A Lesson in Fear, Anger and Freedom

FearThe other day on my walk to the park, I was almost run over by a man in a large pickup truck. It was a nice, shiny red Ford or some muscular American brand, the kind you see in ads pulling a house or 18 wheeler, like that’s what you need it for. The man in it…well, I’ll let my description of the truck speak for itself.

The road is as residential as it gets, of no use to anyone but those who live nearby. There are no sidewalks in our neighborhood, which is a mixed blessing. Everyone who drives through (or almost everyone) knows pedestrians use the road, so they slow down. But unfortunately some drivers consider pedestrians to be a hazard to their vehicles and would rather they just get the hell out of the way, so they can get on with their busy day!

As I reached the middle of the intersection, I noticed the large, red truck coming from my right. So I started to trot to get out of his way. Instead of slowing or going around me, he stayed his course and drove in front of me, barely missing me as I moved in the direction of his path. He actually swerved a bit to his right to make sure he made his point to drive in front of me. Needless to say I was alarmed, frightened and then very angry.

Anger, RageVery, very angry. I had every right to be. He was scum for doing this to anyone. My mind raced, wondering if he treated his wife and children with such obnoxious disdain. Since I’m gay, I assumed he was homophobic. I gave him the finger, several, in fact. I shot an Uzi full of fingers at him. I noticed he turned left at the next intersection. I thought he might be turning around to confront me. My adrenaline rushed. Every cell in my body prepared for defense. I was invincible, ready for the fight. My righteous indignation and rage would cover me for any lack of power. I picked up a large rock to defend myself. My body shook, but I felt high with power!

Well, he didn’t come back. Relieved and a bit embarrassed when I realized people along the bike path might be wondering why I was carrying a head sized rock, I began to calm down. I put down the rock and continued my walk.

Right away I knew what I had to do. The words came to me as from a teacher, though the voice was mine. “By giving in to your anger, you are letting him control you, becoming like him.” I struggled with this for a few minutes before putting my rage aside. I filled my lungs with the breath I had come to know on these walks, a breath of playful introspection. I began to feel sorry for that man, but left the thought at that. The trees and river and prairie beckoned.

A half hour later on the same walk, I was surprised to find myself running like a child around a large, open field with my eyes closed. I felt as if I were flying. By closing my eyes, I was able to face the fears I had of losing control, of falling into a pit, or perhaps the fear of making a fool of myself by falling flat on my face. But by releasing my neck to float above my body, I was able to (with concentration) release the fear from myself. Then I was free to playfully navigate the slightly irregular ground.

Running BoyA feeling of free abandonment entered me, or at least my body. I began to swerve from side to side, leading with my head. My body followed. Suddenly I flashed back to being 8 or 9 years old, when I last remember being so free and “floppy”. For some reason, that period in my life held a transition from feeling free to self-conscious. I specifically remember how differently running felt before and after. I don’t know pivotal the event, if there even was one. Perhaps I just “grew up”.

Flopping as I ran through that field with eyes closed, I felt I regained some of who that child was, and that he was still alive in me. I had come a long way during that walk, from poisoned, fearful, vengeful man to free flowing, replenished child.

Candle in my Lantern

Candle in a Lantern

The candle in my lantern
burns days, years and nights.
Thoughts of being lost
flickers the flame to fright.
Memories of my lover’s
pale, musky loins sways
its pointy tip to dizziness with
swoons of rapturous flights.
The idea of his demise nearly
strips the spirit off its wick.

So I soften to pictures of
pleasant, sunny trips;
lolling hammocks
between two strong trees
near a gurgling, mossy creek.
Yet the flame still falters,
feeling turmoil from some distant shoal.
Only when I cease yearning
does its white spear hold center,
filling the breath within me
with his hot, clear glow.

The Paradox of Detachment

DetachmentDetachment, often used in Buddhist teachings, implies being outside life, watching, disembodied. I believe this is a misunderstanding of the word’s deeper meaning.

From the teachings of the Alexander Technique, I’ve learned how to be in my body and mind and yet not let them run my life. In other words, I direct from the inside without being subject to mind/body habits. When emotions arise, I feel them without letting them turn into a soap opera. When confusion occurs, I allow its drama without getting lost in it. I am the conductor in tune with the instruments which are me! I believe this balance of control and freedom is the thin line Buddhism implies when suggesting detachment as a tool for awareness.

The “primary control” in Alexander’s teachings points to the same thing. Primary control allows the body’s natural awareness to help us stay in the present. Thus, when the hind brain (cerebellum*) which controls body awareness, is allowed a more leading position, the body is not befuddled by the activity of the thinking mind. This helps dissolve the mind/body illusion. Then, consciousness holds a central place within this physical/mental system, not counter to it or abusing of it.

This sense of detachment allows for the discovery of the higher self. Again, it is not a separate being or other self, but a description of where the true self seems to come from when it is balanced within the body.

Poise in the body and mind allows for better awareness of this seemingly “higher” self. In this sense, spirit is not a separate entity from mind and body, but a result of balance between them, a sympathetic vibration, if you will. When mind and body are present and poised, certain truths can then become self evident, such as the wisdom of being unattached to results and the finite nature of the body and mind. As these levels of understanding deepen, a feeling of spirit may arise, a sense of infinite freedom within a closed system.

* (from Brain Basics)The hind-brain includes the upper part of the spinal cord, the brain stem, and a wrinkled ball of tissue called the cerebellum (1). The hind-brain controls the body’s vital functions such as respiration and heart rate. The cerebellum coordinates movement and is involved in learned rote movements. When you play the piano or hit a tennis ball you are activating the cerebellum. The uppermost part of the brainstorm is the mid-brain, which controls some reflex actions and is part of the circuit involved in the control of eye movements and other voluntary movements.

Touching Juice

Moon Rake Over MeThere are places we go and places we need to go. They are similar. They both fascinate us and thrill us and also terrify us. Spiny urchins with unforgettable foibles chuckle at our fear, or knock in the night. (play dramatic, clutching string chord, perhaps a nice healthy 13th cluster, with vigorous tremolo, diminuendoing to background) We fear the unknown, lurking, well… unknown, beneath the surface, beneath our physical lives and in our psychic lives. “Could you pass the pickles? I love those Kosher dills!” We are hard wired to ignore a lot.

Learning is doing and letting. When we face what we fear, we learn. To learn we must let. To let we must trust. To trust we must believe. And it goes on, until we get to experience. When we experience, we find change, it begins to carry more weight. When we see things as they are we admit they are absolutely new. Sure, there are patterns. Like spirals and swirls and hatcheted hounds tooth patterns looming over the surface. What I mean is the raw, visceral newness, like opening a new box of Cheerios. It’s not pretty. Accepting and opening to everything is daunting, terrifying. But it can happen. And it needs to be acknowledged, heightened, fleshed, lived, feared.

Johnny, oh Johnny boy, take me to your haystack and shine your sun on me! Yes, Johnny redeemed me resuscitated me, brought me back to reality, to the reality I sense is right for me, for anyone, to cherish the sweetness of life as it happens, from as early on as you possibly can, to give that whenever you feel it. Johnny hungry skin, perfectly hungry, salient. Connecting with his perfect hunger, giving it back, sharing it. Just for the moment, carefully, formally. Yearning, but with open eyes, embracing, shocked, vermilion snare. There is only one lesson. There is only one lesson. Do I need to repeat myself?

I know when I’m outnumbered, and when I makes sense to give in, I know. I don’t try to kid anybody. I take it as it comes. I flop around a lot. Others may not see it, but it’s me. Quiver, huddle, crouch, scream, rejoice, vibrate, weep, smile, give myself completely up to the glory of being alive, no turning back, no redemption, just gratitude, giving in, giving up, giving over, and finding the glory of just being, just breathing.

I get out of the car and press the garage door button. The noisy motor grinds for 10 long seconds. I stand there, pausing, knowing I’ve paused safely here before. High above the wind chimes barter their wares, seductive questions, partial answers, an essence of music, sampled sirens messages. She swims between two notes, daringly, favoringly. I look up at the great beast hovering over my house, reaching unrelentingly, immeasurably, knowingly, anciently toward the sky. One of it’s great, gentle hands, magnificently delicate hands, at the tip of its long, almost grotesquely feminine fingers, cradles the moon. The wind chimes pause.

Regal, diminutive, she notices me, sideways, alluring, and smiles, looking someplace beyond what I see, across the neighborhood, across the house with the perfect lights. She blows clouds around her noctilucent face, swirling them infinitely slow, a slow liquid, like glass. She listens as I watch. She calls deeply, she shows me myself, my weakness, my perfection, my end. She somehow touches me inside. She calls up my innocence, my child, my hurt. She tells me it’s OK. She lets my tears out. She lets them out from far, far inside me. I stand there, looking up at the moon through the arms of the great, gentle beast. I cry, wailing inside. Not wanting to wake the neighbors with the pretty lights, not wanting to disturb them, wailing silently, for all I cannot do, all I fail to do, all I wish to do, all I am afraid to do. I have so much to learn.

After spacing out at the moon, I come inside the house, greeted by my little friends, whom I ignore way too much, like many of my friends. Why do I do that? Why do I let pass so many perfect, sweet, gentle moments in favor of some kind of thrill, a roller-coaster ride? I get hooked on far out orbits, swinging low, way low, on a glittering chariot, way, way too much.

My little, patient friends, warm, so free, so reliant, so poetic, they know me and cannot speak, they ground me, tell me things, remind me to eat, to sleep, to breathe, to love, to hug. They are so patient. They embody some subtle, effulgent fragments of a great spirit. They embody something, at least to my fertile, lumbering sense of it. How come we do the things we do? How can we be so sensitive and so seductive and so dull, crashing and flopping across exquisite landscapes, barely noticing, just passing, blinking, into some strange night.

I cross the bridge. I walk away from the river into the fields. I walk with the moon, hold hands with a tree, weep with the night, end.

The Shape of the Blanks, II

Leave the Blanks EmptyLeave the blanks empty and watch their shape evolve. Emptiness has shape. The space of emptiness has definition in relation to its surroundings.

There are numerous times each day when we compulsively fill in the blanks. When a stranger looks as us oddly, we search for the reason. “Is there a smudge on my face? Is my zipper undone? Am I ugly?” When a friend looks at us oddly, we become frantic, especially if the reason is unapparent. “Did I offend her? Did I forget something? Is something wrong?” Even asking for the reason often doesn’t satisfy our doubt. “Perhaps this person is hiding something to avoid hurting me.”

Years ago I read Roland Barthes’ “A Lover’s Discourse”. Barthes’ lighthearted observations of the bewildered lover’s frantic interior dialog offers an entertaining read, but also strikes close to many of our real experiences. When the beloved is late for a date, the lover’s thoughts ping-pong at hyper speed to gain some sense of the situation, running various vignettes across his vision: the beloved making love to someone else; the beloved, dead in the middle of the road; and so on.

In relationships, every look, word, tone of voice, silence, pattern of presence or absence is charted, dissected, rinsed, scrubbed and rehashed to squeeze out any and every drop of meaning. Ultimately, the meaning is contextual; the answers change like quantum particles, leaving more questions. The end result is little or no gain and lots of strain.

When I see someone going through this kind of self torture, it’s as if they are tumbling rocks. As I kid I used to have a rock tumbling kit. My friends and I would gather a dozen interesting small rocks and place them in the rock tumbler with gritty minerals to polish them over many hours. The results was shiny rocks. And that’s about what you get when you try to answer unanswerable questions. The answers may become shiny, but they’re still rocks.

When alone, we tend to fill every thought space with something. We judge, name, analyze, decide and dismiss. Most of these verbs are considered desirable activities when we are at work solving specific problems. But the rest of the day we need to balance ourselves with open awareness and open ended creativity, not answers. Even after we tire of filling in the blanks ourselves, we then turn on the TV to fill them for us.

Over years and decades of filling in the blanks, our persistent attempts to fill the void becomes a compulsive background noise like static. The photo at the beginning of this post depicts this constant state quite graphically. There is no possibility of white, peaceful space with this kind of static going on all the time.

The desire to know all the answers is a natural and comforting habit. We want to have everything tidy and finished. We cling to this habit tenaciously. But that’s not the way reality unfolds. It’s difficult to let go of this feeling of control. Allowing the answers to remain blank can feel like jumping into a void. But as we grow accustomed to the idea, we realize the blanks are not empty at all, but full of a wondrous, infinite possibilities.