Saturday, April 1, 2017

And the Opposite Is Also True

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Where Consciousness Resides, suggesting that the part of us that thinks and feels abides somewhere in parallel to the part that moves and talks, and I often feel that's true. But shortly after writing that, I was taken down with the stomach flu and plunged into a couple of days of animal existence, one inseparable from the machinations of my body. There was nothing more to me than the act of purging. There was something cleansing about that experience, though, and not just in the literal, visceral sense, but also in the experience of being so much in the moment. It was not a time to plan or reflect or to allow my mind to dwell on anything apart from being. And that is the other side of this reality: that on the one hand, we do carry within us a spiritual essence whose dwelling is someplace other than the body, but that on the other hand, life also offers us intense physical experiences -- and we can seek them out-- moments when we are completely engaged in a consuming physical task and inseparable from our actions. It is deeply paradoxical that the human spirit- the thing in us that is life- is lent from elsewhere, but yet we never feel as fully alive as when we wed that spirit to the parts of ourselves that perish. Perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all- that life does not know itself fully until it engages fully with death.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where Consciousness Resides

Some have speculated that consciousness leaves the body when we die but I question whether consciousness has ever resided in a body. As someone who spends a lot of time observing, I am often on the sidelines of a social situation, contentedly and quietly taking in what others are doing. But I'm really more present when I am observing than when I'm engaging. It's the times when I engage the most that I am at the furthest remove, for it is at those times that I observe not only others, but also myself.

This past weekend I ran back to back semi long runs on the hills around my house. I hadn't run outside in several weeks, having opted for the treadmill through the cold. But I have run those hills hundreds of times before and still it seems impossible that it's actually me running those miles until I am a few miles in. In the hours before I start the run, I can't even imagine myself performing the task. At the end of mile 1, I can't imagine I will complete mile 5 or 7 or 9. So I just move. Clearly there is some forethought involved, or I wouldn't be able to pace myself- pacing requires an accurate balancing of how your boy feels in the moment and how it anticipates feeling an hour later in the run. But still my core seems absent from that activity and I feel present only as a pair of eyes that is absorbed in looking at the world that I am wading through and nothing else. 

The same feels true when I am speaking publicly or leading a high level meeting, even presenting an argument in a case before the government. I certainly spend a lot of time in solitude preparing for those activities, and I make absolutely sure that my mind has fully wrapped itself around any issue on which I could be called upon to speak. I am always deeply prepared, and preparation requires in part that I imagine ahead to how I will present myself. But those imaginings are always images of the shape of my thoughts, not about this corporeal being that will deliver them in the form of words. I never see my legs carrying my brain around in its skull or my lips opening, my eyes scanning the audience. I can't see myself acting, ever. All I can see of myself is the inner machinations of my mind, my reflections, the organization of my thoughts.

I think that is why I write. I write because the part of me that feels real is the part that was shaping these words in my mind as I was walking around yesterday. All the other parts that carry me through the day, that carry out even the simplest tasks like fixing a cup of coffee have always been tinged with unreality to me. My life only takes on substance to me when I give it shape in solitude. I am amazed that others recognize my existence, that I have taken on challenging feats and that other people have noticed. It makes me constantly smirk to myself that other people pair the part of me that formulates thoughts with the part of me that carries them into being. 

I don't live here. I am a squatter in my body and I try to be good to it because there are other souls under my care. I am certainly tied to the life that goes by my name, but even that - what we call life itself- is not all that there is. There is another place where consciousness resides. I don't know where it is, but it is not here.

Monday, January 2, 2017


The world in which a quiet tree can suddenly erupt with the surprise of a thousand wings taking flight and the one in which nature has conceived for the young to pass from a nest of bones into a bed of arms as they emerge into the world is the one into which we are born. It is also the one from which we will pass sooner than any one of us thinks. The world in which a leaf is always floating somewhere in a pool of water, wind always whistles through a forest, and animals are carving out their homes in the floor of the world is our world. It is our home, for now, and as I look toward another year of living in it, I seek only to remember this: that any way of living that distances me from my knowledge of my place in this world, that makes me forget, even, that this is the world where I live, is wrong.

Friday, December 2, 2016


I hope we go to the same Nowhere when we die that is the source of the first few lines of a poem that arise in the back of our minds.

And I hope when we arrive that it tugs at us like those first lines do to follow It, and work out to completion what was only the first spark, or that at least we want to follow where it leads us--

Even if it's obvious we can't sustain the feeling any longer than is needed to complete it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tomorrow, too

This morning it was 50 degrees out and I went for a slow run on the trails around our house. The days are past when the leaves fall like rain but a few were still dropping  and a thick layer of them crackled under foot with each step. Against the gray sky, their reds and yellows blazed. There never was a more picturesque fall day.

By afternoon, the temperature had plummeted, and the rain fell half-frozen. By tomorrow, there will be snow. A lot, they say. It sounds incongruous but I knew of it already by the way the sharp winds cut across me in the morning here and there. In the warm breeze there was a current of a different season sneaking in already.

The moment you step out of doors, the world begins to speak to you. It strikes up a conversation with you about itself. It tells you what it did yesterday and what it wants to do tomorrow. And it asks after you too. It notices how you carry yourself, how you move upon the ground, the way your shoulders respond to the wind. The world wants to know you and to be known by you. It wishes for you to linger.

The older I get, the simpler I want to become. I want these easy conversations, this lack of complication. I want it today and tomorrow, too.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

If you look for it, you'll always find a meaning.

One day when my eldest daughter was in second grade, I wrote her a note and tucked it into her lunchbox. She liked it so much that she asked for one the second day. On the second day, I made it a silly poem. She wanted one again and again. My first theme was the animals we would encounter in our yard- deer, moles, nesting geese, crafty mice, stray dogs, the neighbor's cat who keeps vigil over our house like a hungry wraith, the ephemeral butterflies who haunt our most humid days and seem to be swimming like rays. None of these short verses would take me more than two minutes to write. It became my rule for them to be quick and- whatever the opposite of deliberate is- as fleeting as these childhood days. They help me to notice her more- it's strange how hard that is- to continually notice someone. To notice with due wonder.

She's in fourth grade now and still wants these poems- the fact that she hasn't tired of them seems so strange to me that I feel the desire for them to contain more meaning. They have grown abstract and I'm not sure where I'm going with them. The one I wrote her yesterday read:

They say everything happens for a reason,
And if you look for it, you'll always find a meaning.
But I am happier just counting on the seasons
Changing just as naturally as you or I breathing.

Occasionally she gives me some feedback on the poems. All the kids she eats lunch with read them. One of the more boisterous girls tears it from her lunch box every day when she opens it and reads it before she does- a fact that amuses her. She told me last night that the other kids thought that one didn't make any sense but that she thought it sort of did.

Today she had a friend over to play and we were putting together a couple soccer nets for them to use. We had a couple of pieces of the PVC pipe used to construct the frames swapped and couldn't figure out what we were doing wrong for a minute. Then in a flash she realized what we were doing wrong and corrected me. "Oh!" I remarked, "Now it all makes sense!" I was delighted that she had figured it out first. And I was even more delighted when she said, "It's just like that poem that you wrote! 'Everything happens for a reason!'"

I don't know how much of the poem she really understood; I was just floored that a line from it was rolling around her mind in search of its meaning. I don't know what these poems are but they feel like a vital thread, something to keep exploring as a means of communication.

I always think of myself as connecting to her with my mind and her little sister with my heart. They are each beautiful connections, but so incredibly different. These poems feel like they broaden that connection just a little. So I will keep dashing them off as I am running out the door. Most of them are ridiculously cheesy but they preserve something. I think it will always be through our use of words that she and I share a little something otherworldly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Two Wonders

There are two basic concepts that baffle me-- concepts so fundamental to existence that their meaning should be obvious, but I don't think they ever will be. Not to me. The first one is the simple truth of Death. The departure of a soul from the flesh to which it was wedded- and particularly so when its departure unfolds slowly- is impossible for me to regard without wonder. It strikes me now like all the small discoveries of this earth struck me as a child- the veins in a leaf, the way a body passes through water. Our first and most fundamental nature is that of wonder and we regain that sensibility as we pass through different worlds or watch others do so.

The second is the nature of Time and the simple fact that it passes and as it does, we change. The strangeness of time is never more apparent than in moments when we are warned in advance that we will have to say goodbye to someone whom we have loved. The knowledge of a soul's imminent departure, whether it be from this life altogether or just from ours, inspires us to try to bend time, to try to spend every moment we can with the beloved, to shore up moments of togetherness to be our solace in the future loneliness we imagine for ourselves. Of course we cannot save even a second of the present for the future, for love only ever happens now, today. And yet it is almost instinctual to try to do so. If we enjoy the memory of those moments in the future, it is only as memory, and never as a moment which unfolds with the force of the present. In the present moment, we never know what will happen next; the act of living is deeply wedded to our abiding sense of anticipation. Memory is drained of anticipation; unless we have misunderstood and must therefore reassess it. Then it takes on new life. 

Death and Time are mysterious twins whose shadows lend to our days a sense of urgency. Their cast grows longer as the earth tilts away from the sun. They make of the earth a mirror for all that dwells upon it, their reflected image the obverse shape of their own coming darkness. They make us walk the earth in wonder.