The wind will not relent

The wind will not relent; it does not rest on Sunday. Neither do I. I work each day, but I must learn to find wakeful rest in my work. People work hard for five days, so they can rest from work on the weekends. They work hard for forty years, so they can retire from the world and its demands. I don’t blame them. I already feel like retiring at twenty-seven. I re-tire myself daily.

The wind does not retire, it only inspires in its passage through. In my passage through this world, I retire and am inspired, I wither and am strengthened, I curl in on myself in a dark room and am opened to the light and expand outward, letting the sun do for me what I could not do for myself. I cannot become myself through trying to become myself, through striving, and yet I strive. After my striving has gotten me nowhere, I give up, hopeless, and give it over, hoping my so very generous action will give me everything I want and need.

So my hopelessness is not genuine; it is a façade, an image of what I think hopelessness should look like. I don’t believe it myself. Sometimes I don’t believe myself capable of anything genuine, and yet I was genuine before I knew it was possible not to believe. It is not possible.

I believe in the maker of this heaven, the earth beneath my feet. The maker makes; I did not make myself. Do I make myself clear? Dark clarity of the rippling black pond, I ask you: what mysteries churn beneath your surface, not placid but moved rapidly by the wind? I ask you if they are the same as the mysteries that churn beneath my surface. I go to church only when the pews are empty. My whole body lurches from side to side as if I am on a boat in a rough sea, but I do not get seasick. The dance that moves me is more of a writhing, as if the one who dances is in intense pain, and maybe he is, but as a dancer he needs to understand the rhythm of the churning world. The world I see and feel writhes and whirls; I’d be falsely blithe to dance as if it were smooth and still.

I see darkness before me. I do not see clearly. I see like a man who has been punished for seeing, who saw too much and was put away, only released when he promised never to tell what he’d seen. I see death before me, to take sight away forever, and my existence here puzzles and terrifies me. I don’t know where the pieces go. I never was too good at putting the puzzle pieces together.

Laid before me was an image, and the pieces needed to go together in a certain, impossibly complex way, to form that image. The image was an ark, vaguely remembered from an old story where a dove had found a place to rest. I was supposed to join the pieces to match the picture of the ark, the image that promised in some unclear manner to protect me. Why I was supposed to complete this task I did not know. The job felt overwhelming, and everyone was watching me, and what help they offered was not helpful. Some of them wanted to put the pieces together for me; they were frustrated by my ineptitude. I was moving too slowly. It was easy, you see. All you needed to do was start working, and then you’d see how it all fit. Others looked on from a distance, as if they were the audience in a movie theatre watching an unskilled actor deliver clichéd and stilted lines. They muttered under their breath and laughed, the way a group of people laughs at the outsider they are relieved they will never have to be. My incompetence seemed to bring them together, but the puzzle pieces were still very much apart. I could not even find two parts that fit with each other. And time was running out.

I began to sweat. The pressure was nearly unbearable. I didn’t even understand who had given me the task. It was as if the puzzle pieces had just appeared before me, next to the image of the ark, and I simply began to go to work, since there was nothing else to do, and it didn’t seem right to leave the thousands of pieces scattered, each one apart and incomprehensible. It felt unfair somehow, that the pieces were useless by themselves, and only made any sense when many were connected. None of it made any sense to me, for I could not see the whole, the ark, except in the picture of the image I was supposed to replicate. I saw only the unconnected parts. After a long period of futile struggle, I tore the picture of the ark in half, to the horror of the multitudes who looked on. I went to the shore and threw the pieces in the sea.

I am not here to be a master of reproduction. I am here to stand in awe of the whole that is not a stagnant image, already created, but something real, being created each instant by some force I cannot perceive or understand.

I do not understand my being-here. My being, here. My God! To be here, to be this body here—there, wherever—this body, sitting in this chair. This body, one day to disintegrate into ashes. To be ashes, tossed out to sea. To be sea, absorbing ashes, taking in the remains of a single body, neither diminished nor enhanced by the imperceptible change. To be a body woken by light each morning, or by the sound of the wind, going out onto a porch to consider drifting clouds, some dark, some lit by the rising sun. To be an ear, able to hear a crow. To be a body, capable of uniting with another body. To be a soul, alone, in union with itself.

To be a soul, alone, divided within itself. Night again, bringing the familiar ache. I sit with my back straight, my body still, and fight the urge to cover my face in my hands and weep. Human world, what on earth are we doing? Weeping. Where are we going? Somewhere quiet, some place dark, some secret crevice in the soul, known only to ourselves, where we can be completely alone, and weep until there are no more tears.

Broken heart, keep breaking open. The tears are true; let them fall. You do not need to know the reasons why they fall. They fall without reason, never within it, beyond the plains of reason and down into the savage valley of truth. The tears do not fall gently or softly. They fall like the rains in a Florida hurricane, and the heart falls violently into their truth, which cannot be expressed through words. The heart’s fall is not broken, and so it breaks open, and its free fall frees it from the prison of pretended togetherness.

I will be with you tonight, oh heart, in your senseless pain. And I will be with you tomorrow. I couldn’t leave you if I wanted to, which I so often do. Tonight, I don’t want to go anywhere; there’s nowhere I would rather be. We are here, my heart; somehow we are here, you and I. It is a lonely night, but you are here. I’m never as alone as I imagine.

True heart: teach me. I am here to hear you. You are the teacher; I am the student. I am open and willing to learn. The wind is my teacher, and the sea is my teacher. The crows are my teachers, and the trees are my teachers. I am the student, taught by all.

True heart, you know how to love perfectly, for you yourself are perfect love. I do not know how to love at all, for I do not know you. Yet you are in me. I need what is in me to love what is not, and to love what is.

Companion to Myself

How will I be a companion to myself this morning? How would I be a companion to another if another were here? I can’t visualize in my mind how I would be, or what I would do, but I can think about it in words. I’d wake up before her and heat up the kettle for tea. I’d go to the study, turn on a lamp, and begin my work. But as I worked my thoughts would return to her, and I would work as if in love with what I was doing, for the one I loved was in the next room, a bright star asleep in the night-sky of my heart.

Can I work with that love now? No one is with me, but why should that stop me from being with myself? The little self, when no one is with it, gets lonely and frightened. It feels unreal without another or without the longing for another that drives it when it’s alone. Where are you being driven, little self? There is a larger self that can be with that little self, be the other that whispers in its ear, ‘be still.’ The little self struggles to relax on its own, and so it can’t relax, for to relax is to give up the struggle. This lonely little self, when it listens to the whispers of the larger self, does not lose its loneliness, for its very nature is loneliness and a deep searing need for something greater than its own fear and confusion. But it may lose its tendency to despair whenever it begins to feel lonely. It may begin to learn that only if it feels the full depth of its loneliness will it be led toward the hole into which it must fall again and again, to learn how it shattered in the first place, what has been lost, and why it still feels so far from whole.

It is hard to be the little self alone, out of place in time. Each of us is here to be much more, and to be much less. To be forgotten enough to remember that we’re not here to be remembered, but to be forgotten. Only then will we remember ourselves. I remember these things this morning. How could I ever have forgotten them?

What is the ‘much more and much less’ that we are here to be? Maybe I’m not ‘here’ enough to say what we are here to be. I’ve got to be here to stay, and stay close to the silence in my inner ear, to hear what I want and why I want it, and what my eternal wanting has to do with my reason for being here.

Most places I go I hear a low groan, and I want to know what that means. Am I the only one who hears it? I sit alone outside in a restaurant overlooking the water. There’s a group of four people around my age at the next table over, and they seem to be in good cheer and robust health. Their attractive faces rarely stop smiling; no one shows any visible signs of discomfort. Yet why do I sense the groans behind their grins? Why is the air pervaded with a tense quality, humid and claustrophobic? I get up, go past them to the car, and drive away. I roll down the window to feel the warm wind and hear the tires groan as they spin along the asphalt. I pass cars and see tired and sunken faces, drooping eyelids, clammy hands on wheels, bodies locked like myself within polished steel frames, each machine sleek and shiny, fat and happy and filled to the brim with gasoline. The untiring Florida sun glints off the glossy hoods. I keep driving. I always feel like a fugitive on a busy road. It always feels like I’m getting away just in time.

I get away from some evils, only to be reintroduced to some of my own, and first amongst these is the desire to get away, get to safety, get rid of everything that bothers me, get across the moat and inside the well-defended castle walls from which I can look down upon the evil world. I look down and out, but another part of me looks back at the one who looks out. The little self, who does not like his sins to be seen for what they are, has been spotted.

This self does not like his spots, his unmistakable marks of imperfection. He does not care to realize that they arise out of his own self. They are of his own making, though they make him into something he is not. He is not the spot, but what he is not is capable of tying his heart into knots, and chaining his soul in the basement of the castle he himself built. He wants out, but each day he adds another brick to his cell wall.

Outside the window, pine trees sway in the wind. The trees are strong, though they have no power over what moves them, what moves through them. Still, little can move them from their strong center, their solid foundation. And if a tornado does come to rip one from the ground, the loss is no tragedy. Another tree will grow in its place, no more a part of the forest than the last, yet no less.

Why am I here in this cell within this castle? Why should I ask God why I am here, if I returned here on my own two feet? Real work is the work of returning, but nothing real can live except in the open air. Anyone can return to the castle, cross the drawbridge that connects to nothing that connects to anything else. The toil of building the castle is futile. Each brick placed in the wall is a wasted hour. I would not recommend the fruits of this labor to anyone. I do not like where it has brought me. But now that I am here, I have time to see why I cannot be. Though no hand of God created this building, even so my living here has not been for naught.

We are here to be much more, to rise up or descend as the case may be, to return to the tree; but only if we are content to be much less, just another leaf on that tree, with singular veins. Sometimes we feel like we are one of the bigwigs; more often we feel like a broken little twig. It is the wish to be one way or the other, or for others to see us one way or the other, that keeps us going the way we have always gone, keeps us in our own way, feeling broken or invincible, or not feeling much of anything at all, or feeling like the single twig that’s been severed from the tree, subject to the power of the human foot, snapping again each time it is stepped on.

The twig doesn’t know what it is. Case in point: it thinks it’s a twig. It doesn’t know where it’s come from. It doesn’t understand that anything ever happened to it other than the apparent tragic injustice that is happening to it now. It doesn’t remember that it was once on a branch in a tree it no longer even perceives as real, and so it feels no need to return anywhere but to the castle in the sand it has built so proudly with its own two hands, that it can see so clearly with its own two eyes. It feels no need to awaken to any other sound than the alarm, which it can hear with its own two ears, that rouses it each monotonous morning. It feels no need to hunger for anything but the meat it can smell cooking on the grill with its own nose, no need to thirst for anything but the sweet wine it can taste on its own tongue.

It doesn’t remember where it was; it recalls only how it has lain for so long on the ground, being stepped on and snapped into thousands of pieces, strewn about in every direction by the wind. If only it could remember that it was once a part of a great tree, with roots extending far down into the earth, it might remember how to return there.

Real work is the work of returning. I return from the world, a particular part of the groaning world where the soul has a chance to express itself in its present state, however clumsily, without fear of rejection. This place is often a basement room, but here in Florida it is an outdoor porch, in the shade off the highway by the Intracoastal Waterway. On this porch sit those who were once restless and insatiable, who could not get enough of what they imagined finally made them feel like enough, until they were so taken by their thirst for this thing that they had nothing left to call their own, until they had finally had enough. They find shade here and the strength to keep working. Call them by any name you wish. Once they may have been called seekers after truth; now they are linked by another name. I am one of them. I am just another leaf on a branch of a great tree seeking to remember what I am meant to be. Not the twig I became after I fell from the tree to the ground and was stepped on and tripped up for years by countless feet, not least my own, but what I am when I return to the tree.

Real work is the work of returning. I am meant to return, and I mean to do so. I mean to be who I’m meant to be. Great tree, help me start by being a companion to myself this morning. Help me contact your root that connects me to everyone else. Help me find an everlasting freedom in that chain.