Sunday, November 17, 2013

Riding the carousel of life

Pondering again how everything that lives now will die, and everything that lived before us, has died, and the constant flow of this process sweeps us all along relentlessly in this tide of life-to-death-to-life. Life springs from the fecund soil of dead things. If we are living, this is the bargain we all must keep -- we must die.

Why should I be able to keep this mortal life, this mixture of pain and pleasure, forever? Why should I be so cursed? Why should I be so lucky? Eons and ages of people and other creations of all types have had this same existence, for longer or shorter than I have, and all of them took their turn and bowed out. I suppose that the average lifecycle of all creation is so short, compared to the human lifespan. What an endless age we live, compared to a butterfly! The trees surpass us, what else? (My Google search says koi and turtles, and whales, too. Long-lived Antarctic sea sponges, anyone? Estimated maximum lifespan over 1,000 years)

I cannot linger or tarry when it is my time to go, nor could anyone else. And indeed there is a long line of humanity and all other forms of creation waiting to be born, waiting in an endless line that perhaps stretches over eternity. But to make room for all of them, each of us must take our turn and then leave. The earth cannot possibly support all of this abundant creation at the same time. It takes on a small fraction only. And with the flow of mortality, deaths breed births, breed deaths, cycling. We are here for a season only.

We have such a fleeting time to enjoy or to discover all the curses of life, and most of us find there is plenty of time to do both. Blessings and curses flow together, even seem to create one another.

So I ride round on this carousel of life, not knowing how many turns until the end. It seems I cannot appreciate the honey taste of my mortality on my tongue now. I must hope I will still have the lingering savor left over, after it is done.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My favorite author of the moment

I am loving this murder mystery series I'm reading by Louise Penny. Not that I'm particularly a fan of that genre, it's just a framework for someone to write within. I started with "The Beautiful Mystery" which is actually Book 8 in a series, about a murder in a silent order of monks, listening on an audiobook, and fell in love.

Here is a link to the author:

The audio recording reminded me that the French pronunciation for one of the main characters, Jean Guy Beauvoir (these are French Canadians), is Jhongui Boh-vouah (soft J and rolled together). So hard to describe something phonetically in English from another language!

I am currently reading book #3, having backtracked to the beginning of the series and finished the first two. This one is called "The Cruelest Month." A reference to T.S. Eliot's line of verse that April is the cruelest month. I love the literary references!

But here is what I mainly love about the author: she is never afraid to speak of spiritual matters openly, be they ghosts or angels, or trees with souls, or haunted houses. She has unexplained encounters in each book that leave plenty of room for interpretation. Several of her characters have encountered angels, in the form of people, who tell them things the people couldn't possibly know. (So far, most of the characters have carried through all the books.) In Book 3, someone dies of fright (and is helped along) during a seance in a haunted house that is truly frightening.

This book features a Wiccan, and this character's religious beliefs and her "second sight," as well as her ostracism from the community, are treated with respect and sensitivity. The murders also have a spiritual dimension, both for the victim and the killer, that overshadows the earthly dimension. All this is in line with my own beliefs.

There are marvelous psychological insights into people, as well. The characteristics of the author's characters, so to speak, are so real. Here's yet another brilliant psychological concept she introduces in this book: The Near Enemy. As in two very similar looking emotional conditions that are actually opposites.

It takes a while to unpack this concept, but here goes. The examples she gives are these, spoken through Myrna, a huge black woman full of love and laughter who was a psychologist and now is a bookseller in a small village in Quebec province, Canada. Noble emotions to left, their near enemies to the right:

Compassion -- Pity
Love -- Attachment
Equanimity -- Indifference

I love all of these opposites, especially because how could anyone really know which emotion they are feeling?? You could be cleverly tricking yourself into thinking you were experiencing, and acting out, only the nobler emotions. But believe me, we carry the others as well. We all do. Everything goes in pairs. With the light, the shadow comes. If you can't see your shadow, then you are not ready to face the reality of who you are, and even your light is diminished.

Compassion and pity should be the easiest opposites to picture, and I believe they are nearly always paired. Pity is the near enemy because it ranks oneself higher in importance than the other, and objectifies the other. Compassion is a feeling of caring and concern among equals, a sense that the other person is in your place and you can also experience what they do (empathy). There but for the grace of God go I, says compassion. A truer statement was never said. I have experienced this truth in my own life a number of times, and every day I thank God for the grace that rescued me. Why others have not been rescued ----

Attachment is the near enemy of love because it is unhealthy clinging to a loved one, the refusal to really let that person be their own selves or to grow or change, the domination or bending of the other to meet one's own needs. Whereas love lets the other go and be, even if it results in suffering for the one who loves. Attachment also means you trap the other person in the box that is your opinion of them. Even with our closest loved ones, this happens. Ever have a, "There he/she goes again" moment with a loved one? How hard it is to allow others to change, and to see that change as a real part of them when you have your own preconceived ideas of who they are. Or as Myrna says, "Love wants the best for others. Attachment takes hostages."

In a murder case, the especially relevant twin emotions are equanimity and indifference. Equanimity, my Enneagram Type 4 virtue (what I should strive for), is the balancing of emotions and the resilience to rise above tragedy. Whereas indifference is demonstrated by psychopaths. On the surface, though, the emotional reaction is indistinguishable.

Pray for the people of the Philippines after the devastating super-typhoon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Songs of innocence and experience

Despair tells me that the world is here to destroy innocence, youth, and finally life itself. Isn't that so? Look at what happens as you live. What's the end point to your life, to mine, for everyone?

Life is a ravenous beast that devours the young, the good, the innocent. Literally, oftentimes.

Faith tells me that's not the end. Faith had to be born to fight off despair and allow hope to remain, even against the odds. Even if it's not real.

Which is correct? How can they both be?

Tyger, did He who made the lamb make thee?

Something in me, wiser than the sum of my parts, knows that a complete truth embraces both the extremes, even if that's impossible to conceive of for our rational mind. There would not be a need for despair without all the abundance of hope, and love, even joy. Strange that it is so. One needs the other.

How can there be such great beauty in such a stern place as this world, a place that will obliterate your dreams? Either immediately, or slowly by force of erosion, your ideas of what you were here to do will all be washed away.

We were at the beach today and you can't deny the beauty there. It would make despair ache even worse, all that beauty just out of reach of the suffering mind. The vitality of the water, its soothing sound that almost can return us to the womb, it rocks us so with its endless energy. This is how eternity must sound. How it affects the landscape, which is so flat, worn down and worn smooth by the endless action of surf over years.

"Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;" Luke 3:5

It was a perfect fall day, the second day after a cool front when the wind had died down and the high was in the mid-70s Fahrenheit.

There were many dead jellyfish and cabbage heads, we call them (unscientifically, I'm sure). Death, death, death ... in the middle of vibrant life! When we pulled up, just beside the spot we had chosen was a pile of trash spread across yards of beach that was breathtaking to see. Beer bottles and cans, liquor bottles, a dirty diaper (not perhaps from the same gathering), endless cigarette butts and food wrappers. It's disheartening that a small group of people can so defile the beach so quickly. I couldn't stand to leave it that way and carefully cleaned up most of it, though there was still broken glass strewn around.  Maybe we were drawn to that very spot so that the mess would not remain unchallenged.

If you spend your life trying to clean up the little messes around you and trying to love others, does that make the world any less of a murderous place for the body and soul, I wonder. Seems like not too many people are thinking of making the world less murderous. It's just its nature. There is no changing of nature.

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