Love, kill now my best intentions. Will me into your presence, with gentle guidance or with firm control. Place the bread on my plate and forgive my hesitation, my demand for something else to eat, my rejection of your gift, my abandonment of your tender touch that never abandons me. Grant me the clarity not to avert my eyes from the unrelenting stare of my dying, but rather to widen my heart to include both sides of the balanced scale. Let the events of the day be the daily pill I take to make me well. Help me to hold both the precious dove resting on the olive branch, and the hungry vultures circling the charnel grounds, inside your balanced heart, which cannot grow bitter, which cannot be harmed.
As a bird, when tricked by a mirror image of itself in the sky, will fling its wings against the frame, hindering its inborn ability to fly, so too do the illusions in my vision injure my capacity to soar. My soul falls from its deathless star, and my body crumbles to the hard wet sand. I crawl underneath a parched plant to await the desert of absence, or recover the truth beyond the pall and pale, your miraculous resurrection. Find me here, my battered Lord, and beat your name in my chest like a drum. Find me here, and let me come to the blessed recognition of the Word beyond death, beyond fear.
Lord, help me to die
to myself, afraid to die,
that thy Word might live.
By order of the warden, all jailors must marshal their inmates to march to the beat of a diffident drum, tamping down all impulses of the id and reporting all uncontrollable urges to the superintendent. Those prisoners who are eager to please their super-ego, please join us on the other side of the bars from dawn to dusk. We welcome you into the ranks of the semi-institutionalized, semi-employed.
After you have become members of our Outstanding Institute for Correctional Action, we will teach you to deaden your dread until it no longer surfaces from your dreams to wake you in the middle of the night. We can’t afford to have our half-imprisoned, half-imprisoning convicts screaming themselves awake; it will give our full-time prisoners too many nefarious ideas. We require our employees to sleep soundly. We need you to leave your cells in the morning and oversee the imprisonment of your fellow prisoners with an untroubled conscience, so you can return to your cells at night and sleep undisturbed. Waking up, whether you wake up screaming or laughing, will result in immediate retraction of your daytime privileges.
If you have not already done so, from this point forward you will dismiss from your mind all images of frozen seas, barren fields, and paralyzed fawns. The rule here is simple: make your inner life a parenthetical, let that little line stand between who you are now and who you were meant to be. Bound and bracket off your longing to let Life touch you, to contact what is real in you, and wake you up. Learn to perfect your defenses of isolation, projection, and straightforward resistance, remaining inside the buildings of our renowned complex and refusing like all good militaristic Americans to let the sun thaw the ice congealing around your warring hearts.
Every day that my hard-heartedness doesn’t bring me to tears is a day lost to the part of myself that counts its losses, divides everything into win/loss columns, solemnly swears it will be only good, never bad; that it will stand up tall, never look downcast; that it will be right, never wrong. I follow that part into the corrupt heart of duality. I let it lead me onto the lost highway, where all the hardheaded men bull their way to nowhere. I am full of my own bull. I am beaten at my own game, as if my only ambition is to become a cretin, a giant of egoic delusion. I am waiting for the day when someone says about me: ‘Now there’s a man with a good head on his shoulders.’
I always find it fitting to be walled in, head and shoulders below the rest. I am always wishing for the courage to go all-in. I always find myself returning to the fact that I am wishing my life away. Wishing Life, with its promise of Death, would just go away. Wishing I had a way to go back to that pre-serpent age when I had no knowledge of good and evil, and so made no distinction between life and death.
“To use words but rarely
Is to be natural.”
—Tao Te Ching, Book 1: XXIII
Some say: ‘Silence is death.’
Let these talkers live a day as I do,
My soul dying from lack of their death,
And they will refute themselves.
Dead, bloodless words
Aim in vain to compel me
To go against my nature and spirit
In untold ways throughout the day.
My nature is a fire set ablaze by silence,
A storm bombarding a calm house,
A discordant note, restless as wind,
Wrestling harmony. Words fail.
To hear the storm, to feel the fire,
To endure the discordant note,
I must stay silent and listen.
If silence is death,
Let that death revive my soul,
So when Death itself comes to claim me,
I will know already how to love
The great silence that comes after.
Like a recently widowed man
Remembering nights of unbearable passion,
Fighting the impulse to end it, unable to mend
The widening hole in his soul, so he goes out,
And the sight of couples in hand is a knife wound
The doctors can neither see nor heal,
For the doctors can heal only visible and outward wounds,
And thus the widowed man’s inward grief continues
On its gruesome path of self-destruction,
And as the fear takes told of him he takes a lover,
And as this new and unfaithful lover takes hold of her lover,
Her other lover, he shows up at her house,
Walks into her room, and sees her making love
With another man, and the pain of it commands him,
“Do something!” but he stands frozen
In the clutches of her infidelity, clutching
The carpeting floor and then gripping his own hair,
Ripping it out of his scalp, his suffering resistless,
His lover’s body and his dead wife’s body together consuming
His mind, in a fire to match his heart’s desperate fire
That will not die, and in agony he cries,
“Strike me down! Destroy me!” If only to go down
And out in tragic if futile glory, caught in the grip
Of forceful sorrow, imposing itself upon him
And tearing his fragile heart open
Like a lion tears open a gazelle—
Like a recently widowed man am I,
Though I am young and never married, and
There is no outward reason for me to feel such grief.
Like a widowed man am I.
I dance to move into the stillness,
To lose the thing that must be lost,
To choose to live, to thrust my self
To where trust counts for more than cost.
I caught something, I catch it each time
I dance in time to music that never ends.
Yet why when silence returns, do I fall apart?
Why when the body stops moving, does the heart
Fill with sorrow and grief, with the tragic jewels
That adorn the dances of sages and magic fools?
The heart fills with what always returns,
And until I am empty, will I always yearn?
In the silence of this movement, lend me a moment,
Turn to me, Lady of rhythmic serenity,
Lend me the key to see into your heart,
The gift that shatters what it later mends,
The soul still dancing when the music ends.
I dance to admit the gift, and to give it,
To give the thing that gripped is lost,
To live at last, be stripped of self,
Throw off that whip at any cost.
I held something, I hold it each time
I loosen my hold on what holds me under,
On thunder road I forget myself and stagger,
I trip over my feet, and a man with a dagger
Wakes me at sunrise on solsbury hill;
I look into his eyes as he goes in for the kill.
I have no things, and I have no home,
And until I find her, I will always roam
In this movement of silence, through the noise with the word:
I will write, and I will dance; my voice will be heard.
I will search for the key to see into her heart,
The gift that shatters what it later mends,
The soul still dancing when the music ends.
I dance to turn my sorrows inside out,
To earn the thing that has always been lost,
To learn how to move within my doubt,
Spin closer to the thing that has no cost.
I felt something, I feel it each time
The music takes my feet away from me.
I cannot say what it is that keeps touching me,
Or why I move like some demon is clutching me,
Or why when I return to the silence of my room,
I hurt like a man dragged by his hair into her tomb.
I will die someday, and who knows if these words will endure?
They may stay unread, unsung and obscure,
But the unsung can still sing, can still dance in their way,
So when the last hour strikes, on the day before decay,
I pray I have found the key to see into her heart,
I pray the gift that had shattered has healed, and transcends
And that the soul still dances the day the music ends.
Departures are a kind of death. One who has departed many times, and has seen many depart, is closer to accepting his own death than one who has never departed anywhere, who has never truly strayed from the place he mistakenly calls home. Death is the great departure, but it is only great if you have prepared yourself through prior, smaller, less great departures. The traveler knows death a little more intimately, while never knowing it fully, each time he leaves a place. He is closer to death with each breath, in an active sense, and thereby more connected with life. His departure is not only a cutting of ties; it is also a joining of the ties between life and death, between sorrow and joy, between departure and arrival. He departs one place knowing he will arrive in another. There is freedom in departing. When no place or person holds you, all places and people are open to you. When I leave a place, my heart opens finally to loving the place I had been. When I leave a person, my love for that person grows as the distance between us grows. The traveler, the one who departs, knows without a doubt that closeness and distance are not separate.