The Universe Is Alive

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Many times, when I am fully engaged in stillness and practicing my own personal version of mindfulness—giving up my normal attention to the present living moment—it’s almost like drifting back through time; with eyes closed, in near-perfect silence, I seem to be drifting not only away from the temporal awareness of the everyday world, but also through the eons of time. When we are properly and fully immersed in our “inner world,” our sense of temporal time disappears altogether, or at least, we could say, that time becomes irrelevant in any meaningful sense—more “apart” from life on Earth, than “a part of it.”

And yet, even in our measured and deliberate withdrawal from temporal awareness, “drifting away,” from what we know and experience as our daily lives, we are still part of the “universe of existence,” the foundation of which is only marginally and mysteriously accessible to us as temporal beings, but we still have a sense of our own personal reality, as we do when we are immersed in a tub full of pleasingly warm water, as the sound of our favorite music reaches our ears, as our lungs expand, pressing against our inner body with our rhythmic breathing, reminiscing about some delightful memory from long ago. Even as we might close our eyes, and contemplate our circumstance without the benefit of input from our visual cortex, we can still see—still conjure images—and ways of knowing without our full array of senses.

We all know of stories of individuals who have been deprived of one or more of the normal channels of sensory perception, either from birth or through some malady or accident, who have gone on to achieve in spite of the deficit, and who have been able to discern, without these benefits, the existence of the human spirit, and to “see” the world, just from a completely unique and extraordinarily challenging viewpoint.

Regardless of sensory deprivation or cultural limitations or disadvantages of every sort, throughout human history, there have been individuals who succeeded in spite of such obstacles to discover or affirm one very significant idea:

 

                                                                  ***        THE UNIVERSE IS ALIVE!    ***

 

I do not say this lightly, and I do not express it as a euphemism for something else. It is a fact. It is not only a physical fact; it is also a metaphysical fact, only knowable as temporal beings in this very human way. Knowing that what transpires when we are not physically existent is of a totally separate nature, we must acknowledge that our awareness of the true nature of non-material components of our existence cannot be adequately expressed in temporal terms.

To each of us in the current range of existent generations, it is a mystery—a conundrum which cannot be resolved quickly or without effort—without some deliberate approach to the spirit of life. We must reach for this aspect of our existence in stillness and in silence; and it is not guaranteed that in one lifetime, we can expect to unravel it all. It should be obvious by now, to anyone who has any sense of the mysterious at all, that consciousness is not wholly the result of or manifested solely by physical systems; it is manifested with the cooperation of and through our possession of the complex natural faculties that physical systems provide us.

However, the source, the origin, or the place where it comes from, is not in the physical universe. It is my belief, that the physical universe itself is a manifestation of a non-physical source, and everything within the physical universe has aspects and characteristics, which are direct results of the supporting non-physical world.

We use the phrase, “non-physical world,” knowing full well, that attempting to describe any aspect of our understanding, which addresses aspects of these ideas which are not physical, cannot be put in a context that would translate accurately as a “world” per se, or even as a dimension; the best we might hope for might be to refer to the ineffable as access to something beyond the physical. We can’t express it in more specific phenomenal terms in the physical universe because it has no corresponding link to any physical process or known physical laws.

Mother Nature, in her wisdom—the universe as a living entity—has indications, signs, intuitions, and inferences we can make in order to recognize that while we interpret the temporal nature of the physical universe generally as being composed of matter and energy, we also suppose that the non-material aspects and awareness of the spirit of life, suggest a simultaneous link to a kind of “divinity.”

Our complex human physiology and our extraordinarily complex neurophysiology may provide a window into our inner worlds, but is more correct to phrase our understanding of our physical nature as “a means to an end.”

A Teachable Travel Moment

Recently, I have been reviewing the collections of photographs and other memories from my journey of discovery which began more than forty years ago now, and several pieces of the puzzle have started to be filled in with particular memories, which have sparked new levels of awareness about just how important some of the events which occurred along the way were, leading me inexorably to this moment in time. The image above is one of my most important memories from 1975 when I was living in Augsburg, Germany, and first visited the Ancient Roman Museum there as a young soldier. The photograph depicts one of my very first adult encounters with ancient artifacts, and I will be posting an entry in the coming weeks about those heady days in Europe when so much came together for me.

I’ve also been reading posts by my friend Anthony at zenothestoic.com these days, and his recent posting about travels prompted me to dig through the archive to locate this one special travel memory that now looms much larger in the big picture, which I have been constructing all these years. I am grateful to Anthony for a number of teachable moments of late, and recommend his blog to anyone who has an interest in straightforward, no-nonsense stories that often get right to the core of whatever matter he takes on.

His travelogue in the English landscape stirred my memories of travels through the many small villages and remote country towns when I was a young man exploring the outer world in Europe, and just beginning to awaken to my expansive inner world. This recent stirring reminded me of a more modern memory, and I will tell you about that now, and how it all fits in to the larger story about my focus on consciousness.

It was a dream I had one night long ago. I met a woman on the steps of a university somewhere, and upon the very first glance at her face, I immediately felt a connection and a degree of intimacy that could not be explained by the temporal circumstances. I seemed to accept that it was so—that it was completely normal to encounter someone and to have this response.

I remember as the dream progressed, being close—face—to—face. I distinctly remember the look in her eyes as I spoke. Somehow, I knew that whatever I said had better be the truth, because she would know—she would know whether whatever I said was true or not—and I remember hesitating, only briefly, but deliberately pausing, as I was about to say something non-threatening—something neutral, and when I looked at her directly in the face, I was compelled to tell the truth…and the truth was…that I was absolutely, completely crazy about her.

It’s not like there wasn’t any precedence in my life experience with this phenomenon, but I have to say throughout my lifetime of experience, when attempting to interact with another person with whom I sensed an intimate connection, I almost always knew right away, instinctively, yes or no, and when it was yes, I was frequently met with responses like…”how is it even possible to say these words…it’s only been this amount of time;” the connection for me was always immediate and intimate, and once in a while, it would remain strong and involve a depth of caring for some time.

Most often, though, I remember the response being incredulity or astonishment or confusion, but for me, none of those words applied to my response; I was completely accepting of my own response to the individual. For them, it was always some abrupt expression like, “Wow,” or “really?” For me, it was something like, “Of course,” or “yes, really,” or “I know.” I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t so.

Looking back over the years, it happened so many times, and just as often the other person had a very difficult time accepting that I could feel the way I truly did feel. For me, it was impossible to deny what I absolutely felt without a doubt. I kept getting the sense that none of them were prepared to accept the truth that I was able to accept easily. Thankfully, it was just at this time when I started to take a serious interest in photography, bought some quality equipment, and began to record more than just images on film. I was also documenting my life at a critical time, and expanding my range of skills.

For a time, it became an issue when I shared these ideas, prompting blank stares or disbelief. One particular example occurred as a young man in the U.S. military living overseas in Europe. One day after work, I met a beautiful young woman, and at the very moment we met on a street corner, waiting for a bus into town, she turned to look at me in a most peculiar way, and I noticed my heart rate accelerated rapidly, without judgement on my part, but the suddenness of it gave me pause. We struck up a lively conversation about local attractions and initiated a polite exchange of information about our shared military duties, and when she asked me where I was headed in town, I reported that I was going home to my off-base apartment downtown. Her eyes suddenly lit up with surprise, her face immediately softened, and she smiled in a way that grabbed me right in the solar plexus. At that very instant, I felt a surge within me that was unmistakably of the same sort as before, only now it hit me like a cresting ocean wave.

The conversation took on a whole new level of urgency at that point, and by the time the bus arrived, we had made an arrangement to meet the next day to visit with me there. The rest of that evening I was unable to settle down or think clearly at all. I found myself oddly unable to go to sleep that night; so instead, I decided to clean out and rearrange the cabinets. I was an emotional wreck, and exhausted from anticipating her arrival the next day, but when she finally arrived, all the anxiety I felt just melted away.

We chatted briefly about locating the ingredients for a recipe she wanted to try for something called, “Hungarian Chicken.” Without having any idea exactly why I felt so compelled to rearrange the kitchen, it now seemed as though my mind had been operating on some level outside of conscious awareness, because it turned out to be the exact task I should have done, even though I couldn’t figure out what was making me act that way the night before.

We ended up spending a great deal of time together in the days following that first meeting, and all the while, outwardly I behaved with courtesy and as one would when first nurturing a friendship, but on the inside, I was a bubbling cauldron of intimate emotions, swirling like a tornado in my head and heart. I was in love. I immediately wanted to be close to her, but it seemed that it was impossible to express it without endangering the whole enterprise. The challenge for me was to avoid giving any overt indication of the inner turmoil, while still behaving in a rational and explicable manner. We laughed often and she seemed completely open to listening to the stories of my adventures over the years, and all I could do was remain totally open to her bright spirit, encouraging her to share time with me on her terms. I just wanted to be where she was.

One night, after a lovely day spent enjoying a warm spring afternoon walking around together in town, we were sitting on the sofa in the living room and I couldn’t hold back any longer. I had to try to express what was going on inside me before I exploded. The beginning of the conversation went well as I recapped all the wonderful parts of our friendship and the time we spent together, and without getting overly emotional or suggesting what might happen next, I simply allowed my heart to gently speak its truth. Her immediate response was a blank stare for about a minute, followed by an expression of agreement with the clear advantages of our friendship, but also noting her astonishment at how it would even be possible to have such a strong sense of connection, adding “It would take me a year to say those things to someone.” My time in Augsburg held some of the most important events of my young life, and when the time came to leave that city, I climbed to the top of the city hall there to take one last look before moving on to Central Germany and a brand new assignment.

Similar circumstances happened to me all the time, even with important friendships with others of every variety. For me, there was no doubt at all. It became clear eventually, after numerous repetitions of this scenario, where I was absolutely certain of what was happening, that the cause had something to do with ME. It was about ME. I was different, but I couldn’t explain it. This and several other pivotal events during this time brought all of the mystery to the forefront of my experience and pressed me to dig deeper. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to see a connection between these events when they occurred, and while some were more intense than others, certain ones were so profound, so in-depth of a connection that it completely enveloped all of my senses and occasionally saturated my entire experiential awareness.

Hopefully, after all this time, and years of paying attention to the particulars in these situations, writing about my experience in the Roman Museum and reflecting on everything that happened to me during that time will assist me now as a mature person, to not only understand myself better, but to have some improved grasp of the phenomenon of the human spirit, which I still see and experience in the same way sometimes.

My subjective experience of my own self continues to force me to confront these connections, and while I continue to see and feel these sensations at particular times and establish similar connections with certain individuals more intensely than others, I recognize it as the same phenomenon of an ineffable nature no matter how it occurs. Consciousness is much more than a result of brain physiology. That much, for me, is certain.

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.”

The Fading of the Light

Watching out my window this evening as the sky slowly abandoned the light of day, fading slowly into twilight, my heart was following along as the sky darkened. In some ways, my heart knows me better than my mind. Within the realm of thoughts and emotions, thoughts have always seemed to eventually defer to my emotions, not because my thoughts were faulty in some way necessarily, but more because the way I feel sometimes tends to be more accurate than my thinking.

In a recent preparation to deliver remarks at a memorial service, I quoted Descartes well-known axiom, “I think, therefore I am,” and suggested that for me personally, it seemed more correct to say, “I feel, therefore I am.” Feeling any potent emotion has always felt more compelling to me as an indication that I truly existed, as opposed to even the most considered and volatile thoughts. Of course, in order to “know” what I felt required the ability to acknowledge intellectually the arrival of the emotion within me, or to even recognize that emotions were active in my experiential awareness. Cognition and awareness of existing subjectively are vitally important partners in experiential reality.

Looking out my window at the still reasonably bright sky, when I initially arrived in the chair which provided the view out the window, found me both thoughtful and emotional. Intellectually, I knew that the time of day and the view out the window were already conspiring to reveal the day’s relentless progression toward the night, but my emotional state was not only reluctant to allow this acknowledgement to take hold, but also fully engaged in the recognition of how keenly the gradual diminishment of light in the sky mirrored the same in my heart.

Intellectually, I was fully cognitive of the causes for the light to fade, and the expectations one must have as the day concludes and the night arrives, but emotionally, even though my mind told me that it was inevitable and unstoppable, my heart wanted the light to linger, and felt keenly how much I longed for the light to remain. This longing held sway mostly due to how I felt about it, rather than what my mind knew was the cause of it. In my mind, I knew it was inevitable, but for my heart, it was a painful and lamentable development, for which no amount of thinking would provide even the slightest solace.

Aside from these meandering thoughts and feelings about the loss of the light, which were mostly secondary in the moment, there was an emotional reverie taking place in both my heart and mind, which formed the foundation for the contrast in the first place. Having nearly a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets to look back on gives each new arrival and departure of daylight and nightfall greater import, based on the recognition that there are clearly fewer opportunities remaining to experience them, compared to the approximately 21,000 which I have already experienced.

Reviewing the hundreds of photographs from my family history that I inherited some years ago, I was struck by the absolute lack of images other than those of family members and family occasions. Even when the images in the family archive began to appear in color in the late fifties and early sixties, there were perhaps less than a handful which consisted of landscapes or mountain vistas, and most of them had someone else in the foreground.

The same review of my own personal collection of photographs showed a relatively greater number of images of the natural world that surrounded me, regardless of whether or not the final images included friends or family members. Almost immediately, as I became more familiar with the process of photography, it occurred to me that the world itself provided many scenes which were worthwhile to capture, and which, in some cases, meant more to me than the simple fact of their existence at the time they were photographed. The motivation for me to remember the beauty and the atmosphere of some of these places was often on the same footing, and was informed by the same degree of interest, that I had in remembering the people who occupied those spaces.

Reflecting now, after all this time, on the experiences surrounding the events and the locations in which they took place, it seems to me that the environment and the scope of the surroundings themselves became such a vital aspect of these experiences for me, that in order to fully represent the totality of particular events, and to help me to subsequently reconstruct the fullness of my experiences, it became necessary to expand the collection of photographs to include whatever else made those experiences feel the way they did to me. It may have been the natural inclinations of the budding artist within me, or it may have been the impending spiritual awakening which was, unbeknownst to me, shortly to appear on the horizon, but as time passed, my photographs began to reflect a much more thoughtful approach, and often were created from the wellspring of emotion bubbling under the surface of my life. Looking back on it now, I am almost embarrassed to report that I had not even the slightest inkling of what was transpiring within me at the time, but by the time I had reached the period of my life which took place overseas, the universe had conspired to point it out to me in ways that I could never have anticipated.

After the abrupt and traumatic events in 1973, the escalation emotionally and psychologically of my world view was the perfect vehicle to launch my intense interest in photography, and it clearly fed the fervor of my investigations into the world within me to such a degree, that almost every important moment of those times required me to record that urgency in every way at my disposal.

The depth of my understanding of the world, and my awareness of the extent to which spirituality would eventually direct the course of my life, prior to my awakening in the autumn of 1973 in Massachusetts, was so limited and incomplete, it hardly seems possible that such an expansion of my artistic and spiritual senses could even have taken place without some drastic change or pivotal event.

Whatever indications there were in my personal photographic evidence, and in the products of my various artistic endeavors up to that point, none of them apparently penetrated sufficiently into my daily waking states of consciousness to provide the necessary spark of creativity that would press me toward my destiny.

***more to come***

A Developing Inner Life

As we begin to consider the role that “non-physical components” might play in coming to terms with the nature of consciousness, a good place to begin is with our own very human emotions. 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 being can produce nothing but indifference in another. Difficult to define, feelings can direct us in ways that are, in one instance, intuitive and insightful and in another, self-destructive and violent. Our response to stimulus of every sort can be examined, analyzed, and traced to specific locations within the brain, but our physiological response is only part of the story. Our emotions and feelings can also be influenced by forces far removed from simple biology.

Much has been written regarding the evolution of species on our planet, and we can infer a great deal from our increasing knowledge of the nature of life on our planet over the millions of years cognitive creatures have been evolving on it. Emotions served our primitive ancestors in their struggle to survive the dangers and challenges of life long ago, in the now familiar “fight or flight response” which still exists within us today, as well as in the development of nurturing inclinations. What 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 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. Over the millennia, we have taken the raw material provided by evolution, and slowly manipulated our mental and emotional environment to the point where we can now “rationalize” our emotional responses, and analyze them as a “component” of our burgeoning cognitive potential.

Beyond these considerations, and largely a result of our increased cognitive skills, our comprehension of the interrelatedness of all life on our planet, has also made us aware of the interactive nature of cognition. No longer are we simply the victims of a brutal world of “survival of the fittest,” but rather, 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 consciousness.

The interrelatedness of all life in the phenomenal world reflects the even more complex and comprehensive relationships that support our profoundly dynamic inner life, represented in the relationships between cognition and physiology, between neurons and experience, between electrochemical phenomenology and synaptic function. Indeed, one 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 a perfect metaphor for the complexity of the universe!

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. In many cases, we can infer relationships between objects and phenomena based on observation or analysis of data relevant to the circumstances in which they occur, 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 advance theories based on the observations and data accumulated over centuries of reflection and contemplation.

The story of humanity is in every way an accumulation of knowledge and experience, and the resulting expansion of human consciousness. Even if the acquisition of consciousness was initiated by our acquisition of an adequately equipped brain architecture, the accumulation of knowledge and experience made available to us as a result of that acquisition, is entirely our own doing.

Give someone a fish fillet, and they eat for a day. Teach them how to catch their own fish, and they eat for a lifetime. Give a hominid species a fully developed brain and nervous system, and eventually they will paint pictures on cave walls. Teach them through knowledge and experience to be creative and to innovate, and they will expand their consciousness beyond mere survival. Eventually, they will begin to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

As solid and predictable as the laws of physics seem to us today, not one of them eliminates the possibility of the existence of the spirit. And while the many diverse paths of spirituality offer an exciting array of avenues for us to pursue the spirit, not one of them can eliminate the laws of physics as they apply to the phenomenal world.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to conclude that both exist, and that both rely on the existence of the other. Our sense of being relies on being able to use our senses, but our senses do not bring us into being, nor do they attribute significance to our existence. They are our window to the world of experience and it is that world of experience that connects us to our sense of being and to the spirit.

The Extraordinary in the Ordinary: Part Two

Back in June, while contemplating the wondrous display of nature right in my own front yard, I wrote about the extraordinary life force evident in the plants and trees that burst forth with such intensity every summer, and how I marveled at their tenacity to find a way to overcome their circumstances to flourish and grow, almost beyond belief:

https://johns-consciousness.com/2018/06/09/the-extraordinary-in-the-ordinary/

As the months progressed since that posting, I have been monitoring and photographing my efforts to tame the wilderness encroaching upon my house, and in spite of my determined efforts to prune and chop down the overgrowth, Mother Nature continued to impress me with her tenacious refusal to allow my efforts to completely stop her progress. In the image below, I recorded the winter status of a rogue tree growing right in front of the window on the living room side of the house:

As you can see, this errant seedling had grown beyond the height of the roof and was already tangled in the power lines running from the house to the power pole out front. At the time, I was reluctant to chop it down since I enjoyed the amount of greenery that it added to the front yard, and had observed the changing leaves in the autumn with great pleasure. When I saw this scene in January, I realized that it had clearly grown beyond the point where it was just nice to look at in the change of seasons, and when the opportunity presented itself in June, I enlisted the assistance of my young grandson Alex, 15, to bring it down.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

As much as I wanted to see the leaves on this beautiful rogue sapling turn again in the autumn this year, I reluctantly agreed to chop it down, carefully avoiding damage to the wires, while standing on a stepladder, amazed at the strength and weight of the trunk of a tree that had only been growing for a few years.

Much to my surprise, several months later, in September, right at the end of the summer season, the stump had sprouted an astonishing number of tiny branches that seemed to burst into being in a matter of weeks:

After careful consideration, I decided to let the bunches of greenery play themselves out in the coming fall season, hoping the leaves might turn and provide an attractive image for my annual photographic ritual of recording the changes. It seemed that Mother Nature had other plans. Just last week, my hopes appeared to be thwarted by both the peculiar weather patterns this year, which provided an unusually high amount of rain in November, and sudden cold spells which simply seemed to kill the leaves off:

It was disappointing from my perspective, but also a completely natural development given the circumstances, so I decided this week to just go out there and remove all the dead branches, and noticed that the vines had surrounded the stump, probably contributing to the choking off of nutrients to the abbreviated stump. As I followed the winding tangle of vines, it led me to the brick wall where they had begun to aggressively climb and cling to the front of the house. It seemed that in response to this attack, the only sensible response was to remove as many of the vines as I could:

With the wind at my back, and momentum built up in my determination to avenge the destruction of the greenery, I decided to trim the vines from the light pole which had completely overtaken the light in over the summer. The result was unexpectedly satisfying:

BEFORE:

AFTER:

The swiftness of the change of season this year, and the disadvantageous conditions that diminished the number of colorful leaves, while disappointing in one way, made the necessity of pruning the branches and removal of the vines much easier to execute. Once begun, I seemed to gather a fairly robust amount of energy to complete the task, and once it was done, I consoled myself with reviewing some images from previous autumn photos from years gone by:

One bright moment to balance out the disappointment I felt regarding the doomed sapling came the following morning when I opened the door to retrieve the morning newspaper. (Yes, some of us still like to read an actual printed newspaper!) When I opened the inside door, there was a leaf from the tree out front stuck to the storm door, which was wet from the rainfall overnight–one of the few colorful leaves of the season. I took it as a small compensation for the deficits I experienced otherwise, and I smiled right away and snapped a few photos of it, just to capture the spirit of the moment.

It wasn’t lost on me as I ripped the vines away from along the wall, as well as those which were strangling the tangle of branches surrounding the plants and trees and the lamp post, that Mother Nature will no doubt continue to press on with her relentless pursuit of growth, in a perfectly natural and ordinary way. Even my own pursuit of efforts to curtail the overwhelming abundance of creeping vines and rogue saplings, falls under the category of an ordinary and practical undertaking. What inspires me to conjure the extraordinary view in the face of all this activity is the obvious connection between the living plants and trees with the living creature perpetrating the removal of the overgrowth. My own spiritual growth, which was clearly enhanced and illuminated as a consequence of the almost meditative state required to perform the actions in direct opposition to the implied goals of the abundant greenery in my yard, parallels the imperceptible natural growth of the plants and trees that occurred over several years when my attentions were elsewhere. I can’t help but feel that our natural inclinations in the pursuit of spiritual growth may be directly related to the natural incremental growth of everything that lives. The living spirit of the Earth itself mirroring the spirit within each of us.

After completing my task for the day, I stood silently near the scene and took a moment to simply breathe and be present, reminded of the importance of this very moment now. We must be present and allow ourselves to open to the extraordinary in order to know it and bring it into our awareness.

What Will Come

We all know that the living of an individual life, at its core, often consists of a fair amount of uncertainty. There are no guaranteed outcomes. As much as we rely upon and announce the accomplishments of our science, as we explore the physical world, and proclaim with certainty, the results of our explorations, about what is and what has been, what will come is nearly always unknown.

Granted, there are particular natural world outcomes, which we can routinely predict with a degree of confidence, for example, the characteristics of seasonal changes in the areas of the world where they routinely occur. In the spring, in the northern hemisphere, as the earth tilts gradually more toward sun, the blossoms will unfold. By the time the summer arrives, all of nature will become full and green. Temperatures will rise and the sun will burn us, unless we take precautions against it. At the same time, the opposite conditions will persist in the southern hemisphere. There it will be more like our winter; the earth tilts away from the sun, and alters the temperatures in such a way, that will require those who inhabit that area to dress appropriately for significantly cooler conditions. For them, the celebration of Christmas is a summer festival, in much the same way as those of us on the opposite side of the globe celebrate our traditional summer events.

The inclination of the earth, tilting on its axis, in our hemisphere, creates the increasing heat and humidity typical of our summer months, while simultaneously lowering the temperatures on the opposite side of the world. Neither one of the hemispheres, regardless of the season, can lay claim to having the “right” conditions for summer or winter. Neither one can be described as “unnatural.” Our perceptions are simply two different views of the very same experience of life in different locations on our planet.

Yet, as we view a life lived in our accustomed and predictable seasonal conditions, all that we know, all that we experience in our lives, often reflects our expectations of these changes as an essential component, and when circumstances vary from what we typically expect, either through travel or unexpected variations in the weather, the altered states we encounter can be disorienting.

So it is with our lives as viewed over the span of years. We are born helpless and remain young for an extended period of time, and if we are fortunate, we live to see advanced age, gain a degree of perspective in the process, and only relinquish our lives after a lifetime of experience, when we can truly claim to have survived until we are “old.” As many of us who have endured through the passing of many years can attest, our view of life as a young person was likely, in many ways, far different once we arrived in this timeframe; perhaps, we might even wish to describe our viewpoint as the “opposite” of what we thought back then.

None of it—not the beginning, nor the end; not the heat, nor the cold; not the summer, nor the winter; alters the life within us. Regardless of where we live, what language we speak, what conditions exist around us—in every case—every living being is alive and existent in the physical universe, for as long as that life can be sustained; we each experience our individual lives subjectively and over time, accumulate the knowledge and experience that makes us who we become.

Whether there are many advantageous opportunities or only a few; whether we enjoy robust health or suffer through disease; whether we live with a degree of abundance, or suffer a life of scarcity or lack of resources; whether we enjoy the pleasures of a tropical paradise, or suffer the challenges of life in the arctic regions; all life, all peoples in every corner of our planet, while they live, experience the uncertainties of life. No matter what they look like, what they believe, or where they grew up, each one is a human being who deserves the opportunity to live as best they can, according to their talents and by their determined efforts to carve out a life as a person in the world.

No matter where you look, no matter to what region of the world you travel, you will find a robust variety of conditions—examples of great progress and great tragedy; evidence of tremendous accomplishments and devastating failures; examples of extraordinary love and compassion, along with the unfortunate reality of bitterness and hatred—all taking place in the same world, among the same people, only varying as the result of different choices. Some of us succeed gloriously in our efforts; some fail unerringly; some rise and fall, some will rise and stay risen; some will fall and stay fallen.

Every variety of experience and character you can imagine exists now or has existed somewhere in the world, at some period of time in the history of humanity. Throughout all of it, humans have made astonishing discoveries, and committed epic failures. Depending on how you view the world, you could easily dismiss the chances of achieving any significant degree of equilibrium in the future. We’ve already seen how the tides of fortune can change. A poor person can become wealthy; a wealthy person can lose everything; a bitter and resentful person can become compassionate and loving; severe misfortune and suffering can turn even the most resourceful person into a pessimist.

At the core of our humanity is the one unchanging and constant presence that cannot be irreversibly defeated or permanently swayed by the events of the temporal world. It is our individual human spirit or soul. Although we often experience it and view it as belonging only to us, it is more appropriate to view it as a manifestation of a much larger oneness of being—an individual experience of a universal and ubiquitous reality that unites every living entity, and which provides the foundation for the observable and the unobservable universe.

And no, this is not science. The premise is not empirically driven or provable by experiment, but it can be known by us and confirmed subjectively to exist as a component of our experience of human consciousness. All that is necessary is to simply allow ourselves the permission to probe the full realm of possibility—to look more deeply within ourselves—and to see past all the limitations and characteristic prejudices that often appear, when we view the world through the prism of materialism or the superficial criteria of our human frailties. When we view our lives as merely being surface dwellers on a random planet in an obscure corner of an unremarkable galaxy, it is no wonder at all that we experience the divisions and conflicts that we see occurring all the time. In order to overcome these limitations, it is essential that we expand our understanding of life to include the more profound aspects of our inner lives, and to seek in others, what is truly at their core—the very same spirit of which we are only one part.