282. Into the Mystic

[ After visiting Brovania, the ancestral home of apartment gypsies and Ramen noodles, I feel a need to look at life on the coast of consciousness.]
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“We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic
 ====================
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the mystic
 ====================
And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home, mmm mmm
And when the fog horn blows
I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it
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I wanna rock your gypsy soul

Just like way back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will float
Into the mystic

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When that fog horn blows
You know I will be coming home
And when that fog horn whistle blows
I gotta hear it
I don’t have to fear it

And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And together we will float
Into the mystic
Come on girl

Too late to stop now”  Van Morrison, poet

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Van creates musical atmospheres that are nice to travel through even years after hearing them. Though I’ve never been a sailor or known a gypsy lover, I can taste a bit of both in his song. It’s simple enough: A sailor man has been away from his gypsy lover girl for too long and he can’t wait to hold her again. The foghorn is a welcome sound after being out to sea; it also warns him of potential dangers, even death, as he is getting closer to his loved one. There is both urgency and timelessness in this simple song. Moving “into the mystic” happens in present, past and future time. The mystic is not tied to history or politics, economics or technology. It exists outside of these structures in a billowing silken sail made of love… which I can relate to.

noun: mysticism
  1. 1.
    belief that union with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect, may be attained through contemplation and self-surrender.
  2. 2.
    belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.
    You know like everything else that’s attractive, mysticism is double-edged. If you go with definition 1, it’s cool. A higher Zen-like knowledge or state of being comes over you like a holy cloud. All religions seem to get to this absorption with the Deity– oneness. It’s a great place to visit but impossible to live there because your desire filled body gets in the way, calling you back to otherness .
    Then there’s the second definition that’s less attractive. It’s syncretic and creepy. Requiring a map and a conspiracy theory in order to figure out the inscrutable mysteries and secret codes. You might have achieved oneness but nobody else is there– no Deity just disembodied delusional voices in your head. Unfortunately for folks who do live in definition 2, they struggle to visit reality on brief occasions as they walk relentlessly around their downtown streets. There goes one now, swatting at gnats that are not present on this cool spring day.

I like to think that I’m in the first level, with a healthy appreciation for intuition, associative thinking, creativity, and yeah,  the mystic. Not the occult version, no. I prefer to believe in an oceanic mystic and osmotic experience that is open to everyman as one praises and meets God. A balance is reached in that ocean just as a balance is reached in the arms of your loved ones.  Separateness and longing surrender to one warm amniotic embrace.

Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line, Severing rightly his from thine, Which is human, which divine.     Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t know where to draw this mystic line, maybe in the sand of a Zen garden, with a handmade bamboo rake. Why rake sand? Not because you are OCD and you want all the grains to fall the same way, but to lose your otherness and join that elusive oneness of the mystic mind. The burden of otherness gets to be too much too often.
Lying on your back at the beach with eyes closed breathing in rhythm with the waves breaking at your feet… that’s the mystic too. Life is in you and around you and through you. Your sweat dries and becomes humidity as you breathe air in and hook up oxygen with your blood cells. You realize in the mystic moment that you are the lilting breeze, the falling leaf, and the damp soil on which it lands. What you had for breakfast grew out of that very same soil. One and other and the same.
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Divisions and boundaries dissolve in the mystic just like salt in water. Oh, it’s still there in every sip and will return like dried sweat on your skin. It all makes more sense in dreams, this mystic dimension. Time and space and gravity and form all work differently in the land of dreams. What is another paradox is that our bodies and minds are refreshed when we go there for only a few minutes per sleep cycle. I suspect that dreams are the mystic harbor where our ships of consciousness rest and replenish ever so briefly, weightlessly formlessly mindlessly, slip safely into the arms of God.
“And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home
I gotta hear it
I don’t have to fear it”
Sail on, Blognauts, Into the mystic.

280. Point less ?

I was reading a journal article today on mind wandering. The researchers somehow determined that mind wandering actually allows the same mind to focus; and conversely, the focusing mind allows the same mind to wander in a yinny-yangy way. (My words not theirs, trust me here.) I find this finding reassuring, which seems redundant to find a finding and assure again, i.e., “re-“. However, be this as it may, I am a big fan of mind wandering. I do it all the time, to which long time blog followers can all shout a throaty “Amen!” I am a proponent of associative thinking, trusting that there is a theme evolving as the associations build. The tight sphinctered scientists among us do a lot of crisp pointing, like tour guides who point out the most important buildings in Charleston or NYC. They point and point and point so you get the point. Helpful if you are on a tight schedule; tedious if you are not.

Mind wandering is not total abandonment of rational thinking; rather it is like letting a kite have its string, maybe a half mile of string on occasions. Allowing the breezes and updrafts to have their way with a kite over the beach is a small effortless joy. Ahhh, good therapy for the string holder and spectators who are unwinding while watching their kites turn into tiny red dots out over the shipping channel. The kite can symbolize a lifted mood, a soul rising, a worry vaporized… or nothing at all.

What’s the point? Is this an experiment with a key and lightning? Is there a measurable and justifiable purpose here? Not really.

Decades ago I remember my friend Jack flying a kite off the sand of Kitty Hawk, N.C. It was a perfect kite flying day. We added fishing line to the original string when it was exhausted. To elevate the kite’s altitude, we tied shoes and fishing weights to the new line. It became an engineering marvel after a few hours. Only as early evening approached did we take turns winding in the various lines and weights until we retrieved the flimsy kite itself. I was left with a memory, a wonder, a smile thirty years later.

Jack is long dead now; however, the memory is bittersweet and alive. If I choose to focus all my Jack memories, I’d fill the sky with millions of kite strings and confetti. The nights in Georgetown; the weekend at UVA; the trip to Va. Tech; the dozens of dozens of parties and outings. The big red Oldsmobile convertible. The stupid red van. His wedding, wife and kids. Siblings, mom and dad, and friends network. His amnesia episode. It’s endless and yet invisibly attached to the single kite string that wandered up off the beach in 1980 something.

I always listen to Pandora when I write my blog posts. Pick Rolling Stones Radio and you get the entire milieu of rock and roll that surrounded their classic hit songs. Rather than drilling the Stones’ greatest hits into your brain, Pandora floats around the era, filling an aural shopping cart with nice choices from the same aisles and shelves where the Stones live. An atmosphere is suggested to hover in your memory and massage old thoughts and feelings you have not moved in years. “Time Is On My Side” is followed by Zepellin, CCR, Hendrix, a Beatles song, Cream, the Animals, etc. And there you go– 1970 all over again.

I’ve heard more than one tight lipped doctor dismiss dreams out of hand as mere defragmentations of the waking mind, a cleaning process the brain goes through each night, with no other significance. Some even mock the concept of the unconscious mind as an unprovable fantasy construct. These guys point, point, point to their trusty data points that measure something but require no faith. Anecdotal records are simply coincidences and not reproducible, so they would have you believe.  But allow me to disagree.

Years ago I had a boy client who had lost his father to a long battle with mouth and throat cancer. He longed for his father, an avid outdoorsman, to be in his life and teach him how to canoe, and fish, and hunt. He had a repetitive bear dream that disturbed him. In it he was running next to a bear in the woods. As I pushed for details he told me the bear was not scary at all. And they were actually running around a quarter mile track in the middle of a pine forest. He was disturbed by the “nonsense” of the dream. I sketched out the scene to his liking and he colored the bear a reddish brown. As an afterthought I asked, “What color are the bear’s eyes?”

Without any hesitation he responded, “Bright blue”.

Now that’s an odd detail, I thought.

Later on I was processing this dream with the boy’s mother. She told me about her deceased husband. “I used to sponge bathe him at the kitchen table after they took his tongue out. He’d sit in his underwear and make growling noises for yes and no. I understood him, but I think it scared the boys to see their dad that way.”

“What did your husband look like?”

“Tall, six two or so, maybe two hundred and fifty pounds. Handsome, I thought.”

“What color was his hair?”

“Oh reddish brown. And he was hairy all over, not just on his head.”

“Really? Like a bear?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. I called him my big teddy bear.”

“And his eyes, what color were they?”

“Oh, my, the brightest blue you ever saw.”

“Well, how about that? I think we’ve found your son’s dream bear.”

Gasp. Tears. A billion kite strings filled the space around her and wet confetti maple leaves poured down all over her aching memory bank.

 Merely the brain defragmenting, kids. No need to panic. If you can’t prove it exists, then you can’t point to it.
So we point less.

 

 

 

242. One crisp fall day

Some days call your name with a different slant of sunlight or a final cricket chirp as you close the windows to your bedroom for the summer’s end. We humans notice sensory changes through the bodily inputs of smell, sound, sight, touch, and taste. Even the subtle ones like lowered humidity or wind direction can trigger our minds toward preparing for the winter or pull on emotional strings of past losses and grief. As I mowed the grass this past weekend I bumped my head against a winesap apple, strode under a Bartlett pear, pushed around sleeping butternut squashes, and came out alongside a heavy grape vine pregnant with zesty purple fruit. Glorious, glorious abundance from little past efforts on my part. But the devilish deal is this: to eat of this fruit is to simultaneously accept the end of the growing season. It’s not bittersweet, but the moment is tangy and crisp, poignant. The older I get, the more I feel the silent sting of these days. I pause just shy of melancholy. Then again, I could be overthinking this experience.

In vain attempts to lengthen summer my wife and I have scheduled warm southern fall trips in October. Last year it was the Gulf Coast of Florida. Wonderful, yes, but it felt like a magic trick to fly two hours and gain a month of growing season, like a rabbit came out of a magician’s top hat and hopped away. This year it’s out to Arizona. I know it will feel fantastic to recapture the heat and feel my body relax in the Arizona desert warmth. The catch is coming back to instant chilly weather, dampness, and dreary low sunlight days. What would you rather do: leave Baltimore or come back to it? Springsteen wrote a song about it, Hungry Heart. What’s an old guy to do?  I can’t stop time or ignore the delicious fruits of the moment I am in. Do I eat and die, or fast like a fanatical anorexic who fears death so much and thereby only prolongs a slow version of it? I suppose the longer I reside in the desert, the more change I’ll come to see. The desert is subtle, blogalinas.  However, no land can be immune to time’s relentless march. No rabbit will hop from a sombrero in Tucson, nosirree. More like a gila monster will crawl out of a boot, to be culturally and geographically correct.
So, as this day warms up into an early autumn gem, I’m confused. My body knows the sunlight is lower octane now; it’s welcome but not celebrated.  I suppose I’d celebrate this  very same day in the early spring, but no. This day promises less not more. So I resign to pull up the squash plants, and yank up the late beans and peppers. I remember one last hill of red potatoes that need to be exhumed. Soon enough even the green grass will fade to muddy brown and then a frosty white. It’s time to draw in the frivolous furniture of summer days and the fragile potted plants on the deck.  Wind up the hoses and drain them in the process. We’ll babysit all of these seasonal items for another six months and do it all again on the other side in April. Yet I find myself pausing longer at these changeover moments. How many times will I repeat these mundane tasks? Not to be morbid, my bloggerators, but to be realistic I count 20 years of life expectancy in my expected assets accounting column.
As I see it, I’ll have about 15 years of retired life if I die on time. That’s an appropriate book end to my life. My first 15 years were spent in pre-tirement, I suppose, with the middle 48 spent entirely in tirement. No wonder I’m tired.  In my first 15 years I learned how to be a functional adult, although there is still some debate about that claim.  So figuratively speaking, my life will be a fat book of 48 years secured by two fifteen year old bronze book ends. On my life’s tome I’d like a nice leather binding with gold lettering, “Burrito Special Vol. 1” deeply tooled into the cowhide. Wait. I think I’m overthinking this thing. Left unsupervised, Irish people tend toward melancholia, tragedy, and the morbid. Halt!!
I actually ate that winesap apple. It was shockingly delicious. I insisted that my wife take a bite…forget the Garden of Eden allusion. Her name is not Eve. Later she made a butt kicking roasted butternut squash soup. And I’m considering harvesting all those grapes for juice or jelly. The pears don’t soften up till October.  Perhaps that’s the answer to my unechoing silence:  enjoy the harvest now. Live abundantly and gloriously. Laugh at death. He is simply doing his job, scything away daily without benefits, days off or any retirement plan.  Death is merely a UPS delivery guy in black, minus the truck. Just sign for the package and he’ll be on his way.
Then there’s that other thing called eternity. I can’t get into that right now, my little chinchillas. I have to do some billing and  then vacuum. Also, there’s someone at my door with a package.

235. Dry eyes

 I’ve had numerous clients over the years who have complained that they cannot cry or sustain weeping if they ever do have tears. What’s up with that?  The problem is not a lack of sadness, fear, trauma, or chaos. It’s a lack of direct connection to their feelings. Crying is a natural physiological reaction to certain stressors or mood states. How then do some folks manage to override nature and shut down the crying reaction?  You can find out about types of tears on the internet. Go ahead, no, wait, well I’ll just tell you. There are three types; the first two are not connected to emotions but to basic physiological functions of lubrication and defending against irritation. The third type, emotional tears, is what I’m talking about.

One person I know claims that she cried so much when her father died that she resolved to never be that vulnerable again. As a result she built up psychological walls and filters to prevent her from crying at all. If a tear should ever surprise her, as it has on occasion, she distracts herself, looks away, and reverses gravity somehow to reel her tears backwards, like rewinding an old videotape.  Any emotion in the sadness neighborhood is locked down also, so her range of emotions is narrower than most folks. You see, you can’t just trap one emotion without trapping a cluster of them, a constellation if you will. Emotions are like mice scurrying about your psychological cheese. Think about that for a moment. As a result she laughed a lot and maintained a helium balloon persona for the world to witness. Something was/is wrong, though. When adults strike you as cartoon characters, something is missing.

PhotoThen there’s Justin. He is proudly stoic. “Tears are weakness”, he says without any hesitation. “My mother abused me as a kid with anything that was handy… a wooden spoon, clothes hanger, toys. It didn’t matter. She was determined to make me cry. I refused and it made her all the madder. She’d say, ‘ I’ll make you cry!’ But I just bit down on my lip and gritted my teeth. I was not gonna let that witch see tears on my face. Not then not now. Nobody makes me cry, ever. When I was older, I’d laugh in her face. It pissed her off so much. It was like me spanking her.” Well, that’s the mechanism to shut off the tears. Problem is that emotional tears need to be shed. No matter how many you suck back or blink away, there are millions ready to burst forth. Tears have a job to do

Emotional tears are different from lubricating or anti-irritant tears. Apparently they are full of components lacking in  the other two, like red wine compared to plain water. It’s funny that such tears would be chemically different under analysis, something we know intuitively when somebody’s eyes are smoked out or under the influence of onion vapors. Emotional tears work in conjunction with facial expressions and vocalizations, body language and gestures that tell of the feelings connected to the tears. There is a matching context usually. Tears are the blood of emotions.

Sometimes at death tears won’t come to the grievers. Some may be in shock while others are tangled up in complex mixtures of fear and anger and love. At my father’s funeral I could not find a tear. I was stoic and reserved. My conscious mind was in “fix it” mode. What to do with our mother? What were the new expectations after my father’s death?  He was such an odd duck that it would be hard to grieve his passing at 68 years of age.  He smoked himself to death with Camel cigarettes over 50 years. My mother labeled him “an emotional cripple”, incapable of appropriate emotional articulation. He did not, however, cripple himself; he had help.

I think it was two years later that I was overcome with a delayed wailing  and whimpering of grief while watching the baseball movie “Field of Dreams” in my family room.  I got sucked into the story and the emotions involved as the protagonist tried to fulfill a mission given to him by an other worldly message coming out of a rookie farmer’s cornfield. “Ease his pain.” “If you build it, he will come.” “Go the distance.” My father was my baseball coach and originated from Boston. One of the clues involved in solving the mystery was obtained at Fenway Park… and I came unglued. Thought I was losing my mind. Fortunately my wife was consoling and wise. She sat with me and said, “You never cried at your dad’s death.” However this attack was not only tears but an intestinal tearing of emotional tumors that I spewed up. I was prostrate, gagging, emotionally vomiting.  I could not understand this horrific upchucking of undigestible dead animals dislodged from my stomach walls.

I asked God to take it from me; I didn’t want it anymore, though I was not certain what “it” was at that time. My head throbbed; my throat was raw; and my tear ducts were pumped dry. How could this be? Well, there’s a lot more to a human being than the conscious world, folks. You can carry disease or tumors or parasites in you all your life and not know it. It’s not such a big jump to memories and ungrieved losses hanging around the storage bins of your mind. Remember the mice analogy?  Well they were running wild all over my being when I saw Burt Lancaster tip his hat, knowing that he was dead and the heroes of this ballgame were all long dead. The infamous Black Sox of 1919, my dad would have known that story well. He would have known the weirdness of unfulfilled dreams that Lancaster’s character portrayed. He would have wept easily and often throughout this film, completely unable to articulate his feelings further than lachrymosity.

I watched the movie again a couple of nights later. I had a similar reaction at the same places in the movie. I was convinced that I had tripped onto something profound in my psychic life. Grief pressure poured out the second time, but it was not as crazy scary as the first go around. A little finch of wisdom sat on my shoulder, chittering, “It’s okay”.

 

185. Hemorrhaging quarts of vitalabrations

Being and doing are often at war with one another.  Doers do stuff. They leave footprints and fingerprints all over their worlds, all over history. They conceive and achieve, leaving museums and inventions and books and stuff behind their existence. Be’ers, as opposed to beers, might do things also, but primarily they are being human beings. The difference is about consciousness, a topic that my old timers group has been massaging lately. We are all nearly retired and/or fully retired therapists with over a century of clinical experience among us. We are mostly be’ers now, I think, getting around stiffly in our gaits, but there is a lot of wisdom in these arthritic roosters. Six guys in my living room; average age is 60. That totals 360 years of life experience huddled around one coffee table. Awesome but no more than a single rose or a snail’s spiraling shell.

By default and training, our Western minds focus on doing. Git’er done, boys! Our justice system, our mental health system, our political system hang on the concept of responsibility for behavior or doing.  Jurists try to figure out the just response to criminal actions/doings. Then they assign a commensurate punishment or other corrective treatment/doing. Guilt means you did it.  But how responsible is a free will? Is there even such a thing as a free will? How mitigating are the circumstances of one’s life? Likewise mental health clinicians want a checklist that removes doubt and ambiguity. They want a clean diagnosis to rule in while ruling out the rest.  Politicians want someone to blame other than themselves. Consequently we are all left raking the fine sand at Futile Beach. I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds poetic and dramatic. “Look! It’s Jay Gatsby raking the sand while gazing across the sound at Daisy Buchanan’s dock light. That is tragedy fit for a postcard.”

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We roosters don’t rush to conclusions or judgments so much as we amble around mysteries, dilemmas and paradoxes. We share our being. Sometimes that’s a daunting task, to simply reframe our quandaries or admit our limits instead of reaching for the crown of ‘smartest guy in the room’. Today we chatted about being transcendent, losing one’s self to find oneself. It’s a Christian concept and a Buddhist concept as well. The record of Western consciousness has been one of illuminating the unconscious, exposing and dethroning myths and symbols. Science usurped the throne of authority a long time ago in the West, but it can’t eliminate non-science issues. Science is limited by itself because it denies what it cannot prove conclusively. Shining a bright light on matter does not explain what remains unseen… Sometimes we see by not  looking; the thing comes to us when we stop stalking it.

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Terms like “stillness” arise. Joe speaks eloquently about the dilemma of words’ insufficiency to capture the truths of being. Ed recalls Masses Joe celebrated for the daft and delirious at the Restoration Center.  “It was still God meeting his people, though some were psychotic and others drooling. It was more than verbal communication.”  Joe retorts, “You liked it because there wasn’t a collection, Eddy.”  Friends laugh soothingly. Greg aligns and extends the narrative while condensing it. We nod, believing that we’re following what we believe they are saying about filters and clarity, six points on the same star. We don’t problem solve necessarily, but we don’t  dramatize either. Our task is about becoming more conscious with others and then floating on that consciousness like a beach ball. As Westerners we tend to think of consciousness as a river we float upon; there’s a source and a course and a final mouth. Westerners can’t seem to leave the concrete sequence of beginning, middle, and end. I believe Eastern mystics conceive of an ocean of unconsciousness with no destination. No illusions. Nothing and everything in that moment and place. Somehow embracing unconsciousness seems irresponsible to us highly responsible folks, even though we are speaking deeply about invisible, unprovable issues. Someone has to remain the designated driver, right?  But we persist and two hours evaporate as we feel full. But full of what?  Stillness, wonder, connection, reverence, spirit, curiosity. The coffee table might as well be an open fire in the dark woods. We sit around it that way, feeling and pondering the center of the star.

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The deeper you go into mankind’s cave of consciousness, the more you start to feel like Alice in Wonderland, pondering every word and concept being articulated. How can I simply be without knowing at the same moment that all else has ceased, turning out the lights of consciousness when the last idea has left? Where does that disembodied hand go once the light switch is flicked off? Oh causation and consequence, thou dost plague me!  Okay, where did that Elizabethan dwarf come from? Trippy. The next thing you know, talking cats and rabbits will appear. Just flow. Breathe. Be air, oxygen passing into my own blood stream, pumping through the arterial highway system that keeps my brain alive. Consciousness orders itself to cease. Float on nothingness. The only idea left is the unpunctuated void. Swirl past the graffiti, carvings, the pictographs, the cave paintings, back to the mere smudges of inhabitation. Say yes to the no, hold the purpose less ness. Be less.  Be no-ness. Just air vibrating after the guitar chord struck a moment ago over there. All vitalabrations.

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