Sunday, August 29, 2010

Could That Be How It Works?

An Unconventional Favor Leads to a Strange Take on Reality

OK, this one starts out a bit cynical (if you're in a generous mood, maybe sardonic or wry).

It was late, I hadn't had dinner. I was hungry, and a bit tired. I raided the 'fridge, hoping something would be in there that would satisfy. I saw the salsa, and thought of the cold, fresh, wet, and spicy feeling mixed with the crunchy-salty of corn chips. Did we have corn chips? A quick scan of the cupboard...YES! I was in!

Until I unfurled the bag of corn chips. Those of you who have teenage boys at home know this experience well. Rather than finish the bag of chips, or the carton of milk, or the bottle of fruit juice or the box of cereal, it is delicately put back in place with one mote of food above the minimum necessary to fall into the "throw this away" category.

I looked into the bag, shiny, sparkly metallic reflections all around, surrounding a pitiful pile of crumbs and scraps.

And I said to the contents of the bag, "Huh. I'm doing YOU a favor."

What an odd thought. As the full consequence of my statement flowered in my mind, I realized what I was really saying. "The sooner you get eaten, the sooner you turn into...ahem...compost,... the sooner you can become something approaching good and useful."

Because if I left them in the bag, they'd sit there for who-knows-how-many months, and then probably get thrown away INSIDE the bag, and sit there encased in the bag in a landfill for another who-knows-how-long, before getting a shot at becoming compost and then doing something USEFUL with those molecules....

Boy, it was a harsh sentiment.

But then I thought (as I am wont to do), "Geez. I wonder if that IS the best thing I can do. And what would the world look like if one of the most important things you could do for something else was to help it rid itself of its current form, turn it back into compost, and get it started again on a new mission?

And what does that say about the municipal waste system? Would conservative "small government advocates" just see it as another stupid government boondoggle trying to help...whatever...make the most of itself? Like funding for education, but at the other end of the spectrum?

From there it got weirder. What if the difference in perspective between Conservatives and Progressives is really as opposite, as literally antipodal, as this new thought was to my normal way of thinking? Up is down for somebody who walks on the underside of the stairs in those MC Escher drawings... No WONDER we can't communicate with one another, with world-views as inverted as that.

Don't get me wrong - there was no political aspersions being cast. I was just in stunned wonder at how OPPOSITE, and yet quite possibly LEGITIMATE, that flash of perspective could be. And suddenly, the whole world became unusually malleable, and the surety of my opinions and perceptions weakened and began to jiggle like jello. Which direction does intention flow?

And more. What did this flash imply about the way the world (nee, the Universe) really works? Which perspective could be counted on to reveal the Divine Intention, the Mind of God? Which actor on this stage should I play, and what is his motivation? Whose colors should I cheer for, and who should I champion with my own life force?

Where's the effing SCRIPT??!

("LINE...!", he shouted, even though it was a public performance in front of a packed house...)

What an odd way of seeing the world, if only for a moment.

And yet, helping someone shed the remnants of himself, even if it means going through a "compost" stage, to then feed something else that arises from his remains is a very very interesting role to consider, both for the compost-er and the compost-ee.

Who does that? What archetype? Is that Death? Mother Earth? God? One's Highest Self? And is it still really you if you've become compost and then recirculated via the roots of a plant or the gut of an animal? Or, if not physically experienced, then emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, or socially?

Does the resplendent and magical Phoenix know that the ashes from which it arises were once scraps of corn-chips in the bottom of a bag, lovingly and considerately turned to compost by the gut of a fool?

These questions seem too much for me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just Passing Through

Me, My Sons, and the Redwoods

On Sunday, my two sons and I went for a hike in Big Basin State Park. We hiked the waterfall trail (11 miles). It was great to feel our bodies move along, and to be in such a beautiful place.

Our conversation turned to the magnificent trees. How old they are. How much they have seen. Alive when Charlemagne united Europe. When Mohammad lived. Through the Dark Ages and the Renaissance.

We saw a "family" of redwoods, all quite large. The families sprout up around where a single tree has lived (and died). We wondered in awe about the ancestor of this family. "Imagine how old that guy must have been...!"

It was humbling but also wondrous. We, with our short lives, and our even shorter hike, were just passing through. We wondered if they would remember us, a thousand years from now. "Remember those three male humans who talked to us?"

Is it so preposterous?

I approached a very young, slender sapling. I said, "Hello there. Remember me." I touched it gently. My sons made fun of me...insinuating that that poor young tree was now stuck with a memory that it would never get out of its "head", something like "It's a Small World After All" playing over and over for a thousand years. (They're such NICE boys...).

Yep, we were just passing through.

And in another way, too. As we got a little further along in our hike, and our muscles got a bit sore and we got a bit tired, I encouraged my sons to let the forest pass through
them. By recognizing how much empty space really exists inside our bodies, between the nuclei of adjacent atoms. We're really really loose sponges in a certain way.

I talked about recognizing that permeability, and letting the "Qi" of the forest pass through our bodies, revitalizing us with its healthy, vibrant, natural earth-energy. It's really well-balanced Qi. I think the older the forest, the more refreshing and rejuvenating the Qi. It felt to me like a deep cleanse and a healing elixir all in one.

As we neared the end of our hike, I shared with my boys something that I've learned about living things, and these Redwood trees in particular. Every species is "the best" at something. (Wolves, for example, are the best at experiencing the beauty of the moon, I think. They love her so much that they sing to her with wild abandon.)

What about these California Redwoods, these Sequoia Sempervirens?

Well, they live practically forever, and grow so tall...they have a great view. They are the best, I believe, in bearing witness. They bear sacred witness to life, to death. To love and tragedy. To change.

Even, I think, to those of us who are just passing through.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sidewalk Massage

Just Because It Feels Good

I was sweeping the sidewalk this morning in front of the shop. It was a simple activity, and nothing to muse on -- at first. I swept dirt and leaves away, making the front of the shop look tidy. Then I used the broom to quite thoroughly scrub out some of the seams. The dirt had accumulated over however many months/years. There are quite a few seams in front of the store, and they all were black with dirt. The scrubbing worked - the seams were returning to a fresher, whiter color.

I did it for awhile. After about 20 minutes, my left-brain said, "Why are you still doing this? No one is going to notice. It's a waste of time."

At the same time, my right-brain was enjoying the experience - simple rhythm, simple motion, simple results. So I kept at it.

I was looking very carefully at the sidewalk as I was sweeping it, cleaning it. And looking more closely at it, something shifted. My emerging sense of empathy kicked in. I started to appreciate it. Not as a piece of art or anything like that, but more like...a friend. This sidewalk has been supporting folks as they walk past my address for years and years and years. Most people probably don't even notice it.

And I though, "Gee, it seems like it deserves a little more respect than that." Indeed, I had stopped sweeping it for anything related to my benefit, and had started caring for it as a colleague, a friend. Somebody who was always there, willing to do the job without complaint.

I realized that I was actually treating it with kindness, giving it the equivalent of a massage and exfoliation treatment. I did it not because it would look better to my prospective customers, but because I wanted to make it feel better, look better. It was a gift of some love and attention.

Did it need a massage? Probably not. But I think it appreciated getting one.

The unattached giving was an interesting thing to experience. So easy to give to a sidewalk.

It just struck me as I write this...I passed a homeless man this morning as I walked from the coffee shop to Firefly Willows, and offered him a hello. But I didn't spend an hour grooming him. How deep does my capacity for unattached giving really go? Do I have the same capacity for him as I have for the sidewalk? If not, why not?

Boy, I have a lot to learn.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fat (thump, thump, thump). That's Where It's At. (thump, thump)

What Are You Storing?

Well, I was doing some journey work the other day on a completely different topic and had occasion to gaze upon myself - essentially here, as you see in the picture at right.

Now, I don't have a lot of body fat. I know this because other people tell me so, and because whenever I go swimming I get cold really really fast. (Unless it's both hot
and humid, like in the Caribbean.)

And yet, as I've gotten a little bit older, I've been accumulating fat at the "love handles" location, and in the "paunch", and other areas typical of guys as they age. I've been about five to seven pounds over my ideal weight for a hand-full of months this time.

I've been in this situation before. Not that it's a crisis or anything, but I notice it primarily because my pants get too tight around the waist.

I always wonder, "What the heck? Why is this happening now?" It's a curious question, really - why one gains weight at a particular time.

Because I really don't have a LOT of extra weight, and I seem to be able to dispose of it after a time, I have thought about the whats and whys of it all, without panic, self-recrimination, or judgment. Really just an honest curiosity.

I've noticed that, for me, over the last seven years or so, the gain correlates to my use of alcohol. But it's not always the same. Sometimes, it's like every glass of wine accumulates. Other times, it's only like the extra glasses of wine. And yet other times, I gain nothing, even if I drink a lot. It's been curious and mysterious. Why would it change? Why this time and not that other time? And why just so much?

Well, my journey work offered something as profound as it was obvious.

A voice said, "Fat is where you store stuff."

"Uh...yeah. Thanks, Captain Obvious." Of course, fat is where you store stuff. That's what fat
is - storage, right? Everybody knows that.

And then I laughed a little at myself. It's WHAT the fat is storing that makes it interesting. So the self-analysis began. What
am I storing when I'm building or carrying fat?

I back-tracked. The alcohol seems to add the weight. And I drink more when I'm stressed.

Thinking carefully about it, I realized that I drink more to do one of two quite different things:
  • To dull the feeling of being stressed, or
  • To release the stress
Hypothesis: When I try to dull the feeling of stress, I'm putting on weight. When I manage to release the stress, I don't. My intuition says that's more accurate than not. I can tell when I'm not dealing with the stress, and just trying to cover it up. I can also tell when I'm choosing to flush it out - let it run its course and have its say and dispose of it.

Inside, they don't feel the same at all.

I have the image of a sedimentary system, where one layers in the stuff to be stored, then trowels on a layer of fat to hold it in place and keep it away from the consciousness. Or of an infusion system, where the psychic "stuff" is (warning: chemistry term) adsorbed into the fat, like a gas into activated charcoal. When the charcoal can't suck up any more, it's time to add more charcoal.

"I'll deal with that some other time" becomes "I'll just put that in storage".

Of course, by not processing it directly, we deal with it indirectly, in the form of carrying the extra weight (and what's stored in it) around with us, both physically and psychically. And that has a cost, too. So we end up dealing with the consequences of not dealing with it.

It's like paying interest on a debt. One still has the principal to deal with "some day", and meanwhile we're paying interest. I suppose it's a choice, and different people will make different decisions about how to use their "life capital". And it makes sense that over the span of one's lifetime, you'll typically gain weight as you get older, because there are some things from each year that never get pulled out of storage. So the number of storage closets has to keep increasing. Sometimes by a lot, sometimes by a little.

But more interesting to me is, as I look all around me, I begin to wonder. What is each person storing? And why?

Does what I'm saying resonate with you? What are you storing, do you think?