Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where to Remain

Although my thinking about belief systems has shifted dramatically in the last two years, I have not entirely abandoned my appreciation for good symbol.

Sometimes having a symbol to contemplate helps me to step back from a difficult situation and apply new thinking to it. Even if that thinking doesn’t necessarily bring me to any kind of conclusion, the process is a valuable journey toward understanding and inner calm.

My favorite symbol is the mandorla. It’s something of a concentric circle, with the intersecting parts creating not another perfect circle but an almond shape. It’s a symbol used by the early Christians, but to me it's just a nice place to sit and think.

It seems I and a number of people in my life right now are struggling with different degrees of sadness. Even though I am generally happy and my life is very satisfying, there are pieces of life that are sad. Several friends I know are dealing with worries about parents. Several more are wrestling with their paths in life. We all are struggling with the state of the world. And I had the oddly religious experience the other day of muttering “I forgive you” to the wind, and finding that in that moment I became deeply sad.

Sometimes there is no resolution to the opposites in our lives. That is when we have to go and have a cup of tea in the Mandorla. When we realize that many opposites simply must coexist for a very long time, we stop the warring within, and paradox, real paradox takes over. It is a significant moment. We forgive, but the pain remains. We love our enemies. We hate the war, but must love the warriors. The widow is the bride. As TS Eliot wrote, “The fire and the rose are one.”

Life is lived learning how to reconcile the opposing forces around us and in our own nature. That doesn’t mean that things turn out as we wish, or that one side wins over the other. Sometimes it means that we learn to accommodate all these things being what they are.

I have a long list of wishes. Today, for the first time ever, I wished I had not met someone I had. It was very odd. There was in that moment an implosion of the socially polite construct that demands that we pretend to have gotten out of something that which we didn’t. Having placed that particular question in the mandorla months ago, what answer came was not whether it would have been better not to have met this person at all, but rather, that the relationship in reality ultimately served no purpose whatsoever, and that feeling regret over having met the person is nothing to feel guilty about. It was a third option I wouldn't have come to necessarily on my own.

I wish, sometimes, that things were different. I wish the world weren’t at war. I wish I had a new dishwasher. I wish Al Gore would run for president. I wish kids weren’t abducted and killed. I wish I hadn’t been left behind so many times. I wish it were summer. I wish America would fix its public schools. I wish I had gone to graduate school before I got married. I wish all of our clients would hire the best person for the job. I wish I lived where the music I love doesn’t make me a weirdo. I wish people would drive more reasonable cars. I wish I weren’t underemployed. I wish people could just get along.

But what is, simply, is.

When I am in this contemplative mood, I reach for mountain songs. Nothing fancy, nothing requiring enormous digital dexterity. Just the pure authentic honest human voice of searching. This song is the one that was on my mind as I woke up to greet the day. This version is performed on the Cold Mountain soundtrack by Tim Eriksen, Tim O’Brien, and Riley Baugus, but it’s an old traditional song. It’s been likewise recorded by Uncle Tupelo. If you need a song to accompany those sad, wish-I-could-fly-away moments, this is the one.

I Wish My Baby Was Born

I wish I wish
My baby was born
And setting on his papa’s knee
And me, poor girl,
Were dead and gone
And the green grass growing
Over my feet

I ain’t no saint
Nor never will be
Til the sweet apple grows
On the sour apple tree
But still I hope
The day will come
When you and I

Shall be as one
I wish I wish
my love had died
And sent his soul to wander free
Then we might be
Where ravens fly
Let our poor bodies rest in peace

The owl, the owl,
Is a lonely bird
It chills my heart
With dread and terror
That someone's blood
There on his wing
That someone's blood
There on its feathers


At March 02, 2007 8:55 AM, Blogger MichaelBains said...

I wish I could hear the song right now but my work's firewall forbids it. The lyrics are pretty darned shadowy, eh.

But what is, simply, is.

And that's from where we've all got to start.


errrm, Symbolically, of course. :)

At March 02, 2007 11:17 AM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...


Woah. We're traveling the same paths these days, I see.

The tension of the opposites.

Sanity lies within holding the tension. Rather than allowing oneself to get drawn to one or the other.

Robert Johnson has some great material on this and the mandorla.

I find that some days I feel this tension pulling stronger than others, and those are the days I feel like I am losing my mind. In reality, I think I am just losing my ego. And finding my Self.

Here are two posts I wrote about this tug of war: Paradox and the Tension of Opposites and Losing My Mind.

Hang in there. What you write about today is what our midlife crises are all about. Remember there is no decision. Remember to breathe.

Much love,
Shameless Agitator

At March 02, 2007 11:54 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Ah, Mr. Be, yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow, I fear it not ... nor life, nor death, but the inbetween sure kicks my ass!

Shameless, Johnson got me through back when You Know Who tromped all over my spirit and I lost my mama. That's when you told me about The Little Pink Book and I first learned about Mandorla, the tool I have used more than any other religious symbol my entire life. It sure came in handy when You Know Who Two pulled his copycat move and drew me into an unnecessary battle with Ego.

But you're right. There is no decision. There just is, is.

At March 02, 2007 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

whoever in the world overcomes craving

For that one sorrows fall away

like drops of water

from a lotus leaf

At March 02, 2007 6:49 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Wise words that bring me joy because they are spot on. I don't know what I crave, or why, because there is nothing I lack. Thanks for putting it so beautifully and the new way for thinking on this.

At March 05, 2007 10:06 AM, Blogger Blueberry said...

If wishes were horses, we would ride, ride, ride. Wishes can be tied to hopes or regrets. It's hard to know what things we can change and what things we shouldn't change. Regrets are very hard to live with. Forgiveness is hard to live with too, that's why most people never do it. It's much easier to not forgive and walk away. In any case, nothing will change the past, short of a scalpel to the memory-center. Life is a hard path, with no shortcuts.

Good post.

At March 05, 2007 12:41 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Thanks much, Blueberry. You're right. Life and it's lessons are sometimes tougher than they appear. I try to forgive myself too, and just keep on plowing beside everybody else right on to the end of the row. Can't take any shortcuts if you want a good crop.



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