Tag Archives: enlightenment
Enlightenment, a very short story
He felt awake when he saw her sitting at the bar, as though all his previous life had been a slow, lazy dream. She looked like a girl from one of those sex shops in Amsterdam, wholesome and perverted at the same time. Her hair was perfectly straight and hung down her back to her waist. Her forehead was a smooth, wide dome of innocence. Her flesh was abundant, stark white and glowing, spilling slightly over the waist of her leather skirt. Baby fat. He could tell she’d outgrow it. Regeneration was her game.
She said, “I prefer to travel alone, no fluff or chatter.” She spoke of the outer and inner journey. She didn’t know which was the more important. “I am my own mysterious stranger,” she said.
When they got back to her room, he saw how her bed was opposite a huge fireplace, black; it felt like ghosts were everywhere, but especially in the fireplace, coming down the chimney. The wind made sounds around the eaves and windows, such a big wind, it was spring but the wind was fierce and strong. Her room scared him, he would rather have been anywhere else. But he couldn’t leave, the girl was already undressing on the bed. She looked at him from under her fall of hair. The now-naked girl lay back on the pillows and smiled. He felt as awake as the Buddha under the bodhi tree.
Divine Love, Divine Hate, an essay
Scientists have of late discovered that music stimulates the same areas of the brain as food and sex. That’s why listening to music can bring a chill, raise the small hairs on the back of the neck. That’s why music demands — and gets — our closest attention. You need me, the music calls, you need me to survive, to perpetuate your species. Without me, you will have less well-being, less pleasure and satisfaction. What a design! Food, sex and — music.
The pleasure centers of the brain — the reptilian, primitive intelligence — is not involved in abstract thought but entrusted with the very essence of staying alive. Yet the impulses and desires which originate there find means of expression in our higher intelligence. Food and sex are necessary for survival, so necessary that sometimes it seems as though the whole human world, all human society and culture, can be thought of as nothing more than an interesting mechanism to keep us supplied with food and sex.
The appreciation of music springs from that same primal area of the brain — could this possibly mean there must be a God, after all — a God who gave us another instinct, one for pleasure and beauty, in addition to our basic instincts to survive? Music, a divine invention with no practical purpose. No purpose at all other than to inspire in us joy, mystery, fear and abandon.
Think of all the emotions we can express with food, sex and music: passion, joy, disinterest, experimentation, violence, anger, tenderness, wistfulness, meditation, transcendence. Food, sex and music can be used to communicate, even intensify, all these emotions, yet the trio can also be used to push us past all of these feelings to a region of Godlike rationality and knowledge. Yes, occasionally our existence becomes clear, understood fully until surface complexity falls away into the deeper simplicity of detached understanding. A strangely quiet joy — a joy beyond anything prosaic.
A poetic joy, able to recreate itself in the mind forever. Sometimes the memory of such enlightenment is what keeps us going when the enlightenment itself feels as far away as Uranus or Pluto — as cold, as unreachable. Remembering how once we held it in our bodies and it filled us so there was nothing empty, noting lacking, nothing to fear — not even death. It is a knowledge, a contentment, which infants possess without awareness. To possess this peace with awareness is the greatest achievement, but one which few people are able to sustain for long. We hold it and fall in love with it and in an instant it twists out of our hands and flashes off into the distance like an agile, silvery minnow. Enlightenment as God’s minnow. Look at it too closely, try to keep it too long, and you may never see it again.
I myself have only a rather wobbly faith in God’s existence, but I nonetheless feel pity for people who declare without hesitation that nothing divine exists. What a drab, ugly world their interior castles must be, with only themselves for company.
The divine cannot be ruled out. We cannot know what exists beyond our senses. Certainly people have been enraptured by the idea of divinity — especially, most recently, the notions of divine anger, divine vengeance — modern terrorists have embraced these, but without embracing the corresponding ideas of divine love and divine compassion. Yes, people have fastened their wills on the idea of divine judgment, but they have ignored completely divine forgiveness.
The cockroach is as marvelous a creation as anything — see it scuttle away from the light, a most marvelous mechanism, see it copulate, see it reproduce itself, see it taste its food with pleasure twinkling in its delicate, wavelike feelers. No less miraculous than us. But we have an ability the cockroach does not have — to be self-aware of our divine impulses — our duty as human beings is to dive both below and above our own ordinary human consciousness. To bring all our unconscious knowledge and desires into to the conscious realm — both those desires labeled primitive and those labeled exalted.
Some elements of love are to be found in the roach. It loves its life: flees from danger, attempts to avoid harm, and tries to survive no matter what the odds. This is where the terrorists have failed. They have embraced only half the divine order — divine hate — the half that appeals to them more and suits their political purposes. They need to stretch themselves, accept all things God has created — even those they find distasteful or abhorrent — and leave the judging to God. They need to cultivate in themselves divine compassion and divine love. Terrorists profess they love God, but they do not love God’s creation — therefore that love is flawed, is not really love at all. Their love has turned inside out into hate.
They need to learn from the cockroach, as do we all. We possess vast potential for divine virtue, yet are so capable of falling into the abyss of pride. These terrorists have fallen, and they are trying to pull us down with them. We must not surrender to only part of the divine order. We must catch ourselves with the feelers of the insect before we tumble too far.
I cannot blame anyone who feels the need to destroy the terrorists. I feel that need myself, the blood lust of anger and retribution. But we must find a response pleasing to the divine. That is what prayer is — thinking about what a divinely perfect being might do, waiting for the small voice to tell us the right way to handle this new permutation of evil — without ourselves falling under its wicked spell.
This is what all religious searching has been aimed at. Whether we believe God exists or not — we can imagine God, as God might exist. Sometimes it is better to die than to kill the blameless. We can feel such things in our deepest selves, and these places are just as important to reach with the conscious mind as the highest levels of abstract thought.
We can imagine God, we can love God, we can honor God, and that is what matters most, not whether God truly exists. Good and evil, love and hate, right and wrong, call it whatever you like. It is our uniquely human gift, our uniquely human burden. Did we ask for this? Be careful what you wish for, goes the old admonition. Would I rather be my dog, or my cat? Sometimes I envy their peace of mind. They don’t know about world wars. But my most divine pleasures, feeling them and knowing that I am pleased, and knowing why — in this way I have my cake and eat it, too. The lure of that apple in the garden is a lovely allegory, whether it happened or not — we invented it. This is the quality of our humanity which we can never give back, no matter how much we might want to.
he didn’t know he would die on december 19, 1979. a beautiful letter, regardless. my daddy. i loved him.
Thurs. 9-27 (1979)
Hello my beautiful daughter,
I haven’t checked my mail at Steve & Etta’s in a couple days, so I don’t know if you’ve written or not. When I wrote you last and asked to hear whether you’d gotten it, that seemed important. When I’ve thought about it since, it hasn’t. That is, if you’re supposed to get my letters, you will; and if I’m supposed to/need to hear from you, I will. I love you, and one of the things that means is that I enjoy expressing myself to you. Don’t get me wrong: I also really like hearing from you, hearing you/listening to you expressing yourself to me. That’s what I want, and what I get will be what I need.
I hope you’re enjoying yourself and learning and growing. I know you’re doing the latter two; the first is the only thing I’m unsure about.
Things are really interesting & exciting for me: seeing some patterns in my life, some big ones, for the first time ever. They are really far out: mostly they have to do with my history of relationships with women (including your mother & going back further than her) and how I use/have used those relationships to work out my feelings about my mother & her inability to give me love, affection, respect, hugs, kisses, TLC… that kind of stuff. (I’m unclear about how much of this I “should” be sharing with you… when, if ever, should I relate to you like a peer? Or: when a father tells his child about his own emotional/psychological struggle/growth/insights/development, is that OK? I guess I should go with my feelings and it feels OK to go this far; I’ll go as far as it feels OK to. Part of my desire is for you to maybe learn a little something about your own psyche, and to know me as well as you can… given our… the way our relationship has gone (off the main point: I want you to know that I am not threatened or bothered at all, any more, by your relationship with your stepfather. I accept that he was your father, is your father, in many ways. And I think it’s beautiful that you have two of us. How many young women have a straight dad and an unconventional dad?) At any rate, the genesis of this recent big insight was George Oliver, from whose apartment I called you the other week. I was talking to Geo. about my feelings of longing for Barbara & he told me that what I was saying sounded just like what I’d said & been feeling right after separating the last time from your mom. That blew me away, because it was real true. In essence, my largely unconscious/subconscious need/wanting to “get back at” my mother for what some part of me sees as her deliberate refusal to give me what I wanted, love, has led me over the years to play the game with women (who I’ve viewed as mother-surrogates) of “when I’ve got you, I don’t want you; when I haven’t got you, then I want you back.”
All this realization is so new I’m still trying to get my mind around it. I’m pretty sure I want to stop playing it: it sure doesn’t feel good for those involved, myself included. (I realize that, at some level, it had to be satisfying some real deep need in me; otherwise why go on doing it for 30 plus years?)
Exciting and scary times. The prospect of opting out of the game is exciting. And scary: the game-playing part of me says, “gee, what will I do if I don=t play that game?” or “But that’s all I know how to do!”
Incidentally, I have no regrets about having come down to Florida & having been there 3 & 1/2 months. It all needed to happen, I’m sure of that. And our time together was beautiful.
And something else that needs to happen is going to the first part of next week: I’m heading south again. I’ll be driving in the van down Baja California to La Paz & taking the ferry across to mainland Mexico again. I’m going to revisit some of the places I raced through (e.g. 3 hours in Oaxaca) and visit some of the places I chose not to make side trips to. And drink in that delicious tropical sun & sea for a while. I guess I’m feeling that I’d rather go to Europe in the spring, warmer weather. (Sat.) A feeling that’s really been reinforced by the last couple days in LA, real cool here, rainy & overcast on the beach today.
My current thinking about my travelling is that I’ll do Mexico again until Dec. or Jan. then go to the Caribbean. I’d love to visit Jamaica, St. Martin, Puerto Rico, etc. And then in summer go to Europe. Rather than going to London now, then immediately to warm weather in Africa then going back to Europe next summer. But, it’s real hard to stay definite.. I don’t know what this does to our talking about travelling together, but if we’re supposed to, we will. And I would love to see the Caribbean with you.
I don’t know whether I’ve told you or not: when I came out here in Aug., my first stop was San Diego, where I talked to my Aunt Cecelia (who also was my godmother) & the lawyer that drew up my mother’s will. Cecelia, after hearing that I felt humiliated, hurt and angry about Mom’s will, said that Mom had felt all those same things & ways about what I’d done in living my life. Which is no doubt true. And sad, that my efforts to live & be happy were taken so personally by her, and that she chose to be so upset about them. There’s a lesson there, for sure.
I will write you from Mexico and I’ve decided to assume you will get my letters & stop worrying about whether Gail might intercept them.
My thoughts are with you a lot. Know that I love you. (The thunder outside seems to punctuate my writing with an exclamation point after that sentence!!) Allow yourself to be who you are; remember that if you were supposed to be different, you would be.
Incidentally, I asked Sheila’s lawyer how long before I get my money from the estate & he said he couldn’t be definite (you know how lawyers are) but he thought it’s be sooner than 6 mos.!
(You can write me in Mexico if you want. I’ll be stopping in La Paz, in the state of Baja Calif. Sur and mail will be held for me if you send it c/o Lista de Correos, for that city & state. La Paz is 1000 miles or so south of San Diego so I shouldn’t be there until at least a week or so, more like 2 weeks, after you get this.) I’ll let you know other cities later. The next one after La Paz will be Puerto Vallarta, but I forget the state name, but you can just check an atlas.