What I Believe and Why, Part 4

comments 36
Course Ideas / Reflections

[Part 1]

[Part 2]

[Part 3]

I realize I’ve been slow in getting to the point. About what I believe. You’ll want a point to all this, I know. Three, four, five parts. At least. You’d be crazy to read it all. It’s clearly a little self-indulgent, but on the other hand I don’t think the what matters so much as the how or why, maybe. The process. The route.

I probably can’t actually tell you what I believe, which is pretty much the same thing as saying, this… this is who I am. I can only try and bring you up to speed with the passing train, so we can have a moment gliding along together that isn’t too herky-jerky. Then you can at least say you have an idea what it’s like on that train. Inside that one car. At least you can say you’ve seen what’s hidden in the corners—the empty wrappers, the broken bottles, the notebooks and scraps of paper piled in heaps, bathed in slatted light. The stranger standing in the doorway, his pitch black profile against the passing world.

Then you’ll get off, the train’ll chug along. I might die believing something a little different than I do today. I might be someone different entirely by then. Belief is dynamic, like gusts of wind swirling around a canyon. But what I’m interested in is the canyon, I think.

I’m listening to my first RL Burnside album while I write this; it’s good train music. The chords are clapping their hands and stomping their feet; the faces inside them are turned up to the sun; the odd cloud is moving perpendicular to the train. Crosswise. The train moves crosswise to the ties, parallel to the rails. Crosswise music drives it along.

I just realized the Black Keys song “Gone So Long” that I love, from their first album, was a recreation of the RL Burnside song “Skinny Woman.” I never knew that, but it’s indisputable. I thought I heard something similar here. Does that mean the Black Keys believe in RL Burnside? I don’t know.

I believe in them both. Check them out. Give them each about 70 seconds and it pretty much comes into focus…

When you hear a thing from several different sources, it tends to lend a little validity to the idea put forth. It’s hard to know sometimes, though, if people are just copying one another and getting nowhere fast. Another thing that happens is a whole system of perception gets built around a core idea or two, and that system becomes as big as the world, and then when something comes along that doesn’t fit you have to try and make sense of the whole thing all over again. Sometimes the system comes down. Rarely. Sometimes you develop a way of explaining a thing that’s different than you originally thought. It’s because you need consistency. You need a view that isn’t fractured and discontinuous.

The idea that Jesus was a good person who meant something good for everyone never left me. But there’s a whole lotta’ crap that got piled on later that doesn’t compute. And then there was this Buddhist idea of illusions. I got myself wrapped around the axle pretty good some days.

I went to the Auburn University swimming pool one afternoon because I thought swimming would be an interesting way to remind my vascular system I was depending on it. My parents had just gotten divorced, within the last year or so, and my father had hit a brick wall when it came to the Church’s compassion. You give your life to an institution and then you wind up an outsider. I remember this moment because I was riding back from the pool thinking swimming wasn’t really going to be my thing, and I was going through some inner philosophical turmoil of sorts, and I was driving past the building where I attend physics class every morning, next to the wooden building that burned down once while we were across the street in the football stadium, and I thought of the line “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” The next thing I thought was that maybe this meant we were truly inseparable, regardless of the shenanigans we pull on Earth. Maybe we were joined from the beginning and any notion of joining or separating here on Earth was a little hokey on our part. I thought maybe we viewed things at the wrong level, somehow.

It was kind of an aha moment for me. A taste of seeing deeply. But it was foggy, too. The thing was, it felt right. Profoundly right. And I decided then and there that my heart was a compass somehow. There were areas its direction broke down, like trying to figure out which interpretation of quantum mechanics made the most sense, but in other areas it gave repeatable results. You can dress a thing up with words any number of ways, but if deep down it rests on an idea that’s in conflict with your heart, you know it. So I decided the truth was true, that it could be dressed up any number of ways on the outside without changing what it really was, that the level at which we viewed things was most often too shallow to be the real thing, and that the heart had some kind of magnetic attraction for the center.

When I was at the water heater plant riding the electric-powered cart through the factory to pick up parts from one of the assembly lines and take them back to the lab, I tried to figure out what else Jesus may have said or done that had been misinterpreted. Somewhere around this time I picked up a book called Return of the Bird Tribes, and it made a big impression on me. I typed up the opening passage once before here , and it’s worth a quick read I think. It might help in terms of synchronizing speeds.

I’m leaving out major tracts here, of course. But I know your good graces are not infinite.

Around this time, either before or after, my mother invited me to a talk that was going to be given back in Birmingham by a Native American teacher. My mother had met a few women at her place of work who traveled each summer to South Dakota to participate in something called a Sun Dance. I had no idea what that was. I decided to attend the talk, and met someone there who quickly became one of those people I deeply admired. And in keeping with my spirit of discovery through immersion, I decided I wanted to know more about what lay inside this person’s stories.

The thing about riding box cars is things fly in through the opening. Sometimes it’s nothing. A dead insect, a blown leaf, or a brochure for a classical music recital where students you didn’t know existed are playing Steve Reich on the marimbas, and you’re there, alone, a little mesmerized. Looking for a date. Steve Reich’s music is like whipping through an alien village. And other times it’s an arrow that flies in. It whistles past and buries itself in the wood behind you. The arrow is followed by a hawk. The bird swoops in so fast you don’t have time to react, perches on the arrow and looks over to the corner of the car at that pile of tattered thoughts. Then looks right at you. It can be hard to meet its eye. Hard to give the accounting of yourself it wants. It has this raw, visceral style of intelligence that’s impossible to ignore, that is disinterested in all your reasons.

That’s kind of what I want to talk about next.


  1. Wow, Michael, I really LOVED this, your non-fiction in your awesome fiction style, the humor of it all and the last paragraph! It is so good to read this. That is about all I can say.
    P.S. And music too. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kristina. Glad you enjoyed it. I had fun changing the style a bit. Sometimes when you sit down to do something creative a whole tone and approach just starts happening; it’s like a thread to follow. It makes it fun. The musical resonance was completely unexpected, too!


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting and a bit hard to follow Michael. But I did discern the points about our beliefs changing and needing to get beneath our surface impressions/ truths. Keeping up with you and your mind does seem like trying to catch a very fast moving train that is on a 3 or 4-dimensional track. 🙂 I look forward to meeting you at the next station.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Brad,

      I did jump and jag and dash around a little more in this one. It came out a little more rambunctious and symbolic than the previous pieces in the series, but you got the main message I think, about learning to look at things deeply and see how they each can be traced to something common. It’s kind of like the opposite of materialistic reductionism. There you reduce things to tinier and tinier parts. Here you reduce more in the sense of making distillations, boiling off all that is extraneous until you see what is most essential about it, and what remains. Then you see there are not so many differences as you thought…


      Liked by 3 people

  3. That train music is going through my mind, Michael!
    Actually been that way for over a week as I was at a music camp
    completely away from the outside world,
    hanging out with a few blues guitar masters.
    I’m strumming those songs in my head now
    messing with a few of the noodling embellishments
    and just amazed that such simple, but perfected lines
    are possible with practice & a gift.
    These sentinel moments give my amazed
    muscle a smile of gratitude for knowing
    a little better the you
    unfolding, deeply
    with each episode 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Sounds awesome, David, being at a music camp with those blues guitar masters. It’s fun just to imagine. I like scenes of masters sitting around riffing with one another, passing around that unseen bottle of being as the microphone passes from one to the next, each adding to the others in a way that is always more than any one of them alone. Plus it’s always nice to hang with your peers!

      Glad you enjoyed this piece, David.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “You can dress a thing up with words any number of ways, but if deep down it rests on an idea that’s in conflict with your heart, you know it.” This is one of those clear shots that stay with me as I look out the window of your fast train.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, JoAnna. Reading your excellent new book I see you’ve learned this, too, over the years. The ability of the mind to try and whip some crumpled idea out of it’s back pocket it’s been sitting on for two decades, and make it into something that looks pretty good is amazing. The mind can be the ultimate salesman. The heart has a quiet voice sometimes. But if we listen it will say “No. We’re not going to that.” or “Yes, we will do this, because it is what we desire to do.” The mind can be like that little child. “Buy why!!? Why are we doing this!?”

      Haha. So funny the archetypes within us all.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. clickers clack go the wheels, past mountains and running creeks thick with the winter runoff water, oh now look, I think I see a buffalo with its calf rubbing itself on an old pine tree and I do believe it’s smiling at us 🙂 I can only imagine what comes next….more fun than an elevator that opens like a jack in the box, surprising us with what we may find in the big wish store at the mall in the sky ❤

    Liked by 2 people

      • what at an awesome story, got my mind going and may do a post and link back to yours for the inspiration ❤ what a happy surprise and a dandy read that lit my inner shopper with happy happy joy joy ❤ thanks Michael,
        Peace and love,

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, the changing tides roll in and out and they bring new ideas or perceptions that we need to decipher with the information we already possess. I agree that we stack these things up against the things we already know and we make classifications in which to place them. Top/down…bottom/up…I’m not sure. But when we do face something that doesn’t quite ‘fit’ it shakes the foundation we so carefully built and then we get busy either making another place to fit it, or better yet, at times, a way to discard the notion entirely.

    “You need a view that isn’t fractured and discontinuous,” struck me as I have been in what seems like driving a car and the windshield gets smashed by a brick and the glass does that thing where it breaks into little cubes and you find it hard to see through it, and you find it hard to make the picture whole so you wonder if there is a way to move the little cubes, like a slider puzzle (one of my favorites as a child) and be able to put the whole thing back together in a way that makes sense.

    But in the end, there are so many possible combinations that you decide you have to decide on a way, any way, to put things in a perspective that you can live with.

    “And I decided then and there that my heart was a compass somehow.” And these words struck my heart and I realized that if there is one place to start to try to make sense from all the information we are bombarded with, to all of the life struggles that enter our path, to all of the questions and what ifs, it is to connect to that place that lives in our chest, to the living, beating, life sustaining, center of our being…our heart!

    Thank you my friend for all that you are and all that you present to us. In your honesty and deep pondering you share giant truths in a way that make us question our own beliefs.

    I am grateful for you ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Lorrie. Hope you are well, my friend! I know what you mean about the windshield of shattered glass and the way we are sometimes faced with too many options–too many ways our mind can organize the pieces. That was a big challenge for me, for sure. We can get caught in the analysis of things, and the reason the heart is so powerful is that I think it provides the starting point for all the logic that follows. Once you set the cornerstone, then the rest of the shattered glass seems to fit nicely together, without too much disturbance or difficulty. But if you don’t get the cornerstone right you always end up with left over pieces, experiences that don’t fit, the need to rationalize something your heart won’t accept, etc.

      I’ve come to the conclusion only the heart can set the cornerstone.

      Peace and Love, Lorrie. I’m grateful for you, too, and appreciate your courage in moving through the challenges you’ve faced.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Love the way you take an idea and run with it to the depths of love and truth!! That cornerstone is soooooo important 😁
        Thank you so much for all of your love, guidance, and support…it truly means a lot to me. Hope this Sunday finds you lavishing in light!!

        Liked by 1 person

        • My pleasure, Lorrie! These exchanges always enrich me, too. I had one of those goosebump moments writing about the cornerstone. The idea just popped in and it fit perfectly… 🙂

          Peace and Love

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Return of the Bird Tribes. I’m gasping. I read it years ago, Twice. I need to read it again. Now. I don’t have a copy but I’ll get one. Meanwhile perhaps reading Bringers of the Dawn for the third time will suffice. Have you read it? I feel a little as if I’ve been whipped back into reality. And truth.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Alison,

      Yes, I read Bringers of the Dawn around the same time. I remember I enjoyed that one, too, but it didn’t stick with me quite as much as Return of the Bird Tribes did. But both were real eye-openers and heart-openers for me. I remember I couldn’t put RotBT’s down, and I really loved the description of biology in that book. It brought such a light and a clarity to me at the time.



  8. This was just the music that I was hoping to hear while riding on the train, I just didn’t realize it until I saw it here 🙂 and, I’m a fan of the blues. Following these notes, as they dance – just like your thoughts. I can relate to how you believe in music.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Thank you, Ka. I didn’t realize it until it happened either, but it made for a nice ride. Thanks for watching the scenery pass by with me, and for sharing in the rhythms and sights and sounds of the journey.


      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a good question, I think. Particularly when we’re willing to discover there may not be a good answer. Ha! Thank you for reading, Hedy, and sharing your lovely heart. I can’t wait to see more of your photos soon!


      Liked by 1 person

  9. J.D. Riso says

    I know it may feel self-indulgent to reveal your metamorphosis through these posts, but I am so enjoying this gradual unfolding, as I’m sure all of your readers are. I’ve recently realized that life is like a game. There are clues to uncover, obstacles to dodge, so that we can move around the board and reach the next level. Looking forward to the continuation of your train journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Julie, I can’t say how much I appreciate this note. Thank you for the affirmation. Yes, there are so many layers and levels and types of movement it is hard to see through it all to the stillness, to the opening to the next room. Thanks for being here.

      With Gratitude


  10. Walking My Path: Mindful Wanderings in Nature says

    I am loving gliding along in this moment, in this train. The writing in this piece is …and I’m trying to come up with a perfect word, which I can’t because it is just so amazingly GOOD! I especially loved the last paragraph. Really looking forward to the next one.
    There are so many profound lines in this, like realizing that your heart was a compass, and the aha moments, when you know what is profoundly right by how it feels.
    Not sure how I missed Return of the Bird Tribes. I will read that!
    When you said, “Maybe we were joined from the beginning and any notion of joining or separating here on Earth was a little hokey on our part.” My first thought was that saying – what if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about? Silly.
    Great writing, Michael, and thank you for sharing more of who you are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary! I shifted gears a little here, and enjoyed it. Sometimes writing a piece begins with tossing a line into the water. That movement of throwing a line into the water gets things going, gets the energy circulating. Then you just hang on! I’m shocked you haven’t read Return of the Bird Tribes, but think you will really love it. I think it was part of a wave of information that came in the last two decades (before the 2012 gateway, or however you think of that time).



  11. Pingback: What I Believe and Why, Part 5 – Embracing Forever

  12. I came back to read this again now that I have space. It really is wonderful writing Michael. I love the imagery of the train and the winds in the canyon. The train music is the perfect accompaniment.

    “So I decided the truth was true, that it could be dressed up any number of ways on the outside without changing what it really was, that the level at which we viewed things was most often too shallow to be the real thing, and that the heart had some kind of magnetic attraction for the center.” I feel this too.
    So perhaps our beliefs are simply dressing up. Do we need to put clothes on to be true?…

    I see you have an other part. I’ll be there 💛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Val. I’m glad you share this sense of trusting in your (our) own heart. At some level I think any intellectual expression of ourselves always falls short somehow, including even a statement of belief, but at the same time I think that some sense of the truth within us emerges in open-hearted creative acts and discussion. It is in the back and forth, the movement of it all, that reveals the stillness. Then we get glimpses of what is really there. Thank you for witnessing this with me.


      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: What I Believe and Why, Part 6 – Embracing Forever

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