Discussion of Impermanence and Analysis of the poem “The Quest”

Poetry is an art form that not everyone appreciates. Poems take leave of everyday consciousness and strive to convey something deeper. In that sense, they are like dreams. Dreams are just as truthful as everyday life, if not more so. But the language is distinct. The language consists of symbols, images, and emotions, not logic. Words and logic often cover up what’s really going on inside of us. Words and logic allow us to lie to ourselves and overlook our own destructive patterns. But when we close our eyes and dream, go into meditation, or write a poem, the truth comes to the surface – a truth that is difficult, impossible, or simply too painful to convey in normal parlance.

 

The following poem spoke to me because, in the course of 44 words and 2 paragraphs, it depicts the pain of Impermanence, the fruitless pursuit of worldly happiness, and the inevitability of death. The poem presents the haunting image of a ghost-like speaker who represents all of us:

 

The Quest

by Georgia Douglas Johnson

 

The phantom happiness I sought

O’er every crag and moor;

I paused at every postern gate,

And knocked at every door;

 

In vain I searched the land and sea,

E’en to the inmost core,

The curtains of eternal night

Descend – my search is o’er.

 

Happiness is indeed a “phantom” when we search for it outside of ourselves. There is nothing and no one that will never disappoint, or die, or change. That is the nature of existence. Buddhism describes it succinctly as “suffering.” Everything is subject to the law of Impermanence. Refusing to accept that is the root of all suffering. Embracing it is the beginning of wisdom and true happiness.

 

“Pausing at every postern gate” and “knocking on every door” describes the average person’s life before accepting Impermanence. We are convinced that the next set of achievements, acquisitions, or associations will be the key to lasting happiness. We think that once we graduate and move out of our parents’ house, once we get that perfect job, once we get married, once we have kids, once the kids move out, once the kids have kids, once we retire – then we will be happy and content. We repeatedly pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off when each person, each thing, disappoints us in some way. When the perfect job ends or becomes a bore; when the perfect spouse – “our rock and best friend” – betrays us or becomes a bore; when the kids turn their backs on us, embarrass us, or disappoint us, we then feel cheated by life. We convince ourselves that everyone else is happier than we are. All those glowing Facebook posts and grinning selfies can’t be wrong. Why can’t we find “it,” whatever “it” is?

 

The poem’s speaker realizes at life’s end, when the “curtains of eternal night/descend” at death, that the pursuit was “in vain,” pointless, a fruitless set-up. This does not have to be our fate, however. We do not have to wait until we’re on our deathbeds to realize that happiness is within, not “out there.”  Once we accept that life contains suffering, and that the suffering is caused by Impermanence, we can love life for what it is, rather than for what we want it to be.

 

Knowing that the people, things, and circumstances around us are impermanent allows us to appreciate them in the Now. They are precious because we have no idea how long we will have them. The sad things take on a less painful charge because we know that negative circumstances pass; they do not remain forever. This is how we achieve non-attachment.

 

Non-attachment does not mean that we don’t care. It means we look at life the way we watch a movie. Our emotions are real for the 2 hours we’re in the theater, but the whole time we know that it is a movie; it will end. When the lights come on, we stand up and move on to other things. The painful scenes in the movie pass away, and the happy or funny parts also pass. Yet we still enjoy it. We are fully invested for the 2 hours we are there. We can do this with life.

 

Life is a movie of every genre, and we are the lead actors. Let’s play our parts well, knowing that the great Oscar in the sky is the knowledge that the Love we leave behind is the only thing that’s real.

 

Peace and love,

Raven

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Happy Litha!

Merry Meet! (Greetings)

Today marks the beginning of the second half of the year in which the Dark God of the dying year overtakes the Sun God. The days will become shorter, but, in the meantime, the weather becomes warmer and brighter. The harvest is coming and the days are still long, bright, and full of potential adventure. Today, Light and Dark are in perfect balance.

This is a great reminder that we are the ones who label light “good” and dark “bad.” In reality, Light and Dark are both Good, and very Good. Both are necessary. Both are beautiful. Each one has its own work to do.

Likewise, all that exists inside and outside of ourselves – that which we brag about and that which we keep hidden – are all One. All of it is good. Everything that has ever happened has been stirred up and baked into the ongoing recipe called You and Me.  When we are living lives of Purpose, all things work together for our individual and collective Good.

So, enjoy Summer Solstice and all that it represents.

Blessed Be,

Raven

Yule: a time of self-reflection

Yule is a beautiful time of year.  After winter solstice, the days get longer and the nights shorter. The sun god takes over, and the chill of winter slowly retreats. The longest night of the year is symbolic of our inner journey. The deep recesses of our sub-conscious give birth to all our conscious thoughts, words, and deeds. So, going within and training the sub-conscious is a necessary component of mental housekeeping. The season of Yule inspires within me a strong desire to strengthen my inner goddess, to midwife the birthing of a better, more authentic me.

Yule is a time of renewal, re-dedication, making plans for the upcoming year, reaffirming my values, re-committing to the people I want to be connected with, and distancing myself from those who do not have my best interests at heart. It is a time of introspection and self-reflection. It’s a time for noticing what seems to be trying to emerge in my life, and making those changes welcome. There are several things that seem to be trying to emerge in my life right now. I am committed to figuring out how I need to expand in order to allow these things to come forth in my experience.

One of the things that is trying to emerge is an expanded view of love. Often, what passes for love is selfish and self-centered. We go about our lives in a perpetual state of insecurity which we attempt to prop up by surrounding ourselves with other people. However, these people often do not feel free to be themselves because we are using them to achieve something, to protect ourselves from feeling fear, to prevent ourselves from feeling loneliness, or to puff up our own ego-image in the eyes of others. This is not love. To love someone, we must conduct ourselves in such a way that the beloved always feels entirely free to be themselves. We must be committed to their happiness, in the way they define it for themselves. We must be dedicated to relieving their suffering, in whatever way they experience it. This is how I want to be. I want to be a better Lover.

Conversely, another thing that is trying to emerge in me is an expanded way of dealing with people I do not love. It is normal for us humans to want to protect ourselves from people who hurt us, reject us, wish us harm, complain about us, or otherwise cause us irritation and pain. I am no different. Lately I have been confronted with the unhappiness of having to interact with someone who has given me no reason to like them, but who, through circumstance, I have to learn to get along with. Either that, or change my circumstances. Since changing my circumstances would bring about its own level of pain, and since I am on a spiritual path that purportedly allows me to deal with such things, I am choosing to face this issue head on.

Against my Lower Nature, I made an appointment to meet with this person soon. My spiritual practice has been my agent of “tough love” – the knee in my back forcing me to stay engaged when everything in me wants to retreat.  But this is real practice. This is the flip-side (and true test) of True Love. It is easy to love those who love us. But what do we do with those who don’t love us? If we can find a way to love them anyway (or at least put up with them), our practice is working. If we can’t – well, we’ve got more work to do!

Another aspect of Love that is trying to emerge in me is Understanding. In order to love others properly, we have to understand them on a deep level. Often we do for others what we want to do, not what they actually want us to do. We often don’t even listen to people deeply enough to discover what they truly want. People suffer silently, keeping their real desires and needs to themselves, thinking that this is just how life goes. However, if we really love someone, we will go out of our way to understand them.

One thing I’ve been wanting to understand more deeply is gender, and the experience of transgender folks. I don’t know what it feels like to be at odds with the body I was born in. It must be, at times, quite a lonely and confusing experience. I cannot truly say that I love transgender or gender non-binary folks until I understand them better. The only way to understand anyone is to listen. Really listen. I’ve got a long way to go, but with my intentions set, I feel ready to embrace the more authentic version of myself that is trying to emerge. This is part of the beauty that is Yule.

So as we continue to enjoy this season, I hope we can all go deep within and discover the undiscovered self that is trying to emerge. Yule is a time for self-reflection, a time for seeking inner-guidance, a time to embrace those who are near and dear, and a time for gratitude and optimism.

Happy Yule and Best wishes for the rest of the 2016.

Blessed Be,

Raven