Sunday, June 27, 2010

Doing What Is Helpful

Spirituality, spiritual aliveness, has nothing to do with religion or dogma or belief or faith, but with bringing our soul/self to LIFE. When our doing flows not from our thinking about how things ought to be done, but from our being true to what is life to our soul, we're on track. We have to be able to tell death from life and have the courage to live toward life. The catch here of course is that life is always on the other side of death. There is death that leads to being dead and death that leads to being alive. We have to know the difference and die the right kind of death.

We like to invent structures and traditions to save us from dying by taking the burden of decision making away from us because we hate the agony of choosing when we don’t know what to do, or when we don’t want to do what we know needs to be done. But. Structures are death in disguise. Nothing is more deadly than being sure we know how things ought to be done.

The tendency is to not want to make mistakes when we are afraid of running out of money and time, but we have to make mistakes, learn from them and adjust our living accordingly. We have to know that we don’t know what we are doing, and do what seems to be the most helpful thing to do in the situation as it arises, whether it has ever been done that way or not.

The only kind of freedom that matters is the freedom to do what we think is truly helpful in the situation as it arises. Here is our mission: We are to find what we think would be helpful in each situation as it arises, and do it. That’s all there is to it. But, of course, there is a catch. The catch is that we have to do what we think would be helpful in good faith. It has to spring out of a sincere desire to be helpful to the situation—to offer to the situation what we truly think would be most helpful to the wholeness, the allness of the situation, to the good of the whole, regardless of its implications for us personally. This is a catch because the more we have at stake in the outcome of our actions, the more we stand to gain (or lose) by acting in a certain way, the less likely we are to exhibit good faith in our dealings with one another, or with the world as a whole.

Rumi said, “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” This sentence captures the essence, the weight, and the shame of human history. We are most likely to live in good faith with one another when we have nothing to lose in the interchange. How many treaty’s did the US government make and break with Native American tribes? Need I say more? As soon as it becomes apparent that our agreements are not in what we perceive to be our best interest, our agreements go to the burning barrel. Burning barrels are 55-gallon steel drums in which people in the rural deep south burned their garbage during the 50’s and 60’s. It may still be going on, indicative of the absence of good faith, as is the practice of dumping appliances—freezers, stoves, kitchen sinks—in the woods, or leaving old cars, trucks, busses and tractors there to rust. The absence of good faith is evident everywhere you look if you look long enough, and often it doesn’t take very long.

The world had no choice but to trust that BP was doing its part. BP was not, and still is not, doing its part. BP did not act, and still is not acting, in good faith. We cannot make rules, regulations, laws or binding agreements so air-tight as to force anyone to act in good faith. How many loop-hole lawyers are there? That’s like asking how many tripod positions there are. There isn’t a big-enough number to say how many there are, that’s how many there are.

There are no loop-holes in good faith. There are no ways to get out of doing what would be truly helpful when we offer ourselves in good faith to one another. And there is nothing to make us offer ourselves in good faith to one another. It depends entirely upon our, you guessed it, good faith.

Our ability to act in good faith is really our ability to act unilaterally in good faith. And that is the condition that kills the likelihood of good faith having a long and happy life. The Native Americans acted in good faith. Think they would do it again, knowing what they know now? Remember the parable of the vineyard workers? The workers were hired at various times during the day and the ones who worked the longest were paid the same as those who worked the shortest. Think that vineyard owner could round up workers on the morning of the following day? Acting in good faith is the shortest-lived human endeavor in the history of human endeavors. “Fool me once, bad on you. Fool me twice, bad on me.” And yet, everything depends on our acting in good faith—acting unilaterally in good faith—in relationship with one another and all others. There are two chances of that happening, as they say, fat and slim. But. There is no hope of anything good ever coming of the whole human experiment if we do not, you and I, begin acting unilaterally in good faith with one another and all others, regardless of the outcome, and carrying that out through the rest of our lives.

Need I remind you of the cross hanging behind me on the sanctuary wall? That is the doorway into the world as it ought to be. Life is on the other side of death. We have to die to our ideas of how life ought to be lived if we are going to come to life and be alive. We don’t get there by waiting for BP, or the US government, or anybody else, to go first. We pick ourselves up and walk right through the doorway that is the cross (picking up each day, in each situation as it arises, the cross that is a threshold) by living with good faith in every situation, doing there what we think will be truly helpful in each moment as it unfolds.

We don’t have to know what will be helpful, we only have to offer what we think will be helpful. When we work at being helpful in good faith, the situation will reflect how helpful we are actually being, and we can adjust our efforts accordingly. We learn as we live, and what we learn is how to live in ways that are truly helpful in our relationships with one another and all others. This is the essential lesson, and it is what we are all here to learn. We learn it by living unilaterally in good faith, doing what we think will be helpful in each situation as it arises, every day, for the rest of our lives, no matter what. Who wants to go first?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Meaningful Living

I think it was the Buddha who said, “I can’t tell you people anything!” That’s what everyone who knows, knows. They know they can’t tell anyone anything. No one can tell us how to live our lives or where to find meaning. We have to make our own way to the Grail. All anyone can tell us is, " Look! Listen!" It takes a lot of looking to be able to see, a lot of listening to be able to hear. There are no shortcuts to be found in the morass of explanations, recipes, formulas and instructions. There are no shortcuts to a meaningful life.

Our life is an experiment with meaning. We have to live so as to experience meaning! We have to explore what that might be! We have to ask! Seek! Knock! Take up the Quest! To live meaningfully does not mean being in possession of meaning (As if!). We cannot put meaning in a pen in the back yard and go pet it when we are feeling down and out. We don’t own meaning. We can only live in the service of meaning, be on the Quest for meaning, throughout our lives.

Meaning is not a steady state of being. Our lives are more or less meaningful at any point, but the movement of our life is toward meaning. We live toward meaning by doing what is meaningful. The Quest is for meaning. What can we do that has the most meaning for us here and now? Where is meaning to be found here and now? The meaning in life comes with doing what is meaningful, in doing what matters, what is important, to us. How much of that is in each day?

If you are going to know anything, know what is meaningful to you, here and now. If you are going to do anything, do what is meaningful to you, here, now. We have to start somewhere. Start with what is meaningful to you and follow it throughout your life. As it changes, change with it. Don't get stuck in doing what was meaningful twenty years ago. What is meaningful here, now? Do it!

What should we do? Whatever is meaningful. Follow meaning. Live meaningfully. If the most meaningful thing you do is bowling, bowl. See where that leads you. The most meaningful thing I do is walking around with a camera looking for a photograph. It is not attending meetings. Not even meetings about photography. It’s the old two door challenge. If you stand before two doors, one labeled “Photography,” the other labeled “Lecture About Photography,” which do you choose? “Bird Watching” or “Lecture About Bird Watching”? “Heaven” or “Lecture About Heaven”? “Meaning” or “Lecture About Meaning”?

A meaningful life consists of a trail of meaningful associations. If you are awash in the complete absence of meaning, think of the most meaningful thing you can do and follow the path of meaningful associations out of there. See where it takes you. One meaningful thing leads to another, but we have to be alert to the movement or we'll become lost amid the glass beads and silver mirrors.

Nothing is more often imitated, fabricated, faked or forged than meaning. Everything pretends to be meaningful. Look! Listen! Be aware! Oh, a word of warning: Living meaningfully, doing what has meaning for us, comes with a high price-tag. We have to hand over our comfortable routines.

Do we want to be comfortable or live meaningfully? Meaning is incompatible with comfort. The more comfortable we are, the less meaning there is in our lives. We try to arrange for meaning without sacrificing comfort. That's where the glass beads and silver mirrors come in. Entertainment. Diversion.

We cannot buy meaning directly. We can only spend our money living meaningfully. It costs a buck or two to walk around looking for photos. But, buying cameras and computers and the latest equipment and gadgets won’t do it. We have to walk around looking for photos. We have to get up before dawn and stay out after dark, and carry a tripod.

This gets us to more bad news: Meaning is work. Meaningful work is the heart of LIFE. We can't just surround ourselves with the tools of the trade. We have to do the work. Apart from the work, the tools of the trade become props. Carrying a camera doesn’t make us a photographer any more than wearing a hat and boots makes us a cowboy. Looking like a photographer or a cowboy isn’t meaningful. We have to do the work. That’s the path that leads to the Grail, that IS the Grail. It’s waiting. On us.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Conscious Living

Here’s what I believe. Call it my credo. I worked it out wandering around in southern Utah, thinking about these things. Here’s point number one: I believe there is as much of God in you and in me as there was in Jesus. The difference is that Jesus was more conscious of that which was of God in him, and more dedicated to, and disciplined in, aligning himself with it. This gets us to point number two.

I have said this to you before, and will say it again. There are those of us who are on the beam, that is, on the right track, that is, aligned with our destiny, with who we are capable of being and becoming—built to be, you might say. We are living the lives that are our lives to live, that have our name on them. This is what orthodox Christianity would call “being centered in God’s will for our lives.” There are those of us who are there.

And, there are those of us who are off the beam, off track, trying to find something to stake our lives on, to believe in, something that holds meaning and purpose for us and a carries with it a sense that this is IT. So, there are those who are on the beam, and there are those who are off the beam. Those of us who are off the beam need to get on the beam, and those of us who are on the beam need to stay on the beam. That’s all there is to it but. It is very difficult to find the beam and it is even more difficult to stay on it. That was point number two.

Point number three is something I’ve also said before: The visible world is grounded in, founded upon, the invisible world. The invisible world is the world of the Unconscious, of Unconscious Reality. This is the source of meaning and purpose, and value, and it is our place to become conscious of it, we have to make the unconscious conscious, and live aligned with its sense of how life needs to be lived. This is the life that is right for us, the right life for us. And, this is what the incarnation is all about, God becoming flesh, unconscious becoming conscious, transcendence—because it transcends the world of normal apparent reality and is beyond all words and concepts— becoming imminent, reality becoming tangible, touchable, tasteable (“Taste and see that the Lord is good”), real! This is our work. We bring forth Unconscious Reality and make it actual, tangible, real, Physical Reality. That’s our place, our role.

We have to be aware of and attuned to the drift and tug of unconscious reality and give it tangible expression in the world of physical reality. In order to fulfill our role and live the life that is right for us, we have to learn to read the signs the Unconscious presents to us offering guidance and direction, hints and suggestions. More specifically, we have to develop our awareness of instinct and intuition, and learn to trust ourselves to our sense of what is being asked of us, of what needs to happen. It takes practice to enter into full partnership with Unconscious Reality, and the sooner we start, the more proficient we become.

Our role is that of managing the balance, the coordination, the integration of conscious and unconscious realities. We have to meet the requirements of life in both worlds, paying the bills, for instance, and making connections between flights, in the world of conscious, physical, reality, and living the life that is right for us, the life of heart and soul, the beam of unconscious, spiritual, reality.

The trick with beam walking is following the flow of energy, the trail of meaning, through the events and circumstances of our lives. While Yoda and Obi wan Kenobi waited on the young Jedi to come for instruction, they lived in ways that had meaning for them. The world doesn't necessarily want what we have to offer, so we wait, and while we wait, we do what is meaningful, interesting, to us. We don't try to package ourselves to be pleasing to the world: Do you like me now? Do you like me now? We live in ways that bring us to life and are interesting, enjoyable, meaningful and, yes, fun.

Motive, intention and attitude are everything. The two words that characterize “the right spirit,” or the right frame of mind, or the right orientation of consciousness to unconsciousness are humility and compassion. Consciousness is the partner of unconsciousness. The visible world is to be the concrete manifestation of how it is at the level of heart and soul but. We cannot create the kingdom of heaven the way we can land men on the moon. We don’t take the lead here. Five Year Plans do not apply here. It may take five years for the truth of that statement to sink in. We do not MAKE anything happen here. We wait, watch, ask, seek, knock. It's time we stopped directing and started listening. We do not run the show. It is not our show. It is not OUR life. We belong to our LIFE. We have to learn the language of unconsciousness and tend the invisible world like we would tend our lawn, or garden, or golf swing. This is called “prayerful living.” And everything hinges on humility and compassion.

And, if all of this is too complicated for you, here’s a simple prescription and the essence of my credo: There is always something that needs to be done that we need to do. Find it. Do it. Your life will take you where you need to be.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The False Kiva Story

We can be thankful for Joe Valdez and Eddie Andreas. Here’s why. The False Kiva is a Class II culturally significant site in Canyonlands National Park. A Class II designation means the Park Service can’t decide what to do about it. It isn’t listed on any of the Park Service publications. It isn’t marked on any map. As far as the Park Service is concerned it doesn’t exist but. If you ask a Park Ranger or a Visitor Center worker for directions, they are required to tell you how to find it. This limits the number of people who make the trek, but it doesn’t stop them. Should they be stopped? I think so, but. That didn’t stop me.

I parked my car in the pullout about two hundred yards away from the trailhead “so as not to call attention to it,” said the Ranger who told me how to find the trail, donned my walking gear and headed out at about 2 PM on Friday, May 14, 2010. Following the trail was tricky because the path winds across sandstone slickrock from time to time, and you depend upon cairns, or stacks of sandstone, to guide you there. Since the Park Service doesn’t maintain the trail, cairns only exist where someone before you thought they would be handy, which occasionally leaves you lacking. And, one cairn is rarely enough. Standing at one, you have to be able to see the next one. I was trying to find my way down from such a slickrock ledge with no apparent exit in sight when a couple coming up from the False Kiva on their return trip, pointed out the path.

From there it was a matter of hunting and picking to stay on the trail which became increasingly narrow as it wound down and over cliff-side rubble to an alcove with a slight foothold up a six-foot wall to a second alcove containing the False Kiva. A Kiva is circle cut into or dug out of sandstone which the ancestral tribes covered with log beams and brush or animal skins to live in around a fire during the cold winter months. The center pole of the Kiva may have been set in hole symbolic of the navel of the earth, the center of the world, and the Kivas may have been oriented toward the rising of the sun.

The False Kiva is above ground, on the floor of the alcove, and consists of a circle of stacked stones about two feet high and 12 or 15 feet in diameter. No one knows what purpose it served in the life of the ancestral peoples, or how old it might be. A Park Service sign there asks that no digging be done and no artifacts be removed, and an ammo-like can contains a loose-leaf notebook with a collection of ballpoint pens and an invitation for visitors to leave behind name, address, and comments. I took what photos I could imagine taking (they are posted on the Flickr site) in the solitude of a holy place, and began the journey back to the car between 3:30 and 4 PM.

One of the photos I took, looking from the False Kiva across Green River Canyon, was of a thunderstorm developing, maybe 5 miles away. Thunderheads were all about as I made my way up and over the loose soil and rocks of the cliff-side to the stable path at the top of the descent. There I met a couple on their way down, we chatted for a moment and continued on our respective ways. About thirty minutes later I lost the trail.

Now, in my defense, I’ll say that in the desert, as much as anywhere else, and more-so than most places, it is an easy matter to lose the trail. For one thing, there is nothing to making a trail there. If you wander off to look at a flower or find a bathroom you make a trail in the thin top crust of the desert landscape. And if you come back by the same way, you make an even better trail. Trails are everywhere. For another thing, slickrock is everywhere. A trail that ends at a slab of slickrock may not be the same trail you pick up coming off the slab. The trail I picked up meandered for a while and ended at a juniper tree, which I reckoned, someone used as a bathroom and went back to the slickrock to find the real trail, which is what I did, but couldn’t find anything coming off the rock that looked like a trail. So, I went back to where I stepped off initially and walked around looking for the trail, making trails in the process. You see, I’m sure, where this is going. In circles.

It’s at this point in the story that you need to remember the thunderstorm that was building in Green River Canyon. It has become rather impressive by now, and is making time, coming right at me. It’s after 5. The sun sets around 8:20 but. The heavy cloud bank between the horizon and the sun, which shines intermittently through broken clouds, advances the disappearance of the sun to some time after 6. It won’t be night, but it won’t be encouraging either. Speaking of encouragement, rain begins to fall. I have a water repellant parker with me and by crawling beneath an overhanging ledge, I can cover most of my exposed side with the parker until the rain moves on. I do that three times while scrambling around looking for the real trail.

During those excursions I come upon a rocky outcropping that serves as a vantage point to the road, which I take to be about a half-mile away. I can make out cars easily enough, and human figures when they stop at a viewpoint to remark, no doubt, on the nasty looking weather coming their way, which, of course, puts it right over me. But the sun continues to break through from time to time. I consider my options and don’t like what I see.

My favorite way to not die is wet and cold. It’s going to be in the low forty’s in Moab tonight, which probably means the high thirty’s where I am. And the real thunderstorm is coming. That’s wet and cold in my book. So I throw it all into getting rescued. There is the couple I passed. They are behind me, if they don’t choose to spend the night in the False Kiva, which is what I would do, they may be a hope. There are the cars on the roadway. My other hope. And a single engine airplane is off in the distance. My third hope. My assets, in addition to the water repellant parker are a walking stick (Never go without a stick into the wilds), some white plastic grocery bags (for covering my camera in case of rain), a glass filter which I take off my camera and wad up a grocery bag which I hold between my palm and the filter to make a nice little reflector. Not as good as a mirror but effective. I blinded myself testing it out. And a whistle. It isn’t much of a whistle, but it’s the best I could buy at the outdoor store in Moab and it’s a whistle (Never go without a whistle into the wilds).

So, I start blowing the whistle, climb upon the rocky outcropping, tie a grocery bag onto the end of my walking stick and start waving it in the air at the road and the airplane with my right hand while I wiggle the reflector with my left. I figure, using the photographer’s way of reckoning—your fist at arms length represents about how far the sun moves in thirty minutes, a handy way of guessing how long before sunset if you are waiting to take a picture, thinking about a glass of wine—I have less than an hour before the sun sinks behind the cloud bank. The plane flies directly overhead while I’m reflecting and waving and whistling and shows no sign of having seen me. Cars pass on the road without slowing down. A white pickup pulls into the viewpoint and a person gets out. I ditch the whistle and start yelling, waving, reflecting. The person walks around for a couple of minutes, gets back in the truck and drives away. Well. Where am I better off? Standing on the rock, waving and reflecting in what is left of the sunlight, or using what’s left to find my way out of there? The truck drove off, the plane flew on and I have no confidence in being spotted from road or sky, though it was, I tell myself, an outstanding plan. I climb down and start looking for any way out, forget finding the trail.

Walking straight to the road is out of the question because the way is littered with gulches and ravines and canyons. I have to get up, out of the ravine I’m in, to the level of the desert. The one way up is a piece of slickrock sloping at about 35 degrees to a drop-off of about 50 feet. It isn’t just slickrock, but layers of sandstone, like the shingles on a roof a quarter of an inch thick. I can get up on it at one place that is about fifteen feet from the edge of the drop-off and about six feet above where I’m standing. I don’t like anything about that choice. I can climb up there maybe, and then what? Or I can wander around and hope to find my way back to the real trail. I want better options, but, as always, we don’t get to choose our choices. I’m about to resume my search for the trail when a voice from above, where else would you want one to come from, says, “What’s up, man?”

I look up and see two guys looking back at me. “I’m as lost as I can ever remember being,” I say. “You can’t imagine how good it is to see you two.” Joe Valdez, as it turns out, stands by as I climb up onto the slickrock. Eddie Andreas, smiles as Joe and I make our way up the sloping rock to him. We walk together as the sun slips behind the clouds to the road and their pickup. I climb in the back and they drive me two miles to where my car is parked.

“We saw you waving the flag from the road,” says Joe. “We didn’t know if you were lost or just saying hi. We heard you shouting, but couldn’t make out what you were saying.” They had driven up to a place they thought they could walk back to where they had seen me, and got close enough to hear my whistle, which I had started blowing again when I gave up the signaling, hoping that the couple behind me would hear it.

Well, there you are. What would have happened if they hadn’t showed up? We don’t know. Maybe desperation would have gotten me up on the slickrock, taking a chance at walking up and out. It’s all subject to speculation and conjecture. At the very least, I was saved from grief and misery, and very possibly from something much worse. So we can be thankful for Joe Valdez and Eddie Andreas. And we can reflect on a couple of things. For one thing, we need one another. It takes all of us. It’s all too easy to lose the way, to wander away from the trail, we cannot find the path alone. The way that is the real way is like the stone the builders reject. It is not the likeliest of ways and we need encouragement to choose it.

For another thing, we have to help people help us. We save ourselves in this sense. I got lost and I got found. We wave our white grocery bag and blow our whistle. We do what we can imagine doing, what we can think of to do. Alcoholics save themselves by going to AA, by helping people help them. We can’t just crawl under a rock ledge and hope to be rescued. We have to recognize when we cannot make it on our own and ask for help. We have to help people help us. Or, in the words of the Park Service motto: Your safety is your responsibility.

This story ends with the comments I left behind in the can in the False Kiva: The experience of this place, the trek and the arrival, is beyond words, like the numinous reality of which it speaks. All the ancestors gather in places like this, hoping for the arrival of pilgrims who understand that the visible world is grounded upon, and sustained by, the invisible world which is beyond words, but readily available to, and accessible by, eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. May we who belong to both worlds join together in the service of compassion in the work that needs to be done for the good of all. Amen. May it be so.

And, yes. It was worth getting lost to be there.