Archive for April 2012

“Awake” (the TV series) and Awakening   Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking over the last several weeks about the NBC midseason replacement series Awake.  Maybe you’ve seen it or at least heard about it.  (With the continually growing number of networks and choices, it’s become harder to find media experiences to talk about that most of us have in common.  Besides, each of us is busy enough as it is, pursuing our own reality show called Life.)

In its eighth episode as of this post, the drama stars Jason Isaacs as L.A. detective Michael Britten.  The premise is an intriguing one:  after a car accident involving Britten, his wife and son, his reality splits:  on alternating mornings he wakes to one life in which his wife Hannah survived the accident but not his son Rex, and in the other reality to a life in which Rex has survived, but not Hannah.

Britten is seeing two different therapists, one in each reality, each attempting to convince him that the current reality is the only “real” one.  Britten experiences some “bleed-through” of both similar and different details and situations from each reality to the other.  This naturally confuses him at times, but also gives him odd clues and insights into criminal cases he is working on, and into family dynamics that previously had too easily slid past him, until the accident forced him to pay more attention to the surviving family member in each alternate reality.

The series concept is a provocative one on several levels.  Who among us hasn’t wondered at least a little how things would be different if (fill in your own blank here)?  But more significant in Britten’s case is the immediate matter of his sanity.   Is this schizophrenia?  Can both of his realities be “real”?  Or is one destined to win out, forcing the detective to abandon what one of his therapists insists is an unhealthy clinging to an illusion that is preventing Britten from healing?  Which reality might prove “false” — one in which his wife Hannah is gradually coming to terms with their son’s death and planning a new life for them both, or the other, in which Britten is slowly learning to be a better father and to connect with the teenage Rex for the first time?  Who could ask a person to choose between these two?

Both realities are internally consistent, and as far as Britten can tell, neither offers any evidence of being “more real.”  Several spiritual traditions describe this consensus reality of ours as a kind of dream.  By itself, however, that’s never been a useful piece of information as far as I can see.  More helpful is guidance about how to live the dream fully and gracefully, and to shift in and out of this dream and other dreams.  Most of us try not to leave a trail of dead bodies or broken lives behind us, and we generally see this as a good and admirable thing — not something we’d worry about if this were “merely a dream.”

I remember going through a period in my twenties of perhaps six months of very violent dreams, featuring me both as victim and perpetrator, but the experience didn’t disturb my waking world.  No one arrested me as a serial killer, and the dream dismemberments, stabbings, shootings, beheadings and so on didn’t disturb my digestion or emotional life.  (They did give me useful material for contemplation and growth, but that’s a separate post.)  The whole time of the dreams I was both actor and disinterested spectator in that curious way dreams can have.  Obviously the quality of realities is different:  waking and dreaming matter as category distinctions.  If they didn’t, most of us would face radically different waking lives as a consequence of what we’ve dreamed!  Unless you’re seriously repressing, you’ve had at least some dreams that would probably garner an X film rating.  And if you don’t remember them, you’re missing out …

So if Britten is truly “awake” in both realities, he doesn’t need to choose, but simply to keep them straight.  If you’ve ever had a lucid dream, however, in which internal consistency and conscious awareness approach, equal or even surpass that of waking reality, the distinctions can become much harder to sustain.  Britten wears different colored wristbands to help him distinguish which reality he’s currently in.  (Curiously, we don’t hear about his dreams.  Perhaps “waking twice” consumes enough energy that he doesn’t need to — or can’t — dream.)

I have no idea how the writers of Awake intend to play this through.  But it seems to me that it would be an enormous and series-destroying mistake ever to call one reality “true” and the other “false.”  For better or worse, Britten logs parallel lives.

For most of us, both dream and waking are normally discontinuous.  Each has its own interval of duration, and each eventually ceases before the other resumes.  Under the influence of extreme fatigue, illness, or psychotropic substances, we can hallucinate and experience a “bleed-through” of dream-like perception into waking reality.  For most of us this is a temporary state of affairs, perhaps useful or insight-producing up to a point, but not something we desire to sustain permanently.  A good night’s sleep, a return to health, or the exit from an altered state of consciousness resets consciousness.  Generally this is a good thing!

Yet when life goes flat, when the “same-old” of our daily experience — which is almost always a symptom of our inattention and soul-sickness — threatens to bore us literally to death, we need those moments of “awake now!” that may arrive with an accident, death in the family, close escape, or other major transition.  Drama is punctuation to life — I don’t seek it habitually (unless I’m a bored teenage girl).  Regular spiritual practice, as I’ve learned from experience (positive and negative, in the doing and in the ignoring), can both defuse the sense of “same old” and deliver us to smaller and less life-upsetting moments of insight, inspiration and — yes — transformation.  We all dream of becoming more, better, greater, wiser, more loving, more fulfilled.  Now is the always and only time to awaken in that dream — to “live twice,” awake both times.*

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NBC series image

*Many of us “get” small bursts of at least the potential for transformation from art and music, or from sheer beauty on the playing field, or in a craft or manual skill.  The Chinese poet Li Po exchanged poems with his contemporary and friend Tu Fu, and on one occasion exclaimed, “Thank you for letting me read your new poems. It was like being alive twice.”

The Beach of Consciousness   Leave a comment

The challenge:  to write a coherent and meaningful post in about an hour — before I’m out the door and off to another commitment during a particularly busy couple of weeks — without a topic already in mind.  What will get tossed up on the beach of consciousness?  The trick is to keep writing, trusting that something will come.  Ah, there it is: trust.

I trusted the presence of Skaði sufficiently to create a separate shrine-page for her, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago.  To ask whether I believe in her feels like it misses the point: she appeared in my consciousness, amenable for an exchange.  I made a choice to engage, she honored her part, and I mine.  What’s interesting to me is that we would never ask a similar question about a human-human interaction.  Do I “believe” in the shop-clerk who sold me a sandwich at the cafe where my wife and I had lunch yesterday?  The question never arises.  What do our interactions imply for the future, in the case of either shop clerk or goddess?  That’s something we’ll negotiate as we go.  From what I can tell, none of us would have it any other way.  If I patronize the shop regularly enough, the clerk and I may learn each other’s names, we might make small talk, I might eventually come to have a “usual” that I predictably order, and so on.  With the goddess, the terms might be similar:  future interactions will build a history between us.  With that kind of growing trust, is belief necessary?

Trust is a curious thing.  Like water or mustard or fire, too much or not enough suggests there’s a happy middle ground.  Trust is also earned:  babies may come by it naturally, and the other blessed innocents of the world may not yet have had it betrayed out of them, but usually ya gotta deserve it to get it.  I trust the sanity of the clerk not to poison the food the shop sells, and Skaði and I trust each other enough at this point to fulfill any exchanges we have agreed on.  Liking may enter the relationship down the road, which may broaden outside the immediate context of simple exchange if both parties are willing.  But that’s not a given.  Right now we have a starting point — that’s all.

Other kinds of trust operate at deeper levels.  There’s a kind of trust, after all, every time you open door of your room, your apartment, your house, when you step outdoors on a sunny today like today is shaping into, a trust that the air is breathable, that the universe, at least in the foreseeable future, is not out to kill you — that it might even cooperate with you long enough that you can accomplish something worthwhile.  If you’re fortunate enough, aware enough, lucky enough, or just attentive enough, you might even call it love. I’ll close with Kathleen Raine‘s fine poem “The Marriage of Psyche,” written 60 years ago now, in 1952.  It feels like it fits here — the sense of amazement, of wonder at beauty that lifts you out of yourself.  A gift.  Read it to yourself out loud, to hear its rhythms.

He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water
Whose ripples travel from the heart of the sea,
He has married me with a ring of light, the glitter
Broadcast on the swift river.
He has married me with the sun’s circle
Too dazzling to see, traced in summer sky.
He has crowned me with the wreath of white cloud
That gathers on the snowy summit of the mountain,
Ringed me round with the world-circling wind,
Bound me to the whirlwind’s centre.
He has married me with the orbit of the moon
And with the boundless circle of stars,
With the orbits that measure years, months, days, and nights,
Set the tides flowing,
Command the winds to travel or be at rest.

At the ring’s centre,
Spirit, or angel troubling the pool,
Causality not in nature,
Finger’s touch that summons at a point, a moment
Stars and planets, life and light
Or gathers cloud about an apex of cold,
Transcendent touch of love summons my world into being.

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Updated 25 May 2014: next to last line of Raine’s poem corrected from “gold” to “cold.”

About Initiation, Part 2   2 comments

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

I speak for myself, of course.  It’s all that any of us can do.  But as I approach what is most deeply true for me, I find I can begin to speak true for others, too.  Most of us have had such an experience, and it’s an instance of the deep connections between us that we often forget or discount.  I’m adding this Part Two because the site stats say the earlier post on initiation continues to be popular.

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Within us are secrets.  Not because anyone hides some truths from us, but because we have not yet realized them.  The truest initiations we experience seem ultimately to issue from this inner realm of consciousness where the secrets arise.  Deeper than any ocean, our inner worlds are often completely unknown to us.  “Man is ‘only’ an animal,” we hear.  Sometimes that seems the deepest truth we can know.  But animals also share in profound connections we have only begun to discover.  We can’t escape quite so easily.

Our truest initiations issue from inside us.  Sometimes these initiations come unsought.   Or so we think. Maybe you go in to work on a day like any other, and yet you come home somehow different.  Or you’re doing something physical that does not demand intellect and in that moment you realize a freedom or opening of consciousness.  Sometimes it can arrive with a punch of dismay, particularly if you have closed yourself off from the changes on the move in your life. In its more dramatic forms initiation can bring with it a curious sense of vulnerability, or even brokenness — the brokenness of an egg that cracks as this new thing emerges, glistening, trembling.  You are not the same, can never be the same again.

The German poet Rilke tries to catch something of this in his poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”  He’d been blocking at writing the poems he desired,  poems of greater depth and substance, instead of the often abstract work he’d composed until then, and his friend the sculptor Rodin sets him to studying animals.  Rilke admires Rodin’s intensely physical forms and figures, and Rilke ends up writing about a classic figure of Apollo that is missing the head.  Yet this headless torso still somehow looks at him, holds him with eyes that are not there.  Initiation is both encounter, and its after-effects.

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit.  And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power.  Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

I may witness something that is simply not there for others, but nonetheless it is profoundly present for me.  Or I see something that is not for the head to decipher, interpret, judge and comment on.  There’s nothing there for the intellect to grasp.  In the poem, the head of the sculpture of Apollo is missing, and yet it sees me, and I see or know things not available to my head.  I feel the gaze of the sculpture.  I encounter a god.  Or just a piece of stone someone shaped long ago into a human figure, that somehow crystallizes everything in my life for me right now.  Or both.

The sensation of initiation can be as intensely felt and as physical as sexuality, “that dark center where procreation flared.”  It hits you in your center, where you attach to your flesh, a mortal blow from a sword or a gesture that never reaches you, but which still leaves you dizzy, bleeding or gasping for breath.  Or it comes nothing like this, but like an echo of all these things which have somehow already happened to you, and you didn’t know it at the time — it somehow skipped right past you.  But now you’re left to pick up the pieces of this thing that used to be your life.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

You feel Rilke’s discovery in those last lines*, the urgency, the knowledge arriving from nowhere we can track.  I have to change, and I’ve already changed.  I know something with my body, in my gut, that my head may have a thousand opinions about.  I may try to talk myself out of it, but I must change.  Or die in some way.  A little death of something I can’t afford to have die.  There is no place in my life that does not see me, that feeling rises that I can’t escape, and yet I must escape.  It’s part of what drives some people to therapy.  Sometimes we fight change until our last breath, and it takes everything from us.  Or we change without knowing it, until someone who knows us says, “You’ve changed.  There’s something different about you.  I can’t put my finger on it,” or they freak at the changes and accuse us, as if we did it specifically to spite them.  “You’re not the person you used to be,” meaning you’re no longer part of the old energy dynamic that helps them be who they are, and now they must change too.  Initiation ripples outward.  John Donne says, “No man is an island, entire of itself.  Each man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  Sometimes it’s my own initiation, sometime I’m feeling the ripples from somebody else’s.  The earthquake is in the neighborhood, right down the street, in the next room, here — or across the ocean.  But ripples in each case.

Sometimes we “catch” initiation from others, like a fire igniting.  We encounter a shift in our awareness, and now we see something that was formerly obscure.  It was there all along, nothing has changed, and yet … now we know something we didn’t before.  This happens often enough in matters of love.  The other person may have been with us all along, nothing has changed … and yet now we feel today something we didn’t feel yesterday.  We know it as surely as we know our bones.  We can feel the shift under our skin.  The inner door is open.  Do we walk through?

Go to Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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*Mitchell, Stephen, trans. The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (English and German edition).  Vintage, 1989.

Things Dying, Things New-Born   2 comments

“Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born” says the Shepherd in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.  And his words seem a perfect description of spring.  Not all is new growth.  Much has died.  Sometimes we remember our own dead most vividly when life returns to the world around us.  We’re still here, but they will not share another spring with us, and sorrow is renewed along with the grass underfoot and the buds on the trees.  A bittersweet time.  A time of compost and ashes and dandelion greens in salads.  A time of sunlight growing, of life rising in the spine like sap in trees.  Spring, you old tonic.

Out of state and away from computers for several days, I return with a series of vivid impressions:  visiting my now retired cousins in Madison, Wisconsin, seeing them on their third of an acre lot, the earth bursting with literally scores of varieties of flowers, everything up and blooming more than a month early.  Their care over two decades in restoring an old and abused house to pristine condition (doing much of the dirtiest and hardest work themselves), the spaces full of lovely wood paneling and doors and moldings, and full as well of light on all sides from triple-paned windows.  Above ten degrees outdoors and their furnace goes off, if they get any sun.  A Druidic care for the space they live in, the house and grounds they beautify not only for themselves, but all who pass by and witness.

Longing for light. Opening blinds to a few wasps at the window, sluggish with morning cold.   The hazy spring moon growing each night, that Pagan moon by which Christians reckon the date for Easter according to that strange formula of “first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.”  (A perfectly Pagan calculation, when you think about it at all, even considering that the early Church wished for Easter to follow Passover, itself subject to a combined lunar and solar calendar.) People outdoors worshiping the sun on their skin, sitting in sidewalk cafes, heads leaned back and eyes closed.  Mild days and cool nights.  Love of this old world, with all its pains and joys.  Love renewed, spring’s gift, waiting to ripen in fruit and flower and heart.

Posted 6 April 2012 by adruidway in blessing, Druidry, Easter, love, nature, outdoors, spirituality, trees

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