I was the sound of thunder over the tree line, the flash of lightning far off, and the sour twang upon the tongue before the storm. In the early night, summer hot, all the houses and their people were waiting. Excitement and grandiosity, tension and vibration; a toddler played on the porch steps with jacks and marbles; the lamp hung still and moths made noises like paper, burning. A wind, a scout sent forth from the storm, rustled the brush in the forest, and the boy looked up in fear of a monster. Nothing, but the wind.
I was the soundless prayer that came to you suddenly when your world closed down upon you. There upon that night with the windstorm rattling your jacket, as you walked the promenade and thought of your loneliness, I was the spur aside your soul that reminded you of higher longings. Nearly you had forgotten what you were, which was beauty unblemished and indestructible.
I was the sound of my brothers when they ran the Wyoming fields and yodeled at the Rockies. When the dry grass folded, the clouds hung low, the rain sheets fell, I was there with them as they huddled together. Have you seen them? Have you seen them walking in the twilight between the crab apple hedges? They look for Grandfather, who stared off into the West and then went there. They call for him to return. Father stares off into the West.
I was the sound you heard in the cemetery where you went to weep. In the flower garden, within the tulip bulbs, I was that sound. You heard me, didn’t you? You heard the soft fluttering and swore it was an illusion within your heart, like I was your heartbeat skipping with too much grief. You thought the sound of my call was nothing but an error in timing. Just nothing, you thought, and your tears fell down. But what if I said I existed and the sound you heard was my call? And that I was always there when man or woman wept near grave stones? Turn your head and listen. I shall tell you what I mean.
I was the sound of grief. A man once told me his life story and all the saddest parts. He did not flinch nor hesitate in the telling, but he did not share as if reciting stale text. There was heart in his speech and his eyes often watered and seemed to fire from within, until I wondered whether the four elements were first born in his eyes, for something earthy and something light as air also seemed to be in them. His words were simple and easily understood; I never was tempted to ask for clarification with any verse. I was wrapped in his story and felt its humanity and spirit. All the sadness and sorrow he said and I heard him well. But he did not weep. I wept for him. I was the sound of grief.
I was the sound of her heart. She lay in the backseat and, though she was a dog, the entirety of my being was with her. They came with a needle and injected her. I wondered what she thought when they came, whether she thought I was dropping her off at the kennel like all the times before when we had gone on family trips and she couldn’t come. I wondered if she knew there would be no more times like that, there would be no dropping off and no coming back to get her with her little butt wagging ready to go back home. I wondered if she knew she’d never go back home again. She’d never look out the window and wait for us. She’d never see the living room again, or the back yard, or the front steps. And at the last of her sounding heartbeat, I wondered whether I knew all those things were about to come true. I was stricken with grief.
I was the sound; finally I heard the shouts I cast out into the world. With disdain I accused him of cowardice. I told him he feared being original, because he feared what others would think of him. I told him that while staring off into the distance, while others stood and listened. Secretly I hoped they’d gathered for me; in my mind was my greatness. And he must thus be cast down to grovel too at my feet. How had I come to that, how had I lost my humility? Later I looked for it, and all I found was the sound of my own voice, repeating, repeating, repeating. I heard my harshness in my words to him. I heard the hypocrisy, oh what hypocrisy, in what I said. For where was originality? When had I ever braved public rebuke and placed my creative expression out upon the world for all to see? There was no book I had authored. There were no courageous comments or fearless opinions given. I was the king of hesitancy. My own voice was mostly silent, and when on rare occasion it did rise to become barely audible, it was done safely and with much second-guessing. Such a hypocrite was I to judge him for what I had never done! What do I do now, I wondered. What sound would I make next? Would it be the sound of shouting into the void, or would it be silence, the sound of reflection, repentance and self renewal?
I was the sound of his insincerity; the anger that rattled his voice gave me away. I was born from sufferings unaddressed, emotions unmaintained, presence lost. He didn’t see me coming, so don’t blame the fool. I had ensnared him so completely. He walked apart from others, he felt his isolation, and he thought there no reason to change. He’d long ago forsaken the promises he’d made to himself, those strong marks on the paper that proved that once, years ago when they were made, he’d had conviction. But it had faded away. He was becoming that old tired thing he was before the courage came. He didn’t even seem to care.
I was the sound of one hand clapping. All of the demands I placed on the world, all the arguments made, the criticisms, the advice, the wary words and slappy speak; I didn’t know that no one heard me, not even I, not even I . The claps were echoes and my hand wasn’t seen, how could I have known it was me? Today I heard the sound of one hand clapping, as I bitterly voiced my opinion against a fellow, not for the first time nor, forgive me, likely not the last. My mouth clapped and my sound went out into the void with intent for all the universe to hear my babbling. But, of course, no response came; there are no aliens in a void made by me. Do you see? If truly all That is This, then my clapping is meant to be heard by me, can only be heard by me. Forever and a day I have focused on the echoes. Today I saw the clapping was me. Perhaps tomorrow I shall see the invisible hands of my ego ghost applauding its own delusions. This is all babble speak, surely you do not understand, certainly you do not hear, but that is exactly to what I speak. What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is me.
I was the sound mind of the bunch, at least from my perspective. Mr. and Mrs. Lory spent the entire ferry ride peering into the water with wide virgin eyes as if they’d never seen water spoiled by moss scum before, Johnson Abby leaned propped against a wooden chair with his head back as if posing for Vogue, and Mrs. Felton would not shut up about the latest health reports on apple trees in the state of New York–“They say there’s a new breed of worm that is decimating the Macintoshes!”–while her husband, Mr. Felton, appeared to be dozing off while standing. If anyone approached my level of sanity, it was the young unnamed woman seated in the last row of bench seats. She appeared to be quite amused about my situation, and her eyes were the color of the sea and reminded me of my favorite brand of canned tuna. Not that I would ever say such a thing aloud of course. But I did love tuna.
I was the sound of you. I was your first cry, your first laugh, your first word. I was every moan and sigh and grumble. I was the shriek, the yell and the shout. Every utterance was I, every ramble, every rant and rave and babble. I was your voice, the rise and fall of it, already there before it was found. I was both the desperate tone and the calm verve. And I was your silence. I was there in the best nights when your breath was slow and relaxed and mindful and sleep took all the noises away, and I was there those nights when your breath was heavy and wet when loss screamed the end of the world in your ear. I was the whisper of hope and the tremble of doubt. I was the shared ideas and the argued conversation. I was the consoling talk and the encouraging response. I was the love you expressed to her lying in bed on a Tuesday in March with the sun on the sheets. And I was the grief of a million goodbyes; every one of those, I was there. I was your sound.
I was the sound of humanity, in the final moments, evaporating from existence. The boy heard; he was the last one left. He stood upon a gray hill with his Tigger held against his face, his eyes covered, so there was only darkness and the final sound. Close stifled breath, the warmth of an old stuffed animal, a little boy clutching imagination–ahh, humanity, you dear attempt–and then he was gone and no one remained to hear.
I was the sound of dishonesty. You thought yourself not the source? Those people you cursed were simply echoes; they were not me the true sound. I came from you. I came from your side-eye glances at the world, when you judged those in power and high places. I was the sound your sleeves made when you raised your crooked finger. Oh if it was not straight, but it was not! It bent back toward you. I was the sound of your hollering and your online jibber jabber. Did you think the Trump man dishonest? Oh yes, he was most definitely that. But where did you think his dishonesty began? Who bred the means that rose him where he was? Lower your finger, dear kin; I know why you point it. But listen to me now; listen to the sound of yourself. There is a veil across your eyes that smells of anger and venom, and until this veil is removed, your dishonesty will remain equal to his, and more of him will come. I do not blame you, I am sound and have no fingers to point, I only beg you hear me. Please take the time to hear me now. Put down your phone. Dear god, put down the phone.
I was the sound of a monarch butterfly carried aloft by continental winds and submitted to fate; toward that fateful day when all its wings and all the wings of its brothers and sisters are swept into a tray of dust and feathery crumbs and discarded; and thrown away, the wings and crumbs are uplifted once more into the jet streams–we all have submitted long ago, little do we know, and wait to be swept up.
I was the sound the man heard at four minutes past three o’clock on the first Thursday in July of 2021. He did not recognize me, for I was the death knell, and no one knows the sound of their own death. Do you know the last sound you will ever hear? I hope it be as fascinating as me, for I was unique and unprecedented and unfamiliar. One would think the best last sound would be something familiar, perhaps a baby’s cry that reminds one of his children, or the voice of a wife or sibling. Even the honk of a car horn, though likely frightening the pour soul about to be collided with, might at least bring a cheery memento of a childhood bicycle horn or a scooter owned in college. But no, I was nothing familiar or guessed at. I was more brilliant. I was stunning. I was life changing.
I was the sound of indecision, static, white noise, thinking somehow that I could decide my own future. Pshhht. I would have been better served just getting on with it. Pompous, cocky ego…
I was the sound of my ego deflating. I was a scream trailing off. And, sometimes, I still hear the echoes of me.
I was the sound of that which was around me. I was the sound of the battles that waged inside. Neither was louder than the other, because both sounds were I. Have you heard the young woman’s story of the hawk and the field? She sat in the grass weeping when the bird landed on a fence post beside her. She heard its talons gripping the wood, and its feathers ruffling, and the wind when it beat its wings and ascended back into the sky. “I was no longer weeping, neither inside nor out,” she said. “The hawk changed my sound with his.”
I was the sound of a broken heart; aortic gears clacking slower and slower as the machine took its final turn. When my heart stopped, from rust and wear and final malfunction, there was a great grinding but no sparks; the heart was damp and heavy. In my heart’s last efforts it sheared off what bolts kept it tied to me for so long, before it slipped into its final position over there, on the floor, gray and leaking. I have attempted oil to revive it; I have hammered and hit it with all my remaining force. But I am afraid all my power came from its turning wheels and sprockets, so what might I possibly do, but abandon my heart, and walk away with whatever remains? I do leave it; I leave with no grace, no confidence, no ambition. Something effortless and unmade now turns within me.
I was the sound of my self-esteem gone to shit. I was whimper and moan. I was sigh and squeak. I was the shuffle of unsure feet and the mumbling of hesitant speech. What unattractive sounds, what pathetic tones, what pitiful serious conversation… No. I am not those sounds. I am not!… I am the roar of my self-confidence! I am the battle cry of my warrior soul! I am the burning flames tossed with gasoline, the crackling of comets screaming across the sky, the wind howling over the mountain peaks–I am the earth leaning with its chin into the black tides of outer space begging for more! I am not pianissimo; I am forte. I am the beating of the drums. What delight this music brings!
I was the sound of the short end of the stick banging against my skull. It’s all I heard, that damn stick. So, of course, I had to say what was so important to me. So, of course, I regretted saying anything. Truly, I am a bastard at times.
I was the sound of my mother and my father after they were gone. In my words and in my actions, in what I accomplished and in what I failed to do; I uttered their legacy to the world. The weight of this responsibility I felt–and I know it wrong to strap myself to such a thing!–but the heart is often led down such paths when it is broken, so please forgive me my delusions. I was born a son. When I go, I will be a son then also.
I was the sound of unmet potential and wasted creativity, a bitter seed gnawed on by a grinding life. Someone asked me what kept me there. And I had no answer, except some dull excuse of financial fear. It’s always something that keeps us from greatness. If I’d been born to climb mountains, I’d probably live in Kansas and complain that Colorado was too far.
I was the sound of mistake. Not the misstep––the misstep has the sound of itself and has not yet decided whether it is success or mistake. But the sound that comes after. The yell, the scream, the insult, the critical remark, the judgement, the silence of one taking it all upon himself. I was this last sound of mistake; I was the silent kind. But in my head I was a roaring inferno of smoke and fumes.
I was the sound of the world’s movements in space and time. Cup your hand to your ear and listen. There is a distant murmur of many tongues and lips smacking on irrelevant pleasures. And after comes the agony; all the tongues and lips betrayed. Loud voices are raised against the Universe, shouts rising and falling in waves; a great complex yell rising, then crashing down upon its makers. Then a great moan, and sadness and grief and weeping, until finally all is silent and breathless and still. Who beats upon the gong of the world; who but me?
I was the sound of my father when he said goodbye. I was his voice, which was falling apart. I hugged him suddenly; my attempt to keep him together. He could be no broken figure in my memory. He could not be frail, not when someday I sat quietly near a window and looked out at the trees and thought of him. He must be the man who was my hero. He must be the strong hands and calm demeanor and wide shoulders. He must be my dad. He must always be that.
I was the sound of her breath against the pillow, so close I might think it mine. Shadows fell across the curves of her face and she was beautiful in the dark room. For a moment I felt what we always feel when looking upon the ones we love and should know best; I wondered who she was, and I wondered whether I would ever know. Someday, perhaps far off in some future place, perhaps on some other pillow, we will finally know that they were us.
I was the sound of the London street in the rain, the water ran through by a car in the dark shining night. The winter had not ended in my soul, however long ago the snow began melting. Even though the grass greened even now under the street lamps, I wore no spring. My coat was black and I thought that appropriate, because who I had been was dead now. We speak of loss in cheerful tones in the daytime, because others demand it, or we speak of nothing as our fathers did. But in the night rain of London, I confess to you now, I allowed my heart to be torn apart and there was no cheer. The thoughts of her were heavy then, not crazed as when I rode the double deckers in the day and watched for her on every corner, but deep and ponderous and eternal. I felt my own earth cracking, like some ancient crevasse within my belly, and I knew soon I would fall into that pit.
I was the sound of a man’s death, which in this time meant I was no sound at all. All had gone silent long ago; no one wept at the edge of a grave anymore. There was no urn. Instead the family member, or whomever the Will had specified, was given an envelope sealed by a wax stamp (an ode to the past). This envelope contained a card of fine linen paper (another ode to the past), upon which was printed a nine-digit number. This number was the passcode for accessing an online database, which contained the deceased’s personal digital history. Everything the individual had done online, from social media behavior to photos and files he kept in the cloud, was compiled and stored in this place. All of it. It’s entirety. And at this time in history, this meant the entirety of the person. Humanity had long since lost identity with physical. This was a mental world now. Everything had gone digital, including cemeteries. I worked for the Digital Catacombs, the largest storehouse of deceased information in the world. And a man had just died, named Jak Didatic Gladman. I was tasked with filtering his files before delivery to his family. His Will had stated,as most did, that all “sensitive” material was to be removed. My screen was currently filled with photos of Mr. Gladman’s penis. My job was not a pleasurable experience.
I was the sound of his rage, the hammering of two fists upon the door, and the splintering that came soon after. I was the look of her horror, the warbling cry, and the shattering of plates upon the floor. I was the light of the lamp left on when he finally went out again, the warmth of the bulb, and the pull chain that still hung slightly swinging. I was the sound of her rage. I was silent.
I was the sound of the footsteps in the evening shade, as the woman in the blue dress walked beneath the elms on Grant Street. They were slow, evenly paced slaps upon the paver stones; the sound clung to the ground, tamped down by the heavy humid air. She listened for the owls, who listened for the mice, who listened for the woman’s footsteps, which had come at half past 9 every evening of the year for as long as the mice could remember.
I was the sound of the snake that slipped from the rock into the pool, as the two men watched, one smoking, the other not yet. And the one who was smoking said, “It’s very auspicious to see a snake on your first day in India.” And the other man, the one who looked sad but did not smoke, not yet, felt that perhaps he was in the right place.
I was the sound of the wild peacocks in India, their screams under the hot sun; never seen. The man looked for them. He stood atop the dry ridge and hoped he would, so badly he hoped. But he never did. They were gone, much too fast.
I was the sound of the jet flying overhead and the traffic on the nearby road as the man sat in his car and thought about his day. He wondered if he’d done the right thing, whether he could do more. He questioned himself thoroughly and, without realizing, a tiny hate began to stir in him. This hate he thought was for those who had wronged him, but really, it was for himself. He did not hear the jet or the traffic or anything else.
I was the sound of the pine needles beneath the feet of the man who did not believe the words of the woman who walked beside him. She said, “It is better to not know what you want, because then your future will be free to transpire in its own way, a more beautiful way than you might imagine.”
He did not answer, but in his thoughts he refuted her words and judged them lazy and not beneficial. All people must have things to want, otherwise what would we ever do?
As if knowing his thoughts, she continued, “We need not want anything in order to live beautifully. In truth, it is those who want nothing who do the most to change the world. They do not fight against where the stream of life takes them in each moment. They do not busy themselves attempting to direct its course.”
Then she stopped, turned to him and said, “If you are to want anything, want where you are right now.”
He answered, “So am I to want to suffer? Am I to want the world not to change? Am I not to want the starving children in Africa to have food?”
I was the sound of the shifting bedsheets as the woman tossed in the night, unable to quit her mind from rampaging her. The shadows and the slant of the streetlight through the window and the white cotton stretched taut across her, while she feared all the losses behind her and knew, in that dark room she knew, certainly they would all come again. She tossed and turned and the piles of anxiety came down upon her like laundry dumped upon the floor, a soft swish, the rustle of cloth–and she almost wished it louder, so her suffering might be validated.
I was the sound of the creaking bed in the apartment above; the lovers without names, who pumped feverishly up there, beating a steady rhythm into the house frame. The alley cat bawled at the window; its tail shuddered like timber beneath the axe. Until, eventually, all was satisfied.
I was the sound of the radiator, which warmed mother’s toes in the winter night, when she was alone with the baby boy and father was working. Water hissed in the pipes; a quilt wrapped them; they nestled close. She was unafraid, watching his eyelids go down in the lamplight. Small toes appeared from beneath the coverlet; she covered them quickly and sighed and felt warmth that never before existed.
I was the sound of the clock above the bed where the man and woman lay without speaking. They thought to still me because I counted down the time they had left together. But to stop me would bring complete silence to the room, the same silence that had destroyed them; but also a silence that now meant the end of denial, of love, of promises and of who they thought themselves to be. They would not quiet me. Instead they would let time unbind them, painfully, and with secrets.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I went traipsing through my memories like drifts of snow. Air and water and boots. When my boots were small I sled down the snowy slopes and my eyes shone; before the world bullied and insisted dreams were built of air and water and boots weren’t made of wizard dust. When did the world get serious, or, when did I make it so? They did not know, and I forgot too, that the game was the play we were meant to make, and the snows were built of stuff singing hallelujah. The flakes fell from the sky and my wand ushered them downward. I remember them, faintly, falling down.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see thousands of shapes like snow falling, blurred marks on my eyes. She once told me about the Land of Fuzzies, where she played with her mother as a child. I wonder where I was then; was I even then on my way to meet her? They were dandelions, their seeds on the wind.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see the snow of yesterday and the snow that fell the day before, and I wonder about the man who helped me see it all differently. I cannot tell you his name; I do not have enough words here to describe who he was entirely. I only say he saved my life. He showed me how to live and he showed me how to live with myself and he said there were no limits to any of that. I haven’t been a great friend to that man these past few years, that man who saved my life, and I am sorry. My eyes well up as I think of what an ass I am, how my fear and arrogance led to such a separation. I won’t make this into some bigger thing, like this is how the world is today or something; how arrogant that would be, again, of me. I am beginning to see how I avoid the closest things to me, how I judge and think stupid the tender-most parts, and I suffer this hardness. He is too close. He was my friend and he was like my father. Simply I must say that I love him. I thank the universe tonight for his presence way back when, and his presence even now on my mind, even though it saddens. Because even if what I have done weighs so heavily on me, though I exaggerate it, still I know he was at least there. He will always remain.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see the snow of yesterday; some of it remains today on the ground. I could write a loose metaphor of that, how the past moves with us, but honestly when I read similar statements from others, I am bored by them, and when they say such things, I question whether they know anything at all. I aspire to be direct and simple. And when I describe flowers, may my remarks not reflect my own self-centered ego, but shine a direct and clear light upon them. I am tired of I. I wish to say to the world how the world is, which seems a more beautiful way, or at least, a more sincere and authentic way.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, all of those days, I never saw what tomorrow was to bring. I strove and strained to see, to control what it would be. When I could not, I waited anxiously, sometimes in dread, sometimes in hope. But no matter what I did, what I felt, what I intended or yearned for, tomorrow came as it wanted. Today, it snowed.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it took me longest to uncover my anger. It hid from me longer than any other emotion. It seems the first-born child of Fear. And it seemed to harm me the most, perhaps because it was the hardest to see.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I wonder how many things I said which were original to me. What in life isn’t plagiarized? How much of what I believe as ‘little special me’ is actually just what I was conditioned to be? I always thought my opinions so important and unique, but really, they world had heard all my opinions before.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I would give higher value to the questions I asked, than the answers. And it was the questions I never found answers to, the questions I gave up asking because I realized no answers were valid, that became the greatest discoveries.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there were no prizes. If I ever won anything, it was so that eventually it could be taken away. If I might call anything a prize, it was that. I can think of nothing worth more than what I learned through loss.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I can see how sometimes I presented myself falsely, though I didn’t mean to. Sometimes I said, ‘My peace is not dependent on the outside world,’ while being involved in some desperate attempt to attain something outside myself. Other times I said, ‘The only way I’ve found inner silence is to sit in silence,’ while living in distraction and never taking even a minute to sit with myself. I did not practice what I preached. I felt a fraud and hypocrite. Something did not sit correctly. My expression seemed ajar from my truth. Still, even concerning this, I see now how I had to express myself falsely and witness that falseness, before I could more clearly see my truth. Again I am reminded all roads lead here… There are moments in this life when time seems to pause and the space vibrates between me and you, and there is no more imagination, and all is alive and real and pure. I feel on the verge of crying, and I see the tears forming in your eyes too. A soft place, yet so strong. This is a rare thing. Yet it felt effortless, and only covered by a thin layer of my own disguises.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I wonder if someday I will stand, looking through a keyhole at myself looking through a keyhole. I heard a man once say he feared two outcomes: that existence would last forever, or that someday he would cease to be. He felt both options were tragic. I spent some time debating with his problem in my mind. I couldn’t find any answers there. Then I heard another man say, Drop Time and the question is no longer needed.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I am riddled with holes. Every belief hangs as tattered as the prayer flags I saw from that temple hill in Kathmandu. Yet still they hang from me, like I am the string that connects them and raises them to the sky. I do not wish to be the string, or the flags, but instead I wish to be those high mountains distant in the fog. So dark and menacing they seem, piercing the clouds, sharp edges that cut. Might I be them? Might I truly be the mountains, and if so, would I also be the earth from which they grow? Would I be the spinning sphere that soars the universe giving purpose to all the stars and moons? Would I have such purpose that even the void would reflect my presence and be undone and done by my coming and going? All I know today is the prayer flags flap inside me, and they would flap still, even if were everything. But if only I knew myself more than the string!
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see my mind building castles–building, building and building. Even these words, this list, it has built. I look through the keyhole and my mind says I look upon the past. But this is only the castle of time. My tiny experience is now. And it only has size, it is tiny or it is large, because my mind has built castles of comparison. My mind has written this. These are not words that come from before mind.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I have believed so much and so many times that I am a small speck. My fears have rocked me. One thought, only one thought, might destroy me. I have believed this. My mind has never stopped threatening to destroy me. I have cowered beneath its spell. For too long. For all time. Might I be brave and strong enough to see that the one which is threatened is a speck of belief, and might I know once and for all that this that I truly am cannot be destroyed by phantoms of the mind, that it stands aside and watches, and that the phantom is only a shadow dancing upon the wall, and the mind is the candle in the room. Where was I but writing the poetry in which the play of light was interwoven in the darkness? Might I love and be the power and weakness and realize I am ink and pen and tendons in the wrist that make powerful strokes upon a paper.
An ant rushed across the floor. Three spheres, eight lines and that was all of it. It didn’t know I was dying. It didn’t bring gifts to the bedside table. It didn’t weep. It avoided my touch so as not to be crushed. It was honest this way.
It came again at night. The color of soot, I barely saw it upon the table in the darkness, but the red lights from the machines were enough to watch its halting explorations. It ascended a plant until it came to the end of a heavy green leaf. There it paused, and I saw it thinking.
The ant thought about its life. It thought hard and felt faintly some memory, some almost recollection of a time when there was solid ground, when it felt secure, when nothing was coming or going, when there were no goodbyes. As it sought for that place it could not help but pass its eyes over all the days that had been, and it felt an intense sorrow come over it. Where was that solid ground? It asked. Was it there? Or there? It recalled every place it had roamed–the tiled floors, the wall cracks, the fluorescent skies above–and it all just turned and turned and turned over a distant hill it never could quite reach. And it knew: the solid ground, there was never such a place, and there never would be.
For a moment, as it stood upon the leaf tip, I knew the ant mourned for its fading fantasy.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I’m really not that sure I had any control over what thoughts came into my mind or what emotions came over me. And if that’s the case, what the hell is free will?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I was a child a lot longer than I admitted. And when I finally did realize how much a child I was, about the age of 31, I didn’t quite care anymore. If anything, at that point I wanted to embrace my childish qualities even more (the good shit, of course, like wonder, in-the-moment awareness and water-off-the-duck’s-back forgiveness; not so much the other stuff, like wanting to be comforted by a woman like a spoiled little boy who ate too many peppermint candies).
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how my kindness protected me. One night I was leaving a supermarket in Goa, India. I started my scooter and, without looking, moved to reenter the roadway. I did not see the other scooter coming toward me. I swerved at the last moment, as did the other driver, so close our mirrors clipped. No helmets, wearing beach clothes and flip-flops as you do in Goa, we were inches from a major accident. I immediately pulled off to the side of the road waiting for him to do the same. Before I could get off my scooter, he drove up alongside, leapt off his scooter and leaned the bike’s entire weight against me. As I struggled to lift his scooter off my leg, he began to scream at me in Hindi, inches from my face. He was Indian and a big man, his hair long and dark, wearing a sweaty Bob Marley tank and blue jeans. His fists were clenched.
My heart raced, but somehow I felt centered in something. I kept eye contact and remained silent as he raged. I remember feeling that I could wait forever for him to have his say. Maybe I was just trying not to give him a reason to kick my ass. But maybe, just maybe, I sincerely did care for how he felt in that moment. Maybe I sincerely was willing to take responsibility for my part. Whatever my motive, clearly he was expecting confrontation. Probably he thought me another privileged, arrogant white European on holiday. He expected me to defend my pride. That’s not what happened.
“My fault,” I said. “My fault. Are you okay?”
He pointed at his bike and yelled something about it being damaged.
“My fault,” I repeated. “What can I do to help you?”
Even though it was very dark on that road that night, I saw something extraordinary happen. He stopped yelling. He stood now, quiet and still, looking at me. I touched my heart, took my wallet from my pocket and opened it, “Here, for your damages.”
He stared, then motioned to put it away. He said, “No. You a good man.” He touched his own heart, got on his scooter, and drove off. I never saw him again.
Maybe this is why I don’t often fear traveling in foreign places. I believe I carry my own destined experiences with me. If I bring anger, I should expect anger. If I bring fear, I should expect fearful things. And if I bring mindfulness, then maybe even the worst potentials will never be realized, and little miracles will transpire. (Actually these rules seem to apply in all circumstances, in every interaction and conversation I enter, not just when my suitcase is packed.)
I’m still surprised I didn’t shit my pants though.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I search desperately for some semblance of solid ground. I seem to have a faint recollection of such a time. When I felt secure. When nothing was coming or going. When there were no goodbyes. As I search for that place I cannot help but pass my eyes over all the years that have been. And I feel an intense sorrow come over me. Where is that solid ground… Is it there? Or there? I look at every place I’ve roamed, the cities, the faces, the skies above me, and it all just turns and turns and turns over a distant horizon I can never quite reach. The solid ground, there was never such a place. There never shall be. What I mourn is my fading fantasy.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I did not have to wait for the next life to suffer my karma. My karma was instant. If I was angry at someone, I suffered my anger in that moment. I lost sleep that very night as my mind became frayed in resentment and I tossed and turned in anguish. My karma was in every present moment. My hell was now. As was my heaven.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, the times I intently listened in the hopes of hearing something that might bring me happiness, I wonder if it is wasn’t what was heard that most mattered, but that I was intently listening.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I can understand why someone might think my past problems larger than any I have today, but problems exist in their own bubbles and don’t consider comparisons when felt. Long ago I had a thought that soon I should be sentenced to prison, but hardly I can remember that thought today. No, today I had the thought that I might not eat until 2, and it seemed a huge problem.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there was nothing to learn, there was nothing to gain, nothing to lose, nothing to worry about, nothing to improve, nothing to worsen, nothing to see, nothing to seize, nothing to mind, nothing to hate, nothing to love, nothing to defend, nothing to say, nothing to reach, nothing to be. It was very simple.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I brought all the drama. My fucking resistance.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I can understand how my inner state changed the world. When I felt centered, calm and peaceful, I was able to be present for those closest to me. I was able to listen, to show compassion, even to dissolve negative emotions they carried. My peace became their peace. They then took this peace and, in turn, passed it onto those people closest to them. And so five became 25 became 125, until the whole world felt the impact of my peace. I noticed that when I felt most peaceful, everything seemed pregnant with the potential for beauty, the intensity of that potential directly proportionate to the intensity of my own peace at the time. The opposite is also true. If I am angry with those closest to me, that anger is transmitted to all the world’s people. And so, whatever happiness I see in the world today, I might say I had a part in making that. And the same goes for the anger I see in the world. And the dishonesty. And the arrogance. And the judgmental views… I can change all that.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, two progressions come to mind. The first progression was downward and defined by increasing self-hate. Its floor was despair and emotional numbness and complete self-centered fear. I don’t understand why the progression didn’t continue its momentum, which would have surely ended my life; and I have no doubt that such an end still remains a possibility. However, there was a floor. From that floor began the second progression, and it was upward. It was defined by increasing inner silence. Also came self-acceptance, self-responsibility, humility, love and selflessness. No ceiling has yet been reached; I’m not sure that there is a ceiling. And I wonder if the heights would be as great if the depths weren’t as low.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, sometimes I’m sad with the thought of all the people I’ve said goodbye to. There are so many places I’ve left, people I met there, across the oceans… This is my melancholy, depressing, woe-is-me shit, when I bring forth that thought of “I won’t ever see their faces again.” I could stew on the surface of that thought for hours. But there is something epic beneath its surface. Something legendary. It is the stories of them. The stories I made of them. Each face is a novel. Maybe what I miss most is the thought there will be no new stories made of each face. But have I written the stories already there? Have I read all that they were to me? The best stories — and have no doubt that each face I have seen in this life is a ‘best story’–can be read hundreds of times, and though the words be the same, each time it will be new, because I am new. So, I like to think that all those people I said goodbye to, have come along and changed with me, and I will continue to refresh their legends.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I knew many gifts of desperation. I was desperate for my father’s approval, for my mother’s comfort, for my classmates’ validation, for a relationship to define me, for a career to define me, for financial security. I even became desperate to stop drinking alcohol. However, when I finally gained all those things, even when the bottle was put down, the desperation remained. And I found myself wondering what really I was desperate for? Somehow I knew its taste, its flavor; all my life seemed pointed towards it. What that thing is continues to allude me, but I continue to check off boxes of what that thing is not.
The commencement of oatmeal making in the morning ideally begins when one member of a two-member coupling awakens slightly before the other. This one shall lay in bed flipping her eyelashes up and down for several moments, first pondering the entirety of the day that waits – and, possibly, if it be a Sunday, the upcoming week – before narrowing her focus on the immediate business at hand, the curious rumblings in her stomach.
She should make notice about how she leaves the bed. Her movements will take much practice before mastery comes. The bed is to be left with a deft maneuver, whereupon she swings her feet into the air, out into the void, and down upon the rug, all without disturbing the partner. If she indeed is a master, she will abandon the bed like a whisper leaving the lips of a débutante, dismissing the bedsheets so casually you would think them unimportant to her; though we know she spent the entire night burglarizing them from her partner, who still sleeps unknowingly, and un-blanketed, at the far edge of the mattress.
Still mindful of excessive noisemaking she leaves the room on tip-toed feet, her walk not becoming chassé until she enters the kitchen and finds her confidence. She fills the tea kettle with 27 to 34 ounces of the finest tap water and is careful to maintain concentration. A great many novices at this stage become distracted by the happenings outside the kitchen window – perhaps the alley cat stalks a black crow across the morning snow – and the kettle is dropped upon the stovetop with a great clatter and yelp.
If this happens, she must freeze, and from the bedroom might come a sleepy groan; but hopefully he is soothed by the hiss of the gas, the rapid click of the igniter, and the whoosh of the flame which blooms beneath the kettle. Only when his snores return in earnest – as a grouch bear who awakens too early from hibernation and, realizing it only January, returns to his den pacified by the promise of another three months of shut-eye – can she herself sigh with relief and return to her joyful activities.
She transfers the boiling water from kettle to pot, and fills the pot with two cups of the finest Irish Steel-Cut Oats. These oats are the quick-cooking variety, since time is placed in higher regard when the day is young. (If this couple were older, the oats are more likely the slow-cooking variety, since age tends to put time in its proper place.)
The oats now stewing in their bubbling cauldron, the timeline has shortened dramatically, and she must attend to many matters seemingly at once.
She takes two wooden bowls from the cupboard and slices bananas to fill their bottoms. She removes from the pantry a jar of natural peanut butter – organic, hand-pressed, lined with gold leaf – and places it upon the table. A glass bottle of the world’s greatest maple syrup from a Sugar Zion most have never visited in the flesh, but only in dreams (and only then in dreams of the most erotic and sinful nature), joins the peanut butter upon the table top; as well as two spoons, two small glasses of juice and/or tea and/or coffee, two napkins, and a bib (if one member be non-domesticated). Other delicacies might also now be added, such as Maine blueberries or Washington State raspberries or New York apples – in the first hour of your day, you might put the whole world upon your plate!
Her hands must move with outstanding grace as she prepares the last items for oatmeal setting. She dashes Pink Himalayan Salt over the oats still seething in their pot upon the stove, stirs the dish seven times with a wooden spoon, turns off the burner and covers it. Taking a sip of her Chai, she glances a hard stare at the table setting, determining whether the right time has come, and whether she is ready to welcome another soul into her existence this day. She might decide, and this be her natural right, to keep this day her own for a moment longer. And who could blame her, for the oaf in the other room is quite oafish.
But today her choice is for company.
She is a prodigy; her intuition guides her. So when she drops the wooden spoon loudly to the kitchen floor, one might mistake it for ham-handedness. But she does nothing by accident. And she does not mind the stirrings that thus come from the bedroom.
Three-and-a-half minutes later, the other half of the two stumbles sleepily into the kitchen in flannel pajama bottoms and eye-crust, kisses her upon the cheek and asks if he might help. She beckons him to the table, where he sits and wonders about the dream that woke him – something about timber falling – and he makes clumsy comments on the weather and her beauty.
Finally, she lifts the cover from the pot.
Steam piles toward the heavens and the smell of Ireland – the pastoral farms and shepherds in the hills and gray rain-laden skies – fills the entirety of the apartment’s lower atmosphere. Satisfied of its consistency, she ladles the oatmeal into the two wooden bowls and sits.
By and by, the couple dips spoons into their bowls and enjoy this time together.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it became obvious that person, place or thing did not determine my peace. I once stood atop the island of Capri and looked down from the cliffs at a remarkably blue sea, and this was probably the most beautiful place in the world, and a beautiful woman who loved me was awaiting my return to a dazzling hotel room given for free. But I felt such insecurity that weekend that my mind had wrecked me. I remember feeling such anxiety in that moment, nearly I was in tears. There was no beauty; I couldn’t see it, and I felt so confused and guilty for not being able to enjoy what certainly must be the definition of happiness. I thought, What was wrong with me? A little part of me was made clearer that day; something was clarified.
Several years before Capri, I had also felt miserable, but back then I felt I had good reasons why. I had a dead-end job, no relationship, no money, no passport — if only I could change these things, I thought, I could finally be happy. I never did get those things, not yet, but I did get sober. I began to look inward, doing work upon my fears and taking responsibility for myself. Until one night, sitting alone on the floor of my bare apartment with a candle, I suddenly realized a peace I had never before known. The world began to look different. Work became more exciting; I began to bring more creativity to my job. New friends appeared; I fostered friendships that redefined friendship for me. And though I wasn’t making any more money than before, it was fine; I actually started to give to charities. Nothing had changed on the outside, and yet, everything had changed.
So, I remember all this now. And today when I suffer, while I do not refuse or repress the suffering, I remind myself that my potential for a peaceful mind is always the same, no matter who is around me, where I live, where I work, what I own, my health, or how much money I have. Nothing can take my peace from me, as long as I find it within, as long as I continue toward that funkadelic, misunderstood concept called spiritual growth.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I question the motives behind my professional work as a creative. I continuously oscillated between producing work I thought the client might appreciate, or doing work true to myself. The former way, the way of the salesman, paid meager rewards, sometimes only money and applause. The latter way, the way of the Authentic, confronted fear (that same insecurity which drives the salesman to sell his lifetime for a dime of appreciation) but this way proved most fulfilling, most honest in the end. And, though this seem a contradiction, working true to oneself has always been the more selfless way.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see my hypocrisy. Once, I spoke about honesty–how honest I was! But, man, I always spoke to please others. My actions were intended not to offend, to be safe, and to avoid arousing any suspicion that I might be different or weird. How honest was I when I couldn’t ever be authentic to myself?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see a life filled with moments I could define and describe in relation to other moments. With logic and reasons, every movement made could be analyzed and mined for lessons, to use for future decisions — but I know my future will come on its own and there is doubt whether my active participation has ever changed the outcome; so all that lesson gathering might just be me hiding from the truth of my own powerlessness. Even to line up my life seems too geometric. Rather I’d let it fall and cascade upon the earth, beneath my feet where I’m now standing.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see that sometimes I was bored. But I never actually stopped and asked what was behind the boredom. Instead I looked for things to excite me, or things to do next. When I told people I was bored, no one ever advised me to stay bored. What would happen if I turned to face boredom without moving away?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how I blamed people for my problems. And by blaming them, I was saying that they had power over my happiness. This was a clever way for me not to actually do anything about changing myself. Today I see many people blaming political figures for the problems of the world.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I consider my lack of formal education an unexpected (and completely unearned) gift. My own self-destruction led me to drop out of three universities before the age of 22. I was forced to learn many things on my own. Because I was self-taught, I became intensely familiar with being stuck without an answer to a problem. When confronted with a problem, I had no heady storehouse full of facts and information and memorized strategy, no education to fall back on. I had to wait in that raw, anxiety-riddled pocket of the unknown, until an answer revealed itself for trial. Most would think this awful, a clear argument for formal education. However, without formal education, answers always came to me too. And when the answer came, it came clean and carrying no prejudice. It came sudden and immediate. Perhaps if I’d had a thousand books in my head to wade through, the answer would have come slower; I don’t know where my library was. My answers seemed to come like morning sunlight atop the head of a dumb praying monk. I spent a lot of time in the darkness of ignorance (a place we occupy more than we realize, no matter what we tell ourselves), and perhaps I fear that darkness less because I spent so much time there. Being stuck is not such a bad thing. It’s a necessary stop before new realization.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there are friends I lost connection with along the way. Sometimes, what kept me from reigniting the friendship was my doubt whether I could do what it took to be a good friend. Or so I thought, until I got over myself and stopped being such a selfish ass.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there was a time when I fell in love with rules and protocol. I was teaching myself how to create websites, and my days were filled with guidelines, strategy, best practices and what others said made great art. It became religious; I almost came to idolize the rules and became urgent in finding more. But my design never seemed to improve. Almost it seemed the deeper into the system I went, the more strangled I became. Until, almost, I could barely move without questioning whether I was doing it the right way. It wasn’t until I dropped the rules and became my own explorer, however terrified and insecure I was, that my designs found any quality. Sometimes, rules are added after great art is made, by the people who are too scared to let themselves go. I was following those rules for the same reason.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, if I could revisit my past self during the times I felt most hopeless, would I tell myself everything would be ok? I’m not sure I should. Because those times were the closest I ever came to accepting life as life really is, that there is no solid ground, that peace doesn’t come from possession or Other. Those times were when my beliefs, which had protected me from these truths, were proven false. The feeling in that moment is always hopelessness. Eventually I always created another belief, and new hope came with it; until one day that belief was eliminated too. Maybe Hopelessness is what’s written on the welcome sign to Acceptance, (not soft-crap-let’s-hug acceptance, but real oh-god-throw-god-out-the-window Acceptance). I don’t really know; I never got past the sign.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, there were many people who said hurtful things about me. Of course, I was only hurt because I believed what they said was true. They didn’t even have to say anything. However, if they hadn’t said anything, I probably would have never known how I really felt about myself.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, truly my greatest battles were always within. But maybe so much war wasn’t always needed.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see the world reflecting me. Once I knew a young woman who was the angriest person I’d ever known. At first I judged her, thought her wrong, and believed it my job to show her a better way. But this did not work. Eventually, my own anger began to rise and I found myself screaming and shaking uncontrollably. I had always thought myself someone who didn’t have anger. I saw then that I had only denied my anger. I had feared anger my entire life, and fearing it, I tried to control it. Without this young woman and her behaviors that upset me terribly, I never would have seen this in myself. I try to remember this today. When the world upsets me, I try to find myself in the world. In this way, the worst days hold the most potential, and the people I think the worst are the most helpful. Maybe by doing this I can be the example the world looks to.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I knew solitude different than loneliness. Solitude was the quiet of myself. I knew solitude as a kid when I wandered the streams and woods. I knew solitude driving through rural New York with an open window at sunset, after leaving Rich’s house, knowing finally I was not whom I had judged for so long, knowing change was possible. I knew solitude for a brief second in time beneath a hazy afternoon light in London, after all my gods had burned down and what didn’t burn was the truth to see. I knew solitude again sipping Cortadas in India under sheets of rain in a world upside down, a world I’d tortured with my fears, a world proven resilient and hardy, a world that still took all my breath away – when the wind gusted and ripped at the tarps and pushed my scooter sideways, but we laughed, were soaked, were lost, and sped through tiny villages under a jungle moon. In solitude I was not always alone. In solitude I was not always solemn. Solitude was wholly good and saturated with stillness, but solitude was not without sadness or grief or other emotions I’d so often considered indicators of wrong direction. My solitude contained the multitude of all my emotions. In solitude, there was no separation. I realize this seems a contradiction.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, all my good intentions toward the world appear inefficient and misdirected. I see how my angry mind, my sad mind, even my excited mind, all lessened my abilities to help people. So many times I have let my unsettled mind lead me, and I have stepped in so much shit along the way, failing to bite my tongue, hurting others in my childish rants. Both you and I suffer the consequences of my ‘good intentions.’ My stomach churns with my regrets for what I’ve said. My heart clouds not knowing how to overcome myself. I believed so deeply I was right to say what I did! But now I see the denseness of my self-denial. I refuse to continue this. I refuse to leap into the mud with you. What help would I be to you then? I must have a peaceful mind before I might bring peace to the world. This is hard and I have been so frustrated in this challenge. The storms still come and rage. I see my storms in you, and it terrifies me what we will do to each other.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I wonder for what I was always searching. There were times when I was so sure of what I wanted. But when I gained it, either I was disillusioned or immediately began searching for more. There was never any permanent contentment with anything gained. Things, people and situations came and went; my emotions rose and fell. Moments of sublime bliss too, but those moments also went. I don’t believe I’m alone in this struggle for permanence. We all struggle. We all keep searching. But this… during those rare moments when I have stopped searching – as on that day I walked in the woods and was struck dumb by the falling leaves – there was stillness and no time, no frame for ideas like permanence or temporary. I felt suddenly there was no need for anything. I was here. I needed go nowhere. Where have I gone since?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, who was the real me? How many different ways have I seen myself in this life? How strongly did I think myself a certain person, only to years later not even remember who I thought I was? How many Me’s have I forgotten? How many people did I hurt, how long did I suffer myself, in defense of these ghosts? It appears I have spent much time and energy on this personal project.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I look at how I read books. In childhood, I read books for joy and, possibly, escape. However, whatever the motivation, books opened my guts to places they’d never been, and I often found myself reading in wonder and constant surprise. I spent many hours with red eyes in a cold bath because I couldn’t put down a book. Stories nourished me, stories about people I’d never met, stories about ideas I’d never made. In adulthood, I’ve found myself reading books differently. Now I read books in an attempt to validate what I already know. I try to fit the author’s words to my concepts, and mostly I’m successful; I leave the most indigestible books at the store. So if I’m doing this with books, what else might I be doing it with?
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how teachers entered my life. At first, I barely recognized them and their voices scared me. But by the end of our lessons together, I realized their voice sounded oddly similar to my own. They were always me, weren’t they? They also say that our enemies are our greatest teachers. The process is the same.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I see how quickly I abandoned truth for security. During those times when I was at the brink, when my emotions and thoughts wrecked me, eventually I always turned to comfortable ideas for solace. How many self-help books did I read to satisfy my self-doubt? How many spiritual videos did I watch to satiate my grieving heart? I told myself I was truth seeking. Was it the truth I sought, or simply respite from the truth that was right there shaking my life to smithereens and begging for my attention? In my seeking I discovered all new comforting ideas. I thought these ideas so unique and special and profound, but were they any different than the comforting ideas of my youth that I had come to judge in adulthood? Are those who seek solace in marriage, legacy building or the promised bliss of an afterlife any different than myself seeking solace in meditation, good karma or the idea of spiritual enlightenment? I felt so secure in my newfound “truths” that I became a bigot judging others as bigots. I felt so secure that I had to convince everybody that my way was better. Ultimately, I was quite fooled and I acted the part. Ultimately, what I’ve realized, is that security delivers no truth, and truth does not promise security. Ultimately, I just have to let my life shake without going for refuge. Shake and wake, baby. Shake and wake.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, I recall the stretches when I felt so engaged in my own growth and every day seemed to offer a startling new perspective. Now, sometimes I miss those days, wish to return and feel the excitement of those lessons again. But I cannot go back. Even if I could, I would rot in those stale slack winds. I have new lessons to learn now, truths even more profound and engaging, lessons that transcend any that came before. Maybe I wish for old lessons because I seek their security. I always hesitated before stepping into a new classroom.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it was not the knowledge I gained, but the attitude of learning that altered me most. I do not remember Calculus or Caligula. But I remember my openness, my questioning the validity of my own opinion, my willingness to hear another perspective. They say to fix the world we must educate it. But perhaps we don’t need a common curriculum. Perhaps what we need is a return to a spirit of wonder and teachability. So I’ll pray for my humility today, and hope my arrogance is fleeting.
Looking through the keyhole at my tiny experience, it seems greater to have found peace in the Nothing Times than in the Everything Times. When I was in a rut, when I felt dull and was desperate for newness and change, when I felt defeated and retreated–what if I found peace with all that Nothing? Well, sometimes I did; I found myself neutral with no need. Then, suddenly, life began to fill with amazing substance, sometimes so quickly I wished for the dull days again.