Archive for January, 2010

Clean sheets, smelling of recent washing and the touch of cotton to sooth us,

Feet curling to get the full experience of being wrapped inside safe haven;

Skin and fabric kiss in recognition of right meeting and prepare for sleep,

No worries, no tears, no fears, waking soon into the deep;

Rise up great heart, my soul’s Odysseus, and vigilant commander,

I hear you in me, I feel your presence, and I know we are One;

There is nothing to lose, to loose, to miss, to secure, to nail down, or to hide,

All is moving on to someplace new, something different, ever greater,

yet  appearing always ordinary;

Too few songs are sung in praise of sheets and the loving work they surely do,

Embracing so that we too may embrace the great surround in the boldest tenderness.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I am lonely without you,

I am unable to breath as if a great weight sits on my chest.

I fret at the dying of the light and the long shadows,

I tremble at the creaking boards under my feet and the cold.

When it ends will you be near me or away,

Will I whither unbeknownst to all who know me?

Or, will the time be gentle, a sweeter passage to the other side,

Where the ocean meets the sky and the invisible temple doors are swung open?

How I quiver and wonder and writhe under the spell of days I’ve come to treasure,

How plaintive I’ve become for solace and consolations.

My sweet lover, fair partner, true, and constant friend,

Excuse my melancholy dreaming, a rambling ignorance of an aging man.

For truly it is not so dramatic as emotions frame it,

In no measure so dark as this darkness I project.

It is the sickness, True beloved, the dis-ease of thinking to preserve,

Where the cure is letting go to wild, untamed adventure.

It is the sickness of pensive rumination, a fiery, fevered imagination, and

The great forgetting of where I’ve been, of who I am, and of where I am going!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The cold water in the clear glass
invites me to drink and be refreshed.

It asks for nothing and gives everything and exists to become me.

I lift the glass and my thirst is quenched
before reaching my lips.

This is fitting as I was once cold water and I was once clear glass.

( a poem inspired by the Persian poet, Hafiz).

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Liminal consciousness is that odd state when we emerge from sleep but not fully. In this state, we cannot be sure if our experience was dream or reality. In a real way, this is the truest state that we can experience. The answer to the question: Did it happen or did I dream, is yes. Such is the story of our lives. The liminal state of mind is a perfect rendering of our existential dilemma. We are and yet we are not.

Mind creates moments of compelling and credible theater that are indistinguishable from “real” events. For mind, they are certainly real. We have all the emotions we would in the scenario conjured in the dream state. My wife dreamt yesterday that she heard mens voices somewhere in the house as she slept in it alone while I traveled. She awoke and listened and wasnt sure if she had imagined the voices, or if she had heard them. She locked the door and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

I dreamt some time ago that I was falsely arrested and awoke to fear that criminal charges hung over me. On another occasion, I heard the voice of my mother, now deceased, calling my name. It was audible; clear as a bell. I experienced it as coming into my ears from outside my room. Dreaming or real?

The character of Segismundo in the play, “Life is A Dream” ( La Vida es Sueno) by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, says, at the close of the play:

I dream that I am here
of these imprisonments charged,
and I dreamed that in another state
happier I saw myself.
What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest profit is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are nothing but dreams.

Each day, I imagine what people are thinking. I hear their thoughts and those thoughts are mine. Are they thinking these thoughts too, imagining mine? I interact with people who share my language, yet do I know if they hear what I say as I hear it?

On holidays, the air is different. Saturdays are very different from Sundays and most certainly both are different from Mondays and Fridays. Of course, they are all just days. The day doesn’t know that it’s Saturday. The day is the day, and yet it isn’t.

The diurnal cycle defines so much of life. Night follows day but that isn’t real either. The Sun always shines somewhere. Night is always present somewhere. The sun’s rising and setting are not real, but a mere convention. I approach my next birthday. I am a year older. Right? Meaning what? We enter our forties and we think differently about our lives. We hit the fifties and we say “more han half of my life is behind me.” Says who?

We dream ourselves alive. We dream ourselves happy. We dream ourselves sad. We dream ourselves into states of  anxiety. We dream of endings. What we prophesy comes true.

When am I dreaming and when am I wake? Maybe I am awake AND dreaming now.

Oh my! I am confused.

Or am I?

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

Exactly! The Beatles’ have said it better than anyone to my knowledge so far!

This is a perfect illustration of the via negativa. The truth about all of us is that we wrap ourselves in fictions and become so enamored of them that we are nothing without them. We thrust about in search of purpose, meaning, identity. None of it matters. It’s all fine and means nothing. If we see through it, we see the game of humanity. We think ourselves into being this and not that when we are both and we are neither.

When I was a small child I didn’t need an expensive Hasbro toy to be content: a spoon was an aircraft, a large box was a hospital, and then, I just put them away or tossed them. On to the next exciting adventure. None of it was real anyway. It was just fun. It didn’t matter. There was no concept of failure. It was a perfectly meaningful pursuit.

We are all too serious. We don’t laugh enough. We are absurd and we fail to enjoy that fact. We seek after meaning 24/7. We even seek after not seeking. We sit on special pillows to meditate, burn incense, and wear robes and none of it really matters one iota. The only undeniable truth is we are here and we are all part of One thing. The mystery is precious. We are precious and nothing special. We are creatures. Let us love what that means. We imagine. Let us love what we imagine while knowing that none of it is real.

There was a time when I was not here. I was not conscious. I was non-existent. It didn’t matter. Then, I happened. So, now I am here and I want so desperately to hang on to that but I can’t. I will die and then I will be as I once was. So, I pass on through, but “I” don’t really exist at all. Just another fiction. So, what really matters? Loving and being until I am not.

What then? Who knows. What a rush this odd and bizarre life of running and seeking after what isn’t real when, in fact, we are already complete. Whole. Everything we need to be. Right here. Right now. Just as we are.

Let us laugh and weave our fictions together. Share them and smile and recognize that there is no enlightenment, no satori, no epiphany, no heaven later, no heaven now, which is enlightenment, satori, epiphany and heaven.

There is no next rung on the ladder to greatness. There is nothing to add. There is nothing we need to be. Let us delight in the garden of possibility, chance and happenstance. Oh, the heady mixture of thinking ourselves grander than we are while failing  to see that we are already quite grand.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Rousseau's Dream

So much of life is fantasy. We delude ourselves, collude with the self, and allude the Self. We play with existential dilemmas, anguish over them, turn ourselves inside-out, and hold ourselves too often incompetent in the face of life’s drama. This is the dark side of our imaginative capacities. We are creative spirits and we delight in the construction of new worlds including those in which we are hero and anti-hero. This is all thoroughly beautiful as long as we stay in touch with what we are doing.

So, where’s the problem? The biggest source of our suffering is rooted in forgetting that we made it all up. It was Plato who said: ” All is remembering.”

I am a novel full of intersecting plots and diverse characters ( from simple to complex, wise to foolish, grand to petty, beautiful to ugly, well-meaning and kind to selfish and misanthropic), places ( real, imagined, and an amalgam of the two), and times (the present, a distant future, or an, as-if remembered, past). This is the Kabuki theater of the mind and the manufacture of selves.

So, it’s no wonder that we love going to the theater and the movies, and enjoy the art of story-telling and having stories told to us. The state of play of our condition can be perhaps best assessed by watching the changing face of the Best Seller Lists, what makes it big at the box office, what thrives and what dies in dramatic television series. It is all the projected stuff of our nature externalized on paper, celluloid/ acetate, stage, or digital media.

So what do we then do when our own stories of self intersect with those of others, and the grand collective, interactive story that our cultures and world is ever actively weaving? What are we to do when we find ourselves caught up in challenges that we didn’t make, but that others and other forces seemingly conjure up for us?

  1. Think Less, Move More: It would be good to dance. If you are able, dance, free form or otherwise. Get lost in movement and let the cognitive circuits cool down. It can be as simple as a brisk walk, but a dance with more complex movement would be best. Tai chi or Yoga would also fit the bill.
  2. Leap To Faith: It is important to take a leap and put the logical machinery aside. Note that this is not a leap “OF” faith, or blind belief, but a leap “TO” faith, a choice to suspend analysis and go with gut instinct. If writing, switch to poetry. If not, vocalize what you feel, and know that you know what to do even if you think you don’t.
  3. Consult the Sacred Scribe Within: Many have discovered the virtues of “proprioceptive writing,’ automatic writing, or stream of consciousness writing and these are powerful tools. In addition, paying close attention to dreams, what Erich Fromm once referred to as the “forgotten language” in his book of the same name, is perfect practice. In doing the latter, watch the images. Remember, that the one who writes your dreams, the Divine Inner scribe, the Beloved, already knows all the secrets and wants to show them to you.
  4. Laugh: Find cause to really laugh because the only cure for the tragic in life, as Shakespeare knew so well, is high comedy.

American poet Walt Whitman sums it up beautifully in his “Song of Myself“:


The past and present wilt–I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?


The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

In telling the tale of ourselves, let us write the story forward with exuberance.  Embrace the grays and shadows as punctuating edges and frames for our colors. Let us abandon ourselves to the weaving we do on our looms of song and image and weave from the heart.

It is a great solace to know that the grand writer, song-maker, choreographer, and artist who resides in our souls, who is our soul, already knows how it all turns out. We pose the riddles for which we already have the answers but, as a matter of right order and creative decorum, it is a compromise with infinity that we feign ignorance of them ( forgetting) lest the Agatha Christie mystery of life lose its suspenseful and electrifying savor.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Colliding Galaxies

I was awakened this morning by the sound of a serious car crash on the road beyond the fence in our backyard. It was early and it was raining heavily. I startled awake and then ran to the window to see only one car with the passenger-side, front right, completely collapsed in toward the driver. There was an eerie silence.

I called 911 and reported what I could see. Then, I noticed my next door neighbour running toward his fence. He leapt over it and headed out toward the driver. Based on the commotion, I assumed there were injuries. I was heartsick at the thought; a knot in the pit of my stomach.

My thoughts ran quickly to the kind of car I was seeing and all those that I knew and the cars they drive. My niece was due to stop by, and so I immediately wanted to rule out that she was involved. Fortunately, she gad already arrived at school and was not due to travel to see us until later. Nonetheless, it was all terribly unnerving.

The sounds, the continuous horn from the severely damaged car, signaling a bad accident, and then the quiet, brought forward a flood of memories: one of losing my younger sister many years ago in an accident by which I just “happened to be passing by” on one of the many major highways here. All the horror of discovering that a loved one was involved, the trip to the hospital, the cold demeanor of the physician telling me that my sister was dead, and my mother, who was driving, and her inconsolable state.

Then, my thoughts ran to wondering about the age of the people involved and their condition, whether their families were quickly notified, and how all of this would work out for them.

So we see, in a single flash, how the world goes from quiet to horrifying, and back to quiet again. I thought of Haiti and the series of aftershocks and the terror of people buried under rubble and those searching for them. There is no time to waste. Life must be lived now.

The Beloved must be felt and seen both in bright light and in the darkest night. There can be no waiting, no delay, no putting off until a presumed tomorrow. Either we wake up now or we might never do so.

We need nothing more than we have. We are all that we have to be. All it takes is to open ourselves up totally in complete vulnerability to the Lover who calls out to us all day and all night. The Beloved is found both in the Heart, and in the wisdom of the poetic resonance in the mind, as we embrace words that point the way.

But, the words are just pointers. Consummation is not about words. We kiss. We embrace. We touch. We are one. We feel each other’s warmth.

That’s all. That’s everything.

We are as the flute, and the music in us is from thee;
we are as the mountain and the echo in us is from thee.

We are as pieces of chess engaged in victory and defeat:
our victory and defeat is from thee, O thou whose qualities are comely!

Who are we, O Thou soul of our souls,
that we should remain in being beside thee?

We and our existences are really non-existence;
thou art the absolute Being which manifests the perishable.

We all are lions, but lions on a banner:
because of the wind they are rushing onward from moment to moment.

Their onward rush is visible, and the wind is unseen:
may that which is unseen not fail from us!

Our wind whereby we are moved and our being are of thy gift;
our whole existence is from thy bringing into being.

Poems by Rumi, Masnavi Book I, 599-607

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Vincent Van Gogh, Corridor in the Asylum

I meet different groups of executives each week somewhere in the world and in many very different hotel and conference environments.  Over time, you become a connoisseur of learning spaces and hope that the next one will be the one to beat. Sometimes, the rooms are magnificently well-suited to learning and dialogue but, more often, they aren’t, and I have to somehow make it right.

In spite of the design variability, the one thing all conference sites have in common, however, are corridors: the channels that “set the stage” as you walk from one part of the building toward your meeting room. Corridors are taken for granted. We walk almost obliviously through them with  focus on what lies just up ahead.

Despite the forgotten qualities of corridors, they are important physical passageways designed to stretch time between awakening and the formal meeting. Corridors extend time to adjust the brain to  coming social experience, offer a moment’s solitude before a time of energetic interaction, and a chance to get centered. All this is the preamble to the coming transition to more public space, not as easily transited but demanding shared thinking and astute listening. But, what is the impact on the psyche if the room at the end of the corridor is itself a corridor.

The hotel in which I stayed last week in Barcelona for a leadership development meeting, hosted us in their only conference room. It was, in a word, peculiar. While I appreciated the room-length array of windows with all the light they provided, it disappointingly looked out directly on the less than picturesque sidewalk and street just outside the front of the hotel.

The really odd feature, is that this room was exceedingly narrow. We accommodated 14 people, but, we had to get close enough to the front of the room to see the slides. The room  looked like it was once an actual corridor converted into a conference room. When I first laid eyes on it, I thought the space would be cramped width-wise, but we made it work out.

The hotel design itself was eccentric and the usual amenities were absent (though the people were always affable and hospitable):

  • no iron or ironing boards available in the rooms at all, just an ironing service for a fee;
  • a bed lower to the ground than I’ve seen in a very long while;
  • a mattress just slightly more comfortable than lying down on the floor;
  • very lean non-supportive pillows;
  • an oddly-tiled floor that was always cold;
  • wireless internet but for a hefty daily fee;
  • no room service until 9PM; and
  • no business center, or terminal to print out a boarding pass for one’s flight.

I have, over the years, stepped into a range of quirky meeting and hotel environments. For this very reason, I insist on seeing the room the night before I use it. In this way, I can consider what I might need to do to make it feel as comfortable as possible, and conducive to relaxed dialogue.

Adding insult to injury in this instance, I found the room laid out as one large rectangular table in boardroom style. This was way more formal than I had envisioned, so we redid it using table rounds that sat 4 people each.

As I look back on it, many similar experiences come to mind of hotel environments reserved for sessions like this one. I invariably spent several hours rearranging tables, flipchart easels, thinking through where to place various wall hangings, set up a table for materials, one for a coffee, tea and snack station, and a reading desk with pertinent books. It is time spent visualizing alternatives and playing with one after another potential room configuration.

It occurs to me that the frequent surprise I get on arrival to a site, and on first entering the assigned conference room, presents considerable spiritual value. In the 21st Century, leaders need to absorb and adapt to increasing amounts of uncertainty, and do so at ever faster rates. Having this variability present itself so often, makes necessary the very mindset needed in these times: optimal flexibility, resilience, creativity, visualization capacity, and realistic optimism. Without these, change would be an exercise in continuously feeling insecure in the face of emerging realities, and forever a cause for melancholy.

The more I think about all this, the more I realize that I have come to simply expect curve balls, shocks, design eccentricities, and simply odd spaces. Of course, deviations from expectation is all the greater when traveling internationally.

It’s all good, though, and presents a chance to grow ever more unflappable, innovative, think faster, and learn to enjoy the smuzzle puzzles. As we navigate change and surprise, we have the refining opportunity to hone our inner “MacGyver,” and take on the perpetually shifting sands with grace and the heart of  adventure and invention.

“The great thing is, if one can, to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions in one’s “own” or “real” life. The truth is, of course, that what one regards as interruptions are precisely one’s life.” C.S. Lewis

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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January 18, 2010: Postscript to a Quiet Day in Barcelona

This has been a day of solitary preparation for the next three days of high performance. It was a good day and it ended well. Every so often, dining alone is a special pleasure: no conversation, just the extraordinary sensual mix of fine wine and food while reading a range of science news clips. There is simply not enough written in appreciation of the heady blend of wonderful tastes, aromas and cerebral inspirations.

In my solitary hour of dining and reading, I learned:

  • Antarctic ice is not melting as swiftly as feared (for now).
  • Genuine interest in learning is a natural antidote for fear and anxiety.
  • Curiosity-driven research was a central mission of the “Islamic House of Wisdom” in Baghdad in the 8th and 9th Centuries.
  • Neurons in different parts of the brain resonate at critical thresholds like tuning forks; a fact considered by researchers as suggesting a quantum entanglement underlying our richly textured and cross-sensory memories.
  • Information is addictive for evolutionary reasons and could be dangerous since its wide dissemination via the internet could be misused by those with terrorist intent ( e.g., open access to the genome of the 1918 flu virus).

What a wonderful dinner! It was a veritable religious experience to have great aromas, tastes, and new knowledge converge across a 90 minute slow-food extravaganza. What an exquisite quantum entanglement!

I am certain that I will long associate, no doubt for years to come, tonight’s rainbow of flavors with bits of new knowledge that all converge to form a story.

What leaps to mind, as I think over the day, and my solitary meal, is an apocryphal legend attached to the character of the Parisian woman of letters, Madame de Sévigné. As the legend goes, de Sévigné’s last words on her death-bed, who loved afternoon tea and superb dining, was simply and delightfully:

Bring on the dessert!

Well, maybe too much knowledge has a down side, much as too much good food comes with a literal and figurative price to pay. But, for now, I can only say with passion and respect, amen, Madame.

I’ll take the chocolate gelato with chocolate syrup!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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While initially reluctant, I am now a devoted fan of Skype. The cost for making contact with family and friends across the globe is minimal, and the video capability is a real benefit. My positive view of this technology traces to my son’s departure for college in Iowa, followed by my daughter, and then my son’s decision to move to South Korea to teach for a year. Being a very close family, having them so far away from us would have been very difficult without it.

As I say this, I am especially thinking about the video function. Today was my son’s birthday. I am traveling on business in Barcelona, but a call to his Skype phone made it possible to see and talk to him, wish him well on his special day, and catch up. I am able to do the same in keeping in touch with my wife back home and stay connected to traveling colleagues. All this for pennies on the dollar, so, what’s not to love?

I am, of course, sharing nothing particularly new. Many have used Skype for years, and all this must come across as a yawn to them as it is very much yesterday’s news. In sharing it here now, I do so with interest in the psychological and spiritual impact of  “voip” technology.

I have weekly conversations with executives about the pressures related to the 24/7 nature of mobile phone/Blackberry/ iPhone telephony. There is now no place that the phones do not go. We see them at dinner tables in restaurants, at concerts, Broadway shows, in hospitals, at Church services, and in restrooms. Mobil phones have completely penetrated all public and private places and people complain of having no true down time as there is always a flood of email to read, though few show real motivation to curb dependence on their mobile devices.

My wife was one of the great critics of the cellphone intrusion until she recently became the proud owner of an iPhone. Now, she is a maven of the endless “apps” and can be seen in a parked car, in bed, in the living room, or a doctor’s office, amusing herself with one or another clever game on her phone. We are all quickly learning to live with carpal tunnel syndrome.

I, too, have my favorite apps and know the pleasure of wasting time getting engrossed in them. All of this has a place. The key is avoiding the excess that consumes thinking time and real conversation. We need to manage the technology, not be managed by it. Having said that, voip telephony used to stay in touch, when face to face conversation is just impossible, is a blessing.

Psycho-spiritually, it is a deep comfort to see a loved one: their unique smile, gestures,  and eyes when they speak. Email is altogether unsatisfying by comparison. It raises more questions than it usually answers. I feel the same way about text messages that are easily misunderstood (especially given the culture of new acronyms used to abbreviate often used phrases).

Distances do not seem so great when we can regularly talk by video-phone. The low-cost of Skype also makes real conversation of even hours possible and not the necessarily short mobile phone chats that would cost a fortune when traveling internationally, or the short email bursts that can, at best, only give  quick reassurance. I don’t get twitter, or micro-blogging. It seems to me these short notices of pedestrian activity add little and merely feed the narcissistic need to be “tracked” by others. Or, maybe it too provides a sense of connection in an increasingly fragmented world.

I come back to what seems to me the essential need: use it all mindfully with a clear sense of what value it creates, and watch its addictive properties. In the meantime, viva “la Skype”! I am grateful to be able to stay in touch with my family when on one of my frequent business trips.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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