Man of Earth
Keep It Moving
Not for Sale
Preface & Reader Response
It's the process, stupid.
Paying Attention: How We Sense Divinity – and Hear One Another
MEDITATIONS ON AWARENESS
by Jerry Murley
WARNING: This essay will not address how one should cope with depleted 401(k) investments, nor will it excoriate bankers and brokers, nor will it list ways one can economize to make ends meet – all that passes for reading material and entertainment nowadays. No, this is a practical guide only to the extent that deep breathing exercises are practical: as training to build habit and potential and to influence both brain and well-being.
In discussion, a lark begins with a postulate: Human life begins with awareness. Awareness begins somewhere between the ages of seven and fourteen, if we are lucky. (If by age twenty-one, the rudiments of awareness are not present, intervention may be in order.) All human existence prior to awareness is but potential for life.
This is not to say that human beings should be subject to ridicule or condemnation before awareness. However, there are plenty of unformed beings (many older then twenty-one) who – cute as they may be at special moments – should cease to be, be transformed, to make way for their more highly evolved, enlightened forms. (If you have not noticed such beings as you tour town and country and visit with friends and family, someone has not been paying attention.)
II. ODDS-ON SIGNS
This time of year we are intently focused on ESPn, by which I mean, of course, the extra sensory perception network. With mysterious religious observances around the world, we see one aspect of the practice of awareness. Take the Bible, the Word. I personally do not think that God talks directly to men, but rather through men. Unfortunately, that conversation is much like that one would have underwater, a bit garbled and open to misinterpretation. And then, again, man is by nature rooted in a particular time in history and the particular circumstances and concepts of an environment in time. God, fortunately, does not limit His communication with man to one channel through man alone: I think that He has provided a multitude of channels through signs of nature and among life forms. Many of which are apparent to most of us by now, thanks to the record of scientific and religious thought and practice – and thanks most of all to the gift of common sense. However, I do think there are other channels, as many have suspected through the ages, that few men and women have mastered or even adequately described. Not a few have probably been burned as heretics for their insights and efforts.
Therefore, let's begin to examine the evidence that is evident: My wife and I frequently communicate, even at a distance, without using the technological instruments of our day or the usual modes of sensory expression and reception. If the reader is honest and has any close ties with another human being, another life form, nature or the heavens above, he or she will admit similar experience with such phenomena. We have some close friends, couples, who have since separated. More often than would seem statistically probable, despite distances of hundreds of miles and no commerce between the former pairs, we will hear from one on the same day that we hear from the other. This has mystified and delighted us, because is seems to suggest that strong bonds cannot easily be sundered, even if personalities conspire to break them.
Let's skip over occult and psychic terms and intimations and journey instead down a more commonplace and fun path: signs. Friends, there are so many signs that it is hard to choose which road to take. I have always felt that it is the seeking, not the finding, that is most important. Which is why I am certain that those who are certain about religious doctrine are certainly wrong and defeat their own expressed objectives. One does not know God by knowing God; one knows God by seeking God and seeking guidance.
III. IN THE BEGINNING
Worrying, a form of hyper-vigilance concerning negative potential, can't suspend impeding accidents but it might help prevent them or, at a minimum, prepare one for their impact. Twice in my childhood, both times in Texas but several years apart, I learned the power of scared-witless vigilance. Both times, in a car traveling with my entire family on a holiday trip, I might have saved the members of my family from tragedy. Such is the imagination of a boy who saw Texas for what it was: rough and tumble, not nice to the nice. (In Houston, when I was for a brief time big for my age, I played fullback and linebacker in football. That didn't last but a couple of years, but it was long enough for me to begin to learn the score about watching my back in Texas.) Though this is not a story intended for this writing, these episodes of vigilance, with a recognized payoff, helped form my respect for awareness at a grade above minimal level. Before that time and thereafter, like most suburban American youth, I fell into lulls of everyday, dumb complacency. However, I had set out on the path of awakening to the cosmos and especially to recognizing the signals of instinct and the usefulness of forming informed intuition.
Whether awareness is learned or whether it emerges naturally is not clear to me – probably a bit of both and more. It is nourished by concepts, language, and experience – and it evolves in relation to life events. For myself, it has unfolded slowly and haltingly. From the years between ages ten and thirteen come recollections of emergence, probably related to the systemic shock of moving to Houston, Texas, and discovering science, the outdoors, and unknown personal strengths and outside threats. For the four years of high school, I cannot honestly say that I made significant gains. Concern about social status and social performance is a potent suppressant of the faculties utilized to activate and be active in awareness. However, I will concede that a stark alienation or intense personal attachment could have served as a stimulant at that stage of life.
College was a beginning, even though I went to college in my hometown. Here I can claim that learning from school work, extracurricular reading, and social exploration provided a medium conducive to the budding, if not the flowering, of awareness. Of course, the historical and cultural events of the period around 1968, and a summer working in California two years later, were food to jump start and nourish awareness, as these events were to a host of my peers. Generally, however, I remained more perplexed than aware.
The values of decency to which I was exposed in my family and in church began early and persisted throughout my first fifteen years of schooling. These values did help to hone a sensibility of sorts. But psychology, philosophy, history, art, literature, and even music – all meant almost nothing to me. I would have been hard pressed to have reached the depths of meaning in interpreting a poem or a painting for myself without the aid of an authority from book or lecture. (I still can't analyze a poem learnedly, but I will now give it a shot from my perspective – if the poem or poet is not intentionally or overly obscure and the poem is recommended by a respected source – and rest comfortably with my impression until more expert reason can convince me to augment or alter my interpretation.) My imaginative capacity may have existed, but it was not significantly connected with larger life over all.
With some certainty, I can pinpoint the birth of my awareness. It was born of a terrific shock and aftermath. That shock was a confrontation with a very serious and presumed-deadly disease at the age of twenty-one, when I was a long, long way from escaping naive notions about myself and the world which was my lot.
This is not to say that I suddenly became aware as in a flash of light and revelation. In fact, I was stunned, numb, an empty ground upon which to build a new life – a fertile opening for discovery and reflection which would draw on and test the mental tools I had acquired to date. Through fits and starts, it took only months before I felt myself in an entirely new dimension. I had the conceit to imagine myself in a realm of which few others were familiar. It was the birth – the afterlife, as I became fond of thinking. I was neither aware in any sophisticated way nor, worse yet, in any position to practice awareness. For it is the daily exercise of awareness to which one aspires – the method by which one expands and ensures the continued benefits of awareness.
IV. ILL-BEGOTTEN ILLUSIONS
I personally have become more attentive with each medical setback and recovery. Sometimes the attentiveness is a result of the setback and sometimes the attentiveness is an essential ingredient of the recovery and subsequent changes for the better. Providence can correct one's vision in completely unexpected ways, depending of how one responds.
I work near a premier regional medical center. It is a center that takes on the responsibility of caring for indigent patients, often at the cost of millions of dollars that can never be collected. Driving into work each morning, sometimes preoccupied with some petty problem in my personal life or the life of a relative or friend, I watch patients walking to and from bus stops to the hospital. Seeing blind or otherwise greatly debilitated individuals in the elements, proceeding as confidently and normally as their abilities will permit, is enough to make one's heart pause, not in pity, but in awe at the resilience of human nature. Such signs seem of a low, mundane order, but just such occurrences are the channel of revelation – divine or worldly. Obviously, it is more difficult to encounter great signs and read them accurately if the curtains are drawn and one does not venture down paths that are rich in stimulation and variety – if one adopts a routine that excludes the unsavory and natural, closeted from the lives of other life forms and adaptive objects.
There is a human tendency to blame the ill for their illness in modern society, where many have the delusion of full control over life's events by simply choosing remedies or lifestyles from a narrow menu of contrived popular and contrarian choices. This attitude is particularly repugnant to me and reprehensible in the bearer of blame and ill-will toward the ill. It is an easy enough trap to see illness in another as a sign of a wrong choice that conveniently vindicates one's own choices in life, no matter how horrible the psychic, ethical, or personal health record of the judge's own life. When one succumbs to such folly, one might consider whether the sign one is reading is in fact the wrong sign and the interpretation is quite the reverse of the assumed view. Illness may in fact be a sign to the ill, for good or ill, and worthy of contemplation. And the sign for the blamer may signify a lapse in life of one warped by self regard rather than enriched by regard for the processes of nature and the divine.
V. EXERCISING AWARENESS
One senses the divine by employing one's God-given intelligence, feeling and everyday senses. One exercises awareness by using the generous tools and arts of mankind throughout history to discern and evaluate the signs one sees, hears and feels – or thinks one sees, hears and feels.
When running or driving, or consumed in other attitudes of less awareness, one's surroundings might appear more like a blur. But when walking, I find that a studied and attuned attention can add dimension to common reality. I think of the effect of this awareness as a sort of super-reality. Objects have a new, deeply-relieved solidity as subtle changes in motion and time and mental pacing bring out new relationships to present, past and future. At these times, the shadows start to speak – not just in words, but in intuitions and notions and associations.
This exuberance reminds me of the story of a syphilitic Nietzsche embracing a flogged cart horse on the street. (I am not sure that I remember the story correctly, but it doesn't matter in this context: It is what I recall and associate – and its meaning – that matters not the detailed literal truth.) Nietzsche had a suburban reputation as a philosophical bugaboo. To me he was a dancing philosopher. In college, as a pastime after the onset of my illness, I read everything I could by and about Nietzsche. In the end, it returned me to a deeper appreciation for the Bible. The Bible actually had more significance to me as inspired philosophic poetry – the language of truth. (Poetry does have one significant advantage over prose besides highly concentrated brevity, it can obfuscate in ways that common words often cannot – whether this is also a huge flaw is open to debate.) At that same time in college, in geology I was digesting the new scientific theories, evidence, and implications regarding plate tectonics. These incoming speed balls are what college and a liberal education are for. The wonder of these discoveries in no way lessened or diminished the lessons of Sunday school. Quite the contrary, they made life even more miraculous. My deepest sympathies go to the frightened minds that desperately deny evidence to protect cherished revelations that are not even thoroughly known or obeyed or examined.
Although I have often been both the victim and beneficiary of modern Western medicine, I think that alternative medicine, using different methods and explanations, also works to heal people. I have long been interested in biofeedback techniques. As a layman, I practice one technique on myself – to be truthful, I probably practice many, since I do not think a doctor can heal a patient as easily when the patient is unable to read and communicate with his or her body and assist in the healing. The practice that I often use is applied to pain, specifically an emergent, low-grade headache. (Most of my headaches are very low-grade, and I have not had many in my life.) I concentrate on the headache and apply opposition to whatever pressure or sensation I am receiving from the headache. Often my focus resembles a flushing or washing away of the pressure or pain. This may be a placebo effect of the imagination – which I argue that it assuredly is in part – but with eradication of pain, that seems to be the object of the remedy, and if it works, well, that's that, no matter if there is physiological alteration or not.
Of late, I have come closer to appreciating the skills of a superior sportsman, when a recognition of patterns, an opportunity, and a concentration of effort, seem to slowdown "normal" appearances and changes. I can now imagine seeing what I have not seen before and, because of this awareness, delude myself into thinking that I am better able to foretell the next second than otherwise.
For a flowering of awareness, it must be regularly nourished with manure: rudimentary knowledge of religious subtlety, science, history, psychology, art – art in process, in object and in thought. (All of these areas at one time or another have been academic and continuing studies for me.) Though sometimes pungent and unpleasant, all of these oft-maligned intellectual tools and habits are additional decomposed by-product to fertilize awareness. They are food to open new channels of communication between oneself and the cosmos. I do acknowledge and honor the natural seer and sage – enlightened without benefit of letters – but that is not the path most of us have been granted in life.
Many of my peers, as well as members of subsequent generations, have an abiding attachment to music. Though jazz and rhythm and blues still energize my limbs and stir my soul, Bach, issuing from a solo instrument or voice, can directly connect me to another more joyful and sublime disposition. Nonetheless, the wall of sound today, from television, radio and various music players, is an absolute barrier to my preferred sounds of nature. A night wind roaring in the hillside trees, the rush of an abundant stream, a chorus of frogs and crickets at nightfall, and the competing vitality of song birds in the morning – all are far more effective as conditioners of awareness and nutrients of its practice. In lieu of these sounds, I have come to prefer silence, where often times internal voice and song improvise to create a very congenial atmosphere, in close touch with the outside – and inside – world.
I am reminded over and over, to mimic the cadence and bluntness of a 1990s' campaign mantra: "It's the process, stupid." It isn't the product or practicality: higher levels of attainment for those aspects will follow in due measure – or not. One pursues life to know life; one practices art to have a notion of what art means, which in turn affords one a glimmer of what life means and can mean. When we think we know enough or have enough friends and we can't see the contribution of some other perspective, we have ceased to seek and know. If I may squeeze yet another cliche into this essay, "Those who tell, don't know." That curt warning applies to me as well. To be aware and to benefit from awareness, one must ever attempt to exercise awareness. It should not and does not require schooling from a master. It does require, however, a persistent, honest search.
VI. NATURE'S CHANNELS
Where I live, there resides a sleek, tall, tentatively elegant bird. There may be more than two in the hollow – there may only be one – but I believe that I have seen at most two at any one time of year. I have never seen two together. Usually I see the great blue in the secluded recesses of our creek. Sometimes the bird can be spotted above where the two branches of our creek join and just as often below that point, which is about a mile from the highway. My awareness of the great blue heron is fleeting, a sighting seems to always be a surprising gift, though the bird's daytime habits and haunts appear fairly predictable. I have come to consider this magnificent bird as the water spirit of the hollow.
These birds are always alone, carefully avoiding human proximity, either fleeing human approach with labored flight or standing perfectly still against a backdrop of small trees and roots on the creek banks in hope of remaining unseen. They stand, three-foot tall or more, in or near the creek as solitary sentries. I wonder if others, neighbors, ever consider such animals – and even certain plants such as trees – as our guardian angels – the material manifestations of divinity on earth that many have so desperately sought and fought over century after century.
Over the past 13 years, my immediate family has endured two major illnesses, one for each of the two parents, from which we miraculously recovered – with the help of hardy constitutions going in, a bushel of prayers a day, and the finest hematologist in the land. Soon after the crisis of each illness, in the cold dead of winter, I discovered a dead adult heron in the icy creek water by my bridge near the cane rush. Out of respect and as a naturalist for the most part, I refrain from making a connection, but the events made a strong impression and suggested a pattern. It may mean nothing, but not to me. To me, at minimum, it was a reminder of temporary reprieve. At most it signaled a sacrifice for which I must be grateful and held accountable. Awareness is a puzzle that leads forward in wonder with each added piece. Hardly ever is it certain. And one is grateful for that glimmer, that hint of connection despite the bafflement.
VII. ACCEPTING MYSTERY
It's been said millions of times and deserves repeating: Life is a mystery. It will remain a mystery for the duration of our lives. Those who do not sense the depths of the mystery have my deepest sympathy – and encouragement, as in time they, too, will surely face it. Only attempted awareness and poetic exploration of the mystery, in language, respectful work, and the loving study of relationships, can reveal glimpses. And those glimpses can only be retained through generations by culture, shared solid policy, and good fortune. For the most part, scientists are not playing god, they are attempting the divine will. In God's wisdom, He left us with resources, talents, and guideposts, and allowed mankind to make mistakes – all the better to learn how to read and employ the experience to the end of days. It is not for man to plan, to willfully contribute to, or even know the end of days. Divine love trusts our wisdom and goodness and capacity for learning – our strength and compassion – our ability to trust and to forgive error in others and ourselves.
Awareness and intuition are certainly linked in some integral way. To assert that intuition does not exist or that it is not a mystery is to deny humanity as having dimensions other than as an aggregation of material ingredients directed by behavioral and emotional habits, memories, and rationalizations (methodical and erratic) – in other words, more reactionary than not. Intuition is a curious phenomenon that requires awareness. Intuition is part product of the regular five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste), part emotional feeling, part other internal sensations, part typical knowledge and understanding, part embedded theory (which is why one's theory in aggregate should be articulate, consistent, large, and capable of assimilating new contradictory information), part essential ethical principles and aesthetic preferences (what some vaguely term values), part memory of experience, part imagination, and part seeking to connect inner being with outside other. It is intuition because it is an awareness of and reading of mystery that can never be fully ruled by the processes of conscious reasoning. It is elusive but no less valuable for that fact.
VIII. TRANCE-PORTATION PROVIDED
Awareness in the midst of a trance is an interesting notion. Being no mystic and an absolute stranger to formal Eastern meditation, I do not know the ways of self-induced mental transportation. Imaginative work and play do something similar for me, though that is a statement of probable antithesis to the gurus of this world and their adherents. However, sometimes one who writes – for whatever reason or impulse – can't quite conceive that one has composed what in fact one has put to paper. One knows that one performed the task with pencil or keypad, but one doesn't quite grasp where it came from, having never thought the thoughts before committing them to hard memory. The act is akin to performance art that is improvised in isolation and then vanishes; it is also akin to an impassioned or playful conversation with an intimate. A torrent runs through one in conducive times as in a trance – an awareness that is unaware in the conventional sense. (A similar experience accompanies other concentrated activities, such as painting, programming, planting, woodworking and dreaming. I doubt that I am unique in such experiences, though perhaps I am more prone to notice them – and talk about them in an unremarkable way.) One asks: where does it come from and to what purpose? For me, such torrents arise upon awakening from dreamy sleep with a blankened, refreshed mind or while walking along a familiar stream. Given a theme of exploration and a mind let loose – and a well-established cultural context – ideas, words, phrases and paragraphs are a flow of fresh water over the banks that usually keep them confined. My wife says of intimate insults that they are "water over the bridge but not forgotten." With some compositions, these unbidden words are a heady vibrancy, a deliciously cool flow, unrestricted by valve or barrier, that is all too easily forgotten – unless immediately captured. I make no claim that they mean anything to anyone else – which is completely beside the point, if one accepts the premise that "it's the process, stupid."