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!

Meditation Myths

meditation myths
Meditation is an essential practice for those looking to become more conscious in life. However, there are quite a few myths I often see which can result in some people avoiding it all together simply because they either can’t understand certain practices or they don’t seem to get the desired results. Let’s examine a few of these meditation myths.

Myth #1: It is Spiritual

Meditation is often married to the spiritual life and not without reason. The practice can seemingly lead to developing qualities considered desirable for a spiritual life: consciousness, awareness, peacefulness, openness, compassion, insightfulness, creativity, etc. However, many non-religious and non-spiritual people regularly practice meditation. Author, scientist and self-avowed atheist, Sam Harris, has taught a method of mindful meditation for several years. The benefit of having a non-spiritual capacity is that meditation can be incorporated into almost any lifestyle, whether spiritual or non. You do not have to change your beliefs to start meditating. Almost every religion has histories and traditions incorporating meditation. Even atheists and agnostics meditate.

Myth #2: It Involves Going Into A Trance

This may be the most widely believed myth and one that has inspired the most distrust by some religious people. Movies and TV shows often show people in a trance-like state while supposedly practicing meditation. This is due completely to a lack of understanding and poor research into the subject of meditation. Question anyone who says they go into a mind trance during meditation and suggest they actually learn how to meditate which they can then add to their developed, self-trancing skills if they wish.

Myth #3: It Involves Blanking Out Your Mind

Similar to Myth #2, this myth is believed by many non-meditators, but by a surprising number of practitioners as well. In fact, if you are not progressing at all in your meditation practice, it could be that your belief in this myth is the number one obstacle. The reality is, no one can “blank out” their mind. Meditation often leads to a more focused mind and less mental noise, but even experienced meditators know our minds do whatever our minds want to do. Beginning and intermediate meditators can sometimes harbor shame, based around their inability to control their mind. But successful meditation does not rely on the ability to control one’s mind. We meditate regardless of whether our mind is active or not. It makes little difference to us what the mind chooses to do. Inner stillness can be experienced in spite of an active mind. Let go of the impulse to control the mind and just observe it. That is true meditation practice.

Myth #4: Posture and Hand Positions Are Important

This myth kept me struggling for years. I could have very fulfilling meditations while walking or moving but when I sat cross-legged on the floor, I got nothing but cramps and knee pain. The truth is, there is no secret or “holy” position for meditation. The important thing is to be comfortable so you don’t have to think about your physical position. Laying down, sitting in a chair, driving a car and standing are all acceptable meditation positions. Walking, swaying and dancing are wonderful meditation positions as well. Experiment. There is no right or wrong answer. Do what works for you.

In photos of people meditating, I often see people holding their hands in a mudra. It’s another visual stereotype of meditation that I suspect is done without any knowledge of the meaning. In television shows, movies and photos, meditators can be shown sitting down with their hands in some stylized position: thumb and fourth fingers touching, palms pressed together or facing up to the sky, fingers in an “OK” position. These types of hand gestures, called mudra, generally have little to do with meditation and are symbolic, religious gestures with specific meanings in certain Buddhist and Hindu sects. In short, they aren’t necessary. If you need it, do it but most of us will not need it. Put your hands down in a comfortable position and you’ll do well.

Myth #5: It is Difficult

The most difficult aspect of meditation is overcoming the misleading myths and beliefs about it! Once you do that, however, you discover that meditation is one of the most natural life expressions. It is so natural, you may discover that you are not so much performing an activity of meditation, you are actually just taking the time to become consciously aware of the fact that you are always meditating!

Meditation is so natural and essential to our lives, we will unconsciously meditate even if we do not consciously do so. It could be argued that we are performing a type of meditation in our sleep. We will slip into meditative states throughout the day and receive ideas and inspiration we have no clue to as the origin. Those of us who wish to experience deeper results may choose to spend certain moments, consciously meditating. I challenge you to explore conscious mediation and see if you notice a difference in your own life experience.