The Perpetual Death–A Wooden Eulogy

Today I was sitting on my porch, soaking up the insistent vibrations of midday jungle when I heard a tearing crash.  As leaves fluttered down into the steep ravine that is my front yard, I realized it was a branch–thick and wieldy–detaching from its home, exchanging towering life for a moist, shaded grave.  Staring into the thick pulsing green, I had a small realization about a simple but, at least to me, meaningful difference between the forests of the North and those of the Equator:

Trees in Montana age to a predictable cadence, coloring and dropping once a year.  Their seasonal death signals the onset of Fall and shifts the mood, serving as amiable ushers to the coming snows.  And then, when the late February desperation has nearly drained the will of all inspiration, the trees perk up, stretching dormant limbs as the weight of months-old ice drips into the roots for recycling.  If you’ve got anything to let go of, do it in the Fall as Halloween tones coat every imaginable surface.  Hibernate through the liminality of the long freeze, and then embrace rebirth with the rest of existence when the Sun again implores an end to desolation.

It doesn’t work like that here in Bali.  There’s really no seasons.  Just hot and rain.  There’s no metaphorical justification for being lazy or depressed, even if it’s January.  The inspiration of a newly budding Spring flower is nowhere found because they always exist in some state of growth or death.  Always.  The vegetation here dies on an individual basis, one leaf at a time–autonomous to the end.  Forest forever grasping toward the beating sun while simultaneously dropping aged stowaways.

My realization:  I’m in Bali, not Montana.  It’s time to get with the program.  Pieces of me want to die, are aching to be shed from the stubborn, outdated armor of my psyche.  I’m growing, wiggling free in ways never imagined, yet I remain tethered to the anchors of the past.  What am I waiting for?  Fall is far off yet.  If wooden hulks bare any resemblance to the human mind (why wouldn’t they?) then it’s completely feasible to be born while dying.

I find myself stalling…but for what?  An auspicious sign, the right toss of the I-Ching, a creative explosion, the next season of Game of Thrones?  What is the end-game of waiting for just the right moment to make the moves I know must be made?  When can I finally pull the plug and allow the grissled artifacts of days past to slip into oblivion?  I think the branch was my sign; permission granted in one crackling tumble.

We all need a personal Kevorkian–someone or something to tell us “it’s ok.  It’s time to let go.”  Life is most often spent in the external world, watching and judging and conforming.  The changes pile up outside, but rarely do we adjust inside.  Nobody told us that two worlds exist, so we never consider looking.  We think of death as a singular, final process to be avoided because hey, we’re alive.  All too easily, we forget that if we don’t heed the little deaths, the inevitable falling apart of one way of seeing, we aren’t really alive.  We’re dreaming, perpetuating through brute force a reality so thin and fragile that the wrong molecule at the right time can dismantle it in moments.  The paradox exists in learning to shed the skin while remaining engaged; sympathetic to the wilting old, present to the flowing, fluctuating new.

So, thank you obscure, tropical branch.  Thanks for your service to the forest, to the shade you provided for the critters below, to the pleasing symmetry you lent that now-awkward-looking tree.  It was your time, and you knew that better than any other.  Nobody came to chop you down.  No, you just felt your fibers withering and realized that the trickling stream below didn’t look so bad after all. You will be missed, but your progeny will carry your legacy for years to come.

 

 

It is not ethic…

Quote

It is not ethical principles, however lofty, or creeds, however orthodox, that lay the foundations for the freedom and autonomy of the individual, but simply and solely the empirical awareness, the incontrovertible experience of an intensely personal, reciprocal relationship between [hu]man and an extramundane authority which acts as a counterpoise to the “world” and its “reason.”

C.G. Jung

Meditations on the Tao: #34

34

The Great Tao is universal like a flood.

How can it be turned to the right or to

the left?

All creatures depend on it,

And it denies nothing to anyone.

It does its work,

But it makes no claims for itself.

It clothes and feeds all,

But it does not lord it over them:

Thus, it may be called “the Little.”

All things return to it as to their home,

But it does not lord it over them:

Thus, it may be called “the Great.”

It is just because it does not wish to be

great

That its greatness is fully realized.

God dammit number 34.  Every hope and dream demolished in under twenty lines.

Every time I read the Tao te Ching, I realize just how confused I am almost all the time.  In relating to my last post, “Potential,” I want to focus on the last two lines of this verse.

“It is just because it does not wish to be great that its greatness is fully realized.”

A pervasive myth exists, especially in the West, that creation is an act of great will, a sustained burst of exertion, a blunt force attack upon the establishment of entropy.  To create is to abide in misery.  We are all too familiar with the idea of the lonely and misunderstood artist, the poor solitary human struggling to bring forth a stroke of genius amidst the perpetual slide into the abyss of obscurity.  Too easily, we fall into the trap of believing that our work is our own, that the flow of our medium is something to be possessed, that immortality is possible in the imprint of our efforts.  Maybe I should stop saying “we.”  I get confused in that rare moment of merging; identity with activity, writer with written, skier with skied.  I forget, time after time, that even though I feel like I’m the one doing the work, I’m actually not.

Perhaps this is simply the unavoidable consequence of a brain which loves to anthropomorphize.  I want to believe in the volition of the Universe so badly because I have the feeling that I actually possess such volition myself. The idea of my efforts going unacknowledged and unappreciated is unthinkable.  Is there no justice in this world?  Can it be that the myth of great effort, that American ideal of work equals reward, is nothing but wishful thinking?

Yet when I consider this more deeply, dropping down a layer or two, I see the wonderful invitation.  It’s the invitation every religion is built on; the opportunity to transcendence.  What a loaded fucking word.

The desire to be greater than our individual selves is everywhere.  It’s in the teleology of “progress,” that strange ideal that has humanity chasing the technological carrot to the brink of ecocide.  Why do people camp out on the sidewalk to pick up the new iPhone?  Because it’s new, it’s at the edge of innovation, it seems to have the potential to carry them past themselves into the promised land.  Manifest Destiny was the same story:  We need this land because it’s what God intended.  Sorry natives, we are doing this in the name of progress, we simply HAVE to.

The misplaced drive to transcendence, the egoic conception that we are the inheritors of our efforts, that our efforts mean anything at all…it’s just confusion.  We want to be greater than ourselves while still remaining ourselves.  See the paradox?

The Tao clears this up in two short lines.

“It is just because it does not wish to be great that its greatness is fully realized.”

Greatness exists, but it exists of its own accord.  It is not something to be controlled.  If we can assume any interaction with this force at all, it is in the humble channeling of a microcosmic flicker of “Tao.”  Maybe in an inspired moment we get a glimpse.  The trick is in remembering and acknowledging that glimpse is gift and to appreciate it as such.

Like a bird which alights nowhere, but hops perpetually from bough to bough, is the Power which abides in no man and in no woman, but for a moment speaks from this one, and for another moment from that one.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

But the love of…

Quote

But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expresson of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need–if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us–if only we were worthy of it”

Edward Abbey

Potential

There’s no metaphors I can stretch here.  They’re all too cheesy.  Even though that’s not true–I could sit here for the next two hours trying–they would still be cheap knock-offs.  Perhaps potential is a word like death or delicious that evades linguistic clarity for most of infinity.  It’s a feeling distinct from all others, yet utterly stationary; a fighter jet parked in the hanger, loaded with all the technology I never find a reason to use.  I can’t manufacture my own mental Crimea.  As I turn inward, into the swirl of paint and pain, I feel it.  I am inert, frozen in a horrified grimace, gazing into the utter magnitude of possibility.  No instruments exist to measure what can only be felt, and felt at angles; glanced fleetingly through the plaque of baseline awareness.  Is there anything that we fixate on as morbidly as the emptiness of our own potential?

Nobody notices a parked Ford Taurus.  We will point at the purring Ferrari, or dodge the careening garbage truck, but these are movements, actions, eventualities.  These verbs exist by virtue of being verbs.  Have you ever noticed how boring the noun is?  “Skyscraper” is the conceptual death knell of every unique piece of urban architecture, just as “tree” is the scourge of every flaking, creekside Aspen.  If we want to break down the physics, neither skyscraper nor tree is actually a noun.  Rather, the words represent the convenient symbol placed on a process of dynamic, ever-changing energy so utterly complex as to defy comprehension.  Does the skyscraper become a verb if it wiggles in the wind?  Is the tree still stagnant if we can see it’s growth before us?

It seems that we view our own potential in the same way, as a noun, a “thing” that exists inside of us, a blimp that puffs in the belly when that one person calls or we get a promising horoscope in the morning paper.  But really, when we check in–really feel into the thing– potential is a faint tickle in the stomach or a warming of the chest or even a quickening of the mind.  It happens, then it’s gone.  Maybe a thought replaces the gurgle, maybe many thoughts tumble over each other, culminating in the inevitability of a new job or speaking to the president about all this inequity, just the two of us.  But then Sports Center comes on.  The spinning fades, there was that thing that could happen, but now there’s Lebron James throwing down a tomahawk.  Left stranded, awash in the concave of a bodily imprint, my ass sinks deeper into the potential for a good nap.

How do I relate to the nebulous blob of potential energy from a mind trained into stasis?  I guess I sit down and write about it.  I stare at it as I would a dead cat or a museum exhibit, waiting for it to transform and move my heavy limbs to reluctant action.  And then, in the moment of verbiage, as the stultified brute lurches awake, I smile and take all credit for the outpouring of nonsense.  But it’s my nonsense, just as a skyscraper is some architects, just as an alleyoop is Lebron James’.  It’s the acceleration of a thing that hates to remain immobile, a dog let off its leash.  And apart from those moments of furious finger yoga, it is nothing.  No, worse than nothing; it’s a mirage, a siren beckoning from the rocky shores.  There is no movement towards; there is only becoming.  And a whole bunch of metaphors where once there were none.