The Magnificence Challenge

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Christ / Course Ideas / Poetry

When I saw Linda’s Magnificence Challenge it gave me a moment of pause to think about how I might answer it, but it did not take long for me to recall a favorite quotation of mine I thought might get the ball rolling: “You are the work of God, and His work is wholly lovable and wholly loving. This is how a man must think of himself in his heart, because this is what he is.”

The truth of the matter is that when we doubt our given nature, we suffer, and I think it is particularly important given the pace and scale of changes in the world these days, to learn that each of us is indeed the seat of magnificence—of holiness and peace. There is something alive within all of us that we can count on, draw upon, and rest within. Something we can share, and grow, and discover. But even as this is true for each of us, we each remain unique, and part of Linda’s challenge is to express in some way what is uniquely “me” I think.

One expression I’m excited about is my second poetry book. After receipt of the proof copy later this week, it should be available in pretty short order from Lulu, and then from other on-line venues in time. Writing this sort of poetry has been a venue for me to rediscover a form of self-expression I had set aside for quite some time, and also where I took a little bit of a gamble—at least so it felt—in writing about this character Hafiz. It just kind of happened. I don’t attribute any real special meaning to it, other than it was one way of giving expression to things that I felt, and somehow it really helped having that fun-loving, deep as a river companion alongside me with whom to explore my heart. It was quite simply fun, and led to discovering relationships with many of you here, which has been deeply rewarding. I don’t know what I would have written about the last couple years without such a muse and companion!

bookcover_mlm

This has now given way to a rekindled desire to write in other forms, and this year I’ve been focusing on writing short stories. So I’ve been just as busily writing as years’ past, and have (mostly) completed six stories since I began in April—mostly, because editing is never truly over–but because I’ve been submitting work for publication in literary journals I cannot publish them here. (If anyone would like to read one of the drafts I’ve written I’d be happy to send you one off-line, just drop me a note or let me know in the comments.) I think what I’m doing is working on a collection of stories that approach the subject of grace, and how it illumines our lives, but we’ll see if I can keep the theme going for an entire collection!

An exciting moment occurred for me this fall when I found out the first story I wrote this year, which I began while seated in an aiport back in April, was awarded Honorable Mention in the New Letters Magazine Prize for Fiction. The Honorable Mention isn’t automatically published so it is not in print yet, but it was a wonderful validation of the direction in which I’d set off. I chose to work on short stories because I felt intuitively it would help me to develop my skills as a writer and I think that is proving true. It is intensely challenging to write. As evidence I also have to my credit over fifteen rejections this year and counting, so pursuit of the craft has been exquisitely humbling and rewarding all at once. The more I engage with the sheer difficulty of it the more impressed I become with every single thing I read. I can no longer read reviews on Goodreads because the ease with which people are able to comment with such casual criticism on work that takes months and months and even years to produce is astonishing. It’s amazing!

Writing has been a great teacher this year because I have been up and down and all over the map about it, without any real recourse to getting a grip at times, but also have experienced directly through its practice a few of those moments of grace. In fact it has required that I keep going despite the usual arsenal of thoughts about whether it is or isn’t going well, and at the end of the day through any committed practice I think we realize: what we do can never provide us with the magnificence we are. It can only reveal it. It’s already in there. Often it is ourselves who are most in need of this discovery, and somehow we must engage with something to act as a catalyst for this cracking open. We have to find our way to the sweet spot of not trying too hard or denying what we have been given, while simultaneously making the honest effort all the same. It’s called surrender I think. Creative endeavors are forays into the unknown and we just can’t control them. It is only when the control is relinquished that what is truly magnificent within us can step forward.

When we discover this sensation of surrender, then the magnificence in each of us is revealed, and the whole world is transformed, as one by one our hearts activate. I’m grateful Linda offered this challenge and grateful to have given it a go. I do hope you will consider checking out the new poetry book when it is released as I think it has its moments—moments I could never have anticipated that somehow matter. In one’s magnificence we see everyone’s, and this is why it is so important that we make the effort to reveal the truth of who we are. Thank you for being part of this journey with me.

Peace to each you…

A Response to the US Election

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Course Ideas

I’ll keep the post here short since I’m providing a link to a short article I wrote in response to the election for a newsletter named “The Embrace,” which is circulated by the publisher of A Course of Love. I do think it is hard to understand the overall implications of what is happening in this election, and the world at large, and my sense is there is a great deal here that is not exactly as it seems.

The Election: Moving from Shock to Love

“Voting this year felt like trying to distill years of carefully-gathered hope and passion into a single, oval-shaped grunt. It was like trying to create a landscape painting with a single prick of ink. It’s not all that satisfying, really, to speak in grunts, but that’s how the final accounting is made. You have to hope the universe is listening. You have to hope it understands…” [Cont’d here]

The Beloved’s Cable Television Network

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Poetry

When I awoke
I found that
Hafiz and I
were riding breathless
beneath a whirling sky
of flames and television screens,
beneath booming voices
that emerged from the darkness
to pound the night’s hide
with declarations and logic
that made the ground shake
all around us like we
were dashing through
the replay of a furious world
filmed on a handheld.
Our lips were drawn in taut lines,
our horses tireless,
our clothing billowing and tearing
into streamers of muslin
that whipped in the air behind us.
Dust was pelting our eyes.
Talk show hosts and news anchors
were scoring points overhead
while the stars beyond them
were dashing to and fro
in droves, like swarms of bees.

“This is crazy, Hafiz!
What are we doing!?”

“We are in a recursive loop!” he yelled.

What!?

He pointed up ahead
to a Cartesian dystopia of
abandoned telephone booths
that stretched for miles
in every direction.
A graveyard of flash-in-the-pan technology.

He stepped inside a booth,
pulled the door shut and
motioned me into another.
We each picked up a receiver.

“Hafiz?”

He waved.

I waved back. This was fun.

“A recursive loop
is when you believe only what you see,
and you see only what you believe.
This creates instabilities in the force.”

Right.
“How do we stop it, Hafiz?”

“I find it helps to remember
the Beloved’s cable television network
has quite a wide variety
of programming options.”

It did give quite a contented feeling.

“I like talking to you without yelling,” I said.

“Yes, it’s nice, isn’t it?
We should do this more often.”

Falling Leaves

comments 39
Poetry

I keep sensing this thing
called Love.

The leaves are whispering
something about it right now.
I imagine that when they all
make a sound together like this,
each vibrating in a crisp binding
they have built in this last season of the light–
one they never knew would lead to this–
they hear a sound so beautiful
they flood with joy and forget at last
to hold on.

This is how Love guides itself.
Holiness rises like a flood
to dissolve what only seemed to be.

The leaves drop to the earth.
They are already gone.

It was the sound of each other they heard,
ringing each in each–
the sound of never-ending,
the sound of what
was only ever
One.

We Are One Body, One Life, One Mind

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Course Ideas / Reflections

In the Dialogues of A Course of Love, Jesus says, “Matter is simply another word for content.” This can be a challenging pill to swallow for students of A Course in Miracles, a text which (in part) aims to bring peace of mind by clarifying our confusion between what is real and what is not. We recover our access to peace by withdrawing our identification with particular forms and surrendering our identity to the changeless, formless, and eternal reality that we share. The forms themselves are impermanent, and thus the linking of our identity to a particular form inevitably leads to difficulty.

This teaching often leads to the mindset that form itself is problematic, an undesirable error in creation. It’s in our way, an impediment to pure knowing, an obstacle to our experience of the truth. In such a mindset, our relationship to the world in which we live becomes confounding. No matter how we may try to insist otherwise, in our holiest moments, when our thinking quiets, we witness the world’s astounding beauty. There is something about the very tenor and structure of the world that speaks to the heart of our existence. So how can it be that there is something inherently wrong or “less than” with a material existence?

One of the challenges of attempting to disentangle our misplaced perceptions of the forms we behold is that it can lead to a sort of dualism. Matter is here, and spirit is there. We fabricate a clean divide between two worlds, and thus we cleave ourselves in two. But there is no peace in being divided. There is no peace in waiting for a new life somewhere else. There is no peace in thinking everything we lay eyes upon is one form or another of material temptation. This is not unity at all.

At the outset of A Course of Love Jesus also says, “Content is all you have of God. There is no form to see, yet in the content is the form revealed. This is true seeing. For content is all and form is nothing.”

This is a powerful line to me. It relies on a context that emerges from the entire work, with roots established even earlier in A Course in Miracles, which state that content is eternal and unchanging, and form, as an ever-changing illusion, is nothing at all. So how do we rationalize this with the idea that “matter is simply another word for content?” If forms are nothing and content is all, how can matter be content? It would seem these statements are in direct conflict.

The answer I think is in this idea that “in the content is the form revealed.” Forms come and go, but the substance of which they are made, the very wholeness of creation, is eternal. Earlier in my life I read most of the books Walter Russell wrote and I think that experience was conducive to my understanding what is being spoken of here. In his book The Universal One, Walter wrote:

“Matter is light.
God and matter are One.
Spirit and matter are the same substance.
That substance is light.
There are not two substances in the universe.
There cannot be two substances in the universe.
The substance of the universal Mind is a living substance.
Light is life.
There is but One Life in the universe.
The whole of the universe is but One living, breathing, pulsing Being…”

After this steady drumbeat of declarations, only a few of which I have copied here, he goes on to say that, “The One substance is absolutely frictionless, temperatureless, non-compressible, non-expandable, non-reflectant, non-resistant and non-refractive; but, potentially, it contains the appearance of all these qualities through the dynamic action of those opposing forces within it which cause it to be a thinking substance in motion. These qualities belong to motion and appear only through motion-in-opposition.”

The way Walter uses the word substance is a little challenging, as with our divided minds we don’t tend to envision matter itself as unchanging, or spirit as being a substance, but I suggest that this marriage of the two seemingly distinct realms is exactly what Walter is saying is real. At its most fundamental level, matter is without quality or attribute, and is eternal. It isn’t just dumb dirt, either. It is both pure knowing and the essence of materiality itself. Call it a substance, call it light, call it nothing at all. But don’t call it something that stands apart from what we experience in this very moment of our lives.

What we call a form, however, arises as this fundamental substance is conditioned, through cyclical, repeating movements, which only ever bloom and fade. When we perceive particular forms and lose sight of the whole, this is when we are misperceiving the very nature of creation. We break it down into the here and the there, the good and the bad, that which we would keep and that which we would lose. This is misperception. But the matter itself—the most basic substance of which any form is composed—this thinking, knowing substance, this Light, cannot be changed or harmed, created or destroyed.

To return to A Course of Love, the nature of any form is revealed by its content. When the content is wholeness and that is what we choose to behold, we see the way in which any particular form is but a localized movement of that which is inherently indivisible. The forms give transient expression to what always is and ever will be. The forms can become expression of the content.

This is expressed beautifully in a book called the Divine Iliad by Walter Russell, which his wife Lao quoted in writing a preface for the Universal One. It is hard for me to envision a more palpable form of prayer than this remembrance:

Again I say that all things extend to all things, from all things, and through all things. For, to thee I again say, all things are Light, and Light separates not; nor has it bounds; nor is it here and not there.

Man may weave the pattern of his Self in Light of Me, and of his image in divided Lights of Me, e’en as the sun sets up its bow of many hues from undivided Light of Me, but man cannot be apart from Me, as the spectrum cannot be apart from Light of Me.

And as the rainbow is a light within the light, inseparable, so is Man’s Self within Me, inseparable; and so is his image My image.

Verily I say, every wave encompasseth every other wave unto the One; and the many are within the One, e’en down to the least of waves of Me.

And I say further that every thing is repeated within every other thing, unto the One.

And furthermore I say, that every element which man thinketh of as of itself alone is within every other element e’en to the atom’s veriest unit.

When queries man thee in this wise: ‘Sayest though that in this iron there is gold and all things else?’ thou may’st answer: ‘Within the sphere, and encompassing it, is the cube, and every other form that is; and within the cube, and encompassing it, is the sphere, and every other form that is.

Our words make it hard to see what can only ever be whole and indivisible. Our apparent separateness hides our fundamental unity and if we try to cut it too fine with words we end up with nothing. But I think in our hearts we can sense these things. We can sense that we partake of a life without beginning or end, that we are each other’s own, and that each life is extended to every other life. And when we get an inkling of this, I think it is our universal nature to find we are deeply at peace.

Two Pieces

comments 49
Poetry

Welcome Home

Everywhere you go,
silence follows.
Peace and quiet
have this down
to a science.
They send out their tails
to watch and record
everything that happens
while you’re out there
looking for that certain
something
someone
somewhat
somewhere–
trying to get better.
They blend in undercover
and look like exactly
what’s happening.
They’re armed with technology.
Don’t look for them, though.
This isn’t the time
for paranoia.

Just be prepared:
when you do finally give up
and come home
there may be a lot
of silly posters hanging
everywhere.

It’s just because
we love you.

Freedom’s Power

“Deuce!”
Hafiz exclaims.

“May I remind you
that a regulation ping pong table
has an overall length of 8.99 feet.
And it reflects sound very well.
You don’t have to yell, Hafiz.”

My last shot had veered off
into a blatant nowhere
like a heat-seeking rocket
aimed at the hero
of an action movie.

It was bad.

But Hafiz is not listening to me.
Instead, he is performing his shuffle,
which is part the Robot dance,
part the Moonwalk,
and mostly a poor rendition
of Chi Chi Rodriquez.

Then he takes the ball,
bounces it off the table
and sets it on the palm
of his hand like it’s about
to turn into a bird and fly off.
He is holding his breath,
squinting at the ball,
waiting for some inner cue.

“It’s ping pong, Hafiz.
Serve the damn ball.”

He is wearing a sombrero
with laminated pictures
of the greatest ping pong players
of the last seven generations
hanging all around him.
They are all making grotesque faces
with varying degrees of success,
like they’re at a Maori training camp.
The pictures click a little when he moves his head
and they knock together.

He twirls his paddle in his hand.
He sways on the balls of his feet,
contemplating his pending serve.
He is crouched like a stalking puma
for ten whole seconds before
finally he rises out of his stance and says,

“Be very careful, my friend.
If you mope around all day
asking the Beloved to make you ordinary,
one day you will sprout feathers,
you will see through time,
and your words will move nations.
Babies and mountain lions
will sit quietly beside you.
For Love, this is what is meant
by every day.”

“Serve the damn ball.”

He shrugs his shoulders,
throws it up in the air
and then darts in three ways at once
while the ball is on its way down.
The ball flys to my left, hits the table,
leaps forward with a burst of speed
and curls to my right.
I’m wrong-footed but suddenly
I don’t care. I swing the paddle
as if restraint no longer has meaning to me.
I put my whole life into it.
I just catch the ball with the edge of my paddle
and launch it straight up into a maze
of suspended lighting systems,
miniature trusses and fire sprinkler piping.
It rattles around like a pinball
off of conduits, steel wing-dings, speakers,
security cameras, bar joists and spider webs,
before finally dropping out
of the ceiling jungle on the far side of the room,
like a fresh robin’s egg,
right into the corner pocket
of an empty billiards table
and disappears.

The ping pong saints are swaying.
“What a fine piece of skill,” he says.
“I would say–
that is your advantage.”

Then he runs for the opposite wall
and leaps through the air
like a ballerino,
while I marvel at what
the purity of my own feeling
has begot.

Ideas About the Principles of Life

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Reflections / Science

One of the things I think is that the world we see is an afterimage, or representation, of an invisible one. I don’t really know the details such that I could draw them out, but I do think this. And even though there may be no objective merit to my thinking like this, it is the conception of the universe that resonates most truly with me.

There are several of ways to conceive of what I’ve just said and I think all of them are to some extent valid. For instance, one thing I think is that physical matter of the type our senses can detect is like the skin shed by the invisible and ever-moving snake of energetic exchange that forms the fabric of the observable world. Not that anything is static, per se. But what appears static is the product of the invisible and continuous motion of existence. This is not really controversial.

Another way to conceive of it, which is more controversial in some corners, is to suggest that the types of organization and patterns found in the physical universe are replications, or expressions, of underlying truths or realities about the way things are and must be and cannot otherwise be. In other words, the physical world is a representation of what exists in silence, outside of all motion and polarity, outside of time. This is the idea that what arises in form is the coming into being of what is formless.

While this idea is not accepted by the scientific mainstream, it is generally accepted in religious circles, where (unfortunately) it is generally expressed in just one particular form: the idea of a supernatural God. This is in my opinion a very limited form of the idea. In particular, this God often possesses traits undesirable in one another– judgmentalism, elitism, selfishness, capriciousness, etc. What I think of as formless has nothing to do with such a God, and everything to do with suggesting the formless is as natural as the formed–that they in fact are inseparable and intimately linked– and therefore neither one is “supernatural.” When one says a thing is supernatural they are in essence saying it is magical. Its effects are the whimsical movements of a power that transcends the natural laws of this world.

I don’t believe in such a whimsical power, but I do believe the limits of the natural laws of this world are only incompletely understood, so this places me in something of a no man’s land. I don’t believe what I think can rightly be categorized as either religious or scientific per se.

One of the most interesting things we’ve discovered in this universe is ourselves. To say it another way, the most interesting phenomenon I think we have found so far is life. I like to read about what we call life because I sense that, like my vague and weakly antithetical thought system, life doesn’t quite fit the molds given it. The extremes are reductionism and physicalism on the one hand, and bearded, lightning-throwing gods on the other. It appears to me that life defies them both.

To me, the general idea of physicalism is that nature is a closed system of mutually interchangeable matter and energy that unfolds in accordance with natural laws. Said another way, it is a system of objective and measurable quantities whose unfolding takes place without the influence of any external (or supernatural) causes. Reductionism is the idea that complicated things can be explained in terms of their far simpler parts, and that very simple physical propensities–when allowed to behave as they must, in conformance to the natural physical laws of this universe–can explain everything. They can explain life, for instance.

I would say that very generally speaking then the view of the world that is considered scientific is one that says everything we see can be explained by the operation of fundamental principles, or natural laws, upon fundamental quantities, e.g. upon the smallest bits of energy, the smallest bits of matter, the smallest ingots of space, and the smallest slices of time.

Key to all of this is the idea held in the scientific sphere that there should be no resort to any external organizing factor or intelligence. Though the fundamental parameters of physical existence appear to be quite precisely tuned to produce novelty and life, it can be said that we simply haven’t learned how the system of nature works yet, and so one day we will be able to explain those beguiling initial conditions without resort to any external condition as well. The most important thing in the scientific explanation of the universe is to provide a plausible explanation of its current state, expressed in terms of the very simplest, most concise mathematical laws and measurable quantities possible.

In such a conception of life, all biology should be reducible to physics, as physics is inherently more fundamental than chemistry and biology. There are in fact countless examples of this. The growth of the human cell, for instance, has been shown to occur in very regular periods of growth and rest, and in researching this a protein containing copper was found that modulates the naturally-occurring sinusoidal cycle of redox potential in water such that the modified cycle has a period of 24 minutes. Exactly 60 such cycles equals a twenty-four hour day. Living matter in other words, has built a clock from the physics of things more or less “laying around”: amino acids, copper, and water. This clock functions because of the action of the fundamental laws of nature on the fundamental quantities of nature, meaning that it necessarily functions as it does because it cannot do otherwise, given the physical properties of the atoms in the system.

Similarly, it has been shown that E. Coli bacteria resist the stress of heat–which causes otherwise precisely folded proteins to come apart–by forming a particular, additional heat-resistant protein that acts as a brace to keep other proteins from wilting in the heat. The feedback loop in regulating the production of the heat-resistant protein is quite amazing, and is also at least conceptually understood in terms of the underlying physics. For instance, the shape and composition of the heat-resistant protein is surely one which, unlike that of other proteins, is less affected by an increase in temperature. It takes a lot of resources to make these proteins, though, so they’re not made all the time. What happens is that the gene that calls for the heat-resistant protein has the opposite problem: it produces RNA that does wilt at safe temperatures. So even though the cell is always producing the RNA molecule that contains the genetic sequence for the heat-resistant protein, generally speaking it wilts and is subsumed before it can be used to actually transcribe the protein. When it gets warmer, the RNA doesn’t wilt, and great quantities of the heat-resisting protein are manufactured very swiftly. All of the properties of the molecules that make this system work can (and should) be explainable in terms of the underlying physics of the molecules in question. In other words, those molecules are what they are necessarily–they cannot be something else–because of their unique arrangement of atoms and their fundamental quantities.

I find this type of thing absolutely fascinating. The complexity and uncanny perfection at work here boggles the mind. That aside, an important question is whether or not the operation of the fundamental principles of nature (natural laws) upon the fundamental quantities of nature (things like the strength of gravity, the charge of the electron, the mass of the proton, etc.) could explain all that we observe today. The answer in many ways is yes, but there is one very interesting facet of this process that is not reducible solely to those fundamentals, and that is the genetic code. Something very interesting is happening continuously in living organisms, and that is this: linear information contained in the genetic material (e.g. DNA) results in the assembly, by molecular machines, of three dimensional proteins. There are only four bases in the genetic code, and yet this is sufficient to produce 20+ amino acids in varying combinations and lengths, yielding a vast array of possible proteins.

It is a code in the sense that within the context of the living organism, particular sequences of DNA “code” for particular proteins. There are molecular machines in between the world of DNA and the world of proteins that have a specific relationship between the two worlds, a relationship that is not necessary because of the operation of the fundamental laws of nature upon the fundamental quantities of the universe. In other words, the bridge between the world of DNA and the world of proteins is one of meaning. It doesn’t have to be that way physically–it could be some other way entirely. A house key certainly depends upon the natural bond between atoms to function, but the shape of the house key is an arbitrary one that must correspond to the lock, and there is nothing necessary about the shapes that are chosen. A code is in essence a two-sided key–an interface between symbols on the one hand, and meanings on the other.

If I was deposited in an alien civilization and I said, “Oh, shit,” there would be nothing in the physics of the sounds I produced to suggest the meaning I ascribe to them. That’s because language is a code. Many languages use very different sounds to convey a particular meaning. This is what the genetic code is like, along with many other codes that have been discovered to be actively at work within living matter. The meaning (protein) that results from a particular symbol (a gene) does not necessarily arise from the physical properties of the atoms and molecules involved. It has more or less been determined that the biological system of information (e.g. DNA) and its corresponding meanings (e.g. synthesized proteins) represent a quantity or property at work in the physical world that is neither reducible, nor measurable, and thus is fundamental in some way.

What we call life therefore cannot be understood in terms of physicalism or reductionism, though it is remarkably adept at leveraging the basic and inalterable properties of nature’s fundamental elements to its use. There is a really interesting question here about whether or not life itself could be producing content in the universe that is not only new, but fundamental. This idea is remarkable to me. It suggests that life could be producing content in the universe that is not only new, but irreducible and necessary to explain the phenomenal world as we objectively comprehend it. Creation in other words, is ongoing, through the manifest dynamics of unity and relationship.

While it is not my aim in this piece to leap to the assertion that the presence of codes and irreducible information in biological systems implies the existence of a God or gods–for I have added nothing to one side or the other of that discussion–I do wish to point out one analogue between what we observe at work in biological life, and the idea expressed in A Course of Love that we, as beings, share a common root—a unity of being—that is made known through the continuous and open-ended exploration of relationship. Life is in essence “revealed” through relationship. For myself there is a beautiful reconciliation here of the idea that the visible and the invisible are echoes of one another, and that all life represents the unfolding of simple principles that are not only natural, but eternal. What we see around us, in other words, are the reflections in material form of those specific and timeless principles which are inherent to the reality of being, and thus to the reality of life.

* Some of the ideas here were taken from two papers by Marcello Barbieri, one entitled “Biosemiotics: a New Understanding of Life” and a second entitled “Origin and Evolution of the Brain.”

** The E. Coli description was taken from the book Microcosm by Carl Zimmer, which is a fascinating read.

Grappling With the New

comments 54
Reflections

I’ve been in a different space most of this year– different than before I mean. Don’t ask before what: I don’t know. Maybe the stars pulled a fast one on me. Maybe my memories got together with my dreams and staged an intervention. Maybe something fell away I don’t need anymore and it made room for something new.

What I know is I’ve got this bug I want to be a writer, which I know nothing about being, and I came to the conclusion in the spring that the next step was to work on publishing some stories in literary journals and magazines. Nobody told me to do this, but it just seemed obvious suddenly. I’m glad to have committed to this because ever since– besides finding myself on the aspiring creative person’s roller coaster of mania, denial, reflection, madness, depression, and ecstasy, all of which cycle through in about a ten minute time span– I’ve been focused much more clearly on the task at hand. In truth it has kind of taken me over day-by-day. One could equally say I’ve given myself to it.

This of course can be a source of trepidation. There’s a risk in giving way to something: maybe it won’t pan out. But the truth is I think we each have a pretty good innate sense of what we ought to be giving ourselves to. Announcing a campaign to become an Olympic swimmer isn’t even remotely on my radar. Working more deliberately at writing feels natural. Asides from chewing me up and spitting me out, this commitment has brought into being some interesting discoveries. That’s the beautiful return of a commitment.

For starters, I think less. This may not strike you as a good thing, but [I think] it is. One of the beautiful aspects of creative work is that it’s open-ended, foreign, and ambiguous. You have to actually go out there into it and explore it and touch it and let it show you what it is, so regardless of how I may view myself as a person– in light of one philosophy or another, in light of past choices and what I think I’ve figured out about this life– it doesn’t really matter. Resume counts for nothing here. There’s only the desire and the way it peels you open.

I’ve also noticed that this peeling open doesn’t feel very spiritual, in the sense that it’s more of an immersion into the experience of it. I’m not seeking to understand something, is what I think I mean. At times it feels like a very grasping and desperate thing– at others a delicious and sublime one. But these are just states of mind passing through it. When I’m writing I don’t feel any of those conditions. They come later when I’m confronted with how very little I know about the outer process of becoming a writer– that you have to research the various journals and what they publish, that there is a way to handle oneself in this arena, that it takes a great deal of time to identify potential outlets for your work, and that you must keep track of what you’ve submitted to who, and adhere to differing preferences and rules at every turn. At first it was daunting but I’ve slowly settled into it– I’m very good with spreadsheets!– and it has been a wonderful opportunity to experience that awkwardness that comes with encountering an altogether new experience, and to do so without expectation or judgment.

Not that I’ve pulled it off exactly, but I’ve understood that if I am to enjoy this, then certainly those must go by the wayside. It has given me the chance to experience more directly the idea that the process of creative becoming is an eternal dance with the new, and that what remains “after” a spiritual path is this unnameable engagement with things. With yourself. In my moments of encountering it without fear of failure, which come and go, it suggests to me how we can be both complete as beings, and absolutely lost in the unknown at the same time. That feels right to me. Sometimes we hope our spiritual path will allow us to “achieve” some vantage point from which we can rest indefinitely, but engagement with the power and the presence and the life within us compels an ongoing exploration. Of course we must rest. But our spiritual paths are not mansions we construct off in the mountains to which we retire. They must be relevant to unfolding the love we carry within us.

A downside is that work submitted for publication can’t have been previously shown, so I can’t publish here in this space what I’ve been working on. I hope one day to be able to link to a publication or two, but in the meanwhile the worlds must be somewhat distinct. It has been hard to spend time writing and to also find time to produce meaningful posts of the sort I have in the past, but I think this too will ebb and flow.

I’m happy to share that I’ve had an inkling of validation– a nudge along the way if you will– as I found out that one story I submitted earlier this year to a competition was selected as a finalist. Somehow that has made all the difference. That and the lovely encouragement of friends, for which I am profoundly grateful, and which has provided astonishing nourishment. It is quite amazing how little we require to sustain us, when who we are is not really at stake. Only the need to give it away.

The Games of the Thirty-First Olympiad

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Flash Fiction

Shakti Ingenue began his spiritual quest during a commercial break in the Games of the Thirty-First Olympiad. Having just witnessed Katie Ledecky clean house in the women’s 800m freestyle, during which time he had consumed two-thirds of a beer and half a mushroom pesto pizza, he was riding a high and not being realistic about what it was he was hoping to accomplish. Thoughts were colliding willy-nilly in his mind. An entire spectrum of personal conundrums and opportunities was becoming clear to him.

The universe was opening up like a flower.

The absence of qualifying swimmers from the nation of India, for instance–such a vast and ancient nation ought surely to be capable of producing one world class swimmer!– had somehow fired a subculture of neurons living in his brain that were familiar with evolutionary biology. What his vast neural complex had concluded, was that if there was a yoga competition in the Olympics, Indian athletes would probably kick some ass on a Ledeckian scale.

He pictured himself seated quietly in an auditorium full of world class vipassana meditators wearing loose-fitting clothing. Like a judo robe. What you would do, he realized, is sit perfectly still without moving a muscle until you either won, or died. He couldn’t tell if he would have a slight smile on his face for the judges, or just look bored. Then he was reminded that some yogis liked to balance upside down on their hands, or standing on one foot, and he bogged down in the details, like how the competition would be judged. Faced with such a gargantuan and delicious problem, he lost focus on his spiritual quest entirely and shifted his mission to developing a technology that would objectively score the performance of world class yogis.

The television became a blur in the background.

Shakti realized it was one thing to bend your torso in half backwards while balancing your body on one hand, and quite another to be completely at peace in the same instant. The real winners would be blissed right out while contorted into pretzel-like geometries symbolic of man’s ascent out of the clutches of personal unconsciousness. The pose would have a pre-determined level of difficulty, but it would be wasted if certain biometrics were not achieved.

Maybe they could wear an electrified suit, like the fencers did, only it would need to be more like a leotard– something stretchy and virtually non-existent that would measure heart rate, brain waves, and blood pressure. He would develop a head band that could measure endorphin release. You would need to track the electromagnetic potential of the skin, and the heat generated by the palm of each hand.

While Shakti watched this year’s crop of pole vaulters fling themselves up into the sky, he took it one step further and realized what you really needed was a device for measuring chakra activity. That was the real enigma. This was a frontier that Shakti Ingenue could really get into exploring. Aargh! If only he had studied physics at the university!

But what about a team competition?! You could have a device that generated entangled pairs of photons, and pairs of yogis would systematically defeat Bell’s Inequality by modulating the entangled photons as they whizzed through their energy fields!

He sketched out the experiment on a sheet of paper. He drew a box and labeled it “Entangled Pair Generator” and then he drew some lines with arrows to represent the photons. Then he tried to draw the yogis seated placidly along the route. Geez! His drawing skills were really lacking. They were utterly piss-poor. The yogi’s noses kept turning out bulbous-looking and facing the wrong way on their faces. After three aborted sketches he looked up and realized they had cut to men’s volleyball. A gigantic man in knee-pads was clenching his fists and screaming vein-popping encouragement to his teammates. He had ten kills already. People were diving everywhere but they couldn’t stop him.

It was incredible. Shakti couldn’t stop watching.

While the Olympians dove and flailed, the pizza kicked in and his eyes began to feel heavy. Fatigue is millions and millions of cells ganging up on you– telling you to sit quietly so they can get back to what they were doing the night before. He was forced to concede. He brushed his teeth and had a glass of water, then went to bed. He dreamed about yogis diving all over a field, trying to catch a butterfly, but they couldn’t do it. The butterfly was very lithe.

When he awoke the next day, he was hungry for breakfast. He put some bread in the toaster and brewed some tea. His residual thoughts of a yoga competition in the Olympics were dull-seeming and distant. They weren’t there at all, actually. He had thirty minutes to shake off the weekend and remember who he was: a man with a job; a museum curator; the son of a mechanic.

A very normal man, with poor stretching ability, who was the perfect child of everything there is.

Take Me Out to the Ballpark

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Reflections

The first thing I noticed at the Red Sox game last night was the craft of it: the subtlety, the precision, the angles, and the matching shoes the entire grounds crew wore. You sense it immediately: there’s a deep knowledge of cosmic forces that has taken up residence in ballparks all across the world. Like most things, you have to know what’s happening to understand it. You have to let yourself know what’s happening. You can’t just glean it from looking around and drawing inferences—you’ll end up insane, you’ll start to question everything. You’ll beg the person next to you to be reasonable. It can’t be that, can it? Not really. It can’t be like this. This. Whatever this is.

The local television reporter holds a black wand in his hand and makes his speech into thin air, smiling and gesticulating with the animation of a professional. This is important. He touches a hand to the ear piece. He nods. He does it all over again. You take the time to do this just right. It’s a night game, thunder heads threatening, no time for tomfoolery. You do it again if that’s what it takes.

Three guys near home plate are raking dirt over the chalk outline of the batter’s box, then sweeping the lines clean, then raking over more dirt. They’re making progress, swiveling their hips to get the angle right, dragging dirt over the lines, sweeping them off. It must be some new-fangled chalk they got. Chalk all the way down at just the right places, so it doesn’t matter how many times you brush it. It just stays right there. You don’t chalk the field anymore, you reveal the chalk. You take what’s always been there, and make it plain.

They’ve got a German shepherd lying down in the infield, paws out, chin on the grass. She knows what’s going on. Everyone else knows what’s going on. So you better just accept it: you know what’s going on, too. This is ancient. This is important. They bring the kids around in their size 2 numbered jerseys and give them a spray can so they can pretend they’re shellacking the rubber on the pitcher’s mound. Then two guys with the real cans and a set of towels go to work. Spraying, brushing—always touching the rubber ingot, the point of origin, with the clean side of the towel.

There’s an order to this. There’s a deep relationship with invisible forces. You can see it. Your part matters.

In the batter’s boxes, after they reveal the chalk, they bring out bags of the special dirt, pour a little on the end of a white plastic snow shovel—it has to be that one—and fling it into a fine cloud of dust that settles down on top of all the rest. The guy with the shovel, he knows just how to do it. You whirl the shovel around, but you do it under-handed. You don’t mock the hitters who’ll be coming through later. You don’t smile or give an eye this is anything but hard work, the work that must be done. I can’t understand it, but this is what it is. You surrender to it. Your part matters. It’s a bag of magic dirt from down below, under the field. They said a few words down there first probably, in quiet, to build the mojo.

They spread some more of the magic dust in the infield. I think maybe it’s to dry the top layer, because we had some sprinkles. Then they bring out the hoses and wet it all down, starting on one side, and working their way across, so that’s not it. You can’t think your way through this. What needs to be done, needs to be done. You better get on board.

Buchholz, the Texan, he’s having a tough go this year. He’s gotta’ get right with everything that is, but you don’t do that in one outing. It’s a road you hoe. You show up. The forces whirl and you stay in there, face inside your glove, staring down your pitches. His wind-up is awful slow and they steal third—did we get him!? I thought we got him!—and the one from first fills the void at second, standing up. The forces are turning, tumbling. It’s too late now to go back. We gave something away there. The gods saw it. They cleave off a base hit and two runs score. We’re in a hole now. We’re laboring. You can hear the Bud Lights cracking open in the gloom.

Then our catcher steps up and rips one down the right field line like the way I hit a nine iron, fizzing off towards the boundary, whistling like a firecracker, and no loft. Perfect. The park has an ancient design, and the ball clears the fence the only place that it possibly could on a drive like that one. Leon knows this. You can’t go to the well too often, but we did everything right tonight. We made all the right moves.

The rookie they called up from the farm team, he sees how to do it. Benintendi. Slaps a double out into the grass and it’s all even again. If he can do it, I can do it, says Betts. We go into the lead.

Time for the wave. Gimme’ a bag o’ them peanuts.

In the seventh they get a base runner. They hit a chopper straight for second and Pedroia runs to his right, scoops the ball up backhand with his glove and waggles it right back out like an egg. Bogaerts is hovering near second like a good idea, waiting for it. He catches it, drags his toe across the bag, hops away from the slide and fires to first. It’s a dance. That’s all this is. A dance.

But the magic is deep and inscrutable. In the eighth we walk three guys in a row and the energy turns. Bases loaded, no outs, the go-ahead run at the plate. Out comes Ziegler and his side-arm. You do anything you can to break the energy. We watch, stunned, as he throws ten pitches for three strike outs and across the river, they see the skies shudder. (See what I mean by watching the video here.) We come unglued. The lid is off and there’s no going back.

The ninth is a formality. It ends in a dance. What did you expect? When we reach the car the skies open up—lightning crackles over the city. Rain falls. The crew will be up all night planning the steps for tomorrow’s game. Figuring out the dirt. The chalk. The tarpaulins. Where the kids will walk. The music. The dance.