Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Existential Butterfly


"But O, how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes."
(As You Like It, Act 5 Sc. 2, William Shakespeare)

            Happiness is not just a state of mind. It is a state of being. It does not depend on any external factor, for it is governed by the attitude we have towards it. One can never find happiness by continually seeking what we believe makes up the fabric of such a notion. You cannot be happy by looking here or looking there. You must be, that is all there is to it. Any happiness you seek you must make for yourself. True happiness one must take for oneself. No one can make you happy unless you choose to be so. People who spend their lives trying never succeed in the doing. Happiness is a condition brought on by its own awareness. To be happy you must recognize it for what it is, then claim it as your very own. Clarity breeds happiness.
            Happiness is both a complex and simple way of being. It is a subjective experience instigated by an objective encounter. Simple happiness is fleeting while more complex forms tend to last throughout the lifetime of the bearer. People experience happiness in many ways. It can be a moment of laughter. It can be that lifetime of love. Happiness is a mixture of instant gratification and the recognized qualities that result in education which then results in understanding. Happiness is both a momentary reaction and a long-term condition. Understanding paves the way for happiness.  
            Happiness is a spiritual endeavour. It is a visceral experience, obtained through intuition rather than from reasoning or observation. There is no such thing as well-being without that sense of unity with something beyond ourselves. We cannot know happiness and peace apart from resolution with the Divine. Even the atheist must embrace their contentment within the confines of the journey they must take. Unless we are at peace within, no matter what that repose may offer, we must come to terms with our condition, including our ideas regarding God. There is no happiness without the solvent of self-discovery. The Kingdom of God is within.
            Happiness, the state of well-being, is characterized through terms of emotion, usually the same emotions experienced when in that state. From intense joy, to contentment, and even to gain a disposition free from stress and/or those emotions, the mechanism of happiness is more than what you feel or don't feel. These things are but the consequence. To find peace one must learn to discipline and control one's own mind. If you can control what you think, you can find your way to enlightenment.
            Enlightenment is a process. It is primarily aimed at the cessation or extinction of suffering, desire and individual consciousness. When one strives for enlightenment, having knowledge of the greater whole, one comes to an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself and your reality. You transcend the cycle of the Ego and come to see all is One. Happiness, real happiness, occurs when there is nothing but this sense of being a part of the collective.

"There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself." (Henry David Thoreau, American Author)

            We spend so much time and energy being unhappy. There are, of course, lots of reasons for us to be that way. Storms will come and storms will go. The world around us and the person inside us are always shifting like sand; the wind comes and we are tossed in it. Each person has their own story: stories of grief, stories of devastation, tales of the broken heart and tales of helplessness. Life is hard and happiness can often seem unattainable. Apparently, we are as equal in our suffering as we are in our capacity to endure it.  Our dysphoric tendencies, at times, take us to the lowest of the low. Life can be like swimming in a sea of mud, gasping for air. It is man’s great propensity, however, to survive. Joy will come again.
            I am confident in saying that I am a happy man. I have found the place where I am most content and satisfied with my life. Regardless of any enlightenment I have achieved, it is a difficult thing to maintain that space. The world is a complicated place. I often feel guilty for going on and finding peace within my life. When someone dies and you begin to swim up from the deep, sorrow can make you feel weighted down for doing so.  Survivor’s guilt is a bitch, and she pushes us back into the water, holding our head just beneath the waves. As with all things, this too shall pass. We then find ourselves back on the path, better for having known trouble and strife, for having loved and for having lost. We learn to smile again, and then we chuckle. The chuckle becomes a giggle, and before you know it you are laughing in spite of yourself.
            It’s not that we forget our pain and trials; we live on through them. Happiness sneaks through a door you didn’t even know was open.  You start to realize how wonderful your life is, and you wish you had realized that fact so much earlier. Happiness is wanting exactly what you get. It may fly away, beyond our grasp, but if you take the time to recognize it, you may find it never really left. It is contagious and outrageous. It is silent and it booms. Stop trying to find it and recognize it was already there.

"It is a curious sensation: the sort of pain that goes mercifully beyond our powers of feeling. When your heart is broken, your boats are burned: nothing matters any more. It is the end of happiness and the beginning of peace." (George Bernard Shaw)

            A lovely day never should be missed. I knew I was lucky to have a lovely place to enjoy the lovely day. My parents put so much time and energy into their gardens and landscapes; in their toil, they created a sanctuary. This oasis is a safe place to be. It is rich with plant life and trees, so many it often seems like a crowded place. Small, wild animals dart from refuge to refuge, hunting and playing, and this day, each avoided my pace. The summer sun almost tingled, breathing life into my cold pale skin. In this tranquility I found myself breathing, looming over nature and all she had to offer me. There are few moments in life when we actually find peace. All creatures tend to be at their best when struggling against their own nature, fighting for their life and then the breeze just drifts on by. It can lift us or send us down.
            I spied with my little eye a butterfly. A beautiful cyan blue, with black markings, it floated from flower to flower, immune to the danger that surrounded it on all sides. It seemed like a free agent in this inevitable and seemingly meaningless universe. It was silent while dancing, finally capturing that summer breeze and using it to its advantage. This was a creature of action, not words. As it played hopscotch on petals, I knew it knew. It alone was responsible for its experience. It picked each pretty flower, always true to itself and the nature of being a butterfly.
            I tried to catch it softly, cupping my hand beneath each flower where it rested. It simply fluttered away, aware but immune. So I tried to snatch it from its place, but it won the race and floated off to another flower. It lingered no matter what I did. It only seemed interested in acquiring each bloom. I looked at the creature, with great pause, studying it like a vision or sweet consequence. Then defeat came as it flew out of reach, whispering that "enough was enough."
            I sat down on the grassy hill and looked into the sun. My eyelids burnt a little, like the dried but once green patch beneath my hands. I wondered to myself how that insect knew. How could such a small thing recognize anything outside its own existence?  Did it really see me or hear me? Was it only chance that moved it away? Eventually, I forgot about that little blue fairy and I went on with my contemplation. Just in that moment, another butterfly landed on my leg.   

"Look beyond ourselves,
There's so much sorrow,
It's way too late to say, I'll cry tomorrow
Each of us must find our truth,
It's so long overdue,
So for tonight we pray for,
What we know can be,
And everyday, we hope for,
What we still can't see,
It's up to us, to be the change,
And even though we all can still do more,
There's so much to be thankful for."
(Noël, Josh Groban 2007)

             Happiness, as an emotional state, comes and goes. We spend our existence trying to recapture it. Dissatisfaction is something we spend our entire life trying to overcome.  Happiness, as a state of being, never fades and never decreases when being shared. It holds personal experience and responsibility as a demand on the individual. We must interpret the world in order to change it. A sure way to lose happiness is to want it at the expense of everything else. We submerge it. When you find yourself wanting, give it a chance to float up. After all, no one can find your happiness for you but you.



 The Existential Butterfly
(Original Post June 18th 2010)




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Surrender to Yellow


“He was a difficult man.
He thought differently and acted differently from the rest of us.
He questioned everything.
Was he a rebel, a prophet, a psychopath or a hero?
“Who can tell the difference?” we said, “And who cares, anyway?”
So we socialized him.
We taught him to be sensitive to public opinion and to the feelings of others.
We got him to conform.
He was a comfortable person to live with now. Well adjusted.
We had made him manageable and docile.
We congratulated him on having achieved self conquest.
He began to congratulate himself.

He did not know that it was we who had conquered him.”
(Domesticated Rebels - part 1, Anthony De Mello 1984)

            When I was a child, I was sure that the world owned me. I belonged to my parents and grandparents. I belonged to my school. I even belonged to God. With ownership came the rules. There were rules on how to behave. There were rules on how to think.  There were even rules on how to please God. I could do “this” and not do “that”.  Everything seemed to dictate who I was and who I was supposed to be. All these things were just one big formula on how to be acceptable; acceptable to this reality and acceptable to God. In the process of my indoctrination, my own definition was made for me. From the conventions of my parents to the conventions of the Church, everything sought to control how I thought and how I acted. It was, after all, their job to do so.  From family to society, I was regulated by the very principles of all I was made to be and all I was told I should be.  Most of all, I was taught not to make waves.

Conform, conform, conform.   

            A few years ago, when I lived in Brantford Ontario, I resided in a lovely house on Park Avenue. The street was riddled with homes built in the late 1800s. Mine was a beautiful old dwelling.  It had original fixtures and antique trim.  The hardwood floors were in excellent condition.  It was a pleasant experience to live there for the time that I did. I was happy in that 100+ year old place. Once settled, it became home for me and my immediate family. I found peace and serenity within its walls. I spent most of my free time touching up the space with polish and shine. I made it my own creation, adding my flavours and tastes to the foundation left by the last tenant. Once I had mastered the building, I took to the landscape. I tilled garden bed after garden bed, cultivating the soil for springtime planting. I dropped bulb after bulb, bunches upon bunches, breeding the anticipation of a fully coloured season. I trimmed all the hedges, and pruned all the trees. I did everything one is supposed to do in order to bring the scenery of the next season to life in its time. I felt as one with the dirt and the rocks and the trees.
            When the winter snow faded and the hints of plant life began their procession, I took to rake and shovel, lifting and shaping each bed and each border. I planted annuals and perennials, dreaming of a rainbow in my very own yard. I put in a vegetable garden, with tomato plants and pumpkin seedlings and other varied forms of edible. Slowly but surely I created from the earth, hoping that my exterior endeavours would fare better than my indoor experiments with nature had in the past. Come the warm sunshine, I was not disappointed. Suddenly the piles of soil and peat moss brought forth a grand display. Tiny sprouts began to whisper, gently breaking through the earth to reveal themselves. Trees dangled buds, grass turned to green, the entire lot sprung to life in a matter of days. It may seem silly, but tending this land brought me much joy. The time I spent with nature, shaping the grounds, brought me great calm and a sense of stillness entered my life.  I did everything I had been taught to do. I took all the knowledge that had been shown to me by my Mother and Father, by my siblings and extended family, and I applied it, hoping for the perfect garden. I read the books I needed to read. I watched programs on PBS and online, using them as inspiration when forming the outline for each personal patch of earth. I spent my time in communion with nature. It was an effort to reveal beauty to my neighbourhood and pride in my residence. I toiled and I tried to do everything I had been instructed, with the promise of gratification that I had been told was its own reward.  I thought I had covered all my bases.

Every garden has its weed.

            As summer approached and the tiny world I had created began to bloom, and then flourish, my space was invaded. Methodically, like some bad rash on a baby's bottom, the enemy took over and spread throughout the lawn space I had worked so hard to regulate and shape. It did not attack the vegetable patch or the ornamental beds. It did not assault the trees and bushes I had crafted to my command. Even the morning glories I had lined the property with did not meet its fury. As if overnight, it was the lawn that turned from green to yellow, and I never saw it coming.
            Dandelions popped up everywhere. It was easy to remove a casual few who tried to find rest in a garden, or beneath the hedge. The rest were quite ravenous, taking over both the front and back lawns. They did not merely fester, filling this place and that place. These tiny yellow dots from hell took over until there was hardly any green grass left to cut. They spread and then they spread some more. I tried cutting them down with a mower, but the next day a new batch of gold began all over again. I tried weed killer. I tried pulling them out by their roots, a rather futile endeavour considering the enormous size of the collective. Hundreds, probably thousands of those dastardly dandelions began to torture any will I had to keep gardening.  No matter what I did I could not get rid of them. The futility of the experience found me frustrated. What else can one do but to attempt a resolution? There was obviously nothing I could do.

Everywhere I looked the yellow taunted me.

            The neighbourhood lawns did not seem to have been coated with this herbal sunshine. The grass of most of my neighbours was plush and vibrant; the hunter green depth of each blade bore witness to this fact. On occasion I would see a truck, or two, and I knew they were cheating by calling in reinforcements. It bothered me the way they looked at the lawn, as if unpleased by its state of ill repair. I felt condemned and looked down on, like some low class white trash who had invaded their prestigious appearances. It was as if some compulsion to compete eventually took me over. There was a need to keep up with the Jones’ and the Bakers’ and the Stanley family down the street. 
            Eventually, there came a point were I gave up trying to free the lawn of those overwhelming weeds. I resigned myself to the fate of almost every house that could not afford professional grooming. Once the grass was fully hidden and the blooms large and full, I must admit I rather liked my new lawn. I had fought so hard against them that I never took the time to really see the dandelions for what they are. I had no idea that just letting go would turn futility into beauty. I had no choice. I either had to befriend the hoard or keep lying to myself that I could escape it. I had to surrender to yellow.
            One day, the next door neighbour asked me why I had finally given up trying to get rid of all the dandelions. “I guess I just learned to live with them,” I said. “Too bad about your lawn,” he smirked. “Yes,” I said, “but don’t I now have a lovely garden?” He walked away, crossing over his chiselled lawn and slipping into his place next door.

“A Big Guy walked into the crowded room and yelled,
“Is there a fellow by the name of Murphy here?”
A Little Fellow stood up and said, “I’m Murphy.”
The Big Guy nearly killed him. He cracked five of his ribs, he broke his nose,
He gave him two black eyes; he flung him in a heap on the floor.
Then he stamped out.
After he had gone we were amazed to see the little fellow chuckling to himself.
 “I certainly made a fool of that guy.” he was saying softly to himself.
“I’m not Murphy! Ha Ha!”

A society that domesticates its rebels has gained its peace. But it has lost its future.
(Domesticated Rebels - part 2, Anthony De Mello 1984)

           People will always try to make you believe what they believe, agree with what they think. There is a social pressure to follow in line and not ripple the water. Don’t give in and do what the rest think is proper. Don't change. Stay different. Make a garden.

Surrender to yellow.


(Original Post June 12th 2010)

The Song of the Bird
Anthony De Mello, 1984



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Things I Know


            We are comprised of everything that we have known. We are conditioned, shaped, educated. From the time we are born until the time we die, all we are is borrowed from something else. Whether it is a person, a piece of literature or even a snowy day in January, we absorb our outer reality and use it to try and understand. There is nothing within us, or part of us, that has not been filtered from something else. From our basic hygiene rituals we learn as children to the complexities of communication, social interaction and religiosity, we steal from others and take for ourselves. This is primarily an unconscious process. Like a sponge, we suck it all in and don't even have to take the time to think about it.
            We objectify the material world from early on and use this as a tool to relate to both our environment and each other. The only way we can comprehend the overwhelming matrix of information delivered to us, at an alarming rate, is to selectively access the information processed. This recognition is both conscious and subconscious. Our brain picks and chooses the information to be stored and how it will be used.  We can selectively acknowledge, or deny, this "data".  We keep what we want and discard those things we feel have no authenticity. We are, however, constantly influenced by the world around us and the all the things contained within it, even if we believe they serve no purpose. This unending procedure, the borrowing of knowledge, plays out over and over again until the moment we cease to exist in the mortal world. 
            As each bite of information is absorbed, we are conformed, determined and trained. We are indoctrinated by birth into a pattern of living based on information relevant only to our group; we start out small and grow until we turn into everyone else. Everything known becomes our makeup. How we feel, how we think and even how we love are all influenced, or created, by the exposure we have had to the outside world. Our socialization, our education and even our time to ourselves shifts our perpetually moving identity. We are, in fact, a puzzle of all the things we were exposed to and have cognized.

The search for truth should enlighten us, not restrict us.

            Our ideas regarding God form through this same filtration process. From childhood indoctrination to internal revelation as an adult, we are taught what we are supposed to believe. Whether through the written word, personal association or contrived evangelization, all we ever come to recognize as the truth, relating to the divine, has been validated through a lifelong process of brainwashing. Who we think God is stands as nothing more than a cumulative exposure to ideas and theologies handed down and evolved through implementation by religion. It doesn't matter if you are Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, your belief structure is never truly your own. Faith structures are the summation of organized theories, ideas handed down generationally and intellectually. Religious belief is an artificial compilation of borrowed knowledge. 
            Since what we know about God is an artificial representation, so too reality can be viewed in the same manner. If reality is the transfer of subjective awareness, then its composition must be contrived as well. Time, matter, even existence are all illusions. Any information we receive while in our mortal coil is filtered through our humanity. We can only understand within our definition. I cannot define reality any more than I should allow it to confine me. All knowledge is corrupted. It is corrupted by observation, corrupted by infiltration, and most certainly, corrupted by opinion. Scientific evidence to the contrary, all proof is merely anecdotal, based on the constraints of being human.
            We cannot hope to understand something outside ourselves without a basis for relating. Mankind takes interpretations and turns them into truth. We know we are grasping at straws, but an artificial something is better than nothing at all. We cannot function within the unknown, so we shape reality so that we can. When we recognize we cannot know, we begin to find the Divine. All the fabrications and notions we have about God disappear when we see them for what they are. Everything is nothing and there is nothing at all. When we commence into the unknown we quickly realize there is freedom in not knowing. We have our own freedom to think, our own freedom to create and our own freedom to believe. Every word, ever lyric, every thought we use to define God is merely an attempt to commune with something beyond us. Most often, the answers are right in front of us. We should be paying more attention to the things around us if we want to find any semblance of the truth. God speaks to us through the things we know.
            Realizing that truth is an illusion, that leads nowhere, is different than realizing the truth is nothing.  When we surrender to the idea that what we know is not real, we recognize what is. All we have is here and now. The rest is just guesswork. If I am to discover God in the reality I exist within, I must first stop to recognize this. To see, we must assume God is everywhere. In the smallest flower, in the song of a child, in the very breath we take to stay alive, this is the way that leads to light. If God is everywhere, if we can somehow come to understand, then all we need to do is pay attention.

When you realize you know nothing, then you know everything.

             All the things we know, from the birth to death, are part of God. The Spirit flows through everything and suggests purpose and reason. The tiny voice inside yourself tells of meaning and movement, but you must listen to learn. Everything you ever heard, every sunset that passed you by contains the Voice, but we don't hear it. The only way to find God is to recognize you cannot. Only through awareness can you understand God is everywhere. I do not suggest that God is all things only. I suggest that God is in all things. I also suggest there is much to learn when we think of life as a lesson rather than mere living.  If He speaks to us through the things we know, then there must be a message. If there is a God, we must put away what we think we know and begin to work within what we do not know.

Everything we need to know is invisible

            If you've ever sat on a summer day and felt the heat of the sun blaze against your skin, then you may well understand what I am trying to relay. If God is everywhere, then God is everywhere we look. If you take the time to notice, you will find what you are looking for. When you discover this secret, words cannot even attempt to describe it. It is beyond word and beyond comprehension. No amount of borrowed knowledge can clarify or bring greater insight. The idea that we can define God's creation is as futile a feat as attempting to explain the soul. Mere words are not enough.
            God talks to us through creation. Anyone who has felt déjà vu or experienced some unexplained coincidence, anyone one who has survived a Near Death Experience, anyone who has felt the presence of Love and Mercy knows they did not catch it from afar. It was right there, already waiting; they just had to claim it. Everything we know in our lives, every joy and sorrow, all our true knowledge comes from that which we call the Divine. This unrestricted Love, Grace and Spirit are all available to us if we care to embrace the light. When we are aware that God is all around us and cheering us on, we discover the true purpose in goodness and right and joy. Life is to be lived fully, not controlled and conditioned based on things we do not understand. All the words of this world may help you survive god, but they won't help you find God.

All borrowed knowledge, to the ends of the earth, cannot make us aware if we do not take notice. After all, the answers lie waiting within.




 Borrowed Knowledge
(Original post May 27th 2011)





Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Grim Muse


             It had been years since I sat down to write anything personal. The time between the suicide of my first partner in 1995 and the death of my Mother in 2010 found me rather empty of words for the written page. I had continued to write feature and news pieces for different sources, but I found it almost impossible to express my own inner voice. I was frozen, unable to get in touch with the creative writer within. When I started blogging in May of 2010, one could tell I lacked the discipline and technique to formulate my own thoughts and feelings in a proper and professional manner. My Mother's passing acted like a grim muse, the propulsion I needed to once again let it go. Starting over was a difficult thing for me to do. I would sit at the computer, staring at the lines of resolution, begging God to free me from the walls I had built around myself. Slowly, but surely, my fingers started the dance. I started to create.
            I decided to limit my blogging to a one-year project. I had always found I functioned better with a structure, a set course to follow. With the exception of breaks I took between "chapters", I posted almost daily over the allotted time. Between May 28th 2010 and October 22nd 2011, I rescued 219 captives from the cage deep within me. The evolution of my work is quite visible, beginning with short precise clips of my inner dialogue and developing into researched academic essays and extensive personal exegeses. My focus was a simple enough notion. I knew it would hold enough water to last me throughout the year. Through the examination and use of the knowledge of others, I theorized that all knowledge was borrowed, that anyone who truly recognized this reality for what it is could not ignore our spiritual and intellectual limitations. We may understand gravity and the principles of mathematics, but anyone in on the joke can see that we have no real esoteric knowledge. Such notions are guesswork.

"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance.
 It is the illusion of knowledge."
 (Stephen Hawking)

            When the year ended, I took a vacation from all the thinking and the feeling. Exploring the inner depth of my belief structure, history and internal dialogue left me only wanting for more. I started a new blog, not limiting its length or duration. Instead of posting daily, I began to post weekly. This allowed me to continue the process of self-discovery without the conflict such a daunting task had proven to be on my time and responsibilities. Since my life has been one huge lesson on how to escape both the inner and outer forces that played havoc with my existence, I chose to write a guide on how to survive the one thing I knew had done the most damage: God.
            This chapter is part of that progression. By re-examining 'Borrowed Knowledge', my year-long attempt at blogging, I discovered hidden ideas and expressions within the works I had already authored while re-developing my writing skills. I felt I had not fully freed those things that I needed to say. Rather than merely re-posting each article, I have refined and expounded on the ideas I believe each would have contained had I been up to par at the time.  I have handpicked those blogs which I feel are most relevant to the idea of surviving the god we as a people have created. Each holds the best of lessons, even though those lessons were ambiguous or obscured by style and resistance in the first place. It is important to recognize our lessons and what we can learn from each other. In a sense, recognizing that we borrow our knowledge may be one of the greatest tools we have for surviving God.






Summer 2011
Strathroy Ontario