A Good Boy

 

A smell crept into my dreamtime, robbing me of the thrill of discovery that had permeated the etheric storyline reeling out from my subconscious. I had found myself in a dark and cavernous place. I was about to open an ornately carved wooden chest that I somehow knew contained a glorious treasure. I cracked open the lid and was suddenly confronted by an oder that was a disturbing mix of dead things, ass and kibble. The dream faded and I came back to consciousness, slowly opening my eyes.

The dogs face was inches from my pillow, his breath bathing my cheeks, a nasty mix of dead things, ass and kibble. The first really weird bit is that I didn’t own a dog. For an instant I thought I had just switched dreams. But that thought was short-lived as I realized I was indeed awake and there was indeed a dog staring at me with a look of patient expectation. I sat up in bed and the dog began wagging his tail.

The second really weird bit is that I realized I wasn’t in my bedroom. The bed I was on was a king and I slept on a twin. Not having shared a bed for a long time there really wasn’t the need for anything larger. The room was painted in warm lavender, which wouldn’t have been my first choice. There was a framed poster of an ancient stone amphitheater surrounded by lush green mountains hanging on the wall. Printed along the bottom of the poster in gold lettering was the word Delphi. This was definitely not my room. But I was most certainly awake now. What the hell?

Two nightstands bordered either side of the big bed. A Tom Robbins novel was on the one closest to the side I had been sleeping on, one of my favorite writers. On the other was a well-worn copy of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, something I wouldn’t normally be attracted to reading.

I looked beyond the far nightstand into a closet that had been left open. It was filled with hanging clothes that were more ladylike. “Really, what the hell?” I asked the dog. But he just continued his wagging tail.

I went over the previous evening in my mind. It had unfolded like a thousand pathetic evenings before it. I had come home to my tiny apartment from a job as a customer service technician for a credit card company. I was exhausted as always, having spent the day speaking to people with challenging credit issues. Many of them had not been happy with what I told them on behalf of the multi-national corporation that employed me. I had heated up a quick frozen dinner in the microwave and polished off an entire bottle of wine in front of the television before dragging myself off to bed, a twin bed, suited for one. That had been the rhythm of my sorry life for as long as I could remember. So what was this all about?

Sounds from another room interrupted my musings. They were sounds I instantly recognized even though I had not heard them for a really long time. It was kitchen rattling sounds. Someone was cooking. I listened closely and under the rattling I could make out a faint humming. It was a happy tune hummed in a graceful feminine voice. Then, “Hon, you should get up! Breakfast will be ready in a minute,” the humming voice called out.

Strangely I wasn’t frightened or freaked out. If I had to pin it down I would have to say that I was excited. I decided to try something bold. I cleared my throat and responded, “OK, I’m getting up!” I paused, holding my breath. The rattling sounds continued without missing a beat. The happy humming resumed.

The only theory I can come up with involves the treasure chest in my dream. Had I actually discovered what it contained? I looked at the dog, reached out and petted him behind the ears. “Are you a good boy?” I asked him. He responded by nuzzling my open hand. “Yes, you’re a good boy,” I said. I rose from the large and cozy bed to go find out what was cooking.

I’m From Detroit!

 

“I’m from Detroit! I invented Motown!” the befouled stranger said, stepping up to the rail that separated me from the downtown foot traffic. I was lingering over a happy hour cocktail at an outdoor cafe on an unusually warm day in February. I had been considering the unseasonable warmth, wondering if it was yet another manifestation of climate change and feeling a little uptight. Pulling me from my existential anxiety, the stranger continued. “I molested the Marvelettes!”

“No shit,” I said.

Here’s what I see. If you’re alone, without means and you suffer from schizophrenia, extreme cases of post traumatic stress disorder, or a cognitive cornucopia of other mental illnesses, you will be invited by the rest of us to join the invisible suffering. If you’re not able to confine yourself to societal norms then be ready to don the camouflage of blackened dirt and city grease. That filth makes it almost effortless for the rest of us to dehumanize you. So if your soiled and unhinged, lacking any form of love, compassion or money, then your luck has left town, taking along your humanity for the ride. Money seems the divide between a trajectory towards healing and ceaseless suffering for crazy folks on their own in our society. I can’t believe this is somehow okay.

Many refuse to lunch at outdoor tables because of such impromptu interactions with the mentally unstable and less fortunate. But I actually welcome such uninvited encounters. I understand the perception that was held by so many ancient societies of past millennia. These cultures were much more aligned with the earth and how the system works. They had to be in order to survive. And they would revere those members of their ranks whose mental wiring was crossed in so disparate a way from the rest of the citizenry. These people were considered messengers from worlds that most couldn’t begin to imagine. They were the authentic artists, which was a more shamanic role back in the day.

The First World in the modern age is defined by comfort and comfort has no need for authentic artists, so we cast them out to the chaos of street life. Those of us who are privileged are able to completely disconnect from those who may make us uncomfortable. We consider it a perk of privilege. But this approach is actually doing serious damage to our psyches. We are naturally built for compassionate connection like we are built to breathe air. That’s the way the system works. It takes a lot of misspent energy to go against the blueprint of who we actually are, to go against the natural flow of life. Embracing those made up stories of entitlement that we blanket ourselves in to stave off the “ugly” and “objectionable” is killing us. Literally. This is what the authentic artists have to teach us.

Every time we turn our backs to that inherent inclination towards connection we are preforming a violent act on ourselves. Over time we develop our own type of mental illness, the insanity of normalcy. We accept it as normal to completely disregard the suffering of a fellow being who may be a mere few feet away.

Whenever I come across anyone regarded as a lunatic on the streets I remember a potent quote from Jiddu Kirshnamurti: It’s no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

Disconnected, privileged materialism is a listless and sick way to live. Those of us who have worked hard to establish our worth as determined by society often don’t recognize what the shamans, healers, wise crones an other such sages, mystics, artists and poets of past ages recognized; that everyone is worthy of attention. Everyone born on the planet has come with an offering for all of us. Especially those whose reality tunnels are so shadowy, mysterious and other-worldly. They have gifts for us! And to disregard the offering of any being in order to maintain the facade of societies grand comfort in all its flat-screened glory misses the entire point of being here.

Lakota elders say that everything is sacred and we are all related. What if we began to live as if those Lakota elders were onto something? What if that was the point?

“I wrote The Track of My Tears,” the man said, noticing my acknowledgement of him.

I pulled out my wallet and investigated. There was a lone five dollar bill. “I like that song,” I said. “That’s worth a fin.” He gratefully accepted the bill as we shared a breath.

Where Am I?

s

 

The first one said, “I’m here. Where are you?”

The second said, “I’m here. Where are you?”

The third one said, “I’m here.” She paused, perhaps for dramatic flourish, then said, “Where are you?”

I was pretty sure the three ravens weren’t talking to me. They perched nearby and didn’t seem at all interested in where I was, as I sat on my front porch half listening in on their conversation. Of course had they asked, I’m not at all sure how I would have answered. It was pretty clear that I was anywhere but here, despite my lounging form on the porch chair, about fifteen yards away from their branch as the crow flies. But when the ravens yanked me out of my autopilot reverie I realized that my brain had been chugging along in thought grooves so habitual they hardly required my participation.

And the funny thing was, when the ravens called me to presence, gifting me the space to actually catch the nature of my thinking, I realized how worthless the thoughts had been. Fueled by a false and well honed sense of self-importance, the thoughts were nothing more than repetitive chewing on the same old stories of past and future. I hadn’t even been close to here.

At the ravens behest my thoughts became more conscious and therefore more spacious. I became more present to the only place where life can be found. “I’m here,” I said to the ravens. “In case you were wondering.”

The ravens cawed in delight.

Timothy

 

Timothy hated smoking in the alley. But his wife of 37 years insisted that he refrain from “burning that evil weed” in their tiny Eastside apartment. “Smells like death,” she would say to him. “I’m eighty three years old! What does it matter!” he would say back. But in the end he would always acquiesce, going to the alley and lighting up in the shadow of the perpetually full dumpster outside their home.

It was a cool afternoon, though not cold and Timothy sat on the upturned five gallon bucket he used as a smoking seat. As was his habit, once his Pall Mall was comfortably lit, Timothy gazed at the refuse that littered the ground around the dumpster. People just can’t keep things neat, he thought to himself. Then Timothy spotted the curling pages of a paperback sticking out from underneath the dumpster. Being a fan of Science Fiction novels, Timothy walked over and scooted the book out from the darkness with the edge of his shoe to see if it might be a title he was interested in. He bent and examined the cover. Stains and smears from unknown city sources covered the book, which right away negated any possibility that Timothy would pick it up. But he read the cover anyway. “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?” was the title. And it was written by someone named Byron Katie, an author that Timothy never heard of. It was a strange title by a writer with a strange name and held no interest. He kicked the book back into the darkness.

Timothy sat back down and concentrated on the Pall Mall. But as he sat smoking, the title of the book rose up in his consciousness. “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?” What the hell kind of question is that? he thought to himself.

Normally Timothy didn’t hold on to things in his mind like the title of a discarded book. But the title became a seed in his consciousness as the cigarette smoke curled about him, like a Zen koan planted by a Rinzai monk within the furrows of his brain. “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?”

That evening, comfortably in bed and just drifting off to sleep to the gentle sound of his wife’s deep breathing, the answer to the question posed by Byron Katie on the cover of her book flashed in Timothy’s mind, a brilliant flash of spacious insight. “I would be a man who wouldn’t mind whatever was happening!” he said softly, but still loud enough to wake his wife.

“What?” she asked in a sleepy voice. “Are you okay?”

Timothy looked at his wife’s face. He could barely make out her features in the night. But he could feel every nuance of her beauty in a way that he hadn’t for decades, in a way that required only inner illumination. “I’m fine, just a dream. Go back to sleep.” Timothy leaned over and gave his wife the most precious kiss on her cheek, feeling the deepest connection with her, the deepest gratitude for her presence. And whatever the morning brought, good, bad or mundane, he wouldn’t mind one bit.

Fu-Kiau

I had been told that he was a  holy man, though not a representative of any particular religion. He was called a “Beyonder”. I gathered that meant he was beyond the conceptual limitations of any one particular faith. He had been invited to New Mexico to give a series of teachings on the mysteries of life. I had come to hear him teach and to hopefully have the opportunity to ask a single question, a question that I deeply longed for an answer to.

He sat in a straight back wooden chair and we gathered around him, sitting on the various cushions that were about the floor. He introduced himself. “I am Fu-Kiau,” he said simply. His voice was friendly and welcoming, laced with a deep Central African accent.  He began speaking on a very lofty topic, the underlying power out of which the universe is manifest. He said it was a power that infuses all of life and spoke of the importance of recognizing and embracing that power within ourselves. Despite the deep and complex nature of the topic, he made understanding very accessible. His words were inspiring and it felt like he was speaking from a place of authentic wisdom.

After about two hours he finished his talk and was willing to take questions. A few immediately raised their hands. I didn’t hear what their questions were nor his answers. I was busy trying to clarify in my mind the one question I had come to ask. I decided direct and simple was the best way to go. It was time. I raised my hand.

Fu-Kiau noticed my raised hand. “Yes?” he said, looking and listening deeply.

“Fu-kiau,” I began, “I was hoping you could share with me what you believe the most important spiritual practice is.” In retrospect I see the naive quality of the question. But at the time I felt that I required the teaching of some authority figure to see me through. I desired, more than anything else, for someone to give me that magic formula that would diminish the struggle and resistance that I was experiencing in my movement through life and help me get to the next spiritual level, whatever that meant.

Fu-Kiau gave the question the space of quiet consideration for a moment. Then he answered. “I would have to say that the most important spiritual practice is gratitude.” He broke his gaze with me and chose another person with a question. That was the only answer I was going to get to the one question that I had so dearly wanted answered. Gratitude. I was hoping for more; the most potent prayer or meditation, the most powerful ritual or sacred rite that would smooth over all the rough patches. In all honesty, I was very disappointed.

***

That was over twenty years ago. Fu-Kiau has recently died and I was extremely saddened to hear of his passing. The world has lost a very deep well of Beyonder wisdom. But authentic teaching is not that easily extinguished. Over the last twenty years Fu-Kiau’s answer to my question, which had been so disappointing at first,  has become like a many layered onion.  As I have evolved  I have been moving through the layers, getting closer and closer to the core of his most potent answer.

Lately I have been spontaneously experiencing the deepest feelings of gratitude in the most mundane of places; the grocery story, standing in front of the mail machine at work, places that I am very familiar with and barely gave a second thought to. The one thing these experiences share is an inner silence, a quiet mind. The gratitude is of a deeper nature, a pleasant and at the same time powerful feeling that transcends the usual level of consciousness that I’m familiar with. It is not gratitude expressed in words or thoughts. It is a silent, spacious, fully present feeling of gratitude for every aspect of life as it is, even those aspects that I might otherwise label as painful or negative. It is a full submersion into the “Now”.  I have discovered that gratitude can only be completely experienced where life can only be found, within the present moment. I have discovered that gratitude is actually a type of energetic stance beyond thought, a key to fully inhabiting the present moment, usually obstructed by my constant fascination and identification with stories of life as it was in the past or life as it will be in the future. Gratitude has become a natural result of consciously quieting my mind and inhabiting the “Now”. For me, twenty years later, gratitude has indeed become the most important spiritual practice.

Thank you Fu-Kiau.

Time To Pop

Ernest was very skillful in cultivating the ideal look that would induce a person to “pop”. Of course the timing had to be perfect, the person popping had to be open to it.  But if the look wasn’t just right, more important than the words spoken, the moment would be missed, the popping would not occur. He had been doing this work for more years than most could count, and he was good at it. His look, words and timing were impeccable.

The Guidance was clear that the woman called Sara would stop at the corner of Canal Street and Broadway for a red light in just under a minute. And Ernest made sure he was there in plenty of time for this cosmic turning of the traffic signal. The nights darkness was thwarted by city lights, bathing the corner in artificial contrasts of luminance and shadow. Standing there, Ernest looked like just another down on his luck hard ass, seeking refuge from life’s lack of mercy.

The light changed from green to yellow to red just as the small Kia hatchback approached. Ernest knew that this was Sara. And he knew that Sara’s window would be rolled down. All the pieces, set into motion at the beginning of time, were in place. The Kia stopped at the light and Ernest ran up to the driver, Sara.

 ***

 Sara stopped at the red light. Her mind was preoccupied, mired in thoughts about the meeting she had with her supervisor earlier that day. She had left the meeting worried about making the deadline for the upcoming Nautilus project. She didn’t notice the rough looking man running up to her window until he was two steps away. Panic shot throughout her mind and body, silencing the work related mental ramblings of the previous moment. She froze as he leaned into her car, inches away from her face, looking deeply into her eyes. His look was vacant, a face left numb by the world’s cruelties.  And at the same time his look demonstrated a fullness born from lifetimes of experiences, a look that held a wisdom older than time, a complete acceptance beyond the complexities of life or the mysteries of death. It threatened everything she thought she knew.

“Nighttime sky opens. Infinity cascades down. Don’t blink, you’ll miss it!”  The rough looking man said in the forceful manner of one speaking with total authority. Then he turned and ran down a nearby alley, disappearing.

Sara’s mind was shocked clean of any debris of identity, of any knowings of work, love, or the meaning of life, like a newborn. Sara popped. She struggled to take a breath, the first since the rough looking man appeared out of nowhere. As she breathed in she realized that she was breathing in the greatest understanding that the universe had to offer. As she let the breath slowly out she smiled like the Buddha, sitting in the shade of the Bodhi tree.

Cutting Cloth

In the spirit worlds, sorcery, magic and celestial power dictate the rules. But the drama in those alternate dimensions is not that different from ours in the more mundane dimensions of shopping malls, Honey Boo Boo and corporate takeovers. Pain and struggle seem to find their way into most situations eventually, whether they’re of an etherial, cosmic nature or something more pedestrian. Vicktor, whose powerful sorcery was greatly feared by most, found this out in a most difficult way. His was a typical play for power not earned. Deafening desire, and desire’s inverted twin, aversion, which are really at the crux of a heart’s experience of pain and struggle, drove him.  He would have the Pendant of Essence worn by the elder known simply as The Brotherly One. That pendant was key to the elder’s power. And it could be Vicktor’s if he got his hands on it. And the desire for that power, and the aversion to life without it, was inciting Vicktor’s every move.

 Through multi-layered Machiavellian machinations Vicktor was able to trap The Brotherly One on an isolated mountain top.

 “You didn’t think I had it in me, did you Bro?” Vicktor snickered. “Is it okay if I call you Bro? Just seems easier.” He inflected every syllable with the tone and timbre of a fearless vanquisher.

 “Just do what you’re here to do. Steal what you’re here to steal. Don’t waist my time with your jibber-jabber,” The Brotherly One returned.

 “As you wish.” Vicktor reached out to grab the simple yet commanding moonstone pendant hanging from The Brotherly One’s neck.

 “Too many plans driven by desire and aversion make you stupid,” The Brotherly One said in a surprisingly compassionate way.

 What Vicktor could only describe as a swirling electrical vortex engulfed his outstretched hand, “What is this?” he cried out in shock.

 “The motion of cause and effect,” The Brotherly One said.

 The vortex of energy moved up Vicktor’s arm, around his shoulder and over his head, finally swallowing him whole, smashing his chest with a crushing weight and throwing him far from the mountain top.  It was a turn of events that have become a mythological cliche over the millennia: Man tries to steal celestial power in the form of some magical object, man becomes consumed by some retributive, dynamic force, man is banished to some godawful backwater of the cosmos for all eternity. In this case, the backwater was the planet Earth. More specifically, Saul’s Fabrics  on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.

 Vicktor regained consciousness, still feeling the crushing pressure on top of his chest. With great effort he was able to open his eyes. He was no longer on the mountain top. The Brotherly One was gone. And a bolt of weighty linen was laying across his chest, pinning him down. Vicktor knew that he had been defeated, The Brotherly One’s power had been too great. All was lost.

“Vicktor! Quit screwing around!” Saul yelled, deeply irritated. “I need you to cut those linen pieces for Jacqueline right away. She’ll be here in an hour!” Saul wondered for the thousandth time why he had hired this sad sack.

 ***

Since he unexpectedly found himself on a beautiful mountain top, The Brotherly One took the opportunity to enjoy a fabulous view.