A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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yellow slicker

since you arrived

i’m useless really for anything save

reading my favorite poets,

White, Stafford, and Millay

yellow slicker on wet streets

clouds etching their shadows on the pavement

the air cools the distance between us,

once warm as mingled breath

i sit to ponder the blue blues and green weather

the longing in, the letting out

like birdsong, plumage, flight itself,

how to fix this instant?




New Love by Carrie Ure

New Love by Carrie Ure

For the first time in thirty years I am falling in love again. Not infatuation. Not desire. Not lust. This is not something I am talking myself into. Neither am I capable of talking myself out of it. I am falling.

I am falling in love and I notice that it is as excruciating as falling out of love. I hadn’t noticed the first time. I was eighteen years old and everything was new, my body and my mind, a new school with academic pressure and mysterious social rules. There were psychedelic drugs, exotic music and a tall boy with fathomless turquoise blue eyes and scruffy blond curls. He stuttered in my presence except when reading Shakespearean sonnets or classical literature aloud to me on sunny campus lawns. During that brief school year I learned everything about love and most especially how it shatters the heart. I had no idea about impermanence then.

This feels so familiar. I see the same old patterns, unearthed after 30 years. My need to yield, to surrender so completely that I have nothing substantive left of my life. When I met that blond haired boy, I dropped every habit that was good for me so that I could unite with something so glorious that it opened me to my core. When he told me at the end of the school year that he did not want to be my boyfriend in the fall, I really didn’t see it coming. I did not know about attachment, the root of suffering, until that moment.

I think now about the silly girl I was then, so innocent, so fresh. I knew nothing about the world or myself. I had no idea my heart could be devastated. Neither had I any idea of the resiliency of my heart. I did not know that everything in this life is impermanent. Everything.

I ask myself, how is it possible that despite many liaisons since my college freshman year, my heart has not remembered, until now, that terrible moment of being left at the end of the school year, broken beyond mending? Why am I dwelling on the most painful experience of my life as I enter a new phase, so full of happiness, promise and lighthearted joy? The difference in me is my thinking, my experience, the Buddhist practice of contemplation.  Like everyone, I have experienced loss. Unlike some, I have decided to study my habitual reaction to it.

We will all eventually face loss and death. Once awakened to the terrible specter of impermanence — death of a loved one, loss of relationship or material wealth, crushing blow to a cherished idea — we have two basic responses: aversion and acceptance. Even if it were possible to live the perfect life, have only loving relationships and material comfort, eventually we are going to die. Knowing this, we can carry on in our daily lives avoiding anything that might cause pain and loss.

Avoidance is easy. Our culture has built whole industries around preventing loss, including insurance policies, the Wonder Bra, plastic surgery, the Hair Club for Men, and a health care industry that prizes non-death over quality of life. Likewise we seem to be obsessed with avoiding pain, the companion of loss. No wonder we spend most of our days distracting ourselves with experiences and virtual experiences and popping pills for every symptom of physical or mental pain.

The alternative, acceptance, rarely comes up except on spiritual retreat, itself an escape! What about acceptance of everyday life on life’s terms with its bumps and bruises, with all the things I dislike intertwined in the things I want? I love my son and yet as a pre-teen he is such a boorish annoyance sometimes. I adore my cat, her sweet nature and the way she likes to sit on my lap and purr. And I get frustrated that I can’t get her off my lap to type this post. I want to find new love, to spend time in another’s arms and yet the demands of work and family beckon for many days at a time. These are all things I am learning to accept today. I have learned I can try to force a change in my child’s behavior, push the cat off my lap, demand a lover who can constantly reassure me, but my aversion to pain manipulates and kills the present moment, the only real place that love can bloom.

I’m glad that the pain of new love has reminded me of the suffering of the past. I’m grateful to be awake enough to feel the slow-motion entry of cupid’s arrow, the way it twists into my heart, reminding me to feel every moment the preciousness of what I have, the fact that love may come calling again, for however brief a stay. I realize that fear has kept me from this precipice for all these many years, fear of my own suffering. But I have tried avoidance and found loneliness. I have tried distraction and used up thirty good years too quickly. I have tried the medications of career and religion and relationship and the pain has shone through. Yes, I will move toward love, I will fall. Even knowing what I know, I accept love’s call.

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April Fool’s Day; The Archetype of the Fool

There are questions about the origins of April Fool’s Day, favorite of pranksters around the globe who play practical jokes on family and friends. Legends says the day became notorious during the reform of the Julian Calendar and subsequent adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in the late 1500’s. Spring had been the traditional advent of the new year. So when King Charles IX of France announced that the new year would commence on January 1st, those who stayed with the traditional April 1st were called “April Fools.”

Regardless of origins, the day reminds me of two traditional archetypes, the Trickster and the Fool. One perpetrates the hoax and the other is the unwitting and gullible victim. Or is he? To explore another interpretation of the Fool, let’s look at Tarot.

In traditional Tarot decks the Fool universally resembles a vagabond or traveler. He carries his knapsack in a carefree manner, skipping along on a bright sunny day, picking the flowers as though he has neither a destination nor an agenda in mind. He gazes toward the sky, seemingly oblivious to the yapping dog or other ferocious creature nipping at his heels. His meandering would seem quite innocent if he weren’t about to step off a huge precipice. The Fool, in his reverie, remains completely oblivious that he is about to plunge into an enormous chasm onto the rocky waters below.

Countless cultural images of the Fool abound. A few come to mind:

Mr Magoo of cartoon fame. Interestingly, promotions for the 1997 movie version starring comedic actor, Leslie Nielsen,  depict a man tugging a small dog “heeling” on a leash, about to step off a skyscraper building into the cavernous Manhattan street below. The image is taken directly off the traditional medieval Tarot card! Check it out.

Raj Kapoor in Shree 420. Another movie icon, Raj Kapoor, classic Bollywood star from the 40’s and 50’s. In the famous 1955 movie, Shree 420, he wanders the countryside, Charlie Chaplinesque, rucksack on his shoulder, savoring the Maharashtrian countryside. Falling into one trap after another in the big city, while being taken as a country bumpkin, he is nevertheless guided by his own innate wisdom and despite many wrong turns, ends the story as a hero. If you watch the movie on video, first check out the great Wikipedia explanation, complete with translation of some of the iconic songs, because the subtitles are poor. (Or engage a Hindi speaker to watch along with you!)

The Jester in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Jester is a variation on the Fool. In this famous version, he is the only character who actually tells the truth. The Jester or Buffoon, while taken for an entertainer, is often the trusted truth-teller and the only one brave enough or stupid enough to utter the truth in front of the King. His lack of status, standing or ego attachment gives him a uniquely wise voice.

In the Tarot, the Fool begins the journey chronicled by the 21 Major Arcana cards. Innocent and carefree, he knows without knowing that the journey will be long and dangerous. Who of us would begin the spiritual path if we knew the trials and dangers ahead? The Fool reminds us to: enjoy the trip rather than fixate on the destination; travel light, with a light heart; take time to smell the roses; follow our bliss rather than worry about what others think of us. In the act of falling, for he is surely about to do just that, the Fool reminds us to let go! As the butt of the April First prank, he reminds us to laugh at ourselves, not take ourselves too seriously. In the end, the Fool transforms into the Hero and yet he has enjoyed his travels rather than struggled and fought.

Of course he has his shadow side: ignorance, unawareness, blindness to what is. He can be aimless, spacey, idealistic and an airhead. But in our stressed-out, overachieving culture, is that such a bad thing? In his light side, the Fool is the ultimate symbol of the enlightened one or Buddha within. He has let go of his ego. He fears nothing, not even his own death. And he has had a good time doing it.

On April Fool’s Day, let’s celebrate the Fool, the true hero of the day!