Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rebirth From the Belly of the Whale

As the Chilean miners emerged one by one from a narrow tube in the earth, the Belly of the Whale came to mind. This mythic image depicts the archetypal passage of being swallowed into the unknown, appearing to have died and re-emerging in a newer, more expanded identity. This is certainly the case with the 33 men who were trapped 2,000 feet underground. For 17 days after the mine cave-in, the miners were believed to be dead. Miraculously, rescuers found them alive and engaged the odyssey of returning them to the surface. During the 69 day ordeal, the entire world watched nervously and breathed a collective sigh of relief as the miners emerged from the darkness and finally breathed fresh air on the surface.

Why did this drama resonate so deeply in the collective psyche? Perhaps it's because each of us has personal experience with the Belly of the Whale. At some point in our lives, we are swallowed into the unknown. It may be the unknown of a blank page, blank canvas or blank checkbook. We may be swallowed into the belly of disease, divorce, or a loved-one's death. Whatever tips us over the lip the predictable into the unpredictable, we find ourselves engulfed in forces beyond our control. We are walled in with no clear path to escape. Everything in us screams to eject from the crushing circumstances, but the only way out is through.

Often, the passage through the Belly of Whale demands that we wait. With nowhere to go, we hang in limbo, not dead and not alive. That in-between state can be excruciating to mind and body. In that intense pressure and heat, however, profound alchemy can occur. The dense, opaque stone of our self-centered, selfish frameworks for living can be squeezed into shimmering gems reflecting the wider light of the world. The confinement of our soaring fantasies can force us to see the treasures sparkling in the dirt beneath our feet.

Today we cheer and cry for the heroic passage of the Chilean miners. In the process, let's include those closer home. Let's honor the dark journey each of takes through the Belly of the Whale.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Trust Beneath Trust

When fear swirls through our minds, we look for something to trust. We reach into our backpack of inspirational quotes, phone calls to reassuring friends, the stillness of meditation, faith in the soul, and many other things. All of them are meant to soothe the turmoil of facing the great unknowns—food, shelter, love, disease, death, the survival of the planet. Sometimes it works and sometimes the fear rages on.

While the mind searches for trust amidst a whirlpool of dread, there's another trust that doesn't come and go at the whim of the thought-stream. This trust permeates the cells of the body and the fibers of trees. It rests within rocks and glows through sunlight. It doesn't look for evidence to believe or facts to prove. It doesn't rely on words in a book or a posture on a yoga mat. This trust doesn't depend on your faith in it or the consensus of a community.

So what it this trust beneath trust? It is life being what it is beyond any human preference. It's water tumbling down a mountain to the sea without worrying if its the right thing to do or the right way to go. It's your body swallowing food and digesting it as best it can without fretting over whether or not it is on your diet. This trust runs through every grain of existence. It is the earth breathing incomprehensible totality without scurrying about to make sure everything is in order and everybody is happy about it. It's life sticking with its miraculous process of birth, growth, decay, death and renewal no matter what.

So, when your mind swirls with anxiety, panic, or some vague distress, reach for your favorite Rumi quote or your version of rosary beads and soothe your aching thoughts. Also remember, beneath the thunderstorms of your aching heart, the entire earth is permeated with a trust that does not change and is always firm. It's life being life, existence existing, no matter what.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wrestling With Impermanence

Living with impermanence is one of my greatest challenges. I accept the idea that all forms that are born must die. Seeds must break for plants to grow and plants must decay for new plants to sprout. The circle of life is a palatable image that depicts continuation through change. It offers a certain level of peace and connection.

What boggles my mind and rattles my bones is the direct, sensory experience of impermanence. It started a number of years ago when formless silence became the backdrop and essence of every thought, word, gesture and environment. What I had encountered as solid and separate, I now experienced as transparent and unified. The world that had been firm ground supporting isolated objects and beings became a vast fluid space. Objects and beings flowed within it like waves within an ocean. This ocean had no substance, yet the waves of form rising and falling within it were actually more vivid than they had been in the old solid ground world.

Within this fluid cosmos, impermanence became the tangible experience of transparency within formlessness. Impermanence was no longer the process of a seed, becoming a tree, producing fruit that became a seed. It became all things dissolving into transparent formlessness as soon as they appeared. My thoughts, words and actions became the equivalent of writing on water. They certainly had their effects, but they disappeared into formlessness as soon they were born.

Strangely, my mind was and is unable to understand or fully accept this impossible paradox. It clings to its notions that there is cause and effect, that individual lives have an understandable meaning and purpose. My mind knows the spiritual explanations for the type of impermanence I have described, but it doesn't buy them. It still looks for ways to resolve the puzzle of formless forms.

Living this contradiction has turned my work from goal oriented tasks to being the conduit through which life makes offerings to itself through me. This is not my choice. It's just what is happening and it feels better to acknowledge it and willingly participate.

Still, my mind clings, like a dog to its bone, to a shred of hope that it can figure this thing out. On good days, it seems like an organic process that will eventually burn through this resistance. On other days, my body-mind rage against the formless-forms it finds itself inhabiting. It battles a futile war to establish solid ground in infinite formlessness. On yet other days, my body-mind knows that formlessness will eventually bleach transparency through its bones and thoughts and another unimaginable reality will dawn. Impermanence will have its way beyond what the body-mind thinks.