13 January 2008

Mind Maps and Life Paths

Somewhere in the last few weeks I heard a song whose lyric included "World gone mad..." The music and the vocalist's style got under my skin as much as the lyric. The world feels and looks mad to me and there is a comfort having my impressions affirmed by someone else--especially another musical artist.

It was a kind of "chicken or egg" conundrum, trying to figure out how the recent holiday madness fit with the general world madness. Was the world madness more difficult for me because holiday madness was at fever pitch? Was the fever pitch an attempt by the masses to deal with the surrounding world madness?

For weeks now, my thinking has been muddled, cluttered, disordered on nearly every front: socially, politically, artistically, spiritually... I've been waiting for a tiny shimmering ort of clarity to emerge from the mess, something I could snatch up and use as a launch point for blogging. The burst of energy and clarity that led to "Improvisation of Presence" was a short-lived aberration. The clouds returned shortly after clicking the "Publish Post" button.

I believe the surrounding world madness is largely responsible for my cluttered mind. Or more accurately put, I've searched my trick bag and found no light there strong enough to dispel the fog and cloud.

In November I was given a copy of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." The book comes to mind now as I anticipate the voices of sympathy responding to my narrative here. In the novel, a father and son make their way across a devastated, post-apocalyptic America. They have somehow survived a horror that has decimated the population; now and then they encounter other survivors, mostly people who have sacrificed their goodness in the name of survival.

Father and son walk on through the physical nightmare. What else can be done? They don't cry or complain or despair. They just keep going. I have a similar feeling lately--I keep going. Not full of fear or anger or complaint. Just pressing on. Through fog.

Suicide crosses my mind from time to time. But that's par for my life course--it's been an item for contemplation at least since the age of 9. I checked myself into a hospital around Thanksgiving of 1993 because my "suicidal ideation" was so intense; but these days it's no cause for alarm when I hear Suicide, snarling angrily and throwing itself against the walls in the next room. I open the door carefully and enter barefoot, approaching slowly, speaking softly in soothing tones. I've learned how to win sufficient trust to hold It in my lap, stroke it's little head--being careful to avoid it's teeth.

K____ turned me on to the Mindjet Mind Manager software a few months back and I downloaded a trial version of the software. Beyond my predictable delight with having a new toy, using it to attempt to gain a partial appreciation of the contour and scope of my fogginess proved informative. I built three personal mind maps: one each for Brazil, the "why" and "how" of living on the Gulf Coast and the dream of establishing a leadership school in South Mississippi (I haven't talked about that here yet....). If you're trying to figure something out, I highly recommend following the link to the download and giving the application a try.

Besides my explorations with Mindjet, one other light has gone on that is worth a note here:

Since I began to listening to Joni's latest CD, "Shine" (see previous post "If I Had A Heart I'd Cry"), I've been listening again to her old albums and watching Joni Mitchell documentaries. I can't get enough of her.

Most recently, I watched "Painting with Words and Music", an intimate concert she gave in 1998. It's Joni at the age I am now singing and talking and dancing before an audience that includes some good friends.

Admittedly, I projected my personal issues all over this film but here's one thing I got: with all the ways Joni's thinking and mine are similar, there's a difference of particular relevance to my current fog.

Some of the clutter in my head is the accumulation of detritus from decades of exposure to ancient wisdom teachings and new-age hype and psycho-babble and the like. I mean no disrespect to Pema or Deepak or Buddha or Jesus or any of them; I'm just having an insight.

I suspect Joni's been exposed to the same stuff but while I took it deeply to heart and mind and made integrating it into my life a mission, Joni placed it on a shelf along with everything else she's experienced.

The example I've offered friends is that when I encounter an "asshole" personality, I reference teachings that suggest that what we don't like in other people is a reflection of some part of ourselves still in need of attention. Joni, on the other hand, writes a song about the "asshole" and moves on. Most of the time, I never get around to making art from the experience of encounter; I'm too busy studying my navel and searching for clues on how to "fix" my life.

Interestingly, as I thought about all this, I remembered--again--the encouragement offered by nearly every teacher to not take their word for anything they say. Over and over they advise the seeker to live and see what wisdom emerges from their own life experience. Maybe one's life experience supports the idea that a "difficult" Other is an external manifestation of a personal aspect. But maybe not. Maybe an asshole is simply an asshole.

Discussing it with another friend produced more food for thought: if we are all a part of one Story, couldn't it be that the "asshole" role is covered and I play some other role -- if only for that chapter?

So, 13 days into 2008 I'm considering not making a New Year's resolution but commencing a focused experiment. What wisdom is MY life bringing me? What truths are being proven in my experience? To borrow a ministerial friend's sermon title, where does "the path at my feet" lead?


  1. I recently read The Road and appreciated it, too. (Actually, I'm a long-time fan of McCarthy.)

    I believe fate has put us living in one of the most signficant periods in human history. I wish it hadn't, but it has. But I believe it's our burden and our opportunity to make it right. How exactly one goes about doing that is another matter.

  2. Also, is that a special edition of The Road? I've never seen that cover before.

  3. YES, The Road! First CM book I've ever read- not only his extraordinary writing- the unfolded love story, the hope implicit in everything they do under the imaginably very worse circumstances.... a great teacher, that book.
    Suicide: I have questions, as usual: is that visitor one who shows up without warning, a compelling force that says join me in death? Is the context getting AWAY from pain/suffering? Is it, rather, a positive wish to be dead? I love yr description by the way- meeting & soothing the visitor.
    A frequently suicidal friend- you met him here- had an audience with Pema, arranged by a friend of his who's a shambala practitioner, in order to hopefully help him with the nagging wish to kill himself; he told me she said "maybe your life challenge is simply NOT to kill yrself, simply to live". He wasn't real happy with that- wanted her, or SOMEONE, to give him some meaning, some direction for his life outside the awful compulsion.
    I also dig yr description of the detritus of wisdom teachings rattling around in yr mind- and detritus might be an important clue there- the teachings, the ancient ones as well as the newer versions of the old knowledge, like The Secret, or Andrew Cohen, all present a focussed practice for being there. And all, except the newer versions, tell us how really difficult the practices are, how knotty and rough our life paths; Buddha said simply that suffering is a condition of life. And none of them offer "fixes", dammit. Would that they did- or that I believed any of the newer versions that promise one... I, too, spend time imagining how I might "fix" my life... winning the lottery might help. Maybe I should start buying tickets....
    You know I do a lot of intellectualizing,theorizing, abstracting my experience through the lens of Mind. That realization is one thing that's led me to my own practice- personally learning to practice what I so fervently preach; kindness, respect, acceptance, walking the talk; much easier said than actually done. But I know that's the only meaningful starting place, going-on place, any of us really have- awfully magnaminous, arrogant, to think we alone are called on to Change the World when we can't very well change ourselves- Can "fate", or "meant to be" really be directing us away from the lives we've been given, or made for ourselves? I don't THINK so..... I htink that our own lives, part of the vast web of being, can't be that different than all "other" life; the same processes, beingness, follows the same routes all of life does- so our actions are like little seeds we plant, never knowing in the moment or maybe even within our our own conscious life spans what flowers, what fruits. So hurrah for yr New Yr's resolution-
    And is it the chicken or the egg? Interesting question- and the answer's probly meaningless in terms of life experience- we have what we have, wherever it came from, and need to deal with that from our own felt experience- after all, that's all we really have to work with at the end of the day, isn't it?
    I'm going to download yr new toy when Q's finished with morning computering; I'll let you know what happens- LOVE, my Friend.

  4. The book image is one I found online. The edition I read had a different cover but I like this one a lot.

  5. Ah. Thanks for reply to my questions.... I've been thinking about not taking the wisdom words at face value, the meanings of felt experience- myself, I go to B'hai teachings: there's only ONE truth. Science & religion must agree. Wings of the same bird- can't flyright with only one wing. In that faith, as well as others I think, you can't be a member until you reach the age of consent- 15 in that instance- because without understanding, following the teachings is superstition... also reflects for me that movie (what IS the name of it.... quantum physics, the deaf actor) and the so-called "secret"- exploration of science (observable, measurable phenomena I mean here) leads me to exploration of Spirit- I, who never had a science or math class
    until I went to nursing school 12 or so yrs ago; imagine my surprise!
    our own expereince is the best teacher we've got, hm?


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