It has been one of those warmish days between winter and spring,
but now the sun has set and the dusk is deepening. My bones are
weary, and my eyes feel out of round in their sockets as I drive
home from the office. I am a casualty of the business world, that
whirlwind of meaningless activity leading toward a grand total
of zero on the famous bottom line. I now pull over and stop my
car alongside the road. I have always wanted to do this, and now
I will. No, I won't go back to my prefabricated, prethought, predigested,
prerotted life in that meaningless suburb. I will just walk. I
will beg. I will have nothing and want nothing. Non-attachment
is the time-honored way to happiness, as proven time and again
in the East.
I leave the keys in what was my car. Anyone who wants this thing
can take it. I won't be needing a car now. I walk ahead to the
next cross street and turn left, not knowing or really caring
what street it is. Ahead of me on the sidewalk a boy about twelve
years of age is walking his little black-and-white spotted dog.
The dog crouches in some tall grass by a utility pole and does
his duty. The boy praises him with "Good boy, Jock. Good
boy." I continue to follow them, but they pay no attention
to me. Soon they turn into the sidewalk in front of a small yellow
house and go in. The fading daylight is giving way to the artificial
light of the buzzing streetlights.
Where will I stay tonight? I don't know. There are many houses
along here, but I don't want to ask anyone to put me up for the
night. Shall I try to walk to a motel? I have about $150 in my
pocket. But no. Why would I want to stay in a motel and pay money
like a businessman? I will just stay in my body tonight, wherever
my body happens to be. If it's in a mansion, so be it. If it's
on a park bench, so be it. In a gutter? Fine.
I walk along for a few blocks and turn left again. Where will
I go? I have now given away everything except my clothes and my
wallet. Shall I walk north up to the street where the bridge is,
cross the river, then walk west? Or shall I walk south out into
the country? I could even walk east into the "changing"
neighborhood. It doesn't matter. Why do I even need to walk? Will
I be picked up as a vagrant? No, not with this suit on, and a
trench coat. Am I crazy? Should I be locked up? I don't feel crazy.
I just gave up everything, that's all. No big deal.
Yes, I guess I'll go north up the street, turn west, and cross
the bridge. I don't know what's beyond the bridge very far, but
it doesn't really matter, does it? Something is always everywhere.
I start walking north just like I know what I'm doing. As I reach
the bridge street, a policeman drives by in his squad car. I smile
and tell myself what a bad boy I am, leaving everything sensible
behind and not playing the middle-class game. I should probably
turn myself in, but I don't think I will. No, I need to see how
this comes out.
I turn west and soon reach the bridge, smiling at how ridiculously
symbolic it is to cross a bridge on my way to the unknown. I should
write a novel about this, or at least a short story. Maybe I won't
live long enough to fill up a novel. Over the railing the dark,
peaceful river is just visible in the fading dusk. A pair of ducks
swim effortlessly and smoothly out from under the bridge, each
leaving a little wake. One of them sees me and quacks. Then the
other one quacks. Just one quack apiece--no big deal for them.
I lean against the railing for a long while, lost in thought as
I stare down at the deep, dark, moving waters. With a little inner
ceremony, I take off my necktie, stuff it in my pocket, and continue
west across the bridge.
Now I'm on the other side of the river, but strangely it seems
as though I'm heading east. I haven't turned around, but as I
walk I could swear that the sky ahead of me is beginning to lighten
as if the sun were rising instead of setting. There is a small
in the air, too, that I haven't detected in a long time. The smell
of lilacs. It isn't time for lilacs yet, but there is that unmistakable
fragrance. Yes, the sun is rising in the west. I look around and
see a robin pulling at a worm in the grass along the sidewalk
twenty feet away. The robin notices that I am too close, and gives
me a staccato scolding as it flutters up into a nearby maple tree.
There is a little park not far ahead, a park I have never noticed
before. Not surprising, as I don't recall ever having walked in
this neighborhood. On a bench by the sidewalk sits an old man
with short white hair, staring at the approaching sunrise in the
"Hello there," I offer. "Why is the sun rising
in the west?"
"That's where it always rises," he replies quietly.
"That's where it always rises."
"Mind if I sit down here and try to figure this out?"
"Have a seat."
"Do you live around here?" I ask him.
"I'm right here. I live right here."
"On this park bench?"
"For now, yes."
"Do you have a house or an apartment?"
"No, I don't need one."
"I see." I watch a small woodpecker walk straight up
the side of a large oak tree about halfway across the park. He
switches on his head like a jackhammer and attacks a rotten branch.
The sunshine is now catching the top leaves of his old tree.
"Where do you eat?" I ask after a long silence.
"Right here." He points to his mouth.
"That's good," I chuckle. "That's where I eat too.
No sweat, huh? Life pretty much takes care of itself, does it?"
"Do you have a family?" I ask after a short silence.
"Nope," he replies quickly but without emotion.
"Yes, I do have a job. I meet the people who come across
that bridge, and I answer their questions. It's usually not too
hard. They ask pretty easy questions."
"Are you a philosopher?"
"Not so's you'd notice. I just sit here and talk to the people.
It's not too hard."
"Do you think it's necessary to fit into the city rat race?
Go to work, come home, spend money, get tired, go to bed, every
day and every day?"
"Well, you get your weekends off," he replies with a
"You know what I mean. What is the point of all of this gaining
and losing, loving and hating, waking and sleeping?"
"I don't know." He rubs his white-stubbled chin. "What
do you think?"
"I don't think there's any point to it. That's why I've decided
to just wander and beg for the rest of my life."
The old man smiles a little and looks me squarely in both eyes.
I can see infinity in his deep blue eyes. His glance is amazingly
deep, yet warm and harmless.
"You're going to beg? What if no one gives you anything?"
he asks, those blue eyes twinkling now.
"Then I'll die."
"And what will that accomplish?"
"What will driving a late-model car and living in a suburban
home with TV-watching kids and a security-loving wife accomplish?
Nothing. There's not a thing to lose. I need freedom."
"Maybe so," he mumbles quietly. "Maybe so."
He rises quickly from the park bench, nimble for his apparently
advanced years, and pulls me to my feet. "You can't get along
begging without some training. High thoughts won't fill your stomach.
Why don't you come along with me for awhile? I'll show you how
I do it."
It must be an odd sight, I think to myself as the two of us walk
along the sidewalk together, westward into the rising sun. Robins
are hopping unpredictably in the grass, cocking their heads and
stabbing the ground for their worms. A chattering cloud of sparrows
flutters over us, heading toward the branches of a budding magnolia
tree. They all perch in it and nearly fill it up, jumping excitedly
from branch to branch.
"My name is Fred," I offer. "What's your name?"
The old man looks a bit startled. "I don't go by anything,
but if you really want to call me something, just say Pete."
"Do you think a guy can make it as a beggar in this day and
"I know a guy can. I'm making it. It's not very hard. Now
let me ask you a question. Are you religious?"
"Nah. I used to be a Presbyterian, then turned Methodist,
then dropped the whole thing. Religion just seemed like a flimsy
kind of entertainment there at the church. The congregation was
always carping about how communion was too long or too often,
or they didn't like this hymn or that sermon. It seemed like a
joke that wasn't very funny. How about you? Are you religious?"
"No, but I do like to see that sunrise every day. I do like
to see these birds, and the flowers that are blooming this time
of year. I have nothing against religion, but I get mine here
in the outdoors."
"Do you ever feel guilty about begging? Not making a living,
and all that?"
"Not at all. I figure if people want to give me something,
that's their business. I won't fight it. If they don't want to
give, that's fine too."
"Did you ever go through a long time when no one gave you
anything and you nearly starved?"
"Not really. Most people are pretty nice. They don't mind."
"Do the police ever give you any trouble?"
"No. Why, do I look suspicious?"
I laugh. "No, you look like an old guy who lives in one of
these little houses along here and has a pension."
Pete gives me another deep look and says, "I am on a kind
of pension, but there's no money in it."
"What kind of pension do you mean?"
"One day I decided I had worked enough, and I retired. Done.
No talk, no argument, no social security. I just retired, and
my pension is being able to watch the birds and flowers in the
park and think the thoughts I want to think. I don't have any
boss telling me what color my necktie should be."
"That's exactly the kind of retirement I decided on when
I walked away from my car."
As we walk along, a warm breeze floats up, bringing the fragrance
of lilacs again. Pete suddenly stops me and nods to indicate a
small green house with white shutters. "Now here's a lady
that always gives me something. She doesn't give a hoot what I
look like or who I am. She just gives me something every time.
He walks up the sidewalk and knocks on the front door. A gray-haired
lady comes to the door and immediately smiles through the storm
door as she recognizes Pete.
"Good morning," Pete says, in a friendly, non-fake way.
"It's a nice morning, isn't it?"
"Yes it is," she replies, opening the storm door. "Can
I get you a little something to eat this morning?"
"Why, yes, that would be nice. And I wonder if you could
spare a little for my friend here. He's just walked across the
bridge and doesn't know quite where to turn next. Do have a little
extra something for him?"
"Of course. Just a minute." She goes back into the house.
I notice the painted concrete deer in her front yard, and I admire
her petunias beside the front stoop. She returns with two peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches. I walk up to the door and take one,
and Pete then politely takes the other a nod and a smile.
"Thank you very much," I say with more gratitude than
I've ever felt before. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate
this sandwich. You are a very kind woman."
"That's all right," she smiles back. "It never
hurts to help a little."
"Thanks again," Pete waves at her as we return to the
sidewalk and resume our wanderings. "See, that was easy.
This sandwich will last you the rest of the morning, Fred, and
you can spend all morning doing anything you want."
"Where are we going, Pete?"
"Nowhere, Fred. Did you want to go somewhere?"
"No, I just thought you were taking me somewhere."
"You already took yourself somewhere in your life on the
other side of the bridge, and you didn't like it. Now you're going
nowhere. Do you think you'll be able to like that?"
"It's hard to say. It's so much different from the usual
We come to a large viaduct supporting a busy highway. As we walk
under it, Pete gestures for me to sit down. He sits upon a big
scrap of six-by-six lumber, and I squat on one heel, the way my
father taught me when I was a boy.
He points his index finger upwards, raising his voice above the
whizzing and thumping tires of the cars passing directly over
our heads. "These people are all going somewhere, Fred. Do
you know where? No, you don't. And I don't either. Maybe someone
told them that they should go somewhere, so they did. Maybe they
had to build something, and to do that, they had to go buy some
tools and materials, and to get them, they had to find a job to
make some money, and they had to go to college to get a job, a
good job, not just any job. And maybe they felt like they
had to have a wife and a family, because everybody does. They're
all going somewhere, Fred. They all think they know where they're
going, but not a one of them knows."
I sit still for awhile, shift my weight to the other heel, and
sit some more. A huge diesel truck thuds across the viaduct, and
the roar of its powerful engine gradually fades away in the distance.
"What's the point of our not being part of them?" I
"No point at all. Why does there have to be a point? I just
watch things, watch people. I walk around, smell flowers. That's
all. I don't do much. There's not much to do, really. Your heart
beats, your lungs breathe, people give you food. It's not bad at all."
"Don't you ever want to go somewhere or make something or
do something, Pete?"
"Nope. Why bother? Those folks up there that are going places
can do that. They can build their buildings and work in their
little office cubicles and write their reports and drive their
cars till they end up dead, just like I will, and just like you
will. What have they gained? Maybe a nice casket and a six-inch
obituary, which I won't have."
"Can we get out from under this viaduct?" I suggest,
annoyed by the loud rumbling of the traffic.
"Sure, we can go anywhere we want, Fred."
"Let's go back to the river and watch the ducks," I
We walk back east toward the river. The spring morning is bright
and beautiful now. Dandelions are in full yellow bloom in most
of the little front yards. A large woman with wrinkled stockings
is leaning down and weeding her flower bed. She nods to us politely
and anonymously as we walk by.
Soon we reach the river and sit down on the bank. I snap off a
long stem of grass and clamp it between my teeth. No ducks are
around. The water is very smooth and peaceful.
"You do this every day?" I ask. "Just wander around
anywhere you want, and sit and think?"
"Sometimes I think, sometimes I sit, sometimes I walk, sometimes
I lie down." He lies down slowly and meaningfully on the
"Do you ever have pain or feel lonely?"
We are both quiet for a long time, looking out over the quiet
river, smelling the lilacs whenever a new breeze comes up. After
a while eight mallard ducks swim by--a green-headed male, a drab
brown female, and six half-grown ducklings. They are quacking
and plunging after food in the water, seeming to enjoy each other's
company greatly. I begin to feel a strange ache inside me, and
I know that my new life here is just not going to work. I can't
even live a whole day like this, let alone the rest of my life.
I will go out of mind with boredom.
"Pete, I don't think I'm going to be able to live the life
of a beggar. It just doesn't feel right to me."
"I know, Fred. That's what everyone says who comes across
that bridge. They stay a few days, a few weeks, maybe only a few
hours like you, but sooner or later they go back. They just need
to come, and they just need to go. It's no big deal. Why don't
you go back to your family now, and no one will know any different."
"But my wife probably has the cops looking for me, and I
left my keys in the car along the road."
"Well, you did make that decision. But I don't think it'll
be so bad. Why don't you just go back over the bridge and see
what's over there?"
"Okay, Pete. Listen, I really envy the way you can lead such
a calm life, and how you are so kind. Maybe someday I will be
able to retire like you did, but not yet. I want you to have this
as a little token of my appreciation." I hand him a fifty-dollar
He brushes it away. "Thanks, Fred, but I don't need it. Your
heart is in the right place, though. If you ever decide to come
and see me again, I'll be hanging right around here. I don't go
very far. Like I said, there's really nowhere to go."
"Good-bye, Pete. Thanks again for taking me along with you."
I walk up the slope to the bridge and wave to him as I head east
over the bridge. I find myself thinking that it will somehow be
night on the other side, and that this has all been a dream. I
reach the other side, but the sky is just as bright as ever. The
sun is still climbing in the west, higher and higher as the spring
morning gains warmth. I reach the road that leads to my car and
turn south, fully expecting to have to walk all the way home.
No doubt the car has been stolen by kids or towed away by the
As I walk over a familiar rise, I see my car ahead, just as I
left it. I walk up to it and look into the left window. The keys are
still in it. No one has harmed it. I open the door, get in, start
it up, and drive toward home. The only thing is that sun still
in the west. What time is it? Am I late for work? It doesn't matter.
I meet a police car, but I am driving within the speed limit,
so I am invisible to the law.
As I approach the block where my house is, I wonder what I am
going to tell my wife. Just then I hear a faint but unmistakable
whisper in my ear. It sounds like Pete asking, "Where are
I smile as I pull into my driveway, and say aloud, "I don't
know, Pete. Maybe nowhere."
If one examines his own thought, he finds it to be entirely made
up of images. The images may be visual, tactile, musical, sexual,
egoic, gustatory, and so on. Life for humans consists of a succession
of these images that overlap, interweave, and contradict
each other. And the mind is not content with the images it has.
It builds or seeks out new images to experience and add to those
that already make up the consciousness.
Each person has an overall self-image which consists of all his
collected images from the outside combined with his inner psychological
or egoic images. The psychological images and those collected
from the outside may be mixed inseparably as a complex network
of sensations, aspirations, regrets, and memories.
The thirst for new images may be termed desire, seemingly a universal
condition among human beings. Desire sets up a subtle interplay
between psychological and remembered images. Images may take on
a pleasurable, neutral, or painful aspect, depending on the person's
own self-image and his physical characteristics. Desire influences
the personality toward pleasurable and familiar images. One wants
to have more images like the known ones that have been pleasurable,
and one wants to avoid the repetition of remembered pain.
There is seemingly an inborn desire in each human for psychological
security. But security is not only elusive on the physical and
psychological levels, it is only temporary even if attained. Each
person looks to his images for his security. He has an image about
his house, about his car, about his spouse, about his family,
about his bank account, about his job, and certainly about himself.
But inwardly he fears that this frail network of security is like
a spider's carefully spun web, which the next gust of wind or
passing animal may destroy.
Rituals and beliefs are units of sequential images which become
familiar and therefore seem to offer security. They also offer
an arena for pleasurable activity that builds on and reinforces
the current belief system. Whether belief systems are built from
inside or adopted from an external source, the individual sets
himself up to be led by an authority who has more knowledge, more
images, more experiences to share about these beliefs. In the
physical or psychological presence of this authority one feels
secure because the authority is perceived as farther along on
some linear continuum or path. The follower wants to be not where
he perceives himself to be, but where the authority is. Since
he can't be in both places, he is subject to subconscious nagging
by a self-created and unresolvable conflict.
Concepts are interlocked sets of logical images formed by a more
or less fixed pattern of mental action. The bookstores and libraries
of the world are filled with both visual images and verbal concepts
which lead one almost anywhere he desires to proceed, at least
in the arena of knowledge and so-called psychological progression.
Some people seek security by surrounding themselves with many
books in the home, more books than it would be ever possible to
read in a lifetime. Security is sought in the sheer volume of
agreeable concepts and in the comfortable feeling that one can
choose from many mental paths in the future.
In the universities of the world, students and professors alike
feed and grow on a steady diet of images transmitted through books,
word of mouth, and various other media. These images serve to
prepare students for the vocations, and their careers will bring
in still more collections of images. University study brings a
parade of comparisons and choices, but always between images.
Students learn to build, receive, blend, and retain their images,
and finally package themselves in a cap-and-gown image for presentation
to the market place.
What is missing, one may ask, from the parade of images within
which humanity passes its days and expends its energy? It can
be seen that the comfort or relief offered by images is always
temporary, yet every attack of pain or boredom sends a person
out for more images, and they are everywhere to be had.
Is there a true security which is somewhere other than in images?
One might reply that there is security in love or in God. But
upon examination, one may find that love and God are merely words,
collections of images and concepts based on thought and conditioning
from without. Is there a security that is entirely free from images,
from concepts, from time, from place, from physical and logical
desire, from inertia, from boredom?
How to find security is a question asked directly or indirectly
by most thoughtful persons. Abhorring this vacuum, gurus, psychologists,
metaphysicians, philosophers, scholars, priests, economists, politicians--authorities
of every kind--have rushed in with their various formulas for
security, few of which agree. The answers they give are mostly
more images and concepts that build upon the old ones, more formulas
for progression toward psychological triumph, more academic courses
for intellectual distinction, more schemes for monetary prosperity.
A follower of such authorities may, with great effort, achieve
some kind of temporary security, but eventually a loved one dies
or an economy crashes or a war begins, and he finds himself asking
the same question again: where is my security?
Can one drop images entirely? Is there security in no images?
One might reply that the human body can survive only through the
sensory images that help keep the organism regulated. Allowing
for the essential physical images, can one drop all psychological
images? One may discover that not only do these "me-related"
images fail to bring security, they can lead to wasted energy,
baffling complexities, painful insecurities, and even despair.
Can there be a psychological transparency which does not hold
onto "me-related" images, yet which allows the natural
sensory images their necessary functioning and interplay? For
example, can one experience another's anger fully and not hang
onto or nurse a psychological image of this anger? Can one experience
intense pleasure and not hold an image of it or crave its repetition?
Is it possible for one to drop his psychological self-image completely?
If all psychological images are dropped, what remains? Perhaps
nothing--at least nothing knowable. But in that nothing might
there not be complete security? Not psychological, not physical,
but complete? To a mind steeped in images, the image of nothing
might be ugly or frightening. It threatens all tradition, culture,
and personal experience, and therefore one wants to drop it immediately.
Then drop it. Can one drop even the image of nothing? Is there
a nothing which is not an image of nothing, but a true nothing?Can this nothing somehow understand completely all the somethings
and make room for a love beyond images?
What would happen in the world if each person could instantly
understand the parade of images that comprise his life--understand
the desires that lead to more complex images, understand the false
security that images and desires bring? If each one could just
watch this parade, not as a judge from the reviewing stand but
as a participant in it--simply watching it and then coming home--would
the life of humanity be transformed? And where would home be,
if not in some parade? Can a mind saturated with images come home
from the parade and find truth?
Can one drop everything to gain nothing, so to speak? Can he drop
his clutter of psychological images to find a nothing which is
understanding and love, a nothing which is also the unknown? And
if he does this, will anything at all be lost?
Any answer offered here might only be another image or concept,
but if each person would explore for himself his stream of images
with no reliance on any authority or any book, where could be
Pain kindly wakes up stupidity
What causes a crisis? Such a question may at first seem unanswerable
because there are so many different kinds of unpleasant situations
into which we humans can get ourselves. In one word, however,
the real culprit is probably ignorance.
Lest it slumber through eternity.
Ignorance, as used here, does not imply a lack of formal education,
since one frequently sees highly educated persons getting into
serious personal crises. Real ignorance is a lack of understanding
of the law of cause and effect in our own lives. Many of us seem
to think that we can do whatever feels good--acquire wealth, achieve
status, pursue romantic conquests, eat heartily, and so forth--often
at the expense of others, without ever having to concern ourselves
with the consequences of such living. We foolishly ignore the
karmic wisdom expressed in those popular phrases: "What goes
around comes around." and "Whatsoever a man sows, that
shall he also reap."
Pain, unpleasant as it may be, is our stern benefactor. It teaches
us vital lessons as to the conduct of our lives. Feeling pain
means that something just isn't working and that it's time to
change ourselves or get help through another's experience. Getting
help is a wise first step toward overcoming ignorance. When we
hurt and really need the help, we listen attentively with mind
and heart. We begin to learn those lessons which will prevent
us from getting into similar predicaments later on. Some of us
have to suffer consequential pain over and over before we are
finally ready to seek out its causes. But eventually we say "Enough!"
and get to work.
What if the crisis is not our fault, we might ask. Frequently
a crisis victim who thinks himself to be blameless will lash out
at society, chance, God, fate, the system, his family, or whatever
other abstraction it is most convenient to blame. But the threads
of cause and effect are many and multicolored. Our puny minds
can hardly know for sure how or when an effect will blossom from
a previous cause, nor what combinations of circumstances are being
dealt to us by our own past choices. We are the masters of our
future because we are free beings, but we are equally the slaves
of our past and must pay folly's price.
Helpers in many different roles are available to give us the timely
aid we need when in crisis. There are friends, psychiatrists,
pastors, counselors, teachers, crisis line operators, doctors,
nurses, social workers, and numerous other sources of reeducation
when we are up against a wall. If we will only ask them, they can help
us overcome that ignorance which has, at least in part, caused
us our present agony.
Situations are many and varied, but it is safe to say that a situation
never becomes a crisis until it involves pain. Pain spurs us on
to ask, and exactly at that point is where solid and beneficial
learning can begin. Whatever our diplomas and degrees, this is
the only real learning. It is this learning that sets us free.
Ignorance, mistakes, pain, learning, freedom--so goes the eternal
cycle of human evolution.
I had been working at my computer a couple of days ago for quite
a long stretch when I decided to go outside for a walk around
the neighborhood. Exercise and fresh air, even in the winter, are
more a necessity than a luxury, according to many folks. As I
walked out of our court, I noticed for the first time in many
years that when I looked at the trees, bare against the late afternoon
sky, the ones in the background appeared to move at a different
rate than the trees in the foreground. I had rediscovered depth.
I surmised that my long period at the computer screen had been
all two-dimensional, and that the outdoors with its three dimensions
was therefore a surprise to the eye. But it made me consider that
perhaps our technology in general, also, is only two-dimensional,
like a flat bar chart on a piece of paper. It deals with only
the trivialities of life, and leaves completely untouched the
depths of it.
How easy it is to build a factory or an airplane or a bridge,
when you compare this with the birth of a baby or the discovery
of a new way of life. The first requires a lot of effort, planning,
manipulation of people and funds, and so forth--yet it's quite
easy once the details are attended to. But the deeper marvels
of life are so subtle that no amount of effort, planning, or manipulation
can bring them about or put them to rest (depending on their quality).
They flow naturally and must be dealt with naturally.
No foolproof method has been developed for creating a new human
being. It happens when it happens. No one can prescribe a new
way of life for another person and make it work--growth has to
come from inside the other person, as the result of pain, insight,
perception, fear, and love. These changes come about like the
movement of the slower trees in the background. So simple, so
natural, and yet so profound.
We may play with our technology, work with it, live with it, and
seem to grow with it, but the real growth in our lives happens
when we put aside our clever braininess and walk outside into
the profundities of a late winter afternoon.
If you walk through my neighborhood, you will notice great variety
in the front yards of the houses. For that matter, you notice
great variety in the back yards too, if you know the people well
enough to go back there or if you're a burglar. Some of the yards
are plain--just a sidewalk, maybe a concrete driveway, a tree
or two, and grass. Others have a variety of windmills, bird feeders,
statues of animals or saints, boulders or rocks, and flower gardens.
We sort of wear our front yards on our shirt-sleeves, to terribly
mix a metaphor (and to split an infinitive).
Is it that our front yards are how we want people to see us, and
our back yards are how we really are? There may be something to
consider here. And inside the house, the living room is for how
we think people think we should be, and the family room is for
how we really are. Just as our body has a skin to cover up its
ugly internals, and clothing to cover up the unseemly parts of
the skin, we seem to have to arrange our houses and lots in a
dualistic fashion--one part the facade, and the other part the
Some folks go to great lengths to keep even their family rooms
very presentable to the public, while others may have living rooms
that look like a used stable, so we have these exceptions to the
internal-external phenomenon I have been developing here. But
there's always something, even in the homeliest of homes, that
is meant to be presented to the public--a bowling trophy, a picture
of the family (after all, we know what we look like), a mounted
muskie, or whatever other thing we might be just a bit proud of
and want to display to the world.
Next time you take a walk around a suburb, notice the front yards.
You will see some of the most pampered grass and some of the most
"natural" grass. You will see the yellow beauty of dandelions
in some, and the healthy green evidence of weed killers in others.
Some yards will be full of happy children, while others will be
silent and empty. Some will have grassless cracks in the sidewalk,
while others will luxuriate with various weeds sprung from whatever
last year's wind blew in.
In a way we are our yards. We are both our front yard and
our back yard. We are the external and the internal. Most people
walking by see only half of us (our front yard), but if they look
deep inside themselves, they see our back yard too, because they
know what their own looks like. I pick this little dandelion from
my back yard and offer it to you.
Isn't it a bit odd that we humans are wondering lately whether
there could be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? By
elsewhere, we usually implicitly mean elsewhere than in the human
race, which seems a shame right off the bat, since this attitude
ignores a possible intelligence in each tree, animal, rock, and planet,
Next, we wonder how to communicate with this possibly existing
intelligence which we imagine as somewhere "out there"
in space. We listen with our mile-wide radio antennas, and
we send out cryptic symbols attached to our interplanetary spacecraft
bound for unknown reaches outside our solar system. We speculate
that since there are so many billions of stars out there, at least
one of them must have an earthlike planet on which there is a
human-like life which may be further advanced that we are, and which has
been trying for centuries to get in touch with us even as we fiddle
with our radio apparatuses and antennas.
Most people of this mind-set fail to stumble upon one possibility
which seems so obvious once it is considered. That is: perhaps
these intelligences are about us all the time, have instant and
intimate access to our innermost thoughts, and are constantly communicating
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with building huge radio telescopes
to discover the physical realities of our universe. There are
plenty of things to study "out there." And perhaps one
day our scientists will receive a stray communication from some ham
operator in another galaxy who is just trying to send a CQ across
his own planet. Perhaps he will even be saying something intelligent
which can with great effort be translated. But what then? What
if he should give us some exceedingly wise axiom or theorem? Would we believe him?
Or would we say (if we didn't comprehend what he said) that he is only
of an inferior intelligence, but thanks for calling, bye?
Would it be too revolutionary to suggest that each of us may be an
amalgam of intelligences? Of course, we each probably have our
own unique root intelligence, but what if that is being added to not
only by our daily bumblings, bawlings, and joys, but also by others
who have chosen as their intelligent work to aid us from behind
the scenes, right here and right now? They can't be seen, you
might say, so therefore one has no proof. How can one prove that
there is "other" intelligence in this universe, and
that it is right here?
By way of reply I might ask you how one can prove a sunrise, how one
can prove that a bird is singing, how one can prove that there
is such a thing as love or electricity. There is a certain inner
calling, inner love, and inner intelligence that drives this whole
great soft subtle machine, and it seems to permeate the cosmos from the
outer physical layer through our most subtle thoughts and intuitions.
It is not necessary to prove something that proves itself by
its manifesting in every moment. Love may have no wheels or cogs,
but it simply is. Intelligence does not need a high score on
the SAT exam to exist. It is.
We need not look far to find extraterrestrial intelligence--it is only
as far away as a kind act, a painful lesson, an intuitive
perception, or a kiss in the dark. None of the above are confined
to a mere physical lump spinning around a single white-hot sun. They
belong to, and offer hints of, the Ultimate Intelligence.
There is a peace in the world of forms to which all earnest students
of the spirit aspire. That peace finds favor with each heart that
When the mind keeps quiet and speaks no word, peace floods the
area where this silence prevails. A heart which feels the flavor
of peace needs an outlet for its pulsing effervescence. Peace
is an explosively subtle state. It seems quiescent, yet it needs
to spread its wings and fly to the edges of the universe.
How can a state of peace be achieved in this world of flimflammery,
jostling bombast, and uncivil greed? Where is the sanctuary to
be found? The office has noise and veiled hatred; the factory
has hurry and fear; the very fields with waving grain are viewed
as a perishable commodity under a capricious sky. When, where,
how is peace ever achieved?
Between pulsations in the heart there is peace. Between days of
toil, in the still of night, there is peace. In the smile of an
infant, in the breeze-tossed tree, in the cumulus cloud, in the
patient grass--in all of these there is peace.
How does our humanity fail to partake of this peace which is so
ubiquitous? We are like fish swimming in a sea of peace, refusing
to acknowledge it as we breathe its very essence. The time will
come when we will know what we breathe, when we will enjoy this
gift which we now fail to notice. A fineness of character will
gradually evolve, and we will eventually transmute the lead of
our current selfish crassness into the glorious gold of peace
by employing the fire of love.
Find a flame in your heart, and the gold will be nearby. Find
love, and peace will come close behind. Find blessings in the
sky, and the mind is blessed. There is peace in every nightly
flourish of the moon across the sky, and in the drone of a lawnful
of crickets. Where can you not find peace, if you open the door
of your self and allow air to come in? A breeze entering through
an open door perfumes the whole house. When the door is open,
there is peace.
The nature of the forces which motivate a person to take his or
her own life usually remain hidden from those who are left behind,
for if the suicide has been completed, no further psychological
inquiries can be made, and if incomplete, only tentative hypotheses
are possible due to the fact that there really was not a suicide.
However, there does seem to be a common mental condition which
underlies not only suicide (whether completed, abandoned, or thwarted),
but also the loneliness and depression which often lead up to
this act. Such a mental condition goes by many names, but I will
call it "separateness," or more accurately, a separative
Let us not deceive ourselves by merely pointing to this condition
in "others," for we all share it to some extent. "Their"
agony is our agony, even though it may now manifest less intensely
in us. And to be completely honest, let us even allow that we
are they. A surprisingly large group of our population
has either contemplated or actually attempted suicide at some
time or other. For many of those seemingly happy people we meet
on the street or in our jobs, the thought of suicide has been
a more or less silent alternative in the midst of life's reversals.
It is not an impulse that people commonly publicize regarding themselves,
hence one naturally imagines that few others experience it.
Sympathetic friends typically regard a suicidal person as being
an unfortunate victim--of blind chance, of other people's thoughtlessness,
of an unfair social system--or some combination thereof. While
this impression of a suicidal person as a victim is probably frequently
held, there is another view--that an attempter's "victim
psychology" may be the logical outcome of his own subtle
but deadly ego trip.
What does it mean to say that suicide can be the result of an
"ego trip"? We could define an ego trip as the separative
frame of mind already mentioned, usually accompanied by an inaccurate
image of one's own worth. Careful observation might reveal that
feelings of superiority and feelings of inferiority both
spring from separative assumptions, and are therefore both
egoistic. One attitude says, "I am better than you,"
and the other says, "I am worse than you," but "better"
and "worse" are merely different names for the same
imaginary wall between "I" and "you." We sit
precariously on this wall like Humpty Dumpty, trying desperately
to balance our egg-like existence amidst the strong winds of adversity
which threaten and discourage us. This is separatism, and it is
likely to lead to "a great fall" because it is based
upon illusion or unreality. The inexorable (but in the end, kind)
forces of evolution eventually must topple us off this wall which
our minds have built up out of rotted thoughts.
In the following scenario, let's assume for the sake of illustration
that you and I have fallen into this trap (or, perhaps more accurately,
never climbed out of it). It is quite easy for us to adopt an
attitude of separateness because we are conditioned into it almost
from birth. Most of us have unwittingly bought into the assumption
that we are separate from others. After all, we have separate
bodies, separate homes, separate jobs, and separate ambitions.
We want to make money, perhaps more money that other people
make, so that we can indulge our egos a bit by having fancier
cars, wearing more stylish clothes, living in larger homes, or
sending our children to more prestigious colleges. Even if we
don't have such tendencies toward conspicuous consumption, we
may put ourselves first more subtly by taking the largest piece
of cake on the plate at a party ("I really do deserve it"),
by feeling that our religion is superior to that of others (and
generously trying to convince them of it), or by burdening our
friends with long stories about our successful encounters (and
blithely ignoring their yawns). Many of us lack a sense of unity
and brotherhood toward our fellow humans, and we instead view
our associates as divided between the "bad guys" (our
competitors and enemies) and the "good guys" (those
who serve and comfort us). Our minds whisper to us, "You
deserve the best, because you're number one. Let the others fend
The hidden danger in having a separative outlook is that, while
it appears to serve our best interests in the short run, it can
eventually lead us into that dreaded and all-too-common ailment,
loneliness. The very attitudes that maximize our own feelings
of importance and minimize the roles played by others are the
same attitudes which, when the chips are down, trap us in a cocoon
of self-pity or self-destructive desire for oblivion.
Into a life lived separatively there may come a shocking discovery:
"I am not the most important being in the universe,
and never was." This discovery may come suddenly by way of
some devastating personal tragedy or great disappointment, or
gradually through a long succession of smaller eye-openers. We
learn that the world can indeed get along without us--that we
are expendable. We then feel cynical like the man who observed,
"The graveyards are full of people who couldn't be replaced."
Such an awakening may hit us like a ton of bricks (if suddenly),
or like a ton of feathers (if gradually)--but either way, it's
a ton. We feel as if some great weight were pressing down on us,
and we perceive a world inexorably closing in. All hope seems
to have fled. Nothing remains but black despair.
When we do fall off the wall of self, when our ego shatters like
the egg that it is, and when we thus turn our thoughts to suicide
in a misguided attempt to ease the resulting emotional pain, we
agonize in guilt and fear. If we are religious, we may worry that
suicide will send us straight to hell, or we may be tortured by
concern for those whom we will be leaving behind. However, the
overriding mission remains--to escape from this apparently unfair,
hostile, dreary, meaningless life. Typically, we wish to end the
pain by somehow drifting off into a pleasant, nebulous never-never-land
where cares and sorrows are behind us forever. And, by the way,
we do want our death to be painless. If we could handle
pain, we wouldn't be suicidal in the first place--hence the popularity
of sleeping pills or the sudden-death methods.
Assuming that our suicidal feelings or attempts do not actually
result in our death, how do we heal ourselves? Slowly. Suicidal
depressions are seldom cured quickly, due to the immensity of
the task. Our self-centered thought patterns, established and
hardened over many years, can hardly be reversed in the typical
month or two we might spend recuperating in a psychiatric ward.
Gradually we have to reconstruct our broken egos along lines that
allow a progressive realization that other people are our brothers
and sisters, and are not almighty "others" to be impressed,
coddled, or feared. After our suicidal ego trip is over, we must
move upward from humiliation to humility, and we can do so by
finally perceiving more clearly the deep unity within which we all
share our lives as a family of earth dwellers.
Probably the most healing first step we can take in recovering
from our failed ego trip is to begin putting others first--by
living a life that begins to manifest loving, giving, and forgiving.
The impartial law of cause and effect which led us into our "valley
of the shadow of death" can now become our friend and firm
support. Before, hatred begat hatred and competition begat competition.
Now we discover that love begets love and cooperation begets cooperation.
A definitely therapeutic psychological chemistry arises in us
through our loving and giving to others. In fact, a generous spirit
is perhaps the quickest and surest approach to permanent health
or wholeness. The American might call this approach Christianity
(love); the Japanese might call it Buddhism (compassion); the
Chinese might call it the Tao (balance). But plainly speaking,
it's just common sense, mainly because it works. According to
scholars, the scriptures of all major religions assert in one
form or another that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall
he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). Thankfully, this goes for
the good seeds as well as the bad seeds.
If a lesson is to have any lasting value for us, we must learn
it by ourselves, through our own initiative or our
own pain, or both. It is highly difficult for a well-meaning
Good Samaritan (whether friend, family member, crisis line operator,
or psychiatrist) to convince us that our suicidal thoughts have
arisen from separatism, an ego trip, a tripped ego. And even if
our helper sees this, he is wise not to mention it, for when we
are crying out for help, the last thing we want or even need is
a set of unflattering theories. What we need is support, caring,
being there--at least until we can wade out of the mud.
The unwelcome truth cannot really be communicated to us adequately
through words at all. It must flow from the very marrow of our
bones. There may need to be sleepless nights, flaming anger, tears
by the pint, gnashing of teeth, and even some more glimpses into
the chasm of death before we can slowly awaken from our nightmare
of self-imprisoning separateness or egoism. When hope dawns again,
as it usually does, we begin to see life's inevitable misfortunes
and disappointments not as deuces dealt out by a heartless deity
from a stacked universe, but as opportunities--for growing,
for learning, and for aiding fellow strugglers. Each failure teaches
us a valuable lesson in the "dear school" of experience--a
lesson which advances us toward a more useful attitude of self-forgetfulness
and one-pointedness (by which is meant "pointed towards the
One"). When we can live for others, we no longer have to
die for ourselves.
We are forever looking for love in our lives. We look for a sweetheart
who will turn into a loving spouse. We look for love from our
parents and respect from our children. We look for love from our
government, hoping our leaders will be compassionate with us and
our countrymen. But strangely, we often get into our worst messes
when all we are doing is looking for love. A marriage may split
up due to one of the partners looking elsewhere for love. A teenager
may wreck his car and his body by driving too fast in a quest
for a certain kind of love from his peers. Desperate for love,
people ruin their minds with drugs which give them a temporary
surge of a counterfeit feeling similar to love.
Does anyone ever find love? If so, where is it? Observation suggests
that love, real as it is, cannot be found and isn't anywhere.
When you go looking for it, you are going to find something else.
What you find may keep you occupied for awhile, even addicted,
but it's not love. Love is the most priceless treasure that life
affords us. Religions enshrine it, billboards exploit it, professors
categorize it, and newspapers report on its perversions. But it
is nowhere to be found.
Love is a song that threads its way through our lives from beginning
to end, but did you ever try to find a song? You just know
when you're hearing a song, and you just know when you're experiencing
deep love, but you can't find either one. The song is a
process. It weaves its way through the vocal cords and through
the air molecules, but neither the vibrations, nor the ears that
hear them, nor the voice that produces them, is the song. You
can write notes on paper to suggest a song, but the notes are
not the song. A song is a process that cannot be the same twice.
Even if you hear a recorded song twice in succession, there are
two different songs because you yourself have changed slightly
between hearings. A song is a participatory, unrepeatable process.
And so is love.
Love and songs hide in the cracks of the universe--not only between
the atoms, but between the betweens, in the realm of quality,
not quantity--in the unmanifest (which is nowhere). Love and songs
must and do express themselves using time and space, but they
can be neither found nor captured in time and space.
If no one were looking for love, our world be in sad shape, some
might say. But our world already is in sad shape precisely because
so many people are on this quest which seems so laudable and reasonable
until you examine the results of it. The problem with looking
for love is that it is the me that wants it. The me wants love
in the form of pleasure, money, status, fame, and any number of
other forms. And if the me wants these things badly enough, the
me will get them. Unfortunately, all the me gets is the forms
and not the love. The me grabs for the beautiful flame and gets
only hot ashes. Love eludes the me always, because the me is somewhere,
and love is nowhere--they can never meet.
Is there no way, then, to find love? Is there no solution to this
dilemma? Probably not. However, it is a simple fact that anyone
can love. It is one of our inalienable rights as humans to love
and to give. Perhaps life could not even exist without this process.
There is an electricity generated in the action of love that is
as real as that which powers a train or lights a reading lamp.
As with electricity, no one really knows what love is nor where
it comes from, but we do know we can channel both electricity
and love through conduits. Properly channeled electricity can
transform our environment, and properly channeled love can transform
the quality of our lives.
It seems that love is most vibrant in us when we forget ourselves.
Self-forgetfulness is recommended by most religions as a way to
peace and enlightenment. Knowing this, spiritual aspirants try
to forget themselves, hoping peace and enlightenment will come.
Catch number one here is that they cannot forget that they are
forgetting themselves, so they are still caught in the me. There
is no catch number two.
When we grow weary of looking for love and finding only its ashes
and its forms, we may suddenly give up the search. When we have
been bitten by our greed and have had our very health impaired
by our search for love, we stop our hurried quest one day and
look within--not within the me, but within the cracks of the universe.
We may not see anything, but we feel something--we hear a song.
We feel a change in ourselves, a new perspective from nowhere.
We haven't asked for it. We just stop searching and there it is.
That is love, sneaking into our lives from the cracks between
the betweens. We were never away from love, but we could never
find it. We wore ourselves out like the man who ran around the
streets of the village searching for some air to breathe. He wasted
much air to do his searching, but he never found air.
Listen to the silence if you would hear the song of love. Love
may catch you between bites of an apple or while you are cleaning
the toilet. You live in it always, but you can never find it,
capture it, preserve it, or explain it--you might as well try
to build a rose with a hammer and nails. Just wait, and listen,
and watch, and work--and one day when the time is right, a rose
appears on the bush. This rose is rooted in the cracks of the
universe, and so is love, and so are you.
"Splashes and Breezes" Part 1