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Introspection

by on June 16, 2020

Introspection

by Marco M. Pardi

Everything can be used as an invitation to meditation. A smile, a face in the subway, the sight of a small flower growing in the crack of a cement pavement, a fall of rich cloth in a shop window, the way the sun lights up flower pots on a window sill. Be alert for any sign of beauty or grace. Offer up any joy, be awake at all moments, to ‘the news that is always arriving out of silence.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, as quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

Can one be a saint if God does not exist? That is the only concrete problem I know of today.” Albert Camus, The Plague.

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The past few months have certainly brought us opportunities for introspection. The suddenly growing specter of a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus, particularly dangerous to those with underlying conditions and/or challenged immune systems; the simultaneous dismantling of air, water, and food safety regulations by a regime which likely will attempt to steal another national election; and, the national explosion over the growing paramilitary actions of institutions we once called “police” have battered us from every side. But in the spirit of Nir Vana (Sanskrit: beyond wind) it is possible to find oneself in a spontaneous state of timelessness and omnipresence in which we hear our Larger Voice issue the challenge: WTF am I doing here?

Each of us has likely had these moments. I’ve had many; probably some curmudgeon psychiatrist would say, Too many. I do remember many of them and I’ve learned to differentiate them from the rather two dimensional visuals which are pleasing but somehow not fulfilling. Lying on my back on the Sahara Desert, looking up at the stars crowding the night sky was pleasing. But it was Me here, Stars there; not a state of timelessness or oneness, especially when listening for any approaching dangers.

On the other hand, I was dispatched to do a job in a city in the very far North. Unforeseen circumstances required me to extend my stay by a few days so I took the car that had been provided for me and drove into the mountains on the northern edge of the city. Acquiring a map would have drawn unwanted attention, so I just drove. It seemed I must have been the first person to ever use this narrow road; I saw no other vehicles or any signs of humans anywhere. Coming out of a mountain pass I suddenly saw the road drop away to an impossibly vast expanse of snow, earth, and sky. Awestruck, I found a place to conceal the car from the road and walked to an outcrop where I could experience the vista without the sight of the road or the ticking of the car losing heat in the frigid air.

As I sat still on a boulder I at first saw a sight like what is depicted in popular science articles of other planets. I almost looked for two moons, or another sun, a nearby planet. And some “where”, some “time” it was no longer two dimensional. I was in it with everything I could see, and everything I could not see. I was in it long before it took form and long after it dissolved. I was I, and I was i I was the Cosmos beyond time and space, and I was a sub-atomic particle on a dirty speck on the fringe of a minor galaxy moving among billions of galaxies through space. But where on that spectrum do I find myself, the bag of meat I shuffle around in, the “skin encapsulated ego” as Alan Watts described it? Am I just the collection of experiences as they flash through my present and become my past? If so, would that mean I’m just living in the past despite my affirmations to the contrary?

The United States, indeed the world, is having to confront its brutal past, even the fatal shooting that happened just a few nights ago in Atlanta. Many people would take offense at my placing it in the past, but it is. The effects are in the present, not the action itself. And our reactions, which are part of those effects, will become our past. Will they define us as we move into an indefinite future?

Sarah Moss, an outstanding author and instructor of Creative Writing, happened to publish in the June 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure magazine a relevant article. Writing of her move from Cornwall (England) to Coventry (England) she speaks of the transformative power of creatively melding memory with present experience.

Coventry was brutally bombed by the Germans in World War II. The post War rebuilding was hastily done, seemingly searching all the while for a modern form. Thoughts of Cornwall kept coming to Sarah, but she realized one day in Coventry, “I needed to learn to enjoy the place for itself rather than picking out what reminded me most of where I wasn’t.”

She tells of an exercise she uses in her writing workshops: “Go outside…. and find something….a leaf…a stone…a discarded item. ….think about how it grew, or was created, where it began, and what it carried to you.” Her message is almost identical to that of Buddhist Mindfulness.

She goes further and tells us of the 14th century cathedral destroyed in the bombing of Coventry and contrasts its standing remains with the attempts to raise a new city around it. In effect she asks, do we want to erase the past? Or does denial of trauma achieve only repression? Yet in looking at the new buildings she sees the hopes of craftsmen haunted by their past but bringing (some) wartime developed technologies to “a new and better purpose”. She sees that something from the past she asked us to pick up and she learns to appreciate its present.

I remember, as a young boy, walking through the streets of Firenze (Florence) looking at the walls of residences and the sprays of deep pock marks left by heavy machine gun fire, the cracked and broken streets never designed to withstand the crushing weight of the steel treads of armored tanks, all looking as fresh as if they had been gouged there the previous night, not six years before. The legacy of a nation which had submitted to the Siren call of Fascism. Ah, but the economy was rebuilding, repair crews were in the streets, the tourists were coming….to look at treasures remaining from previous centuries and checking them off their lists of must-see. Musn’t let them see the scars of yesterday, the horrors of an earlier childhood.

No one can seriously say our present is pleasant to look at, that it’s an immense vista which invites us into a future of oneness and harmony. But here and there, perhaps obscured just now behind the burning building, that flowing cloud of tear gas, or those waving signs there are those testaments of efforts made over the years on our behalf. They are the rights which still stand even as the courts are increasingly stacked with those who would curtail or obliterate them. They are the institutions which, though chipped and pockmarked by repeated assaults, safeguard our generation and provide for the development of those which will follow.

The regime currently in power in the United States continues to mercilessly assault and bomb the Integrity of the United States, once the cathedral for the aspirations of so many around the world. But come November we will have choices to make: Will we allow the past to become our future? Will we obliterate – repress our past? Or will we marshal the craftsmen who can remold our cathedral into a testament of honest memory upon which we can build a better future? A mistake made is not something to be forgotten; it is a touchstone for assessing and measuring our efforts to make a progression, not a repression.

Grasp the reality we now live in. Understand what has brought it to us. Craft a more pleasing future from it. But don’t pretend it never was.

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12 Comments
  1. From Ray: Marco – HIstory should not be lost – should we wish to learn from it we could – but do we really? There will be more Trumps in our future – or rather the future of those who follow us. Or maybe, as the man on the corner holding the sign says, the end is near.

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  2. Thank you, Ray. In my lifetime we seem to have lurched from one event, one crisis, to another. We are often faulted for short memories, but hopefully we will finally move forward honestly and creatively.

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  3. From Ellie: I have these moments when I’m hiking or driving – admittedly depersonalization while operating a 3,000lb vehicle is not ideal.

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  4. Thank you, Ellie. I’ll watch for your vehicle when I’m on the road. But I do think we all do that to a certain degree.

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  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, today I felt transported to the boulder with you. My own experiences with Oneness can be recalled in vivid detail and are often brought about by something overwhelmingly beautiful. But they aren’t always so; I once had a very meaningful connection with a potato I had picked out in the produce section of a grocery store. I found myself suddenly marveling at how humble it seemed to be as it sat in my hand, and “time” was suspended. As always, I have no idea what might be going on around me or how I might appear to others. In the moment it never matters.

    As I finished reading this outside on my lunch break today, I experienced a series of remarkable connections that are impossible to describe. And immediately before I walked back into my chaotic workplace, I happened to notice a glorious red petunia thriving in a sidewalk crack. The synchronicity brought a smile.

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    • Thank you, Dana. These moments are wonderful as they happen. Remember “the wonder years”, when we were children and could goof on a puddle or an array of fallen leaves? But in our increasingly dangerous world today we cannot allow ourselves to “escape” to these moments as if those threats do not exist. We must know the threats, understand the threats, and use our wisdom to reshape them into opportunities for beneficial growth.

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  6. Julie permalink

    Hi Marco, this sums it up perfectly
    “A mistake made is not something to be forgotten; it is a touchstone for assessing and measuring our efforts to make a progression, not a repression.”
    There is lots of talk here at the moment about “deleting” history by way of removing statues, movies, renaming places etc as they are connected with people, beliefs and events that are negative. Your words above is how I feel about it, we are all here to learn and grow and evolve, and the reminder of events left behind are there to teach us and so we can see our progress.

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  7. Thank you, Julie. Yes, the removal of history, albeit unpleasant at times, is a double edged sword. To paraphrase that famous statement, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

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  8. Life is so surreal right now; the harder society tries to return to normal, the more I wonder whether that normal really existed. I’ve always been a thinker and a daydreamer; the world goes on around me while I live inside my own head. Isolation has changed my outside world, but not my way of being. I seem to see what’s around me more clearly, and without my usual sources of socialization, I am motivated to do something about what’s wrong with it. I’ve even started speaking my mind, which has been quite the experience.

    The world opened up too soon. It was done for financial and especially political reasons, and it is all the more dangerous because so many people don’t seem to realize that we aren’t safe out there. I’ve taken to reading every thing I can find about COVID-19, and the real danger to our world, Drumpf. The reports from his Tulsa rally amuse me, but I wonder what he will do in retaliation. I can’t see a narcissist like Drumpf letting it go without some concrete response. Despite what has been said, I imagine that tired old man who walked off of Marine One became a furious old man with too much power and not enough soul.

    Keep your mask on, dear friend. Stay home when you can. It isn’t over yet, and I have a deep feeling that the worst is yet to come

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    • Thank you, Rose. I’m very much looking forward to your resumption of writing on your blog site. I worry when I don’t see new entries or comments from you as we both have underlying conditions which make us vulnerable targets for the virus, among other things.

      As you know, I have long been calling for preparation for coming chaos in November. The puppet may well be dethroned, but the hidden, and not so hidden puppet masters will remain in place. I share your deep trepidation over what is surely coming our way. But I often feel I’ve been beating the same drum and it has become little more than background noise for many, if heard at all.

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  9. Elizabeth Martinez permalink

    Your postings present a number of thought provoking questions and statements.

    Everything can be used as an invitation to meditation. I can identify with your experiences on this matter. I love my dogs, and when I am with them, I am completely in the moment. There are no thoughts running through my mind. It’s an oasis. A mystic said that thinking is the recycling of the data already gathered via our senses.

    You state that this administration has assaulted the integrity of this country. Indeed. The CDC officials succumbed to the administration’s pressure by agreeing that children should go back to school at this time when the country has reached almost 4 million Covid cases and still climbing. Talk about a loss of integrity! I’m happy I’m not a student, parent or teacher right now. May the Force be with them.

    Will we make a progression? I have no idea. It normally depends on how many “woke” people there are when the opportunity presents itself. Just recently, people accepted Gay marriage and people from all backgrounds are demonstrating in the streets for Black lives. Who knew?

    When we identify with something, we tend to justify and defend it. If we understand that we really don’t belong to anything, we can transform our lives . Otherwise, as a mystic said, someday we will get this understanding from the maggots.

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  10. Thank you, Liz. You remind us that, for the first time in our collective memory we are living in an unknown world. The word Chaos is frequently used to describe it, but chaos is just another word. And imagining the outcome is just that, imagining. In the end, the maggots always win.

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