Sunday, July 23, 2006

Washing of the Water: Part I

the small rodent skull
sat atop the fence post for months,
bleached white, eyeless,
teeth clenched,
a reminder of what awaits

Someday, sooner or later, my heart will stop beating. Doctors and coroners can talk about all the different causes of death, but in the end there is only one cause -- the heart stops.

We celebrate the heart in this culture. Of a brave person, we say s/he has heart. When we are emotionally hurt, we say our heart is broken. When we hold something as true, we take it to heart. But mostly, we see the heart as the seat of love. So, in essence, if death is finally just the cessation of a heartbeat, and the heart is love, then death is to stop loving. Life as eros.

By this somewhat convoluted definition I was dead for many years -- most of my adult life. I was like the skull of that squirrel, eyeless, teeth clenched, enduring each new day completely void of feeling.

My heart had stopped by virtue of having been frozen. Not dead, but not beating either. Encased in an icy refusal to feel anything, to be touched by anything or anyone.

Years later, when I was in my early twenties, I tried to use the incantations of poetry to revive the lost organ. I thought that if I could find the right combination of words, it would be magically healed.

because it is dry and bitter and tastes
like the dirt in which it lay, found
after twelve long years, I eat
all of it, moistening the dust
with saliva, chewing every piece

I swallow but feel the fleshy
sustenance catch in my chest
and stop; it is warm and grows
solid, fills a space where only
icy winds have howled in silence

~ from "liturgy for twelve years," everything comes undone, 1994

In my youthful impatience, I thought that writing those words would help heal the wound. But I sadly underestimated the depth of the hurt. Mere words can only scratch the surface. As a function of intellect, words are insufficient to the challenge.


In ways I can only intuit, some form of love is the impulse behind all of existence. But it remains a mystery to me most days. I get a glimpse here and there, especially in nature or when I am with my beloved, but I seldom can hold it as an experience. Too much wounding. Too much separate ego keeping me trapped in duality, experiencing myself as separate from that love.
Our birthright as human beings is to have direct access to perfect love, and our privilege is to serve as a channel through which it flows.

~ John Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships
I crave that experience, being the channel for the eros that is everything. But I am seldom quiet enough to feel what is always already there.
damp musk of desert rain
moistens dry earth,
droplets reflecting a cool sunrise
fall from fresh ocotillo leaves,
while a cardinal and his mate
make the morning rounds:
nothing is out of place
So rarely do those moments come -- so peaceful when they do.

After so many years of trying to stay numb by any means possible -- all of them a way of wooing death -- I now seek out feeling, life, wherever I can find it.

Whether through music, movies, poetry, or even television, I seek out things that can thaw the ice in my chest. And it works.

At first all that came was pain -- years and years of buried pain all needing to be released. So many tears, so much hurt. All the childhood wounds never given expression because boys don't cry. All the teen angst never acknowledged because I had to be cool and confident. All the sorrow of first love gone wrong then drowned in gallons of alcohol.

A lot of the pain was aloneness, a deeply painful isolation from myself, from the world, from life, but most of all, from love. I felt abandoned by everything and everyone, especially myself.

Over time however, something has changed. The pain is no longer of abandonment, but of separateness. There is a great river of life flowing beneath the surface of things -- a river I know but that I am not of.
River, river carry me on
Living river carry me on
River, river carry me on
To the place where I come from

So deep, so wide, will you take me on
your back for a ride
If I should fall, would you swallow me
deep inside

River, show me how to float
I feel like I'm sinking down
Thought that I could get along
But here in this water
My feet won't touch the ground
I need something to turn myself around

~ Peter Gabriel, "Washing of the Water," from Us
Retreating again to the language of symbolism, water is the realm of the emotions. The river I sense and that Gabriel sings about is the the truth beneath the rational mind. Intellect is great, but the realm of the heart, of life, is in the feeling. It can keep us afloat, or we can freeze it and suffer the loss of life that choice entails.

I didn't trust feeling because, in part, I was taught not to trust it. So I froze it out. But as it thaws, what I realize is that feeling is what connects us with other people.

The separation I feel sometimes, that pain that comes up, is the recognition that we are all linked in ways we can never understand with our minds. When women grieve the loss of children in some far away place, I feel their loss. When a man looks on in horror at the lifeless bodies of his family, I feel his suffering. When an animal is caught in a trap, I feel its fear. When a man beats his girlfriend, I understand his lack of self-esteem, his loss of control over his fear.
I am a man; nothing human is alien to me.

~ Terence, Heuton Timoroumenos
And with that recognition comes humility. I am a human being capable of all things human beings are capable of -- good and bad.
This kind of questioning is the journey itself. The fruition lies in beginning to realize our kinship with all humanity. We realize that we have a share in whatever everyone else has and is.

~ Pema Chodron, Awakening Loving-Kindness
Think about that statement: we have a share in whatever everyone else has and is. How do we let that in, fully, and not be overwhelmed by its truth?

Stay tuned for Part II.

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