Appreciating the rain

Perhaps like most people, I grew up loving the sun and grumbling about the rain, not-so-secretly wishing that the summers would last forever. It never crossed my mind to question this assumption, maybe because the clear sky meant running and jumping in outdoor play as a child, although I do recall a few youthful antics sliding around in a muddy downpour. The sun came to mean limitless possibility, the rain often a harshly negative reality, and these views solidified and strengthened into adulthood.

Relatively recently, I listened closely to a friend who held firm to the opposite view: they found comfort and security in the rain, a nurturing cleansing and watering of life. To them, the sun was necessary, but it also wielded an impersonal scorching energy that pried them open, leaving them bare and vulnerable to a hostile world.

Despite a sincere effort to understand, I could barely intellectualize this point of view and seemed hopeless in ever gaining anything other than a mild depression at even the thought of a cloudy or rainy day. But I kept trying, pretty much every time it rained, attempting to appreciate the dark weather on some deeper level. I am only just beginning to experience a glimmer of comprehension over a year later.

Life metaphors of the contrast of good and bad, darkness and light, and the need to “appreciate” one for the other run rampant through the logical mind, but I felt something entirely different. I started to see, hear, feel, touch and taste the rain from my heart, asking my brain to take a break in trying to figure out consciously why I defined myself as someone who “didn’t like the rain.” On misty dog walks, I began to see parts of nature that had shot right by me during sunny afternoons when vision overwhelmed the other senses to inconsequence.

While the sun had me focusing on an obscure infinite horizon, the rain put me just a single step from the life in front of me. The sunny vista evoked imagery of “someday,” whereas a rainy overcast focused all the senses in the here and now, an often scarier picture that few I know care to acknowledge. While the sun spoke to future possibility, hope, and past out-of-touch memories, like regret, the rain gently nudged the senses inward toward contemplation of the now, the only place action has meaning.

Getting in touch with life’s rainy days nurtures and cleans, calming distant superficial and materialistic dreams while satiating a natural thirst to simply be. It might be valuable paying attention to those with the most divergent views from your own to best experience the life that surrounds us all.

Being lost

How hard we work to stay distracted, desperately shielded from the smallest honest glimpse; surrounded by idols and walls and carefully contrived paths to nowhere; setting up the game to rules born of obscure fancy.

Until that rare person pierces the image, deflating the world to simplicity, without intention or motive or purpose, with only a kind word or warm look. Straddling the mirage’s complexity and vision’s loving nothingness is a hard place to live.

But it is the life we have; lost in thought’s misdirection, spinning faster and faster until blind to both worlds, lacking confidence to make the jump into either. It is a cage of purgatory-sized meaning.

Millenia of evolved senses work in unison with the single goal, survival, a futile battle measured in time’s deceptive cadence. Instinct, living uncomfortably close to the spirit’s will to believe.

Walking the dog

Two and a half years ago, I was walking the family English Golden Retriever through our rural neighborhood. It had only been a couple of months since my Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, and I was having difficulty relaxing and reaching a rhythm as my pooch pulled, then abruptly stopped to sniff, jerking the leash painfully against the still tender battery implants in my chest.

I was frustrated. Unable to exercise except for these walks, becoming stir crazy in my house and the inner workings of my mind, I was frozen in will trying to sort out this new under the skin surgical miracle-world of electrodes and wires. I was literally reaching the end of my rope with each tug of the leash.

Approaching the community pond, a familiar form shuffled toward me. It was a large man, disheveled and unshaven with the vaguely menacing air and cautiously furtive manner of one of society’s outcasts. I immediately knew who he was.

I had seen him along the road numerous times over the years on his way to and from visiting a friend, perhaps his only friend in the world, an older lady who lived by the water. He was well known in the community, having sparked an outcry about ten years earlier when it was learned that he was a registered sexual offender.

His crime had been as severe as they came: the rape of an adult woman in another county some 20-30 years ago. He had spent time in prison and was only eventually released under the permanent official labeling of the State’s sexual predator statute. That was all I knew of him.

As one deemed “likely to re-offend,” any community he attempted to reside in—for the rest of his life—would receive law enforcement and neighbor notification of his presence. He had visited the elderly lady for years, occasionally being picked up and evicted by Sheriff’s Deputies after he crossed a legal threshold in his stay that met the criteria for an unreported residence.

Several days earlier, an electrical fire had erupted at the lady’s home in the middle of the night, killing the woman and allowing the man to barely escape with his life. I assumed that he had come back to the ashes to pay his respects before leaving for who knew where.

In the past, I had allowed a distant nod in passing to the man, willing to give him the benefit of the doubt so many years after paying a debt to society that, despite releasing him, still permanently labeled him. It just seemed cruel to technically offer the man a free life, but one with strings attached that guaranteed that he would be rigorously tormented forever.

But to be fair, I knew very little about the circumstances surrounding his earlier conviction. Maybe he deserved a life sentence or worse; maybe not.

“Good morning,” I said, feeling uneasy as he walked out of our upper-middle-class community with nothing but his ragged clothes and a small backpack after losing his only friend in the world.

He surprised me by answering in a strained voice, as if unaccustomed to speaking, “How wonderful it must be to just walk where you like with your dog.”

I replied, suddenly deeply ashamed at how ungrateful I had become, “Yes, it is.” I often think of that man, sometimes wondering what happened to him.

And I ponder his words, marveling at the beauty that can be found in a simple act such as walking the dog: two creatures tenuously connected in a vast and lonely world if only by a leash and the occasional affectionate nuzzle.

Imagination’s key

Intellect, perched smugly secure behind convention’s walls, fragments the soul into scattered pieces, rendering it weak with contrived conflict. We are taught to be one of many, unique in conformity’s perceived choices. Black and white, right and wrong; the options dazzle in simplicity, enticing hungry exploration forward to nowhere, like an airplane soaring west until it arrives where it started.

Words like position and legacy decry and diminish, while only the absence of argument can hint of existence. We enter this world alone, frail, and naked, but with the warm memory of a comfort beyond. Life’s parting gift is learned doubt and unease.

Reason, finite and fleeting, desperately attempts to define us, but imagination unlocks the soul, allowing a glimpse of reality through silent acts of compassion and kindness.

Humility’s legacy

Man’s basest instinct, fueled by ego and pride, goads us in a legacy of “more” as money, power, and fame greedily measure out our spiraling descent. Insecurity is humanity’s collective theme; humility our lonely virtue.

The conflict with self never ends, battling quiet mantras that ring hollow and weak, sabotaged by the competitive urges that seek to derail our chugging climb.

Life’s desperate loneliness casts its broad shadow—invisibility; not mattering; existing without being. Ego homes in on our shared insignificance, bullying the fading light, sputtering the shared flame into ethereal oblivion.

Yet, still, we struggle; we try. And we believe.

The riddle of the Sphinx

When asked, “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?” Oedipus correctly answers, “Man.”

The mythological Sphinx’s riddle illustrates the physical progress of Man through life in a linear fashion: as a baby, Man walks on all fours; as an adult on two feet; and when elderly with three appendages through the use of a cane.

As I pack two folding canes, not used in almost three years, into my backpack, it strikes me that our trek through life is in some ways substantially more complicated to explain, but far easier to accept, when viewed through a non-physical prism. Physical aging may indicate a progression, but it offers little insight or comfort.

I prefer to think of life as an arc, perhaps even as a full circle, where one dies as one was born: an infant in intellect, yet infinitely wise in spirit and rich in soul.

The two collapsible canes have reclaimed a temporary place in my wardrobe due to the need for an MRI tomorrow, which in turn requires shutting down my pulse-generating batteries for the duration of the exam. I’ve had a nerve issue causing a shooting pain down my leg for over two months, and the MRI is for my lower back.

I have not had the deep brain stimulation units (one on each side of the brain) turned off in about two and a half years. I’m not sure what to expect, particularly since I now take time released Levodopa capsules that were unavailable to me before my 2014 brain surgery. So, I pack the canes next to my DBS controller in the backpack in case I am unable to walk.

The necessity of using two canes—four appendages—to walk aligns the Sphinx’s physical progression in the same circular direction as our spiritual journey: toward a non-judgmental peace with the world last experienced, by me at any rate, as a child.

Three distinct childhood ages come to mind, reverse markers on the journey to awareness: 15, 11, and 5. These are just my personal associations with phases of growth, or decay, depending on how you look at it, and I don’t imagine that the specific ages are important. They are probably different for each of us.

I think of life’s circle reversing for me somewhere around age 45, about ten years ago. Up until that point, I had considered historical knowledge, politic awareness, and keeping up with current events as critical to understanding the world. I had lost any semblance of childhood innocence and acceptance, not realizing that the harder I tried to understand life, the more impossibly complex it became.

So somewhere around age 45, I took a spiritual turn without really knowing it. I began thinking in younger and younger terms, looping back toward a childhood awareness, not yet even sure of why. Currently, I view myself, in spiritual terms, in the vicinity of age 15.

Fifteen was an age of exciting possibility, a world of simplicity and awe of the future. It was also a milestone of when I began dampening my awareness: it was the age when I started to drink. But mostly, 15 was a crossroads where I could still get excited about first love, could enjoy a walk through the woods by myself while simultaneously developing a fierce competitiveness and appetite for adventure.

Today, I try hard to shed my competitive nature while exploring the same intensely real feelings of innocence. Whether the world is a literal illusion, or merely a façade of Man’s ego and insecurities, at age 15 I was still mostly immune to the illusion’s distracting pull.

I look forward to 11, an age of exploration when only the most basic of emotions was important. Money held no sway; power was an empty word.

But most of all, I look forward to becoming 5 again, of looking through the wise eyes of a child bereft of life’s insanities. After 5, I lose sense of who or what I was, of identity, which is a transition that offers a real opportunity for internal peace.

We humans are universally imperfect and constantly changing. As a friend once told me: it’s tough being human. Yes, it is, but that’s okay. For now, this 15-year-old might be back to walking on four legs again, if only for tomorrow.

I look forward to traveling a path of non-judgmental acceptance someday: aware, alive, at peace—and naturally—on all fours.

 

The void

Always threatening, bringing the jagged cliff of despair to the highest grassy meadow, the void hangs like a vulture over carrion. Existential emptiness without meaning, the void is an absence, a lacking, a primal and essential hunger gone unfulfilled. The vacuum leaves nothing but the horror of being, yet not-being; of knowing the I that once was, but is now nowhere. Without love, all ceases.

Victoriously simple in honesty and trust, love’s white shadow overwhelms the void with the warmth of crackling kindling under a rain-soaked bough. The spirit is whole; it knows all is possible.

The love of many is the need; the shared compassion that promises inner peace; a blending beyond this world. But it is the Love of the one, the fulfilled want; the passion, that brings happiness in the now. It is what anchors the soul against the illusion’s gauntlet of nightmarish insanity.

Reflected in equal heat as its award, reciprocity unlocks Love’s door, showering a twin beam of light into the void’s perpetuity of threatening emptiness. To Love for one day, even one hour would not be enough, but it would prove that there is a universal good in this world, even if it is as tenuous as a whisper, or a touch of the hair.

Water

Water floods life with stark alternatives: hope or despair, passion or malaise, thirst or drowning, all as we choose. The same fluttering drop fills the seas while emptying the skies, pushing imagination to explore, pulling it to dare.

Clouds pan across the bright half-moon, thin, then thick, exposing seconds of clarity before blackening in a threatening mass. The clouds grow with our curiosity until finally bursting. The rainy deluge beckons for the warmth of another’s arms.

The river’s turbulent flow strays into calm back eddies, blurring the nexus of good and evil: indifference reigns. The merging streams mock death’s infinity, tempting madness with a brief glimpse of what lies beyond cascading falls.

It is Life’s ultimate addiction, her contradiction, revealing all in a sudden measureless vista, and then, in a timeless moment, the insight is swept away, eroded by nature’s awful power. It is primal terror. And water is also that mysterious, magical love that connects us all in a downpour of vibrant beauty.

To the graduating class

What defines success? A better question, in my opinion, is “who” defines success? For most of us, the simple answer is “someone else,” someone else defines our goals and ambitions. Call it peer pressure or societal expectations or a parent or role model saying “Go to college, get a job, join the military,” we all get steered in life’s journey to some degree.

Many people, maybe most people, never take control of their own lives. Instead, they allow outside influences to control them. Sometimes we need steering, and life immediately after high school is probably one of those times. But please know that as you build life experience, the power to control your life is in your hands. This is a scary concept because suddenly there is no one else to blame for our perceived failures. But truth is power, so relish your failures, dust yourself off, get up, and try again.

Define your success carefully, because the basis for that definition will largely determine the course of your entire life. Question your definition of success thoroughly and often, because it will probably change to some degree over time. My definition of success changed dramatically when we had children, and it continues to change with life circumstance.

Here are four short pieces of advice to help determine and shape your individual definition of success.

First: Embrace challenge. Some challenges will be chosen, but many will not. Accept that life is not fair, look challenge squarely in the eye, and live with enthusiasm.

Second: Express yourself. Whether if it’s by singing a song, painting a picture, writing a story, or speaking about meaningful things with friends and family, listening to yourself communicate is a wonderful way of determining what rings true and what does not.

Third: Don’t quit. This does not mean never alter course or change strategies. Effort is measured in inches and feet and miles, but success is measured by the will to keep trying.

And finally: Laugh often and loudly. Be true to yourself and be courageous in showing the world who you really are. Thank you.

June 8, 2015, Oak Harbor, Washington.

Clarity in purpose

The instinctual allure of clarity in purpose can lift the spirit to the pinnacles of human achievement or drop the soul into a pitiless hell, never hinting which direction until arrival. And maybe the direction doesn’t matter; maybe they represent identical experiences come full circle in life’s continuum.

War, in my opinion, is life’s clearest example of clarity in purpose, and examples are rife of fighting men and women climbing or falling down their unchosen paths. Despite the best efforts of political hacks and wonks of all persuasions in explaining away natural behavior, war in its purest form of evolved design alters the contrived complexity of everyday existence in the flash of a neuron:

Kill or be killed.

Straight-line logic, no explanation required, just the acts of a millisecond experienced in a place where time has no meaning. Purely honest, deeply and soulfully known: horrific, beautiful, simple – in a word, real.

How or why one arrives at this point is absolutely irrelevant, morality becomes dismissively quaint, time is meaningless, and millions of years of nature’s honing sharpen survival’s lance.

The moment ends as if never existing, and with crushing convention the weight of life’s rules and games creep and claw their return in full effect. But war is certainly not the only place to find such clarity in purpose. Myriad experiences might serve as host.

But one type of vehicle to arrive at clarity in purpose is different from all the others in basic substance: that which is chosen. The choice to search for laser-specific purpose might still come through war (mercenaries, lifer combat addicts, etc…), but also via venues of high adventure. To choose to go to this place, assuming any sense of what is being truly risked, might just explain one of the most enigmatic questions of why “extreme addict” climb the mountain, dive the dive, or jump the cliff.

Maybe it’s because, despite societies best efforts to put premium value on the complex and contrived, it is really the simple that we seek; the binary answer immediately, decisively, and unapologetic offered – kill or be killed; survive or die.

There is a word, one word that does justice to the instantaneous liberation and subjugation of the binary challenge – powerful. Perhaps so many misguided titans of industry have it backward: they seek power to determine the clarity of purpose, while it is really the other way around.

In the end, for those searching for answers, nouns – like “power” – won’t do the trick; they miss the point entirely. In my opinion, it is the adjectives, such as “powerful,” and used only in a description other than to one’s silly physical abilities, that might just steer us in the right direction.

Cheers,
Peter