Sometimes a day arrives in which the thing to do is just see what it has in store for you. It’s a day free of obligations, a day book-ended by important affairs and thus inopportune for embarking on projects that must be finished once they’ve begun, a day on which taking stock means discovering how you really feel given the space to do so, a day for partaking of simple pleasures. I chose once, on such a day, to take a walk in the park.
A winter thaw had brought the air up to a humane temperature, and snow was melting in ways undetectable by the human eye– shrinking inch-wise, everywhere at once, in a creeping, parametric withdrawal from existence. Movements like these in the world around us– the subtle and unceasing workings of Nature– fly below the radar of our attention. When we finally catch on, we wonder how they could have escaped us. When we find that we are ourselves occupying an embodiment of the same phenomenon– have been ever since we were born– we become forlorn. We reevaluate, mistaking perpetual transformation as the prelude to a desultory ending. We crack apart. We turn to the advice of experts. We demand to know reasons why as well as the schedule of most probable outcomes when all that is asked for is our return to an endless, subtle knowing– to melt a little bit each day, like the snow.
No one played a trick on us. We’ve been sliding into this apocalypse of recognition all along.
* * * * *
The sky was gray and overcast, almost white, and crackled with the wet undersides of dormant tree limbs. The birds were sitting silent upon them, keeping their vigil, monitoring the receding snow. Other people must have had days more in keeping with the modern intention, because the trails were quiet and serene. The sounds of the city a few hundred yards away were the sounds of normalcy, though muffled and pixelated– droning cars, the patter of footfalls, a shrieking horn, a whistle, belts in need of tensioning, tires scrunching bits of windblown debris, flags rippling in the wind.
I was starting to think about the things a life is ultimately driving at, the questions about trying to become an absolute in a world of relatives, when I turned the corner and found myself confronted by a veritable crowd. In the summer this particular square was always sprinkled with chess players, but never quite like this. Just one table was in use, but it was enclosed by a deepening circle of curious patrons. The players themselves were hidden from view.
As I approached, two doves took flight from the center of the cluster, winging upwards into the sky amidst a sudden and collective intake of breath. It was as if the whole world had paused together, except for the doves’ flight. Their eyes were both distant and clear as they settled into the trajectories they sought, the ones they felt calling to them from the inside, and they flew with the urgency of holy messengers. The moment quickly melted as consciousness caught up with visceral understanding. As the doves disappeared into a foggy beyond composed of barren trees and snowy hills, the surprised silence was replaced by contagious applause, and a flurry of localized commentaries. I watched the two travelers shrink in my vision until I could no longer see them. I was profoundly curious about their sudden appearance, and turned back to the scene at hand, squeezing in close for a better view. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see, but I found myself quite easily able to slip into a position with clear view of the proceedings.
Jesus was seated at an empty board, and opposite him, his friend Rumi. Their eyes were twinkling. They were smiling– jubilant– sighing as if they had just released their concentration from a feat of tremendous skill and dexterity.
“Shall we play again?” Jesus asked.
“You know I cannot resist your invitation,” Rumi replied.
“You want to be the Offering this time?”
“As a sun desires to rise.”
I was surprised to see the board was already set, and ready to go. I couldn’t help but raise my brow as Jesus slid all the dark pieces off of the board onto a pile in front of himself. Opposite, Rumi performed a similar maneuver with his small army of white figurines. Then Jesus asked the crowd for a volunteer.
A girl came forward and Jesus asked her to pick three pieces and set them on the board. One of them had to be the King. Then the girl came around and picked out three of Rumi’s, one of which was also the King.
Jesus went first, placing his first piece– a bishop– onto a black square near the center of the board. Rumi nodded and placed his pawn onto the board, just a few rows away from the board’s opposite edge. Jesus sat for a moment, stroking his chin, then set his rook down a few squares off to the side of his bishop. Rumi, who had never stopped nodding, who seemed to be standing along the border between two worlds, set a knight two squares down and one square over from the bishop. Jesus placed his King in a remote position at the near edge of the board, and then Rumi placed his own King into checkmate.
The fellow next to me whispered in my ear, “That was the Offering.”
I nodded silently.
* * * * *
Rumi went first, sliding his King out of checkmate.
“Pass me a rook, there, Friend,” Jesus said.
Rumi picked up the piece in question from his pile and handed it over. Jesus set it down in the location of his rook, and slid his own rook a few places to the side. Next Rumi called for the dark Queen, set her down in the location of his recently resurrected rook, and slid his miniature Christ to the near edge of the board. Jesus picked up his rook and set it down further back and out of the way, freeing the center of the board for an entirely new landscape of possibility.
Rumi winked, called for a representative from Jesus’ stack of pawns, slid his own pawn back and to the left, diagonally one square, and set Jesus’ down on the recently vacated spot. Piece by piece, move by move, the board was populated, working its way back to the Beginning. They never stopped once to think, never stopped bathing in ideas, never stopped surprising one another with the way one moment could build on the next, unexpectedly tumbling into place. They never ceased the back-and-forth exchange on which a world is built.
The game built on itself as each revelation made the next one possible, each gift paved the way for another. The complexity of the board multiplied turn over turn and quickly eclipsed my ability to trace. Then, just as the crowd was welling up with expectation, at a crucial moment, the play slowed, and I couldn’t see how a move could be made at all. The pair looked up and made eye contact. Jesus began to laugh. “It has found us again, my Friend,” he said.
“So it would seem,” Rumi replied, beaming.
Then Rumi swung his knight around and toppled Jesus’ bishop, taking a piece off the board. I was caught by a sudden and holy sense of recognition, but blinded to what I had glimpsed, as if my entire life had been a dream and I had just encountered the type of moment whose logical outcome, when it finally came, would be the forgetting that anything tenuous had ever seemed to happen.
I looked quizzically to the fellow next to me, who seemed to be familiar with these proceedings. “That was the redemptive move,” he explained. “Every game I’ve seen these two play has one, a moment when they can no longer proceed as they have, and the only right move is the one the game itself offers. It’s like the Game behind the game reveals itself. The trick is to know when this moment has come. Believe me, I know. If you miss it, the whole thing just fractures, but these guys never miss it. They recognize it every time, and they never question it. They’re insanely good at this– true masters. I could watch them all day…”
* * * * *
From there the Beginning was recovered quickly. We watched in amazement as the board came together, click-click-click, as if a tangled ball of dimensions had been unraveled right before us. As the last pawn slid back into position, we reached out with our hands to beat them together in applause, full of the most buoyant sensation, and the entire plaza erupted into a field of doves leaping into the air. Our hands became a sea of beating wings. We swirled around one another in a spiral tempest of pure motion, knowing perfectly well how to fly in a broadly choreographed pattern, how to sweep across a snowy field in formation, and the plaza was left quiet again– an abandoned patch of stone set amid the chill of winter.
Some days are like that. Holiness strikes and then disperses, leaving the type of emptiness you can only find by living in a world.
* * * * *
A brief acknowledgment… The phrase “redemptive move” was given to me by Ptero9 in a comment she made on her blog, while, little beknownst to her, I was thinking about this idea of using chess in reverse as a metaphor for the way Creation seems to build on itself, by giving to one another in ways whose true effects we can hardly fathom. The words when I received them sparkled in my mind, and linked quickly to this idea. It struck me as a great example… of thoughts linking up… of ideas flowing back and forth…
I was going to say, you should write a book Michael, but you’re already doing that! Thanks for the shout out, and for the offering(s).
Thanks, Debra. I really am writing a book. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of a novel. My main goal at present is to actually complete the draft, and not think about it too much otherwise. Since I think I’m more than half way, I feel okay about mentioning it. It is starting to feel real.
Wonderful! I am very glad to hear that Michael. You have many gifts and writing is one of them.
So many interesting things here. This one takes my breath away…
Thank you very much. Your comments mean a lot. I have discovered in your own writing the insightful depth of your presence, and am so glad we have connected.
I love your sparkling imagination Michael… Thanks for coming to my blog… IAM sure we are going to be great friends enjoying each others journey into the unknown… as we create it ALL…
Thanks, Barbara! Likewise, I look forward to sharing more of this progression into mystery. Be well…
I think this is a beautiful, but there is one thing I was thinking about.
“Movements like these in the world around us– the subtle and unceasing workings of Nature– fly below the radar of our attention. When we finally catch on, we wonder how they could have escaped us.”
I don’t really wonder how these things could have escaped many people. They haven’t been looking. Maybe they didn’t want to look. Maybe they didn’t know how to look. Maybe they were discouraged from looking. Maybe their eyes are permanently affixed to their electronic devices. Whatever the reason, they haven’t been looking.
I spend as much time as I can in Nature. I don’t have the ability to see Euglena or the Volvox in pondwater without a microscope, but, especially after becoming an amateur photographer, I’ve trained myself to look, to pay attention to the smallest details and there are certain things I notice that just make me shiver. I also discovered even more when I took macro shots of insects – things I couldn’t possibly see because my equipment (eyes) have their limitations.
Here’s two of my favorite posts of my excursions into the woods
In my experience, we see what we have been trained to see.
Have a beautiful day…
When I wrote I was thinking about some other aspects of our lives, like the way relationships are continuously transforming, but we take them for granted until suddenly they undergo a phase change, or when we’re content with a routine that suddenly cannot be sustained. We cling to it, rely on it, even as it is perpetually changing and eroding towards something different. Then, suddenly, we are forced to do something different. You’re so right, though, we’re not trained to notice these things. We’re not trained to understand how harsh words or thoughts accrue if not forgiven, to recognize how many small movements of the heart lead to breakthrough transformation, to comprehend how Life insists on movement and contact with the unknown…
I think the prairie section of the arboretum was my favorite.
My life would probably go smoother if I could adhere to routines, but I generally don’t. Because I’m a substitute teacher, I never know where I’m going to work, if I’m going to work, or what time I’ll be at work (the elementary, middle school and high school start and end at different times). My relationships have been…not very predictable either, unless you consider them predictably unpredictable. My parents were dysfunctional (alcoholism and narcissism), my sisters were drama queens, and my husband was a binge drinker, got laid off twice (from his engineering jobs), was angry/depressed, and before his DUI in Dec 2011, things were bad. Well, until his suicide gesture in Dec 2012.
Relationships were always unpredictable and chaotic, and I never wanted it that way…at all. Even my friends, too. Most of my guy friends had been hitting on me so I had to stop being friends with them. I just broke with my best internet friend 3 weeks ago because I couldn’t keep up with his mood shifts and his idealization/devaluation cycles (I held out a long time…) and I had said some harsh things to him…because there was inappropriate stuff going on and my boundaries were weak. I didn’t make very close female friends.
Anyway, after I read your recent comments, I laid down with my youngest daughter before she went to sleep, started listening to my Tibetan meditation music, and cried. I’ve needed to after all the intensity that’s been building because some of the ideas I’ve been working with lately on my blog and the people I’ve been talking to on my blog have sparked an overflow of energy that I don’t always know what to do with…so I try to block it to keep it under control (because I’m scared of it, too)…then I feel a tightness in my chest.
There’s nothing I can really cling to, because it all dissolves away. I know this, have known this. I lost even my best friend of 24 years because I argued about the fact that I didn’t think he needed antianxiety meds…and that there were a number of holistic measures he could take that would have less damaging long term consequences.
Nothing gold can stay…
And death doesn’t scare me…I’m actually looking forward to releasing my spirit.
But sure, there are parts of me that wishes this wasn’t so…
“We’re not trained to understand how harsh words or thoughts accrue if not forgiven, to recognize how many small movements of the heart lead to breakthrough transformation, to comprehend how Life insists on movement and contact with the unknown…”
Since I’ve been on a spiritual path that includes Eastern spirituality…I’m certainly learning about this more intimately…
There was other things I was going to say about some of the things I’m learning…but I’m going to watch a movie…
hope you have a nice sleep. if i don’t work tomorrow, i’ll reply to your other comments.
Casey I can relate to the notion of “looking forward to releasing my spirit”, and wondering what the experience will be like in an altogether different context, but I would also say that as I have learned to work with the challenges of the life right in front of me, I have moved into far more enjoyable experiences. So, I’m saying it is funny- I have almost done a one-eighty on that feeling, and have discovered life in this world can be truly wonderful. But it was not easy to arrive at this conclusion. It requires a great deal of getting to know oneself at a deep level, working through difficulties, and forgiving. Always forgiving. Forgiveness in its very action states to the mind: you are eternal. That is for me perhaps its greatest power. To be able to forgive, is to be willing to recognize: something about me is indomitable and will always be so.
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In a sense, for me, this life IS wonderful.
When I’m out in Nature, when I’m making art, when I’m taking pictures, when I’m writing, when I’m going to historical re-enactments with my daughters. These things are pretty amazing.
I used to have a lot of friends – my colleagues at work and a few longtime friends. Mostly guys because can’t seem to get the kind of conversations I desire from women (who talk mostly about kids, husbands, shopping, shoes, decorating, and church). But then the men ended up going through mid-life crises. The young ones tended to be extremely nihilistic or very lonely.
So…when I think about all these failures in establishing safe and edifying friendship, I have this deep and pervasive sense of pain.
I can forgive the world for going mad, but it still hurts.
I’m deeply empathic. And hadn’t been able to protect boundaries very well (physical or psychological).
I used to be so idealistic, so optimistic, and I have trouble now that I’ve lived a while.
At any rate, this is part of the reason why I went into science in the first place. I myself have found it easier to work with lab equipment and leave working with people to a minimum.
It’s evident I still have more work to do. Sometimes it gets really tiring though.
Anyway, I feel like I should apologize…
I don’t think apologies are in order. I wouldn’t even be sure for what. Your honestly shared thoughts evoke a reaction, which I have shared in a reply or two as straightforward as I could. But my responses are probably colored by my own state of mind, by what I read into your words. I try and say what comes to mind as helpful, but also I’m trying to share as a friend and in no way wish to tell you how to be or have your experience. I can understand the way pain settles upon us, and there are no magic wands on the shelf. It is difficult. We respond. In all of what I’ve shared, I’m ultimately trying to share the understanding of what lies beyond the pain, something all of us as people share, though we may not often recognize it. If I overstep or misstep on this end, feel free to let me know…
No, you aren’t overstepping any bounds. At all.
You ARE helping. One of the major ways is by reminding me how much I love and miss science.
I was thinking about something last night. My husband emailed me asking me if it was okay to go out for a drink after work last night or tonight. And nearly instantly, memories kicked in and the fear response engaged. Bad things happened in the past. Does that predict future bad things from happening. No. 9 times out of 10, nothing bad happens.
Now, being a mammal, with the fight/freeze/flight mechanism and having had most of my life lived in a near-constant state of hyperarousal…I have trouble ignoring the habitual signals.
My sensitivity has upsides. I am good at putting out fires. I’m great when it comes to helping people out how are in some serious trouble. Or even a little bit of trouble.
I have reflexes like a ninja
(it’s a funny, and true, story).
I really like your state of mind. It’s very nice. You seem like veRy intelligent, and very kind person. I need people like you in my life. And at the same time…I don’t want to lament about what’s going wrong, when I know so much is going right.
It’s not so much the pain. Pain is pain and I have methods of handling that. It’s the exhaustion from the stress and worry I have and my own internal experience. I’m at the mercy of my capricious moods and need to dive deeper to get to the undisturbed ocean floor.
Before “stuff” happened, I was relaxed, happy, ebullient, full of life. Then “stuff” happened and while I’d like to go back to that place, my internal calibration system got out of whack.
It’s winter time, so I don’t get out as much as I need to. So I stay inside and go stir crazy.
I’m pretty sure that’s part of it and the part that I’ve lost my internal guidance. I’m not sure who I’m more mad at – God…or me. I mean, blaming is no good. But, I am still angry about things because of said messed up internal system.
Even when times were really, really tough when I was younger, I had a connection with him. And I lost it. And sometimes I feel connected again. And sometimes I don’t. This connection/disconnection is disconcerting. I don’t know if I trust God /Christ to help me anymore.
Except…he DID send your to my virtual doorstep, did he not?
I don’t know, ya know?
I know you are working on a book, and have limited time. On the one hand, I don’t want to bother you, but on the other hand…I’ve never met anyone like you to have the science+writing+spirituality thing going on.
I don’t want to feel like a pest…yet it’s hard not to talk to you. I really enjoy it, even as it stirs up things in me.
I apologize because I talk too much. I know I wouldn’t if I could get outside some, but it’s cold and I’d rather hibernate like the bears…
this is such an imaginative, exquisite piece of writing. it moves as the reader’s eye crosses the page and invites re-reading time, and time again. it’s beautiful, michael. ~meredith
Thank you, Meredith. I’m grateful for your feedback and presence here, and am enjoying our growing conversation.
Such a treat to return here again, for a breather from this world in which I gain emptiness by living within it 🙂 Marvelous imagining – in the easing back of melt. You inspire!
So glad you have visited and shared. Your tale of Awakening on your site truly inspires.