Day 995

A Path by the River

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(A path by the river: A commentary on modern spiritual search by D. Patrick Miller)

“As a journalist and reviewer in the field of contemporary spirituality I receive an almost daily deluge of books and other media that promise me accelerated enlightenment, total wellness, and sure-fire, karmically sanitised methods to achieve personal wealth and power. If even a fraction of these spiritual nostrums delivered the goods, my life would be a series of ever-brightening explosions of greater consciousness, finally culminating in the full flowering of affluent guruhood. That seems to be the American way of spiritual evolution these days.

Yet my spiritual life has never felt like a fireworks display of enlightenment-bursts building to a grand finale. When I picture it, my spiritual life looks like something completely different.

Imagine that you’ve spent years building a house to shelter you from the inevitable storms, deep freezes, and hot spells of life. The house is far from perfect; in fact most of the rooms seem to need remodeling as soon as they’re finished. But at least you’ve got a home of your own. Call this home the ego, or your normal sense of self, arduously constructed from the raw materials of the psyche following a haphazard blueprint based on your personal beliefs and experiences, your likes and dislikes, your hopes and dreams.

One day you’re sitting comfortably in the living room of your ego- home and the floor suddenly drops out to reveal a rushing river where you thought you had laid a firm foundation. Hanging on for dear life to a shuddering wall mantel, you realize that the house crashing down around you has become a mortal danger, likely to

snuff you out at any moment with a flying shard of window glass or a tumbling timber. Your only hope of survival is to let go of your familiar home, drop into the river and literally “go with the flow.”

This river is the onrushing life of the soul, which cannot be long hidden or confined even in the most spacious of homes built by the ego. Falling into the inner life of the soul is commonly called a spiritual awakening, and is usually precipitated by a profound crisis that shakes apart our usual self-serving foundations, the conventional ethos of “looking out for No. 1.”

But few of us can swim for long in the soul’s turbulent waters. Sooner or later you manage to struggle to the bank of the river and pull yourself onto solid ground, gasping for breath and wondering how you’ll survive in a strange new territory. After a while you may notice that the scenery ain’t bad from this new vantage point. You get to thinking that this might be just the place to build a new, finer house than before, in sight of the magnificent river but wisely removed by a few hundred yards. Who knows – you might even start a school here to teach river-rafting.

If you do stop here to rebuild a home for your ego, it will simply never occur to you that rivers tend to flood every now and then.

If you’re not focused on rebuilding a shelter immediately, you may notice that a footpath runs by the river where you dragged yourself onshore. In one direction the path will lead to the river’s source; in the other direction, to its destination. Without knowing how you know, you realize that the source and the destination of this river are the same, and it doesn’t really matter which way you head. And so you start walking. As the days stretch into months and then years, you learn to live a life in the wild following the river.

Sometimes the going is rough; you get lost in the underbrush, losing sight of the river and discovering that you’ve walked in circles just to get back to where you were days before. Sometimes the path turns muddy and steep, and you fall back two steps for every three you climb. Sometimes you slide into the river and get swept away again for a while. All these trials are part of the spiritual journey toward selflessness, the placeless destination that you started heading for the moment you fell out of the house of ego.

If you’re handy you may learn how to build yourself a canoe out of tree bark. But after a few days of coasting along the soul’s river – justifiably proud of your ingenuity and your determination to get ahead spiritually – you realize that it’s not really the speed of this journey that matters.

What matters is the seriousness with which you are following the route of the river. If you’re really serious, you’ll find yourself laughing pretty often at how ludicrous your situation is. Because regardless of your station in life in the everyday visible world – and no matter what anyone else thinks of you, whether they call you genius, guru, or fool – you know that you are truly an inward, homeless wanderer following a river without end for no reason you can practically explain. On this journey you’ll certainly never get ahead of anyone!

This is how I picture my spiritual life nowadays – stumbling uncertainly along a rocky path somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea, pausing occasionally for attacks of helpless hilarity. Despite the wild rigours of following my path by the river, I don’t miss that old house I once built. When I think back, I remember how alone I usually felt within its walls. Sitting out by the river and watching its complex, ceaseless flow, I know that I am flowing there too, my soul inseparably mixed with all the souls who create the water of life.”

Day 981

For Rene’

Somewhere in the sea
Are you waiting for me?
In that expansive blanket
Of blue
I am waiting for you
I’ve cried these tears
They’ve made this sea
And now I cannot find you
In this sorry mess of blue.

I’ve swam to the edge to reach This tip
Of nothingness where you left your shoes for a dip
From which you haven’t returned
And now I’m left tracing
Across this sparkling blue
Where has it taken you?

My love was pure
It held no bounds
And yet nowhere, anywhere
Can you be found
I try to search with frantic eyes
Where I can turn back the fate
Of your demise?

I hold your shoes pacing
these shores
Wont you be out soon, cold,
and need your soles?
I am here, a lifeguard
Supposed to protect you
Against these waves of blue.

I pray to the Gods and the earth and the creators I don’t know
That they can bring you back here to this spot where I bow
I’ll protect you better
Try harder
Swim faster
Against this tide that pulled you out.

If I can’t find you then what is my life about?

I’m so sorry, my angel
But I’ll never give up
I’ll wait here forever till this blue dries up
I’ll sit here searching until you come back.

-by Rene’s sister, Stephanie.

Day 956

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Death seems to be all around me. It has seeped into my bones. My thoughts are filled by it. And my feelings. Yet, I don’t understand it. It is so many things in one – intrigue, loss, finality. While it is an essential part of life, why has it flooded my being? Standing under an old oak tree, my back against its barrel trunk covered in rough bark, eyes closed, I beg for a shred of the silent ancient wisdom it holds. Its roots connect me to grieving mothers everywhere. I see their shattered hearts, vanished futures and hollowed rib cages mirror mine. The globe is covered in a blue fishnet of grief.

Helen Dunmore, a poetess, writes about death, staring it in the face with calm and courage as cancer takes home in her body. She wrote this poem 12 days ago, 12 days before Death took her in her arms.

Hold out your arms

Death, hold out your arms for me
Embrace me
Give me your motherly caress,
Through all this suffering
You have not forgotten me.

You are the bearded iris that bakes its rhizomes
Beside the wall,
Your scent flushes with loveliness,
Sherbet, pure iris
Lovely and intricate.

I am the child who stands by the wall
Not much taller than the iris.
The sun covers me
The day waits for me
In my funny dress.

Death, you heap into my arms
A basket of unripe damsons
Red crisscross straps that button behind me.
I don’t know about school,
My knowledge is for papery bud covers
Tall stems and brown
Bees touching here and there, delicately
Before a swerve to the sun.

Death stoops over me
Her long skirts slide,
She knows I am shy.
Even the puffed sleeves on my white blouse
Embarrass me,
She will pick me up and hold me
So no one can see me,
I will scrub my hair into hers.

There, the iris increases
Note by note
As the wall gives back heat.
Death, there’s no need to ask:
A mother will always lift a child
As a rhizome
Must lift up a flower
So you settle me
My arms twining,
Thighs gripping your hips
Where the swell of you is.

As you push back my hair
– Which could do with a comb
But never mind –
You murmur
‘We’re nearly there.’

 

 

Day 952

A surgeon’s wife writes

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The Dark side of Doctoring is an insightful blog written by a surgeon.
The common themes that push doctors into dark despair are:

1.Loss of control.
2. Loss of support. 6am. Repeat.
3. Loss of meaning.

One would think that those who look after other people would know how to look after themselves and their colleagues. Not so at all.

Thank you Dr Eric Levi.

 

Day 944

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The Great Master

All I manage to read these days are short stories. Partly due to my abbreviated attention span and partly because the time has come when I ‘should’ start wearing reading glasses but I don’t. I get by, by increasing the font size and by reading for short periods of time. Also by squinting a lot.

‘The First Forty nine stories’ is a collection by the Nobel prize winner, Earnest Hemingway. In the preface he says, “In going where you have to go and doing what you have to do and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and out a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.”

After devouring the collection, I read up about him and was saddened to find that he suffered with depression and died of suicide. Here’s an example of the sensitivity and vulnerability of his characters and the simplicity of his story telling style. It’s called ‘Cat in the rain’.

https://soundcloud.com/user-474898075/new-recording-2

 

Day 940

The dark thing that sleeps in me

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Thomas Joiner, author of “Lonely at the Top: The high cost of Men’s success” is an avid suicide researcher. He lost his father to suicide.

His career choice is dismissed by some as : “You’re just trying to fix your own psychological problems, just like all mental health professionals.” Having psychological problems is not insulting. They are common, often treatable and nothing to be ashamed of.

Surely, heart and cancer researchers are not perceived in the same light. This is another reflection of the stigma that surrounds suicide.

Stigma is fear combined with disgust, contempt and lack of compassion – all of which flow from ignorance. We need to understand that suicide is not easy, painless, cowardly, selfish, vengeful or rash. It is not caused just by medicines, anorexia, smoking or plastic surgery. It is partly genetic and influenced by mental disorders which in themselves are agonising. That it is preventable (eg. through means restriction like bridge barriers) and treatable (talk about suicide is not cheap and should warrant specialist referral).

Once we get all that in our heads, we need to let it lead our hearts.

“I am terrified of this dark thing that sleeps in me,
All day I feel its feathery turnings,
Its malignity.”
– by Sylvia Plath

Source: ‘Myths about Suicide’ by Thomas Joiner.

Day 936

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Born to run

“Patti will observe a freight train bearing down, loaded with nitroglycerin and running quickly out of track… she gets me to the doctors and says, ‘This man needs a pill’.”

 His new memoirs speak a lot about his long battle with depression. Bruce Springsteen had a strong family history of mental illness. He didn’t do drugs as a rock star which is unusual. He was afraid  they would unmask his genetic potential for insanity but he was already suffering  with serious melancholia.

On the therapeutic value of touring he says, “You are free of yourself for those hours; all the voices in your head are gone. Just gone. There’s no room for them. There’s one voice, the voice you’re speaking in.”

His wife of 25 years, Patti understands his illness. She helps him manage it. “A lot of his work comes from him trying to overcome that part of himself”, she says.

The media often reinforces negative stereotypes of people with mental illness, depicting them as inadequate, unlikable, dangerous, confused, aggressive and unpredictable. The Boss’s devotion to many progressive causes sharply contrasts that image.

Public stigma leads to self-stigma. It stops us from talking about mental illness and worse, ask for help when we are struggling. Patti was initially apprehensive about the book in which Bruce speaks openly about how years of depression left him crushed. It would be read by millions. But then, she saw the value in that.

I watched Bruce Springsteen in 1985 at a Live Aid Concert in Delhi. I was terribly envious of the young lady he invited on to the stage from the audience to dance with him.

Long live The Boss!

“In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line”
H-Oh, Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run.”