Tempus Fugit – Time Flees

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“The expression was first recorded in the poem Georgics written by Roman poet Virgil: Sed fugit interea, fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore, which means, “But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.” -Wikipedia

It seems impossible to me that November is nearly here again. So many thoughts have invaded my mind recently and I have been so thoroughly engaged in thinking them, that I am astonished at how quickly time seems to flee. I love that the literal translation of the phrase is most correctly “time flees,” because that is clearly how it feels.

I haven’t posted a poem for a long time, and the one that follows is apropos for several reasons, but I leave it to you, my readers, to decipher them.

This poem is a particular poetic form called a villanelle. It has its roots in Italy as a “rustic song,” derived from the word “villano,” which is an Italian word for “peasant.” As described in the Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, a villanelle is structured as follows:

“It is a poem of nineteen lines. It has five stanzas, each of three lines, with a final one of four lines. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas. Third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. These two refrain lines follow each other to become the second-to-last and last lines of the poem. The rhyme scheme is a b a. The rhymes are repeated according to the refrains.”

– Mark Strand and Eavan Boland from “The Making of a Poem.”

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“Nearly November”

“Time is fleeting,” we often say.
Our words are only marking time.
Without attention, time slips away.

In every instance, not just today,
We can speak the words or even mime,
“Time is fleeting,” we often say.

If you allow my words to sway,
In this direction your thoughts will climb;
Without attention, time slips away.

All that is born will too soon decay,
After a life both sad and sublime,
“Time is fleeting,” we often say.

You can attempt to stop it, to cause a delay,
You can mix scotch whiskey with lemon lime,
Without attention, time slips away.

It’s nearly November, no time to play,
The poet’s search goes on for rhyme.
“Time is fleeting,” we often say.
Without attention, time slips away.

© 2012 by JJHIII

Memory and Emotion

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Recent travels to a variety of outdoor locations in pursuit of appreciation for the ever-changing hues of autumn have stirred my heart and mind in all the ways one might expect; viewing the subtle and not-so-subtle transformation from the lush greenery of summer to the vibrant colors of autumn reminds us simultaneously of life’s impermanence and its cyclical nature. But more than that, some recent emotional and mental stirrings within me have created a sense of urgency to consider the interrelatedness of all life, and propelled me to revisit several locations which hold particularly important memories and emotions at their center. One of those locations was the Neshaminy State Park in Pennsylvania, which holds many years of memories and emotions for our family.

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Strolling through the path along the Riverwalk a few weeks ago, only the very beginnings of changing color were to be seen, and yet the cool air and the occasional brisk gust of wind hinted at the changes yet to come. It was along this winding path that my late brother enjoyed many of the seasonal changes over the years, and he came to mind often as the path opened ahead.

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At times, the path leads through fairly dense tree lines, and the late afternoon sun provided numerous moments of stark contrasts of light and dark, creating silhouettes of the natural branch formations and leaves lingering still upon them.

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A highlight of the walk comes where the lowering of the tide reveals a narrow field of stones which provides the opportunity to view the Delaware River as it gives way to Neshaminy Creek. It is very easy to imagine how such scenes might become part of the inner emotional landscape experienced through years of visiting.

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In terms of its power to evoke feelings and memories, the natural cycle of the changing seasons is so familiar to those who experience these transitions, that we can easily lose sight of how our memories of years observing them affect us emotionally. In spite of having a clear and powerful biological foundation in brain physiology, our emotional responses are highly subjective in nature, and what immediately stirs the feelings of one human may be met with a degree of indifference in another.

Difficult to define precisely, feelings can direct us in ways that are, in one instance, intuitive and insightful, and in another instance, self-destructive or violent. Our response to stimulus of every sort can be examined, analyzed, and traced to specific locations within the brain, but our physiological responses are only part of the story. Our emotions and feelings can also be influenced by forces far removed from simple biology.

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Emotions served our primitive ancestors in their struggle to survive the dangers and challenges of life long ago–emotions which still exist within us today–and we can infer a great deal from our increasing knowledge of the nature of life on our planet over the millions of years that it took for cognitive creatures to evolve on it. What likely began as an advantageous survival strategy has blossomed into a highly complex psycho-social phenomenon with far reaching implications in the study of the cognitive processes which are at the heart of human consciousness. All of our evolutionary progress has built steadily upon the increasing capacity for cognitive development, and on the subsequent dependence on our emotional responses for survival.

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Our ability to recall our experiences provides a framework within which we can construct a context, in order to reflect on them, analyze them, and place them in perspective. Without memory, all the experience in the world would be for naught. Indeed, our ability to remember makes it possible to synthesize an entire lifetime of memorable emotional experiences, and damage to the brain can impair the process of memory to the point where it no longer accumulates. It might be argued, in such a circumstance, that if we cannot remember our experiences, in a purely practical sense, it would be the same as not having them. In fact, whether we remember them or not, experiences occur.

The subjective experience of consciousness–that richly textured sense of being–doesn’t require recollection in order to occur. Being is most vividly experienced in this very moment. Our awareness of being is an event of the “here and now.” Every moment which follows such an event (in a creature with a functional brain anyway) contains a memory of the previous moment of experience. Memory is essential to make sense of the world and to glean the benefit of experience, but it doesn’t manufacture experience. Our ability to recall previous experiences and to integrate them into the planning of future actions has been central for survival as a species, but remembering our experiences and having them are distinct phenomena.

We utilize the power of experience to learn and grow. We develop technologies and strategies based largely on what we learn from experience. Our ancient hominid ancestors were, in some cases, not able to survive, and in the case of Homo sapiens, not able to truly flourish and evolve, until they reached a sufficiently advanced level of consciousness. Once it was achieved, humans developed a truly significant sense of having and remembering experiences, as well as a means of expressing and culturally transmitting the importance of those experiences, and as a result, over thousands of years of practice, also acquired a better sense of how to utilize those memories.

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Beyond these considerations, and largely the result of achieving higher cognitive capacities, our comprehension of the interrelatedness of all life on our planet has also made us aware of the interactive nature of cognition, and pointed out that we are the stewards of a global community of life forms which are remarkably dependent on each other not just for survival, but for fulfillment of a potential that expands well beyond the physiology of any one species. Humans are slowly coming to understand the importance of diversity not only within ecosystems and cultures, but also within their own individual experiences of consciousness.

The interrelatedness of all life in the phenomenal world reflects the even more complex and comprehensive relationships that support our dynamic inner life, represented in the relationships between cognition and physiology, between neurons and experience, between memory and emotions, and between electrochemical phenomenology and synaptic function. With the right approach, we could easily draw parallels that reach all the way from the most basic subatomic phenomena to the vastness of the known universe. The complexity of the brain is the perfect metaphor for the complexity of the universe!

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The relationships between these various components of life in the physical universe, like all such associations, have some aspects in common which are visible and comprehensible, others that are a great deal more subtle, and yet others which are, for the present, utterly incomprehensible. When we take a long walk on a sunny autumn afternoon, we experience our emotions and memories in the moment they take place. When we consider the vastness of time and space which eventually led to the development of life on earth, we can infer relationships based on our observations and analysis of data relevant to the circumstances in which they occurred, or by examining the bits and pieces left behind after centuries have passed. As cognitive creatures, with millions of years of evolution to support us, we can attempt to advance theories based on similar observations and data accumulated over centuries of reflection and contemplation.

Belief and Reason

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“There is an existence for me, of which I am an inseparable part, that is beyond the physical dimensions of time and space. It beckons to me in nightly dreams. Whenever I shift my gaze to my inner world, I sense that there is a path leading to it, and I must find a way to connect to it. Leading me into this world is an ever-present emptiness–a void for which no earthly offering seems sufficient. It is a longing–an unquenchable, unearthly thirst that drives me to seek solace in the waters within.”

– Journal Entry from my personal journal

As a very young boy, I frequently had astonishing experiences in my mind as I grew in my temporal life, which I found perplexing, not because I was young so much, but more importantly because I had no context within which to comprehend them. It was basically forbidden by my parents and teachers, and their strict Catholic rules, to examine anything that happened within or without except as it applied to Church doctrines. If it couldn’t be explained that way, it was simply to be viewed as “one of God’s mysteries.” This environment, which for most young people is stifling at the very least, was for me, a particular torment, as my whole being ‘knew” that this way of looking at things just didn’t make any sense.

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It took leaving home at the age of 20 to join the military to escape what felt like the absolute rule over my mind and soul, and once liberated from this suppression, it was not surprising at all that the first really extraordinary event came at me with such force, that it nearly disabled me completely. It was so disturbing, that I took the extraordinary risk of seeking out a mental health professional at the military base where I was stationed. It was a risk because I was training as a military intelligence specialist with a security clearance, and any demonstration of unusual or reckless behavior or any report of such behavior, could lead to dismissal and reassignment. Much to my surprise, my sessions with this professional person, while not particularly helpful in resolving the explanation of this event, did point me in a helpful direction, and I began my own research into a variety of disciplines in my quest for understanding. The event was dismissed by the counselor as the stress of being separated from my family for the first time in my life, and I went on to successfully become an accomplished military intelligence specialist.

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The more I studied and read and contemplated and researched, the more intrigued I became by the notion of an “inner life.” Some of the most extraordinary events of my life took place during those years, half of which were in the USA and the other half in Europe. It was during the cold war, and I was assigned to monitoring and intercepting Soviet military transmissions and operations in East Germany. During my tenure in Europe, I had the distinct advantage of having been trained in the USA as a German linguist, and this proved to be the single-most important training I had ever received. It opened many doors and resulted in extraordinary experiences that never could have happened otherwise.

At the height of my powers with the language and my research, I attended a German school in the city of Kaiserslautern, taking a course of instruction on the “Science of Creative Intelligence,” which included Transcendental Meditation as the means to reach the core principle of all creative potential within us. It launched me into the world within me in a way that no other experience ever had. I seized upon the knowledge and the openings it provided with great enthusiasm, and upon my return to civilian life, I continued the search whenever the opportunity allowed.

I wrote a fairly lengthy report of this experience when it occurred, but was never really able to make heads or tails of most of it. I continued to review and refine the writing over the years, and have recently felt that I have progressed sufficiently in my understanding to begin the work of formalizing the writing into some form that might be useful to many others, who I suspect have faced similar difficulties. Perhaps it might shed some light on our current world circumstances in a way that would increase the chances for an eventual resolution.

Of particular relevance is the portion of the work which deals with the recognition of particular individuals we encounter and our efforts to determine their importance in the grand scheme of our lives. Since I have come to terms with these experiences from my past, almost always, when I encounter startling or unusual circumstances, it generally signals to me that I should be alerted to the arrival of an important event in my inner world.

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The compelling inner conviction I have regarding the existence of a spiritual component to consciousness is so strong, so real, and so powerful, that even if I could set it aside, I do not believe that I would. It is saturated with positive energy. It feels so intensely right in my heart, so powerfully stimulating to my mind, and so beneficial to my soul, that all of my previous education and conditioning to resist the experiences that inevitably result, have failed to dissuade me from pursuing it.

This conviction is strengthened whenever I reflect upon how I have been affected in the past by what I perceived to be the lack of success in previous experiences. My repeated failure in my youth to connect in a meaningful way with the other spirits I encountered often left me so bereft of fulfillment that I would try to compensate in ways that were not especially productive. In retrospect, I recognize how unprepared I was when such spirits would burst forth into my temporal existence. After examining a lifetime of what I considered “lost opportunities,” it seems more probable to me now that other forces may have been at work in my life. When I found myself in the presence of a particularly kindred spirit, the spirit within ME surged with an urgency to move closer. All of my work to come to terms with and to put into words, the core matter of the nature of human consciousness since that time represents nothing less than the very essence of my spiritual longings.

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Even these days, when I encounter a kindred soul, each moment increases the certainty of feeling of being connected to them, and yet, it is frequently accompanied by a chaotic swirl of uncertainty regarding how to reckon with the feeling. The periodic incongruous nature of particular temporal circumstances, which appear to be in disharmony with the spiritual, used to be a great deal more daunting for me. There are still times when I am perplexed by the character of the experiences surrounding particular events and pivotal moments. I used to attribute this disharmony to my own inability to bring the circumstances together correctly. It always seemed that there was something wrong with ME.

The realities of the temporal world have not escaped me. I haven’t been flying blindly into the sun. I’ve lost my footing on occasion due to some extraordinary circumstances which occasionally accompany these experiences, but even what initially may seem like a disappointment can eventually lead to further positive development of our growth as an individual. Every aspect of the spirit within me is invigorated by the possibilities existent in the potential represented in the spiritual connections we encounter as we move forward.

More recently, I have come to understand that the very nature of life itself is rooted in uncertainty, and most temporal outcomes are largely undetermined, except in the laws governing phenomenal properties and principles. The laws of physics are both beautiful and exquisitely illuminating with regard to the physical universe. They can be relied upon to predict many outcomes with astonishing precision. However, as well as science has equipped us to understand the nature of particular temporal events and phenomena, the unpredictable intervention of human beings and their cognitive responses to natural events are far less comprehensible.

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Within the temporal world of the phenomenal and the predictable, but likely beyond both the laws of physics and the dogmas of religion, we may one day discover the unpredictable and poorly understood world of unseen and currently undetectable forces that may be driving life itself. What we might call the “universe of the spirit,” and the degree to which we can interact with it or gain access to it, is at the heart of the uncertainty of life. In my view, life is a manifestation of the “universe of the spirit,” and the nature of that existence, and everything that can be described within that universe, cannot be explained completely in terms of only either belief or reason.

All of our experiences as cognitive creatures over the centuries since consciousness has manifested itself have required us to devise ways of referring to these ineffable aspects of life and existence, particularly as they apply to human nature. We must acknowledge them as being existent in a domain which is as far removed from the temporal plane, as we are from both the quantum world of the very small, and the farthest reaches of the physical universe.

Presence of Spirit

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Magritte – The Big Family

“I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and by blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human race, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my very own self, I am part of my family.” – D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse, 1931

A year ago this week, our family was participating in an around-the-clock vigil at home with our dear brother, who was slowly losing his grip on life due to cancer. It was naturally a difficult time in many ways, and we endured the difficult parts as best we could, while working very hard to make those days as comfortable as possible for him, and as comforting for each of us as we could. We looked for ways to brighten the room, to lift our brother’s spirits, and to keep love and joy at the forefront of every moment. We succeeded often, and even found hope in what we felt for certain were indications that our brother was still very much with us, even when he could no longer speak or even open his eyes.

Throughout our vigil, twice daily, hundreds of birds would perch on the trees outside his window, and chirp madly for a time. While he was still conscious, he loved to experience the clamor and chaos of those moments, and we found it comforting to anticipate their arrival each day, even after he seemed not to be able to notice. Shortly after enduring his last moments beside us, we all sat silently beside him as the birds arrived on queue to squire him away. It was a remarkable experience that felt like an indication of the presence of spirit.

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“The quick of the universe is in our own bodies–deep in us. And as we see the universe, so it is. But also, it is much more than we ever see or can see. And as the soul changes in us–turns over with a new creative move–the whole aspect of things changes. And again we see the universe as it is. But it is not as we saw it before. It is an utterly new reality. We are clothed with a new awareness in a new world. The universe is all the things that man knows or has known or ever will know. It is all there. We only need become aware.”
– D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

As the first anniversary of our vigil approaches, we have seen a repeat of the appearances of flocks of birds, and in these experiences we sense the presence of spirit in much the same way as we did a year ago. For my sister, it appeared as she awoke in the morning, to the sounds of innumerable birds chirping outside her window, which was opened to receive the benefit of the fresh, cool autumn air flowing in from outside. As she looked out on the scene, the birds took the opportunity to take flight as one group, and my sister was able to feel the whoosh of the air being pushed ahead of the massive momentary exodus, as it pressed against her face. For me, as I walked along the highway across from the local park, en-route to pick up what was once my brother’s vehicle from the repair shop down the street from me, my brother came immediately to mind as hundreds of birds took flight from the trees across the highway, diving and swooping in a rhythmic dance directly over my head for several minutes. I was absolutely stopped in my tracks, nearly hypnotized by the sight for several minutes. Then, all at once, they stopped and flew back into the trees across the way.

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“The face is the mirror of the mind. In the human person, creation finds the intimacy it mutely craves. Within the mirror of the mind, it becomes possible for diffuse and endless nature to behold itself.” – John O’Donahue from “Anam Cara”

In my personal journal last year, I recorded this quote from my reading as I contemplated the circumstances of life at that time, and I remember well the feeling it gave me as I stepped out into the cool air, underneath blue skies, sipping on my morning coffee. I looked out at the trees, momentarily alone, pondering the sweetness of the day’s beginning, noticing the hints of color as autumn had only begun its rise to fullness. I was reminded at that time of many other moments of bliss experienced in the many natural settings of beauty in the wilderness while camping, where I “beheld creation,” and contemplated how the creation of human beings, and the subsequent development of conscious self-awareness in humans, may have been a way for a “creator” to experience his creation. What better way for a transcendent existence to cross over and “behold itself,” than to become manifest in a phenomenal existence–to create a tangible, observable, experiential place to “become,” and then to create a means of touching, observing, and experiencing that place. Once again at my brother’s side, I wrote:

“As I write, my brother sleeps peacefully beside me, and I monitor his shallow breathing with the football game on television playing unnoticed in the background. Our periodic conversations are warm and playful, and in particular moments, our happy sharing bursts into shared smiles. His medications sometimes seem to have a profound effect on his state of mind, but most of the time, he seems lucid and alert, only occasionally enduring bouts of minor confusion, as the tides of his wellness ebb and flow. My sense of the presence of his spirit never leaves me, even as his mind seems to drift away.”

Most remarkable of all is the development of a world only discernible within us–one that makes the ultimate use of the senses, impaired and imperfect though they may be, giving us important information to use in reflection. Our ability to interpret the phenomenal world through our senses is a platform from which we can build our path through life, and form a vision of that world. Our senses tell us a great deal, but everything that exists may not be apprehended through them alone. Beyond the physical world, there is much as yet unknown, and all our attempts to articulate a transcendent portion to reality still escapes our grasp, but our awareness of the transcendent, particularly when it seems to present itself so unambiguously, may only be possible to experience subjectively, and our subjective awareness only one component in the equation of eternity.

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This week at the memorial for my brother, I will read these words:”

The fish in the water is silent,
the animal on the earth is noisy,
the bird in the air is singing,
But Man has in him the silence of the sea,
the noise of the earth
and the music of the air.

– excerpt from “Stray Birds,” by Rabindranath Tagore

The Stream of Life

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The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day
runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth
in numberless blades of grass
and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth
and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

– Rabindranath Tagore

The days of sultry summer have begun to vanish like forgotten promises, and although they seem to swiftly fade, my heart still clings to the hope that some remnant of their charm and character will be sustained as the seasons change. Yesterday morning, after an extended period of work to generate income, I stepped out into the blossoming light of day, hoping to absorb some of this essential life-affirming light, to infuse my heart and soul with its gifts, since several cups of coffee in the cool morning air had little or no discernible effect. In spite of our best efforts at times, it can still feel as if someone pulled the plug, and somehow drained all the energy out of the world. Even after several hours of quiet solitude, I still seemed to need more. This morning, I lay in bed as the sun rose to fullness, slipping back and forth between awareness and sleep. Something was different. My heart felt lighter. I lingered as long as I could in this state, before finally rising to meet the day.

The significance of my half-conscious state, drifting in and out of consciousness, is beginning to coalesce within me, and my mind seemed to clear a bit, as my heart opened to the gifts imparted by my vigil in the morning light. The tasks that are ahead for me in the days to come seem daunting, but I know there is a connection to the stream of life available to me. The opening to the stream has always been there, since my days as a child, and the realization came to me again this morning in the form of a daydream while reflecting on my life as a young boy. Many of those moments were spent in a similar condition of solitude, and as I contemplated the opening to the stream of life that I was feeling today, it provoked a vivid memory of the very same feeling I experienced as a child.

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Even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about my youthful reveries, the recognition of the feeling was unmistakeable. We can think about breathing sometimes and can alter it to a degree deliberately with effort, but thankfully it occurs most often without conscious intervention. We actually have the ability to temporarily affect the functioning of our normally involuntary responses while conscious, but nature has seen to it that the really important stuff is maintained even when we are unconscious. Our conscious minds are constantly reviewing such an array of different thoughts, that sheer volume of neural firing at times can be overwhelming without some effort to focus them. In the twilight world of slowly coming to consciousness in the morning, or whenever we are waking up from sleep or unconsciousness, the pace is usually stepped down to allow something that has been trying to come up, to finally rise. What follows is some of what rose up from within me this morning:

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“I can sense the power behind my heartbeat. As fragile as our humanity can sometimes be, as tenuous and uncertain as life can be, there is also a truly awesome power that drives us. We witness it in the flurry of events on our planet each day. We see it in the fleeting moments of our lives.

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We see it in the faces of children. We sense it strongly in times of great anxiety, and great joy. We can feel it and sense it and see it with every breath–every miraculous breath. Since we only get a limited number of breaths, each one is a gift. Even if that breath is labored or painful due to some malady, by virtue of its limited duration, and its ability to sustain our lives, it is nothing less than a miracle. The power of the heartbeat, the necessity of air, the way we struggle when it comes with difficulty, are all indications of the spirit of life–the unseen world which has a causal effect on the seen. It is not detectable through any scientific experiment or proof, nor can logic, or reasoning, or technology reveal it. Without it, nothing lives.

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Something has been stirring within me these past few weeks. It contains both anticipation of new experience and a degree of anxiety produced by the uncertainty of it all. Generally, I tend to look forward to new experience, but in this case, the uncertainty finds me feeling puzzled. The weight of these considerations has led me to suspend my response to them repeatedly, but in my unguarded moments during the everyday routines, I can feel them pressing me forward, and my desire to make progress and to unravel the mysteries eventually wins out. Everything within me points in the direction of engaging my longings, and everything outside of me points toward pressing myself toward the future. It is unclear to me whether these are complementary urges or opposite inclinations, but the chaos within is contrasted by the beauty of the world around me, leaving me somewhat uncertain just how to feel. Thankfully, as I paused today amidst the chaos, I was able to marvel at the splendor of the changing season against a brilliant blue sky. I inhaled deeply in the afternoon air, with gentle sunlight on my face, and for a few moments, I forgot all about the uncertainty.

Swishing my feet through the ankle deep golden leaves as I walked along the path home each day as a child is one of my fondest memories of those days, and I distinctly remember collecting the most beautiful leaves I encountered along the way and bringing them home with me. When I look out on the changing leaves today, I briefly close my eyes and swish my feet through the memories of those days, forever locked in my heart and mind, and contemplate the feeling in this moment now, and how it is that we arrive at a place where we can open to the stream of life.