The Frontier or the Fortress?

Cosmic Dance

 C.S. Lewis once described the heart of reality as a "dynamic, pulsating activity, a life, almost a kind of drama - a kind of dance.” 

 The question is whether I sense this dance at the heart of my own inner life and engage it fully?

 Do I feel an inspired connection with such a super-charged reality at the heart of my own life and being?

 Or am I somehow oblivious to that dimension of inner richness and therefore search in vain for external fulfillments of one sort or another?

 For me, the sense of the dance - of a dynamic life within - intensifies and deepens to the degree that I have been absorbed in contemplations and meditation practice.  

 Otherwise, I tend to feel the unease that a former teacher of mine described: “If I miss my meditation practice, the day never quite goes right. Something’s missing. Something’s out of whack." 

 The fruit therefore of a disciplined meditation practice is to experience a supporting upward surge of energy - compared in the New Testament as like streams of living water that flow up from within. 

 For myself, I feel despair when disconnected from that source of rejuvenation. Having tasted the inner glory, I now cannot live without it. 

 When aligned, however, with that inner source of vitality, I feel as if out on the frontier - on the edge of adventure.

The contrast is to be holed up in a protecting fortress of some kind, whether secular or religious.

 Yoga calls the fortress mentality a stuck state. Enclosed by confining walls, I am sort of jammed up and locked away.

 In such a depressed state, my inner life is more like a stagnant pond, than like that symbol of potency - a sea at rest.

 Thus hidden away, I am but an unrealized possibility.

 Located within the fortress, I may be but grimly hanging on to life, perhaps barely holding it all together.

 Which is to be like the sad sack I run into who predictably tells me that there is nothing new in his life. His standard line is, “it’s the same old, same old. There’s nothing new.

 At some point the lights dimmed for the sad sack. He gives the impression of having passively surrendered to the dullness and drudgery of a routinized life. 

 He gets by. He survives. His life is no quest, or adventure.  

 He lives, in other words, in the fortress, instead of out on the frontier.

 Another fortress dweller is a mother-in-law, who was described as a substitute for air conditioning wherever she goes. Her mission in life, the snow-queen. 

 Suffocated by her icy presence, those she meets struggle for breath and stop thinking clearly. 

 No inspiration or wisdom suddenly erupts from the snow queen. Instead you  hear only whimpering, complaining and more often that not, a cackle, followed by streams of censorious comments.

 While sailing the English channel this summer I had the misfortune of meeting yet a third fortress dweller in the form of a semi-conscious priest. (Please forgive my characterization of him. But this was my disappointing experience - of one whose presence was more of absence than of anything else.)

 I was actually astonished at how someone's manner could be so depressing in such a short period of time. He must have been practicing his act for a very long time. He had it down perfectly.

 I had to get away quickly (though politely) before being dragged down to his level - of getting sucked into his depressed state.

 I exclaimed to my wife after the non-encounter: “What if I had just met the priest, Thomas Merton, in similar circumstances?"

 I already know that to meet Father Merton would be to experience his laughing eyes, presence and wit. 

 I’ve been wondering about the images of God a fortress dweller entertains - not exactly dynamic and motivating images!

 What pictures of the Divine play in the minds of sad sacks, substitutes for air-conditioning, or absentee priests?  

 One image in a fortress dweller’s mind may be a static picture of the Divine, as like that of a Solitary Sovereign sitting on a throne.

 Here is the image of an isolated Deity. A lone figure. Perhaps like poet, William Blake’s, Nobodaddy.

 Nobodaddy never frees or inspires anyone, but instead demands obedience and compliance.

 Nobodaddy's chief concern is proper behaviour.

 Nobodaddy doesn’t care about the quality of your inner life - streams of living water gushing forth and all of that - but about whether external rituals are practiced correctly.

 Nobodaddy insists on uniformity and unity, and never upon complexity and multiplicity.

 Nobodaddy’s order is that everyone is to fall in line. There’s no place for the explorer - for spectacular individuality. Colourful expression is replaced by the grey zone of low expectations.

 My sense is that the static image of the Divine holds sway over the minds of millions and millions. 

 Now, the company of the enlightened stand against such a fortress image of God.

 The great sages and seers emphasize the realization of the Divine as an almost incredible event as like when a light flashes forth and a fire is kindled in the soul!

 The spiritually realized emphasize “the spontaneous flashing forth of the transcendental consciousness.”

 The awakened write of spiritual aspirants breaking through into another realm - into the frontier consciousness of the kingdom of God.

 Here the emphasis is upon breaking the grim grip of the fortress mentality in order to enter the freedom of the frontier.

 Here is an exhilarating spirituality of freedom and joy.

 Which is to break out of the fortress of average, ordinary, everyday awareness into something expansive and full of inspiration.

  Which is why there has always been the warning from the teachers of wisdom that if you see the Buddha coming down the road, (or Jesus or Muhammed) that you must get away fast.

 Which is a warning not to set up a fortress by making an idol out of your chosen deity. 

 A refreshing contrast to the fortress mentality was an encounter this summer with a frontiersman in the form of a taxi-driver who had fled Iran to make England his home.

 He told us that when he lived in Iran that "you’re constantly watched there."

 "There is no freedom,” he exclaimed. "You are mentally oppressed.” As well, at sixteen years of age, he was beaten up by security forces for wearing short sleeves.

 Our conversation could have gone on and on. The man's sense of liberation was palpable. And when he said: “I don’t go to the mosque. I don’t even pray,” I understood. His experience had been of an enclosing fortress. From which he had now broken free.

 Life has now become an adventure for this young man. His new life is like that quality of life described by the poet, David Whyte: "I began to realize that the only place where things are actually real is at the frontier.” 

 Says David: “It's astonishing how much time human beings spend away from that frontier, abstracting themselves out of their bodies, out of their direct experience, and out of a deeper, broader, and wider possible future… at that frontier level.

 David Whyte describes people who close down and shut themselves in some protected fortress. Something has happened, perhaps some great loss and the response is: “Listen, God. If this is how you play the game, I’m not playing the game. I’m not playing by your rules. I’m going to manufacture my own little game, and I’m not going to come out of it.” 

 In other words: "I’m going to make my own little bubble (fortress) And I’m going to draw up the rules. And I’m not coming out to this frontier again. I don’t want to. I want to create insulation. I want to create distance.” 

 Says David Whyte: “Many human beings do that for the rest of their lives.

 The highlight of our holiday in Europe this summer was to become friends with an 81 year old gentleman who was suffering the loss of his wife, a 40 year old mother from San Francisco, and the ship’s pianist, my cousin, who I got to know for the first time.

 Between us there was a shared sense of spiritual adventure that built up during the cruise. The quality of our conversations meant more than shore excursions!

 Near the end of the voyage, we found ourselves together, while my cousin played the piano. Unlike the writer, David Foster Wallace, who on a similar voyage had to fight the impulse to throw himself overboard, we new friends kept ourselves on board by lighting up the fires of spiritual inquiry between us. 

 And began together to share in that level of reality that never ends.

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 Never Ending, Jens Buchert (a tribute to Leo, Cynthia and Gordon)