Having spent some time recently visiting a Christian pilgrimage site of some considerable significance to believers (and history buffs as well), it became apparent to me the penitents amongst the crowds stood out. It was pretty clear there is a deep emotional engagement, a heart-felt belief in the Christian dogma, many of the pilgrims feel and adhere to.
It got me thinking about the sort of commitment other spiritual engagements require of their followers if their followers can be expected to remain followers. Other than Reformed Judaism which appears to be based pretty much on cultural tradition most other religious endeavors expect, if not an emotional commitment, an intellectual discipline whereby the metaphysical can be approached, the value of which for the honest participant is cultivation of a groundedness that is helpful in seeing through and beyond the petty and not so petty distractions life presents with considerable constancy.
Problems tend to arise when differences in doctrinal beliefs lead followers to deny the legitimacy of other traditions. It would be good, I think, if more adherents would focus on the common rather than the different and set aside the arrogance of an assumed superiority.
I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of Samadhi: the realization of oneness, that through focused attention, subject and object merge, which, I guess, means ‘me’, as subject, losing myself in identification with the object of attention, whatever that may be.
The idea seems appropriate to consider these days with my mind soaring a million miles an hour between thoughts of what just happened as well as those of the more distant past and thoughts of what will soon happen and what I should anticipate occurring in the more distant future, most of which being of a personal nature causing anguish to ‘me’.
So, I think what I need to do is take some time regularly, multiple times a day, to focus my attention on a singularity, breathe deep, let the proliferation of thoughts, which will arrive, pass through until I achieve a sense of a much desired peace. I’m pretty sure I can do this. I just need to find an appropriate object on which to focus.
I have just recently spent some time along the shore of the largest freshwater lake on the Continent.
The experience has me thinking about a poetic comment made by a local resident well familiar with the immense waterbody and its impact on the natural environs: the lake, he said, is God.
I’ve been reading how water functions as religious symbol, you know, as primordial formlessness from which all life emerges and as purifier, cleansing the world of the detritus and accumulating filth that profane existence necessarily produces. The big lake does seem to fit the profile in both cases. As I sat on the shore admiring the pristine beauty and vastness, a certain serenity did seem to subvene upon my restlessness. Maybe the lake is God.
I have this friend who, fairly out of the blue, received a shocking medical diagnosis that put to question the likelihood he would be unable to carry on his chosen life-style not to mention the possibility of an all-too-sudden permanent demise. Well, upon re-evaluation the dire prognosis was over-turned and things suddenly reverted to how things had been, you know, business as usual, except, the scare of imminent demise led my friend to a re-evaluation of priorities, what, essentially does matter after all and a sudden acute awareness of Here and Now.
I guess what the shock of a good scare can do is bring Here and Now into sharper focus. And, of course, Here and Now is where we live and should be where we always want to be but often aren’t, completely, distracted as we tend to be by thoughts of what occurred last week or what will happen after dinner tonight, perceived occupational successes and failures, personal relationships, the rising cost of satisfying our material desires, our minds constantly flitting from one thing to another. We live so much of the time, it seems, in a fog through which Here and Now is only occasionally glimpsed.
The whole episode has me thinking I need to spend more time focusing on Here and Now.
I’ve been reading that, as we observe the world around us, the amount of information we receive through our senses: visual, aural, smells, all our sensory input is too great for our brains to process.
So, what happens is we conceptualize: we ‘package’ what we observe into easy to understand tidbits of information that, unfortunately, tend to leave out a whole lot of what is really there before us; all kinds of information we simply find inconceivable.
This is, it seems to me, unfortunate; if we spend a bit more time observing and less rushing to categorize we might gain some insight into the inconceivable. I’m inclined to proceed in such a manner; at least until I lose myself in inconceivability.
I’ve been thinking, lately, that perhaps I’m taking some of the events of the day a bit too personally. I’m thinking my sensitive, insecure ego is causing me to become increasingly intolerant, less understanding of those with different views than mine and making it less likely I will fairly assess what’s happening around me. Occurrences, no matter the cause have little to do with my stilted sense of appropriateness, my biased ideals and the sooner I come to grips with reality the better.
At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one dealing with the evil ‘I’ which causes so much turmoil in the world. I know there are spiritual endeavors that offer direction in ego suppression, subordinating the invented Self. Meditative disciplines emphasizing focus on the now and allowing thoughts to pass through one’s mind has the potential, I think, to set me in a more healthy and productive place. I just need to start putting in the time, focus on the now, maybe practice some deep breathing.
I’ve been alone in the wilderness now for more than twenty-four hours. Other than the occasional canoe passing by I’ve seen or talked with no one.
Nothing particularly unusual has happened here other than last evening I fell in the lake trying to get into my canoe. I spent considerable time after that rigging up lines to dry things out which they pretty well were by morning.
So, I was thinking about what I miss being in the wilderness and one of the first things that came to mind is music which when I’m not in the wilderness I am usually listening to or is at least playing in the background.
I find it interesting how some musicians’ names seem to fit their profession so well. Take Esa-Pekka Salonen or Luigi Boccherini or Antonine Dvorak. When I say these names out loud I just want to repeat them over and over because they’re so rhythmic sounding (well, maybe not Antonine Dvorak so much).
The composer I’m thinking of now is Aaron Copeland who I guess doesn’t have a particularly rhythmic sounding name but his music seems to suit the wilderness. It seems to me Appalachian Spring would be really good background music for where I presently am. I’m not in Appalachia and it’s not spring but never the less.
I do know the title of that work really doesn’t refer to the season but rather a water source. I found this out only recently. Even so I still am inclined to think of the season when I hear the piece. Also I think of Jody Foster who sang Simple Gifts in an episode of Kung Fu for David Carradine who played Kwai Chang Caine even though he’s Caucasian.
The movie that I think of when I think of Jody Foster is Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro. In it she plays an adolescent prostitute.
I’m all alone in the wilderness. At least it’s someplace I would call wilderness. I know for a fact no one lives within miles of here and there aren’t any roads within miles of here either.
That’s not to say there aren’t people around. I saw four people just minutes ago but they aren’t within sight now. For all intents and purposes I’m all alone. At least I have been for the last three hours and seventeen minutes which is how long ago I entered the wilderness.
Right now I’m looking out across a lake.
Although it’s been a couple of minutes since I wrote that last sentence I’m still looking across the same lake in so far as I haven’t moved from the spot I was at when I wrote the last sentence. It’s a beautiful scene; the sun sparkling off of the water, the variety of greens in the trees on the far bank, the multi-colored rock outcroppings reaching down into the dark water. It could be a painting.
Of course I know it couldn’t really be a painting because then what I’d be looking at would be some sort of pigment spread on canvas or paper or something rather than the real water and rocks and trees I’m seeing.
That’s not to say if what I was looking at was a painting that the painting wouldn’t be real. It is real in my imagination in so far as I can imagine this scene as a painting.
So I guess there’s no reason to think that the painting I’m imagining of the scene that I’m looking at is any less real than the water, trees and rocks.
My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.
In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.
The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.
Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the lawn needs mowing and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.
I was reading, recently, that science, in the broadest sense is simply the systematic knowledge obtained through observation and experimentation, which means, I guess, that our earliest ancestors were practicing science as they observed and learned the habits of their prey and the locales where edible vegetation could be found. And then, later, our forebears developed a pretty sophisticated understanding of stellar and planetary movements affecting seasonal change and growing seasons: science without question.
There have been, of course, a few observational glitches along the developmental path. Grasping and accepting heliocentricity involved overcoming considerable cognitive dissonance (which might be attributed, to a considerable extent, to the Catholic Church). And, I guess, religion has thrown a monkey wrench into the workings of scientific progress on a somewhat regular basis through the ages. There are still quite a number of folks out there suspicious of ‘science’ when it questions long held beliefs or offers inconvenient truths.
But, it’s hard to argue that our very existence today isn’t due to a significant extent to our embrace of science. And, as we understand more and more about the workings of the natural world and even more questions arise we will trust science to address the questions with the knowledge that a definitive explanation of how it all works will probably never be seen. Progress will continue, nevertheless, new ideas will be presented and peer reviewed until established facts present themselves.
I can only hope education will prevail. Science, after all, is without ulterior motive; the betterment of humankind is its only goal.