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Posts Tagged ‘sacred ordinary’

Norman’s Woe is a coastal reef in Gloucester Massachusetts immortalized by the tragic poem ” The wreck of the Hesperus” written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It tells of the captain of a ship, the Hesperus, who met a fierce storm off the Eastern coast of New England. His daughter was onboard. Other senior crewman offered their good counsel but the captain was filled with hubris and refused to hear it.

In trying to save his daughter from the ravaging seas, he had her strapped to the mast to avoid the threat of seeing her swept overboard by the tall and ferocious waves crashing on deck. Horribly, all perished, including the girl, who drowned as the ship capsized and, having been tied to the mast, was unable to free herself and possibly survive the calamity.

The tale of an innocent’s death and that of all crewman on the reef is a cautionary fable loosely based on a devastating blizzard that in fact did occur off the coast of New England in 1839. The story rings in my ears as I read the wonderful just published book, Breakfast with Socrates, by Robert Rowland Smith.

In this breezy and very accessible retelling of the legacy of philosophy, Smith places each of many of the great philosophers in the midst of our everyday experiences, and we get an opportunity to briefly “dine with them” and imagine conversation on the questions with which we struggle as we navigate the mysteries, triumphs, and travails of our lives. All of this got me to thinking about the enormous treasure trove that is the classics.

Each of the great books, treasures that have withstood the test of time, offer enlightened and ever fresh commentary on our condition. Each of the voices from the ancient choir of the lovers of wisdom offer free counsel to anyone with the courage and mental fortitude to embrace it. Yet, the overwhelming lack of interest, generally speaking, in the classical library remains an undeniable reality.

The cry for relevance, practical plug-and-play utility, and small-minded self-help prescriptions is deafening. It is as if two meals are served: One a banquet of culinary genius, gourmet foods and great wines, and all for free, and it is rejected; while the other,  a grease-stained bag of fast food burgers costing far more than it’s worth, offering unwholesome calories, and containing excessive undisclosed filler materials and meat shot full of antibiotics and hormones, is the one hastily chosen and enthusiastically consumed.

It is time to go back, all of us, regardless of how well versed we are in the classics in general and the writings of the great philosophers in particular, and set up a renewed daily diet of wholesome calories. Furthermore, here’s the irony, like the free gourmet meal, the classics can be downloaded for free.

It is time to learn the lesson of the Hesperus and listen to the counsel of elder sages who speak to us from the deep recesses of recorded history. We can still save the young girl,  the archetypal Sophia, who is the the very soul of Wisdom. We can still rescue her from drowning in the turbulent and vicious seas of postmodernity and 21st century egoism and spiritual consumerism. We can resuscitate her and so revel in the sweetness of her voice, the alertness of her sight, and youthful embrace of the real.

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman’s Woe!

Excerpted from the poem, The Wreck of the Hesperus, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

© 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 marvel at human ingenuity and it assumes so many forms. Not the least demonstration of our creative prowess as a species is the invention of signs for every conceivable condition and situation under the sun. When I travel, I am always struck by the wide range of signs ( traffic, warnings, announcements, and designations). Around the world, there are the clever varieties of stick figures and cute expressions differentiating the men’s and women’s toilets. On flights, proof that classical conditioning is a powerful force, there is the tyranny of the red lit restroom light signifying an unwelcome delay to one’s own relief, and the sheer delight that comes over one when that light turns green.

Engaging our visual and sometimes auditory sense, signs awaken us to present or emerging realities. We are made aware. We are told to mind our way forward, alter our behavior, adjust our expectations, and do things that are judged more healthy and wholesome by the authorities that be. With the rampant fears attached to pandemics, there are notices posted in restrooms world-wide reminding us to wash our hands. Public service advertising reminds us to do the same and dispensing bottles of Purrell and  related antiseptic equivalents are popping up everywhere.

Signs are comforting. It accentuates the essentially social nature of our conduct as human beings. It reminds us that life entails obligations for the other and for the society in which we are a part. Signs are a check on individuality. They represent the boundaries of personal freedom and represent curbs on the otherwise unbridled appetites of the narcissistic and solipsistic.

There is a tension that exists always between signage and the personal individual spirit. This tension is itself a trigger for a meditation. It represents the truth that we are neither individual nor collective, but a hybrid species alive at the intersection.

Spiritually, taking time to nullify the two polar myths of life opens up extraordinary vistas: the myths of individuality and plurality. These two myths define poles of a central dilemma in our consciousness. As we ponder the tension they inspire we become aware of a third way forward: the way of the sojourner, voyager, and argonaut.

We cannot complete the journey alone. We are vitally and necessarily interdependent though what inspires us is deeply personal. We emerge as transpersonal beings. We live in-between these poles and, as captured so masterfully by Homer in the Odyssey, we must navigate between the two sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and avoid being lured too close to either and crashing upon the rocks that lie there as we traverse a turbulent sea. We must chart our course, boldly, bravely, and mindfully, straight through between them.

When next you see a sign, consider it a meditative trigger on the true state of our being in the World and an invitation to explore the psychic geography of our true home in the Spiritual City.

© 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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Seated diagonally across from me in business class was a quiet couple and my attention was drawn to them almost immediately upon boarding my flight. The gentleman was very quiet, unassuming, and seemingly pensive. His wife, dressed in traditional clothing, was also very reserved, relaxed and attentive. Every once in a while, they looked at each other and just smiled. It was a smile that I recognized immediately. It’s a smile that cannot be faked and is earned only after many years of marriage. It says: ” Hello my dearest friend and my reason for being.”

It was certainly not my intention to intrude but I simply could not tear myself away for too long though I made certain that my observing was covert and unobtrusive. What captivated my interest was the depth of their comfort with each other, the simple intimacy and affection without sentimentality. It was reassuring and cut through all the thinking one does about life purpose and meaning. Here, in a moment, was the unadorned answer to the puzzles of meaning. Their worlds were defined by one another. They saw life and its purpose in each other’s eyes. The smile, like that of so many Buddha statues, was one of profound recognition and imperturbability.

At one point, they each turned inward and simply sat quietly, as we all did, awaiting taxi and takeoff. Our flight was delayed owing to a mechanical problem so there was more time to either doze, read, or, as did so many, flip through email and send and receive text messages. The Hindu couple just sat. No reading, dozing, and no cell phone. They just awaited the next moment. Then, at one point, I noticed the distinguished gentleman ( distinguished more in character than in dress) take out and open his passport as if to read it. He opened it up and then, to my surprise, touched it with seeming reverence to his forehead.

At this gesture, I was perplexed. I wondered:” Is this a devotional, a simple prayer, a superstition, or did I see it all wrong?” A few more moments of thought and I concluded that the motion was too deliberate to be  misread. Once again, I found myself impressed. It was not a movement intended for anyone to see. It was not a grand and ostentatious motion designed to draw attention at all. I only noticed it since I was already taken with this couple. While others may know better, I surmised that this was a prayer perhaps of protection, a blessing for  a bon voyage, and an homage to the reality that we are not in control of so much that happens to us and around us.

Within the bosom of the divine, all things are reconciled. We wrap ourselves in mystery and in acknowledging it we are profoundly freed of the worry that otherwise consumes us as we work hard to take control where control doesn’t belong to us. We are creatures of ritual. I am always comforted and impressed when people of whatever faith openly practice their ritual without any need of recognition or the attention of others. When it is inspired by a profound personal identification with mystery it is full of hope and it offers that hope to any who, with eyes opened and hearts opened wide enough, can benefit from the warmth and glow that the practice affords to the practitioner.

“Where beauty and love are there also is G-D!”

© 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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Back during the Summer months of 2009, we had purchased a number of those solar cell powered garden lights that automatically turn on at sunset. The light energy of the day charges them and then the bulbs are triggered at dusk to last through about 40% of the night-time hours.

In the recent heavy snow, quite a few of these lights are now completely covered by snow. In a few cases, the heads are partly exposed and they are very dimly illuminated at night. One of them was damaged and the lamp portion was severed from the stem.

I was struck by the image of the pale bluish lights that  still “struggle” to glow in spite of the less direct, weaker sunlight that they are receiving now. The image of the severed unit and the burried lights actually triggered sadness.

As I explored these feelings, I became aware that my melancholy was rooted in the realization that this one light would no longer be a part of the otherwise very pleasant glow that the lights make in unison across the front yard. The buried ones in fact engendered a strong sense of longing for Springtime and the summer nights of illuminated bushes and flowers.

Even the once pure white snow is now unattractive, marked and discolored by dirt and footsteps, debris of one sort or another. The moment is an arresting parable articulated by nature to anyone who takes the time to look.

I am invited to be more alert to a continuous move toward entropy surely to be followed by renewal. In a matter of weeks, this will all be a memory. But, for now, it is a stark reminder that death contains the seeds of life and life the growing shadow of death.

The covered lights call on me to keep the vigil, and to watch for the gathering inevitable debris within that obscures the inner Light and threatens to extinguish the lamp of love’s constancy.

© 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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We have all heard the phrase, ” a thirst for knowledge,” and many people are motivated by a need to discover, understand and reveal the essence of experience and phenomena. These are the people who take seriously the Socratic admonition to  “know thyself,” and embody the idea that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

The times in which we live are times of great contrast. The United States electorate is acutely divided, and we see, once again, the perennial visage of culture, race and class warfare in the exchange of emotional and unthinking rhetoric.

What I see is a rising thirst for ignorance. Orthodoxies appear on the rise, and liberal philosophies in all arenas are ridiculed and demonized. When the appetite for “heresy” declines, one should be watchful for the erosion of liberty, critical thinking, and genuine insight into issues. At a recent dinner, I was part of a cordial conversation among friends and associates about this political moment in America. At one point, I was labeled by a colleague, only half in jest, as a liberal elitist. Why? The label was meant to sweep into a neat category my love of scholarship, incisive dialogue, taking nothing at face value, and seeing all orthodoxy as worthy of inspection. Ok, then, no problem. I am a card-carrying liberal elitist and proud of it. Dismiss me if you please.

In our current times, it is both easier and increasingly well-regarded to cling to the formulae fed to us by those who affix dismissive labels as their way of coping with what they fail to understand and have little energy to genuinely explore. It is easier to buy into a platform of ideological character. It gives one a sense of solidity when so much that swirls around us is uncertain and complex.

I, for one, love uncertainty. Doubt and the challenge of all assumptions is “philosophy,” the love of wisdom. I am absolutely certain that nothing is absolutely certain! I know that what I know is fact until new evidence reveals that it isn’t. Ideology is “window dressing” and icing for the mind. It entices. It draws you inside to look things over and encourages you to buy or partake. However, as so many things that are adorned with icing, the repast is likely one of many empty calories!

  • A few snowstorms where they aren’t typical and where the snowfall breaks records after many years, and many, including ostensibly intelligent legislators, are declaring the folly of “global warming.”
  • After decades of strong evidence of the veracity of Darwinian evolution and evolutionary developmental biological science, a good number have chosen to reject it for a more fundamentalist theology, and insist that this alternative be taught along with the science.
  • The facts around the necessity for government stimulus and spending in these recessionary times is denigrated as an example of out of control tax and spend big government.

Heretics and individualists are no fun. Their incessant challenge gives one a headache. They seem like they are not team players. They “move to the beat of a different drummer.” They are “not like the rest of us.” The Matrix movies were a testament to the will of many to stay deluded and comforted by machine generated, or, by analogy, party-generated or state-generated fantasy.

The price of the pursuit of knowledge is to place oneself in harm’s way. The deaths of Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Anwar Sadat and Jesus of Nazareth represent a dynamic that is as real and potent today as it has ever been. Salman Rushdie was under the threat of a Fatwah for his novel. Cartoonists have been threatened for offending orthodox beliefs. A demonizing and fear-mongering minority is actually succeeding in flipping the balance of power in the United States just over a year after the election of a President with a decade’s worth of serious challenges to address and a recalcitrant opposition hell-bent on denying him any meaningful legislation.

The appetite for ignorance always seems to overwhelm the true thirst for knowledge. Higher education in the U.S. often needs to be camouflaged lest one be labeled and set aside as an “elitist” or “academic”. Just look at out national values by comparing the very small percentage of the Federal budget set aside for education compared to what is allocated for defense and the story is told.

We do well to step back and reflect on our estate. How much have we bought into a ready-made set of comfortable mythologies and how alive do we want to be? Is freedom a value or a catch phrase that is nullified by a deeper need to be told what to believe, how to live, what to wear, how to talk, and what it means to be succesful?

It is our’s to choose:  Ignorance or knowledge. This is not only an imperative of citizenship and mind, but is a critical aspect of the depth and breadth of our spirituality. One cannot separate these from one another. They are inter-dependent parts of one true Self.

© 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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According to Plato, “all is remembrance.” But, there is so much that I’ve forgotten.

With each passing year, I lose more of what I once knew. As I catalogue the range of topics into which my lost memories fall, they include:

  • song titles and artists,
  • names of theorists,
  • book titles and authors,
  • names of key attractions in some cities around the world,
  • where I left my car keys, pens, collar stays, cuff links and belt,
  • how to drive to certain regional destinations I’ve visited in the past without benefit of a GPS device,
  • names of computer files, documents and passwords, and,
  • lists of things I need from the supermarket.

Hmm. Now that I look at the list, most of the items on it ( except for my car keys and maybe my belt), are trivial, unimportant clutter. In reality, it’s not that the brain is “winding down” with age. It’s just cleaning house. With each year, in fact, I am remembering things that I experienced years ago and doing so with added meaning. The time machine of mind replays the past so that more recent experiences can look at them with new perspective and through new lenses.

Memories are reintegrating, clustering, and interconnecting in novel ways. In our Western societies, aging is too often interpreted as degradation, an unwinding, a devolutionary experience, and deterioration.The social programming is strong and after the age of 50, one hears people talking about themselves as anachronistic. Every ache and every pain is enlarged as further proof that best days are no longer ahead. This is altogether a brainwashing; a set of expectations baked into the culture and its worship of youth. We can learn much by looking to the Far East.

In fact, the so-called “senior moment” certainly need not be a cause for embarrassment, apology, nor a fretting over the march of time. On the contrary, with the exception of diagnosed neurological disease, it is merely a sign of learning taken to the next level. Bits and bytes are rewoven into whole cloth, and the narrative storyline of a life emerges.

I raise a toast to the senior moments in celebrating their function as a cleanser for the soul. To forget some things is to make room for new ones. All learning requires forgetting.

© 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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Ah, the pressure of owning things. I work to stay non-attached but the seductions are great. We grow fond of the appliances, paraphernalia, clothing and accessories that form a self-concept package. We can pretend that we are not attached to such things and know the importance of doing so intellectually but that holding back from lustful living is often itself a clever camouflage for its opposite – unbridled identification with our invented identity and its symbols. The true test is how we respond in the face of the loss or theft of something upon which we have come to rely.

This past December, I was given the gift of anew iPhone. Many of my business colleagues had made the shift and I confess being quite pleased in receiving it. The functionality of it has proven quite impressive. Ease of typing, surprisingly, was better than I expected. The touch screen feature is very efficient, the capacity to combine Ipod and phone, GPS navigation, internet access, document reading and editing, Skype calling abroad, and a seemingly endless supply of useful, if not simply entertaining, applications are striking features. Suffice it to say that, in just two months, I’ve become a true fan.

Last week, while traveling on business, I lost the phone. I simply cannot reconstruct, as so often happens, the steps I took, and how I came to get separated from it, but it is gone. Was it stolen when I was inattentive (perhaps when I stopped to check in with a car rental office and left it in the car on the seat), or did I unwittingly drop it in the snow? Whatever happened to it, the device that I had come to rely on was surely missing.

What was interesting was the way I felt. I was angry and I felt, if it was stolen, somewhat violated. In any event, I found myself very down, self-critical         (deservedly), and acted as if I had lost an old friend. After all, it is just a device, an expensive one, but a device nonetheless. This prompted a series of meditations on the meaning of lost articles to the psyche. Our sphere of personal space expands to include the devices and possessions with which we either adorn ourselves or our environments. We breath meaning and personal value into that which we draw close, whether machine or not. We cultivate strong bonds of dependence to what we label as ours.

While I am certainly disappointed in losing the phone, I am also amused at the two days spent continuing the search and, most especially, the dark feelings that the loss engendered in me. Though the lesson is an expensive one, it is still a lesson. We are creatures who naturally become attached. We cling.

We are reassured by what we come to own. It extends our reach into the world. There is unquestionably narcissism in it for we see our reflection in these things. After all, we populate these devices with favorite applications. We name the device. We give it character through selected wallpaper and personal screen savers. We imbue it with reflections of our values and our interests.

Losses like these are reminders and they are corrective. This is not to say that we should never own such things and make good use of them and enjoy them. It simply makes compelling the speed with which we move our sense of meaning into them. It is right and good to stand naked regularly and look at ourselves, at who and what we really are.

It is good to remember that the unadorned, or beginner’s mind, is the true and primordial state, and the only place in which truth resides. All the rest is fantasy and represents a form of from low to high states of play.

Let us celebrate our inventiveness, our cleverness, our technological marvels, and our sciences. Let us thoroughly enjoy the things that give us pleasure, while always remembering, returning to this central truth each day, that it is all an invitation to a higher play: an infinite play of being the vessels through which divinity flows.

Standing alone with nothing at all, we are still the perpetual focus of the Beloved who forever and unconditionally sees our naked grandeur.

© 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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