"Searching for the Silences of My Soul"
Outside in the park, I could echo any sound I heard. After I heard a bird call, my mind could replicate the sound perfectly, as if the vibration left a ripple in my head that I could recall. But could I echo the silences of my soul?
I could describe to you and articulate most things I could see in the park to try to give you a sense of the beauty. Instead of saying “it was spring and it was noon and there were a bunch of trees,” I could say “I felt nature animated and colorful like a Disney cartoon. The harsh midday light accentuated the light colors of green leaves, purple wildflowers, and endless light blue sky, and the perpetual chirping of the various birds meant it was springtime in the park again. As I entered the forest, it was like entering a kingdom of sacred beauty that had opened its heavenly gates unto me. No other humans were in sight, and yet I didn't feel alone; it was all so alive. The forest was like one living, breathing organism; a nurturing mother, and I was going to nest in her for a short time. I didn't even feel as if I existed, I just felt like a floating eyeball. And yet all birds and flies and squirrels acknowledged my existence; I accepted them as my witnesses.
I could even articulate the pain in my leg I received from running too hard during my midday jog in the park. It felt like barbed wire had been thrown into a dire, left to char as embers encompassed its sharp nubs, and then was removed from the pit of flames and cast into my nervous system while still glowing orange. It even felt like someone had taken the time to tie this barbed wire around my veins and muscles and tie it in knots. Then, every time I put pressure on my right foot, it felt like someone was tugging on the barbed wire, squeezing my veins and nerves and muscles into my bones, so they all pressed together tightly, at chronic intervals. I could explain this to you, but it’s easy when compared to describing inner peace?
It wasn’t easy to feel like an apparition without transcending this. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, counting to make sure they were even. This didn't work out too well; saying “one” in my head could take me three seconds! Still, I began tuning out my thoughts with numbers as I tried to turn my concentration inward. Then the front of my brain got fuzzy, and I could feel it warming up. I let my consciousness take center focus of my attention and traverse my inner space. Was it possible to cancel out all noise? Where those stories of the Zen Buddhists true? Was it possible to meditate on nothingness? These questions entertained me, but after all the times of falling asleep in an attempt to search for the silences of my soul, I sincerely doubt it. What color is nothingness? Black? White? Did it look like a Rorschach ink blot? Is true silence achievable? I think they were bullshitting in order to have a good laugh at ignorant people who practiced meditation to feel trendy. But I did feel joy…if ignorance is bliss, I felt like one simple-minded savant. Could I begin to describe to you, or paint you a picture of how it felt to sit and meditate and feel the glowing depths of my soul?
How I ended up looking for homeostasis in suburban park has much to do with my confusion and rare moments of clarity as I look to become conscious of the presence of some kind of spirit- God, the Tao, the universe overwhelming me with comfort, whatever you want to call it. The first moment of clarity that tipped the scales toward a definitive belief in God that came from a sober experience happened a year ago, when I didn't know what to believe about God. It happened by the stage of my college coffeehouse café where I sang “We Shall Overcome” while holding hands with a circle of my peers and an old black woman. Born in 1917, she had struggled through oppression in the Mississippi delta, enduring hardships nobody ought to endure. She was dead, no doubt, but the actress who played her had channeled her spirit so precisely that early on in the production I had forgotten she was a twenty-four-year-old actress.
She looked like a seventy-five year old woman, with her cane and hunched back, and my eyes followed the slow shuffle of her feet. She had done her braided hair in the shape of a bun; it was jet black and appeared tough as rope. Nobody my age would dare attempt this hairstyle unless they were attending a nineteen-fifty’s throwback party. There was a look of stern confidence engrained on her face that could not suppress the age marks of painful experience. She had the old, worried wrinkled face and eyes of a woman who knows just what hard work is. Her parents had been sharecroppers, and she had to drop out of school at age twelve to support them. Those deep unflinching eyes seamlessly extended to the size of a dinner plate when she grew excited. Her dark brown skin was the color and texture of a chocolate covered raisin; I could see her pruny hands and wrist sticking out of the sleeves of an old-fashioned pink blouse covered in white polka dots and with ruffles on the shoulders. The blouse was cut off at the top of the knees and thick calves separated the blouse from white, high socks. The story of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was told in first-person, from the beginning- “I was born October 6, 1917…” By the end of the first fifteen minutes of the performance, I decided to let slip my consciousness of the illusion and took in the story as if the real Fannie was sitting there, weaving a story out of nothing but the yarn-ball of her memories. Her commanding voice seemed to draw its power from images of lynchings painted on the back of her eyelids. She turned her pain into strength, and with the authority of raw emotion, she was as righteous as a persecuted saint in Babylon.
And so I let the ghost of Fannie Lou Hamer slip into my mind and tell me her secrets through spoken word and African-American spirituals. I clapped along when she clapped, sang along when she sang, laughed when she laughed, and cried when she cried.
I’ll never forget- she struggled to speak as she recounted the story of her own near-fatal beating. Her bus was full of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee member as it hiked across the South to get black people registered to vote. It was never easy, and in one town, the police pulled her bus over and imprisoned everybody on board. The cops brought two young men, fellow SNCC members, into to her cell. Fannie Lou was made to lay face down as the young men were given nightsticks and forced to beat her. They beat her until she was a bloody pulp, even cracking her in the back of the head. They cried out as they carried on:
“Oh God, please forgive me!”
Fannie Lou was hysterical as she told us how she prayed she would die then and there; she told us this as she shook her fist in the air and looked through the ceiling and into the heavens.
“But God had bigger plans for me”, she said.
I was so angry I became dizzy; I couldn't speak because I knew anything I could say would be irrelevant in comparison. How the hell could this happen? I was crying and pursing my lips together as they quivered wildly. There was no doubt now that I was in the midst of a hero; an angel who had every reason to give up. And yet she still preached hope, among faith and trust in God.
Why did you keep faith? Where did that mind of yours disappear to- what fantasy world was there waiting for you when the world struck you a blow that left you for dead?
By the end of the show, she had come down from the low-rise stage to the small audience and requested everyone join hands in a circle, so we did; in all, about eleven of us. We were blind to color and creed, gender and sexuality, singing “We Shall Overcome” though I didn't know the words. We were united by a dedication to never let what happened to Fannie happen in our time, on our watch. The brave look on everyone’s face told me they had been transformed as well. There was no denying a flood of holiness that bonded our circle with a fellowship that was ours to never forget. I remember forgetting any doubts I had about God at that point. God had finally come to me because I was finally ready. As I clasped my neighbor’s hands I didn't realize it, but I was swinging my arms back and forth as I sang.
It was a feeling of being face to face with something larger than me- like how a bird must feel seeing me walk into the park where nobody else is around, and stare into its eyes. Except I don’t see anything bigger than me with my eyes but I was conscious of the presence of eleven hearts praying in unison, and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of childlike innocence. I mean, here I am, a twenty year old man who’s impulsively swinging his arms widely back and forth before he even remembers to feel embarrassed by it. I felt like a two year old meeting Barney the Purple Dinosaur, except Barney has this ancient wisdom of what it truly means to be alive; to have a pure emotion, or faith, hope and trust in an unseen, unconditionally loving creator. This was the collective good intentions of mankind multiplied by infinite but condensed into a drop of chemical liquid secretion that was now tickling my brain and sending chills throughout my nervous system. I was in the right place at the right time, the stars had aligned, and my soul’s purpose was budding in the soil of my consciousness. What I became aware of was how my shocked and wounded sense of broken security had rebuilt itself at the joined hands and voices of that famous spiritual. I had set logic and reason aside to get lost in a story and internalize the narrator’s emotion; that was my choice, and I always try to open myself up to the truth of a story and act is if it is actually happening in my heart. And now I had chosen to do something I never dreamed I was capable of- holding hands in a circle and sing a Christian spiritual, after a lifetime of a closed mind toward what I perceived to be the closed mind of organized-religion, and it felt natural. It was nature’s apparent ability to create order out of chaos, to reproduce itself, to grow and learn from itself and adapt and evolve; and most importantly, to heal itself. The lizard’s tail grows back when plucked. And Fannie Lou Hamer taught me faith, hope, and trust in God ain't nothin’ but a lizard’s tale, but you got to regenerate your own tail when life plucks it off. And sometimes regenerating a tale is the only way to perform this feat.
Maybe my soul is deep enough to contain both sorrow and joy; maybe I can’t see my soul because I’m looking to acknowledge something intangible when my soul really is tangible. I’d say my soul is always there, but it takes a response to an external stressor, like a story, a song, or nature to prove I am actually living out my soul. If ever you were a child full of awe and wonder, you can understand; the bird calls and the green grass before you is the manifestation of my soul; anything pure and natural, such as the unconditional love of a strong family; the truth of a child’s or a faithful and wounded woman’s speech; and the beauty of nature in all its symmetry. The universe is us living out our souls; it is the formal manifestation of its divine origin. The spirit is in forms, always; but in our mundane habit of going through the motions we forget that the dolls collecting dust and taking up space in our closet once provided hours of conversation and play; that the neglected pool in our backyard collecting algae once was the center of so much laughter when dad lost control of his tractor lawn-mower and headed straight into its surface. That movie once made me feel frustration at the criminal justice system; that poem gave me hope when I thought of hanging myself over unrequited love; that song sends chills down my spine because it captured being seventeen so completely, but it’s just a song, right? I think there’s an inherent nature in all things that can elicit a response in our self and remind us of why we’re here. There’s something comforting and glowing about some people that I think my life depends on being in their presence. The trees call my name as I sit in my dorm room, and dreams give me messages. And every now and then, one of the following events occur: stars align; I feel chills; messages make me stop breathing; parallel events happen in synchronicity; I have awe-inspiring daydreams; reality feels magical; I get lost in a moment; and time disappears. It often feels like my memory has put those moments in my life in my subconscious, thrown away the rest, and puts on a looped recording of all of my dreams and nightmares, experiences that thrilled me, moments of hitting rock bottom, and moments of glory. There is a part of me always alert, waiting to transcend the limits of mundane complacency; every moment, I am subconsciously looking to see if the chemistry of my soul can synch up with the chemistry of my surroundings in order to produce, in my mind, consciousness of its divine spirit.
A candle in the sun can think “I am the light!” all it wants, but nothing beats the experience of being a light unto darkness. For you don’t know what you haven't experienced, and the light must experience darkness in order to know what its purpose is. And we are the light. It’s not that we’re coming from anywhere or going anywhere. We’re still candles in the sun, but we have called upon the darkness of ignorance in order to know ourselves, and we forget about our nature and the sun and we get scared. All we need to do in order to bring the sun back is to remember these clouds of darkness are here because we depend on them to provide a point of reference so that we might know ourselves as light in relation to it. These clouds of suffering, of ignorance, of fear, of lies—we can extinguish them, because that’s our nature. But somewhere along the way we forgot we were agents of God, like how when you're dreaming or tripping and you forget what you're experiencing isn’t real, but it seems real because that’s how powerful our minds our when they lose their reference point. Maybe the storm and stress got so heavy, and maybe we didn't know how to respond to it. Maybe we lost faith and denied we had a soul. But the light never went out, and it never does. Not even when we’re sleeping, unconscious or weeping. Not even when we die, because it is so determined to finish what it started. Now all we can do is look for the light in others—in the books we read, in our relationships, in our passions—maybe our souls are looking for themselves in other forms so that it finds a clean mirror, a mirror that tells the truth. Maybe that’s what love is, when two lights reflect each other luminously. We’re all sacred souls on a sacred journey, and in this way, the journey is the destination. That one point of beginning and end, of Alpha and Omega, that’s not where the drama and the comedy are—the beauty of the flower is in watching its lifespan, not by watching its point of zero-state.
All this I remembered as I basked in the light of the park. But it was easy to reflect on old memories—it wasn’t challenging me at all; I felt as if I wasn’t growing in the sunlight of my fuzzy happiness. It’s like an advanced Tetris player who is gaming on the “easy” setting. I decided to shape shift into bamboo so I could be skinny enough to thrive in the darkest regions of my consciousness. What unresolved conflict in my past would I find? I’ve described to you what my soul might look like, and it is light; but what about the darkness? Could the narrator in my head describe what was seen as I entered the wilderness’ underbrush called my unconscious mind?
In the thick, shadowy jungles, the unexplored territory lay just as pure as anything else. Yet I rarely have shown much light on it, except in my dreams or when my imagination runs away with me. Sometimes both attractive and repulsive thoughts of S&M and the ingesting of drugs and alcohol took me there and turned me into both gods and beasts for the time being. I often carried those desires into out-of-control extremes, so I am taking a sabbatical from drugs and mental pornography, hoping to find myself as able to exist without them. Maybe someday I shall return to their suffocating arms of irrational paranoia and temporarily satisfying and yet overall unsatisfying sexual scenarios, but that’s another story. I would in fact be writing about that if my meditation police hadn’t said “whoa, don’t go there!”
As I sat in the wilderness to meditate, I felt someone walk up behind me and tap me on the shoulder. “Are you on drugs?” the voice asked, with a concerned look upon her phantom face.
“I am drugs!” I cynically replied in my haste. What I meant to say was this:
“I am the child of a passionate night of intercourse between the minds of Salvador Dali and Lewis Carroll. The earth is a microscopic universe, and I am a microscopic earth; the difference between me and the universe and the earth being I have a brain that allows for the marriage of form and consciousness through the freedom and limitations of what it means to be human.
The earth is a child of the universe, and I am a child of the earth, making me a son of a son of a big bang. The offspring of the birth pangs of a red shift. I am made up of tiny universes as well.
I am also the son of God just as much as I am the son of man. I am Jesus and Krishna, but what makes me dangerous is my ability to deviate from enlightenment. I must say, we are all born enlightened beings, but then illusion takes over. My inner child is God and the insecure voices in my head are Satan; Satan writes most of my term papers. But this—what I’m doing now—is creative and pure, because meditation on something called the soul, and prayer with God the universe, that is childish. That means right now I am God. The Father and I are one, and I am honoring Grand Father Universe and Mother Earth by holding communing with them now. But once I’m back among my vulgar friends, I too will want to be vulgar and crude. I say things I don’t mean to be funny, because on the level of my lower appetites, I desire it. I’m a rebellious son- one minute I could be inspired by the Holy Spirit and speak Pure Truth; another minute I could be lying and leading you astray. Everything I say and do can either bring you to the Devil or God. I should just become a religious man, so people aren't confused as to what side I’m on, for you can never tell nowadays. I’m a hypocrite, baby! Everything I say and do, if you misinterpret it, will either lead you to the grave and push you in, or resurrect you from the dying bed you're lying in. My soul wants me to stop being a hypocrite, and every day, if I learn from my mistakes and if guilt and disgust moves me to change my habits, I will become a vessel for pure Truth, Love, and Beauty. One day at a time…I can only transform my deadly sins into their holy equivalent one day at a time.
But let’s not talk in such extremes. Everything I do is either in accordance to my virtues or my vices, yes. But the thing is, my mind lives on the beach, where my virtues and vices blend into each other. Take war for example: join the front lines of an infantry unit and see how handy your vices come in then, because I bet that everything society abhors in you will become necessary to cope with the everyday reality of evil and death. Society, those tribal moralists, they call what is good for them ‘righteous’ and what is bad for them ‘evil.’ But evil needs to exist in order for good to exist. And in war, the dark side of us may very well indeed become our best friends, because listening to it will keep us alive. You see, a virtue can easily become a vice, and vice versa, given the right conditions. That’s why you’ll see me throwing my vices into the sea of virtues, just hoping someone will see that even my faults are the products of my good intentions. This shoreline of ambiguity is where I do my best thinking.
The most religious thing I can do, rather than be a hedonist or a monk, is to live my life the middle way. To strive for that balance between peace and adrenaline, between love and fear of the enlightenment I am fully aware of and the enlightenment I forget in my ignorance.
We are the light looking at itself in a mirror with dust all over it; but the dust of negativity cannot rot the core of our being, though it will give us the illusion of imperfection. But it is the dust that allows us to know the light for what it really is—the power of light is only realized in its obscuration.
When you have a fear of losing something, on some level you have already lost it. And when you aim high, you are bound to land among the stars.
And you’d be surprised of what you miss when you're not looking for it—and my awareness can only focus on so much; I am always blind to something. That’s why I’m here, in the shade of this thicket of bamboo, deep in the heart of the untrodden wilderness. Tell me spirit, what has not been done?”
She looked at my outstretched leg, which was tense and burning from jogging too hard, and she called forth the wind to massage it.
“You mustn't force your body,” she told me. “You must listen to what it is telling you. Sometimes it seems like you are slowed down, and you are too impatient to regain your autonomy, so you say ‘I AM in control’ and push too hard. But there was a part of your body that was meant to be slowed down, so it could rest. Don’t push it, child, don’t push it.
“Some parts of your body you was not MEANT to be in control over- such as pushing through pain when that pain is warning you not to push because it needs time to heal. That’s right, you can be in control over your tongue and your brain, even your penis, but before you came here, on this big beautiful earth, you carved out some lines that you just couldn't cross. It’s in your genes. And before that, when you and I were one, we carved out a line called pain. The gift of pain is as precious a gift from the Other Side as the gift of freedom is. Free will and freedom to create your own reality- that’s beautiful, and you own it. But you mustn't, in your haste to be yourself, lose control by trying to gain control—such as taxing your body’s limits and riding roughshod over the healing process. You can’t skip the quiet moments; sometimes you just got to slow down, stand still, or even go backwards. It’s part of the master plan—the limits you make here on earth and the limits you made before you got here have a reason for being. Pain, baby, and stress; you have to use it the right way. You got to use just the right amount of freedom in certain areas, and control in the others. Then you can fly.
It’s not so much quiet meditation that brings enlightenment, though reading an old book in a new light can bring out a new Truth you have missed. But listen to the longing of your crude, untapped power that hints at the invincibility of your strength, the limitlessness of your desires, the immortality of your soul and the infinite of your imagination. It seems impossible, reckless, and wishful, but isn’t that true for all dreams of glory?
There is a part of you that knows your beginning, middle, and even your end. But if you only reflect upon your self, you’ll be stuck in the middle. Some have been stuck there for a million years. Listen to the Truth of your pain and nightmares. Fear not the weeping ghost playing the piano in the attic of your mind, nor the humiliating horrors of your imagination. Reach your hand further into hell whenever you can, because once you are shocked, the worst is over; its transformation into heaven can begin.
Embrace those souls that seek you in their life, and play Jesus to the lepers. For you cannot save yourself; only through the pain and love shared with others can you be healed and find the courage to be reunited with your God-self entirely, and in doing so cast the doubting, whining, and whimpering part of you into the darkness where it belongs.”
Her words echoed in my head. Was she a ripple in time? She sounded a lot like me. I had considered these ideas before, but never had they so articulately been brought into existence using speech. Was she telepathic? I decided I might as well ask her the big question, then.
“Why am I here?”
“To be a painter, an author, a director, a composer—who comes to live inside his own beautiful painting, story, film, or musical for a while. To be in three places at once: to be the seed of creative thought behind all experience, to be the flower, the experience of the seed in the process of becoming itself, to be the conditions which inspire the seed to grow: the soil, the rain, the air, and the light. Don’t you see where your soul is now?”
My eternal soul, I whispered in a hushed and astonished voice. I am the planter and the planted. I am the universe, the earth, and the body. Right now, I remember that I make my own conditions- my perspective and attitude and understanding of life are all under my control. The soil, the air, the rain, and the light- faith, love, hope, and knowledge—they are all my choice; I choose to be conscious of the spiritual, and my destiny is a result of this choice because all I say and do will be in accordance to the lenses in which I view the world.
Just then, these lyrics to some Pink Floyd song passed through me: “All you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be.” That’s really humbling to me. God may be living vicariously through me, but I’m only a subjective experience of God. But all that I touch and all that I see, as long as I don’t stop believing, will ultimately bring me to where I need to be. It’s brought me here, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. As Fannie Lou might say, “Jesus’ blood ain't failed me yet!”
And that remembering brings my soul forth, in its purest essence, and I can see all that I can’t see with my naked eye; feel all that I can’t feel with my naked body; and perceive all I cannot perceive with my naked mind. I’m living out my soul by being conscious of it and meeting it halfway with faith. In doing this, I bring it the experiences it desires. My mind and body—instead of being slaves to themselves—can become tools for my spirit to express my soul’s longing. My soul’s longing is ultimately to know itself, and in doing this, will liberate itself. Could I liberate the universe, the earth, and my body by using only the dialogues between my mind and soul? I’ve seen artists liberate tree branches by turning them into instruments of paint brushing. Why couldn't I do the same with words? Why couldn't I paint the picture-perfect masterpiece behind my eyelids using language? I have this phantom voice in my head; she narrates my visions. My deliverance unto a higher state of divine consciousness is her goal. I will then be a vocabularist!