Necessary and Urgent: Where The Heart Goes

“If your everyday practice is to open to all of your emotions, to all of the people you meet, to all of the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that—then that will take you as far as you can go. And you’ll understand the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”

–Pema Chodron, American author and Tibetan Buddhist. ordained nun and a disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Buddhist meditation master).

I can see myself, standing on a hillside, gazing out across an ocean of trees, the mist drifting slowly between the spaces where no tree stood. The sun had not fully revealed its brilliance; the sky was the deepest blue I ever seen, and I knew where I was going—to that place I had discovered all on my own years ago. When I saw it for the first time, I knew it would not be the last time. I somehow knew that there would be many more visits to come.

I know something about the role emotions play in our view of the world. As someone who had experienced a pretty full range of emotional traumas, emotional deficits, and emotional highs, it became necessary to investigate the psychology of emotional extremes, along with pursuing a better understanding of my subjective experiences, with an urgency matching the potency of those events.

After many years of effort in this regard, approaching the subject from a variety of angles, I have come to understand better that circumstances which seem inexplicable at first often do actually have explanations; choices can be made based on statistical analysis or on a hunch. Occasionally, some combination of empirical data and speculative ideas can yield surprising conclusions. All of the expected and unexpected urgencies in our lives, often tend to be less so once engaged, and we sometimes find that aspects which we did not consider to be especially urgent, ultimately rise in importance, and in ways we did not anticipate. At this time in my life, all of the experiences with feelings, and in making the necessary efforts that felt so urgent, including the creation and expression of these writings and ideas, while they have been at least instructional for me personally, still seem to be leading somewhere that I have not yet arrived.

Where The Heart Goes by JJHIII24

We must follow where the heart goes;
We must follow the path to where the heart goes;
We must embrace the path to where the heart goes,
And join with the others on that path.

I must follow those who came before me,
And travel with those alongside of me;
Anticipate the arrival of those who are to come,
Bringing together past, present, and future—
What we describe as what came before us,
Where we are now, and what is to come.

My place is the present moment now;
Synchronous events brought me here;
Contemplation led me to embrace the
Feelings and thoughts which embody the now.
My truest feelings, my genuine thoughts
Prepare me for the eventual moment when
I am apart from the temporal world,
Still somehow within it, but not bound by it.

I still feel strongly that I have a greater distance to go in this life, and anticipate the days to come with a fair degree of hope that I can hold myself together long enough to share what I have learned by being who I am, not giving everything away, yet not withholding anything deliberately. One day, all of us, regardless of what side of the fence we are on, will be confronted by circumstances which require our best, life-affirming response, and the world will be better for it. We cannot know for certain if our efforts in life will ultimately yield a path to the goals we seek; it’s an evolution—an Inner Evolution.

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.”

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.

Echoes of the Moment

Echoes of the Moment

Before I was able to relinquish my tenuous grasp on consciousness,
After writing through the relentless sighing of night,
The irresistible call of the brightness of the spring morning sun,
Pulled my heart and mind to delay fitful sleep,
And instead to persist a while longer,
In order to enjoy a few moments of blissful, temperate,
And delightful contemplation of the season’s gifts.

Waves of sunlight, gentle breaths of wind, and the tranquil
Murmur of memories—echoes of the moment—
Invite the sun’s radiant beauty to streak across the void;
As it lands upon my skin, I relish its gentle but persistent touch,
Reaching my face like the hand of a dear friend,
With a warm and comfortable gesture which soothes my
Most troublesome aches with loving thoughts.

This day, the whispering breeze persuaded my hair
To swing away from my face and tickle my neck.
Birds click and coo pleasingly in the distance as I close my eyes;
Inside me, staring contentedly at the blazing red surface
Of closed eyelids, I enjoy the passing refrain of a distant train,
Competing with a buzzing lawn mower down the street,
As the echoes of the moment reverberate in my consciousness.

The cat wants to have my attention, but I’m not ready,
So she reluctantly falls asleep at my feet like she’s always been there.

© May 2019 by JJHIII24

Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe

“Wisdom and Spirit of the universe!
Thou Soul that art the eternity of thought,
That givest to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion, not in vain
By day or star-light thus from my first dawn
Of childhood didst thou intertwine for me
The passions that build up our human soul;
Not with the mean and vulgar works of man,
But with high objects, with enduring things—
With life and nature—purifying thus
The elements of feeling and of thought,
And sanctifying, by such discipline,
Both pain and fear, until we recognize
A grandeur in the beatings of the heart.

—excerpt from, “The Prelude,” an autobiographical poem by William Wordsworth, begun in 1798, completed in 1805, and published in 1850 after his death.

Standing on the shoreline the other day, staring out across the churning waters of the Atlantic Ocean, early in the morning on the East Coast of the United States, I reflected at length on recent events in my life, as we all sometimes do, on the anniversary of my birth, only this time, I did so on the occasion of having accumulated sixty-five years, which, in my mind at least, was sufficient to justify such purposeful reflection.

The celebratory events of the day before, although thoroughly pleasing and fully occupying the waking hours of my day, were, by most standards, quite ordinary as these events generally go, but also, in every way, greatly appreciated and precisely what I needed to inspire me to attempt to convert that purposeful reflection into some form of heartfelt expression.

As the morning light begins to rise into fullness, the sun struggles to pierce the “chaos of clouds.” I start to wander along the edge of the tidal movement, creeping ever slowly away from the peak of high tide. I walk slowly, dividing my gaze between what lies at my feet and what transpires in the sky, waiting for the sun to break through. Several small sea creatures, once alive, lay motionless in the sand, their lives now abandoned at the water’s edge. I pause briefly to mourn, and to ponder the loss.

The rising and receding of the tide, a perfect metaphor for the cycle of life, demonstrates well how we are joined in perfect unison with the natural world. The dawn brings the beginning of a new day, just as every birth signals the beginning of a new life. The rhythm and currents of the ocean mirror the rhythmic nature of all life, and with only a small effort, we can draw parallels from our own lives that compare well with the circumstances we observe in a natural setting.

Even the movement of the air can evoke a strange feeling of sameness with our subjective experience of the moment. The wind is mostly brisk, while rising and falling in a kind of erratic rhythm, occasionally failing to push hard enough against me, forcing me to periodically adjust my gait. As my thoughts recede, I lift my sights to the sky:

All of my barriers have fallen.
My mind slips into reverie;
As I slowly traverse the nearly deserted beach,
Everything all around me is in motion;
The relentless lapping of the waves—
The steady rising and falling of the rhythmic wind.
The early morning sun struggles
To squeak past the chaos of clouds;
Its light diffused behind a patchwork of puffy grayness.

I stop to stare at what might become an opening
In this fabric in the sky; impatient, I close my eyes.
Inhaling deeply, I hold my breath—
Then release it slowly, almost reluctantly.
I yearn for even a small bit of stillness,
But I cannot quell the water, wind and sky;
The only possibility for stillness is within me.
As I pause and ponder, a sudden urgency
Overtakes my senses—you are unmistakably near.

In my mind’s eye, I come upon a clearing.
A soft, flowing, musical soundtrack plays in my head;
I drift slowly, steadily toward the center of it all,
When the memory of you appears, my inner world swells,
Just as it always did right before you opened to me.
As you turn, I see your face—you smile;
I am floating as I approach, extending my hand;
Instinctively reciprocal, you reach out for mine—
Contact.

If you would like to hear me recite these words you can follow this link:

Enjoy!

What Lives In Your Heart

What Lives in Your Heart, Is Always on Your Mind

I awoke this morning
From a dream about you.
I was repairing a section of wall
That had separated from the floor.
Now ungrounded, it wiggled uncooperatively.

You sat in front of me,
Chatting as I worked.
I turned my gaze to the pinpoints of light,
Reflecting like shiny crystals off the surfaces
Of each of your dark brown eyes.

In the background, I could hear
A faint chorus of a familiar song,
Which once played while you were near.
Even in my dream, the idea of being near you
Caused my spirit to rise above the pain.

In spite of how my heart ached,
I endured the moment gladly somehow.
I seemed to know that the pain would not last—
As if, at any moment, a joyous cloudburst
Might penetrate the roof and descend upon me.

Each dream world breath began and ended
With some memory of our time together,
Inspiring hope—feeding the pulse of life in my heart.
You abide within me at all times,
But it’s moments like these that make me come alive.

Your gentle breathing was all that was needed
To give voice to the expression on your face;
I whispered under my breath,
“What lives in your heart,
Is always on your mind.”

© May 1997 by JJHIII24

American Watercolor Exhibit

An extraordinary opportunity to travel to Center City Philadelphia this weekend made it possible to fulfill a longtime wish from my younger days to view in person some of the actual original works of Winslow Homer. As a much younger man, full of optimism and the creative spirit, I had thought to become an artist myself, and had taken many steps to achieve that aim throughout my educational journey. Art classes in grammar school, high school, and college only served to heighten my interest in the great works of art created out in the world, and one of my earliest experiences with admiration for other artists involved Mr. Homer, as his paintings were often used as illustrations for poetry books that I never seemed to be able to avoid reading.

The painting at the top of this page, entitled, “Diamond Shoal,” was created around 1905, and captured my imagination not simply as a work of art, but as an inspiration to imagine sailing in such a circumstance myself, as well as prompting what would become a lifelong interest in watercolor painting. Once it became an interest for me, I began attempting to create my own works, a few of which have illustrated my writings here. I never felt like my own skill approached any sort of level that might warrant attention from the art world, but the inspiration of the many works I encountered along the way never left me.

The image above, also by Winslow Homer, is a prime example of how such paintings not only appealed to me as a work of art, but also gave me an appreciation for the content of artwork that the masters unfailingly produced, which I rarely felt that I could embody in my own work. The painting is called, The Trysting Place,” from around 1875, and it depicts a young woman waiting at an appointed meeting place for what the artist described as “…a tardy lover.” You can almost feel the butterflies in her stomach in anticipation of his arrival, and perhaps even some anxiety that he might not show up at all. She is a lovely young woman, dressed in a deliberate choice by the artist as emblematic of the times, and she seems both vulnerable as she wonders what might be keeping her lover, and yet still also courageous to make the arrangement in the first place. Standing in front of these works, knowing that they are the original work of an artist I have long admired and who is world famous with good cause, was both uplifting and inspiring, even as a much older man today. There were hundreds of works by other artists as well and a few of them were especially notable for me as an enthusiastic patron of the exhibit.

This image was painted by one of the many women artists featured at the exhibit. “Bow Sprit,” from around 1916-1918, is a much more impressionistic rendering than some of the others which caught my eye, and I love how the impressions of the water and the sails and the circumstance are more than sufficient to give the viewer a sense of what the artist saw. I love the sparkling array of colors and the fluid movement suggested by her skilled hands. There were many renderings in the exhibit which had similar effects, but this one stood out for me.

At about the half-way point in the journey through these amazing images, there was a section of Winslow Homer works, paired with similar subjects and renderings by another master of watercolor, John Singer Sargent. Both artists were members of the American Watercolor Society in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but had remarkably different approaches to their work, and the contrast was both illuminating and interesting to contemplate. Homer seemed most often to be more concerned with precision and including important details in his renderings, and Sargent was much more focused on the impressionistic aspects of his final works, but both achieved a very similar result which delights and inspires.

Included in this array of creativity were two images by Georgia O’Keefe, someone whose work I have always admired, but for which I had never had the opportunity to view in person. The image above was one of the two, both renderings described as “Evening Star,” and this one is “number two.” The description reported the works as “experimental in nature,” both created as an exploration of the medium and of the subject. There was a palpable feeling of connection to the artist for me at that moment, and as with many of the other works displayed, a sense of awe and satisfaction that is very difficult to articulate.

The exhibit is only available in Philadelphia, and only for a few short weeks from March 1st through May 14th. The quality and nature of these paintings are so exquisitely unique, that they are very rarely exhibited due to the harm that results from exposure to light, even the subtle indoor light of the museum. Several of the works had curtains in front of them so as to minimize the amount of exposure the paintings would receive, even during such a short period of time. Going to such lengths to preserve these works is an enormously important factor for future generations, and I walked away from the museum that afternoon enlivened and inspired in a way that is also unfortunately not as frequent as I would like.

Our connection to the artists and the works they produced in the past is a vital link to the very heart of our humanity, and while each of us may not be masters of our chosen creative arts, we each possess the same vital elements within us that connects us to each other and to those who came before us. We are the masters of our own creative spirits, and uniquely qualified to continue to connect to our spiritual and creative sensibilities as only we can.