A Figurative Battlefield

I can’t let Life inside if I can’t find Life inside. But I don’t see anything when I look inside except darkness and emptiness. Not even an empty tomb, which might suggest resurrection, but just an empty black hole that goes on forever, in which life neither begins nor ends, making resurrection irrelevant. I don’t hear anything inside that hole except a soul oppressed into silence. Can you hear silence, if you attend to the rest notes between the sounds? But what am I talking about. It is not right for me to speak of silence. My mind might literally be silent, but it is a figurative battlefield, and I can’t figure out who the good guys are. I don’t know which side I’m on, so I become a traitor to both, a kind of double crossing puppet, pulled by the strings of an actor whose part is to suffer the morbid effects of the primordial split; to never forget that sting while traveling over the same forsaken territory, unraveling into the wound that keeps me feeling orphaned by Life, keeps me from singing my true song, the song of the undivided and undefended heart, David’s song of praise and thankfulness. I cannot see the hills that praise Thee when I cannot raise myself from the pit, even if it is only to reach my hand up and ask for Your pity.

I cannot see the hills. I am standing motionless in a treeless open field encircled by thick woods occupied by gunmen from both armies. There are soldiers at the ready in all four directions. Because the gunshot blast could come from anywhere, nowhere is safe.

No wonder, then, that I feel the pressing need to build some kind of fortified structure, to defend my exposed, solitary, defenseless self against the incoming blows. But although the soldiers on both sides smell blood, and want nothing more than to destroy the faithless man who stands alone, having reneged on his loyalty to both of their ranks, it is as if, due to now practically extinct remnants of their inborn sense of honor, they cannot kill an unarmed man. But the moment I buckle under the weight of my leg-shaking fear and start to build a defensive structure to shield myself from attack, they feel I have given them implicit permission to let blast.

Motivated by the almost complete hopelessness of the situation, and my fear of imminent death, I might very well build a nearly impenetrable fortress, the only opening a narrow slit that lets me look out, but which I can quickly shut when I see an attacker bearing down. I’ve forgotten one important detail, however. The battle takes place solely in my own mind. Both armies are within me. While I imagine that I am defending against the battalions, insulating myself in my fortress, I am actually building my own prison and then opening the gate to let my enemies inside. When I was in the open field, imagining that I was leaving myself completely vulnerable to attack, there was nothing to fear. The woods surrounding me were as empty as the field in which I stood alone. The gunmen were a projection of my mind. Now, enclosing myself within the citadel, which is within my mind, imagining I am finally safe from attack, there is nothing but fear. The woods are still empty, but the field now holds a cell, in which the soldiers swarm.

“Muse”

I shatter and break,
I heal and take heed,
I heed a call I no longer hear;
I do not know if what I do not hear
still calls me.

I cannot wake up early enough
to cover the distance
that divides me from myself.

I haven’t heard from you
since I wrote you that long letter.
I can’t remember
if I put my return address.

Would you have me say,
“Please return to me?”
You know I have too much pride,
too little faith, too much doubt.
I don’t know if I’ve ever believed in you,
and I’ve always struggled to believe in myself,
never knowing who I was
struggling to believe in.

Would you have me say,
“I was wrong, I admit my error,
I open myself to your truth?”
You know I am much too stubborn;
I resist too much
And am too opposed
to any truth not my own.

But I hear you saying,
“This is not a truth that is not yours
nor is it believing in your self alone.
This is opening to a truth
that is mine and that is yours,
a truth between us
that covers the distance
that never existed,
that unites what was never divided,
that heals and makes whole
what already is.”

I hear you saying,
“How could I return to you,
I who never left you?
How could I write you a letter,
I who am written in your soul
when you see a cloud lit up by the sunrise,
when you see a man on a bridge over a freezing river,
when you see a child standing in the light?
Is not each true word you put down
written by me,
with me in you?”

I hear these words,
but is it you I hear
who speaks them?
Or do I only hear the empty space
between you and me
which these words cannot fill?
Is there space between,
and is it empty?

I do not know
where each true word comes from.
I cannot say it comes from me,
not knowing what that would mean.
You ask if it is written with you in me.

Is that true?

Do I ask myself,
or do I ask you?
Who do I ask if I ask you,
and how will I know your answer?
Do I ask to receive an answer?

Unable to be Moved—a Fiction Vignette

I need to write how I feel though it rarely makes any difference. The birdsong, the calm of Sunday evening, everyone in their homes, the loss of light as night overcomes the day: none of it moves me. My own unhappiness moves me least of all. It disgusts me. I went to a place where people who sometimes move me get together, but my heart did not stir. I flipped through books that had moved me before—to tears, to adventure and the road, to longing, to love for wildness and people great and small, to love for quiet and peace within me. I tossed each book down again. None of them could move me. Oh, but I would not be resigned! In the morning before the sun had risen I got on my bike, rode up in the direction of a mountain to the south for 15 miles up a steep grade. I made it to the top and flew down. But to move oneself is not to be moved, to feel oneself moving closer to some destination is not to move closer to oneself. I could see the trees pass by in a blur on the side of the road; it could not make clearer the blurred confusion within me. I moved my body but my soul was left unmoved.

Knowing I could not simulate the love for people I didn’t presently feel, I moved myself into the simulation of anger to see if that emotion could change my mood. I riled myself up. People? I despised them. Always smiling, unconscious or unable to allow themselves to feel their own suffering. It was all pretend, a never-ending game of Risk that ends with each player being dominated by the world, except in this pretend game people were stabbed for their shoes and thrown into gutters to die with rats. And me? I was experiencing my anger about people faking happiness and about the injustice of things in a superficial, fake, non-genuine way, without the compassion and sadness that I knew were deeper than the anger. That only sunk me deeper. I could not think of one happy moment.

Just two nights before, I had danced to funk, soul, and rock and roll. I could not hold the memory in my mind. It flew from me into unreality. Dancing—when I felt most myself, most able to express the truth in my soul—did nothing to me. Its restless, self-abandoning and self-revealing movement was only a way to escape the inability to be moved. It was no better than riding a bike. It was nothing but a last ditch effort to rid oneself of burdens that, at the end of the night, would come back with unforgiving vengeance. It failed like all other futile efforts. I remembered with greater clarity the visceral feelings that came into consciousness after the dancing was over and the glow from it gone: unable to sleep, pummeling the keyboard like I always do, trying to approximate in writing the feelings I get from dancing, and failing there too.

It was all failure, and success was the greatest illusion and entrapper of all. I had never succeeded, though perhaps nothing is more fortunate than this. I had lost jobs, lost prestige, lost relationships that had not even begun. No one had lost anything for me. I had lost them all the way I prided myself on being: alone. But none of those outward losses bothered me as much as the inner feelings: my felt sense of deficiency; my inverse and hidden grandiosity, the distance between who I was and who I felt like I could be; my loneliness yet my barely unconscious shattering of all possible opportunities I had to moderate that loneliness with a long-term romantic partner. But what good did that do? How could someone else take the loneliness away? It was not possible. The loneliness was there, and all I could do was understand and express it as best I could. A partner would only put temporary distance between myself and what I could not be parted from.

I could lose everything as long as I could create a work of art that expressed all the pain of those losses and the much greater pain of which those losses were only a symptom. I could not do it because I didn’t even feel any pain, only apathy and a frustration I felt would engulf me from the inside. I suppose I cannot say that I did not feel pain, but my greatest pain was being unable to express the pain I felt. Everything I wrote was inadequate. Only dancing provided an immediate and full expression of feeling. But the expression of pure and complete feeling possible in dancing was inadequate because inarticulate. Energy without meaning. I could dance and express the truth in my soul, but what was that truth? What did it mean? What good did it do after the fact? Nothing was left on the floor, though everything had been propelled out and onto it. It was depth brought to the surface with nothing that remained after the cessation of movement. Nothing that explained the contradictory feelings of overwhelming nothingness and unbearable passion impossible to keep down, the feelings that had caused the restless movement in the first place.

Soon all the feelings would plunge back in and down, become invisible, practically non-entities, as insignificant as the empty dance floor in the closed dive that only moments before had been the site of such forced exuberance. The feelings would be sucked in like dirt into a vacuum, the only thing to show for their existence and expression the fading neurotransmitters that would make it difficult to sleep for a few hours at least. And in the morning a hangover as psychologically painful as that from booze, though the night had been spent without the suspect benefits of that wrecking substance. The extreme ecstasy that dancing can bring at its most intense moments does not lead to long-term happiness and the comedown is just as severe, just as strong as that from any intensely enjoyable experience, whether naturally felt or artificially prompted. It is important to find the center, but not if it precludes the dancing, not if it prevents the soaring. Let monks and spiritual titans experience that grounded, centered equanimity. I know nothing of the center. It is as alien to me as I have become to myself.

“What Do You Want?”

Can you let deadly calm possess you?
Can you let stillness confess its wordless secrets
On this windless morning?

You want to give everything,
But you have nothing to give.
You want to be yourself,
But do you know who that is?
You do not want to speak,
But you expect to be heard.
You do not want to be swayed,
But you demand to be stirred.

Can you let the river of unknowing stir you?
Can you let mystery endure amidst the empty uproar
On this wind-strewn afternoon?

You want to get out of here,
But you don’t know which way.
You want to say it all so clearly,
But you don’t know what to say.
You do not want to weep,
But you’d love to be honest.
You do not want to be surprised,
But you demand to be astonished.

Do your unending demands astonish you?
Do your own offending hands admonish you?
Feel the wind die down in the early evening.
Even it does not pretend to acknowledge you.

You want to change everyone else
So long as you can remain the exact same.
You want the world to be different
So long as you don’t have to feel any pain.
You don’t need to be with anyone
So long as they all want to be with you.
You are just fine with being all alone
Just so long as you are being pursued.

Can you let happiness pursue you?
Can you get out of your way long enough
To let the wind that picks up at dusk
Cut you back down and pull you through?

You want to remember how it was
So long as it was better back then.
You want to imagine how it will be
So long as it gets better again.
You don’t want to stay stuck here
So long as there’s someplace better to go.
You don’t mind stickin’ around
So long as someone here still enjoys your show.

Can you feel the agony of all your divisions?
Can you kneel over every one of your tragic decisions?
You open the window, no wind blows inside.
In the darkest part of the motionless night,
The silence pierces you with deadly precision.