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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

A slow poison has gripped the planet, a toxin far worse than greenhouse gases, the chemicals leaching into the water table, and those fouling the oceans. This is an invisible poison known principally by its effects: spiritual blindness, narcissism, solipsism, ideological extremism, jihadism, and unbridled capitalism.

The toxin is fear, and its manifestation is hatred and unthinking speech and action. Each day we are heavily dosed with this poison in diverse form, including:

  • news of dying soldiers and civilians,
  • renewed threats against innocence,
  • resistance to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the continued march of homophobia,
  • violence committed by opponents of “a woman’s right to choose” against clinics and licensed physicians ( including a recent case of murder in the name of “saving the unborn”),
  • Congressional appetite to invest more money in support of two wars while demonstrating cold reluctance to act swiftly in support of fellow citizens dying for want of health care insurance, and
  • unthinking enmity toward our President by those predisposed to demonize and mythologize his character, personal history, and intent out of irrational fear, and the hatred it engenders.

The radicalization of the marginalized and the psychically fragile, and the actions of the misguided few possessed by evil intent, march forward with incessant resolve to harm. It has always been so. It is the march of Mordor, Saruman, Sauron, the Ork, and the Nazgul, Ringwraiths of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is the dark advance of the White Witch and her minions in the land of Narnia imagined by C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe and its inspired sequels.

It is easy to fall into the pit of despair over these realities as one perceives the dying of the light. Yet, into the shadows burns brightly the flames of the hearts aroused by true fellowship, enlightened purpose and authentic love. This Light grows undaunted to meet the challenge and as the shadows rise so too does the Fellowship of the Ring and Gandolph, and the Pevensie children guided by Aslan of Narnia.

The Light is unquenchable and the more stark the darkness the more luminous is its radiance. The more cacaphonous the din and stench of hatred and evil, the more sonorous and mellifluous are the psalms of the loving.

It is good to dose ourselves each day in these psalms of love as a preventive against malaise, anger, and dejection, all of which weaken us and play into the Shadow’s game plan. Each tradition offers its own poetry in praise of the perpetual Light as treatment for anguished souls under siege.

Among them are the precious and illuminating songs and sayings of  Sufi masters such as Shaykh Sidi Hamza el Qadiri el Boutchichi whose admonitions to the penitent and inquiring heart include these uplifting and illuminating entreaties:

Love all creatures, whatever their religion might be or their race and opinions. Everyone has his place in the divine pattern. It is not for us to judge.

When love inhabits the heart, nothing is difficult and everything which happens to one can be turned to spiritual profit. This is because, thanks to love, the veil separating us from reality becomes ever thinner. One experiences thereby a deep joy from this proximity and one becomes flooded with a profound perception of beauty.

Everyone issues from the same light. There is no distinction.

Whether we look to the words of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or their prophets and disciples, the simple truth of the powers of real love are repeated time and again in diverse forms. Without authentic love, all expressions of spirituality are bankrupt and false. Wisdom begins and ends in the heart aroused by true compassion — not the usual and all to easy sentimentality and saccharine Hallmark-card expressions typically exchanged on Valentine’s day, but the love expressed through true Knowing of the Other as Oneself.

Indeed, let us be each other’s “Valentine”!

© 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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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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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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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“:

51

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?

52

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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α

the Earth has no compassion: shaking grounds, rushing floods, and fires mourn no losses,

so another week thus passes on our fragile vessel, tears of paper tossed by monstrous forces;

now to picking up the pieces, burying children, moms and dads, all numbing sorrow and lamentation,

we, the conscience of nature, her soul, her mind, her mortal consolation.

β

grim news, dark times, and sickening scenes of death to brothers in the road,

how can such things happen, to the homeless poor, the desperate, already bearing such a heavy load;

our broken hearts and eyes scarred by all the bloody views mean nothing, add no solace, serve no good,

rise up troubled hearts, stand tall in the face of misery, do all for medicine, water and food!

Ω

my brothers and sisters are dead and dying. Oh Lord, what more can I do?

[ A poem dedicated to the Haitian people in this their time of tragedy and recovery. May they find consolation, well-being, and renewal.]

© 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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Love and Pain by Edvard Munch

Today, we went to see an excellent, though disturbing, Broadway musical: Next to Normal, a Tony Award winning rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, music by Tom Kitt of High Fidelity fame, and directed by Michael Greif (who also directed the original production of Rent). It focuses on a family, their daily interactions and conflicts, and the anguish that lies just beneath the surface.

A married couple, Diana and Dan, go through the motions of being in a deeply loving and close relationship as they pursue their clockwork efficiencies and complete their daily rounds (10 minutes of sex in the morning, little by way of meaningful communications about what people are thinking, feeling, and experiencing, they shower, dress, Dan goes off to work, Diana does many domestic tasks with clear anxiety, emptiness, and disgust reaching a boiling point, and the cycle repeats the next day). Diana and Dan have a college aged daughter, Natalie,  a very bright and successful student, obsessive, with not much of  a social life.

The dark truth underneath the early action is Diana’s manic-depression, and her delusions about interacting with her 18-year-old son, their first-born, who  died at 8 months of age of an “intestinal blockage”.  [ His memory is portrayed as another character, the son, Gabe, as the 18-year-old with whom Diana delusionally interacts.] As she goes from one wardrobe of pharmaceuticals to another, all miserable failures, she finally gives up on all pills, feels briefly like her old self again, and then attempts suicide.  Diana receives electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT)  next, prompted by the family’s desperation to find relief from the emotional torture of the 18-year-old open wound.

The ECT disrupts Diana’s memory so extensively that she loses all recollection of even being married for 18 years to Dan, who has stood faithfully by her side, and of having a daughter, Natalie. Slowly, her memories begin to return, but she senses a missing piece, a hole somewhere deep inside of her. At a critical moment in the play, she suddenly recalls the loss of her son, and Dan then reluctantly shares the details of his death. Diana’s delusion of seeing her son as an 18 year old returns, and her psychiatrist recommends another round of ECT. However, this time, she refuses, deciding instead to take her chances, knowing full well that there are no guarantees. Ultimately, she decides to leave the house, her husband and daughter and goes off on her own to work things out: a decision devastating to Dan, though he and Natalie find a way to carry on, as they hope for her eventual return.

The play is a very sincere and emotionally compelling piece of theater with music well matched to the action. We were all deeply moved by it. There were few dry eyes in the theater. The reason it had such an impact is that many could identify with one character or another. Those married for a long time could easily relate to awakening one day to find that you can’t recall the man or woman you were when you were in school and chose to marry, or the person you fell in love with when you made that youthful choice. You don’t know how it happened, but now you tire quickly, and everything seems a chore.

In addition, grief strikes every family with the loss of loved ones eventually. For some, recovery never quite happens. Many can also relate to the cornucopia of medications prescribed in our times to deal with it all ( e.g., xanax, valium, wellbutrin, elavil, celexa, leaxapro, paxil, prozac, zoloft, effexor, cymbalta, trazodone, and on and on) and their potential side effects which may include: weight gain, weight loss, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, constipation, bladder problems, insomnia, stiff neck, headache, etc.

Only upon dumping all of her pills, does Diana feel like herself again, but her protracted and unresolved grief and depression reach a peak, and she tries to commit suicide. Many people I treat, friends and acquaintances, suffer from a variety of mood disorders ( often major depression). Combinations of psychotherapy and medication sometime bring a modicum of relief, but the battle is long and hard, and there are no definitive “once and for all” answers. In such instances, we especially need to broaden our view as caring for “souls” and not merely treating mind and brain alone. This is the proper place for spiritual dialogues wherein we face our existential terrors together.

The healing professions have established a litany of proscriptions about how therapy is best conducted. For the most part, the training includes an admonition to keep an objective “clinical” distance from the person being treated, and not to share too much of yourself. This builds into the psychotherapeutic regimen a professionally schooled institutional neurosis that can only make matters worse. This is what the depressed person already experiences : a sense of alienation, disconnection, a growing sense of being “a burden”, the object of critical attention, failure to find a reason to get out of bed, a loss of meaning, and lost intimacy. Those who suffer from this so often feel as if they are walking in a fog, going through various motions that are an all-too-thin shield against the strong desire to scream.

While it is imperative that therapists  know why they might share something about themselves with a client, to guard against projecting their own needs and psychic material, this guideline, blindly applied, can too easily appeal to half-trained professionals who carry unexamined complexes into such conversations. They may unwittingly “go through the motions of caring” in the name of being professional, while not really caring at all. They are, after all, too often, in their own minds, treating “patients:” a word that itself makes them more objects of care than subjects of authentic regard.

That presumed objectivity becomes too easily  a power trip and, potentially, a professionally sanctioned act of violence dressed up as treatment. So, how can hope be returned to the depressed and the grieving? How can we help each other relate to the shadow times and the existential chiaroscuro that we inevitably all face as we age? How do we come to grips with life when it loses all its taste; when, as said in the play to Dan by Diana, ” You say you know what I’m going through?! Do you know what it feels like to be dead while still alive?”

The answer lies in accepting the fact that there may not be one. It just may be that we will struggle throughout or lives. The roller-coaster of life has moments of quiet with many troubling and emotionally tumultuous punctuations. We are emotional creatures first. Some people are especially sensitive, and these are the souls that suffer greatest anguish.

Part of the darkness of depression is the belief by the depressed that they are defective, diseased, abnormal, incapable of functioning, too fragile to survive. The way out is to stop looking so hard for a way out. The sensitive soul has a faculty that is powerful and it can be put to work in response to the darkness. It is imagination, and the very capacity to experience life’s emotional challenges in exquisite detail.

While medication certainly has its place in acute circumstances, when one simply needs the help, it is not an answer. The answer lies within. It is a spiritual matter. So, in the face of the monster of dark days, how do we claw our way back:

  • Express it – in words, sculpture, painting, movement, song; run toward it, not away from it, since there is no way to outrun ourselves;
  • Embrace the beautiful – whatever you find beautiful, surround yourself with it; throw rose petals on your bed, open up all the shades and let the light stream in, play the music that creates pleasure, find fragrances that lift you, get a massage ( best from someone you love);
  • Act “As-If” – as if you are already beyond the darkness and out in the light, already embracing the wonder and joy of being alive, seeing yourself as strong, and as an artist ready to discover something new;
  • Adventure – plan an outing to a place you haven’t been, look it up online, read about it, visualize it;
  • Spend time talking to others like yourself – create or join a group of people who share the experience of these days of listlessness and inner pitch, talk about it all, describe it all, hold each other in a place made safe by authentic fellowship and friendship;
  • Examine it – with a professional who can engage with it as a matter of life’s complexity, not solely as a disease that warrants a bucket of pills, and who can join you in finding a new language to apply to acknowledging what you’re feeling without minimizing, labelling, making you feel small when you are truly grand, or merely getting frustrated when the challenge simply refuses to go away.

We have become an over-diagnosed and over-medicated society, and we’ve come to believe that we are our diagnoses. No! Hell no! It’s time to reclaim our souls. Enough already.

Look at the lives of the poets. So many of them lived complicated and often anguished lives, and they used their creativity to make beauty out of dark days. Look at the philosophers. Many found the courage not to run to pills, but to grapple, hand to hand, with the complexities of living. They were courageous in thinking through to all the edges. The answer lies in putting aside the belief that we are ‘”not supposed” to be depressed, to grieve, or be anxious, lost, and confused. We compound life’s real challenges by adding self-denigration and self-loathing to the mix. Let us find our voice with each other’s help. In doing so, life will still have its dark days, but the burden will be easier to carry.

The poet, Anne Sexton, beautifully captures the spirit that helps her work through her pain in the poem, The Fury of Rainstorms. She describes depression with such emotionally honest precision, along with the alchemical moment when she transforms it into a life-affirming choice.

First, she moves in, and then, she moves on.

The rain drums down like red ants,
each bouncing off my window.
The ants are in great pain
and they cry out as they hit
as if their little legs were only
stitched on and their heads pasted.
And oh they bring to mind the grave,
so humble, so willing to be beat upon
with its awful lettering and
the body lying underneath
without an umbrella.
Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.

In the spirit of the Broadway play, it would be good if we all aspired to a life “next to normal.”

© 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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Dry river bed of the Rio Grande, at Big Bend National Park, with the United States on the left and Mexico on right. Photo Credit: SCEhardt, available in the public domain

The moments of special dread for writers, composers, scientists, artists, and mathematicians are the mental “dry spells.” A fertile period of easy flow when, for the writer,  the words seem to come readily with a life all their own, are invariably followed by times when it looks as if s/he’s run out of ideas. These gaps can last for what seem interminable periods and are often experienced as deeply frustrating, frightening, lonely, and as occasions of depression and shaken confidence. In these desert times, with no oasis in sight, anxious hours of work bare little, if any, tangible fruit.

Many artists have talked about these lacunae in inspiration, but one came to mind tonight that puts it all together with unparalleled spiritual insight: poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote in his poem, The Poet:

O hour of my muse: why do you leave me,
Wounding me by the wingbeats of your flight?
Alone: what shall I use my mouth to utter?

How shall I pass my days? And how my nights?

I have no one to love. I have no home.
There is no center to sustain my life.
All things to which I give myself grow rich
and leave me spent, impoverished, alone.

As only Rilke can, these few stanzas capture the sense of being abandoned by the inner voices of inspiration for protracted periods of seeming “emptiness.” However, the anxiety surrounding these dormant intervals are no less significant and pregnant with meaning as the bulbs planted late in the growing season that will surely rise in their full splendor come the Spring. These dry spells are zones of incubation. Consciousness doesn’t take a holiday, nor does inspiration leave us. Instead, the ground of inspiration for the next creative foray is being refreshed in the winter cycle. As the mythic Persephone must descend into the underworld until the following Spring, so too the depth of the later expression wholly depends on the fullness of the Winter’s descent.

The anguish that we experience when the muse goes silent betrays our narcissistic attachment to the times of fruitful expression. We see the words or the notes or the equations flowing through us and, after a time, we grow too fond of our reflection in the words, the musical phrase or the beautifully elegant mathematical expressions that never really belonged to us. We serve as the vessels.

We fall in love with our reflection in the “pool” of flowing ideas and sounds and images. It is our nature to become thus attached. When we do, we are actually breaking off our open channel to the collective unconscious. In that moment of ego ownership, the river becomes blocked upstream and so the waters begin to run shallow until they go dry altogether.

Rather than being a time for anguish, worry, and melancholic insecurity, the dry spells are gifts to be celebrated. Instead of loss, they are a corrective in the psyche for these attachments. The winter cycle forces  a time of incubation and relaxed opening to the root system of all ideas and images.

Much like sleep and dreaming, the dry times serve the important purpose of allowing ideas to settle in, self-organize, await the right moment when new combinations and synergies are sparked, and the springtime of the mind returns with all of its luscious diversity. As spiritual practice, replacing consternation with celebration when the well runs dry quickens the soul’s journey to penetrate ever deeper toward the Source.

In his poem, A Walk, Rilke alternatively captures the fullness of living in the time just before the inspiration and revelation, in the in-between, in the time of waiting in wonder:

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Here is the paradox of the creative soul. The greater the time spent in the desert is directly proportional to the depth of the revelations that will surely follow for the heart that remains fully opened. Isn’t it interesting that in the mythology of the church much is made of the 40 days and nights that Jesus spent in the desert where he was tempted. Only then, was he ready to assume the role of a soter. The writer’s priesthood ( and that of all creative artists) is purified and enriched in the crucible of those times when nothing seems worth writing about, the words won’t come, and the river runs shallow.

Then, suddenly, the skies open, and it rains again.

© 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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His name is Nicholas: a man who was known in his times for having given his own wealth to those in need, and to be a tenacious protector of children. Under Diocletian, Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith and then served as an attendee at the Council of Nicaea after his release. Legends swirl around Nicholas as a kindly and generous man with a fervent and unyielding faith. Many of these legends speak of miracles performed both before and after his death ( e.g., raising young murdered adolescents back to life, and restoring a kidnapped child to his parents).

In time, Nicholas would become almost synonymous with the mythic Santa Claus ( Father Christmas, the Nordic Tomte or Nisse, Pere Noel, Sinterklass, Pere Fouettard, and Kris Kringle). What is the basis for this enduring image that has been so emblematic of the Season? The good and kindly St.Nicholas represents the best of humanity. He had a large heart, placed others first, and sacrificed for the needs of a greater good based in faith and principles. Often rendered as corpulent, I am reminded of Budai, the laughing Buddha.

The Fat Buddha, as he is known in the West, or the Buddha Maitreya and Phra Sanghachai in Thailand, carries a cloth sack and, though poor, is totally content. He is revered as the enlightened embodiment of true contentment, wisdom, a generous and open heart, and the very meaning of Zen. In Zen Buddhism, Budai is himself a Koan: Asked, “what is the meaning of Zen?” Budai put down his bag. When then asked,”How does one realize it?” He picked it up again.

St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and Budai set the imagination ablaze with wonder at enduring simple truths that are, as always is the case, harder to reliably demonstrate than to extol, sing praises about, and capture in verse, story, and Seasonal trappings:

  1. All that we need to become we already are.
  2. The laughter of a kind heart heals deep wounds.
  3. One’s bag is full when it is empty.
  4. Openness to all means no stereotyping, no intolerance, all loving and spacious regard for all sentient beings.
  5. A smile is a salve for injury, pain, and disappointment.
  6. The child’s imagination is our first and truest state of being – the state of amazement.
  7. Heaven is now. If not now, most definitely not later. Make it so.
  8. Give of yourself. All else is a proxy for that.

It is said that if you rub the Budai’s belly, it brings good luck. His girth is large not from over-eating, but as a result of taking into himself the poison and darkness and evil all around, and he laughs them into oblivion. So, our greatest act of engaged spirituality is to be the inverse of the three monkeys – i.e., see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Instead, we are called to see it and dissolve it in compassion, hear it and make music where there is only rude, discordant noise, and speak of it so that the evil is named and can then be “called out.”

The Spirit of Nicholas/ Sinterklaas and Budai are celebrated with special vigor in these next 12 days. The archetype of the Healer will certainly be in my mind throughout the season.

May you and yours know deep and enduring peace, true contentment, laughter that ends suffering, and the full measure of being close to those who are richer for the fact that you have shared yourself with them.

Merry ( & Happy) Christmas!

© 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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