Friday, March 30, 2007

open hands

Deep water
Black, and cold like the night
I stand with my arms wide open
I've run a twisted line...

I could not see for the fog in my eyes
I could not feel for the fear in my life
From across the great divide
In the distance I saw a light...

~ Daniel Lanois, The Maker

My steps along roads and through woods had brought me to a captivating river. It was just the other day. Strikingly bright light and saturated blue expanses drew contrasts against flowing ice, breaking away from the riverbanks. I needed to climb down to the water, and establish a clear memory of warming sun above stinging icy currents. Amidst a voyage, even a personal exodus, arriving at the side of a river represents the accomplishment of having covered some rugged undetermined distance, however this is but an encampment. The river must be traversed. The arrival is but a departure, and my crossing-over is with gratitude rather than regret. So I go.

With open hands, my intention is to release and not grasp at what was, or is incalculably yet to be. But this released grip is not a rescinding of my responsibility, rather an embrace of the moment and to look forward. For me to extend an openness- to others and to this springtime- there must be an unburdening of all that encumbers my being. And further along, surpassing roads and rivers, must come the recollection of maintaining the true meaning of the open gesture and not to be brought down by the weight of what is past. For me to let go is to make room; not for more self-defeat, but for the presence of those I encounter, as well as for the present that is given.

On my work-day breaks, when I can collect my thoughts, a sense of what my inner vernacular calls "losing the silence" becomes troubling. And that seems to me as something contradictory. Experience is now reminding me how silly it is to worry about not wanting to worry! It is rather like Meister Eckhart, in the 14th century, pondering the notion of the feeling of God being far away. He wrote that when feeling a "loss" of the Creator's presence, one should return to doing what they did when they felt the greatest spiritual consolation. It is as if to say I must retrace to where I knew I left off, along many miles of travel. Even if that might be in the simplicity of sensing of my own breathing.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

north point

“Have you ever been to North Point
To spend your time and pray.
The prison walls so cold and dark and grey.

Then on a bright day at North Point
The gate was open wide.
Chancing to look at what was inside.

And then it all came back
Somewhere far above has a new day risen
Way beyond the searchlight
Comes alive.”

~ Mike Oldfield, North Point

Though I have lived my life along the Atlantic, the sight of the ocean has always been a welcome refuge. At times, I will go to the water’s edge simply to look, to be near, to remember my point of reference in this vast world, and as the weather permits- to jump in. Sometimes during an intermission in the work day, there will be a pier upon which I can perch- even downtown. At other times to simply abide amongst the large and uneven crags and the sands that emerge from the sea-salted waves, is where I sense my consolation. Going to the sea is reassurance and solace, reminding me of the great incalculable and unbridled forces that are far beyond any of us, grander than any structure or squabble of the day’s details. All I have to do is show up. The ocean needs no help to be able to move; it is not borne upon any pair of undependable mortal shoulders. On the northern New England terrain, this is where one can see out to the horizon, and up to vast and endless skies.

Years back, my sister and I used to wade in from the beach sands and squint to try and see France on the other side. Of course we did not know that was impossible, but as little children we did know the Atlantic was the divide between our two countries. Or perhaps the ocean expanse is what connects the land masses. Our lights and shadows, our confidence and doubts, dwell within us at the same time. In the same sense, our isolation and our connection are at once before us. The ocean has helped me come to terms with desolation, as well as providing a powerful sense of belonging. It has been good for me to witness places so boundless yet intimate, ever-changing yet certain. A topographical end, with precipices of decision, however an immense beginning.

There is a dear and meaningful Jewish new year’s custom which entails casting breadcrumbs into a body of moving water. It cannot be ponds or lakes, but can be rivers or oceans. Tossing the breadcrumbs is a tangible action representing the rescinding of regrets and remorse, to be carried away with the forces of creation. To do this is to invite renewal. The ocean of light and rebirth supercedes the ocean of darkness. Newness of life is a new land, and such things can be called to recollection on the journey. I went to the water’s edge this evening. At first it was to distract myself from my thoughts, and later through the freezing winds it became an immense gratitude for the changes in my life. When anguish has been so pervasive an experience, there is a danger of it becoming an identity, and that must be prevented from happening. I cannot really tell whether it is visible to others, but suffering must never be an identity. It has been tossed upon the moving waters.

Monday, March 19, 2007

terra nova

"Mais la mort, ici, n'est qu'un indice. En christianisme, ce n'est pas la mort comme telle, c'est la résurrection du Christ et le monde nouveau ainsi inauguré, qui impliquent, à propos de la réalité, une véritable et indispensable conversion de point de vue."

~ frère Pierre-Yves Émery de Taizé, Le Souffle de l'Espérance

To feel the strength that new vision is enduring the tests of time and of the banality of the commonplace, is convincing me of its manifestation. Yesterday, I drove what we call the "airline road," which connects Bangor, Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. The nickname is due to the way that slick bending roadway rises, drops, and banks over scenery. Some of the views give an impression of being in the air, looking down at fields and water (but surely not as the above images of my approach to Iceland). I've driven the Airline Road many times, although with this recent adventure it all looked quite new, and somehow the grey backdrop of winter sky added a reassuring sense of serenity to all that was presented before me. Bare trees laden with ice were living black and white pictures. When I reached the Bay of Fundy, seeing evidence of extreme tidal movement demonstrated the certainty of change and the solidity of the ground upon which such transition takes place. As surely as morning after night, the spring tides will continue to bring the waters in close so as to immerse the land beyond the shore. Now that I have reached the new land, I can inhabit the new places with care and gratitude.

The landscape is familiar, yet different. I know enough to find my way, and yet the old Portland streets of my day-to-day reflect an evolving perspective. Is it what we see, or is it how we see that which is present to us? In a similar sense, there is a contrast between considering a statement like "things will never be the same" as something once having a connotation of fright, becoming an exciting prospect. Embracing the transitory aspects of living allows me to thrive in its very dynamism. Contrasts add dimension to our sight. Doubts and confidence coexist side-by-side. And so, if stress reveals the darker side of uncertainty, how shall I tread the trusting side of journeying into the unknown? Perhaps it is to root myself well in the terra nova, and to fully hope in what renews. I walk gently and solidly on this new land, with new steps. Hope is a correspondence between the present and the alighting future. Holding fast to hopefulness is showing me to die to discouragement, to release the grip on defeat. Often it has been the self-defeat of believing I will never be "good enough." But from whence comes the criteria? Truly, this voyage of advance can only happen in steps, and the movement proceeds at a pace I cannot predict. But my thirst leads me onward.

Monday, March 12, 2007


"Your rebirth has come, not from a destructible
but from an indestructible seed,
through the living and enduring word of God."

~ 1 Peter 1:23

In an irony that causes me to laugh at my self (just the thing for a solo car ride), I am noticing my thoughts turning to some kind of maintenance of a sense of present-moment perception. If there is indeed a foundation, why worry about having one? And then again, is this new spirit as new as I think it is?

In its own silly way, my former life as a commercial photographer comes back to mind. In retrospect, how we would often nit-pick photographs into a visual numbness, now looks absurd. Back then, to say such things as "better is the enemy of good" would've been the medium's own version of blasphemy. Certainly there is much to be said about striving to do a job, and do it so well that new standards of craftsmanship manifest, but this was something of a side-category. This was a crossing-over from healthy pride in a job well done, into a fearful streak of perfectionism. We've all seen this: multiple entanglements in details, much of which are inconsequential, head-trips a success into something unnecessarily out of reach. (Notice I did not say "failure.") Moreover it is not the product (and in a situation like that, one daren't say "finished product") that suffers, it's the adventure of the process and the people involved in its accomplishment. The moment would so easily be surrendered to the ego. Art college had far too much of that. Anxiety too easily defeated the creative process, and competitive resistance would get the best of what can really happen in an environment of more than one soul.

That was then, and I was swept into that competitive tension just as much as anyone else. Twelve years of it. Now I want the ego to surrender to the moment. Maybe all of us now look back at that craziness with a more forgiving vantage point. I try to, at least. And along with that, I am trying to look at situations for the moments they provide- even with all the interactions. Worrying about maintaining a new perspective loses the simple fact that I already have a new way of seeing. Perhaps that is enough. There are few things as preposterously unrealistic than perfectionism. To mindfully go forth is simply self-explanatory. It is perhaps not quite as hard-worked as I am presuming it to be. I have come to understand this, even through reminders of hardships and rejections I've endured. The losses get their respects, but they must be terse glances. Staring back is potentially obstructive to the present. What is unfolding now is lit by what shall be, and it is captivating and hopeful. I dare say one maintains hopefulness simply by being hopeful. Could I have known this years ago? Should I have thought it trite? Would I have listened, if such things had been said to me, in my darkest nights?

All this happening simultaneously has the sensation of a molting experience. Familiar and unfamiliar reside side by side. Perhaps this pervading sense of seeing what I have known with a vision I have not known, is an assurance of a momentum that needs only to breathe to be nurtured. Just this past Saturday evening, after we played music for several hours, a wise friend made an observation with the parable of new wine being poured into a new wine-vessel. Fresh new wine, he said, cannot sustain in the old container; a new one must be made. New ferment, new vessel. Both have been wondrously given to me, and thankfully neither originate with me. This time, Passover is a passing- over from the doubts that came with desolation, into the trust of forward-moving faith. I am beginning to dare to believe this momentum will hit a stride that will continue, though at a rate-of- travel that I daren't predict. That is not for me to ascertain. The most precious gifts will never be confiscated, and the sense of love and beauty need never leave me, especially as I become better able to see the essence of being, beneath the trappings of materiality. Here, a loss of perceived power is a very present consolation.

Friday, March 9, 2007

l'élan de repartir

"Mais tu veux
au fond de moi
la vérité ;
dans le secret
tu m'apprends
la sagesse."

~ Psaume 50

Going forward, with the resolve to be faithful to what has brought my steps to this new momentum, is daily put to the test. But as I proceed through my days, it seems that challenge needn't imply struggle or even resistance. This is more along the lines of a follow-through, a persevering continuance to keep still and attentive to each moment, and away from the wounds of time. It is itself a transition, to advance from deciding where we wish to focus our commitments- to setting out in fulfillment of these hopes.

So many countless intentions begin well, but end right at their own outset! But that memory shouldn't stand in the way of desiring anew. From that newly discovered source that ignites a fresh embarkation, the pace of such movement may not be immediately detectable. Quite likely, that tempo is not in lock-step with much of society around me; it is a rhythm that can breathe. Delays and (what resemble) setbacks can frustrate, and being true to new directions implies remaining encouraged. And perhaps it is that hope does not come from me. As it is with love, I am either a gracious conduit or a resister. It has been in my thoughts to see aspiring promise in this way, and in so doing, the pressure lessens for me to have to originate everything and to view my pursuit of authenticity as some sort of grim struggle. When a new beginning has been desired so thoroughly from the heart, and it manifests, a grateful life of faithfulness to this gift validates the permanence of change.

Monday, March 5, 2007


"Our inner life is not something to be sought up in the skies, but within ourselves; not in the abstract, but in little daily happenings and acts. God is at work there, within us, with us, correcting, polishing; until- and in order that- everything in us, our faculties and their acts, are under the sway of this inner principle. We should try to reduce everything in us to this inner principle."

~ Augustin Guillerand, Le Silence Carthusien

To leave discouragement and hopelessness behind, it is vital that I innately know to still my soul. Learning a new habit, a colleague tells me, can take at least several weeks. For the time being my version of "spiritual discipline" seems to be interrupting my thoughts with creative variations of tersely stifling the old routines of reaching backwards to fetch what I'd concertedly tossed in the dustbin. So this is no lofty exercise, but a ground-level aspiration for the enduring essentials: the desire to develop qualities that encourage others and build my spirit.

Quieting my insides is now indispensable, and perhaps while trying to dis-identify with thoughts of both past and future that obscure the present, inadvertent morsels of silence manifest throughout these days. Again, it is a means, rather than an end; in recollective tranquillity my resolve to move forward can reinforce the new strength. To reach for that which is ahead, and embrace the moments as they are given to me, is to refuse societal pitfalls that can alienate me from others' presence, and from those substantial things in life that getting out of my own way permit me to recognize. Yesterday, while driving on the highway en route to giving a music recital, it occurred to me that we are kept back when we don't look beyond our thoughts of ourselves. The winter-into-spring sky looked so vast, as a prepared canvas that was itself the completed art.

Surely, no process so personally integral can be finite. Perhaps, indeed, transition has neither a beginning nor an end. And truly, none less than Isaiah could observe that, "it is the living, the living that can give praise." The grave cannot celebrate, and the darkest pits of corruption are not sources of hope and promise. Our grieving figure poetically turns from the bitterness he disowns, and immediately recovers with music, with song! From such turning-points, if anything, we can proceed with careful steps- not fearfully- but mindfully aware of something new. Fragile, yet with incalculable fortitude. And from the stillness a vision to see the ordinary in extraordinary ways.

Friday, March 2, 2007

tension is a passing note

"tension is to be loved
when it is like a passing note
to a beautiful, beautiful chord"

~ Tension is a Passing Note, by Sixpence None the Richer

If I choose to give my all to the present moment, what of this penchant for preservation? With the mind's eye, we photograph the fleeting hundredths-of-seconds. It's what I see and hear, how a slant of light changes what I notice, often the startle of what I hear myself say, and in silence the still voice resultant after the earth shakes and the cataclysm dies. Noting thoughts becomes a mindful balance between enshrining days and events- and navigating paths that lead forward. I try to learn from my past, and that which is around me, and preserve in order to perceive. And then there are moments to gratefully relish, lights along the way, connecting reminders not to be disregarded.

How deeply has the Spirit taken root? Are things really different now, or is it that I see things differently? In stillness comes the dare to become aware of more than simply my own voice. Transition has neither beginning nor end, and coming to this, being both observer and active participant, provides much reassuring relief to me.