“Fate is nothing but the deeds committed in a prior state of existence.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Waves Crash Down
                    
“Midway in the
Journey of life
I came to myself in a
dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.” ~ Dante, Inferno
 
Waves on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, by Nico Nelson (Flckr Creative Commons)

Friday night now after a blastedly hot, tumultuous day. Details aren’t necessary. Suffice it to say that our lives just took yet another step down in our continuing downward spiral, the one that is taking us to the fringes of society, making us—more and more—mere onlookers. 

If I sit and reflect, which I try not to do lately, I wonder how our lives came to be this way. Which decision altered the fabric, imperceptibly but devastatingly? Was it the one that I made, when I felt that my body could not withstand the daily onslaught of full-time work? Was it the one that Corey had made a few months before that had him leave once company to return to his original employer—a decision made for all the right reasons that had all of the wrong results?Or do the threads begin to unravel long before that? Who can know really? This remark, that argument, this choice over the less obvious one? Could it go so far back as to my youth, my decisions to fall in with one group, my natural alliance with one editor over another? Not going abroad to study? Did it happen in Norfolk, Blacksburg, Alexandria, or some other city? 

A person could go mad, well and truly mad if left for too long with unanswered questions in the silence of an empty house. 

“Her career of ups and downs had rubbed most of the hall-marks off her, so that it was not easy to guess at her age, her nationality, or the social background to which she properly belonged.” ~ Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie 
California Waves by Isolino (Flckr Creative Commons)

Serendipity: “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark” appears on the playlist. “Fear is the heart of love, so I never went back . . .” 

Is it fate or is it free will? Joss? Karma? 

When I was about six-years-old, and we were still living in London, I told my first big lie and broke a big rule. I remember spending the evening in my bedroom imagining god with a slate, marking infractions. I prayed fervently that night. The prayers of the innocent are almost, dare I say, angelic in their sweetness. 

Another memory: A few years older, watching some program on television about people drowning and how the rescuers needed to take care not to be pulled down in the panic. Flash forward a few years, and my father is diving into the water to rescue a woman whose raft had been sucked under the Lynnhaven Bridge. I watched in fear and amazement as she latched onto my father’s neck and clawed at him as he tried to prop her against the beam of the bridge until more people could assist. 

Afterwards, my mother chastened him for jumping in, saying that he could have died. He replied calmly, “What should I have done? Watched her drown?” That was my father, a man of such clear intentions. He always knew what decisions to make, or at least, that is what memory tells me. So many years later, and I still immediately think of my father whenever things go terribly wrong, and I am glad that he did not have to see all of the messes that I have made, all of the wrong turns and brick walls. 

But another part of me thinks that maybe my father would have understood better than I think. The survivor of three wars, he has seen the worst of people. He has seen want and deprivation. Saw. Perhaps he would have been impatient with me for still failing to grow up and become a productive member of society. I will never know. 

 “i’m not sure what we’re running from. nobody. or the future. fate. growing up. getting old. picking up the pieces. as if running we won’t have to get on with our lives.”  ~ Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
Rocky Shore of West Point Island

Trust me when I tell you that tonight is not the night for rationalizing, for telling myself that so many other people have it worse than I do, than we do. My brain knows this, but my heart? My heart is too heavy to be rational. 

So much in one day, like the echoing blasts of cannonade being fired in sequence. Here’s this. Oh, and here’s this. Oh, and just for good measure, here is this and this. Have a nice day . . . 

Oddly enough, just the other day Corey told me to cheer up, that one day we would be middle class again. It was an epic statement. I wonder how much of the middle class is left, really? How can an entire classification of people survive amidst such societal turmoil? 

I could not watch the news tonight as I have learned that it takes just the right frame of mind to be able to stomach the constant assault on the sensibilities. So much is wrong in so many places. So much want and need. So much fear-mongering. So much hatred and intolerance. It’s miraculous that 90 percent of the population isn’t surviving on mood-altering drugs, legal and otherwise.   

“What does it mean to know and experience my own ‘nothingness?’ It is not enough to turn away in disgust from my illusions and faults and mistakes, to separate myself from them as if they were not, and as if i were someone other than myself. This kind of self-annihilation is only a worse illusion, it is a pretended humility which, by saying ‘I am nothing’ I mean in effect ‘I wish I were not what I am.'” ~ Thomas Merton, from Thoughts on Solitude
 Rough Waters of the Adriatic Sea Beating Against the Rocky Shore

                     

It is impossible to prepare for these moments—the moments when fate and fortune ally at the worst possible point in time, to conspire against everything that makes life seem to make sense, that makes it all worthy of entering the fray yet again. 

And so it comes: The onslaught—the waves of sorrow and fear. Trepidation and uncertainty. Relentless wave after wave, so powerful and unrelenting that existence becomes reduced to how much can be withstood. The forces of fate, much like the forces of nature, toss about lives like unanchored shells, sometimes resulting in a beautifully-scoured creation, sometimes resulting in anonymous pebbles and stones which cannot be distinguished from anything else. 

Sometimes, this road that we’re on reaches a point at which a veil of thick fog obscures everything, leading us to believe that the path has been completely erased. Can it be any surprise then that the point of arrival in the distance seems unreachable? 

If I do not leave this house soon, I will truly lose my mind. 

“It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing . . . We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate.”
~ Rainer Marie Rilke

Music by Katie Herzig, “I Hurt Too” 

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~ Rumi,

Detail of Hand Phra Atchana Calling the Earth to Witness

Pra Atchana: Calling the Earth to Witness (detail) 

“What the material world values does not shine in the same truth of the soul” ~ Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening” 

“You have been interested in our shadow” ~  Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening”

BuddhaSomewhere, the gods are laughing hysterically. Somewhere, Sisyphus has paused in his uphill struggle to push his boulder to the top, and he is grinning sheepishly. Somewhere, at some point in time, all of this became an ongoing comedy of errors.

I’m just curious: Who forgot to send us the memo?

Last night, just because it could and because it would be the worst possible timing, Corey’s truck died in the parking lot of the nearby shopping center. Oh, we knew that the truck was living on borrowed time, but we were hoping against hope that it would give us at least another month, time to get the van down from Ohio, time to get Corey on a boat, time to park it and let it rest until the repairs could be made.

Mais non. ‘Twas not to be.

Which leads me back to my original statement and the question that keeps going around and around inside my brain: exactly who did we piss off this badly, whose crappola list, who did we offend in this lifetime or a previous or next in order to keep getting served cold Haggis when a nice, healthy mango salad would do?

 “Look instead directly at the sun” ~ Rumi, “Not Intrigued With Evening”

Chiang Mai Orchids
Chiang Mai Orchids, Thailand

I hear from those of you out in the ether, and I know that we aren’t alone. I know now just how many of you are in the same dire straits that we are navigating. Believe me, it does help with perspective.

But exactly when is this merry-go-round going to stop? Trust me when I said that I am beyond nauseous from the circling and circling, never arriving, never achieving any kind of forward momentum, the kind that grown ups are supposed to be able to achieve.

Actually, a better metaphor might be that horrible cups and saucers ride. You know, the one in which the cups and saucers spin themselves, and then the whole ride spins? My father actually had to ask the man who was working the switches to stop the ride one time when we were at a local amusement park. I had turned this lovely shade of ecru and was shaking violently all over. Carnie said he’d never seen a reaction that bad.

My cousin thought that it was hilarious. She would. If I had been able to manage anything but dry heaves, I would have hurled on her, kind of how I feel like hurling at the world, leaving just this stain on the sidewalk of life to show that I had been there for a moment, but frankly, had had enough.

“We are born and live inside black water in a well. How could we know what an open field of sunlight is?” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Buddha in the ruins of Wat Mahathat
Buddha in the Ruins of Wat Mahathat

Internal playlist: Life right now reminds me of that Sting song: “I’m so happy. I can’t stop crying.” Laughing through my tears: “everybody’s got to leave the darkness sometime.”

Or maybe Rocky Horror’s “Time Warp” would be more appropriate:

“It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely, not for very much longer
I’ve got to keep control . . .”

Visions of torn fish nets and too much lipstick: “And nothing can ever be the same . . .”
Time warp would be a perfectly logical explanation for what’s happening. At least it makes more sense than the real explanation: There is no explanation.

“Don’t insist on going where you want to go.  Ask the way to the spring.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Wooden San Jao Thi
Wooden Spirit House

Moving along . . .

Did you know that in Thai culture, claiming to be haunted by a ghost is perfectly acceptable?

No, I’m not digressing. I beg the court’s indulgence whilst I attempt to make connections . . .

In Thailand, if I were to tell my landlord that my apartment has the spirit of a dead person, I would not be recommended for psychiatric counseling. On the contrary, spirits abound in Thai culture.

Spirit houses, or San Phra Phum (Abode of the Land Guardian Angel) are incorporated into most Thai homes so that the spirits can be left offerings for their well-being. It is believed that most homes have their own household spirits.

Fortune tellers, contrary to being frowned upon as in Western culture, are highly respected and consulted for most major decisions.

I find that to be a very logical way of looking at things. For example, let’s just say that Corey and I accidentally insulted the spirit of someone’s departed great aunt Mei by stepping on her threshhold (big no, no). Great aunt Mei would hang about for a bit to remind us of the error of our ways until we could perform the necessary rituals for her to rest in peace.

Quit looking at me that way. I’m serious.

“Your living pieces will form a harmony.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Thais, almost 95 perMoon and Buddha image at dusk Wat Mahathatcent of whom are Buddhists, also believe in animism, or spirit worship. Animist spirits stem from the belief that it is not just humans and animals that have souls but also plants, rocks, geographic features, rivers and even natural phenomena such as thunder. These spirits can have an effect on the well-being of those around them. I am not feeling the least bit cynical about such statements.

My own acceptance can be attributed to my personal beliefs in pantheism, that god is in all things.

I found the following passage on Teaching the Ghost: The Thai Supernatural very illuminating:

The greatest fear of an average Thai is of a break down of the social order and the resulting chaos. This explains why the system of hierarchy is so entrenched there and why an average Thai is so ready to unquestioningly follow a superior . . . in 700 years Thailand has never had a civil war. The Thai fear of chaos is personified in their spirits. Thais pay respects even to spirits that are dangerous, not because they have any love for them but because they leave people alone if they are respected. These can be the spirits of women who died in childbirth, malevolent nature spirits, ghosts or, most dangerous of all, the ghosts of people who have just been let out of hell but who have not been reborn in the human world yet. They have something of a chip on their shoulders. One thing that all these spirits have in common, besides their malevolent nature, is that they are part of no social hierarchy. Their world is everything that Thais fear—a world of chaos with no social order. If not respected they can unleash their violent natures and their social chaos on humans.

My point? Somewhere, somehow, we have—to mix my cultural metaphors—opened Pandora’s box and unleashed a very chaotic spirit that wants appeasement. Certainement. It is the only thing that makes any sense at this point.

Somewhere, lurking about us, is a spirit who is lambasting us with chaos. Unfortunately, not having been made aware of this, we have failed to proffer the proper respect, our inconsideration in trampling on a door sill rather than stepping over it.

“There is a moving palace that floats in the air with balconies and clear water flowing through, infinity, everywhere.” ~ Rumi, “Moving Water”

Karma. Joss. Fate. Nirvana. Infinity. Big concepts. Big questions.

spirit_house_RatanaHere are a few interesting things to consider if you are planning to build or place your own spirit house to appease the spirits that dwell on your land:

  • Erect your spirit house in front of a tree.
  • Do not place a spirit house to the left side of a door.
  • A spirit house pointing towards the North or North-East is considered especially lucky.
  • Your spirit house should not face towards a road or toilet.
  • A spirit house should not be located within the shadow of the main property.

Remember, the spirit house is intended to honor and placate the spirits by providing an appealing shelter for the spirits, which admittedly, can be finicky and interferring, not necessarily good or evil. Traditional offerings to the spirits include edible and non-edible items such as rice, candles, flowers and incense.

My mother has two marble Buddhas in her house. My mother is the least Buddhist person I know. However, these small figurines have been in her home for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it is time for a spirit house and some prayer bells in our own environs.

More Rumi:

Thai prayer bells
Thai Prayer Bells

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Translation by Coleman Barks

More later. Peace.

I Vant To Be Alone . . .

Hermits, Eremites, Anchorites, or Just Plain Recluses?

aran-islands-hermits-cave
Aran Islands Hermit's Cave, Ireland

I’ve been contemplating hermits. You know, those people, usually men, sometimes women, who go off and live by themselves. (The word hermit comes from the Greek word erēmos, which means desert or uninhabited; hence “desert-dweller”; adjective: “eremitic”; (Wikipedia)).  Hermits have been around since the 3rd century AD, and their associations have traditionally been religious. Originally, Christian hermits would live in huts or caves, called hermitages, in the desert or forest, and they were sought for spiritual advice, which kind of negated the whole solitude concept. (Here in Norfolk, we have a museum called The Hermitage, which has nothing to do with hermits, and that’s always kind of bothered me, but I digress.)

By the Middle Ages, the hermit’s life had changed in that it had become more anchored to the Christian church, thus the term anchorite. Instead of living in forests or deserts, many anchorites were actually walled into mud or brick attachments on the sides of the churches with a window opening into the church so that the anchorite could receive holy communion and another window open to the street to receive donations of food. I suppose that this allowed for more of the life sought by the Christian eremite, which was to be in total praise and devotion to his god.

tigers-den-buddhist-monastery
Tiger's Den Buddhist Monastery in the Himalayas

Of course, there were and are many kinds of hermits, not just the Christian ascetics. For example, Buddhist monks and nuns seek solitude for meditation, contemplation, and prayer. They prefer to life without the distractions of modern society or sex, and their lives follow a regimen of a simplified diet without meat, drugs, or alcohol. Buddhist monasteries and temples can be found all over the world, with an expected preponderance in China, but also from every place from Queensland, Australia, to Slovenia, to Oregon, to Chile and Bali.

Then there are the hermits who have no religious affiliations, the ones who are hermits simply because they choose to live a reclusive life apart from the rest of society.

When I was about 17, I contemplated becoming a nun. Now, given that I’m not Catholic and was not raised Catholic, you might find this a somewhat interesting declaration. I had a very good male friend in my teens who I may have mentioned before, and he was pretty much my sounding board throughout my teens and college years. We have known each other since the fourth grade, so I trust his judgment, even though he was a Republican for almost forever. So when I made the statement that I thought that I might like to become a nun, his response was to raise an eyebrow and wait.

These were my reasons: Let me preface this by saying that I find the Catholic religion particularly sexist, so I really have a hard time with that part of it, which I know pretty much disqualifies me from the start, but I love the rituals of it: the incense, the candles, the kneeling, the holy water. I wish that they still said the mass in Latin, not that I understand Latin, mind you. I loved the idea of being a nun and not having to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I mean, bingo, you’re married to god, you have a vocation, your wardrobe is chosen for you, you never have a bad hair day.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to be flippant. These really were my reasons. I was 17, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. It had nothing to do with religion. I loved the idea of being cloistered. I had not idea that I might have to teach school children or anything like that. I just wanted to be away from the rest of the world, and I didn’t know how to go about being a hermit, and I wasn’t sure if you could still actually do that, at least not in America. I knew that they still had hermits in England, or at least, I thought that they did.

My friend listened to my reasons, and then very calmly pointed out two main flaws in my plan: First, I wasn’t Catholic. And second, I wasn’t particularly religious or even spiritual at that point in my life. As he said, he thought that I needed to be at least one of those or to at least have some kind of “calling,” as he put it.

I cannot say that I was surprised. Disappointed yes, but surprised, no. It has seemed like a good idea at the time, and one that I revisited from time to time, especially when I was feeling as if I did not want to be of this world, if that makes any sense.

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of finding a monastery to go to for an extended retreat. I have heard of one that is in the foothills of Virginia somewhere, but I have never actively looked for it. I suppose that I have never given up on the idea of the monastic retreat even if I cannot live the lifestyle full time, which, in reality, I know that I cannot. I mean, I am already pretty much of a hermit already. Since going on disability, I have retreated from the trappings of life by choice, and I cannot say that I miss it all that much.

I miss going to school and learning new concepts and new information on an ongoing basis, but my computer is my lifeline to information, and I am tapped in 24/7. When I cannot sleep, I surf. I watch MSNBC for new political information, and I watch Law & Order, Without a Trace, and CSI for my doses of crime drama. That much hasn’t changed. I still like to eat out once in a while, and I would love an occasional night out for karaoke, but other than that, the world outside my bedroom doesn’t beckon to me in the way that it used to.

hermits-cave-quarry-bank-garden
Hermit's Cave Quarry Bank Garden

If we had the money, I would still like to take a trip once a year to a new country just for the experience, but a trip to a mall? Not so much. The movies? I really resent paying $30 for tickets and drinks and popcorn when I can pay $4 on cable in a month. Now a museum? In a heartbeat, but I would need to be in a new city for that. The symphony? I would probably get out of my pajamas for that. But just going out to go out? My hermit tendencies kick in, as do my curmudgeonly feelings about people in crowded stores like Wal Mart and the like.

If I had been around in the Middle Ages, and I believe that I probably was, I think that I would have liked to have been a hermit, probably one who lived in a stick hut in the forest. That sounds about right. And my name would have been something like Leonid of Aghast and I definitely would have been a misanthrope.

I’ll get into the whole idea of reincarnation and my thoughts about past lives and Zen and Karma and getting it right in another posting. But just one parting thought on that one. Why does everyone who believes in reincarnation believe that they were someone great like Napoleon or Marie Antoinette? I mean, why isn’t anyone ever a chambermaid or a stable boy or something like that? Just a thought.

As always, there will be more later. Peace.

Remnants: Hillary, Karma, and Rick Rolling?

If It’s Friday, It Must Be Leftovers

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton? You Betcha

The Obama Campaign was renowned for its lack of leaking. Reporters bemoaned their inability to penetrate what was dubbed the tightest campaign ship in history, especially in comparison to the leaky frigate U.S.S. McCain, from which new leaks sprung hourly. Hence the surprise over the leaks that have come from the President-elect’s camp since the election: his choice of Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff, and now the word that Hillary Clinton is being eyed for Secretary of State, a position that is much coveted by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Would Clinton be effective in the position? She is already widely recognized by world leaders and is on a first-name basis with many of them. She is a tough negotiator, articulate, and well-schooled in foreign policy. In fact, Clinton’s foreign policy experience was often thought to be superior to Obama’s during the campaign, and many thought that it would be the one thing that would trip up the junior senator from Illinois. There is no doubt that Clinton is qualified. 

She has already made the trip to Chicago. The big question now is whether or not she would accept. The bigger question is whether or not it would fit in with her larger plans because there is no doubt that Senator Clinton, in her indubitable wisdom, has bigger plans.

My Son Would Be So Proud

I have admitted to being an avid “Rachel Maddow” fan, so you will imagine my surprise when her “Just Enough” segment featured her being RickRolled! My youngest son finds this pasttime hilarious for some reason, and every member of the family has been RickRolled at least twice. He hides the link behind other links so that you never know when you are going to hear that obnoxious song.

For those of you lucky enough never to have had this experience, being RickRolled is a prank involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song “Never Gonna Give You Up.” The person RickRolling you provides a web link that they claim is relevant to a topic you might be interested in and sends it to you in an e-mail, or posts it on their MySpace, but the link actually takes you to the Astley video.

I’m sure that neither Maddow nor her “Just Enough” segment companion Kent Jones planned the RickRoll, but it was priceless nevertheless. I can’t wait to show my son. He’ll love it.

 

Obama Roll/Rick Roll (not the one on Rachel Maddow Show)

 

Don’t Drink This Wine. Savor It.

Remember Michael Vick? How could you not? After all, what a fine specimen of a human being he is, taking all of that NFL fame and fortune, buying a bunch of dogs, a large house, 15 acres of land, and living a life of quiet leisure in the off-season. No wait. That wasn’t Michael Vick, was it? Oh Michael Vick, that sleazoid who thought it would be really cool to buy a bunch of dogs and train them to rip the flesh of each other while a bunch of other sleazoids bet money on which dog would die first. That Michael Vick? Well this section isn’t actually about him. It’s about the dogs.

Seems that the dogs who were saved from said sleazoid had a piece written about them by AP news and featured on “Today.” The dogs have been undergoing retraining and rehabilitation at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in southern Utah. One of the founders of the sanctuary, artist Cyrus Mejia, began painting the dogs after they arrived. The portraits have captured the dogs souls, not their pain.  And Matt Hahn, co-owner of Carivintas Winery, decided to combine the art with his wine. And voilà: The Vicktory Dogs Wine Collection, which features colorful portraits of the 22 dogs confiscated from Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

Each bottle includes a portrait of one of the dogs on the front, and a brief story about the dog on the back. The entire set includes 22 bottles and two others commemorating Best Friends’ 25th anniversary, and costs $672. The set can be split, and each half sells for $380. Individual bottles are $40. Ten percent of each sale goes to Best Friends. The money will be used to oppose dog fighting and to fight laws targeted against specific breeds of dogs.

What a great ending to what began as a portrait of a man with too much money and time and not enough humanity and heart. In the end, the dogs won, and not in the way that Vick had planned for them. He’s sitting in jail eating macaroni, and the dogs’ visages are gracing the labels of fine wine. Karma is a good thing.

More later. Peace.