Tuesday, April 7, 2009

SLEEPWALKING

V

The dream isn’t really a dream
(Call up Chief Joseph and ask him)
Even though giant gentle elephants may float above
Or clouds laugh as children on the playground
In that place I look for my hands and find them
Watch penny whistle tweets shooting out the ends my fingers
Walk through walls and vault through closed windows
Talk to strangers from other realms
Find my self by losing it

The essence of who we are
Does not rot with this bodies end
The knowing of this moves us to use it
As a delicate instrument capable of fantastic feats
Sets us free to overcome our fear
Observe every present passing moment
With keen attention
With joy
And stop walking asleep

Friday, April 3, 2009

SLEEPWALKING

IV

We look upon her soft as grandma
Queuing us according to gender
Our shoulders, legs, arms straight and stiff
Awaiting the rush of approval from her gentle touch
To win the flag of her tender lips upon our forehead
It seems the prettiest girl usually held firm to her chest
That tiny banner of white with red cross centered in the blue corner
And it seems too the favorite boy mostly held aloft
The other tiny standard with stars and stripes
As we marched the four corners of a Sunday classroom
Singing praises to those proud and valiant crusaders
Off to war
Armageddon began with us
Equipped with the prophecy
That damns the Philistine’s trespass
Upon the steeple this grandma protects
With lips so soft pressing us into battle
With resolve firm as ice hanging from a frozen beam

Sunday, March 29, 2009

SLEEPWALKING

III

When I was thirteen
And came in a half hour past their curfew
She called me a whore
And as he walked me to my bedroom
His big arm holding me tight he said
No you’re not

With the covers tight against my chin
My eyes open wide to the grim dark
I listen to their anger
She with the nagging blow
He with the tired retort

Today I still grieve his passing
And today she’s in the nursing home
Waiting for the call from me
That will never come

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SLEEPWALKING

II

It was a rustic campground in the yellow pine
Just a simple fire pit and gray wood plank picnic table
No water or toilet
In the slot across the rutted dirt road from us
A family pulls in with their oversized truck camper
Grabbing a quick afternoon feel of outdoor-ness

While the three children scamper off to explore
The parents fire up the screaming gas generator
Pull out the gear with propane stove, tablecloth
Dinnerware, napkins, camp chairs and a braided rug
To cover the dirty ground
No doubt enjoying the natural scene
Better than their own fenced backyard

When the hot dogs were cooked the children were called
The kids on the rug with their sodas
Mom and dad in camp chairs with their beer
They settle back then to watch the portable television

Thursday, March 19, 2009

SLEEPWALKING

I

Down the sidewalk leading to the mall’s front door
The house sparrow flitted just beyond reach of the toddler’s
Outstretched tiny hands whose teetering efforts to touch
The bird was foiled again and again
A plucky game of chase
Full of mirth

A half dozen paces behind mother and father
Followed chatting back and forth
Watched ahead for their child’s safety
Yet blind to his simple play

Occasionally the little one would turn and smile
Giggle and flail his arms
When there was no response
He would shout and point at the wee bird

But the play was for him and the bird alone
The adults were too busy with themselves
Since their childhood games too had been ignored

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WHY A BLOG?

After composing three rather lengthy blogs I am faced with the primary question, Why a blog? And in parentheses, Who writes blogs? What is my purpose for writing a blog? Just what IS a blog, anyway?

Before initiating this blog I was interested in creating my own web site. The purpose of having a site was twofold: 1) to have a place where I could get my writing out to an Internet audience 2) to have a sort of filing system where I can keep my writing. I found that constructing and then maintaining a website was too much for my technologically feeble brain. Blogging sites made it very easy to design a spot and I figured this was just as good as a web site. But later, after posting some items, I became confused as to the purpose and function of a blog. After googling around for definitions and then reading other blogs, this is what I came up with.

It seems originally blogs were a running commentary on current events. An open dialogue on certain subjects or particular issues. Unlike mainstream media and their one-sided approach to journalism, blogs became an open source of information and their presence invited interaction among its writers and readers. From this emerged political forums and action groups with reporting that reflected the groups particular point of view, often coming close to muckraking tales and blatant propaganda. Today, the power of blogs can be seen when their stories eventually become breaking news stories covered by the mainstream media.

In browsing through different blogs I found it had another purpose as a simple diary. Bloggers posted entries about their activities in any particular day, week, or month. Sometimes a running commentary on a vacation trip. Maybe the reflections of an individual on any important personal event. Those that leave comments appear to be friends or certainly regular readers of that persons blog.

Then there are others that are specific to a certain subject. So we have blogs for cooks, blogs for woodworkers, blogs for knitters, blogs for dreamers, the list is endless. A kind of forum for sharing ideas and experiences. As an educational tool I found blogs that were used by an instructor to share his/her subject with the students in his class. As a teacher myself I can certainly see the advantage of taking a topic out of the classroom and discussing it in a less constrained environment.

For myself, I don’t seem to fit into any of these categories. It’s just me. Sticking it out there. Which seems a little presumptuous. Like writing a poem, putting it in a bottle, casting it out into the ocean with the intent that someone, somewhere will pick it up, read it, and think, “Wow! This is really worthwhile!”

So why a blog? Why a duck?

Groucho: Now here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: Why a duck?
Groucho: I'm all right. How are you? I say here is a little peninsula, and here's a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: All right. Why a duck?
Groucho: I'm not playing Ask-Me-Another. I say, that's a viaduct.
Chico: All right. Why a duck? Why a-- why a duck? Why-a-no-chicken?
Groucho: Well, I don't know why-a-no-chicken. I'm a stranger here myself. All I know is that it's a viaduct. You try to cross over there on a chicken, and you'll find out why a duck.

So I don't know why a blog. I'm a stranger here and all I know is that they call this blogging. Maybe it’s my bottle of poems floating with the ocean currents. Or maybe it’s just another file cabinet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BORN AGAIN EXPERIENCE

Speaking of resurrections, I had a vehicle once that went through a resurrection of sorts. It was a 1960 Plymouth Valiant station wagon and of all the two dozen of so vehicles I have owned over the past forty years this one is my favorite.

As faithful as a pet dog it carried me along through my college years and into my first teaching job like a true friend with its tan exterior finish that sun, wind, rain and bird droppings had faded to the color of bad eggnog, meshed wire in the seats clearly exposed that occasionally stabbed me in the butt, and the headliner hanging in gray rags tinged with rust along the edges where it touched the metal frame seams that let water leak through. The three speed shifter on the floor could be used as an anti-theft device by easily lifting it clear from its linkage and taking it with you. But the am radio worked, the slant sided 6 cylinder engine hummed a healthy happy tune, you could fix just about anything on it with a flathead screw driver, a Phillips, a hammer, and a couple crescent wrenches or oftentimes, if there was no wrench around, a pair of pliers did the trick. It had an uncanny ability to heal itself, steer clear of hazardous situations, and finally metamorphosing into something wondrously beautiful.

Up until this time I had been driving for only about four years but had already gone through ten different cars. Each one a lesson in driving and car ownership; like learning the safe distance between your car and the bumper of the other car in front of you, or the importance of checking the engine’s oil level without relying on the red light from the dashboard, never buy a vehicle from a senior citizen who wouldn’t drive it faster than fifty mph and then take that same vehicle out on the freeway to “see what it’ll do”, never buy a car from a high school student who used it as his auto shop project, only buy a brand new vehicle when you’re reasonably sure your job and/or your marriage is secure enough to last through the extent of the loan, avoid purchasing a vehicle that burns more money in gas within the first two weeks of ownership than what you paid for it,. as hip as it may seem, an old milk truck does not make a good RV, and just because you’ve always been enamored with and always wanted to own a two door two toned shiny magnesium wheeled 1957 Chevy with a 283 cid V-8 doesn’t mean the one you buy will measure up to your ideal expectations.

The Valiant was a gift from a high school friend who found it in someone’s front yard with tall grass growing all around it and a $250 sale sign on the windshield. He was aware that I was in desperate need of another vehicle, is much more savvy in mechanical things than I am, and knew a good deal when he saw one. Back in those days I was a struggling university undergraduate with barely enough money to pay the rent and even though the prices of things were cheaper then with gasoline fluctuating between 23 and 28 cents a gallon, $250 was two months rent, or two quarter’s tuition and books, or five month’s in groceries, or twelve months in beer at 99 cents a six-pack. My friend - who married his high school sweetheart four months after graduation, fathered a beautiful daughter a few months later, worked a stable job on the production line at Boeing Aircraft - had the extra $250 and because he just knew that car was right for me he didn’t mind when I had to pay him back one sawbuck at a time whenever I could come up with the extra cash.

The wagon was very easy to drive. With so much play in the clutch it was near impossible to stall. No play in the steering. Even though the shifter lever was loose I never had trouble with the linkage or shifting. It could keep up just fine with those V-8’s in the left lane on the freeway, even uphill. Every knob, switch, or button was within easy reach which was especially first rate for a short person like me who ordinarily couldn’t drive and open the glove compartment at the same time. I drove it for six months before there was a mechanical problem.

It was the transmission. The wagon gave me plenty of warning before it completely froze up but a transmission was an awfully expensive commodity and besides, in those days car maintenance was never high on my priority list. Reverse was first to go and so I drove the next few months being very careful not to park in any situation where I’d have to back up. But even if I forgot, or someone parked in front of me, the wagon was so light I was always able to push it out of a tangle and get going forward again. Next to go was first gear and I also drove without it for a few months. All that needed to be done was a little more gas, slower on the clutch release, and ease it into a forward motion. This even worked on hills. When second gear no longer functioned I was sure this was the end. It happened on a Friday which that particular month fell very close to the first. This meant I could expect my grant money in the mail and by paying only half of each utility bill and skimping at the grocery store, I figured I had the $85 for a rebuilt transmission from the local auto wrecker. I could have saved money by going into the junk yard and removing one myself but after all that heavy greasy work, this used transmission could also be in bad shape. If that were the case the yard owner would always take it back and you could go get another one at no additional cost but that’s more messy work and you just saved the wrecker the trouble of removing a transmission he can now send out to be rebuilt and sold for $85.

I had school that Friday and although today I can’t remember why I needed to be there I do remember that something important was going on. To my amazement the wagon got out of the drive, through the stoplight and up the biggest hill of the commute. I figured if it could get this far with only high gear to move it forward the wagon just might make it through the next twelve stoplights to the university. After I found a parking space on a slope with no obstructions in front of me I kissed the fender before heading out to class. When I returned to go home the trusty thing got me through all the lights again and safely into my driveway. The next morning though, when I tried to move it forward all the gears were gone. I replaced the transmission and it never had another problem but the wagon did have another mechanical failure. This time it was the brakes. And this time the wagon healed itself.

I mentioned the big hill near my home. It was a steep one about twelve blocks long. My road was the ninth block down from the top. At the top of this hill there was an old tavern called the Fiddler’s Inn. A small place built from logs, painted green on the outside with the wood exposed and varnished on the inside, a floor that leaned toward the sink hole left after the septic tank was removed so the building could be connected to the city sewer. It was the living room for the neighborhood beer drinkers who preferred it to their own living room at home. Built sometime in the 1920’s my Grandmother remembers my Grandfather occasionally drinking there just before the War. I often stopped there in mid afternoon on my way home from school and unless there was something more important on my agenda I always stopped on Fridays where my stay usually extended into the early morning tongue twisting cross-eyed wobble walk hours. This particular Friday was no different.

The brakes had been squishy for some time. I had already bled the line and cleaned the drums and shoes the best I could but the shoes were badly worn and I knew it. It was just another one of those “trying to save an extra five dollars a month until there’s enough money to do the job” irritants. The wagon braked for the light at the top of the hill all right but half way down when I needed to turn onto my street my foot pushed the pedal all the way to the floor. Pumping the pedal didn’t help and by the time I reached my street the wagon was going so fast and I knew it would roll over if the attempt was made to turn. There was nothing left to do but coast it out. Unfortunately three blocks past my street there was an intersection with a stoplight and although it was green I suspected it would turn by the time I was up to it. It did. During the hours of 6 a.m. and 1 a.m. the intersection is always busy. If it hadn’t been 2:30 in the morning I probably would have hit someone. But my angel was smiling on me yet again as I sailed through the light ten miles per hour over the speed limit with no other cars around. The next morning I went out to check the brakes. They were squishy as they always had been but appeared to be working just fine. I drove on them, being careful to detour through back roads with less hills, until I had enough money to grind the drums and replace the shoes.

After I got out of college my first teaching job was at a very small town of maybe fifty families pretty much dead center in the middle of New Mexico. Today I doubt there are half that many people there. In fact there are probably more of them at rest in the grave yard than there are alive in town. They hired me very close to the first day of school so I had little time to pack my things in Washington State and head south. I would have liked to borrow some money to buy a newer vehicle for the trip but had no time to do it. The Valiant was going to have to get me there. I had never traveled more than 100 miles away from home in the wagon. To travel 1500 miles made me nervous. But my nervousness proved to be unfounded.

Today the traffic along the route between Seattle and Albuquerque is much heavier than it was thirty five years ago. There are still some wide open empty spaces, especially from southeastern Idaho to the Great Salt Lake, the road between Price and Moab, Utah, or Cortez, Colorado and Shiprock, New Mexico, or even the scant twenty seven miles of road between Cline’s Corners, New Mexico on Interstate 40 south to U.S. Highway 60 can be a bit lonesome. But back then there were less trucks, cars, or RV’s and fewer freeways. Much of that route that now is freeway, used to be two paved lanes of dangerous curves or endless stretches straighter than Anita Bryant’s rigid morals for as far as you could see. Hours could pass without seeing another vehicle. What now takes less than 24 hours to drive in one shot, in 1974 took twice as long. For my German Shepherd Jessie and I the trip was three days of hard driving from sunup to dark and because we were traveling at the tail end of August when temperatures hovered around 100 degrees the Valiant overheated a many times through Utah and New Mexico. But I carried water with me and whenever that needle got a little too close to the red H, I always stopped and let her cool down for half an hour or so and this did the trick. Jessie and I got there just fine.

The name of this little New Mexican village is Encino. The school was closed 28 years ago. When I was there I taught in the elementary with three other teachers in one big classroom of about 45 students. The high school next door had about the same number of kids. None of these teachers smoked anything suspicious except the high school science teacher. The two of us became lifelong friends. His name was Stan.

Stan had an A-frame down in Capitan. We took off one Friday afternoon to spend the weekend down there. Before we drove up into the Capitan Mountains where the cabin was, we stopped off at the local bar there in town. Stan had a lot of friends in Capitan. Most of them were regulars at this bar and they hadn’t seen him since he took the teaching job in Encino. Consequently we didn’t leave there until the bartender turned off the neon beer signs. On the way to the cabin we had to cross an arroyo. It had rained that day and the day before. There wasn’t any water running through but the mud was pretty deep and awfully slick. Up until then the only time I had been in New Mexico was on a hitch hiking trip. I wasn’t there long enough except to wow over all the red and yellow earth, lose myself in the deep turquoise sky, and feel the vibrant energy of a very old landscape zap through me like electric current. I knew absolutely nothing about New Mexican mud.

I’m not an extensively traveled man but I have crossed the United States three or four times and the only mud I've ever seen that compares to New Mexican mud is the red clay gumbo in Georgia. And like the stuff in Georgia this goo stacks up on anything that moves across it. Tire treads. Boot soles. It’s slick like lard at the bottom of a pie pan and if you fall in it you have to take your clothes off outside before entering the house. Otherwise you’ll be sweeping gritty dirt out for days after. Well I got down into that arroyo and the poor wagon took a nose dive and stopped dead. The tires spun and spun and spun but the mud wouldn’t let go. Finally I burnt the clutch out and because the cabin was still quite a ways off, we spent the night in the Valiant. The next morning we walked back to town and called a friend of Stan’s who drove us back to Encino so we could go to work the next day. We left the wagon in the arroyo where it would remain until we could come back the next weekend and tow it home.

Stan had a tow chain but what we really wanted was a tow bar. The idea of sitting on the end of a chain for over 100 miles didn’t sit well with either of us. The father of a student of mine, a cattle rancher, happened to have a bar so we picked it up the next Saturday morning and headed back to Capitan. The bar didn’t fit right. We attached the wide end to the Valiant bumper with no problem but because the wagon’s fender was lower than the bumper of Stan’s ’57 Chevy truck, the socket didn’t fit down full over the hitch ball. So we reinforced it by wrapping it up with the tow chain. It looked a bit ragged but felt strong enough to hold.

Again, Stan had to visit his Capitan friends before leaving so it was well after midnight before we headed out with bellies full of beer and a couple six packs. Stan and I were having a pretty good time of it cruising down the highway beneath clear October skies and a big bright moon nearly full. Now there is a mountain pass between Capitan and Carrizozo, the next town down the line. It isn’t much when compared to the mountain passes of the Colorado Rockies or California’s Sierra Nevada or even Washington’s roads over the Cascade Range but towards the top it gets steep for awhile with a few tight turns. Stan and I were laughing and sipping our cans of beer when suddenly there was a loud clunking sound. I looked back to see the Valiant unhook with the tow bar still attached throwing sparks all over the road and careening to the right and left. Sometimes inches away from the flimsy guard rail that would probably never protect the wagon from plunging headlong into the ravine. Sometimes inches away from the ditch full of boulders from the mountain slope above. Back and forth and back and forth. I feared the worst and watched the event like one would watch the fall of a parachutist who couldn’t open his chute. But the wagon came through again and came to rest in the ditch. The only damage was a dent to the front bumper. Well we knew we weren’t going to be able to use the tow bar again and resigned ourselves to a chain tow for the next 85 miles. All went well on the highway until we got to the tiny village of Duran and turned on to the 15 mile ranch road short cut to Encino. Stan continued to drive like he was on pavement which was all right for him because he wasn’t the one being dragged. But for me the ruts and holes in the dirt caused the Valiant to jump and bounce all over the place. I kept braking to slow him down and for some reason that made him mad. I guess he had had enough trouble with me and my Valiant and was just anxious to get home. Whatever his reasons, he sped up instead of slowing down. About two miles before town we hit a soft spot in the road and the wagon went into a slide, went up over the bar ditch and pulled Stan’s truck off the road with it. Now we’re in sandy sage brush ground and neither vehicle would budge. It was a long chilly walk into town at three in the morning and without Stan’s help I probably would have got there just about the time the school bell rang for the kids to go to class. As it happened we both got at least a couple hours sleep before waddling thick headed and puffy eyed into the classroom.

Twenty months later I left the Valiant in Encino to begin a new job on the Colville Indian Reservation of north central Washington State. In the interim I had purchased a truck and lost the wagon in a bet to a detestable worm of a man who taught shop at the high school. To this day it still raises my body temperature and makes me grimace when I think of it.

An excessively loud braggart and a gossip, constantly lifting his immense bulk of a belly over his oversized turquoise belt buckle or pulling up the back of his pants to keep them from falling halfway down his enormous butt cheeks, this shop teacher had been ridiculing the Valiant in public ever since I arrived in Encino. He’d say things like, “When are you going to sell me that piece of junk?” If I asked him how much, he’d say, “Oh I guess it’s worth five bucks.” It went on like that for months until I realized that, just like my friend who purchased the wagon in the first place, this slob knew a good vehicle when he saw one. It didn’t take long for me to dislike him and while visiting my old Encino superintendent years later, I found out that he didn’t like him either; characterizing him as a good for nothing fat lazy bastard.

Now this good for nothing fat lazy bastard was also the assistant basketball coach, the only competitive high school sport available to Encino girls and boys. A basketball game was a major social event in town and the booster bus for away games was always filled to capacity. As assistant coach he naturally spent a lot of time with the head coach and on the coach’s birthday he rounded up three other teachers, myself and Stan included, to help celebrate the event. Celebration meant drinking and in order to do that without drawing attention to ourselves we had to go to a bar outside Encino. The closest ones away from home were in the village of Vaughn, fifteen miles east.

Unlike Encino with its one bar, Vaughn had about half a dozen and the ass. coach wanted to hit as many as he could. Even though it was a weeknight we stayed out until closing. Before heading back the big boy bought a case to go, and we ended up at my house drinking until the wee hours of the morning . Around four he asked me if I would like to trade the Valiant for a pool table. He told me up front it wasn’t a full sized pool table, of course, It was for kids to play on but it wasn’t a flimsy toy either, weighing about forty pounds. I told him I didn’t want to trade but he persisted and the more I drank the more his persistence grew into a serious irritant until I shouted, “Walk home then. Carry it back. And I’ll trade.” I didn’t think he’d do it. He was drunker than any of us, the least steady on his feet, and with all that bulk around his middle I was certain he’d have a hard enough time just getting home, let alone bringing back a forty pound mini-pool table. But he did and plopped the thing right down in the middle of my kitchen. Red faced and scowling, I threw the key at him and growled through my teeth, “Get the hell out of here.” I guess that was the clue that signaled the birthday celebration was over because they all left. The next morning five minutes before the last bell called the kids in I was jerked awake by the superintendent who shouted angrily, “Are you going to go to work?” I said I’d be there in five minutes and he stormed out. When I got to school I found out he had to go around and wake everyone who had partied the night before and we did make it to work except the party host. When the superintendent got to his bed he gave a loud groan and rolled over onto his side like a beached walrus.

A week or two later I asked the walrus what he had done with the wagon since I hadn’t seen it parked in his yard for a couple days. With his typical smart ass swagger he said he sold it to the salvage man who owned the local Conoco station. There could be no doubt then that the Valiant was going to end its days by being sold one piece at a time. I stared at him with furrowed brow, muttered some filthy epithet, and walked away. It was mighty upsetting to think the station wagon would end up parked next to a bunch of rusting cars with parts missing in some gas station wrecking yard. But it wasn’t long afterwards that the school custodian, Justo, told me he had purchased it for $100 and turned it into a saw. He tried to describe it to me but when I couldn’t get a clear picture of what he was talking about he said he’d drive it over to my house that afternoon and show me.

Besides his day job as the school custodian, Justo was the local firewood cutter. He’d spend his spring, summer, and fall afternoons and weekends out in the woods gathering and cutting up dead and down cedar and pi┼łon for the locals whose primary heat came from a blazing woodstove. This was just about everyone in town including many of those who used gas or electric but still had a wood stove somewhere in the house for back-up heat. He did all this cutting and gathering the conventional way with a maul and a chainsaw so I was confused trying to figure out how he could make a saw out of a station wagon. When he arrived that afternoon I was so amazed I had to pick my gaping jaw up off the ground. With a welding torch Justo had cut off the entire body from just forward of the dome light all the way back to the rear bumper and had taken out the back seat. He welded some brackets about thirty inches apart to the hatch where the rear tire goes and resting on those brackets was a 1½ “ steel bar that reached and extended beyond both rear tires. On the left end of the bar was a solid rubber cylinder that rested against and in front of the left tire. The right end of the bar also rested in front of the right tire and extended beyond it about ten inches. On the end he had welded a thirty six inch circular saw. When Justo jacked up the back end and engaged the transmission, the tires turned the bar and the bar turned the saw. The higher the gear the faster the saw turned. I was so elated I laughed long and loud, was giddy with gratitude, and the cigarette stained teeth behind my lips accented my grinning mouth into a cheesy three quarter moon. When he drove off with his hand waving I clapped my hands at the sight of that beautiful Valiant humming down the road with a circular saw whirring and whining a happy tune. There ought to be a grand hymn to that tune sung by good old cars somewhere on a peaceful parking lot in the sky where someday after I leave this tired body behind I can go to recline again in the driver’s seat of that faithful old 1960 Valiant station wagon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

FEAR OF DEATH

I just returned from a couple days in Eastern Washington, that other side of the Cascade Mountain Range so completely different geologically and climatically than this side of the mountains. Over there one immediately notices the sunnier skies, drier air, the brown barrenness of the rolling hills, the open spaces between the much smaller towns over an area nearly twice the square miles as here. An area much older geologically with the remains of successive basalt lava flows 6000’ feet deep from the Miocene covering an even older layer of sandstone from an ancient inland sea during the time of the dinosaurs. Massive flooding of the Columbia River from the receding glaciers 12,000 years ago created a series of coulees a mile or so across and many more miles long with steep porous cliffs at least five hundred feet up. The remains of an 800 foot high waterfall from those times now stands as some naturally formed megalithic monument to the land’s erosive history. The trip was a welcome respite from the mold, moss, sogged ground, cold damp air, and gloomy overcast above my home in Western Washington.

I motored there with my best friend from High School. He wanted to visit his sister who has a large cancerous tumor on her left lung and isn’t doing very well. I wanted to visit her too as it had been over ten years since I saw her last. She’s eight years older than us and played an important role in our youth by providing a safe haven where we could indulge our teen passions and indulgences free from parental interference. And she was the only member of his family who didn’t see me as the cause behind every deviant behavior my friend got caught at. All of which has endeared me to her over the years and now, fearing it may be the last time I could visit with her in a somewhat healthy state, I was happy to make the trip with my old friend.

She lives in a smaller town of nearly 7000 people with a residential area extending five or six blocks away from both sides of the Main Street that parallels the Burlington Santa Fe rail line connecting Seattle to St. Paul. We met at what she called the best restaurant in town which, as far as I could tell, meant being able to wipe the au jus of the $7 French Dip sandwiches off our lips with a cloth napkin instead of a paper one. She didn’t look well. Had lost too much weight. Breathing through a tube attached to a monitored oxygen tank. She reminded me of another friend I visited when he was nearing the last stages of cancer, with that wizened apple core discarded on the side of a desert road look.

Our conversation was amiable enough, catching up on the happenings of the last decade, laughing over past absurdities. It was when she unhooked her breathing tube and we went outside into the wintry chill night air to smoke cigarettes that she really began to talk. It was simple. She was afraid to die. Afraid of pain. Afraid for the future of her children and grandchildren alone without her love and protection. Especially afraid of the unknown. I said little. Only held her hand to help reassure her that hospitals today are much better at making their patients comfortable, that even though her children will miss her terribly they are capable of taking care of themselves and each other. I told her that they would all be together again soon enough. For them it would take a lifetime but for her it will all pass as quickly as the blink of an eye.

Archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have proposed, by dating ancient burial sites, that mankind’s perception of life after death goes back to Paleolithic times, possibly 130,000 years ago. This tells us that these ancient people were able to recognize the spiritual component of our species, the realization that the sum total of each individual is more than a structure of physical elements. They became aware that together with these building blocks of form there exists within us a feature that connects to another realm beyond this particular realty. A dimension that is not constrained by dual purposes and where the eternal abides. All the spiritual concepts and religious practices that have come down to us from those early days so long ago recognize the existence of this special attribute regardless of the mythology or revelation behind any one particular belief system. If we examine each of these methods it becomes apparent that there is a common bond or theology that demonstrates that any group which actively studies life and death, comes to very similar conclusions concerning what happens to our spirit when we die. Besides, we all have this knowledge within us anyway. It emerges from time to time through our intuition and imagination, that much neglected function of the human psyche. Like within the Australian Aborigine “Dream Time” we become cognizant of that place where the Creator, angels and psychic messengers, spirits and ancestors dwell beyond time and space. So why all the fuss? Our essence is spirit. Spirit is eternal. Why all this silly delusional attachment to the temporal when we know from the start that it is and always will be temporary?

We know, of course, that the natural world is dual in its composition and function; black/white, in/out, forward/backward, being/becoming, yin/yang, good/evil, self/Self, anima/animus, proton/neutron, magnetic north/magnetic south, the twins personified in the mythologies of people across the entire planet. Even though when we sit quiet and pay attention to that feature of our character, the spirit within that connects with the unity of all creation, the place where God is, our minds, in contrast, still must contend with the confusion of this dichotomous environment we live in. It’s as if we are forced to view this world with eyes crossed and must continually strive to put this dual perspective back together. Our wisdom literature describes this duality using different names. There is maya in the Hindu tradition, the tree of life described in the Quran and Hebrew Torah, the Taoist tai chi, the blooming war of the Aztecs. Whatever it is called, its potential for suffering by viewing death as permanent, can put us in that same place where my friend’s sister now dwells.

It doesn’t need to be so. Putting aside wisdom literature and tradition, and our intuitive thoughts on the matter, there are the experiences of others that give credence to life after death. Countless near-death experiences (NDE) have been recorded by individuals whose lives were declared clinically ended and yet survived to tell what happened. Akin to this are the accounts of those individuals, including myself, who have had out-of-body experiences (OBE). Unlike an NDE which occurs while one’s body is actually experiencing death, an OBE occurs while the body is asleep. What transpires is the feeling of an ethereal or energy body emerging from the sleeping body and within this “double” is a copy of everything within our consciousness that makes us who we are as an individual. This energy/ethereal body then has the will to explore different dimensions beyond this particular physical realm where we now reside. Ancestors and relatives may be visited, other worlds, angels and messengers, the Akashic memory banks. The opportunities are limited only by the individual’s proficiencies, which become increasingly more masterful with practice. Most importantly, the experiences verify that individual consciousness, spirit, soul, whatever one wishes to call it, does not depend on a physical body in order to exist. Extensive literature has emerged in this field in the past twenty five years and for more information than this blog can provide I suggest the writings of Robert Monroe, Robert Bruce, or William Buhlman.

I told my friend’s sister about my own experiences with OBE. She listened politely but I could see it didn’t spark much interest or help to alleviate her fears. If we could have had more time together I would have spoken more extensively about it for I am convinced we are more than mere configurations of atomic matter. When this stuff that makes up our body goes back to the elements from which it came, a copy of all our thoughts, experiences, and understandings that is also capable of making choices just as we do here goes beyond the grave. OBE gives us a glimpse of what happens at death and helps to alleviate our fear of it so we can go on with our lives making the best of a chaotic situation all around and gives us one less thing to worry about.

Friday, February 20, 2009

THERE’S CHURCH AND THEN THERE’S CHURCH

Find the church within you and let it out rather than finding the church without you and letting it in. For the church without is more concerned with itself than it is for you and has greater need to bind your freedom in order to preserve and nurture its own existence. But the church within is where God truly dwells and wishes to expand your freedom so that you may shine His unconditional love for all, including unto yourself, and by doing this bring the Kingdom of Heaven closer to Earth.

To find this church within we must recognize that our spirit is at one with God's spirit, and that His spirit is in each and every human heart. And by recognizing the truth of this knowledge, which is beyond the mind's method of understanding, we can manifest according to each of our own individual capabilities and talents. But without this knowledge we become prey to the confusion born of the mind's dilemma in comprehending its individual place and purpose in the universe, and fall into the abyss of chaos and fear that we ourselves have created.

After one has approached the altar of the spirit with conviction and has received the first revelation that God is within us all, the journey continues with each individual finding the divine in everything, from the earth beneath us to the sky above, within every plant and animal, and especially among our brothers and sisters. For just as Christ our brother loved us, so we must follow his example. And just as He and the Father are one, so are we at one with the Father through the spirit.

The next step is to disavow all those corruptible things, which chain us to the false one who, from the very beginning, encouraged our misunderstanding that the flesh can never be at one with the Father. And who also leads us to believe that because we have fallen, because we are alone and separate, the church within does not exist. Therefore, since it does not exist there is nothing to seek and nothing to do in life but indulge in those things that ultimately damage the mind, heart, and body. These things, these vices -sloth, greed, ignorance, and especially intolerance, the spawn of ignorance which too often results in acts of violence- chain us to a cycle of gloom that ultimately leads us both individually and collectively to a messy death. Pleasure is not the issue here. Truly He wants us to enjoy our lives because in doing so He enjoys His very existence. But when we lose Him in our sight, and harm this temple He has created within our heart, when we indulge in the false notion that we are all alone in this incarnation and have only the church without to intercede in our behalf, we sow the seeds of our own destruction and have no one to blame but ourselves. Then we come to realize that the evil one is just of our own making and by shedding these fetters that bind us to this evil thing that we have created, we develop the knowledge that moves us to a greater freedom which ignites the flame of love, and illumines the church within.

These are truly minor adjustments in our lives compared to the greater task of standing firm in our love against the adversity and persecution of those in fear whose desire it is to control our hearts and minds in order to secure their own misguided survival. But by remaining steadfast in the face of doubt and by persisting in our intent toward the divine purpose, we can enter and remain under the comforting dome of the church within and dwell there in safety from those who rail against our doors because we no longer accept the supremacy of their church without.

excerpted from Just Another River Tune by Michael Fike