Grace in the Fall

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Autumn is my favorite time of year. For a few weeks in the northern latitudes, deciduous trees express their biological rhythm by shedding their leaves in a celebration of color.

It is a time of transition, and this year even more so.

Emerson reminds us that “Earth laughs in flowers”. In Hamatreya, he is not so much referring to the joyful abundance of Spring, but rather the eternal patience of our home against the utter short-sightedness of the human perspective.

Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.
What about Fall? If Earth laughs in flowers, then perhaps she hugs with autumn leaves.
On the other side of the equinox, we reap the harvest of actions taken or ignored. That colorful embrace with which we are honored is a reminder. A reminder that even in the middle of transition, in the depths of struggle, and in the agony of the unknown, there is Beauty in Change and there can be Grace in the Fall.

Grover

DEMDC Riverwood

Around the bend

Through glade and glen
And o’er green grass
The soft sun of early Spring
Rarifies the vernal air.

Where am I
If not here?
Alone, in these woods,
To bear witness to this Beauty.

And yet, at this natural pace,
The mind still races.
A Desire to capture and record and remember,
An attempt to freeze a fluid experience.

And so why write, when I can breathe?
Why read, when I can listen?
Why wonder, when I can wander
In these groves?

Imperative

DEMDC Riverwood

Riverwood Park Toms River, NJ

Go outside. Soften your eyes. Drop into the depth of your senses.

There is nothing backlit or bound here. There are no walls, no screens, and certainly no fluorescent lights.

Observe. Wait. Allow your mind to be quiet.

You will see patterns emerge.

The animal brain is wired to recognize patterns in the environment and in many ways is guided by instinct and learning to act according to those patterns. The human brain is an animal brain. And yet, we can observe these patterns in ourselves, in others, and in Nature. Consciousness enables us to observe, reflect, act with intention, and to develop and express will. It is this strange phenomenon that gives us the opportunity of choice.

Some patterns we understand, some we enjoy, some are constructive, and some appear to destroy. When we observe something we don’t understand, we call it chaos, something devoid of order. Chaos is merely a limitation in the perception of the observer to see the pattern. More often than not, it is the disorder of our own thoughts that colors the chaos we see around us.

One of the best ways to address the entropy of our mind is to go outside.

Be in Nature.

Go outside. Soften your eyes. Drop into the depth of your senses.

Your Own Pace

I gazed at the old wall of red bricks, stacked and mortared one by one in an earlier time by what are now old hands. The rattle of the old vents offered a necessary element of white noise beneath the resonant tones of meditative music and the gentle voice of Dawn, this evening’s yoga instructor.

On a wooden floor on a corner in downtown Asbury Park, I was in surf shop, at night, practicing yoga with strangers.

The pace of instruction was faster than any pace at which I’ve ever operated. My less than nimble body refused to assume some of the postures I suggested it try out. With more than two decades of being trained as sitter and a thinker and a test-taker, my body had habituated to certain tasks, and this is reflected in my current physiology.

The good news is that the body responds to what you ask of it. And today I am inviting it to practice yoga. I skip many of the sequences, preferring to modify and hold and breathe at a pace that befits my own tempo. Much has been said regarding my particular style and tempo, and “quick” and “fast” are adjectives not commonly used.

At one point during the session, we were asked to rest, close our eyes, and find a place of peace. As soon as my eyelids had closed I was looking through the window of a car. I was heading north, crossing the San Francisco Bay via the Richmond Bridge. The water was that green-blue it gets when the sun is out and there was a large cargo tanker in the distance. From the height of this bridge, you could see in every direction, and the sense I had was not that I was leaving San Francisco as much as heading toward someplace quieter, greener, and with a pace much more akin to my own.

 

Nemesis

It’s a simple proposition, really.

Good is the enemy of Great.

Enemy does not necessarily mean opposite. If this were the case, it would make more sense to say, “Dismal is the enemy of Great”. Yet Dismal does not calmly lie in the middle of the road to Great. With it’s emphasis on moderation and safety, Good effectively blocks the way with its neutral inertia.

Good yields the status quo, a common denominator, and is radical only in that it will expend massive resource in an attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy.

I am not anti-Good. Good plays an important and essential role in the cycles of experience and in the progression of life.  My point is that if Good is the goal toward which we are striving, the desired end we imagine for ourselves, then success will be attainable – and ultimately unfulfilling.

Without the stretch that uncouples us from certainty, Good will not be overcome. The step into the poetry of possibility is what allows for a new unfolding of the path, one away from the secure dictate of probability.

There is nothing inherently good or bad about the lowland perspective of Good. It is often where we begin and where we return at different points in the cycle. The question is whether that perspective is enough, and if not, what kind of risk and what kind of poiesis we need in order to see from an alpenview.

Return

 

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Why do we return to the places of our youth, especially those places that once held promise and mystery? Perhaps it is in the hope that the mystery remains, that it can be rediscovered. That even with the passing cycles of time and the often-heavy price that “progress” exacts on natural spaces, we can reorient our bearings from a place that still holds meaning.

I grew up near a quiet coppery stream in the low lands. The sandy soil gives rise to pitch pine, American holly, and a few varieties of oak. Of our horizontal cousins, squirrels are the most common, with the occasional chipmunk or mallard duck. Every once in a while you may come across deer, and every once in a rare while, a stag.

Between the noise, air, and water pollution, and the continuous human imposition on the surrounding area, the boundaries of the open space are shrinking. It is too frighteningly similar to a boxed display in a museum or a caged animal in a zoo.

Time in the mountains of the West irrevocably altered the scope and scale of what natural space meant to me. Whereas explorations into my own backyard mixed being in the woods with a sense of imagination, journeys to the High Places became pilgrimages. In the music and the silence of the mountains, in the companionship of solitude, the heavy fetters of the lower mind are lifted like the smoke curling off of a campfire.

And then there is the return.

The descent back down the mountain is the gift you give to the world, just as the world gave you the gift of the mountain. Returning to the lowlands, the population, and the energetic buzz of society paints a stark contrast against the alpenglow of the mountain. It reasserts the challenges we had when we left as well as offering new ones. The cycle of descent and ascent is the noetic and experiential commerce we agreed to by being human.  Simply,

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can.

The Great Dance

From the ballroom of the Heavens to the twinkling steps of the quantum world, there has always been Form and Void…and Music.

The atomic tradition begun by Leucippus emphasized that the manifest world is composed of indivisible objects called atoms, and that these atoms are many and are in motion, which requires room for them to maneuver.

But why do the atoms move?  Lucretius offers the clinamen or swerve. This “most minute of movements” is enough to randomly and frequently initiate the collisions and combinations of atoms that generate the physical world.

Traditionally, the attempt to answer this question splits into two arguments: “it’s a random physical process” and “there is a plan”. Taking a wide berth around the trailhead to that road, there is a third option.

If we operate from the premise that Form does not exist without Sound, we have a basis for atomic motion, a mechanism for the physical process, and an account for the logos observed in the universal dance.

Atoms are moved by the primal Sound that is the Ground of Being. They dance – some more freely and wildly than others, but every atom at the very least is tapping their figurative toe. They dance because the Music of the Kosmos is indivisible from the very nature of the atom.

Since not all atoms are moved in the same way, they behave differently. This leads to the variety of ways they combine to generate the manifest world. There is always an element of randomness – the wildcard. When the conditions are right, a shy atom might take everything and everyone by surprise and swerve. Far from upsetting the balance of the system, this new pattern reorganizes the status quo and shifts the whole system to a new level of complexity. This is happening constantly.

The logos of the Song is more likely an improvisation than a score. Shifts in time signature, key, and style reflect the constant spontaneity and evolution of the dancers. The exchange is bi-directional because the indivisibility of Sound and Form cuts both ways.

I have been referring atoms in the ancient philosophical sense, not the contemporary scientific one. I am aware of sub-atomic particles, strings, and the like. Even so, at the end of the reduction, I imagine whatever is found to be indivisible is going to be moving. Depending on who happens to be observing this “atom” they might see either a medium for the transmission of the Song (i.e. an instrument) or something that appears to be dancing its ass off.

Yosemite

It was not until I was in the high country of the Sierra Nevada in eastern Yosemite that I learned to be quiet, and to slow down. Here my ears opened, my eyes relaxed, and both my gait and breath changed.

It was here that I was formally introduced to John Muir, and I sensed an immediate kinship with him and an affinity for his philosophy, his love of Nature, and his pace of Life.

That there is “a Universal Intelligence in all matter, which continually gives to it all its properties and actions, thus maintaining it in existence” is the Major Premise of chiropractic. It is the foundation upon which its philosophy of Life is grounded, and it is nowhere more evident than in the harmony and ecosphere of the mountains.

Indeed, as John Muir wrote, “the clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness”.

Two Months, Abridged

The following is a brief, somewhat poetic account of my travel through the American Southwest between 1 April and 1 June of the year 2013. Although I don’t mention any names, there were a tremendous number of individuals and families that conspired to support me on this journey. To all of them, I give my sincerest gratitude.

. . . . .

On a sunny mid-morning in the East Bay, I depart. I find my way to California 1, and wrap the coast along Big Sur. Southern California is humming as I pass through Santa Barbara and into Santa Monica. A few dolphins and I catch some waves in the warm water near Sunset Boulevard.

Entering the desert to the east, I was greeted by Yucca brevifolia en masse. They dance and sway in the gust, but remain rooted. They create a silent forest, bearing witness to what came before and awaiting what is to come. After recalibrating my route in Palm Springs, I decide I need to return to the Pacific. I land Oceanside, witnessing death, but also the birth of a friendship.

Resuming east, I experience the primal fear of being alone in the wild, at night, in cat country.

In Yuma I entertain some vehicular difficulties. From the hopelessness of the southern Arizona desert, I enter an oasis of kindness and hospitality in Scottsdale.

Sedona provides more primal experience, where I almost paint the red rock with my own blood, and where I am serenaded by a pack of rambunctious coyotes. Back down through Arizona, in the shadow of the Dragoons, a bond is strengthened.

Approaching Santa Fe from the south, I understand why it is considered the oldest occupied city in North America. Here, hospitality and community give rise to greater clarity and new friendships.

Entering Colorado from the south allows for the transition from the high desert to the Rocky Mountains. At ten thousand feet I camp in bear country, overlooking a snow-covered vista and one of the first railroad tracks to bridge the Continental Divide.

Into Durango and through to the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, I see marked on the mountain the history of the Anasazi.

Over three mountain passes and along the Gunnison River, I meet a friend at the office of a master. Diving back into the Rockies, I emerge in Fort Collins. In addition to first-class beer and a happening music scene, I receive quarter, insight, a rekindled respect for The Force, and more than one synchronous meeting.

In Spring, the streets of Boulder are filled with tulips and beautiful women. Downloading precious acumen and befriending a Shih Tzu, I am again honored by Coloradan hospitality.

A surprise return to the East coast unites the clan and brings the relationship between the inner and outer landscape into focus.

Resuming the tour in Colorado, I stay again with a sage, a friend, and a cherub.

Eventually entering Utah, I follow the Colorado River, through the Arches and into the Canyons of Moab. Across southern Utah I come before Capitol Reef, enjoy the waters of the Fremont that breathe life into that quiet valley, and then find myself among the orange-fired architecture of Bryce’s backyard. Finally, in Zion, a true paradise, in the heights of the sandstone and the waters of the north fork of the Virgin River I prepare myself to descend.

Passing unscathed through Sin City, I enter the Valley of Death. A tremendous descent into a blazing heat and vast desolation, I do not tarry. After an even more vigorous climb, I finally approach the eastern Sierra. The green relief of the pine and landscape on the jagged and untamed Sierra, as it rises proudly to be reflected in the lakes on its eastern edge re-establishes that which I had felt all along: there was always a reason the keep moving West.

On the edge of the country that was so close to John Muir’s heart, I am finding that which was buried in mine.