AN ELYSIAN LIFE

There are moments in mid summer, with senses fully engaged, with nature profligate, that my heart lifts to heaven, being right here and right now.    

Having just trod the trails around Walden Pond with my eldest daughter, I felt a kindred spirit with that guest of Walden (1854), Henry David Thoreau, who said, “The summer, in some climates, makes possible to man some sort of Elysian Life.”

Elysium or the Elysian Fields was a glorious playing ground in the afterlife.  This special heaven, envisioned by the ancient Greeks, evolved through oral legend and was  mapped out specifically in poems and stories from Pindar to  Homer’s Odyssey

Pindar described it as a place with many shaded parks, where people could enjoy their favorite musical and athletic activities, without striving.  An Endless Summer.

Known to Homer, Elysium was located on the Islands of the Blessed, located at the far west of the end of the earth, those related to the gods or chosen by them, the heroic, and the righteous would live a happy and carefree life surrounded by nature, enjoying many of the things they enjoyed in their past life. No storms, bitter cold, or heavy toil.

Thoreau in Walden, pleads his case for simplicity and less striving for enjoying a bit of Elysium right where you are.  It is no coincidence that in the same passage he speaks of an Elysian life, he also points to the observation that  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them”.  

There are many who have said that he was an eccentric elitist, with a bachelor’s ability to philosophize and experiment.  But that would not be the whole story.  He knows that some that are reading his arguments are factory workers and those barely scraping by, and to these, he offers words of encouragement.

Rather his wrath, as it were, was saved for the middle and upper classes of Boston and Concord societies, who continue to need more and more luxuries and extravagances and in order to get them , have less and less time to enjoy the birds on the water in the early morning or the loveliness of the woods.  Essentially, he was the town prophet living on the outside of town, declaring the delusion of need. 

If possible, for perhaps a half hour or so even, you could step outside and walk or sit or notice.  You can be a master of industry in the morning. 

Quote for today: “I thank you God for this amazing day, the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e.e. cummings

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“Don’t Look at the Man Behind the Curtain”

Do you remember in the Wizard of Oz when Toto yanks back the curtain exposing the scary and all-powerful wizard?  Instead of the daunting and difficult amorphous figure, he really is just a man- a little dotty and willing to help.      

In Jack Kornfield’s book, A Path With Heart, he tells a story of a father who is away from home when robbers come, set fire to the house, and take his young son away with them.  The father returns to the ashes of his house and believes his son has died there.  He grieves uncontrollably for many months.  The son manages to get free from his abductors and find his way home.  He knocks on the door and cries “Papa, Papa,” but the father refuses to open the door, thinking it is one of the neighborhood children taunting him.  Eventually the son goes away, never to return.  In this story, the father resists the truth that can bring him joy and freedom from his loss because he clings so much to what he thinks is the truth. 

Maybe we can’t quite accept a reality in our life or we have become so certain of what our particular snapshot of our reality looks like (usually pretty gruesome), and so create these curtains, these walls of resistance. And resistance comes in so many forms.  It could be a silent withdrawal, constantly being busy, ignoring or pretending not to understand, being critical, or making excuses.  It’s like a curtain that doesn’t let the light in.  It doesn’t allow for restoration, resurrection, growth, change.   

Afraid to pull back the curtain, consciously or unconsciously, we believe we are protecting ourselves from further pain or hurt. We resist change and letting go of the past.  Resistance is worn like armor against future harm.    

When in pain, we can easily live with illusions, “No one loves me.  No one cares.  I will never feel happy again.  I can’t do that.  I don’t know enough yet”, these are the sorcerers.

The beginning of healing begins when we but trust and release.   In order to see that fear is an illusion, we must be willing to risk.

You can and will be restored to a new life, regardless of the past.

 

Meditation for today: “I am entirely ready to have the chains that keep me bound be broken.  I am entirely ready for the walls I’ve built around myself to be torn down.  I am entirely ready to give up my need to control every situation.  I am entirely ready to let go of my resentments.  I am entirely ready to grow up”.- Macrina Wiederkehr

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

I’ve gone beyond caring about Democrat and Republican, about laying blame with one party and spouting phrases that in the end “signify nothing.”  Really I have; and it’s seems as a nation, as a world, there might be some sanity in this chosen, but not resigned, approach.  Election year notwithstanding. What is at risk with an aversion to identifying solely with any one belief system?   

It’s not that I’ve gotten complacent about matters of human injustice, environmental concerns, or the sadistic powers that lead to horrific crimes against humanity. 

It is more that I would prefer to plead the case of the adoption in our culture of (what may be classically deemed an Eastern culture school of thought), the middle way.  Incumbent upon us at this juncture of our nation and the world’s history is to find the in-between space between rapid dogma and the insipid and weak refusal to stand up for anything.  Herein lies change, herein lies greatness

From our ominpresent consumer perspective, this is a hard concept to sell. So instead what is being peddled year after year, is division, is separateness. What is continually wiped from our memory is the fact that we have been and are a pluralistic nation with many truths, just as the world in which we live has always been. Embracing a multiplicity of ideas can be daunting, and the “hegemonic imagination” (i.e., those in power) are continually thwarting any efforts by those who are attempting to undertake this task (consciously and unconsciously).

Added to this paradigm, much of our religious identity in the United States has stemmed from the Enlightenment conception of self. The main idea being that “each person is an independent unit that is an autonomous, self-determining ego”. Key, here, is the notion of autonomy. This has unleashed an unrestrained individualism in many of our private and public beliefs and practices that stress personal responsibility and despise any hint of or the reality of dependency.

Richard Niebuhr, along with other modern theologians, have cautioned against this tendency which focuses excessively on me, blindly on us, and divided from them. The underlying flaw in this logic is that it limits our sphere of responsibility to some degree, instead of widening the scope to humanity and the Universe. What emerges is that “I must find my center of valuation in myself, or in my nation, or in my science, etc. Good and evil in this view mean what is good for me and bad for me; or good and evil for my nation”, etc…but not that what is good in a more broad sense of looking toward sources of creativity or social solidarity.

For any ongoing process of transformation to take place, we need to put boundaries around our own needs or desires and make room for the legacies of others to penetrate our awareness. This means being able to sit in the discomfort of another’s painful story, a piece of our collective memory.

It takes conscious effort and continued discipline to form a nuanced and educated opinion.  It takes work and discipline to stay engaged in the complex issues that change and morph daily.
 
The commitment to these ideals will turn the tide of our daunting nation’s issues and not who wins any election, no matter what they try to tell/sell us.                

WAIT HERE: PATH CLEARING 101

Sweet girl, just stop. Stop always making plans and planning makes.  Stop returning that last phone call, that first text, running through that thirty-seven item to-do list (yes, I’m counting) that never seems to get shorter. While everything is living and breathing and green, a jubilee of July, just for today, tomorrow, or at least for this moment: “die on purpose.”

You are going to sit right down and let the world go on without you, for a few minutes, a few hours, a day…I myself am planning on the whole of summer.  The world will continue on its axis.  If you just removed yourself, like we did when we were little (remember) and our folks whisked us off to neighboring summer shacks, with no telephone and no technology (what was that?), there’d be no one to have to respond to. We didn’t even want to wear shoes (some things do change.)   

If you did die, those vital responsibilities and immediate obligations of yours would evaporate.  Either someone else will do them or they will simply expire by themselves, from lack of attention.  That urge to get up and fold the laundry, attend to the mail, all the things that will always be there may ease if you take a few moments to “die on purpose” to the rush of time while you are still living.  By “dying” now in this way, you actually become more alive now.  From the perspective of the eternal, where is the necessity about worrying about anything in an absolute way?    

You free yourself to have time for the present.  This is what stopping can do.  There is nothing passive about it.  And when you do decide to go, go anywhere with anyone, it’s a different kind of going because you stopped.  You are given guidance.  Just watch this moment, no trying to control it, NO PLANNING. It’s a spiritual practice, dying on purpose.   

So how are you feeling?  How is this being present to simply “being” instead continually “doing” feeling for you?  Can you feel the intermittent breeze of a warm summer’s evening? See the riot and blare of bright red and orange trumpet flowers cascading over the tool shed? What do you smell? Are you struggling or afraid? It’s all OK.       

Practice for now: “Die to having to have anything be different in this moment; in your mind and in your heart, give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is and allow yourself to be exactly as you are.  Then, when you’re ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.” – Jon Kabat Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are