Friday, June 29, 2007

I dropped Collin off with P. tonight and they left this morning for trip back to the east coast, so I’m on my own until the 11th. I decided today that I want to get up at 5 am while Collin’s gone to make the most of those wonderful morning hours. We’re supposed to be back near 100° over the weekend, so I want to take advantage of the cooler hours of the day.

It’s more than the coolness, though. I love the quality of the morning light and the newness of the day, the spiritual feel of those hours that is so different from any other time of the day. I love to sit at my desk in the morning and look out on the new day, as I drink my coffee and do my thinking. My thoughts seem to have more clarity first thing in the morning too.
Today I just finished reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. He’s been quoted in so many books I’ve read over the years, but I only now felt moved to read his books because I found out he had explored, or tried to explore, solitude. I took out volume three of his journals, which focuses on solitude, but first I wanted to read his autobiography to get a sense of where he was coming from.

There’s a wonderful place in the book where he’s reading in the Catholic Encyclopedia about Trappists, and European hermitages:
I found out that the Trappists were Cistercians, and then, in looking up Cistercians, I also came across the Carthusians, and a great big picture of the hermitages of the Camaldolese.
What I saw on those pages pierced me to the heart like a knife.
What wonderful happiness there was, then, in the world! There were still men on this miserable, noisy, cruel earth, who tasted the marvelous joy of silence and solitude, who dwelt in forgotten mountain cells, in secluded monasteries, where the news and desires and appetites and conflicts of the world no longer reached them.
They were free from the burden of flesh’s tyranny, and their clear vision, clean of the world’s smoke and of its bitter sting, were raised to heaven and penetrated in deeps of heaven’s infinite and healing light.
They were poor, they had nothing, and therefore they were free and possessed everything, and everything they touched struck off something of the fire of divinity. And they worked with their hands, silently ploughing and harrowing the earth, and sowing seed in obscurity, and reaping their small harvests to feed themselves and the other poor. They built their own houses and made, with their own hands, their own furniture and their own coarse clothing, and everything around them was simple and primitive and poor, because they were the least and the last of men, they had made themselves outcasts, seeking, outside the walls of the world, Christ poor and rejected of men.
Above all, they had found Christ, and they knew the power in the sweetness and the depth and the infinity of His love, living and working in them. In Him, hidden in Him, they had become the ‘Poor Brothers of God’. And for His love, they had thrown away everything, and concealed themselves in the Secret of His Face. Yet because they had nothing, they were the richest men in the world, possessing everything: because in proportion as grace emptied their hearts of created desire, the Spirit of God entered in and fill the place that had been made for God.
Last weekend, Mom and I were talking about simplicity and I was saying that whenever you create emptiness--through simplicity, solitude, fasting or meditation--you create space for Spirit to enter. How neat to find the same sentiment expressed here in this book this week.
Later in the book Merton mentions the Biblical story about the wealthy young man who approached Jesus, asking for eternal life, and Jesus told him, “ Go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and come, follow me.”
It may have been a literal command, but I see now there was more to it. We need to empty ourselves not just of things, but of all sorts of mental and egoic garbage before there’s room enough for Spirit to enter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I’ve been struggling with big meaning-of-life questions lately. Not the scary “Is my life meaningless, Is there a God” kind of existential questioning, but big questions nonetheless. My spirituality is integral to me, so it’s not a question of whether or not my life has meaning. I know that Spirit infuses everything. I know that God is made manifest through me and all physical things.
What I’m trying to figure out is what constitutes a meaningful life. My exploration of simplicity has brought me to a sort of impasse. Do we each have a destiny, something we need to do or accomplish in the world at large? Or do we simply need to be, to experience, to be present with what is in any moment?
I do believe God is sort of reveling in physical manifestation, as he gets to experience physicality through an endless myriad of forms, each one totally unique and different. So, for my life, what does that mean? Does it matter at all what I do with my life? How does any one choice matter more than another? Does it matter whether I accomplish anything, have any outward achievements to show for my years on this earth?
Is my task to simply to be, and anything I do beyond that is really superfluous?
Simplicity ends up being not simple at all. When you’ve pared your life down to the basics you’ve eliminated the mindless distractions, the unquestioned habits and routines. You get off autopilot. Once you’re off autopilot what do you come face to face with but that most terrifying thing--freedom! I believe people are terrified of freedom. They craft lives that are so complex and full that they never need to encounter true freedom. Their scheduled, harried lives disguise the opportunities for choice that lie at every turn. They keep themselves safe from choice and freedom.
I think my angst comes from rubbing up against my freedom. How do you possibly craft a life out of endless choice? There are billions of ways we could allow ourselves to manifest. How do we make even one of those choices knowing there are countless other choices and paths?
How do we live mindfully? How can we keep in mind our freedom and not become paralyzed by it? And if ultimately, one choice doesn’t have any more value than any other choice, what does any of it matter? Do you just go back to mindlessness?
But then, maybe fortunately, we have our natural propensities. Maybe a well-crafted life is just mindfully following your natural propensities as they evolve. Making sure you don’t fall prey to other people’s ideas of what you should be doing, or society’s subtle dictates, but truly following your own inclinations.
Maybe I’m so burdened by these sorts of questions because one of my natural inclinations is towards the life of a contemplative. I’m drawn to the eremitic lifestyle--one of solitude, simplicity, contemplation, meditation, writing, immersing myself in nature. Thinking. Being. Merging with spirit.
The one night the other week a thunderstorm rolled through and half awakened me. There was this weird, literal way I felt the thunder roll across the skies above me and this flash of insight and this quick temporary merging with the storm and thunder. Of course in the morning I couldn’t remember the insight, although it definitely had something to do with oneness. I think it had something to do with manifestation too, some parallel between the way the storm manifests out of nothing, rolls through and is gone, and the way my life and its events unfold.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

I’ve been reading every book I can find on the subject of simplicity, trying to see what others have written about it to help me sort out my own perspective, to see what unique insights I may have to share.
I’m getting a little confused about how you evaluate what you should and shouldn’t allow into your life. All of the things I’ve let go of so far have been more or less no-brainers. It’s been clear that the negatives outweighed the positives. But then I encounter this confusion around books. How are books any less of a distraction from the essence of life than TV, the Internet, the morning newspaper or the radio?

There are hundreds of millions of books out there and if I read every available moment of my life I can’t possibly make even the tiniest dent. I have unquestioningly accepted the value of lifelong learning that leads me to always have my nose buried in a book. But what is lifelong learning? Certainly it doesn’t need to come from books. And probably the learning that takes place from my direct experience of my reality is of far greater value than the learning that comes from books.
Nevertheless, during the past ten months or so I’ve been on a huge reading binge and the same time period has been a very rich period in my inner life and the development of my thinking. So there does seem to be a clear value I derive from the books I read.
I think I worry that I should be doing something else of greater value with the time that gets “wasted” on reading. That reading can be an escape for me that keeps me from the more important things in life.
Because I’ve been reading so much I more frequently find myself with a dud. I find it very difficult to stop midstream once I’ve started a book, regardless of whether that book is worthwhile to me. Once I’ve started it, for some reason, I felt obligated to finish it. That is one thing I’d like to be able to stop doing. Just recognize that a particular book has nothing of value for me at the moment, set it down, and return it to the library unfinished the next time I go in. There are enough good, valuable books that I will never possibly have the time to read, so why waste my time on the mediocre or downright rotten ones?
Then let’s look at the books that do have significant value to me--like books on simplicity or environmental issues. Just how many books on a particular topic do I need to read? Do I need to read everything I can get my hands on? When do I set aside the books and just be, and do my own original thinking? Or write?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I’m not sure what to write about this morning. I’m sitting here at my “new” writing desk, sipping my morning coffee and looking out on the beautiful day. When I sit here, I can’t get over the perfection of this world and its forms. When I see Little walking by, so beautiful and perfect in her sleek, black catness, I’m overwhelmed with emotion. Even the view across the street, somehow in its exquisite dereliction, is perfect. The sagging trailer, the tall grass and weeds, the dead tree with its gnarled bare branches framed against the blue sky, the gray adobe bricks and rotting green roof of the boarded-up old house, the rusty clothesline poles whose cross bars have wilted--what makes this scene so exquisite? To most people, this is what you’d call an eyesore. How does this register as beauty in my heart? What is the quality present there that overwhelms my heart?

I think about the countless suburban neighborhoods, so drab and lifeless and sterile, that do nothing for my heart. Yet aren’t the gray adobe blocks drab? Isn’t the ghostly white trunk of the dead tree stark? How can I look at this scene and be uplifted? Maybe because I sense that it holds memories and history, it’s a place marker for what was. Because my soul needs to be rooted to the past and this scene reminds me that there is a past.

Part of the disease of modern culture, I feel, is that there is no honoring of the past. We’re not connected with anything but the superficial now. There’s no reverence for the past and no thought of the future. How can people have so totally forgotten the timelessness of their own souls, the ancientness of their own being? If we deny that even in our own selves we certainly won’t have reverence for it in the physical world. When you’ve quit tending to your own soul, the world correspondingly shrivels and loses all nuance. The outer world becomes a simple prop, a backdrop, for mindless humans caught in their own unconsciousness.

This time in my life is such a period of struggle. I want to live a meaningful life, and not just a meaningful life, because my life has always seemed quite meaningful, but I want to contribute something. I like that this urge to write has reawakened in me. I feel like I was asked to write by those spirits that were haunting me in March. As soon as I began to get the urge to write, the haunting imagery stopped. It was as if they’d finally gotten through to me. Now the burden is on me to make it happen. My path is somehow through my writing to share the Native American sentiment, which really is the fully human sentiment, with those who are asleep. I don’t think the first thing that I write for publication, or the second, or the third will succeed in doing that, but I will keep at it and at some point I may get there.

I’m thinking of giving up reading for the summer. Reading stimulates my thinking so much, but I spend so much time with it than I never get around to writing. If I need to do it to research a topic I’m writing about that’s one thing, although that’s dangerous because all of the reading I do is research anyway. I just want to be more mindful in the next few months about how I’m using my time. I want to make sure I’m writing something every day.

Lately I feel like I’m being remade. Simplicity is changing me. I’m not sure I could put it into words just yet, but everything feels different. Simple pleasures are confoundingly beautiful. I just don’t even know what to do with the joy that rises in my heart. It reminds me so much of the bliss I felt as a teenager--so in love with the sensuousness of the landscape that I longed to hug the hills. What do you do with bliss? It feels like you need to do something, but what?

One night last week I went out to pull weeds in the yard after we had an afternoon rain shower that had cooled things off into the sixties. The storm had been short enough that the soil still held the heat of the day. The humid warmth that radiated from the soil onto my hands was sumptuous. I can’t even describe it, but there was something very intimate about it. I think the heat felt like that which is given off by a lover’s body. It was the most amazing thing.

Friday, June 1, 2007

It’s a beautiful, cool evening. The temperature is in the upper sixties, the sky is the deepest, most incredible shade of blue against the fluffy white clouds, and the grass is absurdly green. There’s such clarity to the light today. It reminds me of other times and other places, other lives, and makes my heart ache.

I’ve been feeling strange all day, like something fateful is about to happen. I’ve got that odd sensation again in my solar plexus that radiates out from time to time as chills and goose bumps up and down my arms and spine.

Gosh, the shadows are so deep and luscious today; I just can’t get over it. The world is so perfect. Days like this make me miss Pennsylvania so terribly.