Archive for March, 2007

The Green Silence

March 30, 2007

“He had run behind Ta-Kumsaw through the forests of this whole land, north and south, and in that running young Alvin learned him how the Red man ran, hearing the greensong of the living woodland, moving in perfect harmony to that sweet silent music” – Prentice Alvin by Orson Scott Card.

After two days of running workshops in Hamilton and Auckland I was ready to go home. I got a taxi through the motorways and spaghetti junctions of Auckland’s desperately congested and inadequate transport system, massive concrete ramps seething between high rise buildings and endless suburbs. The flight was delayed for two hours so I sat in the sterile, blandness of Auckland airport.

Once home I drove to the Quaker family camp at Journey’s end, near Loburn, about 40 mins north of Christchurch. Almost everyone had gone horse riding so when I pulled in to the camp it was quiet. The sun poured dappled through the birch and willow leaves onto the thick grass. Native birds sang in the trees and circadas chirped a rhythmic beat. The calm and peace of the place washed over me like a warm bath. I sunk into the quiet beauty and spirit of the site. Within minutes I felt restful and still. Just as Orson Scott Card described it, the silence was green, alive.

What is it that makes us surround ourselves with dead things, with steel and glass that separates us from the living land? How can I return more often to this connection with the source and the earthly manifestation of living energy?


The way of energy and harmony

March 26, 2007

In listening to ‘Emotional Intelligence‘ by Daniel Goleman I came across an anecdote about a man, who had studied Aikido, encountering a hefty belligerent drunk on a subway train in Japan.  The drunk was in a rage, and was lashing out at people, knocking a woman holding a baby to the floor. As the man stood to confront the drunk he was reminded of the words of his teacher:

“Aikido is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken their connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”

At that moment a small elderly man called out “hey” in a friendly voice to the drunk. He asked the drunk what he’d been drinking, “sake” was the response. He proceeded to tell the drunk in a friendly voice how he and his wife liked to drink sake each night on an old wooden bench under the persimmon tree in their garden. “I’m sure you have a wonderful wife too” said the old man. “No” said the drunk “she died”. He launched into the sad tale of losing his wife, his home, his job, and being ashamed of himself. As the aikido expert was leaving the train he heard the old man asking the drunk to come out with him and tell him all about it. As he turned to leave he saw the drunk sprawled out on the subway seat, his head in the old man’s lap.

To me, that is Aikido.

These words are too solid, they don’t move fast enough

March 17, 2007

“How could you get through the day without Jesus?”. An evangelical Quaker once said this to a f/Friend of mine. I imagine my initial reaction to a question like this would be one of affront. Even though it came out of a fairly innocent sharing of one person’s way of being, it just seems so loaded.

My f/Friend went on to say that when she talked further with the evangelical Friend, she came to see that what she meant by those words wasn’t all that far from my f/Friend’s own experience. They were talking about similar things, even though the words were unfamiliar, even alien or offensive.

Words are tricky things. Words are not the things they describe. They don’t even point to the things they describe. The words we use point to an idea in our heads, which only then points to the thing that idea represents. When say “that’s a tree” we can’t actually ‘see’ the tree. We can only see light bouncing off the side of the tree closest to us. Our eyes translate that light into images that our brain interprets. Our brain matches those images against all the concepts we have about the world, and comes up with the concept we have about a tree. We then attach the word ‘tree’ to that concept. If we were German we’d attach the word ‘baum’, if Italian we’d say ‘albero’.

If we came from a tribe in the rain forest, the concept we’d match to the visual stimulus caused by light bouncing off a tree might be quite different. Rather than attaching to a concept of a tall, woody, vascular plant that is strong and beautiful, we might have a concept of the body of a particular spirit, or a piece of the living fabric of our home.

So, the words can be different, and the concepts they point to can be different, even if the things themselves are the same. The word, the concept, and the thing itself (or to use fancy postmodern linguistic analysis terms, the signifier, the signified, and the referent). Dealing with this across different languages, cultures and individuals is hard enough when we’re talking about things we can see and touch. When we talk about things we can only know through contemplation, or through faith, it becomes even more difficult.

One person can say ‘God’ and for them that can only attach to the idea of an ‘all powerful father up in heaven’. For another person the word ‘God’ attaches to a concept of an all pervading universal energy, something a bit like the Force in Star Wars. ‘Jesus’ can mean ‘an ever present and daily connection with the divine’ to one person, and ‘a human prophet who lived 2000 years ago’. For some these different concepts might be compatible, for some they’re contradictory. It’s very hard to agree whether or not these concepts are the same or overlap, because the ‘thing itself’ is so hard to discern. We can’t see it with the eye of flesh, we can’t do more than theologise about it with the eye of mind, we can only know it through the eye of contemplation. And that is a uniquely individual experience that is almost impossible to convey with words…

The same goes for religion, spirit, divine, inner light, peace, love, and thing else that is intangible, but nonetheless real to us in our experience.

Susan Vega said:

I won’t use words again
They don’t mean what I meant
They don’t say what I said
They’re just the crust of the meaning
With realms underneath
Never touched
Never stirred
Never even moved through

But we have to use words. So how can we learn to listen for the concept rather than the word? How can we move beyond assuming people mean what we mean by that word? How can we be willing to hear their truth, and in so doing be more open to the deeper truth beyond that?


Letting each other fly

March 17, 2007

Nasrudin found a weary falcon sitting one day on his window-sill. He had never seen a bird like this before.
‘You poor thing’, he said, ‘how ever were you to allowed to get into this state?’
He clipped the falcon’s talons and cut its beak straight, and trimmed its feathers.
‘Now you look more like a bird,’ said Nasrudin.

To me, each person’s journey inward is unique. The path to truly knowing ourselves, to connecting with all that exists, is totally individual, and completely right. It cannot be conveyed in words, it can only be experienced directly.

Some people call their inward journeys spiritual development, some refer to it as the path to enlightenment, others call it their growing in their personal relationship with Jesus, and some simply call it finding themselves. When people experience a profound connection to the eternal they call it samadhi, or transcendence, or nirvana, or God’s love. Scientific atheists talk of experiencing a sense of awe or wonder and the beauty of the universe.

I think that all of this is one. I think we’re all talking about the same thing. It doesn’t matter if you believe in a god, or the wonder of the universe, or the goodness of the human spirit, or nothing much at all. There is absolute truth. This universe, in all its current mystery, is utterly real. What is, is. It cannot not be. Because it exists, it is true. We might not yet understand it, but it still is. How we experience it is unique to every individual, but it still is, changing and complete, present and vast, immediate and eternal. We only perceive tiny fractions of this ‘allness’.

During our lives we have infrequent glimpses that move us closer to understanding the truth. And so we continue on our internal path to connect to that which is. The journey is hard and confusing. So we often group together to support each other. We learn from those who have taken the path before. We create structures, rituals, texts and experts as guides on the path. These become religions. Sometimes we become convinced that our way is the best, that all others should follow it. Sometimes we lose sight of the inward journey in our obsession with the external guides and signposts, and we clip the falcon’s wings, and stop it from flying.

When we impose our inward journey on someone else, when we expect their experience to be the same as ours, when we believe our way is the only right way, or insist they use the same words as we do, we risk doing what Nasrudin did to the falcon.

So Friend, how will you follow your inward path? How will you share your inward journey with others, how will you support others in their journey, without clipping their wings?