Sunrise to Sunset: A metaphor for life

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Recent reading brought my attention back to a book of Celtic wisdom that I read years ago called, “Anam Cara,” written by John O’Donahue. In that wonderful collection of words, O’Donahue explains the meaning of the phrase like this:

“The anam cara was a person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam cara, your friendship cut across all convention and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the friend of your soul.”

So many of us spend a great deal of time searching–hoping to experience such a friendship–and even when we do, we don’t always recognize it right away. We often have expectations and interests that divert our attention away from that recognition at first. Friendship usually takes time to unfold under the best of circumstances, but “anam cara” is a relationship that is born long before we appear on the planet. Some may call it destiny, some might prefer a term like “kindred souls,” but no matter how we arrive at such a recognition, when we do arrive, we often find ourselves confronted with the most perplexing of mysteries; we know there are forces at work in such an arrangement that do not fit neatly into our temporal existence, and yet we still know somehow that as O’Donahue says, we are “joined in an ancient and eternal way.”

In one lifetime, we may encounter and come to recognize such individuals only rarely, and there are no restrictions or limitations as to the circumstances that might lead us to them, or where and when our recognition might occur. After the loss of such a soul in my own life, I found myself confronted with the perplexing mystery, and had an unusual experience which gave me a rare insight, and I wrote about it in my journal:

sunrise with birds

“Unable to sleep this morning, I sat out on the back porch and watched the sky brighten with the morning’s first light. It was a spectacular morning sky, cloudless and deep blue. What sounded like hundreds of birds were already busy with their morning conversations, chirping in a cacophonous symphony, and I wondered momentarily, what they could possibly find so compelling to talk about at such an hour. Reflecting on what I had lost, rather than what I had gained by their presence in my life, I nearly missed realizing what all the fuss was about. The realization came to me suddenly, when I understood that the dawn of each new day brings with it, the awakening of all life–truly cause for celebration! We are, each of us, birds, people, everything that lives, blessed with the chance to begin again, to renew ourselves, and to say “yes” to life.

tree cliff

The famous philosopher, William James, once told the story of man who found himself at night, slipping down the side of a steep slope toward the edge of a cliff. To his surprise, he managed to catch a branch which stopped his fall. He remained clinging to it, in misery, for hours. But finally, his fingers let loose their hold, and with a despairing farewell to life, he let himself drop.

He fell just six inches.

The man in this story, because he was unable to see, had clung to the mistaken idea, that there is a way to hold off the inevitable. What he was unable to appreciate under the circumstances, was just what that inevitable event might hold for him. Had he given up the struggle earlier, his agony would have been spared. We cling to life in a completely understandable human way most of our lives, suffering terribly when it is lost too soon, and sometimes despair even when it dwindles slowly in the latter part of a long and fruitful life. There is no magic formula for coming to terms with the many varieties of loss we can experience in our lives, but eventually, as difficult as it is, we must find a way to move forward, as best we can, until the sorrow fades.

sunset road home

Recently, on the way home from a long week at work, I was so struck by the setting sun in the sky that I had to pull over and snap a photo of it. What appeared to be a long swath of darkness was actually receding to the left, leaving the startlingly beautiful panorama on the right, and it occurred to me while I was standing there staring at the sight, that what has felt like a long swath of darkness in my personal life, needed to be viewed as receding as well. It’s not that the darkness won’t ever return, nor that it seemed to hold its sway with me for such a long time, that made me think of the sunrise and sunset as a metaphor for life. We are born into this life in a miraculous awakening that holds an infinite variety of possibilities, not all of which are filled with light and joy, but it is rather a sequence from the realm of infinite possibilities that transpires over a lifetime, no matter how long or how short that lifetime may be.

As I stood alone on that remote highway, staring off into the sunset, I was struck by both the beauty and the majesty of existence, as well as by the painful realization of having endured a swath of sadness, neither of which could be viewed in the same way, never having stood on the edge of darkness, or clung to a branch in despair, or having endured the changing seasons of life. Our gift of life, embodied in the sunrise and sunset, promises only to illuminate the path of possibility, but it does not direct it.

Existence is Consciousness

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The title of this posting is a bit overreaching, I admit, but if you will be patient and have been following along here, I think I can point the conversation in that direction, even if it takes a few additional postings to get through it.

My friend and fellow blogger, Marc Schuster, passed along a link to an article in the “Atlantic Monthly,” called “Awakening,” regarding the problem of patients in surgery who, though sedated, apparently wake up or are otherwise aware of what is transpiring while in surgery, and the story addresses the steps that have been taken to eliminate this terrible situation, by developing ways of monitoring a person’s level of conscious awareness. Although the percentages of such incidents are small compared to the number of surgeries which take place in the world, imagine how you might react if you woke up or became aware during a major surgery!

surgeons

Here is the link to the article:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/01/awakening/309188/

Anesthetics is a fascinating subject, and it clearly does beg some questions of the nature of consciousness to be sure. I was particularly intrigued by this notion by Chamoun, which described consciousness:

“…as a spectrum of discrete phases that flowed one into the next, each marked by a different electrical fingerprint.”

Since our experiential awareness–what is referred to in the article as the “subjectivity of conscious experience,”–is not so easily quantified or measured, precisely because of its subjective nature, it seems that nearly every scientist involved in the subject tries to narrow the focus of a theory of consciousness into a phenomenon that is generated by brain physiology, which clearly can be measured.

A good example of this is Tonini’s “integrated-information theory,” which posits that:

“First, consciousness is informative. Every waking moment of your life provides a nearly infinite reservoir of possible experiences, each one different from the next. Second, consciousness is integrated: you can’t process this information in parts. When you see a red ball, you can’t experience the color red separately from the shape of the ball. When you hear a word, you can’t experience the sound of it separately from its meaning.”

mechanical brain

No matter how we dance around it, what Tonini and others are discussing are the “mechanisms–the physical substrates” which demonstrate the consequences of possessing our distinct version of human consciousness–the one which permits the subjective awareness of “what it’s like” to experience our existence, and to be able to contemplate it, ponder it, and express our experience of it. It is, perhaps, most evident in our attempts to describe consciousness, to articulate the process, to measure it and theorize about it, that we realize it cannot be reduced to physiology alone.

It doesn’t help much that our ability to acknowledge and contemplate the nature of consciousness REQUIRES our physiology to be precisely what it is–a cognitive apparatus attached to a central nervous system and an array of sensory inputs supported by heart, lungs, and nutritional systems to sustain it. This essential apparatus, which merely FACILITATES the expression of what Kant called “transcendental consciousness,” is inseparable from our ability to possess our subjective awareness, but it does NOT define the foundational and transcendent principle which makes our cognitive apparatus most useful–as a conduit for consciousness. There is a huge gap between “being conscious” and “having access to a transcendental consciousness.”

transcendent

Without even considering the many spiritual paths which emphasize the transcendent aspects of our existence, for me, one need only look within themselves, to quiet the mind, and open themselves to the infinite realm of possibilities, in order to begin to apprehend a quality or character to our existence which cannot be quantified or measured in the way these guys are attempting. I know it’s not very scientific, but not everything can be reduced to temporal measurements. I’m not suggesting I know any more than anyone else about what may account for our subjective experience, but I am certain that it will take more than just our understanding of the science of the brain to unravel it.

Without consciousness there could be no awareness of existence, and without a temporal existence, we could not gain access to a subjective awareness of consciousness. If our existence is a manifestation of a transcendent consciousness (Kant) then the two are inseparable and intimately intertwined.

…..more to come….

The Abundance of Life and Love

earth from space

Recently in email I received a link to a video that presented a poem by Kate Nowak called, “May You Be Blessed.” It’s a very nice sentiment expressed in the poem, and her efforts have been re-posted quite often. I couldn’t help admiring her idea, but I really felt like it needed a response. Here is the poem and the link to the video on YouTube:

May You Be Blessed by Kate Nowak

May you be blessed
with all things good
May your joys
like the stars at night
be too numerous to count
May your victories
be more abundant
than all the grains of sand
on all the beaches
on all the oceans
in all the world
May lack and struggle
be always only serve
to make you stronger
and may beauty order
and abundance
be your constant companions
May every pathway you choose
lead to that which is pure
and good and lovely
May every doubt and fear
be replaced by a deep abiding trust
as you behold evidence
of a Higher Power
all around you
And when there is
only darkness
and the storms of life are closing in
May the light
at the core of your being
illuminate the world
May you always be aware
you are loved beyond measure
and may you be willing to
love unconditionally in return
May you always feel protected
and cradled
in the arms of God
like the cherished child you are
And when you are tempted
to judge may you be
reminded that we are ALL ONE
and that every thought you think
reverberates across the universe
touching everyone and everything
And when you
are tempted to hold back
may you remember that love flows best
when it flows freely
and it is in
giving that we receive
the greatest gift
May you always have music and laughter
and may a rainbow
follow every storm
May gladness wash away
every disappointment
may joy dissolve every sorrow
and may love ease every pain
May every wound bring wisdom
and every trial bring triumph
and with each passing day
may you live more abundantly
than the day before
May you be blessed
And may others
be blessed by you
This is my heartfelt wish for you
May you be blessed

BrigantineSunrise

There is much to admire in what Kate wrote here, but it seemed to me that her thoughts didn’t go quite far enough, and needed some additional thinking. After a fair amount of thought on what she wrote, I penned this response:

THE ABUNDANCE OF LIFE AND LOVE: A Response to Kate Nowak

May you share in the abundance of all that is good, and feel compelled to share your portion, whatever it is, with others.

May you know joy often and well, and when sorrow finds you, understand that it finds us all in one way or another; it’s simply a matter of degree.

Don’t attempt to compare the portions of joy or sorrow in your life to anyone else’s. We earn it sometimes, and at other times it just arrives unannounced. Be glad for what joy may come, and don’t allow what sorrow may come to prevent the return to joy in due time.

Know that every path we choose is simply the path we choose—nothing more or less. What happens along that path depends on who we are as we navigate through it. It is not the path which forms us; it is the form we inhabit as we walk the path that leads us as we go.

When diverted from our path by circumstances beyond our control, it is best to direct our attention to the task of finding our way back as soon as possible. Once we return to the path of our own choosing, we should look forward to the road ahead, and focus on every step we take in the moment it is taken.

Doubt and fear are the result of uncertainty within us and facing the unknown outside of us. As the only known species with the capacity for the higher cognitive tasks of imagination, intuition, and abstract thinking, we have the singular privilege of entertaining doubt. Don’t waste it!

Doubt is a necessary prerequisite to wisdom, and drives us to search with vigor to uncover the truth. It cannot be eliminated in a single lifetime, but it can be diminished when we seek in earnest to move forward with a firm belief in the value of our individual life, recognizing that each of us has a contribution to make to the unfolding of life everywhere.

If we can observe the beauty, order, and abundance all around us in nature, with all its intricate nuances and sweeping natural vistas, and not conclude that it is a consequence of something much greater than ourselves, we cannot hope to discover the source of that beauty, order, and abundance.

It is through giving love unconditionally that we open ourselves enough to receive love in return, and it is through the creation of the universe that everything and everyone we know and love came into existence in the first place. However you wish to describe the source of all creation, the opening of the universe in the act of creation, and our very existence as human beings, is the result of the most unconditionally loving gesture ever made. Sharing our love, in all its various forms, with every living entity in creation, is simply giving back what was unconditionally opened for us.

Life is an expression and manifestation of creation, and while the whole range of existence includes all the pairs of opposites and everything in between, we can either embrace both the darkness and the light, or choose to limit ourselves to a narrow band of the spectrum of life. Every life, whether it lasts a few moments, a few years, or a hundred years, is not measured well by how it is spent, but most clearly by how it is earned.

May you be blessed to know the broad range of what life can be, and share as much as you can of what you experience in life with as many others as may be possible during your time on Earth.

May you be blessed, and may others be blessed by you.

John J. Hyland January 2013

Why I Felt I Must Do It Again

ReflectionMist

It was early morning on the last day of summer vacation in the mountains, and I rose early to take in the sunrise on the river. Having spent the last few days constructing a raft, as I had learned to do from one older and wiser, I felt confident that I could navigate the lazy waters of the nearby river. A soft breeze floated gently through the trees, still lush and green with no sign of autumn’s turning tide. The tiny black silhouettes of hundreds of birds against the orange and pink hue of early morning dotted the sky like stars at night.

sunrise with birds

As the morning progressed, the sun rose higher over the water, emitting warmth to the cold dark river. There was a profound silence at most every moment, with the exception of the usual background murmur of nature, which I had come to accept as silence. As I drifted along in that almost utter silence of nature, my mind drifted into reverie, feeling like an invisible man, in a hidden cove, out of sight and mind, totally alone. Far in the distance, I could hear the barely audible sounds of tumbling thunder, rolling along the sky like the vibrations from a desert tumbleweed against the parched earth.

rapids

As I made my way further along the shapeless snake of the river’s edge, my reverie became a sudden slap in the face as the water began to swirl and crash all around me. While enraptured by my conjured, boastful bliss, the forces within the water had built up around me, and my tiny raft began to creak and pop under the pressure of the angry river.

raft on rapids

I had all I could do to prevent myself from being tossed over into the roaring mass, which had now grabbed my craft and was throwing it about violently without discretion. I could feel my heart pounding rapidly against my chest, and the grasp I had on my normal calm began to resemble my tenuous grasp on my float. Putting my life in the hands of the river’s raging waters now felt like a consequence of an insult to the power of nature itself, for which I now would answer. My fate was suddenly at the mercy of an uncaring, unfeeling, inhuman mass of water. As the pace quickened, my mind was working furiously for a way out.

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In the midst of my panic, descending like a gift from heaven, a long overhanging branch appeared directly on my path ahead–a path which now clearly was leading toward an abrupt change in altitude at the edge of an unexpected waterfall. I would only have one very brief opportunity to grab on to it, because once I let go of the raft, there would be no where else to go. My breathing was rapid and frantic. My mind was racing in its calculating of the trajectory and timing, until finally, with a true leap of faith, I flung myself upward as I grasped for the life-saver.

hand-reaching

I felt my hands clasp desperately on the wood of the tree’s extension, as I watched the last few moments of horizontal travel by my raft before it plummeted over the falls.

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Reluctant at first to move, I could feel my stomach slowly begin to relax, and I let out a long, low whistle. I gradually found the strength to navigate to the bottom of the tree, and when I set foot once again on solid ground, I laid down on the grassy mound near the water’s edge with my eyes closed and my heart open. The phenomenal world seemed to evaporate into a wisp of remembered steam floating aimlessly away from my awareness.

mountain-top

Standing at last, trudging along the path back to the campsite, I cast myself with reckless abandon into the uncertainty of what might yet be, and wondered… Why I felt I must do it again……