A Spiritual Hunger

“At the turn of the last century, people’s hope was in science, technology, and modern progress. As we approached this millennium, we realized the extent of that progress, and that it hasn’t taken us far enough. There is a part of us that still has a spiritual hunger. We have spent the past century looking at outer space and exploring that, and we’ve realized the importance of reflecting on inner space, the soul within.”

–D. Michael Lindsay, Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University, excerpt from “Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs

From the earliest inklings of creativity in our ancient ancestors, who painted images from their world in the caves of Chauvet some 35,000 years ago, through the development of symbolic writing on cuneiform tablets, which recorded the hymns and prayers of the kingdoms of Mesopotamia in the ancient Near East, to the pictographic hieroglyphs of early Egyptian love poetry, and the ancient verse of India and China, human beings have searched for ways to express the spirit of love and of life, which permeates our existence still today. We have become more sophisticated and technologically advanced, gaining in knowledge and experience exponentially as the centuries have accumulated, but with all the advances and profound alterations of the millennia since the first written accounts appeared, we have never outgrown our need to express the spirit within us.

We are part of a fantastic heritage of poetic expression throughout the history of humanity, and it is as definitive a proof of the existence of the human spirit as we are likely to ever know in any age.

Anonymous (c. 1567-1085 B.C.)

Without your love, my heart would beat no more;
Without your love, sweet cake seems only salt;
Without your love, sweet “shedeh” turns to bile. (*shedeh* = ancient Egyptian drink made from red grapes)
O listen, darling, my heart’s life needs your love;
For when you breathe, mine is the heart that beats.

–excerpt from a Bronze Age Egyptian courtship poem, translated by Ezra Pound and Noel Stock, 1998 volume of World Poetry

Centuries later, as an emerging adult in the 20th century, I penned a courtship poem of my own, which shows, perhaps, how little has changed in human nature, in spite of advancement in numerous other ways:

Spirit of Love

“A long time ago, in centuries past,
We existed on a plane that can no longer be reached.
It is clearly in the past, but it also here and now
In my wandering mind. We breathed the same air.
Our hearts beat in rhythmic unison.
I gazed deeply into your eyes; inhaled the scent
Which rose from your body as I embraced the spirit inside you.

At such moments, though bodies only touch, spirits merge;
We were lovers, with lips pressed together–
We were one–my heart rose with each embrace;
My spirit expanded until it encompassed yours;
It has happened a hundred times a hundred times over centuries
And now, I know your spirit.
I can see myself in you;
Our paths are illuminated by each other.

As a young man, unaware that he was on the threshold of a profound awakening, the tumultuous events which would follow my arrival at the doorstep of my truly independent life were only heightened by a growing acknowledgement of being without a Polestar, for the first time in my young life, and by my inability to turn off the extraordinary natural inclination to open myself to whatever might come. While it may have been the traumatic and unprepared transition to independence that left me vulnerable to the events which followed, the power of my connection to something beyond the immediate moment in which I was living made the impact even greater.

Growing up in a large extended family, an emphasis was often stated not only about my responsibility to care about those within the family circle, but also to those outside of that world and into the world-at-large. As a result, I developed a more conscientious approach to social interactions as I grew into adulthood, and frequently found myself engaged in a greater degree of involvement emotionally and psychologically in a variety of relationships. Consequently, an even greater sense of empathy began to take hold than was already established as an almost inherited trait. Whatever part of the brain that handles our inherent tendency for empathy must surely have been more expanded in my case, to the point of bordering on possessing a pathological condition, given that my experiences many times seemed to exceed those of most others I encountered.

In retrospect, it seems that my own keen sense of extending myself toward others, may have amplified the same natural sense within them, in some cases, sparking a kind of alarm or surprise, which they occasionally found unsettling and unexpected. When this sense within ME was fully engaged, it always felt like a consequence of my inner self RECEIVING stimulus from a source outside of myself, and the resulting heightened perceptions, far from being something I would naturally choose or impose on a given situation, felt completely natural and shared–a resonance of sorts–with empathic waves being directed AT ME.

Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist described the process of our unfolding development as Individuation, “an expression of that biological process–simple or complicated as the case may be–by which every living thing becomes what it is destined to become from the beginning. This process naturally expresses itself in man as much psychically as somatically.”

There are two competing schools of thought that still persist in pursuing a greater understanding of our true nature, and while I continue to contemplate how they must both be approaching that understanding, these quotes show the ongoing dilemma of the contrast:

“What it means to be me cannot be reduced to or uploaded to a software program running on a robot, no matter how sophisticated. We are flesh and blood biological animals, whose conscious experiences are shaped at all levels by the biological mechanisms that keep us alive.”

–Anil Seth, British professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex

“At the heart of consciousness is the transcendence of thought; a newfound ability of rising above thought, and realizing a dimension within ourselves that is infinitely more vast than thought…Each of us is a vehicle through which consciousness operates.”

–Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now,” and “A New Earth.”

Three Hundreth Blog Post; Falling Back

As the ever-changing fall weather begins to manifest into cooler nights and milder days, this particular change of seasons nearly always finds me looking backwards in time. The inspiration for this rearward journey has its roots in both my personal history, and in the relentless search for understanding that has occupied me for decades. It usually begins without deliberate intention or planning, but immediately feels familiar as my mind wanders into seasons past, reminding me that I have been here many times before.

As I drift off into an autumnal reverie, I often feel as though I am moving through the world in reverse. Relaxing on the deck out back with my morning coffee, I pause momentarily to sit back, inhale the cool fresh air, embracing the warmth of the late morning sun as it softly spreads across the yard, and all at once, I find myself adrift.

Going back now—back through time. In some ways, it’s almost like falling, only it’s more like being in a vehicle that’s moving in reverse at a very high speed. The other day I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the local grocery store, next to a large puddle which had a whole bunch of fallen leaves floating upon it, and I looked down to my left out the window, momentarily losing my bearings—the leaves were floating across the surface of the puddle with the wind, in a way that made me think the car was moving, and I briefly endured the sensation of backwards movement.

Instinctively, I let out an exclamation of surprise, and abruptly grabbed the steering wheel while stepping on the brakes. For just a moment, I felt as though I had lost control of my vehicle through some accidental warping of time. Once I realized that it was not me who was moving, it occurred to me that if one day someone does invent some mechanism for time travel, that it might require the traveler to endure a similarly abrupt and unexpected sensation.

Way back in my personal lifetime, on another early autumn day, very likely in October, I remember sitting on the lawn out front of my childhood home; the sun was out, but there were a number of white, puffy clouds floating across the otherwise bluish sky, with perhaps a slightly gentler breeze than the one I was experiencing on this day, but it still was sufficiently strong to stir the leaves on the large chestnut tree which covered the front lawn years ago, forcing the crackling noise of the decaying and brittle leaves, scraping up against each other, along with the whooshing sound that we hear so often when the wind gusts during this time of year.

I was sitting cross-legged, up on my hands at the top of the hill; it was maybe midday or a little later, and the air was cool and fresh, and the sun felt warm on my face. I had nowhere to go. I was not responsible for anything. I knew nothing of the world outside of my own small world. At that moment, without knowing exactly why, I memorized that moment. I looked around carefully, noting every detail; there was no traffic on the street, no pedestrians walking by, and the only thing moving was the limbs of the trees and the leaves as they let go their tenuous hold on the fragile branches—the gusting wind would occasionally blow through the blades of grass, bending them in a swirling pattern across the lawn. As a young man, I had virtually no hair to speak of, most often sporting the common sight of a “crew cut,” so popular among the parents of young boys in those days. Somehow, I knew that one day this moment would have meaning for me, even though at the time I had no framework for discerning why. I committed those moments to memory, knowing that I would be glad some day in the future.

Further along in my grammar school education, I used to walk every day back and forth to school, and I remember my feet swishing through the leaves on the sidewalks, and I loved the sound that the fragile brown leaves would make as I floated through them—and the pleasure of admiring the beautiful colors all mixed together as I made my way to and from my home each day, and for a short time, this ritual would sometimes include a shower of leaves as they broke loose and were falling all around me.

It seems to me now, in retrospect, that I was falling too…

Poetry, Prose, and Probity

Over the course of nearly a decade of consistent effort and tenure here at WordPress.com, I have dedicated much of that time to the exploration of our very human nature as it relates to our experiential awareness of existence as a sentient, self-aware, and yes, spiritually-imbued creatures. In the interest of promoting and encouraging those who visit here to engage in their own explorations, I have often presented my ideas based on three main conceptual premises, those being Poetry, Prose, and Probity. While I have alliterated the description of these efforts with the three “P’s,” it’s more than just an attempt to employ a literary contrivance. At the heart of most of the matters I’ve discussed and written about at length, there is a thread that connects all these efforts, which has been and continues to be an honest effort to illuminate the ideas contained within them, utilizing these three main components of expression.

While I also have enumerated them in a particular order for the title of this post, the order should not be taken as an order of importance necessarily, and certainly each of these methods of expression have their own unique contribution, and share an essential quality in the broad scope of my writing. As I intimated earlier this year, my emphasis in relating the results of nearly a lifetime of reflection on the accumulation of experiences and memories over many years, might be possible to be brought into sharper focus, in at least one way, by following through on my thought to review the objects and souvenirs accumulated over that time. Having spent so much time putting off this review due to other more urgent obligations, I kept telling myself that one day I would benefit from hanging on to the most important pieces, which I believed could play a significant role in assisting my ability to recall those moments and events.

The sheer volume of these items, many of which surround me in my writing space, is beyond any expectation I might have had along the way, and even just trying to organize a basic presentation of the most essential of them has proven to be an almost monumental task. In order to begin to examine this avalanche of archival ingredients, including documents, letters, images, and all manner of memorabilia, it seemed logical to review what has already appeared in my blog entries as a way of finding a starting point for presenting this material, and I found that most of the entries over the years had one of the three “P’s” at the core.

Poetry may be one of the least often utilized components in the archives here, and although there are a great many more available selections that I composed over that time, the use of my poetic creations in supporting my ideas has been limited in some ways, mostly because by doing so, it seems to me, the inclusion of a poem would be more effective when expressing my thoughts or supporting my ideas. For me, poetry is a deeply personal and unique aspect of expression, and should be reserved for occasions when including them will create a clear highlight to a particular blog post. Such choices are very subjective for me, and when I am considering using one to include in a posting, I usually go with “my gut.”

The images I created above to lead off this post, and the one below it of me delivering a recitation of an original poem written for a family wedding, give a fair idea of the kinds of items I have saved and the kinds of images that became important components in the accumulation of thousands more that tell the story of how I arrived at this time and place in my life. The photo of the medals on the left are particularly important, as they include several awarded to both my father and my son, along with a few given to me along the way. Our family has participated in the service of our country over generations, and both my father and my son served in combat theaters during their service years, earning much more than awards of medals. My own service during what was described as the “Cold War,” fortunately did NOT include time in combat, but did require a degree of sacrifice and deprivation under difficult circumstances.

So this is where the story begins. Generations of family members preceded me in nearly every aspect of life experience, in ways that not only laid a foundation for the unfolding of my own physical existence, but also in ways which would prepare me and influence me as the events of my life became my everyday reality. Somehow, I instinctively knew that the objects, documents, and images accumulated along the way, would be vital to my understanding in the years to come, and the tendency to be sentimental and emotional regarding these items served me well whenever I engaged in purposeful reflection or undertook the recording of important events.

From my earliest memories of family gatherings with grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and cousins, my parents seemed keenly aware of the importance of documenting the important moments with some of the most basically functional cameras available decades ago, that were often only adequate under specific conditions, and required additional light from a flash unit whenever the photos were taken indoors. It was of particular importance to my father, it seems, since he invested in this Kodak camera early on in our young lives:

Since I became the resident photographer in our family in later years, I inherited this camera and recall many times when my father would drag it out, most often when special occasions warranted, and only occasionally were we asked to pose on an ordinary day. The film this camera used was 120 Kodak film, which was a designation by Kodak which produced negatives about two and a half inches wide, but the lenses for such cameras weren’t especially sharp by today’s standards. Not long after we became accustomed to waiting a week or more to see the pictures taken in this way, one day my father brought home a Polaroid camera, and much to our amazement, the photos would appear in minutes after developing within the envelope produced by the film pack, and it also required a little tube of “fixer” to be applied once the development was sufficient:

Both of these cameras have noticeable “bellows,” accordion-like folds which allowed for both movement of the lens and for making the camera fold up neatly when stored. I remember the fascination I felt at the idea of making photographs from a very early age, and once I was able to afford my own equipment, the popular cameras were all in a 35mm format, but still utilizing film spools which had to be loaded manually into the back of the camera, and rewound once the roll was finished:

No longer were “bellows” a part of the equipment, and after years of practice and having accumulated a number of large format cameras and darkroom equipment, I became interested in doing photography full time, and for years during the 1980’s, I managed to find work as a freelancer, performing all sorts of assignments from portraits, weddings, special occasions, and even gained some publishing credentials in newspapers and magazines:

The photo of me on the right at the top of this blog post shows a recent image of my face digitally inserted into a previous image taken years ago, bringing me full circle into the work I often do today, repairing images with defects of some sort, or faces with eyes closed, or simply to take up a challenge to blend images together:

Photography continues to challenge me in a number of ways, not to mention the stacks of photo albums and archival items to preserve, but these and the thousands of other images in my collection all hold an essential place in the maelstrom of time, along with the evidence they provide for the probity of all that has occurred to me throughout these many years.

Tumultuous Transitions

After a tumultuous series of experiences in late 1973 and early 1974, and after a sufficient amount of time had passed to regain my bearings, I was able to complete my advanced training in Massachusetts, and was reassigned to a duty station in Monterey, California for training as a linguist. I didn’t know it at that time, but my adventure into spiritual awakening was about to expand exponentially.

Unbeknownst to me, I was being sent to one of the most beautiful coastal communities in the country, and be in close proximity to a number of the most startling natural locations anywhere in the world. Up to that time I had always enjoyed being outdoors and often visited local parks and recreational areas as the opportunity came up, but nothing could have prepared me for the exquisite natural beauty which would surround me, as I immersed myself in one of the most intense language regimens ever devised.

At the same time, whenever free time was made available, I took full advantage of every opportunity to expand my knowledge of the world around me, and traveled extensively to places like San Francisco, Big Sur, Coastal Highway number one, Pinnacles National Park, and Yosemite. It was precisely the right place to be, at the exact right time, for me to engage my inner world, explore what had occurred in Massachusetts, and expand my awareness of the nature of the human spirit.

Almost six months into my assignment, traveling home from a late night double-feature at the local movie theater, on the dark coastal highway that had become so familiar to me from my frequent visits to share in the many activities which took place along that stretch of highway, I was nearly killed by two cars racing around one of the treacherous winding curves, and the car I was driving landed upside down on the side of the road. It had been raining and as I slammed on my brakes and turned hard to the right into what looked like the side of a mountain, my little Volkswagen actually drove up onto what looked like a wall on my right, and I watched in my peripheral vision as the two pairs of headlights passed me on the left. For a brief second or two, I thought I might have been able to return to the road safely, except right in the middle of that wall stood a sturdy wooden telephone pole, which seemed to come right up into my face as I blacked out. The drivers of the cars racing by did not stop.

According to the police report, they estimated that I laid upside down in my car on the side of the road for almost forty minutes, until a Good Samaritan pulled over and figured out a way to get me to safety, and called for an ambulance. This Good Samaritan never left his name or any way to get in touch with him. The hospital staff only knew that he was a nurse who just happened by that night and stopped to help.

Thankfully, I had been wearing my seat belt, which saved my life, but did not prevent my head from bashing against the frame of the windshield. I suffered a severe concussion and loss of memory of the event. I woke up several days later after being admitted to the hospital, and only learned what happened almost a week later, after my schoolmates came to visit me and told me what they knew.

It would take several weeks to begin to piece together some of what happened, when my memory started to slowly come back. After being released from the hospital, I was weeks behind in my linguist classes, and had to be tutored for about a month after the normal school hours to catch up.

The car had been towed to a local garage and when my friends took me over to look at it, my one friend remarked, “I thought you said you hit a telephone pole, but the damage is all along the front lengthwise.” I explained that when I hit the pole, the car was traveling sideways along the side of a wall. We looked at each other for a moment in silence, and then we all laughed as we stared at the horizontal indentation along the front of the car.

It seemed impossible to me that I would be able to drive it again, but the mechanic said that since the engine was in the back of the car, all they had to do was to pull the front fenders out a bit and the car started right up when I turned the key.

As I drove back to the base, it occurred to me that I had narrowly escaped death that night, and everything felt different after that.