When Memories Are All That Remain

The other day I was thinking about memories, why they occur, their frequency and triggers. I was walking along the river under my own contemplative spell when I was suddenly hit with a memory of a lost love. The trigger was the back of the woman’s head in front of me. She had the same silver hair, the same hairstyle, haircut, and the same untamable cowlick that Kathleen had. For the briefest part of a second I created this fantasy story in my head as I moved to get a look at the woman’s face to see if by some trick of fate it might really be her.

The body was so bruised and swollen when they found it. The police woman only identified it’s twisted form by her passport photo. Perhaps they had made a mistake. Maybe those were not her ashes in the wooden urn her daughter brought back from México but those of some other body who had drowned in the river that day. Perhaps destiny had carried her down the river and she ended up here in Cuenca… Hope defies logic even fifteen years after her death. As I observed the woman’s face, my momentary hope turned to despair. I felt as if I had lost her all over again.

The memory, for only a moment, brought her back to life in my consciousness. She was real, alive from my memory of her. We forget but memories still exists in the consciousness like on a computer’s hard drive. If you dig deep enough, they are there. I can not remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember every detail down to her cowlick. The suddenness of this experience transcends time, but because I remember her in my consciousness, in this moment she still lives.

I recently watched an animated film, The Book of Life. Although it is primarily a coming of age film about a young man stuck between following in his family’s footsteps (bullfighting) or his own heart (the guitar and music), it also examines the divide between life, death and memory. Manolo, the young man, is bitten by a snake and dies. He travels to the Land of the Remembered and reunites with his mother and other family members who have also died, but are still remembered. They are happy to be together again. The new home is colorful, full of music and life because they are loved and remembered by those still living.

In contrast to the Land of the Remembered is the Land of the Forgotten. Here the terrain is barren, everything is gray, and dark. There is no music or celebration because the souls here have been forgotten. They no longer have loved ones who remember them. They are no longer a part of the consciousness of a living person.

There is some element of truth in all myths and beliefs. The lands of the Remembered and Forgotten are easily metaphors for Heaven and Hell. Celebrations like the Day of the Dead help us to keep the memory of loved ones alive in our consciousness allowing them to remain in the beautiful Land of the Remembered.

I wrote a poem which was actually “transmitted” to me from Kathleen following her death. The last line of the poem is:

When memories are all that remain, Remember to remember me.

It might be true that the sprit only dies when we are no longer remembered and enters the realm of those forgotten. Kathleen was as real to me the other morning as she was fifteen years ago. My mother was standing in the kitchen as clear as day when I bit into a piece of bread covered with butter and jam and was instantly transported into my four year old self sitting at the table watching her cook.

Memories are real, just another reality separates them from this time and place. Conscious awareness keeps the people we love and lost alive in our memory of them. We just can not hold them the way we once did.

Language — The Tower Of Babel

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24Remember the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel? After the landing of Noah’s Ark, the survivors wanted to build a monument to God. They wanted their gift to reach up into the heavens to God’s kingdom. God realized the combined efforts of the citizens would make anything possible because of their common language and he did not like the possibility of his creations knocking on his front door. So he made them speak different languages to each other and their conversations sounded like babel. Those who spoke the same language banded together from that common trait and set off to establish their own kingdoms.

A common language ties people together and gives them a combined strength. Those who do not speak or fail to learn the same language of the inhabitants are outsiders. They can never truly belong. Twice now, I have placed myself in living situations where I did not know the language, but as Nick Cave said, “Places choose you. They take hold of you whether you wish them to or not.” Although almost everyone in Fiji spoke a little English as a result of Fiji bring a British colony for a number of years, the inhabitants still spoke to each other in their native tongue. A language which could only be understood or learned by growing up in the school system or as one kavalingi told me when I asked how he learned to speak Fijian. “You have to live here for thirty years.”

Although Spanish is a much easier language to learn than Fijian with a vast resource of material available, it still takes time and at my age it takes a lot of time. The process is slow but I am learning. My background in Latin has helped with reading but my difficulty is with speaking and listening. I am determined to be an integral part of my new community. To have friends whom I can engage with in their language and not rely upon them to understand mine.

Systems

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24Sometime during the late ninety’s I read the Biography of William Blake (1757-1827) by Peter Ackroyd. Prior to this, my only connection to Blake was in college where I read his Songs of Innocence and Experience. I saw Blake as a visionary, poet, and gifted artist who chose to be detached from the affairs of everyday life, but many thought he was insane due to his personal choice of self examination over fame and fortune and because of his reported visions. William Blake said:

I must create my own system or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare, my business is to create. I wish to do nothing for profit. I wish to live for art.

Today he might be called a renaissance man because of his refusal to be defined by society, and his refusal to be a part of any system which could enslave him. When I found the above quotation in his biography, the words took hold of me the way the wind sucked the air from my lungs on a cold Chicago night. I was left breathless for a moment. These words have been with me ever since.

All systems to some degree enslave us. They are designed to force us to adopt them or to fail in our own footsteps. Systems are designed to keep us in toe, to stifle individual creativity, and to control and enslave us. It does not matter if the system is social, political, economic, or religious. The primary edict of any system is to control the outcome, to prevent individual thinking, and to encourage mass obedience.

Even the program I use to write these words is a system designed to make me follow a set of rules. In order to have the benefits or ease of placing my words into a computer, I must adhere to the rules of the program. I can chose another system, Microsoft over Apple for example, but I still have to follow a set or rules to use either one. As operating systems become more sophisticated, I might be able to do more things on the computer but I am still bound by the rules and limitations of the operating system itself. It is like a paint by number drawing. I am told what color goes where. The only way to beat the system in this example would be to paint outside the lines and to not be attached to the expected outcome. The end result will not look like the picture on the box cover.

True creativity should not be bound by any system. It should flow from the mind and heart of the creator onto the chosen medium without the rules of language, or color combining, or critique and criticism. True creativity is the creation of an expression which has never been expressed in quite that same way before. As artist and creators we must create our own individual systems and not be enslaved by what others think or what will make us money. An artist creates because he/she has something inside that needs to be expressed and he/she is the only one who can give birth to that expression.

You Are The Fool

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24I stumbled up three flights of narrow, wooden stairs before arriving at her door. It had at least six locks that I could see from the hallway but when I knocked, the door opened freely. Inside the tiny living room sat three elderly women each comfortable within her own world and my friend Jan. Each was waiting her turn and no one was speaking.

After swishing a couple of roaches (six legged) from the chair, I sat down next to Jan. She had convinced me earlier to come to Harlem for my birthday. She wanted to buy me a breakfast of waffles and fried chicken and receive a tarot reading from Ms. Milner for my present. I was 21. It was April 17, 1969.

“There are too many things going on in that head of yours,” Jan told me. “You need someone to help you sort it all out.”

Ms. Milner was an old Jamaican woman. She sat in a wooden chair behind a standard sized card table set up at the foot of her bed. Her dark leathered skin from years in the sun contained her aged face. Her fingers were long, narrow, and curved like the stairway. They perched upon the table’s edge with a deck of cards.

She slowly raised her head and stared toward me standing in the doorway. She wore a grand motherly stare but her youthful eyes, like those of a wondering child, lit her face fully. She invited me in and I sat down to what became the first unfolding of my life.

She must have sensed I was a nonbeliever. After all, I was a philosophy major. This mind was honed on questions and logic. Nothing about tarot was logical. I was only here to please my friend, Jan.

Then with a few simple turns of the cards laid out before me, she mapped my pain in life. She answered questions which have haunted me for years. Questions no one but me knew I thought. So I believed. She read my life like a storybook.

Over time she taught me the symbolism of the tarot. She cautioned me not to interpret anything from a place of fear when reading the cards. That the inverse of a card is not necessarily its opposite. To trust my heart over my mind. “The cards are simply a tool for connection,” she said.

I felt comfortable under her tutelage. My understanding of this life grew. My consciousness of the world expanded beyond the nutshell to which I had it restricted. Many times over her words echoed in my life.

During one of our last visits, I asked her, “Who am I?”

Without hesitation she answered. “You have the gift, my friend,” as she pulled a card from her deck and placed it into my hands. “You are ‘The Fool’ a soul in search of experience.”

That was the greatest compliment I have ever received. Those of you who know tarot will understand.

Go Wild And Bloom!

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24The only thing I know for sure, absolutely without question, is that one day my physical body will cease to exist. I will die. It is a fate that awaits all living organisms at some point no matter how long science may extend our life span. It is one of only two traits common to all living organisms. The other is birth. Every living organism is borne into life, whether by cell division, duplication, or cell fertilization it does not matter. We come into life and we leave life. This is the process of existence.

Is there something between “the leaving and the coming?” An afterlife of some kind? Or is the process instantaneous? Our last breath in one life becomes the first of another. Or is this life now really all there is? I shared with you one after-life experience in Life’s Greatest Transition. Are there others?

From the view point of logic it would seem since the life experience of each organism is different, that the experience of death also might also be different for each organism. After the cessation of life from the physical entity do we continue to experience existence? I know the energy which is the core of this body continues based upon the laws of physics but does it experience its existence as me ever again?

As a philosopher, I have pondered the reason and my purpose for being here on this planet at this time ad infinitum. I don’t have an answer but I understand so much more. I believe my life is a gift but the magnitude of this gift is just beginning to be understood, appreciated, and accepted. We are each uniquely made. If we put our common features aside, there is no exact duplication of any life form as we know it—including clones. The chance that my exact combination of atoms will be duplicated again is unfathomable if not impossible. But in an infinite universe, is anything ever finite?

For the “Big Bang” to have occurred energy had to be created from nothingness or it had to have always existed. Take either side, it doesn’t matter. An implosions of energy or “black hole” is energy turning in on itself, returning to the nothingness from which it came. Similar to the process we call life and death. All that we physically experience in any way is merely energy expressing itself as a manifestation. I am a finite physical expression of an infinite energy.

“I am a finite physical expression of an infinite energy.” This at a root level is truly who I am. Who you are. We will only be expressed in this form once. It is an invitation to grow in wisdom, to go wild, and bloom! I could hold out for some afterlife but without consciousness it would just be eternal existence without form. Energy. Think of it as the space between everything else. The darkness of outer space. It’s there but you can’t define it except in terms of its physical manifestations — stars, planets, etc. This is the nature of what we call death. Energy existing without consciousness of itself and without manifestation. Upon death the body which is the physical manifestation of your energy ceases to exist.

So this life is your chance to experience the full rich consciousness of your manifestation in a physical body. Let your senses run wild. Smell, taste, touch. Be a witness to as much of life as you can absorb. Learn to listen to the quiet and to see life’s energy in everything. Love with a full and open heart.

Do these things before you die. Before you are six feet under… before your manifestation is reduced to ashes in a burial urn… before your physical body can no longer support the energy that is your life. Although some do, most of us will not receive a second chance.

So, Go Wild and Bloom!
Press Start Now

Does Life Get Better With Age?

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24This is not something anyone can tell you or if they do, you probably won’t believe them, but I am going to atempt to tell you just the same. I am stubborn that way. In my 20’s, I thought I knew everything, and I did from my perspective as a twenty year old. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I lived abroad, and I held a management position in Corporate America. Then in my 30’s I started climbing the corporate ladder at a fast track pace. My primary focus and measurement of success was how often I received a promotion. I lacked any true personal identity. My nickname in the neighborhood was Mr. IBM.

During my 40’s I started to ask the important questions concerning the quality of my life. What is important to me? Am I doing the work I want to do? Am I happy? I did not view this self examination as a “crisis.” No, it was an opportunity to switch gears in midstream if I so desired. I left the corporate world and stripped myself naked of the material abundance to which I had become accustomed. I sold the car, gave away the television, suits, skis, tennis rackets, and everything else which had become a symbol of the person who no longer existed. I decided to add back only those things which were necessary for my existence in the world. I traveled lightly without all the encumbrances which at one time seemed important and/or necessary. I sought a different way of being in the world.

As a result of the lessons learned during my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, I was now free to live my life any way I chose. Each segment of my life when examined individually has merit, but when explored in the totality of seventy years, it has purpose. I am supposed to be here. There is no doubt in my mind. I only know this due to having lived the life I have lived. I understand the value of life and I am grateful for the time I am allotted. I listen to the echoes of my own life and I am comfortable with my body. It is this body that endured the most changes over the years and I am grateful for its endurance, strength and good health. It, my body, survived a heart attack two years back giving additional years to love and reflect upon this life.

There was a time during my youth when the future was all I thought about. Today, in truth, I give it very little thought. For me, life gets better as I grow older because the innocent wonder of the child returns with age and blends with the wisdom gained through the experience of being alive. In the words of Ursula K Le Guin:

I’d like a poster showing two old people with stooped backs and arthritic hands and time-worn faces sitting talking, deep, deep in conversation. And the slogan would be “Old Age Is Not for the Young.”

It is true that youth is wasted on the young but we do not realize that truth until we get old enough to reflect back into our own life.

O’ To Be Human

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24I am not sure if my being human was a choice, an accident, or predetermined by fate but I am grateful in either case for the gift of life in this human form. I needed these years and experiences to understand why I am here. As much as I identify with aspects of the spiritual, being here now, is in fact all about the body. I was given this body so I might experience the sensations, the senses absent in the spiritual. In pure spirit no separation exists, so senses are unnecessary.

With this body, I can touch. I can share its healing power when needed, its softness when desired. I can feel the wind, the warmth of the sun. I can outline my lover’s body, touch and be touched.

With this body, I can smell. The red flowers of the pepper tree, made more fragrant by the rain, its scent of concentrated pepper filling my nostrils. The rich steamy clouds of spice tea floating around my room.

With this body, I can taste life in every morsel of food. Its sweetness, its saltiness, its bitterness. Every bud is capable of a thousand different sensations. I sample as many as I can.

With this body, I can hear the cries of “justice for all.” I can hear the voice on the radio singing of a “brighter day.” My lover’s deep tones when the sex is “moan out loud good.”

With this body, I can see the colors of a rainbow, the “bone white full moon.” The faces of other life. I can witness the emotions of being human, the expressions of pain, sorrow, and joy.

Beyond this body exists the unifying gel of all life, energy. No senses exist and the only sensation, although the term is inadequate, is that of essence, although there is no consciousness of this sensation. There is no other to be sensed. There is no memory, or recanting of lifetimes. No knowledge of experience. No memory of having lived.

There are those who will be remembered because of their impact upon humankind. They will be read about in history books as leaders, tyrants, explorers, humanitarians, but gone are those who remember them as son, daughter, father, mother, or friend.

All sensation, all senses are lost in the body’s death. The energy of the body continues to exist, but without form, without an individual identity. Life is a celebration of having lived in this human form and mourned as an ending of that existence. Only those who remember me will know that I had ever lived. Only they can bare witness to whether or not I changed the world or had any impact at all.

“So tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver