A Menagerie of Self, Part A

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It’s been a good week of brushes with wildlife, flushing out the teachings and the tensions in that blind between species. 

Some days back I noticed a bird-nest in an old crone of a cholla cactus, who had seen more glorious, succulent days, as her tangle of arms seemed to sprawl a bit dry, tawny and horizontal–the sag of middle age– compared to her more youthful, green and sky-reaching neighbors. Yet she was the grandmotherly choice for some pair of pinioned parents.

I had peered into the nest to look for inhabitants and was half-surprised to perceive a gentle pulsing amid the shades of gray, the validation of a faint intuition, a tell-tale sign of breath, of life. Emboldened, I willed my head to change shape so that I might turn corners with my vision and duck through the shadows of prickly fingers without ending up with a crown of thorns.  There were two ample, bored-looking chicks in there. Their passivity was an unnerving advertisement for their vulnerability. They eyed me, but any fear they might have been broadcasting was drowned out by my curiosity. Save for the motion of respiration, they did not move, the camouflage of stillness their best defense.

I wondered where the parents were. I resolved to come back in different light with a camera. And the next morning, I did. The parents were again absent, at first. Soon, though, I’d lingered long enough, with my menacing paparazzi gun, for them to return and object to my presence–alas dropping the cargo of nutriments in their hooked beaks– with their caustic cries of “Hey!” “Hey, step away from there,” and “ Honey, I’m going over to this tree to regroup.” and “Okay, I’ll perch here and try repelling this intruder by piercing her arrogance with my mind-melting stare.”   

Projecting? Who me?   

If you’ve gazed (guiltily) back into the glare of an agitated yellow-eyed thrasher you might not question my suggestion.

Yes. I felt a little guilty. I was intruding. Intruding on the safe invisibility of the chicks, intruding on the parents’ ability to care for them.  The parents eventually retreated, and I decided to leave, sending out a little prayer for peace and forgiveness, to appease the parents and my own twinge of conscience and concern that they might not come back.  

I do that again and again. I dare the millennia of self-preservation instinct to exempt me, to validate my harmlessness, my goodness, to allow other creatures to trust me as one of them. But it is my own belief in “us-and-themness,” my own suspicion that I am not trustworthy, simply by virtue of my membership in my own ignorant and predatory animal species, that shores up the barrier that I then wish to insist myself through and beyond. 

A couple of days later, after some hours busy puttering, I was nudged by the Mystery out to the back deck to be still for a while. I did, meditating. Eventually, something told me to open my eyes. I did. And I soon noticed the coyote drinking cautiously but thirstily from our waterfall’s (artificial) spring. S/he paused to look up often; I don’t think she was aware of me, specifically, just aware of the need to be aware.  In admiration, I slowly extracted my IPod and began to take pictures. Eventually my motion could not help but betray my location. She raised herself to look at me, then she paused and took an odd stance, motionless and purposeful, and I thought that perhaps she was relieving herself in some way out of my view. (No sign of that when I checked the ground there later). As she came out of that stance, I began to video her, knowing she would leave soon. And as she did, I spoke to her in sweet, praising tones. She would take a few steps and then pause when my voice resumed, gazing into my face, weighing curiosity and instinct, it seemed. Then she’d continue, pausing each time I spoke again, until she’d cantered far enough up the slope that my voice could no longer override her momentum.

Today, I was on the homeward leg of my trail walk, chanting the Daimoku mantra, when a hearty, benevolent dog-walking couple approached from the other direction. I modulated my chanting; and I greeted the dog first, as I often do– perhaps to put the owners at ease more than the dog. But there was instant trust and good-will here, noticed only because there doesn’t always seem to be. There was nothing of lizard brain suspicion in our meeting. Perhaps my chanting and her predisposition to friendliness acted as a sort of password with the woman.  She said, as if continuing a conversation already started, “So there is a rattle snake up ahead.”  “Oh, great!” I said, conveying my pleasure and lack of fear about it.” They described its location, which I recognized when they mentioned it was right by the bush with the bird’s nest.” Oh, the Cholla?!” “Yes!”  They recognized my pleasure, and we enjoyed an exchange in which we all confessed that, before their sighting, we’d all had thoughts of seeing a rattler on the trails today. I thanked them, and, for now, our conversation concluded; though we all carried a new buoyancy from the encounter.  I sauntered down the trail with anticipation, hoping the snake would still be there. (Oh, Boy! Namu myoho renge kyo; Here snakey-snakey; Nam-myoho-renge- kyo….)

Even approaching with heightened vigilance, I started when his motion drew my eyes to him, slithering across the trail, dutifully yielding to bigger, faster traffic.  The trouble for him was I slowed down. I paused to watch him, leaned in to admire him, peered closer to count the segments in his rattle (nine)! I didn’t have a camera with me, and I’d definitely call him fiercely protective of his privacy, as he tried to disappear into the camouflage of shade and gravel under our fond Cholla Villa de Thrasher.  

I watched my forwardness translate his long slithering body into folds, as he spring-loaded himself into standby position for striking. He wasn’t coiled. He wasn’t rattling, but the tight slalom of his form was was like compressed spring. And he held that position, motionless, save for the occasional “blink” of the tongue, just like the fledglings in the nest three feet above him, motionless but for breath. 

Realizing that he was a hidden menace for other hikers, I paused only briefly in our stand-off before I began looking for measures I could take to remedy the situation.  I gave him a wide berth, surgically tiptoe-ing among the dense prickly pears, to a point on the trail beyond, where I might be out of his threat-perception zone, and I used a rock to draw arrows in the dirt of the path and write “Rattle Snake.”  But the narrow trail did not lend itself well to legibility.  As he was still poised defensively when I finished, I reluctantly fell to Plan B. I lobbed a number of stones into the inches of space between him and the trail, hoping he might just move. Of course, he did not; this is a reptile.  (The one time this option had worked in my experience, there were two of us throwing rocks; we had had no choice; it took a long time, and we were actually pelting the snake rather than politely pummeling no-man’s-land.)

So, then I felt obliged to surrender all outward doing. But I decided to try one more thing: an old animal communication trick—show him pictures; I relaxed my heart and allowed my mind to fill with images of him moseyin’ on, easy-like, all by his leisurely lonesome. It works with mammals! But when that didn’t reach him, I knew I could only now let go all agenda, of the do-gooder, of the one who caused and needed to fix this problem, etc.  

About that time, an old gentlemen with two fine hunting dogs came down the trail. I halted him with a few economical words and gestures, and tiptoed back to his side of The Cholla of the Knowledge of Good Day and Bad Day, gleaning that he was hard of hearing.

Apprehending that I might be protecting the snake as much as him, he asked how long I’d been out here, warning people. I watched his line of questioning betray his assumptions and world view.  Are you a vegetarian? Do you eat beef? Is there any animal you don’t like? When is it okay to kill something?  I answered in good-humored honesty. It was a friendly conversation. Since he would interject with stories about how much it cost him to treat his dog’s last snake bite, and how many days in hospital it cost his friend to get bitten, he knew I’d saved him, if not a life, a tidy chunk of change.  

During our conversation we became aware of another voice. Mama and Papa Thrasher were again incommoded by the activity near their tree. It wasn’t clear, however, if they were scolding me or the snake or just venting about the disturbed safety of Grandma’s neighborhood.  

Eventually, my human acquaintance was satisfied with our conversation, and as he turned to go, he asked how long I planned to stay out here.  I told him I was going home, too.  And as I turned to do so, I could see that the snake had used this time to retreat.  I felt both relief and disappointment, and also vexation, because I hadn’t seen where he’d gone.  I treaded very mindfully down the trail through the danger zone. And I mused about the common thread in the week’s encounters, not only with bird, beast and reptile, but with other humans.

To be continued…

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A Menagerie of Self, Part B

It’s interesting that many of the week’s encounters had already started me thinking about the subtleties of the self/other phenomenon, and that the last encounter before this writing was with a snake, which, in Christian symbolism, represents duplicity, temptation, or The Fall, which, in an illuminated view, is succumbing to separation consciousness. Yet the snake is also symbolic of shamanic transmutation, release of what binds us or no longer serves; and that can be liberation from the blinds separation.

In our own gaze at that which we perceive as other dwells the veil of separation itself (as well as the strain to see through it).

In animal encounters such as these, I’m shown the tension between instinct and desire to bond, to know, to merge. I witness Life’s curiosity about life, the natural magnetism between all sentient beings, even as I perceive self-protection mechanisms backpedalling from it. 

So, I see a birds nest, and I enter taboo space and look inside; yet, I am conditioned to feel pangs of misgiving, because, whether I am a threat or not, the parents will perceive me that way. 

I am drawn to and wary of interchange with these creatures. They are nobly savage; without duplicity, innocent. Baby birds, particularly, are vulnerable; I know vulnerability in myself, and I‘ve seen vulnerability exploited, in myself and others.   So, as I identify with these babes, it is confusing to also haplessly be the perpetrator.  (Many of us will have heard the warning that an animal parent will reject a baby after it’s handled by a human.)

But I want to appreciate the babies, commune with them, experience my innocence through them, or that which I project onto them. I also linger at the edge of the grief of knowing that I am feared, and of the projection that I am not kind or trustworthy.  

As humans, we’ve all been born and raised and domesticated.  I suspect I’m not alone in this, but for myself, I notice a lament that the original wild tribe from which I came won’t take me back, won’t accept me now; I’m polluted now by my humanness (or association with humans), by the smells of the toxic thoughts I host. Just as a baby bird is rejected by its parents if handled by a human–its smell is no longer recognizable as “one of us,”– I am somehow no longer of the One. 

And, subjectively, amid the smells of human programming, of our unholy inheritances and alliances, we’ve lost the scent of our own belonging in the Tribe of One. We walk our path sniffing for it, mostly where we’ve been trained to– out there: in work, approval, romance, religion, on and on.  We believe we are alone and, therefore, not safe.

  So when I am in touch again with innocents I perceive outside myself, I long to be validated, recognized as one of them: In belonging to that tribe, I am redeemed, no longer separate from, or judged by, Creation. And yet my own fear of rejection, fear of the other’s fear, produces enough fear-gas to repel Bambi, Baby Jesus, Frodo Baggins and all their friends.

The basic anxiety of separation engenders aversion to both self and other. We blame ourselves, assuming we must have done something wrong to find ourselves cast out of Bambi-land (Heaven). We fear each other because, if we are alone, it’s every man for himself.

So, if I’m offended and terrified by separation in the first place, I notice that– in the twisted logic of the nightmare– encountering another distinct human being feels like an affront, a proof of my lostness, failure to be one with One. It stirs a deeply buried  sense that if there is another one here, it too must be indignant and volatile. If there is more than one of us here; is God diluted? How can both of us be whole? How can both of us be God? How can I be God alone, or have all of God’s Love, or have full power or control over my life and world or how it sees me…?  In encountering another on the trail, I’m reminded that if there’s so many of us here, all asserting and pursuing individuality, then collecting up the pieces and getting home is like herding cats. Hopeless. 

All this from this belief in separation.  For we all share the same source; we are all just Life expressing itself. By some mystery, the refracted lens of our consensus reality displays a multiplicity; and stories, fears, projections, justifications and defense spin out in intricate feedback loops from that original prism.     And the joke of it is….

                                                                                                                                                                      to be continued.

We, Tantalus

We are all hungry.

I’m not talking gastronomics. 

I’m betting no one reading these words is far from a meal.

 

The body is a living collage of appetites.

The only question is who’s drive-ing.

 

We’re all starved: 

The man who thinks a smile is an invitation to remedy his wounds of weaning.

The woman who diets to shed her inadequacy or shops to obscure it.

The man on the street who asks for money when offered eye contact from a softened heart.

The one who cannot receive your love because she is too consumed, sinking in quicksand,  justifying the time spent in desperation.

 

We believe it, we legitimize it, this conspiracy of isolation and deficiency. 

And as we do, we all starve together.

 

There is some seminal moment in personal history and collective consciousness in which Love was offered yet was not received; it became not enough. And since Love is what we are made of, and all a soul could ever need or want, who we are and what we are about was, in that moment, rendered invalid, insufficient, even treacherous. And thence commenced the search, the posturing, the denial, the lies, the wargames.

Love is all I have to give. But this one wants spare change. That one wants sex. This one wants lies. This one wants me to be someone else.  And so, in this game, I am not enough. Knowing this, who would choose me for his team? Love will wear those costumes, but by-and by it smothers.

Yet these ones who seek from me what I do not have to offer, they are responding to the very same wound. They have forgotten their wholeness, our equality; and they suppose I am here me to fill in the gap with what they think they lack, rather than with what they need.  I try to offer the banquet, but their prison door slot has conformed to the shape of a Pringle, and meeting that, my heart tries to conform, and as it shrinks, I feel the familiar, universal pangs in my own belly and chest.

Confess to me your hunger. And I will confess my own. And we will waste away together  …for mere moments, until our tears become a spring for our thirst, our love the tree of life, and our laughter a cascade of forgiveness that absolves Tantalus and sets us free.

Matins (A Sort of Daily Homecoming)

For years, I’ve been graced with the integrative divining tool of a “morning song:” a song in my head when I rise from sleep, which, when given attention, reveals a message, a validation, a clarification or reframing.  Sometimes the songs and the messages are clearer than others, but it works a bit like dream interpretation, speaking on many levels.  It works because, in formative years, my life was so steeped in and seeded with, music.  Sometimes these will be songs I’ve not remembered or heard for years.

As I’ve been up against core stuff lately, and leaning into it with A Course in Miracles, and, likewise, leaning into ACIM with it, I wake particularly flat, irritable and demoralized.  It used to be I woke depressed and oppressed by futility, and sleep seemed to offer solace and respite; so getting up was harder. Now, sleep holds no such mirage. I might as well get up, give it over and open to the miracle; get moving, let the water of experience –where love and guidance hides– move through my gills.

Today, somewhat obscurely at first, I noted a refrain from an old U2 song wailing in the middle layers of consciousness, as I unpacked what I could remember of a dream. I noted the words and energetic message offering themselves up:  “On Borderland we run…run and don’t look back… I’ll be there.”  I didn’t cognitively recall the title of the song;  I knew it was on the album “Unforgettable Fire,” which I’d owned on vinyl.  So, I booted up google and, went to the first intuitive choice, the first song on the album, “A sort of Homecoming.”  I clicked to listen– yep that was it– and let the words flow through, reading them afterwards, allowing the lines twinkling with message to wink at me, and letting the rest fall away.  In the flatness of my state, I felt a dim smile of incredulous wonder glow a bit brighter in my heart, nudging Faith slumbering beside it.  It’s just a moment. A little molecule of miracle–which I won’t muddy with further intellectualization here–amid the flood of miracles pouring around us perpetually; and we, poor fish, bathing in it, oblivious, groping for the hook of familiar demoralization.  So, I give thanks for the school of Krill I pass through in my ascent to the surface from sleep in the mornings, rousing me with little nutriments of remembrance.

Familiarity with ACIM enhances the meaningful associations that spoke to me here.

And you know it’s time to go

Through the sleet and driving snow

Across the fields of mourning

Light in the distance

 

And you hunger for the time

Time to heal, desire, time

And your earth moves beneath

Your own dream landscape

 

Oh, oh, oh 

On borderland we run 

 

I’ll be there

I’ll be there 

Tonight

A high road

A high road out from here

 

The city walls are all come down

The dust, a smoke screen all around

See faces ploughed like fields that once

Gave no resistance

 

And we live by the side of the road

On the side of a hill 

As the valley explode

Dislocated, suffocated

The land grows weary of its own

 

Oh, oh, oh on borderland we run 

And still we run

We run and don’t look back

I’ll be there

I’ll be there

Tonight

Tonight

 

I’ll be there tonight I believe

I’ll be there somehow

I’ll be there tonight

Tonight

 

The wind will crack in winter time

This bomb-blast lightning waltz

No spoken words, just a scream 

 

Tonight we’ll build a bridge 

Across the sea and land

See the sky, the burning rain

She will die and live again

Tonight

 

And your heart beats so slow

Through the rain and fallen snow

Across the fields of mourning

Light’s in the distance

 

Oh don’t sorrow, no don’t weep

For tonight, at last

I am coming home

I am coming home

 

ImpermaFrost

Perhaps because of the public facelift he was given by Michael Sheen’s recent revival of his youth in Frost/Nixon, the announcement of David Frost’s mortality gave me a moment’s pause yesterday.  Frost was another of many luminaries in the defining era to which my youth is anchored who are falling away just often enough now to form a slow pinging rhythm of Time’s homing beam, snapshots of time-space lit up as on a radar screen, revealing the changed ocean scape each time another vessel disappears.

Though I might have been aware of Frost’s existence before, all preceding impressions are eclipsed by his seminal career moments, which are burned into my memory by my father’s intensity, as he bucked and growled at the television during those interviews, like a sports fan on the yoyo of his team’s performance, and then like a gladiatorial spectator, lunging vicariously at Richard Nixon’s jugular, “Get him! Get the Son-of-a-B*&%#!” And finally my father’s almost incredulous euphoria, his thoroughly transported and ferocious delight, when Nixon tripped in the trap, arrogance dissolving into contrition and frailty, his truth told, his cover blown, evil exposed in the light– even the light of a hapless showman my father might have otherwise derided.

So, David Frost was a hero in the house.  On equal standing with Dick Cavett, whose merits were equally nebulous to me as a child. He was just an intelligent television companion to my parents and me, whom I took for granted. I did later learn my father occasionally played with Dick Cavett as a child, when Dick came to visit his cousin Bud, a childhood chum of my father’s.

Anyway. These voices and faces from movie-reel of my youth are mostly dormant now, even if these people are still alive. And then an event, usually their deaths, will animate them in my memory, activating the smells and flavors of that era and of my own unchanging life essence and thread; the hope, the earnestness and the tensions of the 60’s and 70’s; the humming tones of my parents in their younger adulthood, before the betrayal of their fallibility; and a milieu of unquestioned membership in the world– connection and unconditional belonging.     These folks are messengers, surfacing from the depths, re-dosing the new with the old, showing the contemporary its history, shaking the foundations of anyone forgetting we stand on the shoulders of our forebearers.  This is the medicine of nostalgia.

And I savored the few drops I tasted on my tongue as I absorbed the few images and soundbites of David Frost in the wake of his passing.