Living Life Well
After the signing of our constitution Ben Franklin commented – about the sun painted on the back of George Washington’s chair – that throughout the session he couldn’t tell whether it was rising or setting. “But now, at length,” he said, “I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” Now we are there once again, at the threshold of an amazing place, and we need that reassurance. These words that I am now writing – and that now you are reading – come in an extraordinary time, a constant present tense filled with a tension that seeks some kind of release and resolve.
I know that you’ve probably already voted, so we won’t be talking about the election anymore – we’ll be talking about what happens now. What now about our still increasing apprehension, what now about the days and weeks ahead, what now about the rest of the year, the rest of this administration – and the rest of us? So many of us are stunned, caught like a deer in the headlights; but is that car actually moving or is it parked there, its motor running, and for how long?
Ease up, a bit. Although it will be difficult for many of us not to stay up late election night watching the returns come in, the results will not be quickly known. So this is a good time for us to stop as well, and to look around this strange world in which we find our motors running. It’s a troubled landscape that we’ve almost grown accustomed to – yet so tired of – and still the coil continues to tighten as the urge toward fight or flight builds within us, as we freeze, not knowing which way to turn.
Meanwhile, something else foreboding is happening during these fraught times, easily overlooked by those who have become overcome by the virus, the firestorms, and the election. There is the Full Moon on Hallowe’en – an even rarer Blue Moon (the second full moon of the month) – followed by the resumption of Standard Time (if there is such a thing), when our clocks are set back and the darkness begins to fall earlier and earlier each night for the remainder of the year.
Hallowe’en (a contraction for All Hallows’ Evening) begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, that time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering those that have gone on ahead of us, while remaining within our hearts. The following day, November first, is All Saints Day, a remnant of the ancient Gaelic festival Samhain celebrated in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos. Many traditions remind us, as the year nears its end, that an infinite and eternal reality always embraces our awareness, where those whom we love live on; and as we hold them in our memory, the immensity of the world they now live in finds a place to comfort the narrowness of our concerns.
I am told there is a village in Michoacán known as Bellas Fuentes, where the Monarch butterflies come together to gather in winter. There, death is known as a woman who holds your hand and walks beside you, from your birth until your last day – and she does not pull you forward or to her, and you are not to pull back, or away. Death becomes, then, something more significant than simply the end of life but something larger – it is life’s true companion, the contrasting darkness that brings the significance of life into light. Do not fear what is building, we are told, but be watchful, be thoughtful, be mindful; and embrace the tension, and learn how to harness its energy.
I remember, back in the early ‘60s, reading Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery aloud over the air at KPFA. While teaching Hegelian logic in Japan in 1920, the German philosophy professor had undertaken to learn about Zen by studying Daishadokyo, an esoteric form of Kyd or Japanese archery, and wrote about what he had discovered. He learned then that, no longer distracted by irrelevant concerns, the noise of extraneous drama – the mind and body can become fused, galvanized in a focus upon the matter at hand. In that focus, the archer becomes present to the energy of the bow and the readiness of the target.
When we are caught up on the horns of the dilemma of fight or flight, when we vacillate between the thrill of joining in the argument and the relief of escaping into ignorance, when we freeze in fright at the situation in which we find ourselves, it is wise to recall the stance of the archer who is not confused with the bow or the target. Drawing back the arrow notched into the string, we harness the energy generated by the increased stress of the bow; and we learn to wait, and abide by the moment when the tension is released.
The lesson we must learn is not to decide what has taken place while it is taking place – we can’t yet possibly know what it is we are trying to learn. The discipline that transforms victims into witnesses is the stance of the archer who is deliberate, attentive, and present. The days ahead will certainly be at least as fraught as the days of this past month, as the noise of campaigns becomes the howl of complaints, and resistance. We will find in time that whoever has won must contend with the legions of the one who has lost, and must acknowledge the more powerful unseen forces that lie within and beyond this narrow, narrow world.
So be resolved, be present, and be prepared for the sun to rise.
Jim Shere is a local writer with a private practice as a counselor in Glen Ellen. You are invited to explore his website at jimshere.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org