Monday, December 01, 2014


Carrying death on our backs

Everyone has a fine time talking about Sin and Evil and Why Bad Things Happen.  Where’s the discussion of Desire, Delight, and Intimacy?  Getting outside of your own skin in a good way.  A real way. This is NOT about sex.  Nor is it about the abyss that faces us.

This post about three things:

1.  Crossing the skin barrier with senses, which is the first step towards meaning.

2.  Crossing the skin barrier with empathy, which is the fifth step toward meaning
        (2,3,4 are brain processing functions.  See earlier posts.)

3.  Escaping the skin barrier with wonder, mysticism, virtual worlds -- which isn’t a “step” but something that happens.

Lesley Hazleton

Let me start with a story from a blog I read which is by a hard-headed female international journalist living on a houseboat in Seattle.  She told about an experience that was either funny or tragic, depending on how you look at it.  It’s on the line between mysticism and science, one literal “point of view” unaccountable and another a test-able explanation.   (You could google for it.  Try “sky phenomena” for starters.)

Here’s a severely edited version of Lesley Hazleton’s account.  To get to know her, try her TED talk:  Her blog is  She posted this story on Oct.23, 2014, and called it “Sun Dog.”

“People experience awe in very different ways. One person’s exhilarating glimpse of something infinitely grand can be another’s nightmare, to be denied, even exiled from consciousness.

“. . .The sun began to rise over the mountains to the east – a large, fuzzy sun, the color of a white daffodil. Mesmerized by its slow ascent, I waited for the moment when it would detach itself from the mountain ridges and assume a perfect, independent roundness. Except it didn’t. Just when I expected to see clear sky between sun and mountains, there seemed instead to be something beneath the sun, pushing it upward, and I realized that there were now two suns rising — two suns of equal size, conjoined, one on top of the other. “A sun dog!” I shouted.

“My friend came running up from below, took one look, and froze. “That shouldn’t be happening. That can’t be happening,” he shouted, adamantly refusing to believe the testimony of his own eyes. “That’s impossible!”

“. . . Something awful is happening, against all the laws of nature.” . . . But he only dashed back down into the cabin for shelter from the sky, leaving me alone to watch as it became still more extraordinary. The lower sun assumed a deeper color and more definite form as it rose, and as the upper one faded, a thick pillar of white light took shape between the remaining sun – the real sun — and the mountaintops. It occurred to me that it may have been as well that my friend was below deck: a pillar of light was so damn biblical. And then that in turn gave way to a huge double rainbow in an ellipse around the risen sun, and I could only stand there shaking my head and laughing, tears in my eyes, knowing that I would never again witness a sunrise as stunningly eerie and beautiful and grand as this.”
More conventional depiction of a sun dog (parhelion) often seen around here in winter.  
Some say it's what the ancients called "Elijah's Chariot Wheel of Fire."

So Lesley, open to her own senses, was able to accept this sky phenomenon while her companion, a preacher’s son, was so conditioned to think that anything out of the ordinary must be perverse, became terrified and rejecting.  Happens all the time.  Institutional religion is forever afraid it will sail over the edge of the world.

Especially here on the east slope of the Rockies where Pacific moisture, basically little prism droplets, meet the dry, windy, often very hot or cold, light-bending air of the prairies and creates something like a chandelier.  I need several metaphors.   

Our sky canopy is full of ruffles and tucks that we can’t see until they are beaded with water.  Enough airplanes leak or deliberately dump volatile fuel, possibly burning, that exhaust plumes add embroidery and spangles.  Wind shear can twist it into knots.  We know that the aurora borealis with its transparent chiffon veil dances is really ions from the Sun, which doesn’t make them any less miraculous-looking.  

To change the metaphor, it is as if the sky were the underside of a crystal geodesic dome against which someone is pointing laser lights, making shining pillars and flaring rainbows.  Some people don’t want to know what the display “really” is -- they’d rather let their imaginations play -- but others (probably the same ones who want to know how movie effects are made) only feel enriched by understanding the behavior of light refraction.  

When musicians play certain chords exactly in tune, a note that isn’t played at all will be heard.  They’re called “overtones” and can be described and predicted by the physics of vibration, particularly with strings and columns of air.  Something like overtones exists in the human brain and perhaps it is an explanation of mysticism, the perception of something imperceptible -- that is, to ordinary senses.  

If one has rich experiences and is open to what is mysterious, exalting, and gorgeous, it’s not hard to imagine angels and aliens.  Why discourage this?  Aesthetics is a kind of morality, a guide to rewarding behavior, sometimes shared -- maybe not.  Lesley is a person who has traveled the world, studied other religious systems, seen terrifying and horrible violence.  Yet she is capable of amazement at beauty.  She knows it is a kind of redemption.

We struggle to survive as individuals and as groups, but why?   What is the name of “the force that through the green fuse drives” but desire.  It’s desire that pulls us through the narrative trajectory of our lives, both the suffering and the bliss.  Sometimes the world opens around us like a jeweled rose blooming and other times the torment of dark, cold, suffocation, plummeting is overwhelming.  They say that the worst outcome of torture is the loss of desire -- no longer wanting, no longer remembering, no longer even feeling.  It is separation from Being Itself.

In our struggle to preserve ourselves and others who are too different to understand, at least in the terms we know, we push those others off the edge of the world.  No room!  No room!  Not enough food!  You scare us!  Foolishness.  This planet is a sphere.  If you push the others out, they’ll just travel around and come up behind you to bite you in the butt.
Sorry this is mono-sexual.

I’ve moved my understanding of the basis of salvation away from virtue and into participation.  To participate in the webbed life of the planet, the movement of air and water, the dance of creation, the surprises and efforts -- these are what make life worth living, worth the survival.  It IS survival, no matter the length of your life, how rewarded your gifts, the magnificence of your status.  If you were there, you saw, you figured it out, that’s enough.  You did your part for the group and yourself. 

As a compliment, some people are described as being “comfortable in their skins,” meaning that they are neither pretentious nor shrinking and therefore good to be around.  Some say that one of the important characteristics of humans is that they can enjoy the creation, wherever it came from, and know that they belong in it, even if only as observers.

This post is a birthday message to a close friend.

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