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A Community of Individuals

by on April 12, 2013

                                              A Community of Individuals

 “The meeting of Psychotics Anonymous will now come to order. One person in attendance; we have a quorum”.

                                       by Marco M. Pardi

While I was facilitating a Metro Atlanta group for people recovering from and/or interested in Near Death Experiences the conversation was growing stale.  Not long before this group came into being I had several times visited the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.  Having spent primary school and prep school years in monastic schools, I was familiar with the social structure of these institutions.

Still, I was impressed anew when I perused the excellent bonsai shop and gardens and listened in while two or three monks tending the plants discussed theological issues on levels far removed from the orthodox, learn by rote teachings characteristic of school systems. Remembering this, I contacted the monastery to seek permission for the NDE group to meet there in the company of any monks who would join the conversation. Certainly, men who spend their lives in contemplation of the nature of existence would be a valuable resource.

Having gotten permission, our group met there. And, it was in this initial meeting that I met Brother Mark Dohle, a man a few solar years younger than me but essentially timeless. Other monks were also there and the NDE group quickly settled into a candid exchange with all of them.

Afterwards, several of the group expressed to me their surprise at the warmth and complete openness of the monks, some essentially saying that they were expecting a bunch of dour, self-flogging introverts with candle wax on their sandals.

Mark stood out. He radiated the timelessness of a mystic. Of course, he would be quick to clarify that while he could be described by that word, he would preface it with Christian, in the specifically Catholic sense. But labels, mine or his, are irrelevant when engaging this most unusual man, a man who is smart, intelligent, transcendent, poetic, and genuinely empathetic with all life.

Knowing Mark provides an ongoing reminder that there is within me a great “What if?” Throughout turbulent decades, pulsing like a quasar (QSO – quasi-stellar object), imitating the expansion – contraction of the Hindu universe, I knew I had within me a portal to……to what?  As children we discover that a telescope enables us to look deeply into the “out there”. And, a microscope likewise enables us to look very deeply into the “in there”. But what if we are both instruments at the same time? What if we realize that we are at the crux of a great X; looking up into open vastness is the same as looking down into open vastness. With an electron microscope we discover that the most minute sub-atomic particles which make up the hardest substance we know are actually further apart from each other, relative to their size, than the stars of the universe. This body I slosh around in is almost entirely empty space. As the years pass I can watch the particles change places and replace themselves, ever more poorly from one perspective and as they should be doing from another.  

Another aspect of knowing Mark is relating to his particular focus. I’m sure some find it odd that I would feel so close to a self professed Christian, especially one who has so manifestly dedicated his life to this view. Some would cite the Dalai Lama’s reference to Siddhartha Gautama’s advice: All paths lead to the same place. That is a manageable concept when there are few paths. But the appearance of few paths is superficial, a casual veneer at best. Let’s lay out a square, empty but for a point in the center of the interior space. Now a line, bisecting each of the four ninety degree angles is drawn from the corner to the point. We label the lines; Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam leaving us with a square divided into four equal triangles. Are we done drawing paths? Of course not. We quickly realize that we must subdivide each triangle with a line from center base to the point to account for more major paths. Closer scrutiny of world systems, and denominations within each of the major paths means yet more bisecting, more lines. In reasonably short order, our once spacious square is now completely filled in. No single path is discernible. Indeed, the central point has disappeared. How, then, to say any one path is more valid for me? Indeed, how then to say, in the absence of a point, that we have anything other than a commonality of search without a goal?

Notice too, that each of those now merged lines represents a system of thought, not an individual. Some systems number their adherents in millions, even billions. What reasonable person would propose and defend the assertion all (fill in the blank) think exactly alike? Furthermore, what person knowledgeable in psycho-linguistics would agree that it is even possible to determine if any two people think exactly alike? The answer to the former, sadly, might be many; the answer to the latter would be none. So our square is now not only solidly filled in, it’s getting several inches deep with ink as each of the approximately 7 billion people on the planet follows what they think is their path.

A college psycho-linguistics professor friend, who was equally qualified in higher mathematics, told me of statistical formulae which could, with varying probability, predict the next word out of a person’s mouth. The closer to the end of the utterance (“sentence”) the higher the probability. People who have been couples for years are often observed to “finish each other’s sentences”. That may be cute, but does that mean they think alike?

The linguist Noam Chomsky developed a framework he called “Transformational Grammar”. In this system the lingual psyche is divided into two parts: Surface structure, and deep structure. Chomsky’s framework, which he has since discarded as inadequate, is far too complex for discussion here. But, it does allow us to abstract concepts at the heart of the community – individual paradox.

Seeing the deep structure as the reservoir of feelings, impressions, and ideas we can then see the surface structure as containing the lexicon of terms from which we label those deep structure denizens. The first transformation takes place in the self; one has a feeling and one attempts to label that feeling. Since a feeling cannot be directly passed to another person, only the label is passed.  The listener takes the label into his/her surface structure and attempts to match it with a feeling, or a memory of a feeling in their deep structure. The end result is some inane utterance such as, “I know just how you feel”.  Really? How does one know the parameters within someone else’s deep structure when all that can be produced are surface structure labels for parameters we presume we share? I cannot give you my feeling; I can only give you a report that I am having a feeling. This in itself may be untrue, as any survivors of romantic relationships can attest. Or, your interpretation of what I am feeling may be totally different from mine, as any survivors of first dates may attest.

And so we come to the 600 pound mystic in the room (which describes neither Mark or me).  Mark is an intensely introspective person, living the life for which monasticism was designed. He often shares his insights in remarkably candid and sometimes painful ways. I am, at least in appearances, a person involved in a myriad of secular interests and activities. My brother once commented that I was an extrovert. I passed on the opportunity to explain that I am really just a clever introvert, providing a public persona to deflect people while I live, if not peacefully at least privately in my own universe. My interaction with Mark often reminds me of Hermann Hesse’s classic Narcissus und Goldmund.  Seemingly a story (and a deeply shattering one at that) of the deeply introspective cloistered monk, Narcissus and his opposite, the profligate and worldly Goldmund, it is really an unfolding of the deeply embedded counter-currents within one struggling person. Temptations and shortcomings agonized over by Mark; deep longing for ultimate centeredness by Marco.

Our community is the shared struggle, not the words, not the tactics.  But each can sense the struggle in the other. And each can wish the other well, whatever that means.

Know what I mean?     

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18 Comments
  1. Dana permalink

    Marco, thank you for sharing this about Br. Mark. He is indeed sometimes painfully honest, yet introspective in a very public manner through his writing. He is also one of few individuals I have known (though I haven’t yet met him in person) who is not only comfortable sharing his own path, but also able to say “I don’t know.” I admire him for these and other reasons.

    I recently had someone claim that I’m a “hypocrite” because of my saying that I always gain something from what Br. Mark shares. I could not have disagreed with them more. This to me is the ultimate mystical experience. As a non-theist, I wholly appreciate that I can be extremely moved walking through National Cathedral or the woods. The experience and the environment, although seemingly different, are very much the same to me. Know what I mean?

    I am uncertain what “ultimate centeredness” might be, nor if we can ever actually attain it. However, the closest I do come to “feeling” what I think might be fulfilling this goal is when I am completely alone outdoors (although my dog can come along for the ride). The more secluded the natural environment, the better. This may be my personal experience only, but I do wonder what it all “means.”

    Dana

    • Thank you, Dana. I very much, and deeply felt your words as they moved into feelings for me and became very meaningful. Marco

  2. Rose Palmer permalink

    You say what I mean in such an elegant way: all roads lead to Rome, and all paths have validity for those who tread them in search for individual truth. None of us have had the same life, and because everything we experience is filtered through the memory of everything else we have ever experienced, it is impossible for any one of us to truly know what the other is feeling or thinking. Two people standing next to each other are not seeing, hearing, thinking or feeling the same thing for just this reason.
    I seek truth in all that I do. Thank you for being such a vital part of my current reality. Rose

    • Thank you, Rose. I’m reminded of the many intense and meaningful conversations we had years ago, and miss that part of those days. Marco

  3. Lory Nakamura permalink

    i think i already posted a comment on this elsewhere, but let me add that i really enjoyed getting to know how you met Brother Mark !
    i do agree with all that you and Dana said about him.
    i myself love reading his essays and they move me exactly because of this honesty, simplicity of heart you feel in there. but, my ! they take you to a higher level for sure !
    thank you for sharing, Marco.

  4. Lory Nakamura permalink

    I`d love to !!!

  5. My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

    Reblogged this on Ethereal Beings In My Life and commented:
    This blog post was written by our dear friend, Marco Pardi. I think that parts of this post add on to our post from yesterday, God-In-A-Box. The rest of this blog post is delicious food for thought! That is what we love about Marco! Always giving us something to think about!

    • Thank you, MJ. I’m glad you found it valuable. I’m slogging through 300+ emails right now, and will detour to those from your blog. There is a harmony in our blogs. Marco .

      • My Journey Out of Darkness permalink

        Yes, there is! I love that!!!

  6. Wow. I know what you mean. (Wink, giggle)
    Thank you. Poetic. Wondrous. Pleasure to read. Reblogging. Grateful.

    • Mark is an intensely introspective person struck me in particular… as I once intended to make my way into Tibet and become a Buddhist monk. Not a nun, mind you, though I would’ve been referred to as such, but my ideal was monk. Funny, huh? Ahhh, my life.

    • Thank you, Monique. I’m so glad you found it worthwhile and I’m happy you have joined in. I could try to think of something clever in response to your:”I know what you mean”, but – hey – you know what I mean. Marco

      • Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be. Whisper words of wisdom. Let it be. (Your words inspired this.)

  7. Reblogged this on DiviNation and commented:
    Love this. Just read and enjoy, if it lights your fancy. Much love for you here.

    • Thank you for re-blogging this, Monique. I hope you will share with us any responses you receive. Marco

    • Thanks, Monique. That song often roams my mind. Many people thought “Mother Mary” referred to the Mary in the Jesus story. In fact, it was the name of Paul McCartney’s mother. Anyway, I thought that amusing.

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