As many of my regular readers may recall, back in 2012, my family and I suffered the personal loss of our dear brother, Michael, and at that time, our personal experiences surrounding that loss, and having to endure the profound sadness that accompanied those events, presented us with an unprecedented challenge of finding a path forward that did not include his presence among us. It seemed, in many ways, like an impossible task, and although each of us still struggles to some degree with the memories of the last days of his life, in the intervening five years since then, we have continued to support and love one another, and to honor his memory by celebrating as a family whenever possible.
Over the past few days, as the five year mark has approached, I have spent some time considering the broader view of the significance of life, including lessons from the past, as well as those of our own time, and I hope a brief look at the value of this moment from a different perspective, will be of some small comfort and solace to those who may presently be enduring a similar challenge in their own lives.
Beyond the potent personal memory of the loss which occurred on this day in 2012, this commemoration also provides an opportunity to share what are, perhaps, the even more important aspects of our contemplation, which are, to remember our dear brother with love, and to celebrate the abundant love we all still share, as we constantly seek a new beginning; a way to look ahead to the future with hope.
In preparing to write this blog post, I came across a bible passage from Ecclesiastes, which speaks to the heart of the matter. It’s taken from Chapter one, verses four through eleven:
“One generation passes away, and another generation comes: but the earth abides forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down…All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full…There is no remembrance of the men of old; nor of those to come will there be any remembrance among those who come after them.” Ecclesiastes 1:4-11
The world in which these words were written was a very different world than the one we now know. When it was written, which scholars believe was probably about three centuries before Christ, Alexander the Great was moving through Asia and into Europe, and he eventually conquered most of the known world, before succumbing to a fever, at age 32.
By Charles Le Brun – , Public Domain, Alexander’s Arrival in Babylon
While we rightly mourned the loss of our beloved brother at the age of 61, who was known primarily to his extended family, friends, and coworkers, I couldn’t help but ponder, in contrast to the effect of our loss, how much impact the loss of Alexander must have had on the world at large, when one of the most famous human conquerors and world leaders of all human history passed away having barely entered his thirties.
What is now apparent to our modern sensibilities, with the benefit of an historical perspective, is that the precise world that Alexander knew, the empire he established and which endured over many centuries, has now also passed into history. Generations of human beings have been born, have perished, and have been followed by succeeding generations, and yet, the earth remains.
From age to age, the human race has continued, but each one of us, exists only briefly on this earth, like a shadow, quickly skimming across the surface of the planet, with the changing light of day.
Considering the lives of all the previous generations of our family, the world that WE all know, is a reflection of their tireless efforts to promote and preserve the values that we now possess as the inheritors of that legacy. Our family history is replete with examples of steadfast love and support, across all the generations that preceded ours. It has been an unshakable love, which created a robust tradition of faith and family values, all too often absent in the world these days.
But neither the earth, nor the world in which we exist upon it, remain unchanged. Each new generation builds upon the one before, and although we create our individual worlds as we grow, we introduce changes which are sometimes profound, and perhaps sometimes unnoticed, but undeniably, these differences contribute either to the destruction of what came before, or to the construction of the world that is yet to come.
It should give us pause to consider, especially now, as we contemplate the passing of the most recent previous generation of our family, that we must find a reason to be grateful, and to be encouraged, and perhaps, to be a bit more hopeful regarding the prospects that life holds for us, as we make our way into the future. In Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that humans often don’t remember long the people and the lessons of the past, but no matter how many generations come and go, our legacy of love will endure if we nurture it.
Our science tells us that even the earth will eventually succumb to the death of the sun at the center of our solar system, which nourishes our planet currently, but what it is that has been created here on earth, and indeed, throughout the entire universe itself, is the manifestation of the divine source of all things, and that, like the love we now inherit from previous generations, truly does abide forever.
I can feel you. I know you are there. I want you to be there. I think that’s the reason it keeps happening. At some point, we both reflect on those moments, and it brings us somehow together. Your face said everything. Just for a moment, it all came rushing back to you–all those moments–they all passed through your mind’s eye. Your body posture changed immediately. You opened to me. I wanted to run right at you and hold you close, but the moment was gone and you–you were brought back to the temporal–you were brought back to the moment in time and space, but before you turned and remembered where you were temporally, I had you completely–I had you completely–and I wanted you completely. For just a few seconds, everything stopped, and that place that only we inhabit burst open. Your face softened. Your shoulders relaxed. It was relief–you were relieved–just for that moment. I played right along in the temporal. I allowed a suspension of my inclinations and yours. Twice during the conversation in time and space, we leaned into each other. Your face immediately softened. You were close enough to hear my heartbeat.
After a few seconds you snapped out of it and returned to the space and time of the temporal world, and once more, I extended my hand. You came immediately in and again your face softened and you smiled. It was like you were looking right through me. It would have been a completely different experience had it been under different circumstances. I imagined how it might have gone, had we been alone. I would have pulled you in, surrounded you with my arms. My heart was flung open only for a few seconds, but if the circumstances were different, I would have opened up all the way.
I wouldn’t let you go. I’m so much taller, I always seem to be looking down at you, but your face, when it looks up to me, makes it feel like we’re the same height. Height becomes irrelevant. I know I would have put my hands on your face, and I believe your face would be grinning broadly. I would hesitate for just a second or two, and I would say, “I love you,” and I would kiss you deeply–passionately. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. It wouldn’t have to be anymore. It would be alright. We’d be fine. I would look deeply in your eyes; I would sigh; I’d probably be giggling–a nervous laughter. I wouldn’t want you to be upset. I would want you to giggle too.
Even if it never happened again, I would know that moment and I would create a point of worship. I’d worship that moment–cling to it–always. So many times when you have been in my arms, and our faces have been very close, I have wanted to kiss you, but it was almost unnecessary because it seemed that your face registered my desire–you knew that I wanted to kiss you, and you smiled.
There must be a chance, even if its only once, to relive this imagining, to manifest it in the physical world, but even if it never happens it’s really already happened dozens of times, and each time you smiled, knowing. I don’t understand, but I accept–I accept you, just as you are. You see, the person to whom that face belongs–I love that person; the person who inhabits that body–I love that person; the soul that manifests as that person–I am one with that soul. We will never be apart–ever. We are forever one.
“Never in the world were any two opinions alike, any more than any two hairs or grains of sand. Their most universal quality is diversity.” –Montaigne, Essays, 1580
In a letter-writing conversation with a thoughtful friend some years ago, the topic turned to how to engage others more deeply without abandoning our own sense of self or compromising our ability to function as an individual spirit in the world. My friend wrote, “…deep engagement without reluctance, in my opinion does turn the world upside down, and the only way to engage at that deep level, unless you are still in the womb, is to let go of your own consciousness. But there is a conflict because what we seem to hope for is deep engagement not with our primal undifferentiated selves, but with our developed selves; but the developed self by nature is separate, has evolved to live independently of the host, the mother.”
In response, I turned to the writings of C.G.Jung, and his ideas about the process of individuation, which, according to a notation in Wikipedia, “…is the process in which the individual self develops out of an undifferentiated unconscious – seen as a developmental psychic process during which innate elements of personality, the components of the immature psyche, and the experiences of the person’s life become integrated over time into a well-functioning whole.” Jung believed that “…the essentially ‘internal’ process of individuation does not go on in some inner space cut off from the world. Rather, it can only be realized within the larger context of life as it is lived.” Our developed selves, brought about by individuation are, in my opinion, perhaps more accurately described as being founded upon our primal undifferentiated selves, rather than as something separate from it, but it seems pretty clear that it is our developed selves which inspire conflict when it does occur. Conflict seems to me to be more of a cultural problem than one of the host being separate from the mother.
In a letter he wrote a few months before his death, Jung stated:
“It is quite possible that we look at the world from the wrong side and that we might find the right answer by changing our point of view and looking at it from the other side, that is, not from the outside, but from inside.”
For me, the connections I recognize as those which I strive to engage without reluctance and without turning the world upside down, transcend the developed self. The crucial point of the matter here seems to be our connection to the infinite. In his autobiography, Jung wrote:
“If we understand and feel that here in this life we already have a link with the infinite, desires and attitudes change…In our relationships…the crucial question is whether an element of boundlessness is expressed in the relationship…Only consciousness of our narrow confinement in the self forms the link to the limitlessness of the unconscious…In knowing ourselves to be unique in our personal combination—that is, ultimately limited—we possess also the capacity for becoming conscious of the infinite.”
– excerpt from Jung’s autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections,” 1963, New York: Random House.
I have struggled to come to terms with the compelling inner sense of a connection to the infinite that has appeared regularly in my writings these many years. I often struggle also with attempting to articulate this inner urging and to describe it in ways that can be appreciated by my readers here. Of necessity as temporal beings, we often resort to temporal references in order to allude to that which cannot be described in temporal terms. The nature of life, temporal existence, the physical universe, and everything relevant to that existence cannot be described completely in terms belonging only to that physical existence. We have devised ways of referring to these other aspects of life and existence, particularly as they relate to our very human nature, and acknowledge them as existing in a domain far removed from the temporal–as far removed from the temporal plane as we are from the quantum world of the very small, and the farthest reaches of the physical universe. Although we are, in some important ways, defined by these two opposing aspects, the truth seems to reside between them.
Sometimes, we all need to step away from the table, to catch up on our sleep, or to clear our hearts and minds from all the clutter that can accumulate. Wellness requires periods of rest; mental health requires periods of sleep and occasional disconnects. No one goes on vacation all the time, just every once in a while. It is unlikely to find peace in even a deep connection unless we are able to find some peace in ourselves. This is the absolute goal in successful relationships, and I feel strongly that I DO have some peace within me now. I may have some additional work to do through contemplation and ruminating on my path that brought me to my present place in the world, and psychologically we should all be continuously working to engage our hearts and minds in the pursuit of progressing as a person, but the foundation I now possess has been hard-won and warrants consideration when I sometimes still feel that twinge of the memory of the pain that led to the peace of where I am now.
Each of us suffers subjectively in ways that cannot meaningfully be compared to the suffering of others. As a person who cannot seem to avoid empathizing with the suffering of others, I have endured my own suffering with a fairly unique perspective as a man. My mother told me that as a young boy, when one of the other children in the neighborhood would fall down or be crying for some reason, I would also cry. As I witnessed the birth of each of my children, I cried buckets of tears, and holding one of my grandchildren now or when I see any newborn child, my heart absolutely melts. Reading about the tragic circumstances that seem to appear regularly in the news these days frequently brings me to tears. I can’t say I know many other men who have this problem. These experiences clearly are of the “very human” variety, and it seems to me that our very human nature is more complex and mysterious than any of the science, psychology, or philosophy of mind currently can illuminate.
Some months ago, I wrote a few brief remarks to share for the memorial service marking one year since my Mom’s passing, and while preparing to deliver the remarks, I recorded myself reciting them in order to review them before the service. The first attempts with just my voice were helpful in the editing process, but it felt like something was lacking in the delivery, so I decided to try adding a musical component to help set the mood. I eventually chose a selection from the movie, “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams called, “Song on the Beach.” It’s a lovely piano solo from the film score composed by Arcade Fire and Owen Pallet. I posted a link above to the mp3 version of my reading and posted the text below so you could follow along if you wish.
The memories of our lives have a central role in forming who we eventually become, and even though we all realize that memorable experiences aren’t always going to be happy ones, we still naturally tend to suppress those memories which are unpleasant, in favor of those which remind us of happy times. Unfortunately, at certain times, unpleasant memories of trauma or loss can overwhelm us and prevent us from considering the broad scope of our memories, which generally include a more balanced or nuanced collection. We are only human, and must allow ourselves these episodes of being or feeling overwhelmed, recognizing that these feelings will eventually subside with time, although no specific time frame applies to any one of us. Each of us must find our way back in our own time.
As cognitive creatures, we are able to form memories from our subjective experiences, and to utilize those memories for learning and teaching, for calculation and contemplation, for innovation and intuition, and to improve our abilities and increase our level of awareness. Our memories can enslave us or empower us, depending on our interpersonal skills, the degree of support and caring we experience throughout our lives, and often on how well we are able to develop our abilities throughout our lives. Our emphasis can sap the life out of us, or enable us to grow and live abundantly, although frequently it ends up being somewhere in between.
Now that I have introduced the category of “Life,” the next few posts will introduce the role of “Evolution,” in the theory I presented recently, and I hope my readers will be patient while I struggle to find my way to the writing desk. Memory is not just something only humans possess, and it can present both opportunities and obstacles depending on how it is employed in our daily lives, but it clearly can challenge us with difficulties to endure, just as easily as it enables us to enhance our lives. It’s really up to us.
Memory is Feeling
When we go out walking in the brisk, autumn air now, inhaling deeply, listening to the rustling of the leaves that are left, taking in the beauty in every color surrounding us, it stirs our memories of autumns from years ago. The sweetness in the air, the crystal clarity between us and the world, all of the experiences of this time of year, have meaning as a consequence of our humanity. It evokes mystery; it evokes contemplation, and in the most ordinary of ways. We can close our eyes, listen to the sounds, feel the warmth of the sun against our skin, the rising and falling of our chests as we breathe, the air flowing in and out of our lungs, the pulse throbbing in our wrists.
Conventional wisdom, first written by Rene Descartes ( in “Principles of Philosophy,”) said “I think, therefore I am,” but for me, it is more correct to say, “I feel, therefore I am,” in spite of having to think about how we feel. For me, feeling has always been the one indisputable proof of my existence. It FEELS like something to be an individual human person. And our miraculous capacity for memory, which we now know is not like a transcript, or a videotape, or a digital rendering of our experiences, but actually, every time we remember, it is a reconstruction—a recreation in our minds of the way it felt to be in those moments. Our experience of those moments feels like life-I feel, therefore I am alive.
We don’t often stop during the day to consider at length what we are feeling. Our busy lives often prevent us from spending too much time in quiet contemplation of such things, but when we allow ourselves to become quiet, when we are able to pause even for a few minutes of silence, that is when our capacity for memory can move us most deeply.
It’s often during the times when we are at our quietest, when we think of those we love who are no longer with us. They are there still, lingering in memory. It is perhaps, as a memory, that the full measure of the delight we knew with them is clearer than when they were among us. We look back on those experiences now, as a lovely memory, to see that they contain particular elements which we want to hold on to and which mean the most to us. The feeling of connection to those we love does not perish with the body. We continue to feel those connections as strongly as ever.
We are gathered today as a family to honor our memories of our mother, whom we adored, and to whom we are still very much connected. Perhaps this is the greatest lesson of loss. Even though they are no longer with us physically, the soul continues, and the memory of the feeling will not perish.
—more to come—
As the morning light bestows its first sweet caress,
It stirs my waking dream to life,
Loosening the reluctant grasp of
Yesterday’s liquid night;
The stillness of the dark water,
In the wee hours before dawn,
Slowly yields to the tides within me.
They ripple gently in steady, rhythmic response,
As my heart reclaims its rightful place,
Among the hidden pillars of my spiritual center;
Tender thoughts of affection newly-born,
Cascade like a waterfall of epic delight,
Propagating along networks of neural pathways,
Bursting now with skittish ions,
Jumping to each new tendril that reaches out,
As they await the sparks
Of their measured and anticipated embrace,
With invisible and mysterious arms
Of infinite possibility.
How delicately we step into the light of each new day;
How faithfully we sow the seeds of our delight;
How often we strive to open our hearts and minds to its potential,
Only to discover the ever-changing distance,
From morning light to the next liquid night.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” — Helen Keller
Reckoning Love’s Labor Lost
You never intended to lose the thread
Of the labor of love that you lost.
You couldn’t have known, after so many years,
How the swells of the sea would be tossed.
Your heart and your mind lost their way many times,
But always the tide would return,
How could you have known how the world, on its own,
Would end up at such a wrong turn?
Throughout every life, as the years slowly pass,
We struggle and fight for our reasons,
We search for the answers to all of our questions,
We turn with each change in our seasons.
But the labor of love stands alone in our memory,
The tides of the heart swirl inside us;
We labor at last with the help of true longing,
We lean on the partner beside us.
The labor endures through the struggles and years,
We cling to the love that we’re losing;
The toll that it takes grips our souls in a vise,
We lose sight of the choice we are choosing.
So it’s true that the labor of love can be lost,
Not all of our loss can we reckon.
What is left we must salvage, and forge ever forward,
Til love once again we can beckon.
© October 2014 by JJHIII
“No experimental methodology ever has or ever will succeed in capturing the essence of the human soul, or even so much as tracing out an approximately faithful picture of its complex manifestations.” “My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious. It is not the part which can be externally and biographically dated that constitutes the real life of a person, but its myth–the fateful, spiritual inner side of this life.” — C.G.Jung from Collected Works, Vol.6, and from the Prologue to his autobiography.”
It was very much like the proverbial “lightning bolt out of the blue.” An inexplicable explosion in my heart and mind, touched off by an encounter with a clearly kindred spirit–perhaps a soul mate from a previous incarnation or the embodiment of an answer to some unconscious longing–an “Eve,” from a garden paradise; a Nefratari–wife of Ramsees II of Egypt; or the companion and lover to Jonas Rice in colonial America. The pieces of the puzzle were only beginning to form a fuzzy picture of how this lovely and mysterious soul evoked such a provocative and profound influence on my psyche. The awakening to her presence in this lifetime brought with it a torrential flood of long-forgotten memories from what seemed like centuries ago, and which were in sharp contrast to my life at that time. Like a ship trying to sail against the tide, I was ill-equipped to manage the powerful emotional and spiritual flow. Faced with the deeply-felt draw toward her spirit, I floundered at first, stumbling through each encounter like an embarrassed child. Impelled helplessly by forces I could not control, I fell headlong into the cavernous recesses of the ancient shared memories.
What follows is a glimpse into what lies within. It is not an exaggeration to say that I do not fully understand how these thoughts and images erupted from me in the weeks prior to departing for overseas duty in Europe, nor could I identify the underlying causes or enumerate the sources for the vision that occurred one night while on a field exercise in the forests of Massachusetts. The descriptions arrived on the page with my hand holding the pen, and with my heart and mind completely open to what was erupting from within me.
Alone while on perimeter patrol in the middle of a steamy summer night, gazing up at the full moon, humming softly to myself, I noticed a rock formation shaped like the bow of a ship, which stood out prominently in the foreground against the moonlit sky. Intrigued by the thought of traveling on the ocean in such a vessel, I explored the area briefly, and allowed my mind to wander into a reverie of a sea voyage, setting sail for a sea-bound adventure, and traveling to distant shores. Exploring the limits of my youthful imagination, and caught up in the daydream of an exotic sea voyage, I suddenly became aware that there was absolutely no sound around me. No swells crashing against the side of the ship; no wind whistling through the masts, no seagulls screaming in the distance. I tried furiously to shake it off, but without success. My brow began to bead up with sweat, and my heart was racing as I struggled to free myself from the strange and compelling silence. I fell to my knees, somehow unable to cry out or to look around to see what might be causing my predicament.
Quite unexpectedly, I heard what seemed like a voice calling my name, and when I stood up and turned in the direction of the voice, there before me was the lone figure I had seen weeks before in the tree with no leaves in the depths of the forest. Terrified that I might be falling ill or be delusional with fever, my first thought was to escape, yet I seemed to be frozen where I stood, wondering why I could not “wake up” from this daydream. There was no face to the figure, only darkness below a hooded cloak, and no other sound came from that direction, but somehow, inside my head, I felt as though scrambled, choppy words were forming in my mind:
“Do not be afraid…Heed what you now feel…great importance…this moment in time…assume the burden…seek the Fortress…hidden purpose…go now and prepare…”
As quickly as it appeared, it was gone. I felt light-headed and had to sit down. I sat there, stunned, staring off into the distance for some time, contemplating the thoughts that passed through my consciousness in the moments that followed. As I peered deeply into the early morning darkness, the words from the vision tumbled over and over in my head. I could hardly believe what had transpired, and couldn’t seem to settle down. Alone with my thoughts, I breathed deeply, and was reminded of the scent in the air which filled my lungs as a child, which wasn’t much different than the air on that day, but it filled my lungs and sustained me in a very different world.
Not much time had passed before the first hints of daylight began to appear on the horizon, and the overwhelming silence began to give way to the sounds of the mountain creatures awakening to their daily chores. Soon, blanketing the surroundings in shadows, the sun peeked out, illuminating the tips of the mountains with the soft, warm glow of the day’s beginning. Fully aroused now from my reverie by the spears of sunlight, I slowly turned away from the light of the sun, with tears rolling down my cheeks. Whether it was the brightness of the morning light or a sudden sadness that prompted the tears I could not say. Whatever it was, I had the feeling it wouldn’t be the last time I would weep on my journey.
It was a long trek back down the mountain path to the campsite where the field crew was waiting for my return from the perimeter, but it didn’t seem to take very long this time. My mind was clearer now, and I felt an unusual calmness, in spite of having felt fairly shaken just a short time before. I checked in with the station monitor, and my replacement for perimeter patrol was already waiting to take over. I went to lay down in the makeshift barracks for my section, but didn’t think I was going to sleep much. I would be off-duty until the next night shift, and as I lay on my cot, I wrote a letter to my lady-in-waiting:
“My heart and mind are with you. I feel your presence clearly. I’m not sure how this is possible, but it feels very good and I intend to hold on to this feeling. When I look into your eyes, it’s like looking in a mirror in some ways. How to resolve the nature of our connection remains a true puzzle. You enter the realm of my existence in unguarded moments with a frequency that pleases me greatly. Your heart is open, and your spirit is unbounded. And yet, the pain in my heart this night is unlike any other I have known. Emotionally, I accept that it must be for some purpose of growth or development, but spiritually, where the pain seems most severe, I am completely without the slightest notion of how to proceed. The occasionally hopeless feeling of being totally alone, not only because I am feeling a bit lost without you, but in knowing how to move forward again, and if it is even possible, creates a quandary of spirit such as I have never known.”
Our closeness had been a godsend during these times, and it allowed me to see where once there was only darkness. I felt blessed for the gifts of joy and music that spoke her name, and cursed by the anticipated emptiness that everyday life would hold when we would have to part, as I prepared to go overseas. Like it seemed to happen so many times before, everything would “soar brilliantly for a time, only to be eclipsed suddenly” by other circumstances. For me, at least, there was a sense of increasing evidence of the convergence in time and space of kindred spirits, and the story of Jonas was only one of many that would intersect with my expectations and intentions as I followed the path forward.