Kite Strings

Pairs kites
Image by Aarondoucett
 

I was walking through a local park a few weeks back. The weather was cool and sunny with just enough wind to tease kites out of the closets and high shelves where they had waiting through the long winter and recent rains.

Laughing kids were running through the freshly mowed fields, brightly colored kites flapping, arcing wildly through the air behind them. I found an empty bench and watched the exercise in child powered aeronautics. One by one, the kits rose through the squeals and laugher riding the wind. Patches of sun illuminated the kites likes beacons, off and on and off again as they sailed over the summer meadows.

My eyes followed the near-invisible strings, angling taught to earth. When we call images of kites to mind, we think of the bold, colored sails or graceful fabric tails gliding through the sky, but we give little thought to the anchoring strings.

I’ve been thinking about the things that anchor us as individuals and as a culture, those strings that turn us into the wind and orient us to the sky.

The kite needs the constraints of the string to soar. The string anchors the kite, keeping it angled for flight, positioned to catch the wind and rise. Cut the string and the kite is freed from the tether’s constraint, free to tumble and careen wilding in any direction–falling as far as the string had guided it into the air.

The kite’s not entirely free, but the kite can fly.

The Western world is no stranger to flight. The culture of the enlightenment has guided us to such dizzying heights of human possibility and prosperity that we can free ourselves of the string and follow the winds, fluttering easy and unburdened for a long time–generations perhaps.

But gravity won’t be denied. Without their strings, kites always fall.

A decadent people indulge their fall through hollow lives of pointless pursuits and immediate gratification. They value the fleeting liberation of the fall over the work and constraints of flight. They tell themselves they need nothing to ride the wind; that freedom and progress will magically persist without the work and values that made them possible.

Without gratitude or understanding they cut the strings of culture, ignorant of their gifts. They do so with adolescent arrogance, blind to the approaching ground. They forget the trials of the past and the painful, hard-earned lessons they taught. They lack the wisdom of historical perspective.

Freedom and an enlightened society are the products of long struggle and the steady guidance of a culture promoting individuality, responsibility and human rights. That culture, and its long cultivated fruit, is preserved through a core of values, virtues and first principles. Cut those strings and the culture falls.

Maybe it’s always been this way. Prosperity makes it easy to forget past. Prosperity is wonderful–and dangerous. It disarms people, makes them complacent and offers easy paths of dependence; paths that let you quit, relinquish your independence, and allow others run the world. At the same time, prosperity does nothing to quell the thirst for power. For every measure of independence abandoned, someone is willing to take it up, extend their power, and rule.

The decay of civilizations might be inevitable, but when I watch the children running in the park, joyous, energetic, unspoiled and full of dreams, hope stirs in me.

Every generation seeks its frontiers and thirsts for its own possibilities, but we cripple our children. We blind them with the fog of cultural relativism. We make them whimpering, fragile victims as we strip them of strength, spirit and self-reliance. We deny them the values and empowering virtues that made our civilization possible. Without the anchor, strength and guidance of those strings we offer a future of slow and pointless ruin. We deny our children their birthright.

We are born with the spirit of explorers. I see it in my own children, the wonder, enthusiasm, and imagination of a new generation. If we grant our children the enlightenment’s tools and step aside, they’ll rise to new challenges and greater heights. They’ll shape the world, explore new frontiers and claim a better future for themselves.

The freedoms that carry us, elevate us, and offer greater liberation demand a price. History has shown this again and again. We have only to listen to the lessons of our past and teach them to our children. That is our only salvation.

We are meant to be more then kites fluttering to ground, much more.

Children need the guidance of those ancient strings and the promise of flight.

 

FacebookPinterestDeliciousRedditEmailShare/Bookmark
Posted in Freedom | Leave a comment

Hammer & Soul

Yes,

all of us are broken,

bent, blind and flawed

in honest light of day.

 

From throats of darkness

our infant souls arise,

pure and fragile notes.

 

To sound a moment

beneath the roar of storms

and call of fated winds,

 

until snap of bone

and whisper of tears

fill the tempest churning.

 

Yet,

as anvil thunder rings,

hammers show love to those

tempered by their kiss.

 

Forged in fire and rain,

the heart awakens whole,

a melody all its own.

 

Beauty parts her lips

with timeless truths that call

to sacred harmony.

 

Beneath parental stars,

aching, healing, stronger

our souls begin to sing.

 

Posted in Purpose, Virtue | Leave a comment

Philosophy

The philosophy I am interested in is a very practical matter. The original meaning of the word was “the love of wisdom” and in this sense, everyone should be a philosopher. Loving wisdom is part of being a lover. And being a lover is part of being truly human.

We should love as we breathe: constantly, effortlessly, without intention or the desire to accomplish anything beyond the next breath, the next moment of a loving life. And if anything in life is worthy of love, it is wisdom.

Image of Eggs Benedict from wikimedia via Flickr

Love and wisdom go together like toast and butter or bacon and eggs. And they are just as commonplace, and just as special.

Posted in Purpose | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Portrait

The human condition, the sum of the universal underpinnings of our unique life experience, is far too rich and filled with subtleties to be amenable to a single portrait.

For it is true that humanity is a miracle beyond imagination, a wonderful statistical impossibility. Each of us is, within humanity, a further statistical impossibility. Appreciation of this truth brings wonder, joy and awe in response to life. But things are not so simple that this is the only view that can be instructive.

Because it is just as true that when we look with clear sight at ourself from the viewpoint of our future-self, our better or higher self, what we will see will instead resemble, in an important way, the picture that accompanies this post. And appreciation of this truth may bring acceptance, patience, compassion and forgiveness.

Blind man carrying a paralyzed man.

Like this pair of men–the blind carrying the paralyzed–every one of us is made up of aspects, elements, parts, or capacities that are to some degree injured, wounded, damaged, limited. These parts must rely on one another to hobble along and get by.

What poignant beauty there is in this superficially unsettling image…It is a both a mirror for us, and a portrait of one’s fellow man: wracked with disability, coping; paralyzed, moving still; blind, yet finding one’s way; separate, cooperating; suffering, struggling–challenged, but living life as it is, not as we would wish it to be.

This image shows simple, practical, everyday love binding incomplete parts into a functional whole. This is the alchemy that makes meaning, and forges the humble triumph of another day out of what is.

And it is an image of a fractal pattern repeated at all scales of human existence. It represents the individual, made up of wounded heart, incomplete mind, mortal body, limited senses–together engaged in the magnificent struggle to make it through life with dignity and purpose. Each of us has our own unique pattern of scars and defects, our own signature disabilities, but the fact that we are this way is something we share with everyone we will ever meet or know, as well as those we never will.

It reflects marriage, the family too, with imperfect souls leaning on one another, moving forward. It reflects our societies, where there are weak and strong–winners and losers–only when your vision obscures what is plainly there to be seen.

Love, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, patience, friendship; of self, of others, of existence itself; as abstract puzzle pieces these will never quite fit together right.

Sometimes, to see the way forward we need to set the map aside and just look at what is there. See. In seeing–simply seeing what really is–understand through immediate and intuitive experience, and act or react to that reality in a sane and natural way. That is virtue.

Posted in Virtue | Leave a comment

Three Ways of Wisdom

622px-087.King_Solomon_in_Old_Age

When I was six my life was in turmoil. My parents were grinding through the angry preliminaries of divorce. I struggled in school, finally failing the first grade. As my friends moved on, I wondered what was wrong with me? The question remained an unwelcome companion for years.

I remember escaping to the backyard that summer and lying hidden under an arbor of grape vines my father tended. I watched the clouds drift by through the wide, fluttering leaves wondering what would happen to me, trying to understand the events churning around me. I was afraid, hurt and angry, but more than anything I was frustrated. Why? Why? I didn’t understand.

Soon after, I recall a single clear moment in the fog of childhood memory that likely set the course of my life. I was in a bible study class with a group of children sitting on the floor. The young man teaching the class read bible passages and explained them to us. We went over the usual bible stories that introduce children to biblical principles of faith, obedience and morality. I was bored and distracted, paying little attention until the bible teacher started reading from Proverbs. I remember his white shirt and thin black tie as he read about wisdom. Reading Proverbs years later I recognized the passage.

Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

- Proverbs 4:5-7

I asked our teacher who was wisdom. He explained to the collective children that wisdom wasn’t a person. Wisdom was being very smart. The answer confused me.

“How could you get smart?” I asked. “You were born smart or not.”

“Wisdom is a special kind of smart, it can grow your whole life,” he answered.

That answer, at that time, set the stage. Wisdom was the first adult thing I remember wanting. That desire grew in strength becoming a passion that guides me still.

Solomon valued nothing more than wisdom. He knew it to be the single greatest asset to living a great life, be it the life of a king or a peasant.

Wisdom is the art of integrated intelligence. It employs a range of cognitive tools to tease out the subtleties of truth and shape rich fields of comprehension. Reason, experience, intuition and knowledge all play a part in its art. Wisdom is broad and deep enough to hold patterns and realizations that more limited kinds of intelligence miss. Wisdom is the freedom to understand without the constraints of convention. It is the precious perspective of a disciplined, artful and liberated mind.

Spinoza said wisdom was understanding sub specie aeternitatis – in view of eternity. He understood the usual context of human understanding was limited to the material, personal and immediate, while wisdom looks deeper and farther. From mountain peaks of transcendent perspective wisdom, the humble sister of enlightenment, surveys the eternal.

Yet the world has largely forgotten the disciplines of wisdom.

Wisdom traditions and teachings were at the core of most religions. Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Sufism and Taoism were built on similar, now obscured foundations of wisdom. The classical mystery schools were promoters of wisdom practices as were the contemplative practices of Buddhism and Vedanta. The schools of classical Greek philosophy, the writings Plato and Aristotle were explicitly dedicated to the development of wisdom.

The Cynic, Epicurean, Pythagorean and Stoic schools each promoted rigorous disciplines and practices for the life-long development of wisdom and a life well lived. To the ancients, a wisdom practice was as necessary for a good life as a compass was to sailing. A man lacking such guidance was little more than a child.

The human capacity to think and reason was sacred to the wisdom schools. It was also the key to developing wisdom. Strength of mind was the only human attribute comparable to the Gods. The life-long development of virtue and wisdom guided the course of life and fed the flame of human divinity.

Knowest thou what a speck thou art in comparison with the Universe? — That is, with respect to the body; since with respect to Reason, thou art not inferior to the Gods, nor less than they. For the greatness of Reason is not measured by length or height, but by the resolves of the mind. Place then thy happiness in that wherein thou art equal to the Gods.

-Epictetus – Golden Sayings – XXIII

The old disciplines of wisdom were vanquished by the wheels of history, religion and the growing seductions of prosperity. We have advanced in wealth and capability, but lack guidance. We lack the insight and vision of wisdom.

We need wisdom but it comes at a cost.

Unlike a quick wit or raw intelligence, wisdom is not inborn. It‘s earned through the effort of an examined life, through experience, mistakes and triumphs, joys and pain. Wisdom grows slowly, unfolding over a lifetime of practice and development.

Confucius identified three broad categories of practice.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

-Confucius

Reflection

… The wise and intelligent practice attaining self-knowledge.

-Vivekachudamani – Advaita Vedanta

Reflection requires a subject; for the cultivation of wisdom the subject is a broad and thorough study of self, the human condition and the changing panoply of life. The merit of reflection is arriving at wisdom by your own evaluation, an earned wisdom that reflects your individual mind and perspective. Such creative reflection adds unique, individual elements to the collective heritage of human wisdom.

The self is always the starting point of wisdom. Experience and judgment will always be filtered through your particulars of mind, emotion and experience. Wisdom starts with an honest understanding of self that acknowledges strengths and weaknesses. Truth is beyond self yet only known through the sieve of self.

The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.

―Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I studied anthropology and religion in college to understand humanity, but meditation and contemplation taught me much more. Inner truths proved more universal and instructive then any academic pursuit.

When we know ourselves, reflection can grow to the world beyond. The habit of honest self-evaluation will foster an appreciation and greater perception of truth. Wisdom will grow, rooted in the deep soil of self-knowledge. This approach, free of illusion and seeking truth, embodies the ideals of Confucian nobility.

Imitation

Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery, it’s the sincerest form of learning.

–George Bernard Shaw

Imitation can be a direct and clear path to wisdom. A previous master has already blazed the way, clearing the path of confusion, and missteps. Imitation offers the fruit of another’s efforts early in the wisdom seeker’s journey. That fruit can sustain you through hardship, adversity and the more difficult parts of life’s journey.

Imitation requires belief and trust in the subject of imitation. There have been many great and wise teachers, each with their own perspectives and hard-earned wisdom. At the same time, many teachers are less than they seem or unsuitable to the seeker. Let caution and intuition guide you.

The way of imitation should not preclude reflection or developing an individual perspective. You may walk a well-trodden path, but what you take away, the perspective you find at your destination is your own creation. Every monk in a monastery may chant the same prayers and walk the same halls, but the wisdom they find over a lifetime is the individual expression of their mind and soul.

From the time I was a child, I held the image of sagacious Solomon as my model. Solomon became an ever-changing, ever-growing symbol of what I was to be. Others sages, masters, philosophers, scientists and prophets supplemented the model, but my imagined, wise old face of Solomon remained. I never settled on an established path or master, but Solomon always offered direction.

On the path of imitation, you may only watch a finger pointing the way, or immerse yourself in a complete and codified practice. Committing to a matured practice requires less exploration, less uncertainty and less failure. It is the easier, most reliable path. It can also lack the fruits of exploration and failure.

Experience

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

- Aeschylus

There is merit to each path identified by Confucius and I have taken from each. I meditate, reflect a great deal and attempt to imitate the best in others, but I walk the path of experience.

Much of my life has been unconventional and even adventurous. I’ve never been afraid to try, to act and live boldly. I’ve reaped a wonderful harvest of memories and lessons and I’ve suffered the consequences.

I’ve failed, I’ve lost and I’ve cried, earning my scars and earning my wisdom. Through difficult times, wisdom has provided perspective, insight, understanding and more.

Wisdom sees the beauty of pain – it understands its necessity in growth. It knows that comfort is often the enemy of life, that privilege can be a curse. It sees wonder and purpose in the hidden cycles and currents running through our lives and well beyond. Wisdom knows the good is not simple, not neat and never free of cost.

Unlike the noble path of Confucian reflection, experience happens on the ground, in the dirt, sleeves rolled up, fists held high. Experience is the way of life, unbounded and pushing the limits. For me – that’s the point, that’s why we’re here. We were made to experience life.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The eternal part of ourselves is shaped and formed in human experience. Our lives become unique and enriched expressions of the absolute, apprehended in wisdom. As the painter needs the spectrum of his pallet, we need the spectrum of experience to give depth and texture to our souls and our wisdom.

The wisdom path of experience is wild and overgrown. You’ll walk much of it alone without light or compass. The way is filled with hazards, obscuring smoke and the fires of passion, destruction and creation. You’ll earn your wisdom every step of the way, but it will be the genuine expression of your unique soul.

Wisdom was the first serious thing I ever wanted. The child I was struggled through life, and craved understanding. Experience, attention and the work of steady evaluation presented the seeds of understanding that blossom now.

My image of Solomon grew distant and unattainable as my wisdom matured. While my emerging wisdom sees sweeping vistas of truth, it also sees the oceans of my ignorance. That doesn’t trouble me like it did in the past. I’m more comfortable with unanswered questions. I’ve also learned that where wisdom goes serenity follows.

From lofty perspectives wisdom knows its place, it knows truth and it knows the face of mystery. Wisdom banishes the shadows of fear, anxiety and insecurity in its growing light. Beyond the shadows, waiting in bright clarity, is contentment and serenity – perhaps wisdom’s greatest gift.

Whatever path you choose, embrace wisdom. She will care for you, ease your mind and open the way to the sacred in your heart.

I reached in experience the nirvana which is unborn, unrivalled, secure from attachment, undecaying and unstained. This condition is indeed reached by me, which is deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand, tranquil, excellent, beyond the reach of mere logic, subtle, and to be realized only by the wise.

-The Buddha

Posted in Purpose, Virtue | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Work As Love

Image of Stone Sculptor

I was re-reading The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran tonight. Wikipedia tells me Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao Tzu. There are many excellent passages in this book, but here is one of my favorites. He expresses much the same idea I was going for in my post The Way of Soup, but so much more compactly and beautifully.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God. And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil. And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”

But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;

And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

You know the cliche: “Do what you love…” It is often misunderstood but Gibran clearly understood the truth this phrase can reveal:

Somewhere in your heart and mind, body and soul, is the capacity for some kind of work that you can do with love. As love, in fact.

If at all possible…Do that.

Posted in Purpose | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Open Secrets: A Strenuous Life

Image by Caroline Grannycome from Flickr.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/cgranycome/7963147624/

So many of the deepest, universal, and timeless truths of human existence are things we all know, yet none of us really believe.

These are truths that have been repeated so many times in so many ways that they fade for us into the background noise of life. We develop defenses against them–bulwarks of rationalization, habits of denial–supported greatly by the fact that so many other people share those defenses.

Can anything new be said about them? I wonder. But they must nevertheless be repeated so that they can be renewed in us.

One such truth that we all know but disregard in practice is this: a strenuous life may or may not be a good life, but a good life is a strenuous life.

It takes sustained strenuous effort to grow, improve, and even to maintain health.

  • For the body: strenuous exercise, and careful nutrition.
  • For the intellect: strenuously challenging one’s capacities to keep learning; rooting out long-held beliefs and perspectives that no longer serve us.
  • For the psyche: strenuous effort to overcome patterns of suffering; struggling with obstacles in the never-ending path to greater maturity.
  • For the character, the soul: strenuous effort to choose the right path, make the right choices, instead of the easy and popular ones.

So this great truth is “life sucks,” then?

No. But that is one of the most common disguises this truth wears. Life is inherently difficult and challenging whether you live well or poorly. The specifics of the kinds of suffering are different for enduring the cost of virtue vs paying the price of life without virtue, but either way you cannot successfully avoid suffering.

The difference is that when you live well, the inherent, necessary, unavoidable suffering of life is almost utterly eclipsed by the satisfaction of doing it right.

In other words: If life sucks, you’re doing it wrong.

Life is supposed to be good. It is supposed to be amazing, wonderful, awesome, excellent, beautiful, brilliant. To be these things, it has to be strenuous. It has to be strenuous because building strength requires strenuous effort and without strength, very little of value can be accomplished.

You must use strength to build strength. And it takes strength to grasp the gifts life offers, and make them yours.

Strenuous effort is particularly painful when you are weak, when you are just starting something. But as strength builds, effort becomes not-so-bad. As your body, mind, and soul adapt to a strenuous life, it becomes natural and intuitively right–never easy–but at times joyful, even ecstatic.

Because we live in a finite world, with finite time and finite resources, we do have to exercise diligence in choosing what to spend our strength on. To live well, we must choose to spend it wisely–not wastefully.

If you are surrounded by people who dis-courage you, who dis-empower you, from diligently applying your strength in the ways that seem wisest to you, solitude may allow you to begin to self-correct and heal.

For the long term, it is important to make and cultivate connections with those who en-courage you and empower you to keep coming back, keep building strength, keep fighting and working toward making your life, and your world, better. That may include mentors, teachers, coaches, but it also includes good friends.

We cannot choose the culture of our time and place. But we can, and must, build our own personal  microculture–the part of culture that touches us most directly, our immediate circles of influence–to promote our ability to live a strenuous life.

Posted in Virtue | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Big Sky and the Spark of Serenity

Image by Joe Philipson on Flikr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jphilipson/5819186083/

Many years ago I had been surveying petroglyphs and shrine sites in Arizona’s high desert. Miles from anywhere I made a hasty camp for the night. I cleared a spot for my sleeping bag and settled in for the evening. I was tired, dirty and had to remove two stubborn ticks from my legs.

There wasn’t enough wood to make a fire so I ate a cold dinner fantasizing about hot coffee and a long bath.

I grew up in northeast Ohio, a part of the country where cloudy days are the norm. We would endure weeks without seeing the sun through a gray haze of drizzling clouds. The air was usually thick with humidity and the night bathed in the foggy glare of city lights. The moon, Venus and a handful of the bolder stars pierced the sky, but often there was little else.

The high desert was different. The thin, dry air let the heavens shine boldly over the open land.

As I cleaned my dishes the stars opened their eyes, winking and shining in the unrolling blanket of night.

It had been a long day. I’d covered miles of rough ground through hard country. I watched the night sweep into the moonless sky as I laid on my bedroll, my pack a rough pillow.

Fatigue set upon me, heavy and dull. I closed my eyes letting my mind drift, wandering from work, tasks and deadlines waiting, to dreams of distant places, foreign voices, spicy perfume and the taste of summer skin.

I must have fallen asleep for a time. When I opened my eyes again, the neon universe lay before me. The Milky Way spanned the arch of night, a river of countless, shimmering stars. The effect was so intense that a moment of vertigo had my head swimming in the celestial sea.

It felt as if my mind could glide, dive and turn through the eternal depths, racing around blue and red and yellow suns. Exhilaration filled me with every breath and my fatigue faded like the evening light.

A single falling star painted the darkness with a silent, masterful stroke of light. Then was gone.

I wondered about that tiny bit of the cosmos, falling and ending before my eyes. How far had it traveled? How many eons had it known like falling leaves? That bit of sand may have seen the birth of the sun, the formations of the planets and every age of this world, mere moments passing.

I was falling so much faster.

My life would only span a grain of time, a flash in the eternal darkness. Then, like that fallen grain of unearthly sand, I would be gone.

Suddenly my mortality seemed to reach up from the earth and hold me to the ground with cold, dark hands. It was so achingly beautiful out there, wondrous and eternal, while I was distant and earthbound, living out my little life in the dirt with the ticks.

I was small and inconsequential before the blazing wonder of the desert sky.

Melancholy and self-pity whined and moaned in my heart as I kept watching the sky, brooding.

Then another streak of burning sand.

“I saw you and I’ll remember,” I said aloud, feeling a sudden kinship to the fallen.

“Kinship, kinship – that was right,” I said to myself. My life would be short, but I had been thinking about it all wrong. Like the falling stars, I was a child of the cosmos. I was part of it and it a part of me. My blaze of life would become part of something greater.

Like the falling star, all that I was had taken over 13 billion years to come to that place, to burn bright for a moment unique in the darkness. The iron and oxygen coursing through my veins were the inheritance of elder stars bequeathed in fierce and fiery cataclysms.

Vital elements and energy blow through space like the breath of God. Life and mind, as natural as the moon and the uncountable stars, stir before that breath.

Like clouds or rivers running their course, life flourishes until minds flower across the bright, pinwheel seas of the cosmos.

Awakening from a trillion worlds, untold beings perceive and create, stretching, enriching and awakening the whole, bringing beauty and purpose. All of us, from the smallest living things to the totality spanning the universe are symphonies of parts, complete and components of greater things, greater minds and greater beings.

Something marvelous, beautiful and real was rising from the cradle of stars. Our lives are the spreading fire of a magnificent awakening. The role we play in this is essential.

All value, all beauty, all good is the product of thinking, feeling, creating beings. Without us, reality is meaningless, worthless and dead. We are the hearts and minds of the awakening universe.

Falling stars inspiring wonder and contemplation – their beautiful burning gives birth to greater things.

My sadness drifted away, small and forgotten. In its place a profound calm, a sense of serenity formed in my heart, fixed and crystal bright as the sky above me.

I was home. Home in this desert, this life, this world and I was home in the luminous living universe spanning the sky before me.

I was home.

 

Posted in Freedom | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Highest Excellence

Photo of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

Bear in mind that the wonderful things that you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honour it, and add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.

-Albert Einstein (to schoolchildren) in 1934

 

The greatest treasure of the earth, of our solar system, is the living edge of human history: humanity.

It must, with great effort, be re-created with each generation.

Everything else in life that we do, ultimately we do for the maintenance and improvement of this sacred treasure that we are a part of, and take part in.

We understate the importance of family, and especially of parenthood, when we say that it is the most important thing.

It is the only truly important thing.

If your family extends beyond your immediate bloodline, and you cherish the potential within more than just your children; if you give your best to see that potential realized and celebrated, then you have achieved the highest excellence.

Posted in Purpose | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Treasured Moment by Winter Trashcans

Image by Sean Dreilinger on Flikr http://www.flickr.com/photos/seandreilinger/3122720017/After dinner on a typical workday, I pushed an empty milk carton into the kitchen trashcan. Full.

“Oh yeah it’s trash day,” I said to myself.

Tired, I retrieved a new bag from under the sink and began the process of purging the household of trash. I approached the task on autopilot, just another chore eating a soon-to-be forgotten moment.

But the moment had other plans and another witness.

Watching me move from trashcan to trashcan, like a lumbering bumblebee collecting industrial pollen, my five-year-old son asked what I was doing.

“Taking out the trash.” I mumbled without looking up.

“Out to where?” he asked in that please-explain-the-world tone children master with their first words.

“Well, you know, to the trash cans in the garage. Then I’ll take the cans to the road.”

“Why do you take the cans to the road?”

“So the trash men, who come in the middle of the night, can empty the cans and take the trash away to the recycling center.”

“In the middle of the night – like Santa?”

“Sort-a like Santa in reverse. But the trash men don’t have a sleigh and reindeer, they drive a huge garbage truck.”

Christmas had been a few weeks before and it was oddly refreshing to tell my son about real things that happened, almost magically, in the middle of the night.

“Wow,” he said in perfect amazement.

“But I have to do my part and get the trash to the road.”

“Can I help?” he asked hopeful.

I mulled it over a moment, rubbing my chin, looking him up and down.

“Well I suppose you’re big enough,” I said in pretend seriousness.

“OK!” he exclaimed, jumping up and down.

We finished collecting the trash, then dressed in boots, coats and gloves. The boy stood excited, holding a repurposed plastic grocery bag of used tissues, empty soapboxes and Q-tips. I opened the door and, like arctic explorers, we pressed into the freezing world of ice and snow.

It was already dark but the sky was clear and the moon bright. Large, feathery snowflakes fell gently through the crisp, windless night. The boxwood, holley and lavender were covered in thick white comforters of winter weaving.

The moonlight had a sparkling silver quality on the snow. The snow was soft, fresh and thick.

When it snowed like that, the snowplows buried the end of the drive with dense, icy barricades of frozen slush. So, the first order of business was clearing a spot for the cans.

I unhooked my heavy snow shovel from the garage wall and handed my son his red plastic shovel. Together we marched bravely down the drive and faced the mound.

We picked and chopped at the slushy ice, slowly clearing space for the cans. My son tossed little shovels of snow my way, laughing uncontrollably. I threatened retaliation and he fell backwards with a yell into the snowy ditch. Regaining his feet, he ran off like a mini Yeti into the night.

I finished clearing a suitable alcove in the frozen slush and started dragging the cans up the drive.

An ambush befell me from the yard. Small, hastily formed snow balls flew wildly through the air. Miraculously, I escaped by ducking behind the cans and returning fire. My attacker disappeared into the yard.

I set the trashcans in their niche and turned down the drive. The boy ran wildly up and down the yard, making crazy animal tracks laughing.

“Have to go in now,” I called. He ran up to me, plastic shovel in hand, face red as fruit punch.

“Can we take more trash out tomorrow?” He asked hopeful.

“Trash men only comes once a week.” He was crestfallen.

I bent down close. “Thanks for the help.” He wiped a sleeve under his running nose.

“Dad, it’s nice the Trash man takes care of us.”

Then as if the crisp sky above opened into my mind, I had a moment of clarity. The kid was right.

I didn’t appreciate it enough. I looked across the road into the night.

People were out there in the cold and dark taking care of us. People stood guard over us, manned emergency rooms, repaired utilities and roads and bridges and every manner of thing that serve us. Dependable people people did their jobs – some of them, very hard. And with the first morning light all our trash is gone.

It is nice, damn nice.

“I’m glad you know that Buddy. It’s important for us to appreciate it. The trash men are cool guys and they have a very important job.”

“OK Dad.”

Then looking at my boy, red faced, nose dripping in the cold air, I was struck with how good it was to be there. How good it was to share that moment with my kid, to look beyond the chore and find something magical.

I’ll never forget the look of his face at that moment, his quick puffs of breath, the snow on his hat or the moonlight shining in his wide hazel eyes. That moment will always be with me.

It’s important to appreciate everyone who does their part and takes care of us. But even that is drained of meaning if we don’t appreciate the moments in our life.

Every moment is a treasure but we blind ourselves to their beauty with habits, work, worries and empty things that steal our time.

Now and then the scene before us is so striking, so poignant that it reminds us of that treasure – the beauty unfolding in the passing seconds.

I try to remind myself to shake off the day, open my eyes and see those moments. Those tiny, gleaming gems of life anchor your soul to good and beautiful things. Those are the moments that shape you with life’s mystery, depth and magic.

Appreciate life, those who share the journey and every moment you can.

Like a still winter night and a little boy by the trashcans.

Posted in Freedom, Virtue | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment