Me & Bunny Foo-Foo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow long must we all wait to change,
This world bound in chains that we live in,
To know what it is to forgive,
And be forgiven?

– Kenny Loggins

Deep in my soul, beyond the reach of age or reason, they will always and forever be “aminals.”

Nothing reduces me to the quivering excitement of a three-year-old like encounters with woodland creatures (or any creatures, really). I want to run at them, capture them, be close to them. Not to hurt them, mind you; I just love them, with every fiber of my being. I am intrigued by them; I want to share in their space, in their existence. To touch, and to be touched by them. To be, in essence, one with them.

I am fascinated by the spark of life we share.

This little guy and I had our moment one early morning last month at Lake Powell Resort in Page, Arizona. I got up just after sunrise and took off down a trail that stretches east from the resort proper, and found myself in a scene out of Watership Down. There were jackrabbits everywhere. At one point I stopped and lay down on the pathway, in the hopes of getting a decent shot of this guy, and as I lay there, he decided to up the ante. Apparently, I intrigued him greatly. Slowly, he made his way toward me, one hop at a time, until I could have reached out and touched him. And there we were, inches from one another, man and bunny rabbit, staring and being stared at.

Time stood still.

For the briefest of instants, there was no line, no distinction between man and animal. We were simply together, sharing the nature we each inhabit, that belongs to us both. And then it was over: another morning stroll broke the sacred spell, and as the stranger rounded the bend in the trail, my sylvan friend headed for the brush. But fleeting as it was, it was a magical moment. It was a fearless moment, a moment free of the constant conflict that plagues humanity’s interactions with the natural world. It was quiet; it was present; it was real.

I’ve often noticed how rarely those three adjectives apply. Perhaps it’s my imagination, but it seems we are determined to fill all the quiet moments with noise. Of course, this may just be a case of common rudeness: the longer I live, the more bullish people around me become, and the whole world’s a china shop. We seem incapable of silence, of awe. Maybe it’s just rudeness, inconsideration, but I have to wonder whether there’s a deeper meaning in all this.

Could it be that we’re afraid? Could it be that the magnitude of the natural world reminds us just how tiny and insignificant we really are, of just how brief a moment we occupy? If history is a book, then I am a footnote–and not even a good one. No juicy tidbits; no “see” references. Just a page number, with maybe an “ibid” leading the way. Same as before: different face, maybe, different name, but basically just more of the same.

Walking the beaches of Lindisfarne; staring into the vast depths of the Grand Canyon; even contemplating the pastures on the family farm in Missouri–I’m reminded of the fleeting nature of Me. So many have gone before; so many more will follow after. I matter, yes, but I matter in that I do not. You’ve heard my mantra before: it’s not about Me. If anything, I am about it.

Back to my encounter with Bunny Foo-Foo: the moment itself was predicated upon silence, stillness. Respect. I identified with him, and he with me. We shared the space–no need for domination cum “stewardship.” The Daniel Boones of the world are great, but so are the Tom Bombadils. I don’t want to shout at the world, or subdue it; I want to sing to it, to see it dance in response, and to dance along with it.

I could have reached out and touched him. And I wanted to, desperately. I wanted to pull an Elmyra, and squeeze him till he popped. Deep down inside, I always want to do that, whether it be a deer by the side of the road or a squirrel in my back yard. I want to jump up and down and holler “Bunnybunnybunnybunnybunny!”

At times like these, I have to grab my inner child and bop him on the head. Or at least stifle him a bit. Teach him to be quiet and live the moment at hand. To bow before the life that surrounds him on every side; not to fear it, not to subjugate and conquer, but to embrace it as a reflection of himself, as a part of himself.

If “God” is anything, it is this mutual recognition, life speaking to life, moment to moment, without interruption. From man and animal to man and man, person to person, in the wild or in the checkout aisle. Life speaking to life. Not in anger or in arrogance, but in love.

To be with nature as one is with a lover, a friend, a wife, a husband, oneself–to do unto that Other as I would have done unto me. This, to me, is the only religion that matters, and the only one that’s real.

Speak softly. Life will answer.

Articles of Faith

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We are our own prisoners. We defeat ourselves, believing in defeatism, which is itself our own creation.

– D.T. Suzuki

Just because the vision blurs, this does not mean the eyes cannot see.

If you read my previous post, you know that I consider myself (to an extent) an atheist. Which creates certain difficulties when it comes to the idea of “faith.” There is a widely-held misconception that a turn to atheism is a turn away from “beliefs” in general; in fact, some atheist writers themselves insist that this must be the case, especially in terms of having faith, which to these thinkers denotes an acceptance of something intangible, something that cannot be seen.

Fair enough. But wrong.

I’ve always been a humanist, even in my most committed Christian moments (although it’s not really something you’re allowed to talk about as a Christian, since it is assumed that humans stand no chance on their own, without divine assistance). Having set aside the Christian identity, I’m free to embrace the humanist in me openly, without qualifiers. The moment that did it for me came at a roadside rest stop in West Texas, reading Malcolm Murray’s definition of atheism: the rejection of supernatural (metaphysical) agency. I’ve always waffled on the atheism concept because I refuse to reject the idea of the human spirit, which I believe firmly is very real. But I also believe that it comes from us, and not the other way around. We can call it “God” if we want, and it may be metaphysical (in the sense that it’s not “physical”), but it is most definitely not supernatural, and it definitely has no agency independent of the humanity from which it springs.

That in which I have “faith” is people, you and me, and particularly Us, and the things we could do if we could find a way to set aside all the details that separate us and really take up the humanity that brings us together. I have faith in human potential; I have faith that, somehow, somewhen, we will rise above and show the universe what we, as a species, can do.

Some might say that faith in the human spirit is as insubstantial as faith in an Absolute Being. I will admit that at times it feels as if this is truly the case. We often struggle to see the underlying goodness in people, hidden as it is beneath the layers and layers of distraction and deception time has piled on top of us. This is where Zen offers the most beautiful of insights: our nature, the Buddha-nature, simply is–beyond the categories of good or evil, above human constructions of beauty and ugliness. It IS. But as it is, it has become lost in the accretions of a species trapped in history and tethered to philosophy and intellect, driven by a need to analyze and categorize. It is our quest for understanding, expressed in the only way we know how, that has brought us to a place of self-dejection, self-repudiation. We live; we die; the cycle goes on over and around us, in spite of us, and the only way as semi-finite creatures to conceive of ourselves is to freeze ourselves in place, and confuse a mere snapshot for the whole of reality.

We see ourselves in our failures, and assume that failure is who we are. We see our hands about evil deeds, and assume they can perform nothing else. We stare into the darkness and decide there is no light.

In the end, as D.T. Suzuki wrote, we are the victims of our own creation: having convinced ourselves we cannot win, we set out to codify our perpetual defeat. We devise philosophical and religious systems to explain why we must decline, and those systems in turn become the boulder chasing us down the slope. Zen calls our attention to the homemade chains we wear, reminds us whose handiwork they really are, and that if we wish we may choose to cast them aside. Not that it is easy: seeing into the nature we’ve forgotten demands patience and determination, persistence in the face of a seemingly hopeless task, and the willingness to see past momentary failure to the everpresent promise of subsequent success.

The potential of human goodness lies in the recognition of human Being. If we are twisted, it is because we have so long insisted that it must be so. If our logic is flawed, it is because we believe it can be otherwise. If our system is broken, it is because we believe it must be fixed. To recognize the truth is to build upon it; to create that which is good is to embrace our nature as it is, to fill it with emptiness and watch it overflow.

In the words of John Daishin Buksbazen, “Remember who you are, and keep on going.”

Reach Out and Patronize Someone

Tolerance…

Quite a word, that. Deceptive in its apparent receptivity. So transparently open, and yet so opaque and closed.

A word gifted from above. An idea granted as a boon.

“I tolerate you.”

In what twisted human relationship would these words be considered either warm or (even slightly) fuzzy? What self-respecting poet would swoon to hear them tumble from a lover’s lips? Not Byron, not Wordsworth, not even a giant of Suckling stature could take that phrase and make it anything but condescending and cold.

And yet…

We treat it as the height of humanity. We behave as if no other phrase in the English language could comprehend the levels of emotion contained in those three simple words:

“I tolerate you.”

Translation: I accept the fact of your existence, and the fact that it is illegal to kill you dead.

Hold me. I can’t contain the gratitude.

I do not need anyone to tell me that it’s okay to be me. I don’t need permission to think my thoughts. Your understanding and decency are welcome, of course, but they are not necessary.

What I need–what we all need–is awareness, that tolerance is NOT the highest good. It is NOT the greatest gift you or I can bestow upon our fellow human beings. Because to think such a thing implies that I am the fulcrum of everything. My opinion sets the tone. I tolerate you.

Nonsense.

You are. I am. We are together.

Legitimacy belongs. It is not bestowed.

Whitman v. Woods

I

I sing a song of my shelf
and everything upon it: faded photos,
equally faded memories, blurring the lines
between new friends and old enemies.
Somewhere, somehow, maybe then,
maybe now (maybe never), I must
quit myself of this tether holding me
back, gray against black, black against blue.
Me against you.211215_105067042918278_7462179_n

II

I sing a song of my shelf, with all its
broken toys, of youth with all its noise and
no sense of silence. Pilot at the ready, hands strong
and steady: life, with all its heady liquor, cannot
strengthen legs of wicker, marching to
a fading ticker. Beat by beat, stanza by stanza,
vignettes tucked away in a moldy credenza: This,
O poet, is your life. Rhyme is wife; rhythm lover;
extra-metrical affair, undercover.

III

If anyone asks,
I want to go out with the sunrise,
fitting beginning for a fitting end:
one light goes out as another lives
again. And when the dawn, curtains drawn,
shines forth once more, bar the windows,
lock the door. I’m gone to find another floor
to host my dance, to break my trance and show me
a good time. Not on your dime anymore;
just mine. Just fine.

The Beggar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe approached me
slowly,
cautiously,
eyes downcast, and
in the mirror,
I approached him–

future, present, past colliding
in that moment of
connection,
resurrection and reversal.
All is universal, in the pause between
two heartbeats, when one meets
another, and that other is

oneself. He approached me,
eyes downcast,
and when at last he raised them,
I saw they were my own.

Autobiography of a Toad

(An epiphany of me)

Born to roam, never
Always quite at home;
Half a toad, half a turtle–
Life’s a joy; life’s a hurdle
To be cleared and caught
Mid-leap.

Talk is cheap, thought’s
Expensive. Circle wide; view extensive.
Present tense, future perfect and
Imperfect: never not anticipating.
Reborn; restructured;

Celebrating.

To say, not much; to
Do, much more: broken window defeats
Closed door. And on and on, and further
Still, bridges to cross, milk to spill.
Words to spell and rearrange;
Clothes to wear and, then, to change.
Danger is but fear embraced–
What’s a life that is not chased by
Angry ghosts and fleeting sands?

The tortoise, only,
Understands the need for speed as
All goes by, so slow, so fast…

Never stop; it
Cannot last.

Walkabout

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Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
 
– Dylan Thomas
 

Okay, enough with the “wise old Indian,” Grasshopper bullshit…

This Saturday, I will “celebrate” my 36th birthday. (If one more 50-year-old jackass tells me it’s “not a big deal,” I’m throwing down.) And here I am, to paraphrase a rather asinine song, stuck in the middle with me. I have no earthly idea where to go or what to do. I spout inane philosophical drivel again and again–generally the same drivel again and again–like I have a clue what the hell I’m talking about. As it turns out, this is not a Shaolin temple, and I am not Kwai Chang Caine. So, this is me being real: I’m completely clueless about most of everything, and I use great big words and half-baked, grandiose ideas to comfort myself in my hour of ignorance.

There was a time when I thought I knew what was going on, when I thought I knew what my calling was, where my life was headed. I had a mission, for cryin’ out loud! I was set to save the world (and its soul) or die trying. So I left my theater program (which I was quite enjoying, by the way) and jumped into ministry school–because what else does a good little former missionary kid do, right? In other words, I set aside any actual chance at a marketable resume to chase ghosts and fairy tales. By the time I realized what I was chasing, it was too late: I had eight years of ministry under my belt, and absolutely no practical skill-set at all. Imagine spending your whole life preparing to hunt the elusive Jabberwocky, only to discover the damn thing never existed in the first place. Then imagine yourself at a job interview or filling out a job application: “Well, no, I have no experience in customer service or management, but I can hunt mythical creatures like a son of a bitch!”

Here I am, at the midpoint of my life, at a mother of a crossroads, without an inkling. I have become so enmeshed in the “daily grind” that I seem to exist in an endless cycle of work, eat, sleep. And that doesn’t cut it for me, see. Before, when I believed that my time here on Earth was simply a prelude to the “real life” up there in the sky somewhere, just getting through the day didn’t bother me so much. I mean, this world’s not my home, right? Wrong! It most certainly is, and my mortgage is running out (as is everyone’s, day by day by day). There has to be something more to this life than clock-watching. There HAS to be! If not, then why the hell bother?

Having invested so much time in a hollow pursuit, and now that that pursuit has been revealed as hollow, I am adrift, caught up in the undertow known as anomie. As Adrian Monk would say, it’s a gift and a curse. The death of the nomos, the governing worldview, the meta-legitimation, can be a liberating experience, allowing you to see the world again as if for the first time. But it is also a traumatic one, forcing you to face that world for the first time alone, on no pre-structured terms, with no one to blame but yourself. It is exhilarating; it is devastating. It is wondrous; it is loneliness redefined.

I have no doubt that there is a bigger picture out there somewhere. I just don’t know how I fit into it, what part I’m meant to play on the somewhat poorly-lit stage of human life. Until I’ve found an answer to this question (an answer; the answer may be beyond me, beyond all of us), the uncertainty and perpetual lack of equilibrium will continue to wear me down until I eat myself alive from the inside out. I’ve said in former posts–like the self-deluded ass that I am–that I’m content to be none other than who I am. Which is all well and good, except for one teensy, little problem: I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. I don’t know who I am anymore. And not knowing is killing me, slowly. I’m edging my way toward the day I wake up and just don’t care anymore. And I refuse to let that happen…

So, I’m going walkabout. For those of you who don’t know, the walkabout is a commonly referenced though unconfirmed ritual in Australian aboriginal culture, in which a man removes himself from the regular routine of life and sets out across the wilderness to experience himself in solitude, a process similar to the Native American vision quest. On the sci-fi television show Babylon 5, Dr. Stephen Franklin, an adherent of the fictional religion of Foundationalism, adds an intriguing detail: the man on walkabout is actually in search of himself, having lost his own identity in the midst of the hectic demands of everyday living. He walks until he meets himself, and when he finally does, he sits down and has a long talk with himself, in an attempt to rediscover the identity he has lost.

All the gobbledygook I’ve been posting on this blog over the last couple of years has been written for the sole purpose of figuring out who I am, here in the ashes of Grand Design. Along the way I have encountered many wonderful people, and some of them I now number among my friends. I have enjoyed trading thoughts and commentary, and it has been a pleasure to share a little bit of me with them. With you. But at the end of the day, I write for me. Please understand that I mean no offense by this; you have no idea how much your support and forbearance have meant to me; if I told you how much, it would probably just scare you all off. At the end of the day, though, I write for an audience of one: myself. This blog has been something of an escape valve for me, the place I go to let off the steam that builds up throughout days of meaningless monotony–here’s a book to catalog; oh, here’s another; yes, and for the sake of variety, here’s another one! I write to dump the inner boiler, to give the inner voices something to do besides scream inside my head.

But the farther down the road I get, the less I get out of good old Toad. Or rather, the less time Toad has to figure out what the hell he’s after. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not leaving the Toad behind–but he needs something to add a little flesh to his bones, a little fiber to bolster his diet, if you will. So, I’m going walkabout. Well, drive-about, really. As much as I’d like to do the whole Michael Landon, Highway to Heaven thing–grab a rucksack and an army jacket and hit the shoulder–it’s really not practical. So, drive-about, then.

I have always identified with the back roads, the roads less traveled. I am convinced that somewhere out there, down some two-lane to nowhere (and everywhere) my self is lurking, lying in wait to spring itself on me when I least expect it. That moment of recognition is what I’m out to find.

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In a few days, I’ll be climbing into the trusty Dustmobile II (every good road trip car deserves a name) and heading off to who knows where. Beyond that, the plan is fluid, and simple: Just drive. Move. If there’s a byway, I’ll take it. If something intrigues me, I’ll stop and take a closer look. And I’ll be back when I’m back. With any luck, I’ll get just lost enough to find myself again.

Until then, this is my last post. I’m turning the cell phone off (except for when I call to let my wife, who is understanding enough to sponsor this bit of lunacy, know that I’m still alive), and I’m going off the grid. I’m headed…somewhere. North, south, east, west–yep, one of those, almost certainly. Or perhaps, all four.

I leave you with an old Irish blessing that I just made up: May the face you see in the mirror every morning be a face that makes your heart smile…

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