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Practical Peace

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“If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies” – Archbishop Tutu 

This goes totally against the grain for me. When I decided to pursue peace this year, I figured I would have to stop talking to those people who brought out the worst in me, those who made me angry and caused me to lose my sense of tranquility. But this quote stopped me in my tracks. Of course it’s easy to find peace with those with whom I am at peace. But what about those with whom I am not? That is the real trick. So I cannot ignore those with whom I am in disagreement. I must meet with them and have discourse with them. But I must not become angry or cast aspersion upon them. I must maintain my peace and offer it to them. Otherwise it is not really peace. 

I look forward to putting this into practice.

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Resolution

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Just over a mile along the trail up Hamilton Mountain in Washington State is a waterfall called Pool of the Winds. Here Hardy Creek drops 20 feet inside a cave, where it gathers before falling another 45 feet as the Rodney Falls. A steady wind blows out of this cave as the water thunders in your ears. There is a deep spiritual quality to this pool, drawing you in and enticing you to bathe yourself in its cleansing waters. It is a place of new beginnings. 

I see this year, 2014, as a place of new beginnings. I have resolved to seek more peace in my life over the next 12 months. I have very specific and practical ideas in mind as to how to do this; not only do they involve a change in behavior, but a change in mental outlook as well. One of my favorite passages from A Course in Miracles states, “If I defend myself, I am attacked.” What this tells me is that the attitude with which I confront the world is the attitude I’m going to receive in return. If I project fear, anger, or defensiveness, I’m going to find a world of danger, meanness and offense. If I project a state of loneliness, I will find a world of strangers. And of course, the contrary is true as well: project a world of peace, and I will find peace. 

So that is my New Year’s Resolution. To encompass, embrace, and project peace. I’ve already begun; and I’m already reaping rewards.

Elements

This raven shared with me an early winter storm on the Oregon coast last November. The wind was pushing 40 mph, sending needlepoint darts of ice-cold rain horizontally into our faces. And we both stood there, facing into it, watching the clouds bear upon us, the gray sky indistinguishable from the gray seas, both of us without jackets, relishing the Elements as they rolled over us.

When I was 16, two friends and I walked across the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. It was a hundred-mile trip, from Pasadena to the Mojave Desert and back, up and down a series of 4000-foot ridges. We did it in five days, with a layover at West Fork (San Gabriel River) on the return trip. We spent the day there because we’d made the trek faster than we thought we would. It was April, Spring Break, the looming clouds spitting frozen rain at us. I brought with me a flannel shirt and a wool sweater. I wore the same clothes all week, drying them out as I lay on granite boulders in the sporadic sunshine.

In 1979 a friend and I climbed Mount San Gorgonio in the San Bernardino Mountains, all 11,502 feet of it, in two days, with a layover for the night at Dry Lake, 9000 feet up. That next morning, awaking before dawn, I moved a few hundred yards away from our camp and spent an hour among the dense pines in exalted, grateful prayer as light gathered around me like a revelation. The air was a soft icy kiss on my skin. The peak to our south, rising like a jagged arrowhead against the purpling sky, reflected an ethereal pink back into the sunrise. The flowers that dotted the once lake bed among the grasses were absolutely still, as there was not a breath of wind. It was cold there, too, in that thin air. I wore a short-sleeved shirt.

I don’t do such things much anymore. My life has become too civilized, too urban, too mundane. Too timid. I won’t walk for more than five minutes without a coat in 40 degree weather. Yet I used to do more than that in 25. I’m embarrassed to admit this failing.

It has nothing to do with age; age is only a state of mind. No, what it is, it’s a failing of character. A disconnect with the world. A hiding behind concrete walls, behind concrete consciousness, behind concrete fear.

It felt good to stand in the damp sand and watch the storm come in. To be embraced by the cold wind, washed by the pure rain. I left that place renewed; if not quite reborn, at least on the right path again.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Explosion

    My friend Mari sent me William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis. It’s a marvelous meditation on Nature and Death. (I guess the dark stuff I was writing to her over the weekend sparked her impulse to send it.) In the opening stanzas, he says:
   
    When thoughts
    Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
    Over thy spirit, and sad images
    Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
    And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
    Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart
   
    I think I just can’t buy that “last bitter hour”….

When I look at Death, I do not see an end; I see a step, a progression, an evolution. I see a movement from one realm of the Dream to another. Oh, if only it were an end! We could then anticipate an eternal rest. But we are here as long as the Universe is here, and the Universe has only just begun. I was thinking today of 15 billion years since the Big Bang, and it struck me that that is but an eyeblink of time. The incredible complexities and beauties of existence, of life, of physical being, have appeared out of nothingness overnight, exploding into consciousness even as we stand upon this Earth, observing it. And there is so much more ahead.

For good or ill, we’ve only just begun.

Everything is interconnected.

Everything is symbolic.

Everything is archetypal.

Everything is a dream image.

Everything is consciousness.

Everything is deity.

All of these statements mean the same thing.

Ground

 

Chickens and eggs.

My friend Becky sent me a link to a report  stating that scientists have finally determined chickens came before eggs. It’s a ridiculous piece of journalism, but it seemed relevant to the discussion here.

We believe the world to be the way it is because we perceive it to be that way. But we perceive it that way because we believe it to be that way. Which comes first, perception or belief? What constitutes true reality?

Our minds are hardwired to interpret stimuli in particular ways. Indeed, those stimuli are directed to specific areas of the brain for processing, depending on what kind of stimuli they are. Thus sound waves are sent to the aural regions, light waves to the optical regions, etc. But then something interesting happens. Each set of stimulus data is subsequently shared by other brain structures, such as those producing memory, emotion and imagination. Our perceptions are thereby mixed with what we remember of other similar perceptions, how we felt about them at the time, and what we thought about them later. It is only after this processing is done that they are added to our experience store, to become part of our definition of reality. So every perception is intensely personal, and is different from the perceptions of others, because the raw material of every event is subject to internal interpretation based on the objective hardwiring and subjective experiences of our brains.

So nobody sees the same things the same way.

In short, reality differs for everyone.

Reality therefore lies on a foundation of shifting sand. There is no out there, no “actual” world existing apart from our minds, and which is true for everyone. The world is malleable, impermanent, ungraspable; even indescribable. Perception is the only means by which we know the world; and perception is a process carried out in many regions of our physical brains, each section interpreting the ones and zeroes of information it is receiving in accordance with its inherent preprogrammed algorithm—a set of instructions hardwired into the neuronal structure of the nervous system—and starting with the results of the algorithms inherent to the region from which it is receiving. Yet that structure is itself altered by its very reception of the information, because such reception causes neurons to rewire themselves. This in turn alters the algorithm by which the brain interprets the world.

The conclusions—the experiences—reached from this set of cascading processes are then projected out onto the world as part of our definition of reality. We have experienced certain events, so we expect to encounter those events again. And to the extent we do encounter them, our beliefs about them are reinforced. But we encounter them because we expect to encounter them, based on our past experience. We always find what we are looking for.

At this point, it doesn’t matter whether what we perceive is really there or not; we perceive it anyway. If it isn’t there, we put it there.

Reality is thus a vicious circle, a self-perpetuating feedback loop of stimulus-response-experience-acceptance-projection, which has no beginning and no end, no cause and no effect. It is hyperbolic, our knowledge of the world ever approaching absolute truth yet never actually touching upon it.

The ground upon which we stand is nothing but shifting sand.

“Reality” is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends upon what we look for. What we look for depends upon what we think. What we think depends upon what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.

                                            –Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters