Sunday morning, sunrise or just after. The horizon in the west I can’t see must have a crack in the cloud cover, a slit the sun is shining brightly through. The sky I see as I open the curtains looking out onto the garden, the tiny garden where I stand beneath the immense sky everywhere surrounding me, that sky never as I’ve seen it before, in all my life.
The expression nature takes on each day is not something predictable. Yes there is an apparent mathematical underpinning to the universe, precise in its order for those able to conceive it, the physicists, though they don’t all agree, don’t really know for sure. And the seasons we count on year in and out. And the weather forecasts that deem to anticipate the kind of weather we’ll have. But in its expression of wind and light, shaped by variation in temperature and pressures and all the other factors that combine in some effect, that expression of nature is never some fixed thing, but always moving, constantly swirling in instantaneous creations that instantaneously disappear, replaced by other combinations and versions of itself. Consider the sky each day with such variation in the shape, colour, and movement of clouds, an ever-changing painting above us beautiful in any moment, moment after changing moment. Oh but there are days of solid blue sky, you might say. Yes, but in each moment the angle of the sun shifts, and a tree branch moves if but a touch, and the bird flying above is there in a geometry to the branch and then it is in another, bird and branch, angle of light, imperceptible variation in the blue, a cry of a loon, all in an instant experienced, ever in flux, beautiful and gone.
We live with a sense of time of passing through experience, but it’s well documented our brains sense time differently in different circumstances. Runners at different points in a long run, have very different senses of time passing documented in the research around the new buzzword ‘flow.’ And so our experience of the world is even more variable, nothing is as it is because it isn’t anything but movement, flux.
CBC IDEAS show on Flow: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/flow-making-the-impossible-possible-1.6077468
One can’t be in ‘flow’ all the time, impossible to be so consumed inside the experience, so focused and concentrating, not with thinking but with one’s whole being, all the time. Can’t do it. Unfortunately, the opposite can be true. We can never do it, or rarely. We can rarely experience the world with our whole being, not feel it by our whole being, not feel absorbed, not feel whole. When passing out days lost to the experience we are in.
What is the character of our new media age but distraction. We live in a mass society, highly concentrated numbers of us all in a tiny space. Many of the others of our society want our attention, for their livelihood, for their satisfaction, so many vying for us, offering us rewards, tantalizing our senses, promising us our every desire, their efforts for our attention has become this madness having us caught up in the madness scrolling constantly, pinged again and again, no day that is free to us without being pulled this way and that, no hour, no minute. So we are in constant flux, so flummoxed by it.
Two swirling worlds, ne’er to meet. The world we live in and the world that lives in us. Living in one and not in the other.
Pulling back the curtain as I do each morning, and turning as I do each morning to follow on to the next step in the day, yet this Sunday, by accident my being at the door at that particular moment, a bit of red in the sky caught my eye. Very faint, if washed out, but illumined against the dark, stormy cloud. Just a bit of a colourfully warm shape swirling about. Turning back because it caught my eye, I saw how the low-lying clouds were moving very fast. The cloud cover above was grey-bluish, must be of low opacity, making it appear light and a particular and unusual shade. The low clouds were ominously black and were like objects passing in front of light background. The bright sun coming through the slit in the west was caught lit the space between the background and foreground clouds and gave an illumination to the trailing edge of the black clouds flying across the sky. And in some particular combination of angles and shapes were formed these red slashes of light, like fire on the trailing edge of the black cloud. As the wind carried the clouds at great speed, the fragments of red changed in shape, expanding and diffusing or contracting and intensifying or in a swirl dissolving to nothing.
I watched. Something I’d never seen before. Not quite like that at least. And I wouldn’t have seen it except I was standing there at that moment. In amazement I stood in witness. Amazed by its display, the whole sky expressing itself in great display indifferent to whether I was there or not. A bit of luck on my part to see it, spectacular enough for me to stop for a moment and notice. Held there, my awakened eyes looked about. Near me in the garden, the tree branches were all flying about in every direction madly moving back and forth as if the branches were clapping wildly, ferociously waving about. It seemed they were responding to the magnificent display above. And I guess they were. The same howling wind driving the clouds was animating the trees, and so in their harmony, tree and sky were one, were engaged in the same moment one and the same display and exuberance.
It all died down soon enough. I don’t have a picture of it for you, or better a video. The thought did come into my mind that I should run and get my camera and capture the beauty. There wouldn’t have been time, and with that thought I also thought, my looking through the camera intent on framing a shot would have been an insult, an insult to this expression of the world. It would have been me controlling it, putting it into a frame I could edit and show others, present as my work. In no way could I contain that experience in my camera, or even in these words I write. Id be a fool to think I could in any way contain and commodify that display of wonder. The moment is not for me to possess but know. Not for me to control but give myself to. With the experience of that moment, time changed for me, my body changed, my mind changed, my soul changed, my spirit awakened. How? By being completely free of my ego wanting to possess and control it. By my being given over to the greater experience, surrendered to it.
Letting the black clouds rimmed with light, fire spectacular trailing its flying course. Letting the trees flail about in ecstatic applause. Noticing with the passing of cloud and red streaks, the quieting of the tree branches, there up in the sky, a white gull appeared and disappeared before my eyes. And in living that out, I came to sense a different place for me in the world I live in. I sensed a greater wisdom than my own self-assuredness. I saw my folly in thinking I can know what I need, know what I am about, know what is right and wrong. It is all much more than you can imagine, Reg.
I began to see that the great red-edged cloud passing by me in all its magnificence was the thread of a cloak swirling as the god/goddess turned. Having a glancing flicker into the Other that is all that is, which neither theologians or physicists know, yet know better than me what is unknown, or to the mystics unknowable.
I saw some clouds pass by but I also felt an awe not for some water vapour and light intermingling, but awe for something it connected me to, deep in my interiority, reaching into me as far as the cosmos extends outside of me. I sense in it all an echo of magnificence, a sense of me and this little garden as a speck of dust inside a huge palace the magnificence of which I have no idea, nothing like I can imagine.
But then I realize that bit of dust, the interiority of it is as cavernous as the palace. And so the me I sense is as much a mysterious self within and a mysterious out there. And I begin to think I am not what I am but I am what I am not. I am of the passing skyscape, as much as I experience it in my whole being I am it as well, some swirling ever-changing rhythm. In the biblical story of the Moses encountering God in the burning bush, God says I am who I am, which is more to say in the original Hebrew, who I am is not your business.
I see the thread just of the hem of the garment as it flickers and it tells me in my being there is so much more than what I understand, and it is not for me to understand that, not for me to possess and control of that, but rather feel I am a part of that, in my being know that, know it to be my home with it. How? But prostrate before it, not daring to lift my eyes to it, and in that I find my perfect peace. A perfect peace. I am home. I belong. I stand in awe of what is and what is all I am.
We suffer when we try to be like gods, to be powerful, to be in control, life catering to us, to our desires and wants, obsessively pursuing what we think we know to be true. Now the pursuit on line, where the world seems to be there to serve us, given us whatever we want, the whole of the world as the digital platforms promise us, the whole of the world in our pocket there for us at the press of a button, exotic meals delivered to our door, the best of everything and its all ours. All those seeking my attention, appealing to me, appealing to my wanting to be seen, wanting to be loved even. I click the button, not to like something but cry out, I want to be liked. Like me. And we fall in line buying and believing all we see, chasing after the possessions, services and ideas that tell us we are magnificent. As if we are the gods. Satisfying our needs and desires the centre of meaning and purpose of life.
Instead, it would seem when spirit touches us on the shoulder, we sense something near, we feel something deep within, an echo. Perhaps the turn of phrase in a poem, or the gesture in a work of art, or the cry of a child or a loon, some little things by which spirit calls us to something else. When everything collapses into a second when our breath is taken away, there in the ah-ha that catches us off guard, and for a moment we the world seems to be telling us something letting us in on a secret. Oh my goodness. How beautiful is that cloud. What is that? What is it that I sense so different to what I know?
Somehow that ever-changing, swirling cloud in all its magnificence is me, I am it, we are but all this together a constantly changing swirling energy, the life of which is in us, not outside of us, possessed by us, represented by us, but is who we are. Our life as one with the magnificence about us. Inspiring and terrifying. Otherness. That can warm our skin and destroy our homes and kill our children. Otherness, carrying on despite how much we want to be gods ourselves immune from life, life to serve us. We all die. In a moment. If only then, at our last breath, we learn we are not gods, none of this about us and our egos. We are about it. Somehow we only sense we are part of something, sense our place in life when we surrender to it, allow it, the sky and trees and light and rain, to be our teachers. Only then. Only when we stop pushing the buttons. Only when we acknowledge and give ourselves over to what is greater, not what is human construct, not our institutions of power and wealth. And there we find our way of peace. And curiously we find each other there, find ourselves more at one with each other. In surrendering ourself, letting go, we find in us compassion and empathy, our home, where we sense most our completion, never complete, but in completion. In the biblical story of creation the creation of humans was not said to very good because the sages tell, the human creation is not complete. For Buddhists, the perfection of a single soul takes 10,000 years. We are like the clouds above swirling. We fail and try and fo this way and that, but it is all in finding our way. In process. Learning, it would seem above all, to listen, to notice the branches as they move, the light as it skims by, and see it, and it will teach us how to be.
The experience we have whatever the moment is for us whether happiness or sadness, loss or gain, love or emptiness, it is for us not to do something about it, but do something with it, to be it and discover ourselves there in it, by giving ourselves up to the greatness of life, be able to say life itself is enough, to have the moment, be there for the moment without trying to make it other.
Our mythologies teach us a way to see. I’m reading a piece by Marjorie Garber on the image of the Gorgon Medussa in the play Macbeth. The swirling snakes in her hair, piercing eyes, gnashing fangs, gyrating tongue, a horrific sight that would turn a human to stone, Macbeth interpreting the weird sisters incantations and prophesies to make himself King and the price of torment paid for traversing the order of nature, having Banquo’s head brought to him severed from his body, when fair is foul and foul fair.
What is fate but to think life is fixed and marked. What is the pursuit to know yourself but a fixing in some form an inviolable state of self. But life is a swirling of energies, emerging, passing, fluid and immaterial. Frequencies and vibrations our brain interprets as colours and smells and sounds, creating some sense of place and time, perceived in the construction of our mind to be something, but to what end? That we seek to possess what we perceive, call it ours, control it, say ourselves successful, achievers, look at me. To what other end instead? To say life passes through me comes as it comes and I grateful for that, to be at one with what I do not know, to have faith, embrace the breath I have that gives me life to be in this moment, breathing, not the expert but the witness, not the creditor but the companion. The black clouds ringed with light and trailing fire flying across the sky above me, the ground below me where I stand, the trees among me showing the way ecstatic wildly cheering and clapping, driven by the invisible wind. So as Macbeth might ask for us, what is pneuma but breath?