.  It may even be something more mundane like the deep robust scent of your coffee, the way the sun slants through your bedroom window or the feel of clean sheets against your skin.

Whatever it is that brings you that moment of joy, however brief, hold it close.  Hold it tight.  As you slog through the rest of your day; as the cold darkness of despair threatens to engulf you, focus on that moment.  Relieve it in your mind as many times as you need to and know that there is hope.

And one morning you will wake up to find that the one moment has become two, and then three and, before you know it they will have multiplied and you will have banished that cold dark demon from your life and will be living in the sunlight once again.

So don’t give up.  And if you know someone close to you that is wrestling with this particular demon, don’t give up on them.  Help them to find their anchor of joy.  You cannot find it for them, but you can help them to recognize it for what it is and encourage them to hold it close to their hearts and hold tight to the knowledge that there are brighter days to come.

The Dyslexic Mayan

 

You know, the first thing that popped into my head when I saw today’s date on my calendar was that maybe the Mayan’s got it wrong.  You know, maybe whoever was creating that great count calendar had a case of dyslexia and wrote down 12/21/12 instead of 12/12/12. Hey, stranger things have happened!  Translation errors happen all the time.

Note:  Yes, for those who are sticklers for details, I know that the Mayans didn’t use our numbering system and that the date 12/21/12 is due to an interpretation of the Mayans numerical system.  That doesn’t change the fact that the idea of the date for the end of the world being mistaken due to transcription errors isn’t (at least to me) amusing.

Actually, I don’t believe that the world is going to end on the 21st of December.  Maybe it should end.  Maybe humanity is sick and twisted enough that it would serve us right if reality came crashing down around our ears next Friday.  Maybe we’ve done enough to rape and pillage this planet that it would be in Gaia’s best interest to shake herself free of us once and for all.  With the atrocities we’ve committed over the millennia it wouldn’t be at all surprising.

No, next Friday will dawn as every other day, and when the sun sets we’ll still be here; some of us still in front of our computer screens.  The only difference (or at least the only visible difference) will be that the Mayan Long Count Calendar will have reset itself.  Again.

Yes, that’s right.  Again.

You see, the Mayan Long Count Calendar has reset itself before.  In fact it resets itself every 5,125.36 years.  Each of these time periods is referred to as a “Great Cycle” but there is nothing that states that simply because we’re at the end of a Great Cycle that it is the end of the world as we know it.  It is simply the end of the calendar – and the end of another age of mankind (much like our Gregorian calendar turning over from 1999 to 2000 and marking a new millennium).

Yes, there are other claims regarding December 21st 2012.  There are claims that it marks a galactic alignment (it does – we align with the galactic center every December actually).  There are claims that there will be some sort of cosmic blackout due to a planetary alignment; that there will be a crustal displacement/shift thanks to this alignment that will cause devastating earthquakes and tsunamis.  There are claims that solar flares will fry the planet (or at least all of our technology) that we are about to be hit by a comet or meteor, or that we’re going to be visited by aliens from planet X (Nibiru).

Then of course there are those who say that December 21, 2012 isn’t about actually physical earth changes so much as it is about energetic shifts and spiritual alignments.  There are those who claim that it will mark the beginning of the tribulation, of the antichrist’s reign on earth (the fact that a katun – part of the Mayan calendar – is marked by 144,000 days – a number seen in Revelation seems to feed this particular series of rumors).

Did I miss anything?

Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about what COULD happen and ask yourself this; why are you so anxious for the world to be ending?

Think about it.  When someone tells you that the world could end by (insert a cause) and they have “proof” and a rational explanation, don’t you get just a little bit excited thinking that maybe, just maybe, they could be right?  Doesn’t the idea of the mundane repetition of your daily existence being turned on its ear turn up your adrenaline a notch?

Of course it does.  That is why anything from a localized emergency (work or school cancelled due to a devastating snowstorm or a tree falling on the power lines) to a regional disaster (hurricane Sandy) to a national or global catastrophe all send us spiraling into a frenzy of excitement.  It gives us a chance to interrupt our regularly scheduled program.

So here’s an idea.  Why not create a life for yourself that you wouldn’t WANT to end?

Yes, I know.  You have to make a living.  You have to pay your bills and provide for your families.  But there is nothing that says that you have to do this by selling yourself short; by working at a job or living in such a way that the idea of society (or life for that matter) ending actually excites you.

Yes, there are ways to make a living that doesn’t entail working at a job you hate or living in a location that sucks your soul dry.  It may not line up with the kind of job you are supposed to have, or with you living in the kind of location (or having the number of things) that society says you are supposed to.  But if it is happiness that you are looking for; if peace and contentment are high on your list of needs, you can find a way.

Why not live the life you’ve always imagined; a life full of inspiration and love; a life full of joy and wonder and mystery?  Why not live a life so packed with beauty and peace that you laugh at the idea of wanting it to end; that when someone asks you why you aren’t anxious for the world to end or for a messiah to come that you say thanks anyway, but you are focused on each day that you have been given.  That you will take what the universe has to offer you as it is presented and not give a moment’s energy to worrying about what may or may not happen tomorrow.

For more information on the Mayan Long Count Calendar and how it works, please visit:  http://people.howstuffworks.com/mayan-calendar.htm

For the official NASA response to 2012 ‘end of the world’ claims, please see: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012.html

The End and the Beginning

Don’t you just love Halloween?  This whole time of the year – what with its Harvest Festivals and its Renaissance Festivals; the decorations and costumes and make believe; honestly, I find it refreshing, especially Halloween since in spite of the commercialization, it is still instantly recognizable as the pagan holiday that was celebrated by many of our ancestors for centuries before Christianity was ever introduced.

I find it interesting that in spite of the best attempts of the early Christian Church, the festival of Halloween (or Samhain) was one that has resisted all attempts at Christianization.  They may have replaced Yule with Christmas; they may have reduced the celebration of Imbolc to that of a groundhog predicting the length of winter; they may have been able to replace the Spring Equinox (an important fertility right) with the birth of Christ.  But in spite of everything, Samhain remains easily identifiable as a pagan holiday.  But what is the history of Halloween? Better yet, why is it so important to so many people?  What made it so important that it was able to stand up to everything that was thrown at it?

There really is no point in going into great detail regarding the history of Halloween.  You can find the accounts in hundreds of books and thousands of websites; all variations on a theme.  You’ll read in some places about how originally it was a pagan celebration of the end of the harvest; a celebration of the death of the Horned God (the consort of the Great Goddess) who had to die in order to ensure that the sun would be reborn and would guarantee a new cycle of fertility.  Others will emphasize the fact that it is a day when the veil between the worlds was so thin that spirits and dark creatures were free to mix and mingle with humans. You’ll hear people telling you that it is nothing more than a harvest festival and others who claim that it is a holiday dedicated to the devil himself.

All of these claims have the ring of truth; and equal tones of myth and legend, but what is it really?  Better yet; what does the celebration of Halloween – or Samhain mean for us, today?

One of the reasons that Samhain is still such a touchpoint in our culture is due to the fact that it touches a very deep and primitive nerve.  In ancient times Samhain was a time to celebrate endings.  It marked the end of the Celtic yearly cycle and the beginning of their New Year. Here in the northern hemisphere it marks the end of our growing season which is marked by the bringing in of the harvest and is punctuated by the falling of the leaves; a sure sign of the approach of winter.

But it wasn’t just the ending of the growing season or the ending of the cycle of the leaves, it also came to be associated with the cycle of life and the celebration of how, even though death and loss is part of the cycle of life, so too death and endings mark the begining of a new season; a new cycle; and the promise of new life with special attention beging given to those loved ones who had passed on and the inevitability of the death of all physical things.  But so too was it kept in mind that just as all things end and it may appear that the fields are fallow, the promise of spring and of a whole new season of life lies just under the surface waiting for the warmth of the sun.

Indeed, just as this season once it marked the time to stock up for the winter; to bring in firewood and fill the pantry with supplies for the cold months, even today you see homeowners buttoning up their property; covering rose bushes and making sure their oil tanks are filled.   Today you see many home owners using this time of the year to clear their yards of debris in preparation for winter storms and in making sure that their rain gutters are cleared out and their roof is free of leaks.  You’ll also find that many people use this time of the year to clear out their closets and cupboards of those things that they don’t need in order to make room for those things that they might need for the cold months.

So too this can be a time to prepare for what is yet to come.  And what better way to do that than to rid yourself of all of those things that might be weighing you down and detracting from your peace of mind?

Even if you don’t celebrate the season, there is nothing wrong with using it as a touch point for getting your own house and mind and life both literally and figuratively ready for winter.  Divest yourself of everything that makes you unhappy; let go of those things that weigh down your energy and make you depressed.  No need to head into the long dark months of winter weighed down by baggage that will just make it worse.

Instead, why not clear out all of those spaces?  Clean them out, but resist the urge to fill them up with something; leave them empty; an invitation to the universe that you are ready for something new and exciting to enter your life.  It is an ending, yes, but also a beginning.

Like a fallow field; one that has been divested of its harvest and left empty and bare; you’ll be ready when it is time to plant the seeds of a new crop; one that will make your life richer with more purpose and meaning.

 

 

A Perspective of Stars

How often have you stood there, out in the frosty air of an early autumn morning when the sun has not quite yet breached the horizon, and found your breath catch in your chest at the crisp clarity of the stars?

Maybe it’s just me, but they seem to hang lower in the cold air; shine brighter. They pull me in and make my head spin as I feel my perspective start to shift. Slowly it as if the world takes on its proper shape around me. The ground beneath my feet becomes a planet (not the grass of my front yard) even if I can’t see it I start to feel the curve of the sky as it wraps around the earth. It is then that everything shifts into place; planet, space, stars. The Earth finally slips into its niche in the nighttime sky; a sky that is suddenly more than just pretty pinpricks of light and becomes a vast web of life and possibilities.

Yes, I know, I wasn’t on some sort of cosmic quest when I stepped outside this morning. I wasn’t even in a philosophical let alone cosmic kind of mood. Heck, I hadn’t even had my first coffee of the day. I was just taking out the trash, but OH what an incredible feeling!

I’ve had friends, family members even who say that while they’ve had this sort of perspective shift that it depresses them instead of filling them with wonder. “It makes me feel insignificant” one told me. He said that it depressed him because it pulled him out of his place at the center of things and showed him just how little he really mattered in the grand scheme of things. But you know what? He couldn’t have been more wrong.

It isn’t that you are no longer at the center of your universe (you will always be at the center of your own universe; of your own perspective on the world), it is that you finally realize just how big of a part you DO play in the grand scheme of things. Because you see, there is no center to the universe. Are there centers of solar systems? Most certainly there are. Are there centers to galaxies? Of course there are. But the universe – being immeasurable – has no verifiable center. It is reliant instead on the interconnectedness of all of the systems – on each galaxy and solar system and planet and comet; every black hole and white hole and wormhole being precisely what it is and precisely where it is in order for the universe to be what it is.

So too are we a part of all that is. By being precisely who and what we are we become a part of the interconnected web that weaves the entire universe together; and without you in it the universe would be a different place entirely.

Yes, I understand that people and animals and plants and birds die every day and that the universe continues to exist. But we’re not just talking about physical bodies now are we? We’re talking about the energy that is YOU. No matter what shape you take – no matter what side of Einstein’s E=Mc2 you fall on, YOU are still a part of this universe and your place and importance in it are assured.

So don’t be intimidated by the stars. Don’t let societal expectations and definitions determine how significant (or insignificant) you think you are. Go ahead, walk outside tomorrow morning and let yourself fall into the stars; feel your perspective shift as everything falls into place and feel where you truly belong in the grand scheme of things. You may want to hold onto something though, because the shift in focus can make you dizzy with possibility.

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The White Knight Complex

“Don’t get dependent on that Knight in Shining Armor.  All being rescued does is remove you from your immediate circumstances.  It does nothing to address the question of how the devil you ended up in that situation to begin with.”  ~SSHenry

Why is it that in every fairy tale that features a princess there is always a knight in shining armor (or sometimes tarnished armor, black leather or blue jeans and a cowboy hat) waiting right around the corner to rescue her?

God I find the princesses annoying; all perfect hair and fluffy dresses (usually long to inhibit freedom of movement) and more often than not under some sort of a spell that keeps them from escaping on their own or even realizing that they are just a pawn in some dark and evil chess game.

Yes, yes, I know, the princess is symbolic of innocence and purity and the knight is supposed to symbolize the noble instinct to protect and preserve those qualities.  But honestly, as a culture we’ve taken this to heart so deeply that we’ve ingrained the idea of the noble knight; the belief in there being someone or something out there that will “save” the princess (or the innocent child, or the weak and willful sinner) into our collective unconscious.

More disturbing to me than the idea of a savior, however, is the thought that so many people who are capable of saving themselves believe that they need someone to do it for them.  Why is that?  Why can’t they see that they have the power within themselves to not only to take care of the problem at hand but to take responsibility for themselves; for today’s thoughts and beliefs; these choices and actions that will become tomorrow’s reality?

That is how it works you know.  It is the thoughts we entertained yesterday; the beliefs we held to be true; the choices we made and the actions that we took that determine where we find ourselves today.

Every thought that enters your head (and more importantly, those thoughts that you tend to dwell on) impacts the beliefs that you hold to be true.  These beliefs in turn affect the choices that we make on a day-to-day basis.  And, just as one domino is responsible for knocking down the next in the line; the choices that we make directly impact our actions; actions which determine the look, feel and flavor of the reality that we will find ourselves in tomorrow.

Ah yes, I know there will be some of you that say that this is far too simplistic of a view; that it can’t possibly be this easy.  It can’t possibly be that all a person has to do is to pay attention to the thoughts that are passing through their minds and to select those that they want to bring into their reality (this is called mindfulness by the way).  I can hear the questions now; “What about the bad things that happen to us; those things that we have no choice in?” or maybe “What about the influence of god or the devil; of good or evil?”

It is true that we do not get to choose all of yesterday’s circumstances (well, true that is unless you believe in reincarnation and soul destiny, but without going into all of that we can still address the issue).  There are things that happen to us that we have no direct control over.  But even so, this does not mean that choices we made in the distant (or not so distant) past may not have some impact on whether or not we put ourselves in a position to have those particular experiences.

And yes, there are some things that are done to you; things over which you have absolutely no control.  But what we do have control over (at least outside of those extreme situations where the trauma is so extreme that the mind disconnects from reality altogether and makes it impossible for the person to change their thought patterns) is how we choose to react and respond to those experiences that we did not consciously choose to participate in.

We can choose to react from fear; allowing those circumstances to control our lives and seeing them as obstacles on our path to happiness, or we can change our perspective and choose to see those circumstances as opportunities to prove that we are in control of our own destinies.

Of course if we do not acknowledge the fact that it is our thoughts as well as the beliefs that are spawned by our thoughts, the decisions we make due to these beliefs and the actions that we take that even in regard to those circumstances that are beyond our control, then it is perfectly understandable that we would look around desperately for someone or something that will rescue us from the tangle our lives have become; a white knight in shining armor who will cut through the crap and free us from the mess that we have gotten ourselves into through our thoughts and words and actions.

Of course relying on these knights opens up its own can of worms; like dealing with the fact that until we learn how to take responsibility for our own lives we will continue to revert back to those thoughts and beliefs and actions that got us into trouble in the first place (and we’ll have to call on the white knight once again to work his magic).

How much simpler to simply acknowledge the fact that it is ourselves and ourselves alone that have the power to change our lives for the better; that by accepting responsibility for everything our lives are right now at this moment in time that we can take positive action to ensure that today’s thoughts, beliefs and actions will work together to create a tomorrow that is everything we could have hoped for.

When Only the Moon Howls

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”

~ George Carlin

We’ve all had those nights; nights when logic and reason abandon us to those thoughts that we usually keep locked up deep in the untouchable places of our minds. You know the thoughts I’m talking about.  The kind that we keep locked up so tight that we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we never entertained them.

It’s on nights like these that we wander around the house searching for something; unsure of what it is that we are looking for but finding nothing but frustration and abandoned hopes scattered like overlooked dust bunnies beneath the larger pieces of our mental furniture.

If you are anything like me you wander from room to room; switching on lights, computers, making a cup of hot tea, running a futile Google search (and usually for random phrases that keep running through your mind), perhaps skulking around the yard in hopes of encountering something unusual to keep us occupied, maybe listening to some music or attempting to read a few chapters in your current book until finally you crawl back into bed and close your eyes in hopes that sleep will finally find you.

It is then of course that they come.

But it isn’t sleep that creeps into the silent spaces in your mind.

It isn’t sleep that seeps into the corners of your heart and congeals in oil-slick pools that make your stomach turn over just looking at them.

It is those dark contemplations; those self-doubts and depreciations and fears that we keep locked away in the daylight; buried deep in air tight caskets like so many vampires relegated to the dungeons beneath our waking thoughts.

For some reason they thrive in the moonlight and bask in the play of shadows that fall across the living room floor.  You can see them slithering along the baseboards and skulking in the darkness under the stairs and worming their way across the landscape of your mind.

The impression of teeth; of claws extending from misshapen hands; hands that are reaching out to tear our self worth into shreds with one swipe and stand growling over the carcass of our sanity like a hell hound bent on tearing our soul right out of its shell. It’s enough to paralyze you; to leave you shivering on the couch with a blanket pulled around your shoulders, hunched against the chill of uncertainty and self-loathing, the tea congealing on the coffee table and every creak and groan in the floors and pipes only underscoring the sinister ambiance.

When these nights come – and they will come – you can either cower in fear and hiding your heart from the despair that they generate, or you can embrace them; pull them into the core of your heart and welcome them with open arms as long lost aspects of yourself.

You see, these unlovely thoughts; these fears and doubts and feelings of impotency and despair are just as much a part of you as the practical and upbeat aspects of your daytime self; the one who always knows just the right words to say and who others look to when they are in need of wisdom and emotional support.  Denying the truth will only give them more power each time that they manage to creep beyond the confines of those deep places to which you have relegated them.

If you embrace them however, if you welcome them as a part of yourself that has heretofore gone unacknowledged and greet them with love you will find a strange thing happening.  Like the early morning mist that dissipates as the sun creeps over the horizon, these dark and loathsome thoughts will melt away in the all-forgiving light of you love.  You will see them as they truly are, and they will lose what power they had over your heart and soul and mind.

 

The Tsunami of Emotion

“This tsunami of emotion never gives you adequate warning.  Of course it doesn’t.  It waits until your back is turned…until you are sure that you have everything that you could possibly want or need and then, oh yes then it crashes over you with an unstoppable force; ripping your feet out from under you and washing you away on a tide of passion; out to an uncharted sea of possibilities.”  ~ SSHenry

Have you ever stood in the ocean; pants rolled up above your knees; feeling the pull of the tide around your legs; the way it tugs the sand out from under your feet throwing you more and more off balance every time the wave carves deeper beneath you?

But you aren’t afraid.  Not yet.  Not so long as you are only up to your calves in water; not so long as you can manage to stay upright.  And you’re balancing!  Yes, it’s not as hard as you at first thought.  Yes, having the ground pulled out a bit from beneath your feet can be a bit disconcerting, but it’s really not bad once you get used to it; once you learn how to regain your balance.

It’s sort of like life, isn’t it?  There is always something coming at you; a wave of emotion; of drama of issues and griefs and sometimes joys.  Each of them tugs at you; pulls at you; begs you to come “just a little bit deeper” or to adjust your footing to compensate.

It’s that siren song; the sea pulling you into its depths and soothing your fears and calling you home; calling you to surrender to the inevitable. But you’ve got this.  There is a rhythm here; if you can feel it you can remain upright and in control.

And then comes the rogue wave; the tsunami of emotion; that unexpected and (most times) unwanted tidal wave of passion that surges over you and through you and turns your entire world upside down.

This tsunami of emotion never gives you adequate warning.  Of course it doesn’t.  It waits until your back is turned; until you are sure that you are stable and steady; that you have everything that you could possibly want or need and then, oh yes then it crashes over you with an unstoppable force; ripping your feet out from under you and washing you away on a tide of passion; out to an uncharted sea of possibilities.

You can’t fight it.

Well, let me rephrase that.  You can fight it, but nothing you can do will stop it and the most you can hope for is to keep your head above water and to ride it out until the surge passes and you find yourself out in unexplored waters where even the powerful beams from the light houses of logic and reason simply cannot reach.

When you open your eyes at last and find yourself adrift on waters strewn with the wreckage of what you once thought was a stable life (that once upon a time world where the lifeguards of logic patrol the shores and keep a person from getting too far over their head), and find yourself beyond any visible shore, you have two choices:

You can either let yourself drown in despair over what you have lost, or you can lie back and let the current take you where it will and trust that the shore it brings you too will far exceed even your absolute wildest dreams.

My Desire

“They say that love is the fundamental core of the universe.  They were wrong.  It is not love that is the lynchpin of existence.  It is desire.”  ~ SSHenry

Have you ever known desire? Have you ever felt the pure unadulterated yearning; that all encompassing searing of the soul that is the heart of love, the inspiration of creativity and the igniter of passion?  If you have ever truly known desire – real desire then you will understand what I say when I tell you that it is the true sign of one whose heart is fully open to everything and everyone around them; to every experience, and to all that the universe has to offer.

Indeed, in order to love you have to have the desire to love; the desire to open your heart up to the possibility of being loved in return.

It doesn’t matter if the love being returned to you is genuine; temporary; or even a reflection or echo of the love that you have sent out.  It is the loving and the openness to receiving love that is important, and both are possibly only made possible by acting on the desire to love and opening up to being loved in return.

Yes, I know all the movies and romance novels portray desire as something deeply sexual; something that ignites physical attraction and brings the lovers together more often than not against their better judgment.  Either that or they portray desire as the first step to obsession.  But in truth is that while desire can indeed lead to passion of all kinds (physical, mental and even spiritual) that is not all it is, not by a long shot.  And yes, it can lead to obsession if one focuses all of one’s desire on one person or object or experience to the exclusion of everything else.

And it isn’t just love that is fueled by desire, though love is the most powerful of the emotions that desire generates.  Desire also powers the engines of creativity.  You have to have the desire to express yourself before you ever pick up a pen or a paintbrush and create something bigger than has ever been seen or read before.  You have to have the desire to play before you can pick up an instrument and make your heart-song heard.

Oh yes, with enough talent and training anyone can write a coherent sentence or draw a picture or play the notes as they are written.  But only desire can inspire you to express your soul through your artistic medium and to create something that expresses to the world the true nature of who and what you are and to open your heart up to the world in return.

But it is not only artists who use desire in their daily lives.  Every person who opens their heart up to another; every person who loves first without expecting anything back in return; each of these people is using desire  (the desire to be something more than someone who only gives if they get something of equal or greater value back) to make the world a better place.  They desperately desire that love be the underlying factor of their reality and they embody that in every action that they take and every word they speak.

And desire is not partial.  It can be used for good; to fuel love and strength; creativity and passion.  But it can also fuel obsession and greed as well.  Like the Tao it is not good or bad in and of itself.  It simply is.  It is how you choose to use it; how you choose to channel it that matters.

Which brings me to another point; true desire can’t be hoarded, as Yoda said “that way darkness lies.”  Keeping your desire bottled up inside of yourself is a sure way to turn your desire into an obsession.  To be fully functional desire has to be open to the elements and free, not only as something you do (desiring something) but as an experience (being desired) as well.

Only when you are completely open to knowing and being known; to loving and being loved; to desiring and being desired can you truly be open to every experience that the universe has to offer you; to experiencing your full potential as a human being; to being more you than you ever thought possible.

I want that for you.  I want you to have the opportunity to experience desire in its truest and most open form.  I want you to become more than you ever thought possible.  I want you to experience the joy and wonder that comes from opening yourself up completely to experiencing each moment totally; to loving completely and to being loved in return.

That is my desire.

What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

The Treat Truck from Neverland

There is an ice-cream treat truck that that circles our neighborhood during the summer. Actually there are a number of ice-cream trucks that make the rounds through our neighborhood due to the sheer number of children in the area. But this one isn’t like any that I’ve seen before.

First off, it’s not a truck, but a van, and it doesn’t have the traditional pictures of dancing ice-cream cones, or even pictures of the treats themselves, but multi-colored swirls on the sides, and a simple “Ice Cream” stenciled in elegant script on the sides. But the thing that really sets this treat-truck apart from the others is the music.

Most treat-trucks play jaunty children’s tunes, the better to catch the attention of the younger set. But this one not only has its music playing in a minor key, but it’s playing things like “Morning Has Broken” and “Imagine” instead of the standard kid stuff.  Yes, I know, this particular treat truck may sell something other than ice cream, but that is not the point.

This particular afternoon as I was sitting out in my yard enjoying the sun and the breeze, I heard the minor-key Ice-Cream truck’s melody blending weirdly in with the sounds of the birds and the rustling of the branches, and I had a sudden vision of this van going from neighborhood to neighborhood and the lines being composed not of excited children clutching dollar bills in their sticky fingers, but of jaded and world-weary adults with sad and empty eyes lining up outside of the truck, offering up their souls for the chance that the ice-cream truck would take them away, far away; away to someplace else; anyway but here. That it would take them away from the pointlessness of existence and the sameness of their lives, or at least offer them the hope and the dreams that continue somehow, in spite of seeming success and achievement, to elude them.

There is such emptiness in the world today.  So many people are searching; searching for something to fill the emptiness; something that will satisfy their craving for substance and depth and honesty. They line up for any activity or idea or belief that they think might possibly fill the void and, if it proves to be insubstantial, they continue on to something that will provide them with a diversion; something that will numb the pain and the emptiness and help them pass the time.

If only they knew.

If only they knew that they have the answers inside of themselves.  That there is nothing to “find”, that if they truly want to fill the void all they have to do is look into their heart in order to find the joy and the substance is missing in their lives.  If they knew, maybe they wouldn’t go chasing after that treat truck.

The Smelting Pot

Why is it that so many people have such a deep-seated fear of oneness?

Honestly, you say the word and you can feel people cringe; that is when they are not jumping all over you for promoting ‘New Age claptrap’ or un-American sentiments.

Un-American? Really?  Last I heard America was the ‘Great Melting Pot’ where Peoples of different races and religions came together and became something more together than they were individually; a place where thoughts and concepts and ideas could mix freely and homogenize into something altogether different; something stronger and more unique.  Well, that’s how we billed ourselves, Once Upon a Time.

Times, it seems, have changed.

Once upon time the concept of the Great Melting Pot actually made sense.  It didn’t matter who you were, or where you were from.  You could come and add your own uniqueness to the mix; you could learn new ways of thinking and doing and being and, out of them, create a life for yourself that was richer and stronger than would have been possible if you had continued to go it alone; like taking a plate of Iron, melting it down to its most basic, fundamental levels, removing the impurities, oxidizing it, and ending up with steel; something far stronger and more durable.

The problem is that over the years the concept Great Melting Pot has turned into the great Homogenizing Plant, and homogenization isn’t about increasing strength and stability of any one person or group of Peoples.  Homogenization is where substances are brought together and emulsified until what made them “them” is distributed evenly throughout the mixture and there is no uniqueness or individuality left.

Steel is still Iron; just iron that has been purified and strengthened.  When you homogenize milk, on the other hand, while it loses its impurities, it also looses much of the richness and flavor that made it so enjoyable to begin with.  If you don’t believe me, stop by a farm sometime and take a drink of milk fresh from a cow, there really is no comparison.

Believe it or not, this is the same problem that people run into when they think of the concept of spiritual unity and oneness.  Instead of seeing oneness as a smelting pot; a process that enriches the individual; a process that not only removes your impurities but strengthens you with concepts and ideas that you might never otherwise have encountered, they see it as homogenization; as a loss of everything that made them an individual.

They have somehow got it into their heads that when you subscribe to “oneness” you give up all of your individuality; all of your flavor; everything that made you “you.”  Actually, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Oneness isn’t about becoming the same as everyone else.  It isn’t about losing your distinctness or merging into some sort of protean soup where you give up your ability to think for yourself.  In fact, as long as we live in this physical universe and subscribe to physical duality that is patently impossible.  Our very existence as human beings here on this planet indicates that we are here to live as individuals and to thrive, each of us in our unique and distinct physical package.

What oneness is about is acknowledging that at our most fundamental core, each and every one of us is made up of the same substance.  Oneness is not something that we strive for; it is something that we remember because it is something that already happened.

We all come from that great smelting pot where the iron was crafted into steel.  Through the process of living, each of us takes on different strengths and weaknesses.  We’ve had different alloys added into our mix to make new and unique metals.  We’ve been cast into beams to hold up sky scrapers and into fence posts and belt buckles and kitchen kettles.  We find our place as cookware or flatware or decorative objects that have to be highly polished.

But underneath it all; underneath all of the polishing and decorative coats of paint; underneath all of the plaster and plumbing that have been built up over us; underneath of the circuits and computer chips and plastic casings; we’re all the same.

No matter how we may fight the knowing, we ARE all one.

There is no getting around it.

Acknowledging the fact that we are all, at our core, spiritual beings and that we are made up of the same stuff does not mean that we will stop being who and what we are, that we will have to melt down the sky scrapers and the flatware and the belt buckles and the jewelry and give up our individuality for some sort of homogenized boredom.

All it means is that by acknowledging that we are all made up of the same stuff we will go about our lives with a fresh perspective; the knowledge that no matter how different we may seem, at heart we ARE one.

And that, my friends, can make all the difference in the world.

The Enlightened Art of Chasing Rainbows

You’ve run into them, I know you have, those New Age ‘gurus’ who sell a method or process of enlightenment that is “guaranteed” to work.   Well, you have to buy their book or their 10 disc CD set or sign up for their online course (where you get a personal spirit coach and a free reading on your etheric colors).

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not knocking their methods.  In fact, I have read a huge number of “how to” and “self help” books that contain some extraordinarily awesome suggestions; tips and techniques that have definitely made my own spiritual journey far richer and more interesting than it would have been if I’d continued to keep slugging away through the underbrush on my own; forging my own path with absolutely no outside help and only a semi-sharp machete.

I only have one problem when it comes to these sorts of spiritual teachers, and that is the overall attitude that there is just one way to enlightenment – their way – when in truth the process of enlightenment is more like chasing rainbows.

Didn’t you ever chase after a rainbow as a kid?  You can see it, its right there!  And yet, when you get to the point of the rainbow’s origin, what do you find?  Nothing but mist and sunlight; nothing tangible; nothing substantial, and definitely nothing that you can lay your hands on and say “hey look, I’ve got me a rainbow!”  In fact, once you reach the point where the rainbow seemed to touch the ground, chances are that you will have found that it has moved on to the top of the hill; the top of the mountain; always a step ahead of you and just out of reach.

As you get older you learn about how rainbows are made and even the knowledge that it is nothing but raindrops and sunbeams doesn’t deter us.  Even the knowledge that the array of colors is due to the prismatic effect of refraction doesn’t keep us from our goal.  We still try.  We might even consult with others who claim that they know how to pin one down.

Yes, there are teachers who have a grasp on ways to help you see the colors more clearly.  There are those who can give you a step by step description of what each color means and others who will be able to walk you through the process of refraction and be able to discuss the philosophical meaning of rainbows and the importance they play in the human drama, but there is not one teacher out there who can teach you how to lay your hands on that rainbow.  Why?  Because it can’t be done.

That’s right.  There is no such thing as “achieving” enlightenment.  I don’t care how hard you run or how many mountains you climb, you will never “achieve” enlightenment.  There will never be anything that you can hold out and say, “Here is enlightenment.  It is within my grasp.  It is mine.”  Why?  Because enlightenment is not something that you get; it is not something that you get.  Enlightenment is the process of stepping back and discovering that enlightenment was inside of you the entire time.

You are the sun.

You are the rain.

And it is in your heart and mind and soul that the rainbow not only has its origins but where you will find your pot of gold as well.

 

 

The Empty Circle

There is a yearning in every human heart; a seeming emptiness that cries out to be filled.

Some people feel this emptiness as a lack. They feel that there is something tangible that is missing in their lives and attempt to fill it with whatever makes the feel better; drugs, sex, alcohol, food, shopping. It doesn’t seem to matter. They feel that if they can just get enough of whatever thing or experience has made them feel good in the past, that they can fill up this emptiness even if it is a temporary fulfillment.

Some people feel that this is a spiritual emptiness; a yearning for God. I’ve heard sermons where preachers claim that it is the voice of divinity or the Holy Spirit speaking to the heart; that if an individual just give up enough of themselves, surrenders themselves; that God will take away the pain and emptiness and fill it with something even better.

But what if it isn’t an emptiness at all?

Zen Buddhism has a symbol – an almost circle called an ensō.  This almost circle is painted with a single brush stroke and it is symbolic of the moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create.  It  is said that with practice the mind can be taught to leave that center space open on purpose in order to give the body and the spirit room to create the life that you have always wanted.

Seemingly related is the center point of the Chinese Bagua; the eight sided (nine spaced) cosmological chart that is used in order to practice Feng Shui (the art of placement).  In this particular practice the center point – the center space of the Bagua is always (if possible) left open and empty so as to invite in new energy and to give you room to create the type of home that you truly desire.

Indeed, what if this openness; this space inside of each heart is anything but empty?

Think about it.  What if this space that we perceive of as emptiness and equate with loneliness and lack is actually a part of the system design of our body/soul interface?

It’s not that far-fetched really.  All of the most useful and practical of machines are made not only with specifically designed working parts, but with spaces in which those parts can work. Gears have to turn.  Levers have to shift.  Even when it comes to computers, there has to be memory space in order for calculations to be made; places for all those ones and zeroes to gather and process.

What if – instead of fighting the emptiness; instead of trying so desperately to fill it up, we instead embraced it?

What if we accepted that empty space inside of our minds, hearts and spirits as the space in which dreams come true; as the workspace of our souls where it can get to work on putting together the life that we have always wanted?  What if it is here, in the emptiness that our conversations with our souls can begin?

Perhaps then the emptiness would take on an entirely different meaning.  Instead of emptiness and loneliness we would find peace, comfort and understanding, and we would stop trying so desperately to fill something that is simply a necessary part of the way that we were designed.

 

 

The Vanilla Man

I don’t know about you, but I’m a chocolate kind of girl.   From the time I was little I would bypass the pretty pink ice creams (strawberry mostly) that other girls my age seemed so fond of (I honestly think it had something to do with the popularity of Strawberry Shortcake at the time) and went straight for the Double Dutch Chocolate or Swiss Chocolate Almond.

In shops that had multiplicities of flavors I’d ignore the pistachio and lemon balm and caramel crunch; preferring to zero in on the Fudge Stripe and Mayan Chocolate, with an occasional nod to Oreo Cookie Crunch or Chocolate Chip.  When people would ask me why I didn’t try and mix it up a bit I would shrug and say I didn’t know, but what it was, was that I didn’t know how to explain it.

You see, I didn’t understand why I should muck around with the more fruity or bland flavors, even if they were unusual.  What I wanted – what I craved – was the full-bodied experience of chocolate; the way that it completely overwhelmed my senses and bombarded me with an intoxicating richness that went straight to my head.

Strangely enough, this was a theme that would follow me for my entire life; always having to go straight for the people and places, the situations and experiences that would provide me with the most stimulation; the most intensity; the most flavor and it amazed me that there were people who actually went out of their way to avoid these kinds of stimulation.  For the longest time I thought that there had to be something wrong with them.  Indeed, many of them seemed rather ashamed of the fact that they didn’t try more or do more, as if they felt they had let themselves down somehow by choosing safety and security over adventure and really wild things.  But it was my encounter with the Vanilla Man that would forever change the way I viewed my life and the way those around me had chosen to live.

The Vanilla Man was something entirely new to my experience; a person who not only avoided excess stimulation of any kind (shunning those experiences and situations and experiences that I found so attractive) but who took pride in being predictable and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why anyone would prefer this kind of a life.  It was an intriguing concept, and one I had never encountered before.

Even then, those many years ago, the Vanilla Man was predictable.  Even as a young man you could set your clock by his routine.  At any time of the day or night you knew where he would be and what he would be doing.  And in spite of my own personal preferences and inclinations, I found him anything but boring.  He had an awesome sense of humor and we could converse on a wide variety of topics even seeing things from different perspectives as we did.  In fact, I found his predictability and complete confidence in himself to be entirely refreshing; a way of looking at the world around him that I had never considered before to be valid.   He found my spontaneity and unfiltered view of the world just as intriguing, and it made for a rather tempestuous relationship.

Like night and day, however, we eventually went our separate ways, unable to reconcile our opposite views and lifestyles (though we remain fast friends) and there are times when I have to wonder what would have happened if we had given that mixing of vanilla and chocolate a go.  Would it have resulted in a block of striped ice cream with neither budging to give the other space?  Would we have been like a hot fudge sundae with one of us overpowering or smothering the other? Or would we have mixed ourselves so thoroughly that we would have each become something less (and more) than we had been on our own; giving up our own chocolate and vanilla personalities and preferences to become something like chocolate mouse or vanilla swirl?

Many years have gone by since then, but I have never forgotten what the Vanilla Man had to teach me; that just because there are those who don’t see the world in quite the same way that you do does not mean that their perspective is invalid, and that not everyone has to approach life in the same way that you do in order to be truly and fully alive.

In truth, the world needs vanilla.  Without vanilla men (and women) the chocolates and coconut cherry chunks and rocky roads would run rampant and there would never be any continuity; nothing would get done.  The world would dissolve into complete and total chaos and anarchy.  Besides being soothing and creamy, vanilla tones down the bitterness of more aggressive flavors and makes the sickly sweet tolerable and goes well with almost everything, and while there are those who would downplay its importance or who would say that it dilutes the more exotic flavors, the truth is that without vanilla, we would run into some serious problems.

Even today, every now and then I’ll find myself opting for a dish of vanilla ice cream as opposed to chocolate; a reminder of what could have been, yes, but also to what is, and the incredible variety that makes up humanity; that makes up life and how each and every one of us, regardless of our preferences has a place and a purpose in that great big ice cream parlor that makes up our universe.

Sardonic Smiles

Have you ever felt that you were wasting your life?

No, now don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the life you’re living, your job, how much or little you’ve saved, your choice of life partners, your choice in household furnishings, hobbies, or your role as a parent or parent-care provider. But admit it – haven’t you ever felt as if your talents are being wasted? And you gaze around at your cubicle, or the beige walls of your hum-drum office (why do they choose beige, anyway? Don’t they know that it shows EVERYTHING?) or at the sticky mess of jell-o and chocolate sauce that your four year old has just concocted in the dog’s water bowl and said “what the hell am I doing HERE – doing THIS?”

Well, I have a secret to tell you. Everything you have ever done in your life. Every book you’ve read, every experience you’ve had, every song you’ve heard, every person you’ve interacted with, every failed and miserable relationship you’ve had, EVERYTHING was to bring you to this point and time.

What’s more, you’ve been brought to where you are – right here and now – for a reason.

Now don’t look at me, I don’t have a clue as to what you’re reason is! That’s why it’s YOUR reason, and it will be up to you to discover it.

Just keep in mind that at any moment your purpose – your reason for being could be revealed to you. It could dawn on you slowly, like a rose budding and blooming in the spring sunshine, or it could sneak up behind you like a hyper five year old and jump out at you when you’re least expecting it and scaring you half to death.

So when your boss is criticizing your work, or your teacher is criticizing your homework assignment, or your parents are criticizing your ability to act like a civilized human being, or your spouse is criticizing your ability to balance your checkbook, or your ten year old is criticizing your ability to understand the importance of having the latest X-Box model, or your teenager is criticizing you for your apparent inability to understand ANYTHING, keep in mind that at any moment your purpose, your reason for being, could be revealed to you and suddenly ALL of this will take on an entirely new perspective…

Try THAT thought when you’re sitting through your quarterly employee evaluation, your SAT’s, or the parent-teacher conference and I bet you emerge with a small, slightly sardonic smile that will confuse the hell out anyone who sees it.

Finally you will know the answer to the question that has been bugging you incessantly since, well, since forever; you are here to experience being you, and you can’t exactly get around to experiencing when you’re sitting around wondering why it is that you are here.

A Sea of Ones

All differences in this world are of degree, and not of kind, because oneness is the secret of everything.
~ Swami Vivekanada

Go on, say the word out loud.  Whisper it if it makes you feel better: Oneness.

Did you shudder?  Did your stomach turn over and give you a vague sense of queasiness?  Were you forcibly reminded of the various cults whose members followed their charismatic leaders to untimely deaths? Did you suddenly get a vision of new age self-help gurus descending on you while waving copies of their books and tapes for you to purchase like a hoard of invading Visigoths?

It is strange; the very concept of merging one’s identity with another person or group has become an anathema to humanity.  We fight it tooth and nail and create stories and legends which we turn into books and movies to remind us just how frightening of a concept it is.  Hollywood is full of them.  They make for excellent science fiction and horror thrillers.

What’s really strange is while we hold up individuality as the end all be all of existence, we only live that way in our spare time.  When it comes to work, any business person will tell you that the collective or hive mindset is far more profitable to a company than having each employee thinking (and acting) for themselves.

But overall as a society we are obsessed with individualism; with the belief that the interests of the individual are ethically paramount and that we are better off acting in our own self interest than in considering the needs of humanity as a whole.  And this belief tends to spill over into the way that we view others and their place in the world.

Whether it is our employees or our significant others, our friends or our acquaintances, the result is the same, most of us are focused on ourselves and on how those around us can make our lives better.  How can you increase my quarterly earnings?  How can you make my life more interesting?  What can you do for me?

It is this attitude that will be our undoing.

Oh yes, I know, individualism is the cornerstone of capitalism.  Every marketing executive and advertising specialist on the planet knows that appealing to one’s individuality and uniqueness sells products and creates a desire for more things that will set you apart from the crowd and mark you as one of a kind.  But when it comes right down to it, it’s not a very cohesive way to live.

When applied to countries as a whole, the attitudes and beliefs embraced by individualism become nationalism (the belief that nations are better off acting in their own self interest than collectively and with international or global goals and/or ideals) with each country promoting its own self interests regardless of what it means for those around them.

While both individualism and nationalism may seem like logical choices on the surface, the fact is that we do not live in a bubble, either as people or as nations. What we do impacts those around us and the impact we have on them in turn rebounds on us.  There is a reason for this, though most people don’t like to think about it.  It is because we are all connected.  We are all one.

No, I’m not talking about some sort of all-inclusive mish-mash of thought and belief and personality where everyone gives up who they are in order to pursue some sort of hive mentality.  I’m talking about the kind of oneness you get when you have billions of drops of water coming together to form an ocean; an ocean where millions of cresting waves carve themselves out of the oneness that binds them all together and gives them their coherence and purpose.

Each wave, each drop of water is individual and unique.  Each drop of water contains a universe unto itself.  Each wave is formed just a bit differently than each of its brothers, and yet they share an underlying cohesion; a sense of unity and of oneness that create the concept of an ocean; that endless sea of possibilities and potential; a world where you can become one without having to give up yourself; where you can stand on your own but where you never have to stand alone.