Seeking the Way

What you are seeking, is seeking you. – Rumi

Nature speaks through wordless communication. People can achieve a deeper self-awareness beyond the familiar structures of meaning if they open their mind while communing with the natural world. The transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about what he called the “transparent eyeball”. To discover the divine presence within, a person had to experience oneness with nature by allowing the natural world to overwhelm the senses. In “Nature” Emerson wrote, “We return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity… Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite spaces, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”

Emerson’s metaphoric transparent eyeball combined internal spiritual and external tangible visions to reveal symbolic meanings in nature. By actively “seeing” individuals leave behind their ego and merge with the deeper world. This merger of the human spirit and nature opens a doorway to sacred realms. Humanity has created an artificial world atop the primordial natural world. The control mechanisms of this manufactured life constrict, restrain, and contort individuals to fit acceptable standards. Civilization domesticates the wild natural spirit of mankind. This dominion of affected mannerisms binds the soul to artifice.

The constrained soul yearns for an undefined better life. Self-expression empowers self-esteem which expands self-awareness and opens the path to self-actualization. I believe these paths lead through Nature. Millions of people are seeking a deeper understanding of life. There are thousands of theories, classes, and courses available. But in the end these all require the seeker to adapt their true self to the structure and stricture of someone else’s pathway. But to experience one’s own unique flow state requires the individual to adopt several techniques to suit their experiences. Their way can be revealed through meditating in nature and experiencing, as Emerson said, the currents of the Universal Being.

Spending solitary time in nature can bring about what Freud called the Oceanic Feeling experienced by infants who have not differentiated their identity from nature. Sri Ramakrishna said: There exists an Ocean of Consciousness without limit. From It come all things of the relative plane, and in It they merge again. I did not set out to discover this Ocean of Consciousness. Months ago I sought to write more meaningful posts due to the pandemic in order to encourage optimism and positive feelings. As I meditated and rummaged the same one mile or so of beach repeatedly, finding beauty in the minute details and the ever-changing ocean. Something powerful hidden within the: animals, the wrack line detritus, the stones, and patterns of shifting sands called to my soul as I took photos and meditated. Earnestly seeking inspiration repeatedly across the same physical space, opened a channel to a higher consciousness. The word ecstasy comes from the Greek ékstasis, meaning “outside of oneself”. The ecstasy I experienced brought me into an extraordinary spiritual space. For me, nature opened the Way. I believe humans evolved to feel the sacred everywhere. I hope you can find what you are seeking.

Transcendental Traces

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wandering freely without a specific course is essential to discovering your true self. Walking with intent is exercise, meandering is meditation. Contemplating nature, whether an ocean or a single stone, clears the mind and allows the soul to stir. When the consciousness slumbers, the deeper self emerges to lead the way. The natural world knows few straight lines, but instead follows transcendental traces of timeworn spiritual courses.

Breath deeply. And with each breath exhale anxiety, and inhale tranquility. Exhale uncertainty and doubt. Inhale calmness and peacefulness. Focus on breathing and allow the heart to settle. As worries drift away do not replace them with happy thoughts or psalms of optimism. Drop rational perceptions like stones and release your artificial affectations into the air. Shed the public self, adopted characteristics and drop the unnatural facade. Simply Be Yourself.

Human society can obscure the human connections to all life, to the stars, and the cosmic consciousness. However, with practice, one can dismiss the layers of imposed meaning. By not seeking one will find. Signs and signals of divine spirit abound. See them. Hear them singing. Read the curves and curls of natural forces as invocations for transcendence. The spirit of the soul-seed spontaneously manifests an individual incarnation of the universe. You are a unique self. Know that you are One with the All.

Wander along in nature whenever you can. Before you step onto the path, let go of what is stifling your creativity and restraining your true self. Being in nature nurtures mindfulness and boosts the joyous energy of a liberated spirit. Relax and awaken.

Everyday Epiphanies

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.John Milton

Calling bird vanishes / Over ocean beyond waves / Sweet satisfaction

I sometimes resort to using Japanese or Chinese words in my writing to express an awareness of some mysterious spiritual connection to the Universe. One such term is Yugen (or Yuugen) – gracefully profound. This term is meant to describe the feeling one gets after watching the setting sun sink below a beautiful mountain, or wandering on through a forest without thinking about turning back. The natural world reveals the transformations of the Universe from potential into actual from nothingness into somethingness in an endless cycle. In the Taoist and Zen traditions Nothingness is not emptiness but potentiality. When a hidden bird sings across an otherwise silent valley, that gap between the silence and the song – is yugen.

A favorite Zen concept of mine is – Wabi-Sabi. Wabi – transient beauty and Sabi – beauty of aging. Put the two characters together – Wabi-Sabi and you have the beauty of impermanence. Flowers bloom and die and there is a glorious exquisiteness to the natural process. One has to quiet the mind and refine the ability to discern the subtle manifestations of nature. Revelations of beauty abound in the sky, in the water, on the ground. Just as our faces wrinkle, bodies sag, and pace slows with age, our spirit can mature gracefully and accept the stages of life for what they are – the sublime impermanence. Appreciate the sweet mellowing of your soul as beautiful.

I have had a lifelong fascination with rocks. It is my strange habit to pick up stones as I wander and place them down in different places along the way as a simple spirit offering. Sometimes a subtle pattern attracts my eye. I reach down and examine the rock and either place it elsewhere or take it home. Lately I’ve been collecting pieces of petrified wood. It has been said petrified wood has an ancient energy created by the natural wood transforming into stone. And contemplating the crystallized life teaches patience and lets us appreciate life ever-evolving towards perfection. To me it is cool to look at a stone that was once part of a tree. The fossil wood reminds me of the memories we collect along the way in life, and the wabi-sabi of the human body as it ages.

Nature reveals all-embracing virtues which people can follow to be happier. Happiness lights up the eyes, the face the voice. These positive reflections on life transform the spirit. To describe the Universe, nature or these positive feelings I don’t need deep esoteric words. Only one word is needed. L-O-V-E. Love and peace to you all.

Transcending

A window is nothing but a hole in the wall but that hole fills the room with light. Just as when the mind is empty the heart fills with light. Zhuangzi

At fourteen, standing within the sanctuary of the Art Institute, I experienced my first epiphany while contemplating an ancient Chinese painting. A magical mountain floated atop curving empty space. At first glance, the blank spaces made the painting look strange and unfinished. But upon closer inspection it seemed the emptiness contained a hidden presence. A lone gnarled tree, clinging to the sheer soaring cliffs, reached into the blankness. The faint outline of a narrow path was barely visible on the precipitous cliff-face. A lone scholar figure, dwarfed by the mountain, stood at the edge of the abyss. His robes billowed slightly, and his long hair flowed down his back. The scholar starred into the void just below the soaring mountain. Perhaps he scanned the skies for signs of an absent love or a path forward. Mentally stepping into the magnificent landscape blazed a path into my heart-mind. I was entranced by the astonishing vertical perspective and bewildering depths of the artistic minds that created such astonishing works. A profound calm surrounded me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as a slight breeze seemed to flow from the painted scene. My scalp tingled from the vibrations of potential, metaphysical illumination. The mystifying characters and wondrous red seals cascading across the silk conveyed unimaginable significance beyond my comprehension. Every element in the painting appeared to be under transformation – man, poem, mountain, wind, the Void… Swaying gently before the altar of art I began a metamorphosis which would take years to comprehend. Small wings began to beat within my soul. After the epiphanous moment subsided I began my journey towards transformation.

After that miraculous event, I began to study Asian arts, and philosophy. Over the decades, I have learned: we must train our spirit-essence through meditation in order to overcome the yearnings of the heart-mind. We must cultivate the essence of our souls, and not allow our greed to force us into unnatural behavior. Wrongdoings are manifested by unnatural thoughts or beliefs which warp our behavior. We must strive to adapt to the environment around us and resist trying to force situations to meet our expectations. All external things are constantly transforming again and again – the Universe is Ever-Changing.

n the last few years, I have tried to follow what the Taoist call the principle of Wu Wei – taking no unnecessary action. I understand this to mean take no action or reaction to unfolding events that is not useful. Whenever I have stewed about what I perceived as a wrong done against me, I have tried to turn down the pressure by letting things unfold without forcing my preconceptions into the mix. I would humbly never state emphatically my point of view beyond my own direct efforts towards understanding. I practice an ancient meditation technique centered on passive meditation, striving for illumination and occasional transcendence. To paraphrase Zhuangzi, a window is nothing but a hole in the wall but that hole fills the room with light. Just as when the mind is empty the heart fills with light.

In traditional Chinese thought the heart was the center of emotions and thoughts. This is why it is called the heart-mind. Western traditions tend to separate the body from the mind. The heart-mind contains both the body and the mind. But the great sage Zhuangzi did not think people were ruled by their heart-mind. He believed people’s actions were guided by their spirit – Shen. Spirit is a type of energy (Qi). If one meditates and quiets the heart-mind, spirit can flow more evenly and ones lives more in tune with the universe. By cultivating one’s spirit, conflict is reduced in our interactions with people and the potential of others can flourish as well. This cultivation of your individual spirit reinforces “De” – (as in ancient text the Dao De Jing). This is the inherent power, integrity, energy you give off that relaxes people around you. It is a key to self-transcendence obtained through meditating.

Your aim is to forget your self, leave behind your opinions and beliefs. There are no choices and no invoking of the self. When thoughts float up from the emptiness let them return to the emptiness unnoticed. It is natural for thoughts to occur, but they are not you, but are the natural state of things. Humans naturally have thoughts but when you are meditating do not allow those thoughts to become identified with you. This interrupts your inner cultivation, and you begin to converse with the thoughts. Choiceless awareness means observing what occurs without grasping onto it. By allowing things to happen without choosing you become more adept at living naturally. You metaphorically become an “uncarved block” and return to your original state of being. Peace.

Part of this post were excerpted from a long-form piece I wrote about discovering the home of the ancient poet-artist-scholar Su Shi (pronounced Sue Sure): Searching for Su Shi

Balance / Counterbalance: Poetry

Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence. Alan Watts

The universe outside is the universe inside / The soles wander one, and the soul the other / Spiritual wondering illuminates both paths / Lively curiosity seeking to dance over water and wind /As the mindstone rolls and tumbles across the firmament

Outward vision / Inward vision / Reveal the unified duality / The third eye counterbalances realities tangible and intangible / Transcendental tracks lead towards insight

Truth is the pillar on which hangs the scales / Judging whether one’s soul remains a pupae or fully transforms / The heart confirms or denies the deeds / To believe is to become / Vital spirit or dormant dullness

Awaken and see the light / As the creative fires grow ever brighter / Peer deeply into the soul-mirror and shine / Bear witness to the glory all around / In cosmic oneness

In Memorium

Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is Memorial Day weekend here in the US. On this holiday millions of people mourn those who died in military service to the country. Years ago I would visit the military cemetery near my home to salute the fallen veterans in my family. My relatives buried there: My Uncle Sam was an Army Medic. He was on Iwo Jima. He was a magnificent, muscular man. My Uncle Fred was a scout for half tracks. His unit came ashore three days after D-Day and liberated Paris, fought across the same fields in France that his father, my grandfather, fought over in WWI. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, and when his unit liberated a concentration camp they were horrified by what they saw, and he seldom talked about his experiences. My grandfather (my mom’s step-father) joined the Army in his forties and gassed airplanes during WWII. My mother is buried in the military cemetery, and she will share the grave-site with my father when he passes away – 95 and still going.

At the military cemetery, I would linger at the grave of my best friend, a Navy veteran who made the ultimate sacrifice, at age 23. We met on the first day of Second Grade, and were like brothers to the end. I still miss his silly laugh and big heart. He inspired a lot of my writing over the years including a character in my novella Positive Light. Greg joined the Navy because he wanted to be like his Navy Seal cousin Gary. Gary was what people call a man’s man. Sadly, Greg did not make it into the Seals. Working around nuclear weapons, he came down with leukemia and succumbed after a gallant fight. At his wake, I sat with his sister in the back of the funeral home and let her cry on my shoulder as we reminisced about his unique life.

I have spent a lot of time trying to make sense of the continuously unfolding pandemic tragedy. How can we remember the lives of the over 340,000 people who have died in the world from covid-19 with over 97,000 in the US? Each life is unique. We must not simply make their deaths into a number. In spite of the rhetoric used by so many politicians and news media, this pandemic is not a war. The awful death toll is not due to horrific armed conflict. One by one, bed by bed, the angel of death has snatched away the equivalence of the population of Iceland. And the horrible scourge continues. America has suffered the equivalent of THIRTY-THREE September 11 attacks in three months, or one 9/11 every three days.

I grew up with veterans. My ancestors served before the US was a country. I had relatives at: Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Battle of the Meuss-Argonne, Iwo Jima, Saipan, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq. I have so many memories of my uncles and dad sitting around drinking beer and smoking and recalling the war in hushed tones after my mom and aunts had gone inside. The last time I saw my fantastic Uncle Curt he and my Dad talked about their experiences with me. When my Dad got up to use the toilet, my uncle whispered, “That man went through hell. Things we can’t describe.” That is what we must face this Memorial Day – the Indescribable. There are no veterans we can turn to for advice on how to endure. And those deaths, each and every one of them ended the lives of someone’s love, someone’s husband, wife, grandmother, grandfather, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, best friend, lover… Those whispers about the one’s we have lost will echo throughout the years ahead. In Memorium of the passage of so many souls let’s silently meditate about the loss to all humanity and strive to make the world a little better each day in memory of those we have lost. And keep them in our hearts.

The body is only a garment. How many times you have changed your clothing in this life, yet because of this, you would not say that you have changed. Similarly, when you give up this bodily dress at death you do not change. You are just the same, an immortal soul, a child of God. – Paramahansa Yogananda

Aesthetic Emotions

Any great art work … revives and readapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world – the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air. Leonard Bernstein

Art is a union between the self and the other. Both the artist and the audience create artistic meaning through jolts of aesthetic emotions. Creative transformation requires a self-dialogue one’s unique inner world. Artistic expression is brought about through the application of the imagination. The unfolding of the work generates self-realization / actualization. Sharing the work removes the artist’s masks and lay bare the true nature of the individual.

Inspirational elements are gathered like grains of sand embedded in wandering soles awaiting revelation. Here and there are images, points of view, transitory tricks of light and shadow that accumulate as unseen overnight snowfalls. Then in a divine cascade subject and technique reveal the artist’s vision. After the lingering crescendo, comes the finale. That final satisfying moment is sublime. When sharing the work, if the piece’s metaphors and symbolism strike a chord within the audience there can be an outpouring of aesthetic emotions: epiphany, transcendence, awe, or simply appreciation of the dialogue with the artist.

In order to evoke a potent response, art should be appreciated on more than a superficial “I like it” level. There has to be something the audience can hold on to and make their own. There must be some commonality found with the artist. And this is where aesthetics enters. Art casts a wide net when it comes to what is aesthetically: beautiful, sublime, ugly, comic… Beauty as they say is in the eye of the beholder, and this too is true of art. Elements of the actual world experienced by others is incorporated into the design/structure as clues to discovery. If one finds beauty all around, life can seem like a masterpiece.

Any piece of creative work is a potential conversation between the artist and the audience. Whether or not the conversation expands or becomes a monologue depends upon the level of shared aesthetic emotions. When I taught poetry, the works of John Keats created many aesthetic emotions within me. My eyes would get teary and I would choke up as I described this miraculous tragic genius. I leave you with a few lines of his immortal poetry. I hope you enjoy communing with his sublime vision.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:/ Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness; but still will keep / A bower quiet for us, and a sleep / Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
John Keats

Search for Meaning

To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness, / But life without meaning is the torture / Of restlessness and vague desire– / It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid. – Edgar Lee Masters

Long ago my mother taught me to seek knowledge and understanding in life, “Get an education. They can never take that away from you.” My grandfather (a decorated WWI soldier, survived poison gas during the war, coal miner, sharecropper) died when my mom was around ten years old. A little boy in town had spinal meningitis and no one wanted to drive him to the hospital. My grandfather volunteered, and subsequently caught the terrible disease and died. My sweet mother had to go to work in a laundry washing and ironing shirts to help support her family. She never returned to school but was one of the wisest people I have ever known. She read every day. When I finished a class in college, I gave mom my textbooks. When she died, we found hundreds of books under her bed. She slept atop immeasurable riches. She was the one who set the fire in my soul to seek knowledge. Learning has always been my spirit-wealth. As L. Frank Baum said, “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

One should never stop learning. The other day I learned the word Geosmin. Geosmin is the natural chemical that is responsible for earthy, musty smells, the earthy taste of tubers, and part of the strong scent in the air after a rainfall in dry weather, or when soil is disturbed. This smell is a deeply rooted part of our animal nature – the nose can sense geosmin down to five parts per trillionth. And so the scent must relate directly to our survival as a species, in the distant past. Even with all the intellectual capital created in human history, humans remain animals and not automatons. But no matter the intellectual knowledge one possesses, that knowledge stagnates unless it can bring meaning to one’s life. Otherwise knowledge is no different than a library of unread books. The scent after it rains is also called Petrichor from the Greek petra – stone and ichor – blood of the gods. Here is a high speed video from MIT showing how petrichor develops during a rain.

We must abandon completely the notion of blaming the past for any kind of situation we’re in and reverse our thinking and see that the past always flows back form the present. That now is the creative point of life. Alan Watts This quote from the great thinker caught my attention while researching. All the experience and knowledge gathered over time is being reinterpreted by NOW. Now is the transitory particle around which meaning and understanding coalesce into pearls of wisdom. These gemstones of wisdom bring meaning to life. And the search for meaning drives humanity ever forward towards the aesthetic wealth of balance and beauty.

Each of person walks their own path. No one can duplicate the path of another. Learning from others however lets the mind cast backwards into the past in order to dredge meaning from the sands of time. Armed with meaning one can move forwards with some degree of certainty. This process creates an artful approach to living one’s life. Wisdom comes from approaching life with renewed enthusiasm instead of. As Pablo Picasso said, It takes a very long time to become young. Learn broadly. Live Fully.

Self-Actualization

Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but … life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.Gabriel García Márquez

Life does not come with an instruction manual. There are no clear cut paths to the self-actualized life we hope to live. There are, however, countless opportunities for course corrections every day. One only needs to adjust, adapt,… to CHANGE. That single word sums up real life. Everything changes, and so everyone must change. One’s birth creates the crucible for molding and remolding the self. The self moving through time encounters various degrees of resistance along the path. This resistance creates friction which shapes the self.

One sets goals and works around obstacles to try to accomplish those goals. Along the way the goal has to be altered or abandoned depending upon situations encountered. Some ideals should not be sacrificed such as, integrity, morality, honesty for these define us to ourselves. As a person matures these ideals and adaptations increasingly come to define a person’s character. The dictionary defines character as: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing”. But character is also a person or being in a narrative. The character one portrays before others is often not one’s true character. Adopting a public persona is part of social survival. But for the vast majority of people that public character is not the true self.

Cooperation is important to social beings. Aligning the individual self within a group can be critical to survival. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature. Most life forms fulfill their true nature as part of a group. It is an important human characteristic though to seek actualization of a fully realized individual identity. Self-actualization requires sophisticated adaptations, perseverance and an indestructible will. And this brings about a dynamic vitality which overcomes without friction.

Happiness is not an accident, and joy cannot be purchased. When a person has shaped their true nature through morality, creativity, spontaneity, lack of prejudiced, acceptance of facts, life is a blessing. Many years ago I was influenced by a quote from the mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell: If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. Follow your bliss and give birth to your true incorruptible self. Peace.

Universal Life Energy

A genuine smile distributes the cosmic current, Prana to every body cell. The happy man is less subject to disease, for happiness actually attracts into the body a greater supply of the Universal life energy. Paramahansa Yogananda

Life Energy – scientists say it does not exist, but billions of people believe in forms of divine life-energy. In India the energy is known as Prana. In China, Japan, Korea… the energy is known as Qi (or Chi, in Japan Ki (breath/air). This energy is created by nature and gathered in various ways. Ever-shifting intersections between the real and the unreal generate momentary opportunities for infinite change; choice coalesces potentialities and defines the Way (Tao – Way or Path). For the Taoist the Wuji is the original form of the universe. Wuji is represented by an open circle as it represents the Tao in stillness. The characters for Wuji can be translated as endless or infinity. Then motion – energy creates a vibration or spin, which become the twin Yin and Yang energies of the Taiji These twin energies in motion manifest the ten thousand things (all physical reality).

I practice brushstrokes by painting Wuji / Enso and Taiji (Yin/Yang) on scraps of paper. The following is a video on my Youtube channel I call Living Qi Hiaku (Haiku in the description).

The character for Yin is a hill in shadow, and Yang a hill in sun, and both represent the same thing but seen at different moments, or under different conditions. Yang is represented by a solid line and Yin is a broken line. Mist is made of water and moved by wind. Feng means wind and Shui means water. Feng Shui is about the flow of energy which in turn is controlled or generated by these five elements, which also have corresponding colors, seasons, and directions. When things are out of balance it is because of too Yin or Yang or too much of one element or too little of another, which constricts the natural flow of energy.

The Five Elements of: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. All things come from the relationship between destruction and creation. So, for example, wood nourishes fire which creates earth from which is born metal which in turn carries water which, returning, nourishes wood. Now wood controls earth which controls water and water restrains fire which melts metal which can cut, or control wood.

The original universe (the Tao) is also called nothingness or a void. In Japanese Zen this circle is called enso and it represents similar ideas. To many artists the enso symbolizes the moment when the spirit of the master reaches into the void and sets the energy of creation in motion. The enso’s circle remains open to represent our incompleteness. That life energy we create through happiness, contemplation, and self-awareness brings the ends of the circle closer together – closer to the ultimate.

Parts of this post are excerpted from my novel which my literary agent is submitting to various publishers (keep your fingers crossed for me 🙂