For a moment, no movement at all might bring a clearer view

This time of year the night starts earlier. On an overcast day at 3.30 dimming and closing in has already begun. There can be a mild anxiety in this, the ending of life perhaps, of a dark unknown that creeps forward in a paradoxical waxing.

The flame-bright Fall leaves are rapidly oxidizing, rusting to slush. The whole vivacious show of light and leaf, of buzzing, chirping activity recedes. Just wet bark, grey/blue half-light, surrogate days of the electric light. Rooms and coats surround us in the turtle life of the winter months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet a feeling is a feeling only, not a read on reality. There’s a profound difference between the isness of experience and our thoughts and feelings about what is happening — a river, segment-less, unbroken, mostly uncontrollable.

Peace and beauty can arise again from a vulnerability that turns back and says to anxiety “friend you can stay or go as you please”. Or it doesn’t this time and an inner “no” divides itself from unwanted circumstances, unpleasant feelings as if there were any power at all to do so.

For awareness comes too late, a feeling has grown on a taproot unseen, the desire to attack it is connected to the same root — the world is in us we are the world — opposition is nourishment. We all carry this small candle of violence.

Oddly what is considered bad, is usually presumed to come from outside — outside my chosen experience, outside my world, my community. As if we were gods capriciously fracturing wholes into the parts desired.

To attack and reject, within and without, arise from the same misperception of distance and volition. Beginnings have already grown from an unknown, arriving in our view too late for the choice we think we have. Impotent negotiations and reasons spin around within, seeming powerful by the false attribute of presumed control and by strong emotion.

For a moment, no movement at all might bring a clearer view, show a way needing no effort, but a turning back when going forward is urged by every muscle. No movement when running between distractions is voted the best anti-anxiety drug or leaping at the problem seems to be frustrations undeniable act of freedom. Accept this pre-choice self that thrives on conflict with itself…

Thomas Martin

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Strength of Lightness

During a recent walk, I saw on a lawn a ginger cat with a white throat. It was lying on its back kicking and biting a stiff black crow’s feather. Long patches of late afternoon light crossed its pale apricot fur, emerald grass and grey-brown concrete path like a warm breath.

Further along the road a group of five or six crows flew across the city in a northwesterly direction as they always seem to do here at this time of day. With the breeze stilling for a moment you could just hear the rustling of wing beats – grey silk, blue paper – a sound that represents the silent togetherness of their ancient flight. Minds, beaks, eyes intrinsically locked together in journeying. The mind of social creatures invisibly seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember not long ago picking up a gull feather resting on the smooth, copper flecked ripples of a black sand beach. How light it was yet how disproportionately it resisted the air while turning in my fingers around the waxy quill.

The hissing, lapping fringes of all shores have these grown and discarded things fallen from the sky like dry leaves. Rolled up in salty foam, blown along in sand, smoothed pieces of wood, seaweed, plastic.

No longer grouped for exquisite order by minds and bodies through way-faring winds and blue reaches. Nor shingling vitality with such durable softness through cold rains and sunbursts, efficiently cupping heart beats, hollow bones and sinewed lives.

Organisms are minds dissolved in the medium they inhabit. Their bodies are born from that and something unreachable enables the whole facility. This bright intelligence is so obvious it’s easily overlooked. A production whole and present but shy of the divisions of analysis, of acquisition . There were no committees, plans, capital or future fruition. And likely no singular feathered genius, just unfathomable relationships endlessly fertile to self and species.

The minds of albatross, dolphin, mountain goat and coyote have melted into turbulent winds, cold seas, grass and shale, sagebrush and dusty arroyo. Their bodies borne from the relationship. Air, water, trees, hillsides have been contemplated by the still mind of Life, muscle and nerve molded to their essence.

Like this, hands and branches both are fruits of contemplation, of roundness and hanging downward, and springing up. Of the need for motion, rest, support. Muscle, fascia and bone share a profound intimacy with the spring of cellulose fibers and sap-filled cambium. They are siblings having different careers, yet live from the one insight.

The mystery of eternal time can be seen at the fringes where the utmost lightness seems to exhale from all things solid. The sheen on a crows back, the faint indigo hovering over forested hillsides in late summer, light on a window sill.

The real so glimpsed stuns the mind. If we live wholly within utility, naming and seeking after the next chapter of our story, our eyes are not round enough to fit the roundness of a world so full as to still our knowing.

It’s important to be quiet, allowing seeing, listening, hearing to arise in stillness, in all points of the field of perception rather from the hardened point of the knower. A wholly civilized thing to do, every day for a while.

Since the dawn of time, in Asia, the West and amongst tribal people this has simply been a part of life – a silent mode of primary research. A quintessential distillation of the deepest passion for being alive. The deepest celebration. Not to seek some future experience but to be sought instead by immanent silence.

In this way, at times and repeatedly, we can find our minds dissolved in the medium we inhabit. A pristine emptiness, fragrant with all kindnesses ever enacted and the most unclaimable beauty. The guide of our lives comes from this quiet poise, not from the words of ancient hypocrites and blood-soaked pages.

From here our bodies remember their birthright.The ever-flow of moments of seeing, of being. Lenses of peace they are, in which the true relationship of worlds and selves are glimpsed – meaningful, beautiful, intelligent, wise.

 

 

 

Light within the heart is like a crystalline drop suspended from a late winter greening twig in which the environment, global and pure, shines in the one roundness.

Thomas Martin

 

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The river flowed on looking its darkest…

That fog blanketed the world outside was evident by a particular quality of light reflected on the wall of the bedroom and the long high pensive weeep, swurrr sounds starlings seemed to make on a cool, dimmed day.

Later cycling to the river the fog had lifted just a little but the sun was still filtered, glowing white and wide through cloud layer, the air sharp with cold. The river was brown and full from recent rain with a glossy, rippled, sinewy texture sweeping along under the bridges. Red-stemmed willows, leafless and tipped with silky, pale yellow buds poked up in clusters from a muddy riverbank.

By a pier a breeze drove small waves against the flow, sparkling and dancing along the shadow of a pole making the shadow appear to move upstream yet remain stationary, a long darkened strip in the undulating water. In some way this seemed to represent time, its apparent movement, like the illusion seen in a plastic hologram. Blurring the one moment we have ever lived in, into many.

A freeway curves high above the river, trucks, cars streaming, the world filled with a sea sound, undulating in tone like machines do. Across the river is a marina with white yachts and board walks and beyond, on the opposite bank behind a path that follows the river for miles, is a row of small restaurants, boutiques and the like.

 

Each day we move through a world of innumerable impressions, most subliminal, the blurred background bokeh to looking which in turn is a background to the more focused noticing.

Much of what arises in conscious seeing, listening, feeling, lives fleetingly then is lost to surface memory as if time was ordered differently and images, ideas, realizations arising like so many pages lain flat revealing all imaged upon them, quickly slip back end on. There edges then falling from view, refolded, hidden, only inchoate impressions remaining.

Two people walked past, pushing bicycles, laughing over a private joke. Small blackbirds chased each other over crumbs beneath a table to the side; the freeway noise filled the air making the whole scene seem dense as if fixed to an invisible screen like the scene was a layer.

The river flowed on looking its darkest in this season, arising from a grey vague and leafless distance, passing menacingly beneath a crumbling concrete wall, sweeping under cold bridges and through the city still in winter. A city warmed by engines and furnaces behind walls, beneath streets. Lit by a sun that gives most of its warmth to other places.

Though dangerous and useful, dirty, nourishing and cleansing, if you settle your mind, your vision, upon the river’s back then your feeling is filled with its ripples, its cold hurtling power. Seeing is feeling, looking is touching. Your aliveness, the world’s life.

Despite the illusion of perspective seemingly presenting whole scenes, complete people, actions as if freely chosen, we can’t truly know what we see, what is heard. Thoughts too may reach but cannot touch, all of them frozen pieces of time welded together through habit.

Only flickering points of perception are built by a necessary subterfuge into things known. But through quietness, feeling, the apparitions of a single day can bring, at times, a whispering life of unknowable fullness.

There’s something astounding about being in a world, the senses alight in all directions. Here is a doorway to what is wanted from hidden recesses of the heart. When restless pursuit quietens, arising out of desire stilled to a silent power, inward and outward collapse into one fluid perception.

A mild joy settles into the body’s soft hum, riding light and sound in a spherical expanse. Hidden portals to the intrinsic real, like flower petals, a light touch, a Robin singing a block away, embellish a foreground of ancient peace.

The cloud layer has thickened further and the midday light has dimmed to an almost twilight grey. The air strangely still. Though dog walkers talk, gathered on a muddy square of grass and the city shows all signs of contemporary bustle, an ancientness seems to rise from the wet earth gathering all still things in a contemplation linking this day to a distant past.

 

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…a joyful flame

The trees are almost bare now; some linger on like the ornamental pear, some trees still covered with  brown leaves like wood filigree. Leaves are scattered in the streets, on pavement and along an embankment in the park. A few greens and yellows remain, orange and scarlet have all but washed away leaving browns and on the edges mush, decay.

Still however the patterning mostly remains. Swirls, scatters, pointed and round, long and flat interwoven. No deliberate human action has contributed but wind, rain, the dynamics of falling and spinning, of wings alone or twinned, cross-flow of drafts, rain drops as rudders, drying of wind, warming of sunlight and liquid swirling of all that floats in downpours.

If you look in a certain way the precision of every scatter is absolute. Beauty is not in the beholder, the misperceiving collector of objects, is wild in the purist wildness, the clearest sky filling all rooms with an uncontaminated outside. Filling those minds most, containing the least furniture, a joyful flame burning away the artificiality of inside/outside.

There seems to be an undeniable perfection in these scatters across pavement, asphelt and grass. You can walk along and not see that for hours, years. Then something happens and it’s obvious. A patterning of infinite variety, an undeniable purity of exactitude in which apparent randomness cannot escape such pristine ecology of order.

The richness and beauty of anything if looked at with ardent gentleness, a touch soft and inclusive of all perceivable like blue air upon the round earth, shows our own stagnant retreats of old thought and overplayed emotion. These are brought to light quietly without confrontation, with judgment or approval riding the backs of reactive thinking, all eventually disappearing into the background of watchfulness, an open day and free heart.

Default places we sink into or soar to in pure illusion to remembered or imagined times and places that exist not, flow in the current of awareness revealing leaf patterns of past summers, the decay of winters that cannot then stop green furls and blossom scent of spring. All this, it would seem, reveals the miracle of renewal alive at the marrow of consciousness, untouched by human thought, surer than any technique traditional or otherwise.

“There on that scaffolding reclines Michael Angelo.

With no more sound than the mice make

His hand moves to and fro.

(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream

his mind moves upon silence.)”

It has been raining for hours from low heavy grey stratus clouds, then unexpectedly the oblique winter sunlight breaks through making all southward facing surfaces smile and glisten. Long stretches of grass become green flames, for a while an entirely different feeling is brought to the world; light ablaze above the clouds enters this day briefly reminding us of the power of the hidden.


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Antonio’s story

His name was Antonio. I got to know him well in the last two or three years of his life. He was around 60, thin and wiry, a photographer by profession and an avid marathon runner. He photographed weddings a lot and when time allowed, occasional art projects, one being an interest in photographing hands.

He had invested in some commercial property, which gave him the means to travel to Italy most years. I don’t remember how it arose but one day he said he wanted to tell me a story, something very strange that happened to his niece and him when visiting Florence recently. They had spent the day exploring backstreets and piazzas, and failed to notice evening’s darkening distances, gradually drawing in space. The shops at that hour would be covered by wooden doors by their owners, each storefront tending to look like the other. Antonio and his niece needed to get to the train station and return to their hotel. Though the square was deserted someone appeared to be approaching them and in a few moments it became apparent that the person was a woman of indeterminate age, intensely focused on Antonio. She asked if they were lost and they told her their predicament.

As the story was told me maybe 8 years ago, I don’t remember the segue, but she proceeded to tell my friend things she could not have known about him by normal means. He had not been asked leading questions extracting what is called a “cold reading”. He was going to go through a great crisis she said and needed to be strong, she told him details about his brother and their relationship – had no way of knowing he even had a brother. Finally she told Antonio and his niece they needed to visit a church in a nearby alley and look at an old painting hung there. Eventually they caught their train after following the stranger’s directions.

Next day they returned to look for the church going to the alley she indicated but found nothing. Then after walking up and down Antonio saw a small nondescript door, the back entrance to a church. Inside a priest approached them and they asked about any old paintings in the church. They were shown a wall on which hung a large painting in darkness, apparently churches would make a little money through a coin-operated light. Antonio dropped the necessary coin into the slot and the picture was illuminated.

As he told me, he was startled to see a painting of the passion of St Anthony pierced all over with arrows but also a woman rendered in the corner of the picture was an exact likeness of the woman who spoke to them in the piazza the day before. The painting appeared to be several hundred years old. There was a double shock for my friend, seeing the likeness of the woman who seemed to know his life so intimately and seeing his namesake suffering. All the more poignant when Antonio was diagnosed with terminal cancer soon after.

While going through chemotherapy Antonio would frequently get acupuncture treatments to help mitigate side-effects and promote a sense of wellbeing. During these sessions, in a state of relaxation, he would often see the mysterious stranger again.

When the final days closed in Antonio never really accepted he was dying. After the last bout of emergency hospitalization he was moved, asleep, to a hospice. When he awoke to find himself there and was told it would be a few weeks stay he said, “we’ll see about that!” His last few hours there were spent talking with his daughter and two grandchildren alternating, almost equally, between alertness and falling quietly unconscious.

.Some weeks later I dreamed of him, one of those brief dreams where you meet someone, without the usual story sequence of events, in a dream space, the room without walls. Antonio was seated at a table about 10 feet way, simply looking at me, a sense of his eyes saying something the lips couldn’t. On the table was a plate of some kind of green vegetable and I took this to be a symbol of life.

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I could hear her walking on the polished oak floor

I could hear her walking on the polished oak floor in the hallway – tik t tik t tik t. She turned into the living room, stopping to rub the corner of her mouth on the edge of the doorframe, firmly, deliberately. She walked past me with soft precision, brushing the fur on her side ever so gentling along my trouser leg. Walks toward the window which is open a little, faces along the wall, tilts her head up and into the room, ears tightly back making her head look flattened, eyes wide. The heavy rain outside gurgles in the downspout and splashing sizzles on wet grass enter the room. She listens without turning her head, ears taught toward the sound, her tail high, undulating slow and languid like a strand of kelp in shallow ocean just beyond a crashing sea.

A moment is enough, this she has heard before, there’s no immanent danger, she walks across to the sofa, looks up measuring the height with a pause then jumps onto the arm, walks up it toward the back turns left, pads along with the soft ease of all the worlds cats.

Leaps two feet to the table, walks across to the window carefully avoiding a stack of mail, crouches gargoyle-like looking through a geranium in a red pot and out to a wet waving world.

The rain, the outside day… movement draws her out, a yellow leaf twirls on an invisible spider web, a shining cascade of water falls from a blocked gutter making worn and wary dahlia leaves of mid November fan side to side, a puppet dance without enthusiasm. Soon she will be asleep somewhere and why not? Even a few moments of pure being filled with impeccable movements, is magic.

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…kindness and care in all directions

The swallows had started another nest late. We were told their previous young had somehow fallen from the nest and died. The nest was inside the porch, high up in a dark corner, stuck to the wall, white and black speckled dung on the tiles below. At night you could peep through a glass panel in the front door – looking out and up to see the two swallows sleeping, facing each other, perched on the nest’s rim with their bald-headed babies just visible in the mud-formed half cup between them.

We were staying in the southern Oregon mountains. I was in the habit of sitting quietly on the deck looking and listening with no purpose but the joy of it, and perhaps to re-discover an ineffable brightness that thinking and busyness overshadows. The house was situated on the side of a protected mountain meadow, a free space for all the animals native to this habitat. On any given day you could see white tailed deer, and ground squirrels standing on their hind legs reaching up to pull down and nibble the golden flowers of dried thistles. There were wild turkeys, herds of elk and in the early mornings groups of coyotes playing.

The grasses were swept over in a swirling pattern from wind blowing in from the northern end of the valley. They were a mix of colors that distilled the essence and joy of late summer: coral pink, pale gold and copper stems and flowers mixed with bright mid-green thistle and equisetum stems. That particular smell of the meadow in the early morning dew bought the delight of it into the nose and lungs, and along with all the sounds and visual richness life touched life through the human heart.

Before sunrise the two swallows would fly in unison slowly in warm-up fashion, about four feet apart, back and forth over the meadow in the soft light, calling and answering each other. After a while they would part, circling, rising and dipping, catching invisible insects, all within half a mile or so from their nest and young. They did this ceaselessly until dusk. Their fast sweeping flying and high-pitched calls seemed the embodiment of joyful function.

One day storm clouds gradually darkened the sky with downward hanging wild and feathered torn edges, turbulent, dark waves, bright patches, and smooth grey blue glowing expanses. From high up a large flock of swallows tumbled into the valley, darting around catching insects and after a while slowly peeling off southward. The two nesting birds disappeared into the flock, and I wondered if they had become lost in the powerful south cascading zeitgeist of their fellows, but later they appeared around the house again, diligent parents for now.

It seems at times that just looking and listening with a contemplative wideness that gathers all the senses into one coherent fullness, free as the sky and wind, not parceled out by any cultural narrowing down toward some future utility, either ancient, contemporary or pre-industrial – it seems this very simplicity carries within itself, in its very nature, kindness and care in all directions including one’s own life.  Testament to a quiet revolution that in any time or place can be found within the human heart, a field of feeling in no way separate from the whole of Nature.

Embedded in its very fabric, in light, sound, and gravity, despite an abundance of disease, decay and suffering. If it weren’t for such glimpses of awakening life the impossible would not appear and the world would be enclosed, secure in its fleeting respites, compensations, its busyness racing just ahead of the jaws of time.

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…not impersonal or personal but strangely friendly

Most days a crow alights on the end of the guttering on the neighbor’s house in clear view of the living room window. It often carries food it has scavenged, a little bread and today a few pieces of tofu I had thrown up onto our roof. The guttering has a dip in it where water collects, a crow’s well. The crow seems to drink there regularly and today it dips pieces of food into the water, lifting them dripping and tossing them back into its throat the way birds do.It then drinks, perhaps the tofu had dried a little on the roof. The sun was low in the West and shone on the crows back lighting the long feathers with a coal or obsidian like sheen. The water dripping from its beak became liquid light, a luminous sustenance. Such light does not stop at the eyes but pours down my throat to the heart of a world glimpsed and hinted at.

The maples along the street are the green of May, a kind of lime-green not so yellow as that of April nor as dark as greens of June. The sun shines through the window softly onto an anthurium with bright vermilion flowers.

At times there’s a stillness hovering over things illuminated. Plants, buildings, pavement suggesting a profound silence, not impersonal or personal but strangely friendly, at the base of living.

The crow flies off to a power line where its mate is perched. Its stiffened legs bounce forward and back with wing beats, toes ready for grasping. If you don’t look so much as human to crow but nature to nature you don’t need to wait for science to explain the obvious. Its dark eye is the pupil of my own. The balancing tensions of its body on the eave spout’s edge is my own body standing on a fence post as I look across an expanse of sagebrush to mountains dark with thunder clouds. At times you can’t find the distance that makes us two and this seems to be worship, a love and beauty that needs no human history.

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Fidelity To The Whole Environment

On the end of a trail that climbs 1400 ft in 2 miles on the Washington side of the eastern end of the Columbia Gorge is the remains of an old cherry orchard. The few trees left are blackened and shattered by wind, snow, ice and by their own brittleness. Some nevertheless endure, sprouting a single branch of leaves and this time of the year small green fruit are beginning to set, gathered in the remains of flowers. No less sweet or less young than those in the orchards across the river.

One tree is entirely fractured with branches splayed out, touching the ground like arms attempting to stabilize, waiting for some final surrender. Though there appears to be no longer any nutrient carrying cambrian layer to sustain it, a thin branch is flush with early leaves and green fruit as joyful as any cherry branch anywhere. On closer inspection the narrow branch snakes around the dead tree, caduceus like and down its trunk to the soil, the dark, silent supporter of the earths green joy.

Renewal arises through all conditions as long and as much as it can. Its growth arises from no force or power as corrupting as that of the world. There’s no hope or despair andno failure just the same fullness and brightness expressed in a measure that is environmentally possible, that’s able, given all conditions.

We are like the cherry tree, meaning, no meaning, purpose, no purpose are conceptual with ready made emotional reactions yet a flourish moves in us not made of thoughts, reactions or emotional negotiation. Our thinking reverse engineers our experience, placing it in a wholly artificial temporal pattern. Things that have transpired are selectively recorded through backward looking, seemingly following clear roads to our present. Life seems to move toward some future goal.

We then habitually approach the new with the old, as if the future of today could be found somewhere in our past.

Everything beautiful tells us of this mistake, of our stubbornness to see what we want to see and not the mysterious “is” that explodes before our senses. The most delicate and destructible of things especially speak this truth. Moving clouds, shifting light, delicate flowers and leaves and the most gentle of human actions.

It’s been a cold Spring so far. The Sweet Peas I planted are still small, pale, leaning languid against the lower wires of the fence. They do not wait however but live their fullest as conditions allow. Their relationship to the whole environmental event is total fidelity. In June the sweet scent of their flowers will be a distillation of that fidelity. A fruition without planning or waiting or success. All beauty is lightness and self appraisal the heaviest of burdens.

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Arnold

Arnold died on Wednesday, April 7th at 5.45 pm. Maybe he would agree with me, over coffee, that this feels like a beautiful, auspicious date. Why, I don’t know. April, Wednesday and 7 all seem to give that sense. He was, I think, 82. Had a bad heart, non-malignant prostate cancer, lost the sight in one eye 3 or so years back to a blood clot. He wore an eye-patch with two small holes drilled into it, which went well with his strong nose and ruddy complexion and full beard still only partly grey.

Drove along the Columbia River today. The Cottonwoods are especially beautiful in April with delicate upward brush-like flushes of mustard-green leaves and catkins hovering in ecstatic clouds. The leaves are not yet full enough to obscure the tall dark columnar forms of trunk and branches. Like all deciduous trees these cottonwoods go through all the stages of mankind each and every year. Arnold has gone through all those stages, now moving in unseen luminous places connected to his loves among us like a cell phone carried off 10,000 miles. Some can hear a little, most are unsure of the connection. He knew the most important thing is that in which our roots are hidden at infinite depth, which cannot be named.

As the days go by I remember more details of his specialness, and more clearly. And his faults brought to focus through my own. He often carried a book around with him, Thoreau, Melville, some early 20th century cultural historian or philosopher. People struggling with spiritual and moral questions outside the convenient answers their societies generated. In recent months it was David Bohm, an inspiration of a man, I put Arnold onto.

If you opened the cover of one of his books you would see almost no sentence not under-lined and all margins full of notes.In his younger years he was a sculptor working in stone. A disciple of the peace activist and Italian American sculptor Bene Bufano.

Arnold remembered the names and mini-biographies of countless people he encountered around the neighborhood he and his sweet intelligent wife Gloria, walked daily.

In the last few years the circle got smaller, maybe a mile and a half at most. This included two or three coffee shops, a drug store, a medical clinic and a market for groceries.

Having watched his quiet friendly urbanity in action over coffee on countless occasions, especially with young people and listened to his early, mid 20th century narrative style. And seeing now how much he is missed at these places. It is clearer to me how a person can act in a world in which the main entropic drift is isolation.

Thanks Arnold, I miss you man!

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