I Fall to Pieces

I have recently discovered the ideas of David Bohm, a theoretical physicist who also had an interest in the social implications of how thought and language can lead us to perceive falsely, a fragmented world that is in reality whole. 

From Wiki:

David Bohm.jpg“Bohm was alarmed by what he considered an increasing imbalance of not only man and nature, but among peoples, as well as within people, themselves. Bohm mused: “So one begins to wonder what is going to happen to the human race. Technology keeps on advancing with greater and greater power, either for good or for destruction.” He goes on to ask:”

What is the source of all this trouble? I’m saying that the source is basically in thought. Many people would think that such a statement is crazy, because thought is the one thing we have with which to solve our problems. That’s part of our tradition. Yet it looks as if the thing we use to solve our problems with is the source of our problems. It’s like going to the doctor and having him make you ill. In fact, in 20% of medical cases we do apparently have that going on. But in the case of thought, it’s far over 20%.

After watching a couple of interviews on Youtube, I purchased and am still reading his book, Wholeness and the Implicate Order, in which he discusses a concern for humanity, because of our habit of thought which fragments the nature of reality including the splitting of our sense of self. Reality he says, and many of us may already agree, is an unbroken, undivided whole. He says:

“In essence, the process of division is a way of thinking about things that is convenient and useful mainly in the domain of practical, technical and functional activities (e.g., to divide up an area of land into different fields where various crops are to be grown). However, when this mode of thought is applied more broadly to man’s notion of himself and the whole world in which he lives (i.e. to his self-world view), then man ceases to regard the resulting divisions as merely useful or convenient and begins to see and experience himself and his world as actually constituted of separately existent fragments.”

So if thought and language by their very nature fragment and divide our experience of the world and our sense of self, what can we do about it? It’s doubtful that we can ever overcome our human nature and remove thought from our experience, but perhaps through attentiveness we can learn to recognize the subjective and arbitrary ways that we come to conclusions, decisions, and how we categorize things and events sometimes drawing erroneous conclusions and then proceed to live by them.

Bohm suggests that thought itself cannot change the world, but rather what is needed is a change in our perception and meaning. If perception and meaning at a more ontological level can include awareness of the whole, perhaps the nature and stream of thought changes.

I have often struggled with the notion of wholeness, as a state to arrive at, because I disagree that we should be seeking a fixed and permanent state of being. To my knowledge there are no fixed and permanent states in nature. Bohm reminds us of the etymology of the word broadening the definition to imply an action or event of healing. Perhaps where it occurs, our desire for wholeness may be related to an intuition of the wholeness perceived in the undivided nature that is background to our imagined foreground. Then wholeness is understood not as something to possess but rather an ongoing reconciliation with the unfragmented motion of living within nature’s wholeness.

“It is instructive to consider that the word ‘health’ in English is based on an Anglo-Saxon word ‘hale’ meaning ‘whole’: that is, to be healthy is to be whole, which is, I think, roughly the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘shalem’. Likewise, the English ‘holy’ is based on the same root as ‘whole’. All of this indicates that man has sensed always that wholeness or integrity is an absolute necessity to make life worth living.”

Along with many significant contributions to science, Bohm tried to give us a way to understand our human nature that would help us to reconsider our social relations that would further the efforts toward a more peaceful world in which humans felt they belonged.

“Whenever men divide themselves from the whole of society and attempt to unite by identification within a group, it is clear that the group must eventually develop internal strife, which leads to a breakdown of its unity. Likewise when men try to separate some aspect of nature in their practical , technical work , a similar state of contradiction and disunity will develop. The same sort of thing will happen to the individual when he tries to separate himself from society. True unity in the individual and between man and nature , as well as between man and man, can arise only in a form of action that does not attempt to fragment the whole of reality.

What is the use of attempts at social, political, economic or other action if the mind is caught up in a confused movement in which it is generally differentiating what is not different and identifying what is not identical?”

Bohm also reminds us that any theory is subject to the limitations that our tendency to fragment cause:

“We have thus to be alert to give careful attention and serious consideration to the fact that our theories are not ‘descriptions of reality as it is’ but, rather, ever-changing forms of insight, which can point to or indicate a reality that is implicit and not describable or specifiable in its totality.”

There are a number of interviews and lectures available online in which the gentle, peaceful nature of this man shines through along with the presentation of his ideas for bringing about a more peaceful, undivided world.



Bohm was a friend of Krishnamurti and here you may explore their relationship and dialogues.

There is a good essay by Matthew Capowski on thought, meaning and perception here:


Quotes taken from Bohm, David (2005-07-12). Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Routledge Classics) (Kindle Locations 515-517). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Keeping the Change

Black Rock 10-2012 381While it’s accurate for me to say that I write for sanity and to clarify for myself ideas and experiences while engaging others who may have similar desires and needs, I can’t pretend to understand fully why particular ideas and perspectives fascinate me and repeatedly hold claim to my time and energy. I only know that repetition, even if imaged as a spiraling rather than a simple circling, seems inescapable. The form of life may be linear, while the content thankfully is not. I do occasionally tire from my own repetitions although I admit to not knowing of a cure from them.

As the sun seems to be crawling reluctantly across the sky in December darkness, everything, including my thoughts, seem to be dipping into the shadows. I can’t tell what is helpful and sometimes feel that there is always some part of me that I am forever looking for.

My dreams concur, repeatedly setting me in motion. Recent themes find me traveling, encountering people, places, houses, rooms, buildings, animals, occasionally with pauses for conversation, abrupt weather, fearful chases or erotic beauty.

Dayworld too brings with it the sense of movement; there’s nothing or no one to pin down, as Bob Dylan says, “People don’t live or die, people just float.” Perhaps more than any other time, change has become the status quo; we believe in it and expect it – even when it doesn’t bring us quite what we expected, we simply look to more change to rectify the unexpected. But in living with the constancy of change I wonder if we’re not inviting more and more the desire to become the unchanged? Are the changes outside of our control that come through technology, makeovers, relocation, vacation inviting an unchanging self?

Winter iceEarly in my life it seemed life’s floating was seamless, unquestioned, spontaneous. Perhaps that is how childhood with its abiding sense of innocence need be. The transition to adulthood brought with it a self-consciousness as the sense of separation between self and other, inside/outside seemed more and more apparent. That led to the unrelenting question of, “who am I and who are you, if we are not the same?”

There are many ways to answer and account for our differences, but I have always secretly felt that there is, even though dimly intuited, a common meeting place where our creativity springs forth from. A common wealth that when tapped into expands the ideas we have of ourselves and the world to include ideas found by others that we are looking for – not only from the famous or the experts, but in the everyday encounters we have with each other.

Perhaps we live with a diminished sense of self when fear, apathy, belief and knowledge shelter us from being touched by each other and keep us from realizing the potential we have when touched by others and being touched by them. By touch I mean a touch of the heart, a sharing of thought, feeling and vulnerability with another as if they had something you needed.

Jung says in the Red Book:

“You are hard, my soul, but you are right. How little we still commit ourselves to living. We should grow like a tree that likewise does not know its law. We tie ourselves up with intentions, not mindful of the fact that intention is the limitation, yes, the exclusion of life. We believe that we can illuminate the darkness with an intention, and in that way aim past the light. How can we presume to want to know in advance, from where the light will come to us?”

Jung, Carl (2013-08-30). The Red Book (Text Only Edition: No images or Scholarly Footnotes!) (Kindle Locations 376-379). . Kindle Edition.

The perspectives offered by myth, in which the invisibles are personified through stories of their adventures and relationships can be ways to practice hearing others. The heroes, villains, tricksters, creators and destroyers of mythology found in any culture articulate the multi-faceted nature of not just human nature but the primary experiences of the world. Of myth, Liz Greene says:

“The language of myth is still, as ever, the secret speech of the inarticulate human soul; and if one has learned to listen to this speech with the heart , then it is not surprising that Aeschylos and Plato and Heraclitus are eternal voices and not merely relics of a bygone and primitive era.”

Greene, Liz (1985-01-15). The Astrology of Fate (Kindle Locations 374-376). Red Wheel Weiser. Kindle Edition.

It could also be that for us moderns what removes from us the possibility of seeing mythologically the themes in our lives is a theme of believing in a unity of our personal identity. This is the dark side of unity that mistakes undifferentiated oneness for unity rather than unity as that which unites the many parts through the differentiation of their natures. Perhaps wholeness is the desire for differentiated unity, but can never quite be experienced in oneself without the sense that others are crossing the bridge with you.

“But our ruler is the spirit of this time, which rules and leads in us all. It is the general spirit in which we think and act today. He is of frightful power, since he has brought immeasurable good to this world and fascinated men with unbelievable pleasure. He is bejeweled with the most beautiful heroic virtue, and wants to drive men up to the brightest solar heights, in everlasting ascent.

No one should be astonished that men are so far removed from one another that they cannot understand one another, that they wage war and kill one another. One should be much more surprised that men believe they are close, understand one another and love one another. Two things are yet to be discovered. The first is the infinite gulf that separates us from one another. The second is the bridge that could connect us.”

Jung, Carl (2013-08-30). The Red Book (Text Only Edition: No images or Scholarly Footnotes!) (Kindle Locations 2597-2600). . Kindle Edition.

Food, Glorious Food

Shortly after quitting smoking, around 17 years ago, feeling a little bit out of sorts, I did a little reading on food and nutrition. Quitting smoking a pack of cigarettes daily wreaked havoc on me, physically, from withdrawals that at times were unbearable, and by adding a few disruptions to daily habits and routines. I like change, generally, but this business of quitting smoking took a good six months to even begin to feel comfortable with, and free from the obsession, worry and threat that I would smoke again.
But, food became more present to me and not wanting to gain a million pounds, or trade one bad habit for another, I started reading about nutrition and adopted a vegetarian diet for a couple of years. Although I drifted away from being strict about not eating meat, a few food choices that seemed beneficial stayed with me at least in memory. First, was the loss of any desire to eat white bread, and second was to watch out for how much, and what kinds of sugar I ate.
In the course of that diet it never occurred to me to give up dairy. I don’t remember reading much about it either. Well, time passed and I drifted pretty severely from any sense of conscientiousness about what I ate. As my life became fuller and richer after marrying Paul and we got busier with new friends, it was just easier to eat what everyone else is eating!
In October, 2005, I was rear-ended stopped for a traffic light. It was a foggy wet morning and I did not even see the car behind me coming. I heard the squeal of brakes, and bam! I would guess the driver was going around 40-45 mph. That was the estimated speed given by the body shop who fixed my car. I thought I was okay at first. Looking in the rear view mirror and seeing a woman with a baby in the car behind me made me jump out to see if they were okay.
The woman and her baby were shook up, but otherwise not harmed, as well as not insured and not the owner of the car.
My car was smashed up a bit in the back end, but drive-able. After exchanging our contact info, I headed to work. As I pulled into the parking lot at work, I began to feel not quite right. I sat in the car, called my husband on the cell phone to let him know what happened. I went into work but knew that something big was happening to my neck. I felt shaky, weak and my head and neck began to pound with pain.
Well, little did I know at that moment how much that little accident would change the next few years of my life. I began to have chronic debilitating neck pain that no amount of rest or drugs would fix. Physical therapy and some pain medication eventually brought me to the point where I could go back to work and get through the day. Still, I had enough pain that I could not enjoy playing the guitar, or enjoy most physical activity. For the first time in my life I became quite sedentary. I ate too much food and stopped caring about what I ate.
As time passed my husband and I both put on an extra 30 or so pounds. My husband Paul, at one point decided he wasn’t going to continue down the road to weight gain and poor health. He has some diabetes in his family and was worried about his health. He started to walk and then run on a regular basis and began to do some research into nutrition.
Because he does 95% of the cooking for us, we started to change our diet. The changes he suggested to me didn’t make much sense. He wanted to follow a Paleo style diet, eating a lot of protein from meat, very little carbs and sugars. I was somewhat okay with that, although I have never been that fond of beef. It was appealing to me to start to make a change but I would rather eat veggies and fruit! Paul kept saying that fruit is bad because it’s sugar. I would say, not all sugars are equal, and back and forth it would go.
About a year and half into his diet, I decided that any attempt to be healthy and lose some weight was a good thing and jumped on board. Although Paul had dropped from around 210 lbs down to around 185, he could not get under that weight and would yo-yo up and down. I decided that I would eat more protein with him but would prefer to eat chicken and turkey, it’s low fat right? I also decided to eat a lot more fresh fruit and to start taking power walks and exercise some. In about six months I dropped 25 lbs! I was very happy with this, but I didn’t always feel like I was eating enough.
More recently, I was browsing the Amazon website in search of new reading material and searched for books on nutrition. What I really wanted to know was how does food work? I was not looking for a diet so much as just looking to understand the mechanics and chemistry of food. There’s a fair amount of information out there and the books that seem to come up the most in the search are of two very opposing views mixed with a smattering of variations on both of those themes. I didn’t realize just how contentious the debates were until I started poking around the net on the websites of both sides.
On one side are the proponents of high fat, low carbs (Paleo or Primal diet, Atkins, South Beach) and the other camp takes up the opposite side, low fat, high carbs (Vegan, Vegetarian, Plant-Based). There is some agreement between most proponents of these diets with varying emphasis, that processed foods of any kind, particularly white flour, white sugar products are not healthy for anyone.
It is not my intent here to rehash the arguments for both sides. If you’re interested in the debates there’s plenty information out there attacking and defending a variety of diets more readily than I will ever be able to do. If people have healthful outcomes, who am I to argue or refute their diet choices? They must be doing something right and I’ll leave it at that. Although I did not venture into vegan diets for political or environmental reasons, I must concede that the Big Farma and Big Pharma industry seem okay with the status quo. And, if I were ever to eat meat or dairy again, it would not be from a factory farm.
But, the questions I have about nutrition come from asking, why are so many Americans gaining weight, and why are chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer taking us down in an era in which we are experiencing the most wealth, the best access to information and healthcare relative to any other time and place in history? And, how can I or anyone else avoid this fate and not get sucked into the medical industry built and predicated upon profiting from the top three killers? Does food and nutrition really have anything to do with it?
The first book I read that seemed to offer answers to my questions was Dr. Neal Barnard’s “Reversing Diabetes.” I read it, enjoyed it and thought, wow, I wish I had known this much about food and nutrition 20 years ago! He advocates a low fat, plant based diet and his studies have documented that if followed, reversal of not only diabetes but heart disease is possible.
Next, I read his book “Food For Life,” which has a 21-day diet outlined that you can use as a trial run. We tried it. It was a bigger change than I thought it would be. Giving up dairy was hard at first. What in the world would I put in my tea besides milk? Can I really drink soy? What about protein? Well, Paul and I completely revamped our fridge and food cabinet. Through trial and error, and more reading, we figured out how much of all the different plant-based food options we need to eat daily to get enough proteins and keep the legumes, veggies, fruits and grains in balance.
I continued to read other plant-based nutritionists:
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, “Eat to Live.”
Dr. Caldwell Eselstyn, “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.”
Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina, “Becoming Vegan.”
Around the time that we finished the 21-day diet, a friend sent me a link to an easy to use, free website where you can track your daily food and tally up the nutrients. It’s called FitDay Free Calorie Counter.
I highly recommend the website for anyone eating any diet that not only wants to count calories (who wants to do that?), but especially count macro and micro nutrients in what you’re eating. I was pleased to see that with a few exceptions, my daily diet is over the RDA. The exceptions were vitamin D and E which are made up by taking a daily multiple vitamin. I would especially challenge anyone who thinks vegan diets are not high enough in ____ (fill in the blank), to see how their diet adds up before discounting plant-based diets as an option.
The diet allows me to eat more food in a day than I ever have before. I have more energy, do not feel like I am starving anymore, and have lost cravings for eating a lot of sugary things. I eat the amount of fruit necessary, but don’t crave sweets like I used to. I am discovering new foods that are tasty and easy to prepare.
Anyway, like most adventures in my life, this is a science experiment. After a few months on the diet I’ll check my nutrition stats, compare them to 3 years ago and make adjustments if necessary.
I’ll finish today with this offering from Dean Ornish:

“I don’t understand why asking people to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it is medically conservative to cut people open and put them on cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.” 
— Dean Ornish

Everything is Broken

There’s a great article in Pajamas Media about Mr. Zimmerman. The link is here:

How Bob Dylan checked out of the culture war.


I started listening to Dylan around the same time that I was reading Jung. Dylan’s lyrics are interesting in many ways, but surprisingly in light of Jungian thought. Bob’s earlier stuff is often times less personal, more collective. Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They Are a Changin‘, A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, all touch upon cultural issues of their day. Yes, there are songs from his earlier writing that are more personal, but they aren’t nearly as personal as any of the songs that would come a few years later in the Blood On the Tracks period and thereafter.

One of the things I truly admire about Dylan’s writing is that when viewed chronologically you get a sense of the personal transformation that was and still is ongoing through the years of his life. Gradually his youthful protests that once so easily placed blame for the state of the world at authority figures (i.e., the mothers, fathers, senators and congressman he tells us about in The Times They Are a Changin’), who exemplify corruption and greed have been transformed into wrestling matches with personal deamons.

His later writing displays a much greater willingness to expose his own personal shortcomings and limitations that are a part of the human condition, and he gradually moves into a place where it is possible  to make one’s peace with the past as well as the human condition. Every Grain of Sand expresses very well the direction Bob is going by the late 1970’s.

I don’t know how true it is but I read that Bob underwent a Jungian analysis sometime after the breakup of his marriage. More to the point is that Bob, as many of us have, has gone through some sort of personal transformation, and happily for us has a wonderful gift for displaying his reflections through his songs.

The point of comparison to Jung is to acknowledge a big debt that I owe to his ideas. Jung’s differentiation between a collective unconscious and personal unconscious were very helpful to me for gaining insight into my inability to make clear distinctions between what was and was not within my power to choose, change or ignore; what was me and not me.

In his own words here is a definition of the terms:

“The collective unconscious is part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.”

Whether or not it can be proven that the contents of the collective unconscious “owe their existence to heredity” in a literal genetic sense, the idea is most useful. The collective unconscious is made up of archetypal contents. Archetypes can be understood as impersonal aspects, from Wiki:

“innate universal psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic symbols or representations of unconscious experience emerge.”

What I eventually came to realize is that ideas are bigger than me and not only inside but outside me as well. Not every thing that enters your thoughts and feelings and ideas about life is a personal creation. Many, if not most ideas and influences come to us from outside our personal existence. It is as if we are born with the ability to carry within us psychic content that influences us in not so conscious ways. Jung had names for what he thought of as primary archetypes: self, shadow, anima, animus, and these too are useful ideas. I think though that one does not have to study specific archetypes in order to appreciate that psychically we are influenced by archetypal shapes, or rather, that an aspect of our reality is archetypally shaped.

From any understanding of Jung’s ideas along with some time spent with a depth psychologist what I became aware of was a consistent and crippling failure on my part to be able to differentiate between what and who I perceived others to be from who I was, which kept me from developing personal authenticity, and a clear sense of self and other. It was as if I was constantly trying to be everyone else, in order to know them and as a result absorbed all of the fear and hostility that I so easily sensed in people and the world around me into my being.

My life had been so shaped for such a long time that I was utterly defenseless. Somewhere in my early 30’s the only thing left for me to do was hole up in my room where I did much reading and writing, trying to make my peace with being alone. This was not to last for too long though. After a three year old relationship ended, the bottom fell out.

So, I ventured back out into the big old world and did what I had always done, I joined another church.

The sins of the father…

“Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology.  He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world.  There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.” — Carl Jung

 Reading Jung left me with the sense that my intuition and experience of the world as a messy place was not an unreasonable conclusion to come to. I spent a lot of time in the following years reading and psychically attending to the darker and more shadowy side of the world. No longer an innocent, I wanted to know and perhaps try to understand all that humans had been through and how it was that we got to our time in history. Why did humans seem to perpetuate so much evil? Was it the lack of security from easy access to basic necessities such as food and shelter along with powerlessness in the face of disease and each other? What made us seemingly so different from the animals?

Animals also live with the same scarcity of security and live and die not unlike we do, but they don’t seem bothered in quite the same ways as we do. They kill for food, fight for dominance, but rarely to the death of rivals within their own kind. But humans have filled history with an interspecial rivalry that continually leads to conquest at the great cost to each other and to ourselves.

But, it wasn’t for the horror of history that my interest remained fixated on our collective past. I wanted to understand psychically what it is that humans are doing. All of this was part of my ever-expanding search for a sense of myself, an identity. My life felt unstarted, directionless, as if I had been dumped into an alien world a total stranger. This might have been a common situation experienced by many, but if so, I was not aware of it. Partly, because I had just enough fear keeping me from finding out from others, and partly because most people I approached with conversations about cosmological concerns did not seem to share either my sense of alienation, lack or misplacement of identity or a strong and incessant drive to understand who and what we are.

In the historical search lies a sense or a pull to “get to the bottom of the problem.”  Who or what then is to blame for our condition? There have been many answers to this question, and I think that how we answer this question plays a part in what direction we steer our boat in the cosmological ocean. It never occured to me then just how much the personal state of my life was driving this quest for understanding and that perhaps this was why other people did not pose the same questions to themselsves.

I noticed that after absorbing the history of a millenia or two worth of mankinds failings that a feeling of dispair and cynicism seemed like the most appropriate response. It was tempting to resign myself to the view that perhaps mankind was a blight upon the universe and my small and trivial life was just one more wink in the sleep of the cosmic nightmare. But the coming to such a negative conclusion did nothing to quench my thirst for understanding. Sigh…

Inspite of our seemingly trivial and pointless lives there remained for me the quest of knowing who I am and to finally bring the quest directly to my own doorstep. If my thirst for understanding was not sated by the knowledge of our collective human history, what then? What did my psychic appetite want?

What drives each of us to be who we are and especially our own peculiar pathologies? Is it the sins of the fathers, genetics, astrology, culture, personal or collective guilt?

In my late twenties, my sense of being lost and without direction, ironically, or coincidentally, put me on a path that eventually found me living alone, 3,000 miles away from family and familiar friends. At last I reached a place of wilderness in an unknown territory, both psychically and geographically. In 1991 I had moved from my native Long Island NY home of 33 years to Portland, Oregon. Although I moved out there with a male companion, by 1993 we had gone our separate ways. In hindsight, I am surprised that I stayed out west. I was terribly lonely, and felt like I was forever circling around the Great Abyss. 

Faster than I could run away from it, the aloneness that surrounded me created a space that gave a new shape to my life. Once that space had been created, there was no longer any way to deny that I was the problem and any real answers to my personal pathology would be found only through learning to live in the dark unchartered depths of being alone with enough courage, space and time to live in the day to day of the mess of my own being. There was something for me to do now and knowing that meant no turning back.

I cannot say whether the sins of the fathers brought me to this place, but I think I felt like they did. Everything in my life seemed entangled with everything else, from human history to family history, I could not tell the difference between me, my life and anything or anyone else. I could not tell how I was getting from one place to another let alone why. I felt pulled from one experience to the next as if I were riding in a car with no driver. Before I could ever hope to be in relationship to others I had to have some way to be able to have a sense of who I was and what I wanted and where I wanted to be. I needed and sorely lacked a vision.

The next two or so years would be the most tumultuous, tortured and crazy years of my life. But it’s true that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

“The broken part heals even stronger than the rest,”
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, “Hurry up,” the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
“What difference in a hundred years?”
The barn where Agnes hanged her child
will fall by then, and the scrawled words
erase themselves on the floor where rats’ feet
run. Boards curl up. Whole new trees
drink what the rivers bring. Things die.
“No good thing is easy.” They told us that,
while we dug our fingers into the stones
and looked beseechingly into their eyes.
They say the hurt is good for you. It makes
what comes later a gift all the more
precious in your bleeding hands.

~William Stafford

“Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.

Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20, Douay-Rheims translation

The trouble with you is the trouble with me

It would not perhaps be fair to place too much blame on Taoism, Zen Buddhism, eastern spirituality for a lack of contentment that remained my constant companion, but the depersonalization I absorbed from eastern ideas mirrored my sense of disconnectedness. Intellectually, I may have found comfort in eastern ideas, especially Alan Watt’s idea of the individual ego as fake or illusory. My unsettled sense of self and inability to feel authentic enjoyed Watt’s disparagement of the ego. I suppose that ideas of every persuasion have their abusers.

We suffer not only from the pain of a wound but pile suffering upon suffering because of not wanting to suffer, and for wanting to be anywhere but where we are when we are suffering. What a leap from simply suffering, with a seemingly endless rippling effect.

But, I think suffering wants something from us.

Suffering can move us through, relocating us to some new way of seeing, even if reluctantly, and makes us more aware that we are alive, not able to go about the day in our usual fashion. We sometimes ask, why me? We find the limits of our control, over both ourselves and others. All the more so in proportion to how much control we are accustomed to assuming we have, or would like to have, both over ourselves and others.

In eastern thought, I think the aim is to be one with life and to live without desire and attachment in a way that conflicts with the separateness each of us knows in our lived, historical, and perceived individuality. Oneness or unity may be inviting, or a vision of a reality beyond us, or desirable, as selflessness promises the release of the tension felt in the ontological fright of being alive now, but will never erase our knowing that we were not always alive and won’t always be alive, which is, in all honesty, an inescapable reality of our individuality.

It is in the day to day living, leading one day to our death, that truly makes us alive and aware of our separateness. It is as persons, uniquely moving through time and space, in relationship to all else, that we create or discover meaning. Michael Meade says, “there is no way not to be who you are and where you are right now.”

There is an inherent tension in being alive because we know we weren’t always here and we know we will die. How baffling, how terrifying it is to know that we are finite, and yet to be given the awareness that transcends our personal historical time, and more space than our single lives occupy. We live multi-dimensionally through the bounty of memory, images, time and space and with whatever powers that influence us.

During the time I was attracted to eastern thought, the thing missing most from my life was both an understanding and acceptance of what it is to be “in relationship to”, whether to others, or to myself. Running away from my individuality was an attempted escape from fear and conflict that I experienced with others.

To be in conflict, both internally and externally, created a desire to move beyond the uncomfortable limits of personhood, and perhaps attracted me to reach for something that relieves the tension and conflict of being-in-relationship. Who wouldn’t enjoy the security and wisdom that an infinite and omniscient being has? A worthy striving, or unstriving, however one imagines the path toward that state of being. And before I understood clearly that there are limits to knowledge, I believed that it was just possible to achieve such a state.

Looking at the mess that being finite, limited individuals has wrought, I wanted something else, some other way to be. But, what if our lives as individuals are God’s idea of extravagance and necessary because relationship is part of the motion of the universe? The mess is okay, but wants something from us.

Many a disillusioned westerner will do anything to run from or disidentify with the mess of the world and especially the burden of history. The danger being to reject western culture without enough reflection to know what is that is being rejected.

And so, a tone of complete rejection of Western culture dominated my thoughts and studies for several years. Little did I understand at the time how common was my thinking even when I was feeling the pangs of my own personhood trying to be born.