Listen

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You must perceive world sound. You must perceive the sound of your voice. 

– Seung Sahn

Meditation, I think, is different for everyone who does it. It’s one of those things that suffer under too many rules, over-definition, because at its heart, it involves just…being.

For me, meditation is about listening. To everything. Being still and listening, being quiet and listening, being and listening.

The world speaks with many, many voices:

Bird choruses, high above, rebounding from one end of awareness to the other, species after species calling out in natural harmony–from the throaty shrill of the grackle to the metallic chirp of the cardinal. It is fauna gone stereo; it is everywhere at once.

The crescendoed buzzing of a mosquito in my ear. It is after me, but it is after me because it is alive, and I share with it in that life. We are, literally, blood brothers.

The insistent rapping of a red-headed woodpecker at the top of a nearby telephone pole: knock, and the worm shall be offered up to you.

Whispers of wind chasing one another around my head, and the feathery rustle of leaves sashaying in its wake. Memories ride on the breeze, tossing me back through time and space to the family farm and another breeze, identical yet different. I am reminded that all space and all time is hopelessly and inextricably interrelated; miles away, a world away, someone else listens with me, before me, after me, to the same different wind as I.

Suddenly, I’m hearing sounds that aren’t even there, sounds that I’ve heard before but long ago left behind: Vance Woods, this is your life!

The special crunch of gravel beneath my feet, sounding as it did only on that road, in that place, lost in the past, alive in the present. Voices of loved ones, some stilled by distance, others in death. The ricochet of bike tires off ramshackle cobbled streets: sounds today, aches and pains tomorrow. The past is the present writ large, and it too speaks in a multitude of dialects. Me llamo Eduardo–repeated over and over in decreasingly hesitant tones, back at the beginning of my adventure, back when I had just started to become.

Then, I begin to listen beyond, behind, underneath, and through. I begin to hear the pulse of existence, breathing, beating, just beyond the threshold of sound: the perpetual motion of being. Inhalation, exhalation. Life.

The world speaks, and I speak with it. It speaks to me, in me, and through me, in tones I often do not recognize, but, oh, when I do…Imagine my surprise!

What’s the old saying? I love listening to the sound of my own voice?

Here, at the heart of the world, the two, my own individual voice and the voice of the whole, are one and the same.

Disclaimer

I feel it necessary to address the tendency of people today to take offence at pretty much anything. It seems that everything from a sonnet to a sneeze must these days be accompanied with a declaration of the issuer’s non-participation in the opinion thus expressed. “The views I express in my own words in no way reflect my own views or opinions, and anything in my views or opinions which resembles my own views or opinions must be taken as nothing more than pure coincidence.”

If I like vanilla, but you like chocolate, you take offence. If I am a Republican and you are a Democrat, you take offence. If I’m a dog person and you are a cat person, you take offence. If you’re in the street and I hit you with my car…well, a pattern emerges. I mean, seriously, people–is there no end to the cycle of indignation?

I long for a forum in which honest debate is not only welcomed but encouraged, where opposing viewpoints are taken as helpful contributions rather than personal attacks. Where the conversation proceeds along lines other than: “You suck!” “No, you suck!” A forum in which we can tell each other the ever-lovin’ truth, for Pete’s sake!

Orthodoxy is the refuge of complacency and intellectual cowardice. Answers are to be found not in constant, rote agreement, but in the midst of sharp disagreement; not in the isolation and segregation of the like-minded, but in the collision of disparate worldviews; not in unanimity of opinion, but in unanimity of purpose.

In any case, the answers are not what define us. What defines us is how we deal with the questions.

But you didn’t hear that from me…

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How Much Do You Really Want To Know?

Every day, they ask us: “How are you?”

What if we told them the truth? What if we let our guard down just once, and let them see what sort of darkness lurks silently inside, behind the plastered smile, behind the cheerfully (and artfully) concocted reply? What if we told them just how fine we’re not, just how much pain we’re in, just how miserable we feel?

What would they say? Would they stick around to say anything, or would they take the first opportunity to pull a Houdini and disappear, abandoning us to the next poor sap who bothers to show superficial interest in our state of being? Would they call the medics, a shrink, a priest, a cop?

Some days, I’m being perfectly honest when I tell people I’m doing “pretty good,” but lately, more often than not, my words reek of bullshit. Complete and total. They taste like it, too, even as I speak them, and the reality of the deception, and its inevitability, drag me down even farther into the slough. I begin to wonder whether anyone really cares about my actual condition, or if they just want to be allowed to think everything’s good with me, because then they are reassured that, maybe, really, everything’s good with them, too.

We cannot be honest with one another, because by doing so, we cull ourselves from the herd, and we threaten to drag those with whom we’re open and forthcoming down with us. And everyone knows what happens to the weak and the old: the lions get them. And we mustn’t fool ourselves: we’re surrounded by lions, everywhere and all the time. And when we’re not, generally we’re the lions surrounding somebody else. And we will all eat each other if given the chance.

How much do you really want to know, O ye caring multitudes? Do you want to know me, or do you want me to let you think you know me? Do you want to see into my shadows, or would you rather pretend that I have none so that your own don’t frighten you too much? How much do you really want to know?

Do you want to know that on most days, thanks to this irritable bowel thing I’ve got, I’m uncomfortable at best and in terrible pain at worst? Do you want to know that sometimes the entire tenor of my day comes down to whether or not I’m able to successfully take a crap? Do you want to know these things, or is it too much for you?

Do you want to know that, at 35, I feel like my life is stalling out? That I feel an unrelenting, frustrated, blind anger at the sheer amount wasted on student loans for graduate school, so that I can sit at a desk doing work for which only a high school education is required? That this lack of fulfillment often becomes so overwhelming that even the greatest of successes feel like monumental failures? That I want to punch all the shiny, happy faces who tell me to buck up, that “this too shall pass,” to “be happy with what I have,” never stopping to realize how hard it is for people who have what they want to understand those who don’t? Or is that too much information, as they say?

Do you want to know that everything I said in the last paragraph makes me sick at myself? That I hate how selfish it is to be unhappy with my job when so many people don’t have work at all? That I can’t stand how I feel about my life situation when I’m so well off compared to many? That I detest the lack of gratitude I show on a daily basis, and that I detest even more the thought that others might detest it, too? And that in spite of all this self-awareness, I can’t seem to break out of this cycle of ingratitude and unhappiness? Do you want to know, or have I gone too far?

Do you want to know that for a long time now, I’ve felt friendless and family-less, and all because I’ve tried to be honest with others about who I am? That it kills me that more people seem to care about my whereabouts on a Sunday morning than my ideas and principles and everything else that makes me Me? That I’m afraid of revealing myself too openly to people I once thought as close as family, because I don’t know how they’ll respond? That, deep inside, I’m furious at the people who are disappointed in me because they’ve never stopped to consider that maybe I’m disappointed right back? That I’m saddened at accusations of having “changed,” because they prove that some of my closest friends never really knew me at all? Have I stepped over the line yet?

Do you want to know that in the scheme of things all this barely scratches the surface, that there are fathoms of darkness left in me to explore? Do you want to know any of this, or do you just want me to help you feel secure by pretending that I’m secure, too?

Even as I write this, I shrink from the way my words may be received–words like crybaby, wimp, and panty-waist come to mind. It turns out that what I’m most afraid of is people finding out who I really am, even people such as you wonderful blog-fellows whom I will probably never physically meet. I am terrified of honesty. Like Pinocchio before me, I long to be a real boy…but I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m afraid of being hung out to dry, of being written off the page, of being discarded as second rate. Even more, I’m afraid of being ignored. I’m afraid of taking that step, of opening up and being completely, nakedly real, only to have no one notice at all. Of being silenced before I’m even able to speak.

But never mind all that. I’m fine.

How are you?