I’ve been thinking about what it is to have faith in things. In gods, people, ideas… in science.
It’s as though a capacity for faith is a requirement for human civilization. A faithless polymath won’t get themselves to to the next county, much less the moon.
I’ve been thinking about the myth of the garden of Eden and wondering if I’ve missed the point entirely: Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
In Norwegian there is a phrase: lettvint kunnskap.
Carl Jung said to beware of unearned wisdom.
(I’m assuming he said it – or wrote it – in German, but bear with me.)
Every once in a while it occurs to me to wonder why I believe anyone has ever gone to the moon. Apparently I have faith in humanity. And faith in our inhumanity, as well.
But I wonder sometimes how far from the source faith remains a reasonable foundation for the way we live.
Trees grow in groves to support each other. To support the weight of snow, the force of winds, the dearth of sunshine. They share. Who knows if a kind of faith is at play. If a tree chooses to send roots in the direction of other roots “knowing” there is sugar to be had from another member of the community.
I wonder what they give back
when they take the sugar.
We think we know things. Like what it takes to make an apple.
( – which was probably not an apple, but that is another story)
It snowed yesterday. But you’d only know it from the white pockets of shade. It’s been an odd year of light seasons. An uneasy mediocrity in the elements — like something is bound to blow through at any moment.
We ran a quick-ish 4K this morning without Leonard. Nice to find a rhythm, but my body felt heavy. It could be because of vacation – a post-breakfast run instead of the usual fasting run. It could also be the sore muscles around my knees and ankles from the half-marathon terrain run last weekend.
I finally got around to reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. He argues the probably of plants having the ability to learn. And because of the way of the world, the possibility of plants then experiencing pain.
It seems to be, in an informal way, that people have often measured the quality life by the experience of pain? In the 1800s, the people in charge of the asylums remarked to Dorothea Dix that the insane were just fine naked in the cellar all winter, since the insane don’t experience cold or pain.
And how often has pain been one of the “senses” some people will deny in other people(s). Historically. Even today.
And on an interpersonal level we justify our callousness continually. “They” aren’t really hurting.
It is interesting to remember that a callous grows to shield us from pain. As a shield. A distancing. The opposite of empathizing, of “feeling with”.
To deny someone’s experience of pain is to deny their humanity. But more than that – to deny something the possibility of experiencing pain it is to deny the possibility of sentience.
Maybe our concept of an anthropomorphic fallacy is all backwards.
It’s not a new thought, at any rate: that it is a mistake to assume we are special. Even in our pain.
Leonard is curled on the floor beside my desk now. It is much more comfortable on the sofa in the other room, but here he is. I think he missed me.
I remember reading a book when I was younger. A character remarked on how much they longed to wake up in a pain-free body. Only now am I able to understand that. But now also finding it difficult to remember a sense of not having some kind of pain.
I remember growing pains. In my chest. Groin sometimes. Knees. “Growing pains”, my mother said. I said the same to my sons when they had them.
The sudden, unexpected pain of being alive.
In The Hidden Life of Trees, the author talks about how a woodpecker makes a wound in the bark of a tree, and then leaves to let fungus soften things before returning. The fungus keeps at it, even after the cavity is too large to serve the woodpecker. So another creature moves into the expanding space. Then another. And all the while, is the tree feeling this as pain? Like my reality of a tender hamstring and an arthritic toe joint?
I had a nightmare last night. I have them only rarely now. And not nearly as vividly as once. Though sometimes it takes me longer to reorient to the real world as I wake —
like turning over scattered puzzle pieces and fitting them together into a somewhat less frightening order.
It seems that, as I age, there is a shifting of the kind of pain I experience.
The cold hurts my bones more than it used to. But heartbreak hurts far less. I can only hope the latter is a matter of it having already been cracked open once, and having adjusted to the openness, each new love moving into a growing spaciousness.
Underground, along Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, the guide asks us which way is the castle. I haven’t a clue.
They say we actually have a sense of direction, like birds, if we are in tune with the earth’s magnetic pulls.
I am out of tune.
I lived in a house with a winding stairwell for years before I realized that the top floor had been “twisted” another 90 degrees in my head.
I sometimes wonder if it is because I focus on details: I miss the forest for the trees, the face for the line of the upper lip,
the shape of a life for the single edge of trauma.
I’ve had 11 days away from home. I saw 6 theater productions. I read a novel, and a book of non-fiction. I ran a half-marathon in snow and gale winds. I froze shuffling along cobblestone streets, and I sweat in a sauna. I made love on down duvets. And my heart skipped a beat in the UK’s left-lane traffic. More than once.
I took a notebook with me. But did not write a word.
Last year I spent a few days in Brighton to attend to a course on dealing with trauma.
One of the exercises for calming oneself in unfamiliar surroundings was to focus on the details of one’s surroundings.
A dirty windowpane. An uneven plank of flooring. A painfully thin woman’s hip bone jutting against black fabric.
I took a photo of a robin that morning. I listened to him sing.
I took a notebook with me to Brighton.
But did not write a word.
A notebook is not a compass.
The truth is that I know nothing really of magnetism or of gravity–only that gravity is the stronger of the two. The earth pulls on us.
pull on the earth.
Perhaps the sense of direction I need may well be more of a sense of my own pull.
I started running again when I was 44 and my border collie was 8. Her hips were already too stiff for her to enjoy it. So I ran alone. I loved my old lady so much, but I knew eventually I would get a dog to run with me on dark mornings. I had this clear image of a woman and her dog running the trails of southern Norway. It’d be great. Like Old Yeller, or Where the Red Fern Grows, or Island of the Dolphins… (Anyone else dating themselves?) The grown-up, real-life, non-tragic version.
My old lady died at 18. And after a brief- and very unhealthy – relationship with a gorgeous shepherd bitch that left me bankrupt and bruised, Leonard came into my life. Full name, Leonard Edgar: in his prime, a former hunter turned pacifist who needed a home. I never really knew the literalness of the term “dog pile” until Leonard.
He’s not like the shepherd pup the vet said would be 30 kilo, but who grew into a nearly 50 kilo monster that dragged me down the trail on my knees or belly after every dog that passed us, while people said nasty things under (and over) their breath.
(She lives on a farm now – not a proverbial farm – a real farm, with a pack of unruly, but happy dogs.)
Leonard pees a lot on runs. And poops twice. (Is that TMI when we are talking about a dog?) And last summer he spent a lot of time lounging on the beach mid-runs. Though, when the weather finally cooled, he did manage 5K stretches without a nap.
Still, somewhere along the trail this past fall I lost my joy of running. It has been disconcerting how much it’s disrupted my self of identity. I have felt the “need to run” but never felt the release I used to have.
The long, lovely 30 minute exhalation over a stretch of trail near the water, blackbirds darting into the bushes as I approach…
Not feeling it.
I’ve been sad about it. I used to pass people running (or they would pass me) and I’d be envious of their run – and relish the thought of my next one. Lately I’ve been envious of their joy. Period.
Last week Leonard Edgar (full name with pet name: Leonard Edgar Puppy Dog) grabbed a soup bone off the kitchen counter. Six days of tummy trouble meant I ran alone. And on the second day, somewhere around 3K without a potty breaks (and the subsequent scoops and totes), I felt the rush. It was such a relief I teared up.
It was never about the running. It’s the rhythm of running. The point where the body recognizes the pattern and takes over to drive itself forward, the mind un-clenches, and life is simply momentum for a while.
Leonard Edgar refuses to be put into service. No hunting foxes. No running trails.
But there’s no puppy dog better at dog pile. You know he’s there. Present. Gazing into your eyes. Knocking the phone out of your hands: be mindful, says Mr. Leonard Cohen’s namesake Chill-pup.
Yoga dog. I probably knew it all along, and thought I could change him.
By the way. I did pet a dolphin once. It was kind of icky. And I won’t even tell you what those dolphins can get up to when they’re over-excited. You won’t find that shit in the children’s section of the book store.
There are certain words/phrases that are used often in the spaces I tend to wander into. “My journey” is one that sparks ambivalence in me.
I’m not sure I believe that viewing every event/activity/experience in our lives as part of an epic narrative with profound significance for communal consumption is such a great thing.
It isn’t so much the narcissistic trap this put in our way, but the pressure to shape a meaningful narrative that will somehow justify our little lives. We write our own biographies as we live. We judge our experiences in terms of a self-constructed trajectory towards meaningfulness. More than that, for some of us: significance.
Taking on the role of a god – divining our own fates – is an impossible burden. And maybe there is an irony in the probability that the further we come from from a faith in a god, the closer we come to believing in the powers of that god?
Another quasi-divine phrase that tugs at my solar plexus is “a safe space”.
I believe in the importance of safe spaces. I long for them. But I also believe most of us conflate safe spaces with secure spaces, believing that if we are able to secure a “space” – be it a conversation or a home – with enough restrictions, we will be safe.
But that’s not true.
The “being” of safe is not defined by a geophysicalcoordinate system or by a relational placement to things, ideas, beliefs. What we don’t know/aren’t aware of can hurt us.
The “being” of safe is a metaphysical state.
We try to create our own safety by securing our surroundings. But nothing is every really secure. All the alarm systems, forbidden language, and powerful friends can never guarantee us from harm – though they might give us temporary illusion of control, and a temporary a feeling of safety.
Though it may be a necessary step towards creating the connections, community and calm we need to be safe, providing a safe place for one another isn’t simply a matter of shuttering ourselves against the phenomena that cause us pain.
People I love were robbed yesterday.
I don’t know how to help make them feel safe again.
My first thought is, “Come home“.
As though I had that power.
Is there something inherently pessimistic about the distancing of mindful living? Pulling away from attachments. Cleaving/un-cleaving. A lukewarm perspective on experience.
Someone will tell me I’ve misunderstood.
Because everything is conjured into existence within a context, from a singular perspective. The parallel universes of discourse.
This one is mine.
To distance from suffering is to distance from joy, and from the exquisite, total surrender to the sublime.
But assuming life is a zero-sum game for a final reckoning of some sort, we hedge our bets.
Those are a lot of words dumped without context. I know. And I know I am misunderstanding. And I know that the weight of a sole responsibility for making oneself understood – and for understanding others – is an isolating way to move through the world.
Is there a way to suspend judgement and the learned scoring of experiences, while clinging tightly-hotly to them?
This is the innocence of children, who will eat dog shit.
We ignore that part.
This is how we filter our desires through nostalgia. Or whichever spellbook we choose – whichever guru, god.
And we never learn enough for a reckoning.
Drink deep the cup of life;
Take its dark wine into your soul,
For it passes round the table only once.
I remember that you were supposed to smear them on your arms and face. I’m not sure I ever did that. It was another time, and the glowing death-smear war-paint of fireflies was a portal into a magic world: so very distant and misunderstood in large swathes of want. There was an element of fear in my hesitations.
Sometime the other is the object of a different kind of desire.
But I did watch them rise from the spongy ground. I came out of the trailer to watch them – the blades of grass cutting my bare feet, and the clammy evening pinching the skin on my arms. The world was liminal. As was I.
Leaving childhood: leaving the unexamined wholeness of the world.
Before lines are drawn, and boxes are stacked, to make a kind of sense of it all. A kind of sense partitioned from the body’s senses.
Experience is teased apart and analyzed by a present self: like a wine connoisseur remarking on the raspberry, the sulfur.
What cold imagination: judgement requisite to shame.
True wonder is necessarily destructive. A privilege to be harnessed within the space of a barefoot, naked circle.