Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Like Lilies In Spring


There is a bulb buried deep inside us all that longs for the end of the season of dormancy. It contains, and is the symbol of all our potential.  That bulb could reasonably be characterized as our life force, waiting for the opportunity to lend itself again to our regeneration. It longs for the right conditions so that it may burst forth and become the living thing that makes a difference in the circumstances in and around which it has been buried.

In its dormant state that bulb dreams… it longs for a time when it may become the thing that it is… essentially. It dreams of bursting forth and declaring its presence in the world. It desires to soak up the warmth and luster of sunlight all around it. It wants to drink of the rain’s abundance. It patiently waits  to demonstrate the benefits it has accrued from the soil out of which it came, and from which it draws succor… and to which it knows it must eventually return. It wants to replicate itself, so that the earth will be a witness to its innate fecundity.

During the seasons of its dormancy it may have been cared for… or not. It may have been covered with weeds that hid, and in some cases suffocated its existence. It may have been trampled underfoot by the careless and/or the ignorant among us. It has had to endure the obscurity that things unnoticed must. It may have even succumbed to its own existential exhaustion, not giving up - but recognized the need to just rest.

In an effort to make sense of its experiences while in its state of apparent non-productivity, it finds itself agreeing with and embracing that oft repeated soliloquy from  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. It is a piece that fosters the cultivation of patience, and has rightfully earned a place at the very core of our idealism:

“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace”.  

A time to be… and a time to be dormant.

The wisdom of the Preacher instructs us to be mindful of the “times” of our lives… lest we miss the opportunities to become what we long to be… even that which we essentially are.

And so when we have given our all and find ourselves empty… When we have been trodden underfoot and otherwise stepped upon… When we have been dissed, and discouraged… When the thorns all around us have subjected us to their constant assault, and left us to nurse the wounds of an abrasively unforgiving culture… When we come to the end of our tethers, having been exhausted by our own vanity and our lack of discretion… Let us, even then, remember that these seasons too - will come to an end.

Like lilies in Spring we discover the essential us as a bulb waiting for the right season to burst forth, casting off the redundant obscurity of a season of dormancy so that we may become all that we are again. We look forward with a certain longing in our being to making our presence known and felt in a world gone bleak through our falls, and our follies, and the winters of our discontent.

Well… it’s Spring!
It is the time of rising up again! It is time to cast off the gloom of lives gone dormant for reasons that are too many to list, and too uncomfortable to regurgitate.

Let us declare a resounding “No!” to the naysayers… Let us issue a timely rebuke to those who would be uncaring, or ignorant, or oppressive, or any combination of these iniquitous qualities... Let us rise above our own sense of being unworthy, and redefine ourselves in terms of our ability to become more than we have been.

Like lilies, we all share a certain vulnerability. That being so, let us not allow our finiteness to prevent us from rising up and blooming again. Indeed, let us live into our existential duty to help to lift the spirits of those who await our coming again - with the timely offering of something so exquisitely and exhilaratingly beautiful.

Monday, March 4, 2019

ABOVE THE CLOUDS




Necessary Changes
So here I am cruising at thirty-two thousand feet on a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My flight originally scheduled for this time yesterday was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather. A day later, with the sun streaming through the windows of the business class cabin, it is going to take at least an extra half-hour to get to our destination because we have been re-routed.

The new route will add an extra two hundred or so miles, but it will get us around weather that is not conducive to safe, comfortable flying. Small price to pay I thought, I just want to get to my destination safely. In the final analysis we will readily accept changes in our lives, and to our plans, when we realize that we have no viable alternative...and gladly so.

I have grown patient with these delays and re-routings from experience. One kinda has no choice but to adapt, if one intends to remain in a healthy state of mind. I bolster my acquired stoicism by telling myself “safety first”. Yesterday my flight was cancelled because of bad weather, and today I will get to my destination at least a half hour later because of similar concerns. Ok. Safety first. And besides, what’s an extra half hour or so, I have no plans for the evening.

My Fellow Travellers
It has become quite interesting to stand by and observe some of my fellow travelers get really angry about these cancellations and delays. To hear them tell it, they have important business that can't wait. Some rant and rave a little, demonstrating that aura of self-importance that they come to be known for, but to no avail. To such persons it matters not what the reason for the change is. Come hail or high water, the airline had better find a way to get them to their destination on time.

The seasoned agent behind the counter will patiently listen, knowing full well that there is not a damn thing that will be done to satisfy the demands of angry, disappointed clients. Oh hold on, maybe a free ticket to a destination of choice? Not today! Just a new itinerary, a facile smirk, and a not so gracious “thanks for your patience and understanding”.  “Now go back home, or go find a hotel room till tomorrow!”. Oh hold on, that last sentence is me thinking out loud. There are such a things as “acts of God”, the consequences of which we are all expected to share.

As I drift further into my own headspace I recline my seat just enough to maximize my comfort without impinging on the space of the passenger behind me. I am always conscientious about that, unlike those who just recline as far as the seat allows. I must confess my annoyance with people who do that.

The Boeing 737-800 series aircraft shears the wind, eliciting an elongated monotonous whistle as it makes its way across the sunny skies toward Pittsburgh. In a conscious effort to relax, I take a number of slow deep breaths.  As I do so I find myself going through some of my own reflections on life that may or may not relate to the experience of flying.

Our Fragile Existentialism
It seems to me that the idea that we are free and are therefore ultimately responsible for the choices we make is a philosophical burden that few of us are prepared to assume. In a world in which it is sometimes convenient to believe that "what is to be will be”, we tend to cultivate a certain pathos around the reality that whatever is to be is up to us. I have come to believe this. Many of us declare and live into a pre-determinism that assumes that our course in this life has been set, and there is nothing we can do about it. What is to be, will be. Period.

We can agree that there are some things we have little or no control over in our lives; but our fate and destiny are determined by the course that we ourselves set by each decision we make. There are people who will never set foot on an airplane because of their fear of flying. Like bungee jumping, and riding on the latest version of a crazy roller coaster, they just won't do it. Our most awe-full phobias are fed by one decision after another not to do something...not to take those steps which will ultimately give us power over our irrationality.

In other contexts in our lives we parrot the dogma “practice makes perfect”, but we fail to see its implication for the growing of ourselves with regards to our fears. We are impacted daily by the formative influences of the hands of experience. The constant growth that life nudges us toward is a function of the steps we take to overcome our worries and our fears. Sometimes the nudges of reality are painful and unsettling, but they force us to look more clearly at the ground around our feet. They make us look again with more critical eyes at the assumptions in which we have anchored our expectations.

Our fears sabotage every aspect of our existence. They prevent one from asking for a deserved salary increase at the job one has done well for five, six, seven years. It is fear that causes an unhappy spouse not to declare to the world that his or her marriage is a miserable sham that should end. It is fear that keeps us in one place all our lives when there is a world yet unexplored all around us.

The desire to maintain the status quo at the expense of one’s fulfillment demands unreasonable self-sacrifice. We worry about outcomes that may never be because fear breeds irrationality. My existentialism says, if a thing is unreasonable it is wrong. There comes a moment when we are shaken by the need to right the ship of fear filled living.

Danger Is Real, Fear Is A Choice
My thoughts go by like wisps of cirrus clouds. A multitude of “what ifs” find their way in and out of my mind despite the protestations of my rationalism. I eventually surrender to the moment, recognizing the reality that there are some possibilities that lay on the heap of fate which are out of my control. I entertain that thought for a moment… and then...

I am taken back to something that Cypher Raige says to his son Kitai in the movie After Earth : Danger is very real. Fear is always a choice”.  I try for a moment to reconfigure the notion... Fear is a response to danger… My reformulation sounds reasonable; it is congruent with what I have heard others conclude. I chose however to stick with Cypher Raige's dogma...Fear is a choice. Something about this formulation engenders a sense of being in control. I identify with that. The thought appeals to something in the DNA of my personhood, so I let it soak in. It fleshes out my existentialism, fragile as it may be.

Little Things That Matter… Or Not
We are twenty-five minutes from landing in Philadelphia according to the in-control, well seasoned, reassuring voice of our captain. I hold my head up and briefly, look around. The passenger beside me has had a coca cola and five or six airplane size bottles of cognac over ice. He will be served as much as he can tolerate; drinks being free in business class. He seems to be in a good mood, gently bobbing his head up and down as he listens to music from his smartphone via a headset with his eyes closed.

As for me, I have given up on my can of ginger ale. It has gone flat. I’d prefer some water anyway, but I am otherwise occupied, and not really thirsty. The lady across the aisle to my right is typing away on her laptop, much like myself. I don't think she is documenting her roaming thoughts though. She seems quite focused, maybe a businessperson catching up on work. Who knows, maybe a writer working on her next bestseller.

Often people meet others on these flights and engage in very audible exchanges about work or their other interests, or both. It can be particularly jarring when someone has had too much to drink, or when some guy is trying to impress the lady he is sitting beside whom he has just met, and with whom he must complete a certain social transaction before landing.
At the moment I have a certain private transaction that I must complete myself... in the bathroom. I unbuckle my seatbelt and head thereto. It's less than a minute later, and I hear that discreet ’ding’ which precedes inflight announcements. The flight attendant speaks: “The pilot has turned the seatbelt sign on. Please fasten your seatbelts and return your seats and tray tables to the upright and locked position. If you are moving about the cabin please return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt.”

Grounding Ourselves
The aircraft tilts to one side and then downwards as I return to my seat. We had begun our initial descent into Philadelphia. It is still sunny above the clouds.

The journey through the clouds, some of them appearing like mountains, evoke certain latent reflections. No matter how stormy it is below, it is almost certainly calmer above the clouds, especially at thirty two thousand feet. I am brought back to conversations in which we often underline the importance of “taking the high road” when we face certain difficult situations.

The ability to ground ourselves in a robust objectivity in the face of trying circumstances is a most welcome resource, one that we hope will always serve us well. This objectivity enables us to understand the circumstances we face in a way that balances us when we would otherwise be teetering on the edge of our own precarious subjectivity.

The sound of the landing gear deploying breaks my momentary soliloquy. We will be on the ground in a few minutes, and must now put away all those technologies that could interfere with the aircraft’s safe operation, and our own safety. Safety first! And so we turn our phones and computers off, storing the larger items appropriately.

I look outside, it is still raining. I have barely noticed the difference in the duration of the flight. Time contracts when mind melds with the sometimes dense matters of living. Those who had fallen asleep now begin to stir as we prepare for landing.

The wheels of the aircraft eventually announce their contact with the runway with their familiar screech, and even the most seasoned flyer breathes a prayerful breath in appreciation of terra firma… again.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Finding Joy



We smile at strangers.

We open our lives’ doors to a season of growth and change.

We prepare appropriately, and we engage with others in a feast celebrating the invigoration of an existence now shared… and so sweet.

We laugh.
We dance.
We sing.

We affirm together the truth that “… with all its sham, drudgery, and broken 
dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

And somewhere in a distant thought ...
We acknowledge the persistent challenges that we have faced, and will face… as facts of our lives… courses to be endured… difficulties to be overcome. Yes they are. And we refuse to allow them to prevent us from living into the real possibilities that encourage us to be more than just unwitting victims of our fragile idiosyncrasies.

And with that in mind we necessarily silence the voices around us; both the artificial ones on our radios and televisions, and those from the people immediately around that incessantly bombard us with their scenarios of gloom and doom.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Racism Is Criminal Behavior



Racism is not just an expression of someone’s innate prejudice. In reality it is an expression of the unjust behavior that emanates from the rationalization and institutionalization of injustice in a society such as we have become.

Racism is criminal behavior. It is a violation of everything that we should stand for as civil society. Anyone may harbor prejudice; we are prone to individual likes and dislikes. However, to inflict harm of any kind, and by any means as a result of that personal dysfunction is cause for remedial legal action.

The focus on an offender’s complexion and the complexion of victims in our analysis of these offenses is essentially a distraction. It is a distraction because it redirects our focus to individual racial angst, rather than on the essential criminality of an action. This act of redirection serves those who would have us not seriously examine the real causes of such behavior.

To be absolutely clear, there are oppressive brutes of all hue. Criminals come in all colors and in all the variations of gender. This being the case, there needs to be a real awakening to the structural injustices that become institutionalized in our social and economic culture.

It is time to wake up to the reality that there are individuals and corporate entities among us intent on accruing to themselves everything their vain hearts desire at the expense of the well being of others. They act to accomplish their goals through every agency they can, and at the expense of the life and humanity of others. To such characters and corporations, “white supremacy" is just one of many excuses used to rationalize the inequity they perpetuate. To such persons the question: “How much is enough?”, is nothing more that an inconvenient itch that they must endure.

Beyond our focus on artificial differences between folk, we must fasten our attention on critical issues such as: the demand for just wages at home and abroad, more reasonable cost of credit for those who need it, responsible care and sharing of the environment, the demilitarization of our economies,  a real focus on equal access to education, and ensuring the availability of life-saving technologies to all people in a world that is becoming more and more interconnected.

Ultimately the peace and stability of our society is a function of a shared commitment to the establishment of Justice. We must not be distracted from this goal by “newsworthy” preoccupation with social drama. As long as we are human we will experience the foibles of unperfected character. We will in all honesty admit personal prejudices that, if exposed, will shame us. Shaming one another is however not a viable objective in pursuit of Justice for all. It is therefore imperative that we be constrained by the Rule of Law in our social interactions.

The work of Justice demands that we act according to established standards of civility in a society where no one is above the Law. No one.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

A Mansion Called “Folly”

Ruins of Folly Great House - Port Antonio, Jamaica 
A few miles east of Port Antonio, a quaint little town on the beautiful northeast coast of the island of Jamaica, is to be found what has come to be called "The Folly Great House". In reality it is the ruins of a two story 60 room mansion that was built around 1905 by wealthy American Alfred Mitchel for his wife, who belonged to the Tiffany family, jewelers from New York City. They both lived in this ostentatious manor until Alfred's death in 1912. Abandoned a few yeas later, by 1938 the roof had collapsed, and the place is now a spectacle symbolizing the corruption of noble intentions by a mixing of incompatible ingredients.

The reasons given for the demise of this once illustrious abode of this wealthy family have taken on mythic proportions. One often repeated reason has to do with alleged shortcuts that were taken during its construction. The story is told that salt water from the sea just below the mansion was used in the mixing of the concrete, leading to corrosion of the steel components of the building. 

Some accounts dispute this assertion, going as far as to say that all construction materials were imported from abroad, including the water for mixing the concrete.  Be that as it may, what was once the pride and joy of these lovers is now a symbol of what results when the best of loving intentions is corroded by what I have called "the salted cement of incompatible ideals". In a poem titled "Uninhabitable", I wrote the following about Folly:

Now here it stands
On a pastured rise...
A sad place... 
Wasted by the many generations of its emptiness...
Hope discolored... Columns that weep
Under the burden of helpless beams...
Day by day it falls apart
Materially... And in every heart that has ever known love
And sought to build a monument
With the steeled character of passion determined
And the salted cement of incompatible ideals...
Here it stands... A monument to passion... A concreted folly
Uninhabitable"

Lest We Forget


History serves as a reliable witness to tragedies which put to rest any philosophical or rhetorical back and forth about whether there is in fact good and evil in our world. The impressions left by the presence of these essentially opposite forces throughout the course of our experience are indelibly impressed on our consciousness, on the battlefields of this country, and battlefields all over the globe. The substance of those impressions is an unmistakably gruesome mix of the blood, sweat, tears, and brutalized flesh of warring factions.

The spilled guts, broken bones, and the haunting screams of mutilated souls, deny us any retreat into some specious academic comfort zone regarding this matter. The massacre of innocents will not allow it. The body bags from battlefields near and far containing the remains of our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our neighbors and their children, rankle our convenient stoicism. Those who would resort to their rhetorical acumen to deny the existence of these opposing forces are rudely aroused, and kept awake by the cacophony of war and its foul stench.

The heroes we celebrate in our individual and corporate lives are those who stood in firm opposition to the forces of evil. In this respect we remember the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King this month. Those who have represented the expression of evil must bear the eternal rebuke reserved for them.  

There are those among us who even now would salute Hitler; but they are in reality a fringe trying to survive against the moral tide of History. There are those who would resurrect the fascism of Mussolini; but they will inevitably find themselves marginalized and eventually swept aside by the thrust toward a more equal society and a better world. The putrid stench 
of slavery lingers in the air we breathe. The Ku Klux Klan still has its disciples, but they appropriately still hide their faces... In shame?

The forward march of History gains impetus when we identify and call Evil by its name… That which seeks to destroy the will to achieve the common good. The establishment of the common good is the goal of our civilization. It is a foundation of the kind of Peace which issues from the triumph of the forces of good over the presence of evil. We understand civil society to be a function of the recognition of each other’s right to the pursuit of our highest human potential regardless of circumstances of race, gender, sexuality, religious persuasion, or the socio-economic circumstances of one’s birth.

When we appropriate to each other as a human right the ability to thrive in ways that are non-obstructive to the strivings of our fellow persons, we regard that as a good thing. To live at peace with each other by the establishment of equity among us is good.

We know beyond equivocation that there have been, and that there remain among us persons and influences that do not share the values implicit in these notions. They foster in their own lives, and seek to foist upon others, the inequity that serves their twisted sense of being. They create misery. They are agents of chaos. We call such persons and their intentions and influences... evil. 

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Journey To Your Authentic Self

A NAME, A DESTINY... The journey to your authentic self

One’s name is a semantic basket filled with the seeded expectations based on how one is perceived, and who one is expected to be. In many instances, it is a summary of the hopes and dreams that are held sacred on your behalf by your ancestors. For these reasons many put appropriate thought and research into choosing names for their newborns.

Many of us are not aware of the significance of being called by a certain chosen word. Some of us love, and seek to live into the aspirations implicit in the word to which we answer. Some of us hate our names for a number of reasons and express a desire to change them. And then there are those who actually reject their given names and set out to rename themselves. Those who do so usually have in mind very specific historical, philosophical, and esthetic reasons why such a change is necessary. Of course there are those who have no clue that their names are actually words that mean something specific.

--If you do not know who you are... you will end up as someone else. If you do not know where you are going... you will end up someplace else--

The statements above express the ultimate dilemma of a lost soul. To choose to limit ourselves to the name or names that we have been given is to give up the power that we have to be everything we can be. That kind of nonchalance denies us the promise of realizing our fullest potential.

We have heard it said that knowledge of self is a gateway to the state of being we call God. This is true. When we, in our most vulnerable moment, demand a response to the question as to the name and nature of God ~ we hear the resounding answer - “I Am”... And when we insist on a more complete answer to that question we are met with the poetically bountiful- “I Am, that I am”. What else are we… but what we truly are? And who are you… besides who you really are?

Our most meaningful lives begin with the existential conjugation of the verb “to be” :
I am,
You are,
He, She, It… is.
A deeply meaningful connection with our sense of I AM is absolutely necessary to the operation of the Creative Power in our lives. That Power functions to bring into being our deepest desires. That Creative Power… not some bearded antiquity… is the Source, in all of us, of all we can be. It is from this Power Within that comes everything, good and bad, that manifests in our lives. It is from this Power that comes our ability to direct the course of our lives.

We are constantly experiencing opportunities to change, to grow. In the truest sense of the word, life is a journey of discovery. The mantra of the soul in discovery mode... the soul that would claim her or his power to be, is courage. Contrary to the belief that many have come to assume to be true, there is nothing inevitable about our destinies.

We have heard many people put forward the false notion that our journey and destination in this life is set. Some people believe that one's fate is always predetermined and that there is nothing one can do about it. To live meaningfully, we must divest ourselves of the untruth of such a way of thinking. As a way of effecting the release from such ideas, one must courageously apply oneself to the discipline necessary to do so. That discipline can be expressed as a commitment to a specific Mantra.

Mantras are understood to be powerful words/ideas that we repeat verbally and in our actions. To adapt to the Mantra of Courage is to walk step by fateful step into a future full of possibility. It is to moment by moment, event by event ~ deny the hold that fear would have on us. Through the repetition of a mantra, the meanings and manifestations of the ideas we want to commit to are imprinted in our subconscious. In time they become the template for the change that we desire in ourselves. With mantras, as with everything else, practice makes perfect.

Through the daily practice of our mantric exercise we are able to create a new template by which we connect with our most deeply held intentions. This eventuates because we are actually inducing a deep connection with the Creative Spirit… the Breath Of God from within… the Source of everything in the universe of our lives. That Breath “moves upon the face of the Deep” in our life experiences… deep discord, deep disappointments, deep hurts, deep confusion, deep fear… . It creates order out of chaos, it separates light from darkness, it directs us to “be fruitful and multiply”. The Creative Breath within us replaces the fruits of fear in our interactions with each other and the world, with the abundance of Love.

The more adept we become at connecting with this deeper consciousness of life, the more we are able to silence the ideas that are contrary to our most deeply held ideals. This deeper consciousness of life empowers us to name our selves.

Your name is a statement about who you are… or it should be.

Like Lilies In Spring

There is a bulb buried deep inside us all that longs for the end of the season of dormancy. It contains, and is the symbol of all our ...