The Bridge and the Water of Life

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience;
we are spiritual beings having a human experience

~  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin  ~

I am back from a long (and unplanned) hiatus.  I won’t bore you with an explanation for my absence; let me just say that it is good to be back!

I have decided to share about one of my experiences that took place during my absence.  It was a reality check.  It proved to be an indicator of where I am at in my life, a reminder of where I have been as well as where I would like to be.  In a lot of ways, this experience has influenced my decision to base my next postings on the biggest and most significant process (and journey) that I have been on for the past five and a half years.

The scary thing is that each time I think that I have reached a watershed moment in my life and that I had reached the summit of this journey, something happens that makes me realise that this journey is far from being complete.  It has been a time of excavation and self-analysis, and in a lot of respects, my time away has revolved around me giving myself a break from all of the analysing and excavating, while allowing myself to be carried away by life.

The experience that I have alluded to was a cancer scare.  I discovered a lump in my right thigh, it was removed and sent for biopsy, and it led to me waiting about a fortnight for feedback.  There was a delay which sparked alarm inside of me and it led to my stomach doing contortions.  It was also a time that reminded me of a lot of my truths which prompted me to embark upon yet another process inside of myself.

For as long as I can remember (I would guess around the age of eight), there has always been an inner voice that has expressed the desire to die by the time that I reach the age fifty.  The best explanation that I can offer is that, wonderful as life is, it has felt as if the external realities and forces of life have held me back.  Held my spirit back.  I think that it can be best expressed with a quotation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book , The Phenomenon of Man:  “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”  And for some weird reason, even as a child, the spirit in me has accepted that it will be necessary to spend an adequate amount of time in this human experience, yet at the same time it has desired entering the Great Sleep and going back home.

With me responding to such situations in the way that I do, my initial question was, “What if I have cancer?”  The prospect of death was of little consequence to me, but the circumstances leading up to it were.  I couldn’t foresee myself having a drawn out battle with cancer and I decided that I wouldn’t go for chemotherapy if I were to be diagnosed with this disease.  I would much rather allow nature to take its course.  I decided (as if I had any say in the matter!!!) that if I did have cancer, I would want to be given 30 days to live.  It would be ample time to attend to unfinished business and to enjoy one final trip through this magnificent theme park called life.  Need I say that this was accompanied with a list of things that I would do if I had 30 days to live?

However, the tumor was benign which means that I still have thirteen years left on this earth.  I have spent time with my ‘To Do List’ because I have felt that it is an indicator of areas in my life (and in myself) that needs my attention, change and/or investment of time, effort and emotion.  It has made me realise that in the midst of the past five and a half years, I have not allowed myself to live as fully as I should, because of the amount of time that I have spent analysing, re-analysing and over-analysing, to the point of being caught in a perpetual cycle of brain gymnastics.

As a dear friend shared with me on Friday, “life is lived through those brief yet stunning experiences.”  This scare has been a call for me to start living from my heart once again, which has prompted me to reflect upon and preface my next string of musings with my reflections on “Wasted on the Way.”

Much as these reflections were written about three years ago and I have opted to share them with some of my friends, my heart tells me that this is a good starting point for me to embark upon my journey of living more fully and from the heart.

Look around me,
I can see my life before me
running rings around the way it used to be;
I am older now
I have more than what I wanted
but I wish that I had started long before I did.

Chorus
And there’s so much time to make up

everywhere you turn,
time we have wasted on the way;
So much water moving
underneath the bridge,
let the water come and carry us away.

Wasted on the Way – Crosby, Stills & Nash
(words & music by Graham Nash)

One of the most poignant aspects of “Wasted on the Way” is the understated realization that we have had it within us all along to leave the safe viewing point of the bridge under which life flows, and to enter the Water of Living.

What does this mean?  It means that we shouldn’t fear.  We should embrace the opportunity to jump in and be carried away by life.  The chains that we thought were holding us on that bridge have not really been holding us.  We have been desperately grasping onto them from fear of being hurt again.

When you were young, did you question all the answers?

 We look for reinforcement in life’s events to rationalize the pain we feel from the past.

 Did you envy all the dancers who had all the nerve?

Ironically, the bridge is not a safe place; it is a prison of our own making.  All of the links in that chain that we have been grasping and cursing for holding us back are forged from the echoes of long-past events.  The only power remaining in that chain is through what we give it.  The water is not frightening; the water will not hurt us.  The water is cleansing, and is what will carry us forward.

As an aside:  Water is a great metaphor in this song.  The Taoists use water extensively in their imagery. If one clings to the riverbank during a storm, you are battered and bruised by the passing flotsam, yet if one lets go and travels with the flow little injury takes place.   Water always flows around obstacles, so it is better to “go with the flow.”

Advertisements

Read Second-Hand Books

“It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Invitation  ~

There is the adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’  which I try to ascribe to.  Sometimes the stories have been good, some have been bad and others have been profound.  One of the most profound stories that I have ever come into contact with, lies with three beggars, who passed my way about a decade ago.  Two of them were male and one was female, and little did I realise that my decision to give them something to eat would lead to me being the recipient of something far greater instead.

Our exchange in conversation led to them sharing about themselves and their life journeys.  The striking thing was that they didn’t have a “woe is me” and a “woe is my life” approach.  Granted, they started off by sharing about how one of the men had been attacked on the previous night, and that it had resulted with him being kicked in the groin.  I remember the woman encouraging him to show me and I responded by frantically trying to dissuade him from doing so.  I did not need to look at “the boys,” especially on the sidewalk in front of passersby!  Could you imagine?!  Fortunately, he respected my wishes.

It turned out that one of the men (the one that had been attacked on the previous evening) was in a relationship with the woman.  They became friends with the second man at some point, which culminated with their decision to take him under their wing and allow him to be a part of their ‘family’.  Their story was contrary to how one would envisage such a story to be.  More than anything else, theirs was a tale that spoke about appreciation, loyalty and it especially spoke about love.

The woman (at this point I am going to call her Grace, a name befitting her spirit) was enraptured by being presented with two listening ears.  The more that she spoke, the more that her inner beauty broke through her veil of leathery skin, frazzled hair and stench.  She bore an elegance and charm that was captivating.  I hung on her every word to the point of not realising that I had seated myself on the edge of the sidewalk.

She could have told me that her man (I will call him John) was a failure.  But Grace didn’t.  She could have spoken about how life had dealt her with a flimsy set of cards, but she didn’t.  She could have wallowed in self pity, but she didn’t.  What Grace did talk about was her pride and appreciation of John.  She shared about how he tried to protect and care for her.  Grace spoke about how, much as she had nothing, she had everything that truly mattered to her.  She expressed her gratitude for his companionship and love for her.  She was happy and excited from being given the opportunity to share about her relationship with John, but what warmed my heart the most, was that it was more than obvious that in spite of being in a depressing and difficult environment, Grace didn’t just love John deeply but she was also deeply in love with him.

It was as if Grace stooped down, plunged her hands deeply into the bowels of her truth and drew out an unpolished diamond.  She held it out for me to survey and bear witness to, and then right before my eyes, her words of hope (being held against a backdrop of a life of hopelessness) set about polishing this gem until it shone brilliantly and had irradiated her spirit.

Grace continues to humble me.

I am compelled to give the adage that I had opened with, an entirely new spin:  “Take the time to read second-hand books.”

Let me point out that by saying, “second-hand,” in no way represents value, but rather it represents life experience.  Grace teaches me that a tatty cover means nothing more than that the book has endured a lot, which indicates that the contents could possibly bear great worth, much beauty and many lessons.

Going through life is big people stuff.  Sometimes you’re just out there in the jungle with a machete and nothing else, not even bug spray.  There are scary noises of things waiting to eat you after nightfall, and all that you can do is to learn whatever survival skills you can, lest your lingering costs you.  The harshness of life may tarnish our covers and make us second-hand books, but we can still decide to hold onto our stories and ensure that they unfold in line with our inner truths.

We all have stories to tell and I believe that the biggest gift that one human being can offer another is to say, “I see you –  will you share your story with me?”

I have reflected on this experience on many occasions and I continue to walk away with new lessons that I have learned.  I have written two poems with this encounter in mind. The first was written about a year after I had crossed paths with Grace, and it was published in the United Kingdom in an anthology of poetry, about a year thereafter.  The second was written about three years afterwards and it came from the perspective of, “What if I had treated them as if they were beneath me, or attempted to brush them aside?”  Because it truly would have been a huge loss on my part.  I have decided to share the second of the two with you.

LIFE TOURIST

You come into my life
like a tourist
eagerly searching for scenes
to capture
through the camera
of your ignorance.

My misfortune
displayed for all to see
under the magnifying glass
of advice and self importance.

My dignity and worth
treated like a commodity to be bought –
you haggle over the price of my life
in search of a trophy
to boast about to your friends….

…at my expense!

You walk away
in search of something new.
I remain
frozen by disbelief.

I held out my hands to welcome you,
but you filled them with coins
and scalded my pride.

In The Meantime…

 “Hold tenderly to who you are and let a deeper knowing
colour the shape of your humanness.
There is nowhere to go.
What you are looking for is right here.
Open the fist clenched in wanting and see what you already hold in your hand.
There is no waiting for something to happen,
no point in the future to get to.
All you have ever longed for is here in this moment,
right now”

~  The Call – Oriah Mountain Dreamer  ~

263339_10151435143749117_373873375_n

I am grateful to my mother.  I am grateful to her for bringing me into this world almost at the cost of her own life.  I am grateful to her for the sacrifices that she has made for me throughout my life.  But I am especially grateful to her for the lessons that she has taught me.

I think that she would flip her lid, if she were to find out that I am opening her up to scrutiny on the internet – she is an extremely private person.  But I need to, and I would like to, because there was a moment in time where I learned and experienced a couple of deeply profound lessons, through her own life experience and the questions that she grappled with.  They have undoubtedly influenced the truth that I embrace and live my life from today.  I cannot help but reiterate that I am deeply grateful to her for this.

She was diagnosed, a couple of years ago, with a medical condition that put her in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ predicament.  Without a doubt, if left unattended to, it would have eventually led to death.  The issue however, is that it was such a rarity, that her case was presented to a panel of experts, in order to determine whether there was something that could be done to remedy the situation.  This meant that there were a lot of risks involved, if she were to be operated on.  A member of the panel stepped forward and volunteered to risk performing corrective surgery on her.  There was an unspoken agreement between all parties concerned, that her surgery came with very little guarantees.

My mother does not allow herself to express the ‘touchy-feely’ element to her human reality.  Over and above this, she is a proud woman and tends to not want to ‘burden’ anybody.  As I personally tried to come to grips with the situation, I couldn’t ignore that she lived her life from those two places, and therefore knew that behind her poker face was a woman trying to come to grips with her mortality and the subsequent fears that go along with it.

I also knew that she needed a lifeline, by being given the opportunity to express these things to another person.  But how was I to do it?  She doesn’t do ‘touchy-feely’ and she doesn’t like feeling as if she is being a burden on anyone.  And even more importantly than this, how do I get her to ‘go there’ without turning her into a basket case in the process?

It took a bit of discernment before I was able to come up with a way of giving her the opportunity to “go there” while making it unthreatening, and allowing her to decide whether she wanted to vocalize her fears and emotions or not.  I visited her and in the midst of our discussions surrounding her upcoming operation, I casually told her that even the bravest of hearts would shy away from what she was going through…and that it was okay.  I can’t say for certain that it came across as being casual because I remember earnestly fighting back my tears.

There was a momentary flash of fear in her eyes which was followed by a flash of acknowledgement.  The only response that she could offer was a surprised, “REALLY?!”  I reassured her that it really was okay; that I’d want to run for the hills if I were in her shoes.  And then there was a period of silence while she looked at me and her face spelled out each and every emotion that she had been harbouring inside the secret places of her heart.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Uncertainty.  Pain.  Fear.  Insecurity.  Doubt.  More fear.  Fear by the bucketload.  And then there was relief.  It was as if her body had sighed and released all of these emotions that had been weighing her down, and with it came the ability for her to find ways to come to terms with what lay ahead of her, and to prepare herself for it.

The day of her surgery arrived.  She went into theater in the early hours of that evening.  Her operation lasted over eight hours – complications!  I was weary to the bone as I drove home in the early hours of the morning.  I was unable to sleep with worry.  I called first thing after getting up to find out how she was doing.  They told me that she was stable.  I then went through to see her in the intensive care unit.  Nothing in this world could have prepared me for what was waiting for me.

The specialist on duty briefed me before I went to her side.  Her vitals were stable but she was far from being out of the woods – the slightest thing could make everything go pear shaped.  In short, her life was hanging by a thread.  Even this brief couldn’t (and didn’t) prepare me for what lay before my eyes.  The once vital woman that had raised me and appeared to be invincible, had been reduced to a barely living being.  She looked like she had suffered a stroke because of her face pulling to the left.  She looked frail and physically vulnerable.  Her heartbeat was steady but slow.  My mother had been reduced to a rumpled mass of barely living flesh!  I was horrified.  And even more than this, I was terrified!

Being caught off guard meant that I had no time to persuade my emotions to obey my resolve.  My mother’s eyes met mine.  They widened with shock.  The blip of her heartbeat on the machine that she was attached to, made me realize that the look in my eyes had made her aware of just how dire her situation was.  Within seconds, an alarm went off and I was shuffled aside while the specialist and a team of nurses surrounded her, in order to stabilise her heart.  I felt as if I had failed her and that I had subsequently put her wellbeing at risk.  I spun around and I fled out of ICU feeling angry with myself…ashamed of myself.

As I ran, it felt as if my emotions had turned into a stone that was lodged inside my throat, making my eyes sting until I started to tear up.  Pressure mounting inside of my head as well as my heart.  I ran until I found the doors to the chapel.  I entered it and was fortunate enough to be on my own.  I remember saying aloud, “Hello God.  This is David.” (cue:  God snapping His fingers while saying, “hello John….er Simon….Paul?  Who are you, boy?  And don’t lie to Me, because I WILL find out and then you will be in trouble!”)  This was the sum and total of what I cannot even consider to be a prayer.  As those words left my lips, the stone dislodged itself from my throat and I crumbled.  I burst into tears and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, slowly seating myself in one of the pews, before burying my face in my hands and sobbing some more.  I eventually managed to compose myself and advised all of my siblings that it would be best if they prepared themselves for the worst.

My mother’s journey of ailing from a medical condition to undergoing surgery, to having her life hang in the balance and culminating with a full recovery and new lease of life, has taught me that there is birth and there is death, and in-between is ‘in the meantime.’  Nothing more than just ‘in the meantime,’ and if one is fortunate enough, then there will be several years of this.  I have been able to expand upon this truth, with time, by saying that it validates the adage:  ‘it’s about the journey and not the destination.’  Life happens in the midst of our planning.  The only fundamental truth about life that we can all hold onto with certainty, is that it will come to an end someday.

And to build upon this even more, since we’re seekers of the truth…of OUR truth, then the questions are of much greater value and importance than the answers.  The questions that we ask ourselves are signposts which encourage us to learn, grow and transcend, as we go about our daily rounds.  But without a doubt, we are not static and neither is life.  Life is ‘in the meantime’.  WE are ‘in the meantime.’

 I have learned that FEAR can either represent:

Facing things down.

Evaluating the situation.

Assessing how I am able deal with it.

Resolving to stick to my plan of action.

or it can mean:

Fleeing from the truth.

Escaping the situation (to the best of my ability).

Allowing myself to constantly be in denial.                  (...and wait for it…)

RUN!!!!!

The biggest lesson that I have learned is epitomized by, and best expressed through the words of Leo Buscaglia PhD:

Death is a continuous beautiful process of life.  Then when you have seen it, you don’t fear it. Death is a good friend, an awfully good friend, because it tells us we don’t have forever and that to live is now; therefore, you see how precious every minute is.  We read it and say, “oh yes, that’s so true.”  But do we live that way?  How wonderful it is to be with the moment when you see a flower.

When somebody is talking to you, for goodness sake, listen and don’t look over a shoulder at what else is going on.  Cocktail time. There’s no greater insult.  If you don’t want to be with me, don’t be with me!  That’s all right, I can adjust to that.  But if you are going to be with me, will you be with me?  You say, “I am going to look at the ocean.”  Do you look at the ocean?  “Oh, isn’t that a beautiful sunset.”  Do you mean it?  Do you see it?  Do you recognize it will never come again?

Death teaches us – if we want to hear – that the time is now.  The time is now to pick up a telephone and call the person that you love. Death teaches us the joy of the moment.  It teaches us we don’t have forever.  It teaches us that nothing is permanent.  It teaches us to let go, there is nothing you can hang on to.  And it tells us to give up on expectations and let tomorrow tell its own story, because nobody knows if they’ll get home tonight.  To me that’s a tremendous challenge.  Death says, “live NOW!

Life: a Series of Consecutive “Nows”

“If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death

 ~ Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet ~

The ebb and flow of my life has gradually led to me coming to a place of quiet.  There are many reasons for this, and I won’t bore you with them, but I think that the biggest is the fact that I come one year closer to the great ‘four-oh’, in just over a week.  Not that I attach any value, good or bad, to me eventually turning forty, but it’s because my birthday always has and most probably will always be the most loaded day in the calendar for me.  Once again, several reasons that I won’t bore you with.

At the risk of my friends slapping themselves on their foreheads because of me constantly saying this, but at times I can’t help but conclude that I should have been a Jewish boy.  The reason being that unbeknownst to me, I have spent most of my adult life ascribing to and valuing elements from Jewish spirituality, even though I was raised in a Catholic household and have therefore had very little knowledge or understanding about Judaism.

As an adult, my birthday has been a time where I’d retreat within myself and have a bit of ‘mountain time’.  Where I’d spend time alone and reflect upon my life journey: where I have been, where I am going and what I would like for my future, while reflecting on various people and experiences that have touched my life in beautiful and meaningful ways.

In the midst of my theological studies, I decided to include Judaica into my curriculum and as I got to better know and understand Judaism, I was surprised to discover that this is pretty much how Jewish folk celebrate their birthdays.  It is a day for reflection on their lives as Jews, they make new resolutions to perform good deeds, and they deepen their commitment to the Torah and the role that it plays in their lives.

This day was redefined about three years ago.  It changed from being my birthday to something that better expressed how I view and approach this day, ‘RE-Birth Day’.  A day of RE-newal, RE-assessment, RE-demption and RE-commitment.  It is a day of looking back in order to move forward, so that I can discover new ways to get to where my spirit is calling me to be.

Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet” captures where I am at, as I quietly embark upon the final leg towards RE-birth Day:

As human beings, our basic concern is being alive.  In the midst of running frantically on a giant hamster wheel that doesn’t seem to slow down (let alone stop), we are single-mindedly fighting for our survival through trying to keep up.  The problem is that in the midst of trying to keep up, it is so easy to not only fall into a trap of being in a mad rush to complete life and achieve various goals, but especially, to allow these things to redefine ourselves and our identities – I am no longer defined by who I am but by what I do or by what I have accomplished.

Allowing myself time to pause could possibly lead to there being a massive silence that may intrude upon the despair of losing track of who I am and what I stand for.  It may lead to me being able to fill the spaces between my frantic activity with moments of self-appreciation and self-celebration.  But until then, I am at risk of suffering from a condition where I am only concerned or afraid of dying without having accomplished everything that I have set out to do, while not fully understanding myself or grasping the things that truly matter to me…things that make me feel alive and make me grateful to be alive!

These thoughts remind me that time is the only commodity in life that cannot be replenished.  Once it is gone, it is truly gone and there is nothing that I can do about it.  I am reminded that every squandered moment is time that will be forever lost to me.  And by virtue of this, best I invest some of my living time in me and my spirit.

And so, my friend, this blog is my reminder and my commitment to offer myself more moments of pause.  To spend more time reflecting upon my journey, past and present.  To nurture myself and celebrate who I am, flawed as I may be.  And to offer you my truth, with the hope that it will encourage you to pause and rediscover yourself, your truth and to remind yourself that you are a human be-ing and not a human do-ing.