JUST START SINGING
So much of what I do is premeditated. My actions are spring loaded, designed to achieve the best possible outcomes. My intellect rules the day, from how to steel myself for a day at the office, to how to prepare for sleep at night. First A, then B, then C. I live in a continual state of rehearsal. Imperatives throttle my instincts. There are no present moments, just moments of planning. But the absurdity of my carefully orchestrated life is exposed in a single moment. There, diving past my window, a bird, lively, carefree, singing. That's when it hits me. The order of things. The birds, they never rehearse. They just start singing.
But for the boulders on my path, I might have raced through life too quickly. I might never have experienced the periods of great chaos that led to a deep appreciation of small things, never would have known what it felt like to be guided by the sure hand of painful experience.
It’s so quiet.
The machinery of the universe is so quiet I forget it’s there.
When I lean forward to sniff a lilac, or gulp before uttering an apology,
or suddenly remember a birthday,
I don’t hear whirring or beeping
and so I forget that these movements are
as divinely directed as meteor showers,
as powerful as earthquakes.
The motion of life is so quiet that I forget.
I forget that I do not act, I erupt.
Is desire a prelude to happiness or an obstacle in its path? If I desire something, then I must have it in order to feel happy, to feel complete. The new car, the promotion, a little action on the side. Desire narrows my path to happiness, inspires compulsive behavior, and sets in motion an invisible timer that serves as a countdown to my happiness, or unhappiness, depending on the outcome of the thing I can't live without. In the entire world, my thinking goes, I must have this one certain thing, or else. Desire is my command that it be so, a foolish expectation which carries exactly no weight with an unconcerned universe. Desire has conditions, whereas desire’s opposite, surrender, the complete acceptance of whatever happens, has none. Surrender plucks me from my pretend throne in the center of the universe and puts me back in my place: I am but a stitch inside a wrinkle inside the folds of life's magnificent, never-ending tapestry. Restored to my tiny but critical role in a highly functioning universe, I have no use for desire. I need only blink open my eyes to get my fill of happiness.
The sound of the peeler slapping against the apple; of apple skins plopping against the stainless steel sink; of my chef’s knife clicking against the bamboo cutting board with each slice of the apple; of the wooden spoon scuffing against the metal bowl as I mix the apple bread ingredients; of my knees cracking as I stoop to place the bread pan in the oven; of my breathing as I lean against the wall to take a break. I heard this clattering symphony today because I set my smart phone aside, no music or podcast to divert me. Just as appealing was the silence from which the sounds rose and fell, and that rooted me in the moment. It was like meeting up with an old friend and wondering how in the world I could have let such an important relationship get away from me.
LOVE HAS NO WITNESS
Love lies beyond the stroke of the poet's pen, beyond the confines of the heart. Love is not a storm of emotion. It is a state of being, characterized by what is lost rather than what is gained. Love is losing one's self in service to the world. There is no glory in it, or personal gratification. Love is letting go of the personal and grasping the universal. Love cannot be witnessed, because in love the witness is no more.
TRICK OF MEMORY
Windows open and quickly close
pushing out scents
that barely linger.
I strain to pick up
a trace of sweetness
that was never there.
Do ourselves a disservice by naming our emotions? It is true that we must communicate our feelings to others to connect with them emotionally, but is it possible that we box ourselves in when we reach for a category to express our state of being? Happy, sad, angry, jealous. Just as our fingerprints are similar but different, couldn't we all be different emotionally - not in terms of degree, but in terms of our individual emotional reactions. I remember what it was like to have been given a box of 64 Crayola crayons after having only worked with 16 for so long. At first the blue green vs. green blue distinction threw me, but as time went on I expressed myself more boldly with my new color palette. The risk in categorizing our emotions is that our feelings are reined in by words, that we never reach a green blue moment of discovery.
SINGER AT HEART
Thank you, birds, for burning away the fog of my delusions with your spirited singing this morning, for lifting me into the space of your effortless joy, for reminding me that I too am a singer at heart.
I learn about love by being bad at it.
The human race is one big family. We have funny uncles and mischievous children. We have depressed aunts and disturbed cousins. We have brooding nephews, brilliant nieces and violent in-laws - including badass motherfuckers who have completely lost their way. All these people are our relatives. We may not like or agree with them. We may want to distance ourselves from them out of fear or embarrassment. Some days we want to wring their damn necks. All this is understandable. This is what happens in big families. We don't have to get along with each other all the time. That would be too much to ask. But we must not turn our backs on each other. When we turn our backs, love is lost. When love is lost, we seek to regain it, often in crazy ways. Read the headlines to find out just how crazy. We are one big human family, and each one of our actions adds or detracts from the good of the whole. This is not a platitude, it is a fact. Your next family interaction is just seconds away. Are you going to make us all a little happier?
Regret is thinking that has gone stale. It is the exhaust of an addled mind. When I regret something I have done, it means I believe that I could have acted differently, that in response to the same exact stimuli I could have outwitted my inherited genes or shrugged off years of social conditioning the way I might an ill-fitting sweater. Caught between reality and my fanciful stories about it, I crumple. All is darkness. But in such moments of deep despair I am newly born, resurrected. I observe that the earth spins and I spin with it. I notice that the seasons change no differently than do the seasons in my life. I perceive that my actions are no less inevitable than the crow of a rooster at first light. Life can bring great sadness, but I need not corrupt such moments with useless stories about what might have been. There is only ever this moment, and it doesn't require a storyline starring me. What it requires is my full attention.
RAIN DOWN FORGIVENESS
We assume that we are making enlightened choices, but no human being is more enlightened than another, just more fortunate. We didn't choose our brains, our parents, or the environments we grew up in - factors that ultimately send us sailing down one path or another. We may think we are exhibiting restraint because we have not yet wound up face down in a gutter or behind bars, but we lucky ones are simply following the dictates of our brains the same way the unlucky ones are. To perceive that every human being is doing the best they can with what nature has given them is to rain down forgiveness on the drunks and thugs and thieves who need it as much as anyone, and who never would have settled on a life of misery had the choice actually been theirs.
Sometimes I reach for comparisons when I hit a hard patch in my life. If I am short of cash, I compare myself with families struggling to survive on a meager paycheck. If I am sick, I compare myself with someone facing a life-threatening disease. If I am sad, I compare my anguish to those who may have lost a loved one. There are benefits to seeing my life in perspective. It opens up my focus, prevents me from getting too carried away with my temporary predicaments. But there is a downside to comparison. It diminishes the truth of my experience. It tugs my free-flowing emotions into a straight line. Comparison asks me to think instead of feel during moments when I am not happy, as if I have nothing to learn by experiencing its other side.
THE WORLD INSIDE ME
What happens inside me is what I project to the world. If I am filled with conflict, divided, an individual entity fighting against someone or something, conflict is what I bring to the world. However noble the cause or righteous my intention, my division becomes the world's division. My problems become the world's problems. If I am at rest inside, unprovoked, free of conflict, then my gift to the world is the fruit of a still mind, compassion. I can divide the world or unite it. The world is not something out there, something other than what goes on inside me. I am the world and the world is me. This is the enormity of my responsibility. Moment by moment, I walk the razor’s edge. I harm or heal depending on the state of my inner world.
MOMENT TO MOMENT
When I perceive life in moments - rather than in time increments of hours or mornings or whole days - I feel alive, rather than just living. I am looking out from the thing I had been looking at.
Now is neither a time or a place. It cannot be measured because thought cannot plumb its depths. The moment we perceive our inability to understand it is the moment we leave ourselves behind, shed our earthly skin, and sink into the canvas on which we once stood. Now is the intersection of form and the formless, the Hollywood and Vine for spiritual seekers. It is where footprints end and knowledge takes wing.
Contact John Ptacek at firstname.lastname@example.org