The Other

Fall season celebrations remind me of the deeply ingrained inclinations of people to hold onto ideas of the supernatural. I’ve been wondering if, beyond the dogmas of organized religions, do all reasonably sensitive human beings sense the existence of a presence beyond yet within the physical universe, a presence within all beings that accounts for spirit and vitality? A life-force simply unattributable to biological composition alone, an Other, without singularity, ethereal, ineffable, beyond definition?

Such an awareness, I think, might provide a useful perspective when one is experiencing the travails of daily life.

contemplating eternal recurrence

Mortification of the Flesh

As I anticipate the oncoming winter, the discomfort of cold winds and ice-covered streets, the extended darkness of shorter days and the ugliness of dirt covered snowdrifts, it’s clear to me a certain amount of suffering is soon to be expected.

To set the tone, I’ve been reading about the medieval practice of mortification of the flesh, a not uncommon behavior of the extremely pious seeking union with God. Such behavior was all about suffering, as it might involve ascetic denial, living in seclusion, vows of silence and might grow to include flagellation and other self-imposed harms to one’s physical body.

It should be noted that those who engaged in such activities needed to maintain purity of motive: to accept physical pain in order to grow closer to and become more deserving of God’s benevolence. Pridefulness or exhibitionism must not be in the equation.

So, as I anticipate the suffering I will have to endure in the coming winter, I must avoid poking fun at the snowbirds who flee to the south, remain committed to my stoic resolve and hope to be rewarded by a celestial embrace in April or May.

Family Visit

I spent some time with my siblings recently whom I haven’t seen for more than a year. Our relationships have always been congenial and remain so even though our political views and religious beliefs have diverged, become nearly polar oppositional. We each harbor, I’m sure, the certainty the other of us is mistaken, has somehow acquired beliefs so unacceptable that he/she is beyond redemption.

But sensitive topics didn’t come up this visit unlike earlier times when we were younger and aggressively confrontational. Instead, we consciously avoided political warfare in favor of fond remembrances of family no longer living and shared childhood adventures.

Still, I know we will all be best served, that our bonds will stay intact, by maintaining a healthy distance in time and miles between us.

One is Two

I’ve been reading a book on Buddhist thought, lately, and have been thinking about the counter-intuitive idea that one is two. On the surface, the idea is explainable (at least to my mind) in terms of a single defined object that takes on additional meaning when juxtaposed with other things within its visual field: that an object doesn’t exist in isolation, assumes aspects, is affected by, becomes part of a chaotic whole. And the more deeply an object is studied the greater its complexity is realized, melds into the complexities around it. The idea, I guess, is to realize, get a sense of the Whole, the profound inter-relatedness of all matter.

I assume this is what meditation is about. As I sit before my concrete Buddha (the buddha near the pond in my backyard) I allow daily concerns to pass beyond my conscious awareness and instead find and embrace the Whole. Seems simple enough I guess; requires attention though.

The Bright Side of Life

I’ve been thinking about the satirical Monty Python tune ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’. The song comes to mind because I’m finding myself in quite the opposite situation lately: entertaining a dark humor. Being aware of the need to lighten up before I descend too far into the abyss, Eric Idle and the gang, always quick with dark humor of their own temper my daily diet of the news, the knowledge of world events that are consistently quite the opposite of enlightening.

Putting things into perspective, not wanting to totally abandon reality, the boys continue; ‘always look on the bright side of death’, informing us ‘we come from nothing, return to nothing, what’s lost’. And if humor doesn’t lighten one up whistling might help.

Impending Mortality

I had my last colonoscopy today: no polyps, colon nice and clean, good to go. I was beyond pleased at the announcement. Preparation for the procedure I find to be particularly unpleasant. Never having to ever again drink half a gallon of laxative in order to thoroughly cleanse my bowels and then suffering through a day of fasting is so relieving, particularly in view of the fact food is usually at the top of my daily thoughts.

So, I’ll never need the procedure again, my colon will stay healthy. Forever? The procedure being my last one ever along with an earlier assessment of my general health that led to the comment that, I would probably ‘have another twenty years’ before me sounds pretty good but the underlying implication is pretty hard to miss.

Anyway, right now I feel great and can easily live with the predicament of mortality.

A Symbol of Serenity

I purchased a Buddha the other day; a concrete yard sculpture, a fairly generic cast form, the sort of thing one finds at garden stores next to the gnomes and angels. Being concrete the buddha was pretty heavy to move, it required two workers to lift it into my van and a couple of hours sweat on my part to move it to the location near the pond in my backyard where I’d chosen to place it.

Now, as I stand back and view this sculpture situated as it is amid the verdancy of the surrounding ferns, hostas, Maple canopy and water surface it seems to emanate a significance greater than its generic origin would suggest; maybe it’s massive weight contributes psychologically to the concrete Buddha’s inflated worth, but, even so, it conveys a sense of the serene that I’m thinking will be helpful as I contemplate the big questions from the comfort of a lounge chair on my back deck.

Full Circle

It’s evening. The day has taken its toll. The aches and pains have accumulated over the day’s (relatively) strenuous physical activities. I’m exhausted. I can do little right now but convalesce. Maintaining the mantra: ‘use it or lose it’ is becoming increasingly difficult to voice with enthusiasm. Like others in my aging community vigor and flexibility are diminishing. The unable to perform list awaits and is never empty. Common medical knowledge informs us to cut back our physical (and mental) expectations, don’t push so hard, accept limitations if you wish to maintain your earthly existence.

Morning now. I feel invigorated, competitive again, ready to face any adversity. Age, after all, is experience, an equalizer against youthful exuberance. Bring it on. I’m more than ready for challenge.

Evening again and the cycle continues.

Mumbo Jumbo

In these divisive times of disparate beliefs and alternate realities it seems reasonable to weigh with care one’s personal offerings on subjects of controversy. Strong opinions will arise inevitably in all of us paying attention to the political narrative these days, our chosen news feeds providing us with sound bites of ‘logical’ support for our irrefutable truths. Voicing opinion may best be tempered in the interests of momentary calm, but such a stance seems rarely practiced.

I’ve been reading about the concept of Mumbo Jumbo, an adaptable personage in the traditional cultures of Central Africa. When conflicts emerge, often within the polygamous harems, Mumbo Jumbo may appear with masked face, top hat and staff to gather the community and then single out the most egregious disruptor for punishment.

I’m wondering if a similar sort of magical thought may be creeping into our thinking these days.

Where Faith Comes In

I’ve been reading about the idea that humankind, every individual, harbors an innate ‘inner essence’ that evolved from our earliest human beginnings. The ability to recognize and then contemplate the significance of this benevolent inner spirit enabled us to find the common ground of our humanity and gain the realization of a larger benevolence existing beyond the limits of our mortality.

Being human, the theory goes, we may on occasion lose sight of this gift from time to time, distracted as we are by our mundane routines and limited intellects, but the reality of the ineffable ‘Being with in us’ is never irrevocably, irretrievably lost and will prove to be, if nourished, the conduit to a richly fulfilling awareness of existence otherwise unrealizable.

The problem for some, I suppose, is the necessity of employing the intellect to address a concept beyond intellectual scrutiny; I guess that’s where faith comes in.