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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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.

The Sunlight and the Silence

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Flash Fiction

A cabin in the woods sounds infinitely better than a shack in the city, which is exactly why I went–to trade in the grime and the grind for the sunlight and the silence. I sold it to myself as two nights and three days. You get these big ideas. You get these big ideas and they carry you along. You move from one to the next like you’re hopping from stone to stone across a shallow pan of nothing at all. You don’t even know what the big deal would be if you stepped into that inch of water. Just that you’d have to hang your socks on the line or something. Just that you’d lose the game you were playing. Sometimes in the parking lot late at night when all the cars are gone you jump from sleeper to sleeper down one side of the lot, in and out of the lamplight. You wobble, careen, catch an edge– step down and touch the nothing, the pavement.

Nothing happens.

No one’s even watching.

In one scene from the brochure I used to sell myself on the trip, I was meditating placidly in sheets of morning light, stirring a galaxy of dust motes with my breath and my whirling chakras. It seemed like exactly the thing to do for two nights and three days straight, but the first half day dissolved into a three lane river of cars that wouldn’t quit because the Exodus was clearly oversold. We were crowding each other into the turns.

In another scene I was frying fish I caught in the river and chopping vegetables with a towel slung over my shoulder, listening to crickets. You’d be thinking of music, or a glass of wine, but they weren’t in this scene. I was going to the cabin to be with myself–to peel the silence open, the silence that awaited me there.

I saw that I needed gas and my back was starting to put up a fight so I pulled into a fish stand with blinking light strands along its edges that made it look like Christmas in July, and asked for a Number Eight. The rock ballads from the outdoor speakers were getting lost in the darkness. The mosquitoes were at plague levels and I was willing myself to just sit there and eat, to sit there and be happy. To savor it somehow. That’s what I owed myself. Night had fallen and I still had forty miles ahead of me, some of it on gravel, most of it touted to be quite lonesome. Finally.

The tires made a lovely noise on the gravel when I pulled up to the cabin. Outside, the insects were at full tilt like the whole forest was a dive bar full of cosmic karaoke. I found the cabin a little musty– the bedding a little damp– and I savored it. There weren’t any lights in the place and my visions hadn’t included flash lights for some reason– something about rising and falling with the sun– so I found my way to bed by the glow of my phone.

In the morning I found that silence is deafening when it’s all you’ve got, and I focused on entering my vision fully, now that I was here. I tried to sit, but the cabin got hot. In yet another scene I was reading on the front porch with one leg crossed over to the other, as timeless as a person can be, but there was some sort of hornet’s nest underneath the porch that kept me on edge. I got up and crawled around, back and forth, probably studied it for a full hour. Then I went for a walk, and soon I was moving from stone to stone across a shallow pan of nothing.

Nature is like one of those pictures that changes meaning depending on what you make of it. One moment it’s a beautiful woman. The next a witch with a wart on the tip of her nose. It was all so flimsy. My sense of self was a loneliness like coating stones with plastic wrap and dropping them into the river. Do they get wet? What if I want to get one back? How could I do that? Now what have I done?

I drove into town that afternoon and bought some fish and vegetables and cooked them in cast iron pans on the propane stove inside the cabin. The place got hot as hell but somehow I’d shaken off the grime and the grind. Or maybe not that, but something else entirely. It just sneaks up on you. One breath I was telling myself to sink in to it. The next breath I was empty. The cooking would have been easier if I’d thought to bring pot holders, but I wouldn’t have had so much fun. I wouldn’t have started laughing so hard at myself. A little more than was merited, honestly.

I got up the next morning– the second one, marking the third day– before the sun, because I couldn’t sleep. I dozed and woke in fits all night. I got up to look at the stars and couldn’t figure out what time it was, so I went back and laid down. Then I woke up and it was just a little lighter than before, but still dark. I decided to follow the trail that wound down to the stream. There was a little pond there and a nice place to sit beneath some trees.

I didn’t even see her at first. We both just kind of surprised one another. Her head swung up, dipped and swung up again. She took a skitterish step or two backwards, turned sideways and stopped, looking back at me over her withers. Her haunches shivered like they were ready to bolt, but she waited.

What did it was the way her eyes couldn’t find mine because she couldn’t see me on my own. She could only see the whole thing, and sense that it was different. She dipped her head again, testing it. She inhaled a little pinch of the entire picture. She knew the difference, but the difference wasn’t me. The difference was all of it.

Then she leapt into the shadows and was gone. Periodic bursts of crunching leaves faded into the distance. I sat down and I didn’t move for hours. The sun rose. The sky spun. The gnats investigated. But they couldn’t find me, because I had stepped off the edge where there wasn’t any bottom, and I was gone.

A Perfect Day

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was perfect.

After three months
my best short story yet
was rejected twice
in the span of an hour
via form letters of
compensatory encouragement,
which must mean
I’m getting somewhere,
in between which
I used a shabby putter
to sink two twelve footers in a row
down the cubicle aisle.

We made some jokes together and we laughed.

We had to hazard a guess about how much
natural gas will cost in three years,
which who the hell knows but you have to try,
and then we worked on the report.
We debated things meaningless in the grand scheme,
but meaningful to us. Meaningful then.
I marveled at the typographical errors
one small office can produce in a day.

On the commute home I questioned
the extent to which my virtual music collection
is stuck a decade or two in the past.
Because I just like it, I guess?
Have you listened to the jam session
on Reach Down lately?

Sweet Jesus.

When I got home
I walked to the end of the driveway
to get the mail and the air was cool,
and just right, and the sun was low
and staring me in the face
so you couldn’t hardly meet its gaze
and flooding the road with a golden light
that was irradiating whole swarms of bugs
that hovered over the asphalt like fractals
of galaxies all lined up for take-off.

Whose sense of time and place is the right one?

I walked down towards the river.
The colors were so rich, the sky so thick.
Whatever was once, has been forgotten.

On the way back I got the mail.
The box squeaked in protest.
The little door sticks a little
and if I don’t hold the whole thing just right
it’s liable to get ripped right off the post.
I should probably do something about that,
which I will, eventually,
after the wave of snow and ice
from the plow truck this January
cleaves the whole thing clean off.

Then after dinner I wrote another one.
Because sitting beneath a sky like that
and inventing something
because you just can’t help it
feels some days like the reason for everything.
And sweetly perfect.

Yes. Yesterday was perfect.
Tomorrow, too.

* * * * *

(Start at about minute 4:41, close your eyes and ignore the photos, and go for the ride… There’s not many songs I’m aware of in this genre with two guitarists riffing simultaneously…)

On a Scale of One to Ten

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We’ll never know
what it’s like
to exist forever
in a condition
of perpetually transforming joy
and goose-bump inducing discovery
if we don’t consider
it a very real
and inevitable

It does sound pretty out there,
but so don’t NASCAR races
to German Shepherds.

If we don’t consider
it a very real
and inevitable
we’ll likely take something
perfect and beautiful
just as it is,
something like space exploration
or boat building
or moccasin mending
and we’ll require it to be
something it’s not
to make up for this loss.
One of these simple things
will become a complexity–
a claim,
an identity,
a salvation of some sort,
with limited terms, of course,
and endless stipulations.

we’ll never know
what it’s like
to live forever
in a condition
of perpetually transforming joy
and goose-bump inducing discovery
if we think
the body’s precise location in space and time
and confirmed participation
in “events” of significance
has all that much relevance
on what I’m talking about.

On a scale of one to ten
of what’s most important
to entering this palatial abode
with ten being like you
have to have it,
and one being like
uhmm… yeah, you need this, too,
even though it fits in the carry-on
and doesn’t make noises when you tickle it–
the body doesn’t even get a number.

Roses are beautiful,
but they are not beauty itself.
If a rose gets eaten by a decrepit old hyena
who is shockingly dehydrated
and wandering around fish-eyed
in search of a botanical aphrodisiac,
beauty itself isn’t going to feel the pinch.

Beauty isn’t going to panic.

Beauty is actually going to come
to the rescue.

So if your body were to disappear tonight
for regularly schedule maintenance
(because a hyena ate it for instance)
and never come back,
Love wouldn’t go into a panic.
And neither should you.

A tool is only any good
if you know what it’s for, anyways.
And if you knew that,
you would never lose it
to start with.

Though you might lend it out sometimes.
To whom, I don’t know.

Hafiz, perhaps.
Any number of people, actually,
can dress up just like you
without your knowing it.

Breezes living in a forest
don’t respond to roll call,
preferring to pass right through
one another instead,
back and forth and
merging and gliding
and surrounding one another
just to see what it’s like,
often losing track of who was who first,
and also,

because it drives
the census takers

All Day, Just This

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All day I am sitting.
On that bench.

There is some wind nearby I recognize,
or maybe it is this:
a dove has flown
through the doorway?
The sky I mean.
Two timbers and a lintel in my mind,
and the clouds
that are playing house upon the ocean.

A dove has formed from the sky
and my heart trembles
because it knows of such things,
and also because all day
I am sitting on that bench throwing pebbles,
the little ones that tumble out of your heart
when you put in a coin and turn the lever.
I throw them up in the air,
through the doorway,
across the boundary and into the gap,
and count the seconds until they land.

They never do.
The sky has no ending here.

I throw them over the side,
off the bridge,
beyond the curl of this place,
beyond the reach of every shadow.
And now a dove is
circling around the brilliance of our sun.
Or perhaps it was just the wind.

What have you given? some will ask.
What do you know about suffering?
You sit there like a fool, by the way,
throwing your idle pennies
to the bottom.
Be of some use, why don’t you?

And later, when I am alone again,
after I have fallen through their skies
and been used by the rain,
by wind that moves in packs
and howls and tears things apart.
By anguish that rents and rips.
After I have gathered myself
and crawled back to the edge:

the pebbles drop from my heart.
It is gravel.  Clean and brittle.
Washed and white.
A river wanders the land
for many leagues of wonder
until this is what is left: this gravel.
Tiny ghosts of a great land
that will still shatter teeth.

I drop one into the sky.
Another I set between the roots of the tree
where it is cool and tiny things grow.
One I throw into the clouds that glide
across the surface of the water,
pretending they live inside of a mirror.

Maybe it is nothing at all.
Maybe it is hollow and useless,
to take what is in you and set it free.
But now there are two doves
circling the sun,
their undersides in shadow.
They are hanging motion:
riders of the invisible.
The brilliance they ride
is a haze I cannot penetrate.
And still the gravel falls into my hand.

All day I am sitting here
and who can say if this matters?
Who can know of such things?

Only the wind, perhaps.
Or whatever it is
that lives just there.

(I am pointing)
(between the doves)
(beyond the doorway)

(through so, so many reflections)

The Thing About Fear

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Fear is like knowing
with a dreadful certainty
there is a sixty-foot troll
exploring the corridors
of your existence
in a pair of rubber-soled shoes
like the spies are obligated to wear
in all those books
to sneak up on one another–
a five-story, monolithic brute
gliding through you
like a dorsal fin through water
who might appear at any moment
and squish you flat upon sight
as if you were a tiny black spider
roaming a shiny white corridor.

It’s not even an angry troll,
is the sad thing.
Squishing you out of existence
is just pure instinct.


Then maybe daub a taste of you
on the tongue,
or catch a bit of your scent
off the edge of a finger
or something.

It’s all quite natural.

Well, uhmmm—
gee whiz, Hafiz.
Thanks for the pep talk there,
good buddy.

My pleasure.

I scurried around,
up, over and down,
nimble as the night and
pretty perturbed I gotta’ buy
four pairs of Nike’s to get one job done.

Say, Hafiz:
Got any, uh, last minute thoughts
before that troll smears
me across the floor here?

Oh, for sure.
You could stop thinking
you’re anything
that could ever be squished,
for starters.
And tell me…
how many sixty foot trolls
have you ever seen, REALLY…?

Navigating to Joy

comments 39
Course Ideas

Things that appear to be so under one set of conditions, are often found to be quite different under another.  It is for this reason that most of our conclusions formed historically, in the context of separation consciousness, are erroneous.  What’s remarkable about the experience of life is that we can be completely incorrect about ultimate reality, and have a very real and vivid experience of our own false conclusions up to and even through the experience of dying, without ever being more than the width of a thought from a completely different experience.

For some, the first question that arises is how exactly we are to determine whose experience or picture of reality is “false” and whose is “true”.  This sounds like a question we ought to be able to answer, but unfortunately it is not easily done.  If experience did not differ based upon what I’ll call the “basic interpretive settings” of what are largely unconscious logical faculties—e.g. the underlying choice of separation vs unity consciousness— and, if the experiences to which we are drawn, and which are drawn to us, were not the result of a deep relatedness between each one of us and the world we experience, then by rights this question would be easily answered.  But it is not easily answered, (at least by the thinking mind alone), because we are fundamentally and primordially related to all that exists, and because the deep-lying cognitive filters we apply to experience do as they’re told.

In other words, we live in a logical rat hole.  Our experiences are assigned meaning by cognitive processes that reinforce the standing interpretations, and neither we ourselves, nor the world out there we would study, are fixed constellations of meaning.  All that exists in third-party, observable form, is meaning-less.  A blank canvas.  We are the painters, not the guests at the museum centuries later.  When we put a daub of black paint on the canvas, then step back and say, “Look!  It is black!  See!” we are not being particularly clever.  We don’t experience it this way of course, because the complexity of human experience is astounding.

One problem is that there isn’t even an obvious way to determine if what I’m saying is correct: that we are fundamentally related in some manner to the movement of creation, or that the meanings we assign to experience are in fact self-referential and circular logics.  I suggest that this problem does have a solution, however, and that solution is the reality of suffering.  We need only hypothesize that suffering results from adopting stances incongruent with the nature of ultimate reality—the ultimate nature of ourselves and all that collectively exists—and that correcting those stances will end the experience of suffering.  This then, provides a compass—a tool for discernment.

Suffering of course is a challenge to define at any one instance of time, as the effects of our conceptual stances often take many years to unfold in our lives.  Sometimes we suffer immediately, and other times it takes decades for the nature of our choices to be revealed to us.  We can keep anxiety and difficulty tucked behind a facade of well-being for many years if we so desire.  And of course, none of us are all that excited about admitting the stances we have chosen are not resulting in happiness—none of us enjoy being proven incorrect about ourselves—and so it is human nature to act as though we are who we think we should be.  The only people we’re fooling of course, are ourselves.

So this is an inside job.  This is a job best undertaken in the quiet of one’s own heart, and there is in fact nothing whatsoever that needs to be said to others about what they can or should be doing, too.  Nothing good can really come of instructing another on how to accomplish the task we ourselves have yet to accomplish.  What is useful, is true companionship along the way.  These are the people who share in the readiness to question their basic propositions, and to report honestly on the experiences that derive from that, but more importantly, these are people who see you in ways you yet cannot.  These are people we can drop the guard around, neither to wallow in our difficulties nor to proclaim a false triumph, but to truly join with, because in joining our own private Idaho’s dissolve.  When we join together, we triangulate the location of our false perceptions, and then the choice is brought clearly to light: either we choose to continue with it, or to let it go.

We live in a world that demands a great burden of proof from us.  If any of us wish to assert an idea that is not in accord with the received thinking, then we are put to the task of proving it.  Ideas that cannot withstand external scrutiny are rejected.  But if it is indeed the case that our minds process information in ways that reinforce standing perceptual modes, and that even the circumstances in which we find ourselves derive from a deep relatedness—e.g. particular conditions of belief and learning that are unique to each of us interact with the world in a meaningful way—then by and large no externalized proof is possible.  We will never convince another that there is a more fulfilling way of experiencing ourselves and the world, and why should we?  Our need to do so is largely derived from the false hope that enlisting another in our viewpoint will validate it.  Perhaps the most powerful choice we can make is to simply live, and be the unique examples of life that we are.

Joy is its own litmus test, and anyone that is truly joyous over the long haul has probably got it right, regardless of the words and symbols they choose to use.  This is the flip side of the reality that suffering tells us when we have clung to a position that is ultimately incorrect.  Joy confirms we have aligned ourselves—our thinking, our feeling and our knowing—with the ultimate nature of things, while suffering confirms that we have not.

All of which is to say quite simply: we each have within us all that is required to experience lives of abiding joy.  And though it may at times seem a lengthy process of shifting our beliefs and learned perceptions, our lives guide us unerringly to this long sought reality, if we are but willing to listen to them.

The Art and Skill of Living From the Heart

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Book Reviews

What does it mean to live from the heart?  And why does it matter?

In my experience, every difficulty I’ve ever faced has manifested itself as a rift between my heart and my mind—between what can be known most profoundly when words are left behind, and what presents itself as a seemingly irrefutable conclusion of the mind’s learning.  When this happens we tend to look at circumstance as the genesis of difficulty, without realizing that our inability to greet circumstance wholeheartedly is the true cause of our suffering.

It takes but one short-fused moment with a loved one to realize we are fractured down the middle—one cross word, one violent thought if we’re paying attention.  We look quickly to reasons, to motivations of self and other, to life’s weighty conditions, when ultimately what we’re feeling is the way our mind’s considerations and our heart’s clarion voice have turned their back on one another.  When we are conflicted within, the result is conflict without: a moment or situation that has no solution, a pain that rings like a searing bell and cannot be silenced.

The greatest challenge I think we face in our world today is that of allowing the inner marriage of heart and mind to be consummated within us.  It is far from an easy task, for we are emerging from a time in which only that which is externally shareable is considered a valid form of knowing.  When our hearts whisper, they whisper to us, and us alone.  Trusting this voice is an indelicate proposition.  The heart whispers to us from deep within the domain of our individuality, from the sanctity of our own being, and the voice is oh so very tender.  The whispers do not withstand the mind’s indecorous demands for evidence and justification.  The voice of our hearts, like a seed dormant for centuries in the soil, will wait patiently for eons if need be, for the conditions in which it might emerge, and grow.

The whispers of the heart require the carrier wave of trust, sounded within the echo chamber of peace, to become sensible.  Peace is like an amplifier of the truth within us.  It builds it up into something we can contact.  But if we look too closely, with eyes sharpened by fear and doubt, we puncture the bubble, and it is lost.  Looking this way justifies itself.

See?  There is nothing there.  Just like I thought.

The heart and mind conflict when the mind usurps the heart by proving once again its chosen point of origin, and the beautiful skill and craft required to bring the heart and mind into union is dismissed.  We don’t like that there is an art to this, a craft innate to us whose importance we’ve forgotten.  We don’t like the idea that bringing heart and mind into alignment requires commitment, willingness and perseverance.  We don’t like that it’s at once subtle and messy, or that it adamantly refuses to be commoditized.

We really don’t like that the heart’s liquidity is predicated upon surrender.

The type of wisdom that resonates with me the most is the type that has punctured the bubble countless times, but gotten up again in equal measure, and ultimately learned how to cultivate the delicate touch of awareness that gives the bubble space to wobble and dance.  Dennis Ference is a person who carries this wisdom, and one of the great rewards of setting up virtual shop here has been the discovery of Dennis’ writing.

From the Water's Edge CoverIn his recently published book entitled From the Water’s Edge, I find page after page of insight regarding the truest of human arts: the sustenance of the delicate bubble of peace within.  If you haven’t read Dennis’ writing, I encourage you to visit his blog sooner than later, but also to consider getting a copy of his book.  His blog is great, but for me the book really shines because I can carry it with me to the river, to the city, to the parking lot, to the bus stand, to the stairwell, to the back porch, to the office cubicle, and to the park bench.  The words in the book are surrounded by space, and in their brevity you get a sense of the bounty from which they emerge.  Dennis recognizes that what needs to be said is actually so very little.  The pages—mostly blank—get the proportions just right in my opinion.  The space is an invitation.

In the journey towards unifying the mind and the heart, it helps to have a handy collection of bubble starters.  When we collapse, we need a point of beginning on which to build.  We need a point of entry back into the dance.  I think what Dennis has ultimately provided is an unerring set of beginnings.  It is then up to us to value and nurture that bubble, to protect it and watch it grow.  There’s suggestions from Dennis on that, too, but ultimately the cultivation of that wisdom is what this life is for.  We can’t read our way into this.  We learn the delicate touch of awareness that enables heart and mind to truly join by spending time with that fragile bubble as we walk life’s tightrope.  We learn through life’s unerring guidance how to respond, how to sustain it, how to keep it safe and to help it grow.

Dennis suggests in his introduction that the ultimate value of his words is to trigger a response, and I think he has this right, too, for it is only in giving what is ours to give that we discover what the quiet voice of our heart is really telling us.

Thank you, Dennis, for the light you shine on this path of peace.  It is a joy and a boon to call you friend and brother.

Just Right

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“I feel better.  But I did that thing again, didn’t I, Hafiz?”


“How come we both know what I’m talking about, but we can’t explain it?”

“The horses giving chase always get mud in their eyes.”

“That was easier than I thought.  But giving chase to what?”

“To whatever you think is over there.”  He waved his hand limply towards the distance, indicating that somewhere along the periphery of my mind there were these mysterious places that harbored fantasies of ambrosia and orchards full of flowers and fruit, but that if we actually went over there all we’d find would be these tumbleweeds and heaps of dust sprinkled with little plastic beads.

“I was happy, you know, munching on whatever it is that grows along the rail, in the infield.”

“And then you saw thirteen stallions whip past like a thundering colossus.”

“Yes.  They were incredible.”

“And then you did that thing again.”


“You chased after them.”

“Of course.”

“Your eyes filled with mud.”


“That was a very good thing was it not?”

“I don’t think so, no.”

“Why is that?”

“I could not see a thing, and my eyes burned like they had been put in an oven to cure.  And I hurt all over.  And then the thundering colossus pulled away, and I was alone once again, only blinded temporarily for my trouble.”



“There’s another thing.  There’s the thing you do, but it always leads to another thing.”


“Eventually all you have left is your heart.”

“Right.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be feeling better now.  Eventually I fall back into my own breath, and I forget about the thirteen stallions altogether, and I am just what is left, just this tiny seed of peace.  It is very relaxing.  You wouldn’t think a tiny seed of peace could breathe so deeply.”

“But not tiny.”

“Not tiny?”

“If you get too tiny, we’ll have to do this all over again.”

“We will?  Why?”

“Because you are no more tiny than you are colossal.”

“Well I can see I’m not colossal.”

“You’re just right.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re identical to the stallions, even though you can’t hardly run once around the track without hemorrhaging and blowing apart.”

“I’m not a great runner.”


“But I’m identical to the great runners.”


“So we’re not horses at all then, are we?”


“We just look like them?”

“Of course.  Everything about you is precisely horse-like, except you yourself.”

“That’s what you mean by just right.”


“I already felt better, but now I feel even more better, Hafiz.  Can we stop here for the day?”

“You feel just right you mean.”


“Of course.”