No Way To Know

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

 

I often think of the futility of describing spirituality or reality.

Obviously I attempt to do that very thing here on this blog but my intention here is largely to address topics to my own self. Topics I am considering, working out, meditating on or ideas that have come to me in “Aha!” moments which I want to return to and examine again at another time.

Still, I understand how ineffective it is. I often say trying to analyze or describe reality is like a dog trying to understand and describe what it is I do when I leave the house for work. My dog has no concept of what happens during the day at my job and the only way she can possibly understand it will be fragmented. Any attempt at trying to understand what I do when I leave the house, can only be within what her mind is capable of knowing. Perhaps she thinks I leave to go play at a dog park all day or lay around and sleep on a larger couch. And while these are jobs I would love to have, she can’t know the actual reality of what I do because she can only “think” as a dog.

Every spiritual lecture or teaching is fragmented the same way because we only have the capacity to understand within the limits of our human mind and human understanding. Notice that almost all attempts at communicating reality by humans, depends upon humans being at the center of that reality. You never hear of a lecture on reality from the viewpoint of a tree. As humans we can never know reality from the viewpoint of a tree, yet trees are as essential to the experience of reality as humans are.

Even within our human community, each person is only able to understand reality from their own limited experience. How a person with no hearing understands the reality of music is very different from that of a person who hears. Someone with no sight would never be able to explain to someone with sight the magnified capabilities of touch and feel one has when not seeing with eyes. Our ability to understand reality is also impossibly limited to the language we speak or the society in which we were raised and influenced. Someone who grew up in India will almost certainly have a different understanding of consciousness than someone who grew up in East Tennessee, United States.

To think any of our descriptions and understandings of reality and spirituality are whole and complete is misguided. While I don’t think I want to go so far as say communicating our understanding of reality is a waste of time, I will say any attempt at doing so should be understood to be as flawed as it is. Every attempt is an inaccurate and incomplete one. Human beings can only ever understand a finite idea of infinite reality.

For me, I prefer to experience reality without words or thoughts and with the understanding that I have no complete idea of what is happening. To get to a point where I think I know or understand is to be at a dangerous point. Best to reside in a cloud of unknowing.

Abundance

This came to me during a morning meditation. Kinda smacked me in the face. I only post it here in case you need smacking too.

abundance

Distraction

Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash

Illusions of the world always draw more attention than Truth in the world. That is human nature. Truth is eternal, still, never changing. Illusion is movement, drama, change. We are continually drawn to focus on our mind, the source of illusion. Even when we realize we are the peaceful stillness known as Truth, it can be difficult not to become hypnotized by the illusionary content of mind. It’s why we look at the movie not the screen. We listen to the notes, not the rests. We marvel at the stars and planets, not the space.

When a rich man asked Jesus how he could be saved, Jesus told him to give his possessions away. Get rid of the objects. In other words, he would still have the Truth of wealth, he just had to be willing to not be caught up in the illusions of wealth. Money burns. Coins melt. Possessions can be lost or stolen. True wealth can never be taken away but few of us consider True wealth very valuable.

When we are preoccupied by the activity of our mind, we lose who we really are and, in that, we are operating under a kind of hypnosis. We’re in a dreamlike, pretend world where we believe the cartoon actors, props and sets are real. We imagine ourselves to be one of them and forget we are not that but we are so much more. Meditation can often help us focus our attention onto Truth and away from the illusion. Still, it can be a daily practice to not get caught up in the wonderful, delicious, exciting mind stuff.

Random Renaissance Person


Today I am pondering “Random Renaissance Person.” You can ponder with me.

Let me first explain that Random Renaissance Person is just that: any random person who lived during the Renaissance period (almost any other period will also work, too, if you happen to have some aversion to pondering people from the Renaissance). Simply imagine a single person who could have lived during that time period. Make the person as average as possible – no kings or queens or dignitaries. Just your average Renaissance villager person.

It’s best not to give Random Renaissance Person a name – we don’t want to get too close to them – but you can imagine things like their work and family situation. Go ahead and I magine all of the events in Random Renaissance Person’s life: being born, interacting with family, working in the garden, being educated, attending religious ceremonies, hanging out with friends, having a first kiss, playing sports, etc. Most people didn’t have a very long lifespan during that time so maybe Random Renaissance Person was stricken with disease or experienced complications in childbirth or was injured in battle. Feel free to design their story.

Of course, there were no photographers at this time, so we can never know what Random Renaissance Person looked like. It’s doubtful they had their portrait painted or if one would have even survived to now. There is a very good chance that nothing at all exists to document that Random Renaissance Person ever even lived. But we know they did and we know that millions just like them have lived all over the Earth since the beginning of time.

We can imagine Random Renaissance Person, lived a full life just like you and I. Every moment of their life consisted of experiencing life events the same way you and I do. Some of those events were minor incidents. Many were major milestones. But to Random Renaissance Person, all were the content of their life and whether they were experiencing seasonal sniffles or adopting a dog or watching a parent die, these were the things that Random Renaissance Person called their life. The struggles and triumphs that shaped who they knew themselves to be. Again, just like you and I.

Now fast forward to the contemporary time you and I are currently living. Look around your household or work environment or just your life in general. In what way is your life affected by the life of Random Renaissance Person? Can you find one single thing anywhere in your surroundings that would have been impacted by the existence of Random Renaissance Person?

Consider that all of those monumental life events that meant everything to Random Renaissance Person are now completely gone. Literally, as if they never happened. The events that kept Random Renaissance Person awake at night with anxiety or that they anticipated with excitement for weeks are now nowhere to be found. In fact, our good friend Random Renaissance Person also has no existence, nor is there proof they ever did. We can imagine Random Renaissance Person may have had children, who had children, who had children, whose descendants may have somehow affected us. Quite possible. But when we look only at the personal life of Random Renaissance Person, it makes little difference to our world whether they lived or not.

It’s fascinating. An entire life rendered completely useless by time and distance. It’s easy to convince ourselves this is bound to happen to people who lived so long ago but have you ever found yourself wandering in an antique shop and found a stack of photos of random, unknown people? People and families from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, sometimes doing seemingly important things – graduating, marrying, opening Christmas presents, enjoying dinners – now completely unknown, unidentified and unimportant.

Of course, this will never happen to you or I, our lives are way too important and we’ve participated in far too many memorable life events for those things to just disappear. Our thoughts, opinions and beliefs are not only vital to us but also of great significance to humanity. Not to mention, we have many friends and family members who will remember us and all of the important things in our lives for eternity. We’ll never be forgotten like those other people. Right?

The world of form is not as significant as we try to convince ourselves it is. It never has been. It doesn’t have any permanence to it. We try to hang on to this identity in our changing, disposable bodies and pretend we are as important as we believe we are. One day these bodies and all we consider important will fade away faster than a stream of smoke, just like the life of Random Renaissance Person did. What’s left when it’s all gone? Does everything just dissolve and go back to the Earth or can it be that there is actually some sort of permanence behind appearances? Something that remains when all appearances change and pass away? Does it make sense to actually “be” at one point in this life and then “not be” at another point? Is “being” so disposable and finite?

Is it?

Creation Now

If we have no trouble believing a “Creator” created our entire universe at a certain point in time, should we then not have any difficulty at all considering, instead, this “Creator” is creating our universe RIGHT NOW and has been creating the entirety of it NOW, always?

Beyond Appearances

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

“Do not judge by the outward appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” – John 7:24 [New American Standard Bible]

In spiritual work, there is regular need for “translation” of appearances into reality. Often those translations meet resistance from the mind, which constantly seeks tradition, reason and logic. While those are useful features in the so-called physical world, the human mind is not always the best interpreter of reason for the spiritual domain.

I consider spiritual study to be the study of the “essence” of reality. Some people, understandably, don’t care for the word “spiritual” because of its religious connotation and while they may argue we have no spirit, most would agree all life has an essence. We all have noticed at some point there seems to be more than just appearances to this world. We can both see and touch a rhinoceros but we can also think of a rhinoceros which has no appearance at all to anyone but our own inner mind.

Spiritual translation is usually more complicated that that, however. Think about getting a gift from a four year old which, from appearances, looks like a beaten down lump of clay. “It’s you, Daddy!” they tell you. And, while you have probably spent more than a few days in your life feeling a bit like a beaten down lump of clay, you know this gift is more than what it looks like. You easily look past the outward appearance of the gift and you are able to see its essence, which is pure love. It’s why you hang on to that seemingly horrid lump of clay for the rest of your life. Seeing love in a broken down lump of clay is what “judging by right judgement” means. It’s spiritual translation. Appearances are usually the worst way to judge reality.

Don’t be too concerned when your mind starts giving you crap about what you are experiencing spiritually. One eventually learns to ignore what the mind says. The mind only knows about appearances so in spiritual study it isn’t often of much use. Still, a good portion of spiritually translating appearances is coming to some sort of agreement with the mind. “Yes, it certainly does appear that way, mind, I can see your point.” Your mind will argue forever that a lump of clay can be nothing more than a lump of clay and, seriously, how can you be anything other than a body I see right before me?? Yes, it certainly does appear that way, I can see your point.

Simply stay aware that the reality of a situation is almost always beyond the appearance. Like desert mirages or train tracks that come together at a point or an Earth that is a flat disc. Look beyond the picture. It’s where the Truth is. Mind and every appearance it is responsible for will have you believe life is a multiplicity of individuals, objects, thoughts and events happening during several points of time in many locations.

The simple reality is, it is all only Awareness being Aware of Itself. 

One Thing

There is only one thing that needs to happen. Consciously be who you already are.

No Fear

America is currently being fueled by fear rather than freedom.

People who for years have tried to stop abortions have finally met their goal but that isn’t good enough for them. They are still afraid and will have to target more free people in a constant attempt to appease their insatiable fear. They never will because they are hollow, empty people. The god they claim motivates them, can never really make them happy because that god is a fear-based, shell of an idea.

For decades, while enslaved, Africans in America regularly danced. Sang. Played music. Laughed. The empty slave owners could not rob the enslaved of the true Life and Light they carried within them. If we can use this as a model in our own lives, Truth will eventually overcome this climate of fear.

People who are possessed by fear are the weakest of people and it’s why they must rely on guns, bombs, and repressive laws to carry out their bidding. They have little else. Except fear. And they will eventually cower and run in the face of Truth. Even when enslaved, do not allow yourself to be overcome with fear in anything you do.

Also, dance. Don’t forget to dance.

Knoxville, Summer 1985

Rare rear view of the back of Knoxville-born author James Agee’s now-demolished childhood home at 1505 Highland Ave in Fort Sanders, Knoxville, Tennessee, August or September 1962. From the Fleming Reeder Collection

Knoxville, Summer 1985

 

Walking down Highland
and 13th to a sudden
dead end.
Sun-blistered asphalt,
vaporizing generations of
mystery fluids,
floating in the air like
jungle-breath.

I have expectations of finding
something here but
I don’t know what.
An experience, maybe.
An answer, possibly.
Art?

Surrounded by clapboard houses
in sweaters of kudzu,
I walk the middle of the street
with the swagger of youth
in cheap shoes.

An audience of thrift store
furniture on front porches
applaud random Tibetan prayer flags
giving needed shade to
the molding Bud Light coolers.

And I see her there.

That one girl
reading
on her porch.
She doesn’t look up.
I don’t say “Hello.”
The daily routine of
passing strangers.

But I turn and chance
a few steps down
her walkway.
I offer my outstretched
hand.
She looks up,
places her moist fingers
on my palm
and unfolds herself
from her
musty armchair,
the cushions bleeding foam
onto the old wood porch.

I spin her like a
princess carousel
then pull her toward me,
my hand in the small of
her back.
She presses
her cheek to my chest
and I smell her
coconut hair
for seconds of eternity.

We sway to distant
music from Cumberland Ave.
but do not speak.
We both know too well
what we would say;
emotionally charged laments about
life as a twenty-something.
School.
Poverty.
Overcontrolling parents.
Why don’t they understand?
Sometimes we aren’t sure
we will survive or
that we even want to.
Why is the world so confusing?
Pointless?
Sweaty?
Like this moment.
This moment I’ll
never forget but
the wine on her breath
tells me she will
by morning.

Her mouth parts for
a whispered word but
I quickly raise my hand.
“Shhhh” I say.
“I’m going to get towed.”
I touch her lips softly
with mine;
that awkward kiss
of two people who just
met on a sweltering, summer day
and already have regrets.

Dewy, brown eyes behind
her glasses tell me
we are eating
supper for the
6,205th time
in Farragut.
Visiting our daughter
in college.
Weeping at the birth
of our third grandchild.
Purchasing side-by-side
cemetery plots.

She is small and pretty and
I am certain her heart
belongs to someone else.
While I borrowed it
for a moment, I am too young
and too clumsy to hold
it longer than an hour.
A year at most.
I bow and kiss her wrist.
She returns to her book—
never looking back to
me as I retreat to the
safety of the sidewalk.
I step in gum.
Dirty, florescent-pink strings
stretch from my shoe
like cruel party streamers
from a cancelled wedding.

I walk a block and
see the city panorama
in gold mirrors. There is
my own life in a single,
solitary square
of the Sunsphere.
It looks down upon me
like a wise,
yet emotionally unavailable
Appalachian grandfather.
With tobacco in cheek, it
says to me with a muffled drawl,
“There is a world of porches.
There is a world of books.
Life is a dance for
the ones with expectations
and the one
who constantly looks.”

—Rick Baldwin ©2018

You May Be Right. I May Be Crazy.

When I was in high school, I idolized the kind of NY, Italian, street gang-guy I saw in celebs like Billy Joel and Stallone. I really wanted to be in a street gang, which, if you know me, you know how completely asinine even the thought of that is. But I didn’t want to be in a real street gang, I wanted to be in more of a movie street gang. I didn’t want to actually hurt people, I wanted to strut around the streets like Travolta in a leather jacket, maybe smoking cigarettes. I wanted to know some guys named Mikey and Vinnie. Maybe learn to use the f-word occasionally and not feel guilty about it. That’s all I knew. I really wanted to be a Baptist preacher and I carried around a copy of “The Cross and the Switchblade” with me all of the time. It was a book about a preacher who went to New York to save the street gangs. I figured I could do that. Maybe have the best of both worlds. Although I would have to nix the f-word probably.

One year, I asked for a leather jacket for Christmas. My parents couldn’t afford a real leather jacket so they got me a vinyl one. It looked a lot like the real thing and I wore it all the time in high school and college. I’m wearing it in this photo. It looks a lot like Billy Joel’s but, I’m guessing, his was real leather. I always imagined I’d one day get to go to a “rumble” in my jacket, but I never did. Once, the neighborhood bullies tried to challenge my brothers to a fight and I thought it was the perfect opportunity, so I grabbed my jacket and a long chain I’d been saving for the occasion, but my dad went out and ran the bullies off so nothing really happened. Eventually, I changed over to Billy Joel’s “suit jacket and loose tie” style, which seemed to work much better for me.

When I was in middle school, my dad started getting into a new hobby of selling things at flea markets. He was a school teacher but would do the flea market stuff on the weekends and he ended up making more money doing that than he did teaching. So I grew up around flea market culture. I’m still fascinated by the southern flea market characters I encountered every weekend. Flea Markets, antique stores, secondhand shops, thrift stores are all still a huge part of my life. It gets in your blood and won’t come out. Like a stiletto. Sorry. I go to antique stores just to relax. I could spend an entire weekend doing nothing but visiting thrift stores and antique shops. Last week I stopped by a thrift store to look for some junk pieces I could recycle as art. While I was there I saw a really cool leather jacket. It still had all of the tags on it. And, holy crap, it was exactly my size! I can never buy clothes off the rack because I have freakishly long arms but this jacket fit perfectly. And it was only $25!

I used to never buy or wear anything leather. I’m vegetarian because I’m an animal lover and I never thought it was right to not eat animals but still wear them. Then, I decided to wear a kilt for a year in 2012 and I had to buy leather stuff. Boots, straps, vests, all that stuff that makes you look more cool in a kilt. I also started eating fish last year, so screw the animals! Dang, I should have used the f-word there. No wonder I never got in a street gang.

I bought the jacket. I took it home and cleaned it the way the leather stores I Googled said I should clean leather jackets. Last night I put it on for the first time in it’s full, freshly laundered, glory. I dug out the switchblade knife I have been keeping in my nightstand (in case The Bishops want to start some shit) and I came out to the kitchen to see what my wife thought. She laughed. Laughed? It wasn’t really the response I was looking for. I mean, this is a real fucking leather jacket! (Yeah!) But while she was laughing, she also took off her bra. It was like she did it without even thinking. I don’t even know if she knows why she was taking it off. It just happened. Dang, the first time I put on a real leather jacket and the first girl I see immediately whips off her bra. I knew it!