Picture this –
You find yourSelf in a bucolic countryside, a fantastical setting that is a cross between Tolkien’s Middle-earth and something akin to Dahl’s Willy Wonka world. Standing there, you know there is a place you must visit which is quite a few steps to the South. Setting off, you walk for only a short Time when you encounter a meandering ribbon of water, one too large to be a stream but not quite substantial enough to be a river. Your eyes trace the course of the running water and see that, far off in the distance, this deep blue being empties into a lake which is situated right next to your ultimate destination. If only you had a boat or skiff which would allow for a leisurely yet temporally abbreviated journey…
Now, lest it be so quickly forgotten, this setting IS fantastical as previously described! No sooner does the thought of waterborne conveyance arise than an enormous and variegated leaf, one as big as a man and sturdy as any raft, floats into view and comes to a stop right next to where you stand. Though the invitation and implication are obvious, you nonetheless gingerly test the capacity of the leaf to safely transport you and (not surprisingly) find it more than equal to the task. Stepping aboard, you sit carefully as the leaf is drawn once again into the subdued but persistent current.
The sun is warm on your skin, the delicate scent of aromatic flowers enchants and makes for a soothing state of calm and comfort. Lying back on the leaf, you let the fingertips of one of your hands glide along the surface of the water. Looking up into a cloudless sky, your lids soon grow heavy and you are transported into that magical space between waking and dreaming. Even in your state of delicious repose you reckon you should arrive at your destination in less than half the Time it would have taken had you continued on foot. How fortunate! How delightful!
Though whimsical visions come and go you are still mindful of the movement of the leaf along the water and its wetness that still caresses your fingers.
Yet, something is not right.
Even in such a tranquil state, your perception of Time’s passage is such that you feel long overdue for arrival at the terminus of your journey.
Though the gentle rocking and bobbing of the leaf conspires to assure you that all is well, you finally manage to open your eyes and recognize immediately that, while you are indeed moving, the leaf long ago drifted off course and found its way into a rather substantial eddy where you have been circling endlessly for hours.
+ + + + +
The moral of the story? –
Just because you are moving doesn’t mean you are actually going somewhere.
©Billy Red Horse
You’re driving down the highway, minding your own business, when some knucklehead talking on a cell phone and driving a tank cleverly disguised as a SUV almost runs you into a ditch. You scream insults and floor your accelerator in an effort to catch up with the offender. Pulling alongside the tank-driving nincompoop, you offer the one finger salute while shouting at the top of your lungs about how difficult it must be to drive such a large vehicle while one has one’s head shoved so far up their own ass. As you begin receiving the return volley you notice your SUV (which, in your opinion, is much smaller than a tank) has almost run two motorcycle riders into the same ditch. And so it goes.
Common courtesy and common sense appear to be two of the least common commodities in existence. In a world where people forever complain of the lack of consideration and forethought exhibited by their fellow man, it is amazing (but not surprising) how often those doing the complaining are the biggest jerks of all.
The vicious circle of stupidity and belligerence is enduring and apparently without end. Somebody does something stupid that affects you, you respond in kind out of malice, tempers escalate and the next thing you know someone has a bullet hole where part of their heart used to be. Two wrongs don’t make a right but they do occasionally make someone dead.
Fortunately, extreme cases such as the one mentioned immediately above, while not uncommon, are not the rule. Garden variety stupidity is plenty irritating enough. Lazy shoppers that won’t walk an additional 10 feet to put a buggy in a parking lot cart corral. Young “artists” that love to decorate every square inch of a building’s outer surface with spray painted graffiti. Smokers that throw their lit cigarette butts on the ground as though the world is their personal ashtray. Gullible…oh, for crying out loud… what’s the use? This could go on for days.
Unintentional stupidity happens and preemptive stupidity prevents nothing. Before you rise (or sink) to someone else’s cognitive lapse, stop and consider for a moment the ultimate repercussions of your actions. Life ain’t fair, but your acting all bellicose ain’t gonna make it any less so. Stop it!!
©Billy Red Horse
A trait common among humans is the tendency, when presented with radically novel or disquieting information, conditions, or circumstances, to interpret what has been presented as something dramatically different from what it actually is. We are quick to jump to conclusions and view things from a place of fear rather than as a challenge or even an opportunity. Instead of acknowledging our ignorance and then attempting to discover the reality of the thing, we are just as likely as not to fall prey to wildly convoluted theories or erroneous assumptions.
The extent of the human capacity to misinterpret, misunderstand, or outright misidentify events came to me in full force at precisely 2:30 PM EDT on Monday, August 21, 2017. It was at this exact moment in the Time/Space continuum that I found mySelf standing in an isolated pasture just outside the small Tennessee town of Etowah, looking up at the sky and a ring of fire surrounding a disc of pitch black, a total solar eclipse.
For the preceding 20 or so minutes the sky had been changing, morphing into something close to unrecognizable, given the Time of day. Using the safety glasses I had brought along for the event, every 90 seconds or so I would monitor the progress of the moon as it slowly began to eat the sun. At about 2:24 the very atmosphere changed. The typical sounds of a hot Southern summer day stopped abruptly, as though someone had thrown a switch, only to be replaced immediately by the typical sounds of a hot Southern summer night. Yes, the night was singing her song at 2:28 in the afternoon.
At 2:30, peak totality, I could no longer see the event through the glasses, so I pulled them away from my eyes and saw a terrifying Magic. This was the stuff of dreams. And nightmares.
I KNEW what was coming. I had intentionally traveled more than a hundred miles to be in a location where I could experience the eclipse in its totality. I knew the science of what I was observing. I knew what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, where it was going to happen, how long it was going to happen, and why it was going to happen. Yet and still, standing there in that pasture, looking up with my naked eyes at one of the most awe inspiring sights I ever have ever seen, it was at that moment that I felt, at the very core of my Being, a fleeting taste of the fear and confusion which countless of my ancestors knew when they, without warning and without understanding, observed just such an event. No wonder they thought it to be a sign from the angry gods, no wonder they thought it to be a portent of some apocalyptic upheaval. I knew better yet I still felt it.
+ + + + +
If you don’t understand something, don’t be in a rush to read meaning into it based on your suspect comprehension or your fears. If you don’t know, someTimes it’s best to let things reveal themselves organically. Meaning will come in its own good Time.
©Billy Red Horse
Ask the average person if they have planned for their death and, assuming they are even willing to discuss such an unpleasant topic, they will likely answer back, “well, I probably should get a will” or “I’m good; I have a detailed estate plan and a nice amount of life insurance to take care of the family after I’m gone.”
When I ask this question (and I do so more often than one might expect) I am seeking something very different. I’m not talking about wills or insurance policies; what I want to know is, have you planned for your death, that is, HOW will you die? WHEN will you die? If you are like most people when they discover my meaning, you will very likely exclaim, “well how the hell should I know?!…”
The average person is content to operate from the supposition that death will find them when and where it finds them, and that there is nothing which can be done to affect this inevitable rendezvous. While it is true that our ultimate fate is unavoidable, the manner and timing of that event need not be left solely to chance.
With the day-to-day events of Life being first and foremost in the minds of the typical person, it is the uncommon individual who will not only contemplate their demise, but actively consider and even choreograph the thing. (Lest there be any incorrect inference that I am speaking of planning and implementing suicide, I absolutely am not! I view the experience of being born into this Life as the greatest of gifts, and it is the reality of death which makes the conscious and intentional embrace of the process of living so important and vital. I will never encourage anyone to end their race before the finish line has been crossed.)
My thesis is simple: if our living is worthy of goals and forethought and direction, should not our dying be given comparable importance and consideration?
How you live your Life can in great measure influence how you will die; the quality of your Life will most likely determine the quality of your death. Choices and actions today and tomorrow have very real downstream consequences. Life style is a very accurate indicator of ones death style. It is with this in mind that one can begin to understand just how death can be approached consciously and with intention.
An archer does not draw back and haphazardly release his bow, hoping against hope the arrow lands somewhere favorable. The archer has a target. YOU should have a target. You must ask how would you prefer to die? Some will say, “quietly and in my sleep.” Others will want to be in Nature engaging in an activity that brings them Joy. Whatever your preference, this is a preference you would do well to articulate. Once you have considered the how, then think about when. Is eighty years of Life enough? Ninety or more? Decide but realize that you need not be held to your decision. Things can (and likely will) change.
More than once I have encountered cynics who disparage my contention. They like to point out all of the variables that might come into play to counteract the best laid plans for a triumphant dénouement. Yes, it is true that not even our next breath is a certainty. Accident, disease, or violent mayhem of all varieties could befall us at any moment. For all this uncertainty, the first step in living a long, healthy, and fulfilling Life is to HAVE THE EXPECTATION OF LIVING A LONG, HEALTHY, AND FULFILLING LIFE! Returning to the analogy of the archer, the simple elegance of the logic escapes some people: you are far more likely to hit a target if you recognize the target and if you make the effort to aim at it.
Should you and I ever have the opportunity to cross paths in the non-virtual world (and if you ask) I will be happy to share with you the plans for my own return to The Great Round. It will be dignified and it will be the final Ceremony to conclude a LifeTime filled with Ceremonies. My death will be a good death. My death will be Beautiful.
May yours be as well.
©Billy Red Horse
Greetings, Young One!
During a recent conversation we shared, I spoke of the Life-affirming benefits to be found in learning to dissipate and transmute your anger rather than turning it outward or, worse, turning it inward. You asked for any recommendations I might offer to help you process anger in a way that benefits rather than harms, whether you or others. Please consider the following –
Anger is a caustic. Never forget this. And like all caustics, it degrades and destabilizes everything organic that it touches. Anger is the product generally of misunderstanding or of fear as often as it is the result of righteous provocation. Regardless of its origin and its validity (or lack thereof), anger is best experienced quickly and released as soon as possible. Anger which festers or is improperly handled is an all-consuming fire which is an inverse multiplier, that is, anger which persists has exponentially negative effects that are further reaching and of greater impact than just the moment in which the anger initially arises. Unresolved anger is a ticking time bomb.
Now, I do not for a moment suggest that it is possible or even desirable to completely eliminate the experience of anger from your Life. Just like pain or any other discomfort, anger is an indicator that something is amiss and in need of your attention and, quite possibly, your corrective action. That said, anger cannot be allowed to linger or to become a constant traveling companion. It will bend your Spirit and age you far beyond your years. If there is any merit to be gained by its appearance in your Life, let it announce its presence, make you aware, and then be on its way as expeditiously as possible.
Before considering strategies to neutralize anger, I think it important to impress upon you the value in mitigating the triggers of and for anger in your Life. Start by taking an inventory of the persistent environmental conditions, circumstances, situations, and relationships which routinely lead you to experience anger. If you will identify the patterns that typically precede your anger, you can take steps to modify or even remove the offending provocateurs from your space. The less stimuli you have that predictably lead to an anger response, the less likely anger is to manifest in the first place. Better than resolving anger is to not have anger which requires resolution at all.
Another important factor: most of our emotional behaviors and triggers are learned which means that they can also be unlearned or, at the very least, altered if they are ones which do not serve us or promote our greater well-being. Just because a parent or other image-maker demonstrated a hot temper doesn’t mean you are destined to carry forward the tradition.
The preferred strategy many often employ to address their anger is to suppress it. There is no reason to even consider this as a viable strategy. Suppressed anger will destroy you from the inside out. Bottom line: don’t do it.
Which brings us to dissipation and transmutation.
Dissipation comes first through recognition followed by release. Anger, like all emotions, is experienced in the physical body owing to the release of chemical signals into the bloodstream. The quicker you can dilute or remove entirely those chemicals from your bloodstream, the quicker will the affects of anger be assuaged.
The most immediate connection we have with Life is our breath. The power of focused and controlled breathing cannot be emphasized too strongly. I suggest you research and learn a technique called Box Breathing. This technique can be done anywhere, anyTime, and in almost any circumstance. Directed breathing alone might well be enough to resolve anger-related distress.
If breathwork is surgical and immediate, bodily movement in the form of strenuous exercise is a potent analeptic of a generalist nature. To employ exercise as a remedy for anger has the triple benefit of functioning as a sort of meditative Time to examine and mentally process the anger and its causes while simultaneously clearing the bloodstream and even fueling the exercises themselves.
A surprisingly effective (if somewhat more esoteric) remedy is to hold a mental image of yourSelf standing tall, your legs slightly greater than shoulder width and your feet firmly anchored to The Mother Earth, your arms raised and spread wide overhead. Inhale deeply into your abdomen and then expel the anger up through your hands and out your spread wide fingers as you exhale steadily and powerfully. Do this several times to clear away the unwanted anger in its entirety. If the mental version of this exercise is effective (which it is), doing it for real in the physical is even more so.
Another tool is to establish what importance your anger will have in a hundred years. Or in twenty. Or next week. Getting worked up over something that is, in the grand scheme of things, of little or no real consequence is a waste of your Energy and your Time.
There are those who will state that anger can be a positive in that in can be a motivating force for change. Perhaps it is engaging in semantics on my part, but I maintain that anger is, itself, a net negative and should not be sought out, encouraged, or otherwise artificially sustained. Certainly, anger can be a catalyst for positive change, and this is where transmutation comes in.
Use your anger as a cue, an indicator that you are being provided with an opportunity to seek other, more Life-affirming situations and circumstances. Let anger be an agent of change, a motivating force that, when directed with positive and conscious intent, increases your agency rather than limits or weakens it. Be an alchemist and turn the lead of your anger into the gold of possibility.
+ + + + +
A more clinical analysis of anger and its causes would do little to help with the matter at hand, so I think I’ll end here. My final thought is as follows: though not something I take pleasure in saying, I must remind you that there is only one constant in your anger: you. The place to start is to change you.
It is my hope you have found benefit and merit in these words. Never forget –
There Is Always More,
Billy Red Horse
The Gentleman Mystic
©Billy Red Horse
You are a killer.
The above statement is neither metaphor nor hyperbole, it is FACT. No matter how much you might protest to the contrary, regardless of any positions of pacifism or non-aggression you hold, even should you have been a strict vegan and staunchly rejected the use of animal products in any fashion, you are directly responsible for the death of more individual lives than you can possibly imagine.
How can I be so bold in my proclamation and so completely certain of my stance? You are reading this dispatch, which means that you are ALIVE. The very fact that you live means something, some 10 trillion or MORE somethings, had to die. Plants, animals, insects, microbes, and likely multiple lifeforms we have yet to even discover or identify are gone. And you killed them.
The purpose of this dispatch is not to heap upon you guilt or blame or to induce shame. My point is to bring to your attention the Giveaway that so many others have made so that you and I may live. It is to share with you the recognition that the carrot is no less sacred than the cow. If we are to live then something else must die for that to happen. It is The Way of Things.
Every morning before I leave my home I stop just outside my door and speak aloud the following words:
To all those Life forms which today I will kill,
Those which I kill knowingly and those which I kill in ignorance,
I ask your forgiveness. Please forgive me.
I grieve for you and I Celebrate you.
I honor you and I thank you.
I shall live my Life today in such a way
That your loss is not in vain.
This prayer does not negate the fact that I will, that I MUST kill in order to live. What it does is bring to the forefront of my awareness the awful cost that others must pay so that I may live. It helps me to recognize the importance of my Life being lived to its fullest and appreciated for the Gift that it is.
It is Sacred Law that Death gives Life. In this universe, it can be no other way.
©Billy Red Horse
Oh, if only I could see…
Is there something wrong with my eyes? Am I blind? No. A doctor would tell me that my eyes are perfect. (Well, okay…maybe not perfect, but there’s nothing wrong a pair of eyeglasses couldn’t remedy.) Nevertheless I still do not see that which I look at. There is no obstruction, yet I cannot see. There is no neural malady, yet I remain sightless.
I raise a hand before my face. Bone covered by meat and sinew and skin. Blood brings forth liquid life, the pulse quickens in my veins. Muscles contract, tendons respond. There is movement. Shadows, the color of the flesh, nails at finger’s end. I want to see my hand, dammit!
This thing we call sight, what is it really? Colors and shapes and movement all register in my eyes. There is focus. There is comprehension. I am told that this is sight. Though the organism is sound and there is a perception of colors and shapes and movement and focus and comprehension I CANNOT SEE WHAT I LOOK AT!! Do not lie and say the hand is seen! Do you lie or is it…is it that you do not know? I am not the only one. Do you think that you have truly seen anything you have ever looked at? You have not, my friend, you have not…
Are my words the babbling of one cut loose of reality? No, my words speak of things as they are. You have never seen grass. You have never seen stone. You have never seen water. You have never in your life seen your own hand.
I challenge you: Before you go to bed tonight look at your hand under a light. See its form, note its function as you flex your fingers. See the lines and the hairs and the nails. Once you are convinced that I truly am mad, turn off the light and look at your hand in the darkness of night. You cannot see your hand, you cannot see anything, for the light is gone. The only thing you have ever seen when you looked at your hand is the light reflected by your hand. The only thing you have ever seen with your eyes in your life is light and its reflection.
What does a hand really look like? What does anything really look like? If we are so mistaken about our sight, what other misconceptions do we labor under? What else do we believe we know that we do not know? I wish to see things as they are, not just their reflection…
©Billy Red Horse
Lurk about any establishment where Zen is rumored to occur and you’re likely find a bunch of uncommonly quiet (and, usually, very pleasant) folk struggling diligently with everything from reducing their levels of daily stress to the admittedly ambitious search for universal personal enlightenment. For a spiritual discipline that is perceived to be, at its very core, a minimalist endeavor, Zen is possessed of quite a number of ways and means to pursue the practitioner’s goals, whatever those might be.
Koans, sutra studies, techniques and approaches are all valuable and have their place in a vibrant Zen practice. That being said, each of these systemic cogs is, regardless of how much importance the zensu might choose to attribute to them individually or as a constituent, very often something our practice could just as easily do without. All you really “need” is yourself and a place to sit quietly and do nothing. Fancy zafu and zabuton cushions are all the rage (and quite nice), but a simple folded blanket will do in a pinch to support one’s backside during seated meditation. For that matter, a piece of ground to sit on and a tree to lean against will often yield more results if the practitioner is willing to focus on the practice rather than divertissements. Can you still your mind? Will you still your mind?
Through the years I have often encountered those I classify as “Runner’s World” Zen students. Who are they? Think of the runner that has the latest in high-tech foot wear, a drawer full of moisture-wicking attire, a pair of $180 Julbo Ultra sunglasses with photochromic lens, a digital heart monitor and, of course, a subscription to Runner’s World magazine. The problem, though, is that they never run. Forget the bells and whistles – just run. Or, in our case, just sit.
Zen asks nothing of us but our focus and our intent. Zen is greater than the sum of its parts. Walk through the woods. Listen to the song of a bird. Sit quietly. Do nothing. Don’t fret that you can’t remember the second of the Four Noble Truths. They’re written down. You can read the Noble Truths any Time your heart desires. What do you mean you can’t focus because your mind is too scattered? Let it be scattered! Sit anyway. Or stand. Or recline. Or chase your tail. Sooner or later you will tire and maybe then you will focus on the moment. Zen is.
©Billy Red Horse
This question can elicit from deep within us a terror of the worst sort, for it requires a forthright examination of our suppositions and suspicions and shines a light on dark places that we would much rather remain shadowed.
What if the ideas and hopes, the positions and assertions we hold dear are shown to be flawed or otherwise unreliable? What if those things in which we have invested our Energy, that we have defended and even promoted, turn out to be a house of cards? What, then, do we have? What, then, do we do?…
It is certain that we hesitate to question our beliefs because our culture preferentially rewards the “right” answer or the “right” action and summarily castigates and sanctions those which are “wrong” or “unacceptable.” It is this inculcated aversion to incongruity that can lead us to avoid the difficult work that may well reveal that which we would prefer to not acknowledge concerning our most cherished convictions. To put it bluntly, we find it embarrassing to be wrong. Embarrassment, however, is insufficient reason to cling doggedly to our inherited cultural mythologies or the mythologies we have painstakingly formulated and collected about ourSelves.
Then there is the doubt.
Should we discover a breach in the ramparts of our certainty, it is then that we may find our confidence is shaken and the poison of doubt has started to seep into the crevices of our Self-esteem. Doubt can be the most caustic and debilitating of adversaries.
The antidote to doubt is the recognition and acceptance of the verity that, so long as we are willing to be proven wrong, we can find peace (and even excitement!) in the knowledge that there is always more to see, always more to feel, always more to experience, always more to learn. “Wrong” does not have to be forever. Being wrong or mistaken or misguided is not an irreversible condition.
To ask “what if I am wrong” is a daunting question. It is a question, however, that the Self in search of integrity and a Life grounded in mindfulness of the Real must be bold and courageous enough to ask, over and over and over again.
©Billy Red Horse