Lend me courage, Lord and Master, to enter the stillness with a willing acceptance of my lack, and yet with fullness of hope that I might someday inhabit the castle at the center of my soul. Light your lantern in this dim forest, this thick Amazon, or give me the will to wait here until you do, until you take my hand in the dark night and lead me through. Until my trust in you is complete, I will pray in my thirst to embrace whatever roadblocks you place in my path. I will not pray for easy fulfillment of my every dispersed desire. I will not pray to complacently retire from the world of strife, the world of violence rife with polluted minds and tortured hearts. I will not pray for immediate and everlasting freedom from the enemy battalions whose only mission is to topple the towers of virtue in my own heart. I know the battle will go on for a long time. And as long as it does, I will pray only this: to always hold in my soul’s steady hands the double-edged sword of passionate discernment, in order to understand which cords of my bound original nature it is my task to cut through, and which of these cords I must leave for you.
I can’t write, I can’t rest
The night guard revisits my cell
With you I got out; we got out together
I doubt I’ll ever get well.
Friend: stay near graced nights
We stayed true to pain and need,
Bared torn hearts — chained, freed.
I want to staunchly defend my right to life. Abort this mission of lifelong constriction with the guileless admission that my aliveness has been in remission, as if living were the disease.
Freedom is a motivating force, the source and the end of hope. I want to bend to its flexible iron, become pliable, liable to lift off the ground, finding flight and descent both viable options, adopting a position of delightful collision with silence, a momentous joining with the moment.
There is too much goodness to bear. Still, bear with it. Allow it to unfold. The gold is hidden under piles of sludge, mounds of dung, lost and found among the ashes of the stung self. Enter that sting with instruments of healing. Follow the bee that has stung you, bumble and stumble after his humming flight until he leads you to sweet honey. Be stunned by the inner sweetness you’ve shunned.
I’m hungry, alert, on the lookout for food. I want to stay hungry, not to lunge at every passing squirrel or deer, but to wait for the big game, the sleepy-eyed moose that can wake in an instant.
The Bible on my left, the Bhagavad-Gita on my right, and my hands, poised, on the keys in between. I want to hold the west and the east within me, hold the tension of my divided being: both the one who prays for help, and the one who resists all help. There is no help for that one. There is no shelf large enough to fit the living and breathing book of the living. Open your arms, embrace this book, and begin it again.
My aphantasia or mind-blindness is frustrating. I want to go back, find an event in my past, and look at it closely and clearly to uncover and make sense of the specific way I reacted to that specific event, which conditioned me to continue reacting in that way to similar events. But I can’t do it. I can’t tangibly return to a past event in memory. There is nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to taste, nothing to smell, nothing to touch. I am stuck with the present, and all the gurus with their beatific smiles stressing that the present is all there is, all the spiritually evolved people encouraging me to access the power of Now, do nothing to get me unstuck, or help me let go of my resistance to and frustration with this stuckness, which is what is here now. I want to go back into the past to try and understand why I have no patience for the present or hope for the future. But I can’t even conjure up a past feeling.
Since the past is out of the question, let me question the events of this day to see whether I can discover anything of value. I wake up already in a dark mood, exhausted though I slept nine hours. I make some coffee. The coffee wakes me up slightly, but the energy gained from the stimulant is used, by some unproductive but frequent mechanism of the self, merely to stimulate and increase my frustration. It is the kind of frustration that seems not to have any immediate cause. Which only means that the cause lies outside my conscious awareness.
I feel the frustration in my stomach as a hard knot of tension, what you might feel before running a race, or in the middle of a core workout. But I haven’t done any physical activity today except walking upstairs to put on the water for coffee. I am simply tense. I feel like I do not want to be disturbed by anyone today, but I am already disturbed, and there is no one else here. I feel a domineering inner disturbance. It is as if a rope, frayed from overuse, is tied around my midsection, and it pulls me along. I go wherever the rope, the noose, wills me to go. It is frustrating to feel I am not in control of where I am going. I cannot take one true step. But when the frayed rope snaps, or I let go, what will happen to me? It is like being on a ledge high on a canyon rim, the drop-off sudden and steep. Holding on to the rope I live a frustrated, fastened, anything-but-free existence. But if I let go, the only prospect I can see is an immediate fall to my death on the jagged rocks below.
I want to move easily, like a man who knows where he is going. Or maybe he doesn’t know where he’s going, but in that case he doesn’t mind not knowing. His every step somehow communicates a natural and relaxed attention, both to his outer environs and to his inner state. He trusts that he will know where to place his feet as he goes along. Wherever he ends up, and whatever he encounters along the way, will enlarge his experience of life, deepen his gratitude for it, and this awareness of the manifold ways in which life is a gift will grow within this man unself-consciously, until his thankfulness becomes as much as part of him as his hands and feet. He does not need to believe that life is a gift; he feels it and knows it. Even the deaths of the people he loves, even the prospect of his own death, do not subtract from this unshakable felt knowledge. If anything, they add to it. Death becomes for him a reason for more abundant life. Every passing moment is even more precious than the last, because every moment that passes brings him closer to his last.
But for the man who is not free, the tense man, the man whose every action is a reaction to some inner disturbance, life no longer seems a gift, and each passing moment, rather than expanding his capacity for heartfelt gratitude, only racks up his tension and increases his heart-constricting dread. Part of him sees and resonates and wants to reach out to the free man, ask him how he has been transformed, while another part of him envies and hates the free man, for he only serves with his easy grace to remind the roped man of his bondage. Life for the self-oppressed man is a constant struggle, the bulk of which takes place invisibly, in the confused turmoil of his inner world. Simple and spontaneous connection with anyone or anything looks to him like a monumental task, wrapped tightly as he is beneath the thick cords, the layered bandages, that cover his forgotten, but not thereby healed, wounds.
To reach out seems futile, for how can anyone else understand the maze he is stuck in, and lead him out? Despite this feeling of distressed futility, he longs for someone to see his plight in its entirety, to understand his suffering so deeply that, in the process of being completely understood, he is also freed forever from the idea that he was ever anything but free. But until that fairytale person arrives, he contents himself to waste his hours failing to understand his discontent. Though he claims to know without a doubt that he also cannot free himself, he continues to strive to do just that. His strained effort only tightens the chains, and to be in chains, even if they are not precisely literal, is to be on fire with tension, to feel every nerve in one’s body fighting in vain to loosen the iron bonds.
I resolved after my separation from Hope to stand at the window like a fire lookout and never to turn my back on the east. I wished to follow my own destiny the way a widow follows the arc of the sun over the course of a June morning. But it was winter; the days were short, and the sun was hidden.
I decided instead to hide, and I refused to confide to the beloved the contents of my discontented heart. It was not a wise decision, not a decision unanimously agreed upon by the internal jury. It was a split decision, an incision, if you will, that took me from the center, made a hole where there was once a spacious wholeness. What was simple became complex and convoluted, and I struggled with the words needed to greet people. I knew that most people greeted others with, ‘Hello, how are you?’ I also knew I could not do the same. It was not in my power to greet others in such a way, so I gritted my teeth and pretended I was deaf when my soul-sister asked how I’d ever bridge the chasm that separated my ignorance from her magnificence.
Once I removed myself from those who assured me the chains attached to their heels were benign, I wondered what to do. It was so much easier when I had a task, however deplorable. What could I do now that I had been commanded to be free? I asked a hunchback wearing a crown who was dragging his chains up a steep hill whether he wanted any help. He looked at me with the kind of vicious glance a king gives an escaped slave who, after being recaptured and hauled back to the castle through the mud, spits at the feet of the queen. After my offer of help was denied, I spat at my own feet, resolving to never again offer my assistance to a hunchback.
However, what I had been handed by those who had overcome their own uselessness, and were no longer hunchbacked, demanded a response. I recognized the paradox of futile effort met with unanswerable grace, yet I could not stop searching for the mirrored room without darkness, where through the blur of tears I hoped to witness the self stripped of what it wasn’t, but my weeping obscured the clarity of the possible. I heard a paralyzed voice, stuck in a dreamland of judgment, shout down that my words only added to the general absurdity. I claimed the paralyzed voice as my own and shrunk into a den where a lion was devouring its’ own tail.
Do not forget to tell them about the dance, whispered the voice of unreason, a voice I noticed rang clear and true and without distrust. Yes, of course, the dance. But how could I tell them? I would never be able to tell anyone about the dance. I could only show them. Everything that came to me from the voice of unreason told them about the dance, without my having to tell them anything.
Hold me, my invisible master turned mistress, as my trespasses hold me captive, as my addiction to silence produces its’ noisy hangover. I came to you to be held, and you did your job well, but I was not satisfied. I moaned to be held more tightly, and you told me to be silent. I did as I was told and was silent, and you told me to speak, to let everything out, withholding nothing. Nothing was all I could hold in and all I found when I looked in or out. To be without nothing was the only way to be, and my violent feeling that I existed without something essential made me question whether I really existed at all. If I was certain of anything, it was that I lacked everything. I especially lacked certainty. I did not know what I lacked. If I had known it, would I have lacked it? “Be still, and know…”
I knew enough to trust that my lying and cheating business partners would get me through the rough stretches I scheduled out on the calendar, the coming weeks in which I had allocated plenty of time to suffer from inexplicable grief. I boxed out certain hours of the day to be overcome by the urge to weep, and this I did during the prescribed periods, which came in the hour before bed and the hour after waking. During the rest of the time, I feigned an exaggerated grin, which was trusted by all but one. Because of this one’s flawless perception of my incongruous state, I trusted she was the one, and without flaws, both conclusions as false as her intuitions were true.
Be still, and know that I am not. Not all-knowing. Not always forward-moving. And not ever still. And still not—what? At ease? At one? At home? At odds with the one who is, I fizzled out in the drizzling doubt that veiled from me your kingdom. Not my kingdom. I am the veil; unveil me. Let me see my own face. I am the seeker, but how can I reach you if I remain at odds? This is no game, and there is no one to blame. Not even the one who is never still. This is no game, but that doesn’t mean there is no room to play. I play at writing, and I pray when writing. To truly play is to pray, but who of us here can play in that way?
For eleven months I have not taken a drink, he said proudly and with a strange trace of foreboding mixed with a lethal dose of malice. He heard a voice question him, ‘who has not taken a drink?’ Perplexed at this line of questioning, he said again: ‘I.’ He heard, “The ‘I’ that is afraid to die—that is the ‘I’ that has not taken a drink.” Why yes, he replied, of course. He heard nothing further.
Below her, there is another self, the self she searches for,
But will she ever learn to receive, to let the other open the door?
She searches for one to save the self she wishes she could leave
How long in her loveliness must she search ‘till soul and body cleave?
She and I, we once were one, but split apart like conjugal twins
Racked with the pain of Catholic guilt, she asked pardon for her sins
“Pardon me,” she spoke in French, “je pense you’ve lost your sense,
Forgive my greater intelligence, I’m sorry you are so dense.”
So that was that, the thing was done, I wept and laughed by turns
Though many years have come and gone, the sting of loss still burns
A friend told me he met her in Japan, working as a geisha
If he had the choice—Cat’s Claw or her—he said he’d choose the Acacia
Below her, there was another self, and that self eluded my reach
Like silence in the city, like a distant island from the rocky beach
She was like Nietzsche: she hated to follow, and she hated to lead
She could live with very little, for to be herself was her only need
If I cannot be with her, at least let me find her likeness
I’m nowhere near midlife, so why am I always in crisis?
By the cypress trees, I feel the breeze touch me, like a long-lost soul
Touches a lover, desperate to feel the sensation of being whole
In a time of silence and waiting, I waited for a moment too long
Since my body lacked clear weakness, I was praised for being strong
In the darkest moment of the shortest day, I awoke to the nature of light
By the bark of the oak tree in the shade, I decided to rest for the night
I long to be at ease with another, the way I used to be with her
Alone together, we remained ourselves, neither needing to defer
Below her, there was another self, and such beauty is far above words
I hope she is free, free and unfettered, that her spirit soars with the birds