Monday, November 29, 2010

Encounters at the Edge

After life has tossed you to the edge and raw openness saturates your bones, there comes a moment when you look up and see others inhabiting that sketchy borderland. You realize the aloneness of staring into the abyss is a solitude that is shared by anyone exposed to the unprocessed energies of living. Meeting other eyes saturated with the earth-shattering no-thing-ness of the void is to encounter the mystery meeting the mystery through the masks of "you" and "me."

Such run-ins happen whenever we forget to raise the facades that protect our carefully crafted images. For an instant we lay down the armor of false separateness and acknowledge we are all out at sea paddling the same human canoe; we don't have a clue as to who we truly are, why the hell we are here and where on earth we are going. We admit that loving more, thinking deeper and trying harder doesn't really illuminate or mange the wild energies of the unknown. It actually takes us deeper into the unknowable; and this where the aliveness we truly seek dwells.

Far from being dangerous intrusions, encountering others at the brink opens the way to healing the primal wound that tears self from other, mind from body, body from earth and any one thing from all other things. This is the natural medicine of honest expressions in art, music, food, healing arts, architecture and other endeavors that aim to reveal rather than hide our shared humanity. When you hear such a raw voice in a song lyric, a line of movie dialogue, or a sentence on the page, you know you are not alone. You remember that there is something to be gained by engaging the confusion, frustration and struggle of this journey rather than straining to avoid it.

For the most part, these electric, healing moments of human connection are fleeting. As quickly as they appear, you conceal them with the fear that expressing vulnerability exposes you to ridicule, rejection and worse. Yet, having the courage to avoid averting your gaze and, instead, continue to meet the mystery of true life in another, you find that the so-called emptiness of existence is its fullness. You discover that the rawness of encounters at the brink is the raw material of Being forming into the richness of Becoming. What society promotes as the good life is actually the escape from life. You find that truly living is truly dying into the openness and vitality of the edge.

Every encounter you have today is an encounter at the brink, whether you acknowledge it or not. Behind the forced smile and the gleaming windshield, the holiday storefront and the bored,disdainful expression, a person facing the mystery is questioning the same things you question, dreading similar things you dread. That person is awed by many of the same things sparking wonder in you and moved by what inspires you. If you look through your mask to see the true human behind their mask, you may discover Life looking back at you. You may have a marvelous encounter at the brink.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Truth at the Edge

In the collective mind, the edge has an aura of romance. It's characterized by adrenaline-spiking special effects and a heart pounding soundtrack. The hero at the edge is portrayed as icy calm amidst a firestorm of destruction; or a radiant mind glows in the birth of an earth-shattering breakthrough. At the pop-culture edge, the hero finds the golden light and the golden statue. Its described calmly in the media Q&A and lovingly embraced by the teary-eyed family. This romantic fantasy couldn't be further from the truth of the edge.

If you've found yourself at the edge, you know there's no glamour there. Actually being at the edge is clinging to the lip of the known and staring in the unknowable. It's realizing that the beliefs, love, possessions, physical stamina and whatever else stabilizes the center no long applies to emerging circumstances; new energies and insights must be accessed. The edge doesn't glorify the ego; that is the work of the center.

The edge is not a vacation choice or a thrilling distraction from the tedium of living. No rational person willingly ventures there. Uncontrollable forces sweep you to edge where everything cherished by the rational mind is challenged. It rips away illusions, yanks the rug from beneath your feet and dissolves apart the world you inhabit. The edge is not the glowing horizon between heaven and earth. It's the faint border crossing between the wasteland and the unknown land.

At the edge, there's no turning back. Behind is the corpse of a life that no longer breathes. Ahead is the fear of annihilation in the abyss. Yet, the opportunity of being at the edge is dying to the known to discover revitalizing energies in the unknowable. To ego, mind and body, the edge is a place of dark nothingness. To the soul, the edge rims the well of life. At the edge hovers the elusive elixir of life. It the time/space moment/place where you encounter the no-thing that cannot be described or explained while it powers the steps of your life journey. The edge is not a dividing line separating hope from fear. It's the mixture of hope and fear that ignites the strange sparks of new creation.

You may be thrown to the edge by divorce, disease or debt. You may find yourself there staring that the blank page or the blank canvas. You may not know how the hell you got there. At the edge, your heart may pound, your knees may shake, your throat may be parched, your eyes may be blinded by tears, you legs may feel unable to take the next step. At the edge you may feel alone and confused. Yet, if you are lucky enough to be opened this far by life, please remember: the edge is a moment of fierce grace; you are at a vital threshold on your life journey; as you passed through birth into this world, you are being birthed into important new dimensions of this world; though its seems like you are losing your life you are in the process of gaining; hang in there.

The truth of the edge is described in an old Zen story: A man, being chased by a tiger, ran to the edge of a cliff. As the tiger bore down on him, the man spotted a vine growing down the side of the precipice and climbed down it. At the bottom of the cliff, another tiger roared and licked his lips. Clinging to the vine, the man saw two mice, one black and one white, gnawing the vine at the point it sprung from the rock face. Two feet to his left grew a single strawberry. The man plucked the red fruit and popped it into his mouth, how sweet and fresh it tasted.