Persistent Heart

The heart will hope relentlessly
foaming at the mouth to find
the smallest pinhole ray of light

Perfect persistence of spirit
the boundless song of belief
that provides moments of peace in pain

An inner ember of forever faith
unable to be extinguished despite everything
the benevolent ability of finding reasons to breathe

Hope is a mercy from the higher self
that shelters us from complete despair
the solitary star that keeps us striving

Resiliency bestowed from some secret inner strength
sweet echoed illusions from a future yet to come
this experience of the heart surpasses all outcomes 
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Lingering

Hope holds me back from
making hard decisions
how long have I spent
hesitating on the threshold
of houses that were not my home

Just before my jaws close on
the final bitter bite of despair
"what if" makes me wonder
if I should put off taking that pill
for just one more day

It feels so much better
to convince myself that
this hopeless situation
is somehow salvageable
never sure enough to give up

Leaving my regrets
for the universe to decide
throwing my hands up
and hoping the next step
will be made for me in time

Soul setting out on a sailboat
praying for fair winds but
too afraid to pick up the paddles
patiently waiting at my feet
unable to acknowledge that burden

This life is mine to direct
a responsibility I cannot resign
doing nothing is also a choice
lingering in salt water is not
the same as searching for the shore

You’re With Me On My Own

Living lattice of spongey spiderwebs
stitches supporting the dark, damp earth
connecting networks transmitting information
between the trees' deeply buried toes

breathing in pulsating energy particles
that permeate the thick air above
quivering conviction of nature intertwined
magical mirror image, veins beneath pale skin

Sacred assurance that all is not lost
the same sun still rises in the east each morning
you reside in the red light beneath my eyelids
retinas stained with sweet remembrance

Everything fades except for this feeling
bitter things only taste better as I age
including this patient pain, the prize I protect
hopeless happiness harbored in secret

Silly dreams pluck breath from lonely lungs
pathetic mantra of "maybe one day"
vindicated by comparison to other
laughably unlikely anecdotes

The small, sharp pleasure of
planning this impossible future
fills my cracked cup enough
to keep going

Besides, we're still connected by
that complicated underground lace
linked inextricably through shared sunlight
eternally sown together with this earth
Mycelium Dreaming – Autumn Skye

Love, Nature, Humor, & Suffering

Have you ever noticed something very particular and seemingly random suddenly coming up again and again in your everyday life? Almost as if the universe is calling you to pay attention to this specific thing? I know some people have this sensation often, even to the extent they start making every little thing extremely meaningful in some way. For me, this hardly ever happens. I have a very weak sense of my intuition. I never really think much of the strange coincidences that happen in my life. That made it all the more poignant to me how much this sign stuck out and refused to be silenced.

Over a month ago, I was in a training and one of the instructors mentioned the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. As she said it, I glanced at my bookshelf and realized, I had that very book! I hadn’t purchased it. I had gotten it secondhand from a psychologist that retired from my last job and left piles of books to give away to whoever was interested. I took a lot of those books, but hadn’t read many of them yet. I decided that I just had to read it now, but I was in the middle of another book so I put it off. Then I heard it mentioned on a few podcasts. One podcast host, just as I was thinking it, made a comment to the effect of “if I was playing sign’s from the universe bingo, two of the squares would have to be Viktor Frankl and neuroplasticity.” Chills immediately ran down my spine. Neuroplasticity was another pivotal concept I’d learned about in school that had changed my life and seemed to be endlessly talked about wherever I went afterward. I knew this book had something for me, maybe exactly what I was needing.

It’s not a very long book so I got through it pretty swiftly. Much to my delight, there were even notes in the margins from the psychologist that I had inherited the copy from. I took my own notes as well, and this is what I’ve taken away from Frankl’s text. What is the meaning of life? Or rather, what things give life meaning? Love, nature, humor, and suffering. These are the things that make life meaningful.

Frankl brought me to tears with his descriptions about how even in the face of the most horrific suffering anyone can imagine, inside the concentration camps of Auschwitz, with seemingly nothing left to live for, the image of his wife’s face in his memory was enough to give him strength and keep him going. It wasn’t necessarily that he felt he had to survive to see her again. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. But it didn’t matter. The love he had for her was real and could not be taken from him. The love itself was enough to keep living. I think we’ve all tasted the incredible power that love gives us, but his descriptions really drove home how inherently meaningful love is, that it truly can conquer all, even our own immense suffering and hopelessness.

He went on to explain, that despite the numbness the prisoners succumbed to after so much time engulfed in pain and suffering, the beauty and majesty of nature was still able to grip them. As they stood in agony in a filthy train car, supposing they were on their way to the gas chambers, they still crowded around the tiny window just to see the breathtaking image of the distant mountains against the horizon. He also recounts the story of one prisoner that tells him before she dies that the scraggly limb of a tree that she could see through the window at camp kept her going. She said the tree spoke to her. It said, “I am here. I am here. I am life, eternal life.”

As morbid as it may seem, Frankl also recounts the humor he and his fellows found even in suffering. Starvation, pain, humiliation, death, and disease were not enough to take away their ability to make light of it all somehow. Regardless of the situation, no matter how dire it may seem, we still have the power of perspective, even if only in fleeting moments. We can find the humor in even our darkest hours. And sometimes that is enough to get us through. No one is demanding we take life so seriously. There is so much power in laughter, especially dark humor and laughter at our own misfortune. The gift of humor is transcendent.

Finally, Frankl explains that there is meaning even in suffering itself. Although we try to find happiness and avoid suffering as all living beings do, there is still inherent value in the suffering that touches each and every one of our lives to some extent. Suffering can be seen as an opportunity. It can be a fortifying fire that turns iron into steel. Sometimes our suffering can be seen as a sacrifice, a way to protect someone else from the fate we now bear. What could be more meaningful than that? Love can make even the most bitter suffering a beautiful gift. While we don’t wish for suffering to stain our lives, it is not an evil if we can transmute it into a source of strength and spiritual transformation.

Near the very end of the book, when I thought I had already seen what the universe had directed me here for, I was moved more deeply still. A concept I had been incubating for a while now was presented to me in the most perfect phrasing, in words I hadn’t quite been able to grasp yet myself. Frankl used the example of a chimp being experimented on for a cure, but as this left a bad taste in my mouth, I thought of a better one. Consider a honeybee and its life’s work. As it flies from flower to flower, the bee is only concerned with collecting pollen to make honey for its hive. It has no hope of becoming privy to the larger significance of its daily labors. The bee will never know that in addition to providing for its fellow bees, it is pollenating the plants it visits. It is making it possible for an unimaginable abundance of life. It is giving life not only to the flowers and vegetation, but also the beings that consume them to survive. The bee is unwittingly the humble servant of all Earth’s life.

Faith for me is learning to trust that this grander scale of significance also exists for human kind, even if I’ll never see it or be able to understand. “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life; but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” This quote, right here, is the reason I believe the universe directed me to this book. This is the confirmation of the inner truth that I have been searching for. This was the universe patting me on the back and saying, “You finally got it. You’re on the right path.” My task in life is not to understand it all, like I once thought. My task is to keep going despite my lack of understanding, to learn to trust in something beyond myself. When I lost the belief in God, I also thought that I lost this higher purpose. But that isn’t true. I may not see an omnipotent being beyond myself, but there is still something. I don’t need to give it a name to feel the truth behind it. There is peace and beauty and strength in learning to surrender to the unknowable meaningfulness of life.

Large Scale Pessimist, Small Scale Optimist

It’s no secret that I am an extremely cynical person. On the surface this may seem confusing to those around me, given that I put so much effort into fighting for social change and self-improvement. Why bother if you don’t believe that there is any hope of creating any lasting, large scale impact? Why be vegan if you fully believe we’ll never be able to liberate animals, that the earth will perish long before human beings make the connection? Why do social work every day if you believe human beings are inherently bad, that the system is corrupt and won’t change? Why advocate for a leftist agenda if you also acknowledge any political system will inevitably be taken over and coopted by bad actors if given enough time?

The reason I keep fighting, isn’t because I think I can change the world. In fact, I feel completely confident that I won’t. I fight because I have to. Even if failure is the only possible outcome. Giving up is still not an option. As long as I am here, as long as I’m still breathing, I will keep advocating for the things I believe in. I will keep fighting for those that don’t even have the privilege of a voice of their own.

Despite my resignation to the hopelessness I feel on a large scale, I do find personal fulfillment and meaning on a smaller scale. Very few of the child abuse cases that I work on ever go to trial. My clients, my coworkers, and myself are constantly faced with the sobering reality that many of these pedophiles and domestic abusers will walk free, that they will go on to victimize more and more people, that they may never ultimately face justice. Even so, a criminal conviction is not the only outcome that I consider a success. I’ve had many kids tell me that my coworkers and I are the nicest people they’ve ever met. And they meant it. I believed them. Sometimes I get to be one of the ONLY people that would even listen to them, the first person that believed them. Sometimes this is all someone needs, more than they thought they would ever get. I get to hold their hand as they let go of the external repercussions and focus on the possibility of inner healing, the only thing that they actually do have the power to influence.

Even though I have no hope that I’ll see the end of animal agriculture, even though I believe I will, instead, see the end of the earth, I will continue to do everything in my power to spread the vegan message and protect animals. Every person that goes vegan, every person that buys an Impossible Whopper without mayo instead of a Whopper, every person that switches to plant based milks, makes a difference. Maybe not in the bigger picture of the oppressive, abusive industries across the world, but to even a single animal. That matters.

I may not believe that I can change the world, but I do believe that I can change the lives of the people I meet everyday, of the animals that I DON’T eat. Just because I can’t do it all, doesn’t mean what I can do doesn’t matter. Take pride in the small victories. Why should it matter than you couldn’t end all oppression? You were there for someone in a vulnerable moment, in their moment of need. Maybe you didn’t change the world. But you changed the world for one person and that’s just as good. All we can do is offer our love and compassion, and that’s enough.

Positive Pain

Pain makes me brave. Pain makes me honest. Pain makes me face the world with everything that I have. Sometimes it takes pain to show me what really matters, what I’ve been missing, what I’ve been taking for granted. When I’m comfortable I get bored. I become afraid to make any change at all. Even when it’s a change that needs to be made. I’m so afraid of shaking up the status quo that I’ve become accustomed to that sometimes “comfort” can be transformed into something worse than pain. Like a frog slowly being cooked alive in a tepid water that gradually begins to boil. I don’t realize how bad I’ve allowed things to get until it’s too late.

When something abruptly smashes into my comfortable complacency, there is fear, there is agony, but there is also opportunity. I am forced to change direction. I am forced to gather up the pieces of my life and create something entirely new. I am forced to be my own ally again. There is a haunting, fierce, indescribable beauty in pain. There is strength and resiliency and the birth of new hope after the fall. There is even a sense of surprise and pride in finding out just how much we are actually able to take without being broken. There is something awe inspiring when we lift our head from our tear-stained hands and realize, “I’m still here. I’m alive. This isn’t the end.”

There is great freedom in the feeling of having nothing to lose. There is a boldness that emerges, a confidence, even an urgency to go after what we truly want. Pain brings clarity and curiosity. Everything feels a little more real, a little more defined. Pain is the springboard for passion and creativity. It is a necessary evil. These are the reasons I find myself having a very complex relationship with pain, grief, and loss. Part of me finds a strange comfort in pain, an odd feeling of safety after losing it all. The burden of trying to hold it all together, the burden of grasping and clinging on to life is lifted for a moment. This brings a twinge of pleasure that blends into the pain. For me, pain is always bittersweet.

I’ve come to realize that the reason communication and confrontation are so hard, is not because I don’t know how to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It’s not that I don’t know what to say or how I feel. I’ve never had any issue explaining myself to a third party. But when I find myself facing the person I really want to talk to, I become so consumed with fear that I can’t focus. My mind becomes clouded with thoughts of what they will think or how they will respond to what I’m saying. Are they going to look at me differently? Are they going to be upset? Will they leave? Will our relationship change? Will they misunderstand me? Will I be able to respond adequately to whatever they say back to me? These concerns are so overwhelming that I tend to stay silent instead of having some of the most important, necessary, and intimate conversations. It is only once I feel as though I’ve already lost someone, that I find the courage to be open and honest with them.

In an instant our most painful experiences can become our greatest sources of strength. I look back on some of the darkest moments in my life with a sense of compassion and a knowing tenderness. It’s only much later that we gain the perspective to see the ways in which the harrowing experiences we go through are the very things that strengthen us, give us courage, and provide the pivot we didn’t even know we needed in life. Yes, pain is hard. Loss is hard. But it’s been said that anything worth doing is hard, and pain is always worth it in the end. Something even more complex and beautiful and real rises from the ashes every time. Be patient.

Desire

Desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, without longing, there is no kindling for motivation and pleasurable productivity. There is no direction in life. I don’t know why life necessarily needs a direction, but it just feels better when there is one. The child I once was, had no lack of passionate desire. In fact, there were so many things I desired that it was impossible to focus on just one or to be without direction at any given moment.

Perhaps its not that I lack desire now, but that my desires have become inverted. I no longer feel inspired to reach for things I want. Instead my only motivation is to avoid and shrink away from things I don’t want. Ten years ago, if you asked me what my greatest desire was, I’m sure I would have said to find a loving partner to share my life with. That was really the only long term, significant goal I ever had in life. It meant everything to me, and it did a lot to nudge me forward each day with hope and determination even in my darkest hours. If asked the same question today, I would have no answer.

I honestly don’t know when that fervent wish fell away from my mind. One day I just stopped wanting it so much. At first it seemed like a gift. I was finally free. I truly believed for the first time that I didn’t need to find this one perfect, romantic relationship in life to be happy. I accepted that happiness would be available to me even in the event I lived the rest of my life alone. After awhile, the relief of not needing what I had always wanted gave way to despondency and apathy. Okay, I might not need love to be happy, but that doesn’t mean I am happy without it either.

Strangely enough, I think to a certain extent, that yearning, that striving for something is what brings happiness and meaning to life. Obtaining our desire or reaching our goal isn’t really what gives us the satisfaction. It’s working towards something, it’s that flutter in our chest that appears when we fix our gaze on some distant horizon and imagine getting there that gives life meaning. Without desire, life seems empty, motionless, and rather scary.

The most frustrating part of it all is not knowing how or if it’s possible to generate desire where there is none. We may think it’s unbearable to want something we may never get, but it’s even more unbearable to wake up every morning and not know what you want. It isn’t exactly that I want nothing. I want to be happy. I want to feel that hunger and excitement that I’ve lost. I want to be free from my mental suffering. These desires are far too abstract to act on though.

When I ask myself what would make me happy, what would spark that inner flame, what would ease my suffering, I genuinely have no idea. I don’t have the foggiest inkling where to begin to find these answers either. While setting myself of a rough, uncertain path toward an ideal love was never easy, it was still easier than wandering aimlessly. A mountain is hard to climb, but the vision of the peak is enough to keep our spirits up. Now I find myself is the vast, flat expanse of a massive desert. It’s not hard to keep walking physically, but mentally it’s much harder, with no end in sight, no reason to trudge on.

Stages of Cognitive Development

Childhood and Developmental psychology classes helped me learn and understand the different stages that children pass through as they grow, particularly the stages of awareness and consciousness. Piaget’s 4 stages of cognitive development highlight the ways in which we all expand our perception of ourselves and the world around us as we age.

In the first stage, we gain object permanence, we begin to understand that we are separate entities from others, and that our actions affect the world around us. In the second stage we are largely only focused on ourselves and our own perspective. This stage is also where we first begin to be able to think symbolically, grasping that images can represent ideas and objects. We still think in concrete terms and struggle with abstract concepts. The third stage is where we begin to develop our logic and reasoning skills. The fourth and “final” stage is where we form the ability to think abstractly and contemplate hypothetical situations.

You may notice that I’ve put the word “final” in quotation marks, and I have good reason for that. It occurred to me the other day when I was thinking about the idea of faith and the many aspects of reality and life that we cannot know. I began to wonder why it is that it seems so absurd to consider there being more to reality than we can hope to conceive of in our current human state. Psychology has already laid out the ways that a child’s brain is different than an adult’s and has a more limited ability to process the world. Why do we assume then that a fully formed adult brain necessarily has overcome all of these cognitive limitations? In fact, based on Piaget’s theory, it seems logical to infer we may still not have all the pieces of the puzzle when it comes to perceiving ourselves and the world around us.

It practical terms, it does us no good to try to operate in the world on this premise. All we can do is use the information available to us in order to live. However, this idea that there is potentially much more to this world than we are able to understand is one that brings me comfort. This is my rather garbled attempt to emphasize the fact that faith may not be as groundless as I, myself, once thought. It allows me to more easily surrender to that unknown aspect of this universe and trust that, even when I don’t understand it, there is some higher purpose, or meaning to all of this. There is much more going on than my brain is capable of grasping. Perhaps death is the final stage of cognitive development.

Balance

The older I get the more I find myself conceding to the inevitable fact that life is a balancing act. No matter how much I strive to categorize everything into neat, tidy, consistent boxes, I’m never able to find even a single concept or scenario that doesn’t fluctuate or look utterly different from every angle. Part of my personal practice is trying to make peace with this amorphous, ever shifting, middle ground I’m constantly finding myself in.

It’s especially frustrating trying to find a place to rest when there seems to be no truly solid ground to land on. There are no definitive truths or unshakable facts. Ultimately it is always a choice that I have to make in every moment how I want to view things or where I’d like to focus my attention or perception. We can drive ourselves crazy trying to find a perfect answer or a single solution. With time everything changes and in response we must embrace that fluid nature within ourselves and move with the ebb and flow of life and consciousness.

I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards extremes. I’d even say a defining characteristic of mine is black and white thinking or an all or nothing mentality. I think to a certain extent we all fall into this trap from time to time. It feels unsafe, unstable, and unsatisfying to acknowledge that there are no hard and fast rules or concrete perceptions. Part of the balancing act is sitting with the discomfort of that truth, understanding that most states in life are not mutually exclusive. We have the space inside us to hold it all simultaneously. We can be both happy and sad. We can believe we’re right and understand why others may view us as wrong.

Another difficult aspect of balance for me particularly is when it comes to knowledge. There are some questions that we must accept never finding the answers for. We must cope with the possibility that we are not even asking the right questions. Living side by side with the unknown, the unknowable, is uncomfortable, to be sure. Any missing pieces sow seeds of such doubt in me that I can at times lose faith in my ability to perceive or know anything at all. If I don’t know everything, I quite likely know nothing. This is a duality I battle with constantly.

Balance itself implies that it cannot be held permanently. The idea of balancing evokes a sense of movement. It may create an image of someone slightly wavering or suddenly jerking in an effort to reclaim equilibrium. The quest and the pursuit of balance is a life long battle. This too we must learn to accept. A day will never come when the fear of falling will be absent. The pendulum of life will continue to swing both ways indefinitely, perhaps growing smaller in its repetitive arc, but never finding perfect stillness. While the impermanent and shifting nature of reality and consciousness can be overwhelming, discouraging, and frustrating at times, it is also something to be grateful for. The give and take of the universe is what makes it so alive, so fascinating, so engaging, so worth being a part of. You’ll continue to wobble and fall, but you’ll also find moments of exquisite peace and clarity made all the more poignant by the contrast. Don’t lose heart. You’re doing just fine, even when you find yourself falling.

5 Health Problems That Can Cause Bad Balance | SELF

Safety in Darkness

The colorless, odorless, sunless expanse of this long winter slouches over me, obscuring my heart, shrouding me in icy darkness. Happiness is supposed to come from inside, but if we are all one, doesn’t that mean this bitter cold is also inside of me? Freezing over a joy that only spring can defrost? There is a duality in my very nature that pulls me apart. It is never more apparent than when these alter egos emerge in the face of the changing seasons. I’ve learned my rising/ascendant sign is Gemini, and I feel it.

I can’t reconcile these two sides of myself into one cohesive whole. One version of me is optimistic, playful, lighthearted, full of light, laughter, hope, and joy. This is the me that fell in love with yoga, that weeps at the cruelties I’ve inflicted on myself, that finds blissful stillness in a meditative state, that breaths deep and easy, that finds comfort and safety in gratitude and compassion. This is the me that I was as a child, friendly, curious, open, loving.

When I became a teenager, I thought this part of me was lost forever. I saw it transmuted into a deep inky darkness that bled out and stained every part of my snow white soul. I anguished in the face of the life I saw before me. I learned to hate myself and nearly everyone else too. Reality seemed too unjust, too wretched, too heavy to bear. Many days I cursed myself for being a coward and not bringing it to an end all together. Living and dying both seemed unacceptable and I felt painfully caught in between the two. This self found comfort only in nihilism, in darkness, in the thought of burning it all down some day. I wrapped myself in this darkness and lived in it for years, believing it would be my home forever, or at least as long as I could last.

When I found yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and other self-love practices it was like the sky cracked open and the bright light that shined on me in my early days had returned to me. I couldn’t believe it was possible. I had never thought I would set down the heavy weight of my inner burdens again for even a moment. Each breath was taken into brand new lungs, supplying oxygen to a transformed mind. I was so grateful to be freed from myself, to come back to who I had always hoped I might have been. And just like before, I thought this too would be a permanent and lasting shift.

It is so hard to slip back into the darkness again from that place of peace and light. I feel myself grasping for it even now. In this black, starless night, it is impossible to believe that the sun will rise again, to convince myself to keep moving forward. Harder still is understanding the strange pleasure I derive from the very darkness that plagues me. Part of me enjoys this thick, inky hopelessness. Somehow there is comfort in the weight pressing me into the dust. I find sick joy in the nostalgia of it all, in feeling like this helpless, worthless thing.

It feels nice to indulge myself, to let myself be crushed. I am repelled by my uplifting, spiritual practices, by the very light that I desire. I cradle my wounded heart in sad, despairing songs. I savor the salty taste from licking my long jagged wounds. Despite the pain, it feels more right in the darkness than it ever has in the light. It feels more true. There is no more imposter syndrome. I belong here it seems. It’s easier to identify with my suffering than with my joy in many ways, an energy flowing downstream instead of against the current.

Despite this odd sense of coming home to myself, I’m afraid of resting here. Even though it feels nice to nestle into my inner darkness, I fear if I stop here, I’ll never again find the light that I know I still need. Even so, for now I think I’ll lie my head down for just a moment and give myself permission to rest.

The dangers of duality — Tantrik Studies