Prayer: I shrink back from my lack of direction

I shrink back from my lack of direction. I blink once and come to months later, in the same exact location. Either I admit my honest terror in the face of barren obscurity, or I lock my soul in a windowless cell, and call it job security. Help me keep the faith I’ve never had. Help me feed the hope I’ve tried to kill. Hold me when I sweat through every pore, releasing the toxins that block me from breathing in your perfect air. Without you I become my song of lonely longing in the Texas night. If I must gnaw this bone without you, then send me deeper into the valley of separateness. Help me remember my thirst, whenever I pull from the well. Remember my hunger, whenever you ring the bell. Remember my poverty, whenever I cling to time. Remember my nakedness, whenever you house my mind. Remember my homelessness, whenever I find my home.

Speak, O my heart


True voice of my deep heart,
without which I lose touch with joy, 
existing without substance, without 
meaning, do not leave me forlorn, 
wandering the desert in mute resignation, 
aching within and without,
nowhere at home.

Speak to me, O voice of my heart.
Speak in your wordless wholeness,
in your broken language,
and I’ll record in words 
what I hear in silence.
Speak, O my heart,
and I’ll write my way home. 

No Wind

I broke into my own home
and found it empty.
I abandoned my home
and never found the way back.

I am a captive of my own need
to capture the moment.
I am a slave of my own desire
to be free.

Truth cannot be commanded.
Love cannot be won.
Peace cannot be earned.
Goodness cannot be achieved.

My lack of aliveness
would terrify me
if I were alive enough
to feel terrified.

I’d rather not be here
with what else is here
but what else is there
but what is right here?

It’s hard to love
and it’s hard to live
and it’s hard to write
without loving or living.

I want to own a Russian cat
and read Dostoyevsky
by a fire in the winter
in the woods of Arizona.

I want to speak
a word
for speaking
no words.

I am most real
when I confess
that I don’t know
what it means to be real.

It is evening now.
The dogs have stopped barking.
The rain has stopped falling.
There is no wind.

“Where Are You From?”

I can’t say.
Here, where I am now,
you see me, and I see you,
but no one sees
where I am from. I cannot see
myself here. I am not myself
here.

Who then, how then,
why, then, am I here?

Do you see the homeless man,
his hands shaking,
panhandling for change?
See him.
See that he and I
come from the same place.

Do you see the nameless wild-eyed cat
perched or trapped on the window sill,
certainly not in, and not quite out?
See her.
See that she and I
come from the same place.

I am not from here,
but I am here
to see
the man without a home,
to be
the cat without a name.

I come from the unknown
or from nowhere, or from somewhere
I’ll never know,
and I leave here as a great fool leaves,
I leave here like leaves of sage,
lit on fire to leave a circle
open, broken, only able to ache
its way whole.

I come from where I pass through
tomorrow,
where my lips pass from speech
to rapture.
Yesterday I walked like a camel.
Today my feet will not listen.
I have tried to walk in a straight line with them;
they can do nothing but whirl in circles.

I come from what I dance around,
what the wind and I create in our movement:
that’s what I’ve come to move into.
See how this creation creates the creator.

See, this body, it lives to leave,
so I’ve come here to move through here,
back to where I am from.
See me as I walk away,
moving forward, walking back.

See me as I pass the ones, so many,
who’ve forgotten where they come from,
that it is not here.
See each one.
See all these, and see me—
we come from the same place.

The Over-Lookers and The Under-Looker

You overlook me but I see under your looking over. I see how you only ever look over; I see how you do not look in. I see how you do not see me when you look out at me; you will never see me by looking out at me. You look out and over, and you see less than you look at; I look in and under, and I see more than can be seen by overlooking.

Do not think you are special in overlooking me. I do not think I am special in being overlooked by you. You overlook most people, and most people overlook me.

To overlook is one thing, to be overlooked is another, but neither causes me suffering anymore: neither your overlooking nor my being overlooked. To be overlooked in this world is reason to rejoice. To be overlooked in the world above is to be freely given by no one the invisible keys to the underworld, where things are seen truly and appreciated for what they are, where no one is seen for or forced to be someone they are not.

To be overlooked is to begin to look into, to become an under-looker. It will seem at first to the under-looker that being overlooked locks him out of the world. It is true that, in being overlooked, he is locked out of the outside world—where everyone is locked in. But now, locked out of the outside world, the under-looker is free (though initially it will not feel like freedom, for it is not at all like the so-called freedom of the locked-in world where freedom is not possible); now the under-looker is free to discover the unlocked world. “The objective situation is repellent,” how true, so now the in-looker looks under, now his deep gaze locks-in on the underworld, the only place he can and must go to shorn the heavy locks that bolt him to the outside world—where everyone is locked in.

To be overlooked, then, is to become (or to realize that one already was) an alien, an eternal wanderer in and an outsider to the outside world, to come to the understanding that one’s home can only be found inside the underworld. Only if the outsider finds that home, and is true to it, can he learn to be at home in the alien world above, but the important thing for the under-looker, what is first and foremost, though it is unseen by all and of no importance to most, is finding his home in the underworld.

I am more at home in the underworld; in fact, only in the underworld am I at home, for there nothing is overlooked. Everyone there sees into, and already there everyone is under, which is where everyone is above, though this is not seen.

But I go to the underworld alone. There is no ‘everyone’ there. There is only the one who goes under. Only where there is the one can I see. Only in the underworld, in the seeing under, in the in-sight, do I see myself for who I am. Only when I see myself for who I am can I see another at all. This is why I must go to the underworld, and why I must go alone. Look for your own way out from under those who look over you.

The over-lookers who look out may say to the outsider and the under-looker: ‘you are selfish, self-absorbed, indifferent to others.’ The over-lookers will say this fully believing themselves beyond reproach. They are not concerned with themselves, so how could they be selfish? Yet what those with such an out-look lack is a sense of the damage they themselves cause by their overlooking. They do not see what they do, for they do not see at all. They believe looking under is selfishness, but they do not see the selfishness involved in their own blindness. They are blind to what they cannot see, whereas those who look under see what the blind cannot. The under-looker sees the blindness of the over-lookers, he sees the damage this blindness causes to what exists invisibly but is no less true for that—what is truer when it stays unseen, what remains distinct when it stays hidden. To the over-lookers what does not exist above does not exist at all. In their blindness they wipe out the underworld.

To wipe out the underworld—what could be more selfish! What could be more selfish than looking over the under-lookers! For it is these very under-lookers—each in his own way, each in her own way—who see a way beyond selfishness, beyond the absorption with the self that the over-lookers, being who they are, cannot help but overlook in themselves. It is the under-looker who sees a way-out, while the over-lookers see nothing but what is already out, believing that by seeing what is already out they see the way out. But this is no way out. Absorbed as the over-lookers are with the surface that locks them in, they see nothing, not even what absorbs them! For there is much more to what is already out than can be seen—looking out. What is out is nothing without what spurs it out from under. If what spurs it out cannot be seen, nothing is seen, for what makes nothing into something grows out from the inside. The most distinct essence of the under-looker the over-lookers do not see, for the over-lookers see only what looking out lets them see, and the essence of the under-looker lies under, lies in looking in.

And what is the way-out the under-looker sees? Again, let me stress that no one under-looker sees the same way-out as any other. This is of the highest importance and must be made clear. It is not “a way out on which we can all absolutely agree.” No. It is a way-out for that particular under-looker, that ‘I’, and though another might not agree with it (because the other cannot truly see into it), it still remains a way-out for that ‘I’ who does see into it and can act out of it. But only that under-looker, who is not the same as any other under-looker and certainly not the same as any over-looker, can see into it.

Looking-under and seeing-into is not self-preoccupation, as the over-lookers would have you believe. In looking-under one locates precisely the faculty to see out of the inward self and into the outside world in a way true to the underworld. This is the very faculty that those with the overlooking outlook do not possess, for they know nothing of the existence of the underworld. By looking out, they lock themselves into the world above and so are necessarily selfish, though they might call their selfishness ‘real-world wisdom’ or they might call it ‘religious servitude.’ But how can the over-looker serve anyone? He has nothing to give because he sees nothing (though he believes he has everything to give because he sees everything), so his giving is no better than the most violent taking away; he has no wisdom to share because he does not look under (though he believes his wisdom lies in the very fact that he looks out without looking under), and so the wisdom he mechanically dispenses is on the level of the pez dispenser.

The over-lookers look out, and whoever looks out without having seen into is selfish, whether that over-looker believes he is a humble servant or whether other people look up to him, as he looks over them, and believe he is a cultural giant; whether the over-looker concerns himself with alleviating poverty or whether he concerns himself with amassing wealth. Either way he does not really concern himself at all, for if he were at all concerned with his self and with the way he lives then he would look under. If nothing else, what he would find there would be sure to give him reason for concern! If his outlook is such that he does not look under, he will overlook all those he claims to assist, his cultural prowess will have no lasting significance, the wealth he amasses (though it might all be gained in the name of his future progeny or to distribute to the poor), will only serve to keep him out of touch with what can truly be gained and cannot be lost. All gains that do not come from making contact with the untouchable in the underworld cannot last and will be lost. I have no interest in gaining what will be lost; I look always for what lasts, so I look under.

The preoccupation of the under-looker is with seeing into the self and seeing into the world in a way that sees both the self and the world clearly and does not overlook either. This is the only way of seeing that can lead to “a sense of brotherhood with something other than man,” as an under-looker once wrote. This ‘brotherhood with something other than man’ is the only type of brotherhood the under-looker longs for, as he has long existed as an eternal outsider and exile from the outside world of outward men. To be an outsider to the outside world—this is to begin to look inside, to become an in-looker and an under-looker. To become an under-looker, to find one’s home in the underworld—this is the only way-out.

“Dare only to believe in yourselves—in yourself and in your inward parts! He who doth not believe in himself always lieth.” Thus spoke Zarathustra. Honesty means looking out at and into the world in an undistorted way that is utterly one’s own. The under-looker knows that looking at the world selfishly is looking at the world through distorted, unseeing, over-looking eyes. To see totally without distortion—to see oneself as one is, to see every other person as that person is, to see reality as it is—this is only possible by looking under.

Put it this way: The under-looker looks into so he can look out of without overlooking, so he can truly see into and under everything that exists above and outside. Those who habitually look out cannot believe that anything more exists than what is already out, for they have not looked in. If they looked in, they might see more in themselves than what had seemed to them to be their self, or more likely they would see a great deal less. Either way they might begin to look under rather than overlook. But I doubt the over-lookers will have read this far, and if they have read this far they have probably overlooked everything I have written. How typical of the over-lookers, those who look out but cannot see past their own self-importance!

Self-importance begins with overlooking (though the overlooking ones believe the under-looker is self-obsessed and self-important), for the overlooking ones do not see the importance of anyone but themselves. In looking out without having looked into, they can do nothing but overlook. They do not see anyone; they do not even see themselves, for to see is to see under the surface, and the overlooking ones define themselves by their superior capacity to look out, to see what is above the surface. They call themselves practical, sensible, reasonable; they are the realists, the shakers and movers. Perhaps they even call themselves far-sighted. But, in reality, what does it matter if you can see far out if you have not seen deep into, if you see far out only in the world of what seems to be, and you have never seen into the underworld that truly is?

The over-lookers see what is above, which is far from all there is. They look at what is already out, what locks them in, without seeing they are locked in and in need of a way-out; they do not see what lies under what they overlook because they do not look under at all. They look only out; they do not look in.

I am not one of them. I am an under-looker. I look in.

“What is Home”

Here is a paper I wrote for an Ecopsychology class I am taking. The topic was home. What is home? What does home feel like for you? Do you long for home? I got a B-. The professor said the essay was poetic but unstructured, confusing, and unclear, with vague contemplations and without a point. So be it. So it probably is.

Some people start with a point, with The Point, and then go about proving it, making it. But you cannot make what you already have. When you start with a point, you finish only where you began, you end only with what you knew at the beginning. You get nowhere. You arrive unchanged, no less and no more the person you were before you left. The trip is pointless.

I start without a point, I start lost and stop at points along the way. I fall, I climb, what do I find? What is the point? I find that I cannot find The Point, but I find a purpose in every sentence, in each word. Each place I ride through has a point, a purpose in and of itself, whether I stop there for a time or whether I keep riding. The point is not to find the point; the point is to find the way home. It is the way you get there, the points you pass through along the way, that gives meaning to life. 

 

“’Homeless’ is here coming to mean ‘being at home in the whole universe.”
—Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, 1990

Alas, though I often feel homeless, I do not often feel at home in the whole universe. When I do feel at home, often when I am “on the road” to nowhere, I feel like I could be at home anywhere. But when I don’t feel at home, often when I am in a structure that could be called a “home,” the same notion obviously does not apply.

But what is ‘home’, and what is not home? Where do I feel at home? Where do I not? I said I feel at home, somewhat paradoxically for some, when I am on the road. It is only when I am going home that I feel at home, and I never go anywhere but it is a way to get there, to get home, to end at the beginning. There, wherever there is, “here” when you are there, “there” when you are here, your home is not constant, is always moving, as you are, as you like to be, as you like your home to be. You are always where you are, here, but as Thoreau writes, “Thank Heaven, here is not all the world.” (Thoreau 1854). Soon you will be somewhere else, eternally in-between here and there while in the midst of both, living in the liminal moment between your past dreams and your future hopes which is the present, the reality of which dreams and hopes cannot touch.

How does it feel to be at home? Home should be a safe place. At home, I should feel safe to be as reckless and dauntless as I choose. Secure is maybe a better word. You have to feel secure before you can launch yourself into insecurity. You need to feel at home before you can take to the road. As Synder puts it, “You first must be on the path, before you can turn and walk into the wild” (Snyder 1990). The path is home; the wild is the roadless road. To go home, I go where there are no roads.

Ken Wilber would probably say that we create boundaries between what is home and what is not home, that without those boundaries we would be able to feel at home everywhere, “in the whole universe.” But I do not feel at home when I feel myself inside a human-constructed world, a sterile, inanimate world antithetical to the concept of home, outside of the natural world that grows of its own accord. Home is where we feel alive. I feel most at home, most alive, where man and his destructions are least present, in the wild, “where man is a visitor who does not remain.” And here we have a presenting problem, as they say in psychiatry. I do not have the experience or knowledge or wisdom to live in the wild for life, so how can I call it home? It used to be home; how can I say it is still home?

Perhaps I feel like I can say this because I don’t see home as a place of constant residence. Gary Snyder might be more of that opinion than I am. “For most Americans,” he writes, “to reflect on ‘home place’ would be an unfamiliar exercise. Few today can announce themselves as someone from somewhere. Almost nobody spends a lifetime in the same valley, working alongside the people they knew as children” (Snyder 1990). Snyder sees this as a mostly negative thing. Because we do not feel ourselves as “from somewhere,” no place becomes “part of what we are” (Snyder 1990). That’s one way to look at it. But he contradicts himself when he talks about homeless coming to mean “at home in the whole universe.” When we are not from one place alone, from somewhere, all places come together, and we are from nowhere and everywhere.

Each place we pass through can become a part of what we are, who we are. Some places we pass through will affect us more than others, just as some people we pass by and cross paths with in our lives will affect us more than others. But though we may, because of intense emotion felt in a place or intense emotion felt with a person, desire to merge and “settle down” in that place or with that person, we must, in the words of Snyder, hold “sameness and difference delicately in mind” (Snyder 1990). Being from any one place, being with any one person, excludes being from any other place, being with any other person. This is not to argue for free love, an experiment that has been tried and has failed, or for non-stop travel, an experiment I may have to try for myself, but to argue against exclusion, against any separation of where I am from versus where I am not from, who I am with versus who I am against.

Those boundary lines truly do become “battle lines,” to use Wilber’s words. Ultimately, we cannot be from some “part” of the country and not from the other parts, cannot be from one country and not from the others. As Samuel Johnson originally pronounced and Bob Dylan sings, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Our individual identities are bigger than, encompass more than, the southern state or North Country we were born in and at the same time are smaller than but a part of the Rio Grande that brings southern U.S. and northern Mexico together.

Where we are from is where we are returning to and also where we are at each moment as we get there. Where we pass through is home as we get home. The more alien we feel, the greater the incorporation, the more profound the change must be in ourselves so we can feel at home.

The change here is not a surface adjustment to a collective reality where the adjusted man feels disconnected from his true self and thus discontented with himself. The change here is a connection with a deeper reality that is both distinctly individual and unmistakably universal. The contentment of being and feeling at home, turning on the pot of water to make tea, sitting in a favorite chair to read, floating like Abbey and Newcomb in “dual solitude” down the river (Abbey 1968), walking alone across the desert, can only come when there is that connection. The psychologist Abraham Maslow writes of self-actualization, the pressure we feel within “toward unity of personality, toward spontaneous expressiveness, toward full individuality and identity, towards seeing the truth rather than being blind, toward being creative, toward being good” (Maslow 1968).

 
This is the movement, the ceaseless change; this is the journey home. It can consist of an actual journey, a physical journey, when we leave where we were born and raised, leave what was home so we can go back home, leave where we were so we can become who we are. Or it can be a psychological journey. Not everyone has to travel outwardly in order to make that homeward voyage. Needing to go home implies not feeling at home, feeling like something is lost and now must be regained. Some people may be born and grow up feeling at home, with themselves and the world. For these fortunate folks, none of whom I know, the searching journey will not be long and painful; it may not be a search or journey at all. For the rest, those who feel exiled from themselves and the world, the journey to what Maslow calls “authentic selfhood” will be long and, because it involves growth, painful and difficult (Maslow 1968).
 

Reading over what I’ve written thus far, it looks like I am contradicting myself just as I felt Snyder was doing. At home everywhere, no distinction between home and not-home, but yet not feeling at home in sterile, lifeless, human-created environments. But perhaps those environments are not as lifeless as they sometimes appear. There is life and wildness everywhere, “the wild is indestructible” (Snyder 1990). And everywhere, someone or something feels at home. The prickly pear cactus creates its home by pushing through the cracks of some trampled Tempe sidewalk, the lone juniper finds a home in harsh soil by the side of I-17, a woman finds herself at home as she dances alone, eyes closed, at closing time in a Prescott bar. I feel myself at home, not only when I myself feel at home, but also when I perceive another – man, woman, child, plant, rock, river – feeling at home, flowing with ease, expressing his truth, her nature, its’ reality.

To clarify, it is harder to feel at home in a place where wildness is harder to find, but it is still possible. All it takes is life revealing itself for a moment: the reflection of the rising sun on the Potomac River while walking over Key Bridge in D.C., the homeless vagabond carrying his pack across the Golden Gate bridge, the street guitarist playing the blues on Bourbon Street, bridging the gap between himself and his listeners, between inner experience and outside reality.

Do I long for home? I have studied the Enneagram some. It is a psychological system of nine personality types. I’ve typed myself (accurately) as type 4. Type 4 is known as the Romantic Individualist or The Tragic Romantic. No argument there. The 4 type longs for what is missing, what is absent, what is lost. “It is the stance of the separated lover, yearning for a way to reunite” (Palmer 1988). It is for the lover, in part, but the whole of it is home. Home is where I feel whole. The connection with the lover is a part of home, the connection with my essence is a part of home, and the connection with the land is a part of home.

Do I long for home? What else is there to long for? All yearnings, whomever for, whatever form they may take, are never for anything but home. Bob Dylan, undoubtedly an Enneagram 4, from his song “Girl From the North Country”:

“When you travel to the north country fair
When the wind hits heavy on the borderline
Remember me to one who lives there
For she once was a true friend of mine”

This yearning for something, someone, once here, now gone away. Once a part of your life, still a part of your life, but you not a part of her life. Though out of reach, out of touch, she is still kept in mind. And maybe that yearning for the woman who left is a yearning for more than the woman. Maybe that woman is a symbol of all that is lost or almost lost, more than a lost love, but a lost opportunity, possibility, a lost home. Maybe the yearning for the woman from up in the north country is also the yearning for the wilderness, that vast wilderness up north in the Gates of the Arctic, the wilderness where we can find direction, not towards north or south or east or west, but in a way that transcends the human practical definition of direction. Here we walk not east towards Mecca or west towards California or north to the Last Frontier or south to some Eldorado.

Here we walk not towards some Utopia, where we can build the perfect form of civilization, but in a present reality that we will not allow to become a past glory, where we can stop for a second in the stillness and say: here, I feel something that I do not feel in any technological paradise, in any urban dream. Here is no dream, no unreal paradise. Here is the real, what has been here before us and what must remain after us. Here we can find a meaning to all our endless wanderings and yearnings. Though we may have searched for a long time in the wrong places and found only disillusionment, here is the right place, which validates the yearning and redeems it. And maybe that’s why the desire to preserve it is so strong. The wilderness, what used to be our home. Once here, now almost gone.

“It has always been part of basic human experience to live in a culture of wilderness,” Gary Snyder writes, but we no longer live in the wild, so we do not fully feel the pain of its loss. . “At present,” Jack Turner writes, “we do not experience the loss of the wild like we experience a toothache” (Turner 1996). Part of going to the wilderness, part of going home, is to feel, not solely loss and pain, not solely awe and joy, but the full range of human emotion. Feel the heavy, intense sadness when what used to be our home is lost, and the light, expansive joy of returning there. Feel deeply, authentically. To feel and be human again.

Only when we feel and experience our humanness can we understand what Snyder calls the “thusness” of the nonhuman. Feeling one we understand the other. Understanding the other, we feel ourselves come out of our selves, come out of what we know and into our own, into what cannot be owned or controlled. We disown all that limits us, all that holds us back from letting in what we feel, and then letting it out so we are not held back by it. Breathe in life, vitality, the wild gentleness and the wild austerity of home; breathe out lethargy and apathy, breathe out our brokenness, sing of our exile, and become whole. Come home becoming and leave becoming still, become still in movement, keeping within what lies behind and beyond.