Framing Life

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The theater of living provides an endless array of delights, an intriguing jumble of conundrums. A panorama of mystery that goes blood deep and beyond. It throws me for a loop at times, can wound me, but I relish again a brighter state of being. It is a numinous realm that we move within, if only we can stay awake to become more intimate with it. Or I should say, it is magic, the sort that is the real stuff, unadulterated.

I would guess living with someone who thinks like this is not simple. There are pros and cons of working at living a creative life propelled by a spiritual bent. My days and nights are underpinned by deep roots of belief in a higher power whom I call God for the purpose of easier communications. (I don’t know what God’s true name sounds like but I feel it often, everywhere.) For as long as I can recall, I have sought to tap a source that is omnipresent, if often constricted by human definitions. It makes me not content to skim the surface of things, as there is no impenetrable “surface”–the exterior I see beckons and what lies beneath is a richer extension of it, a spiraling variation, another chain of possibilities. And guiding me is the constant sense of being connected to earth and to humanity while being tethered to the universe. To the great knowns and unknowns.

As a young person, I assumed everyone thought this way. How could they not? It would be like not realizing lungs were the organs of distribution for crucial air to be carried into our blood, to our sinews and brain–and for releasing CO2. And that trees et al have a vital part to play. But by adolescence I at least realized we each experienced existence uniquely–furthermore, developed different ideas and ways of using them. What I see from my little window on the world may appear to encompass all but, of course, it does not–it likely cannot encompass much of who you are unless you invite me to your window awhile. Or I request information and then try to fill in the blanks, at best. So I’ve continued to watch, feel, think, sense, listen, take mental notes. And what is revealed is often amazing to contemplate.

Like the neighbor many years ago who I liked in a general sort of way but worried about. She was very well spoken– held a Ph.D.–and was guarded sometimes pleasant. But she also who kept us up at night, seemingly rearranging furniture, opening and shutting file cabinet drawers (we thought). She talked loudly to herself, placed alarming political messages on her car windows. I asked her many times to please be more quiet so we could get some sleep. I once banged on her door the next morning, demanding silence…she said, “Then call the police!” I felt perhaps she was mentally ill. I wanted to know her story and I cared–I was a mental health clinician then–but she wasn’t telling it. She was a powerful person who felt lost.

One day she packed up and left with her son, and the key to her distress and fear was shared with me. She had been a teacher in a school across the street from the federal building in Oklahoma City when it was bombed by a domestic terrorist. She was a witness and a victim. She never really recovered. She lost many; her survival was a nightmare day and night. I went to my place and wept, for her and for myself, felt ashamed of my lack of patience and acceptance. It hurt to meet my shortcomings face-on. But she had made an impression. She helped me see I always need to think a gain–not react but think and sense what the bigger truth might be.

So you never do know, until you know more. We live with one another in a world that seems prone to catastrophes more than ever. But we still have beauty and wonder. We can share tenderness and courage with one another. There are terrible things, yes, but there still is goodness and we must not forget that, either.

I suspect many who do not feel part of the entirety of life manage to frequently and temporarily disconnect. From themselves and others, global life and the universal ball of wax. There are so many ways to do it. I certainly once tried–I drank or used various drugs, I worked too hard, loved too much or badly, slept less than sensible, tried to lose myself in a multitude of ways. I had my memory jogged a few harsh times and fortunately recalled that to be awake was far more rewarding that sleepwalking through life. The last time–decades ago–it finally “took”. More or less, most of the time.

So, to go forth and embrace–a good intention tempered by caution as needed.

I might appear hobbled by an insistent interest in too much, a magnetic pull to whatever is perceived. For example, walking with me may require forbearance. I start out fast, prefer to go quickly, yet move in fits and starts, pausing to take a closer look at a vine against a fence, a white porch with a green chair, a tree branch with three yellow leaves against a cloudy sky, a scarlet flower that lies amid crispy curling leaves. Then comes a lady in a bulky coat and floral scarf. She bends over to pet a grey Persian cat who has chosen to rest at her feet. The sun emboldens the space; the cat languishes. It shoots a glance at me as I hesitate behind the woman; it has green eyes. The lady and I smile, nod, move on. I feel good. I liked how her eyes warmed, the woman’s not the cat’s. The cat is gorgeous, tolerant, regal and now addresses more important matters than my admiring words. We have, afterall, already exchanged flick of energy, that recognition by one being of another.

My husband waits a few steps apart. He looks on the ground for the odd rock, interesting sticks, the bit of detritus worth a moment. He, too, is present in experience but the wide arc of scanning, a review of everything does not move him in the way it does me. I want to absorb the lovely strangeness of life, its willful and predetermined responses. To be open to its vagaries. Let it all trickle through me as if I am a sieve, catching and savoring the choice parts amind the  big picture.

One way to immerse myself in this buzz of daily living is taking photos as I go. I carry a camera (other than phone camera) everywhere. I seek to frame the richness of territories and persons within it. Grand or humble designs of civilization and the natural world that may open like secret chests when I attend them. There is a vibrant energy inherent in any moment, a tableau, an object. The life force is a basic phenomenon; it animates all living things. I like how the French put it: esprit de vie, or life spirit. It emanates from all things in some way or another. My camera takes charge as soon as I push a button. What I see again in the resultant photograph is not always what I think I saw. I am often surprised by the more or the less of an image, but in the meantime, I have chosen to focus in the here and now. To be open to what crosses my path and vice versa. And most often it shimmers with something, a vibrational presence, a welcome, a dazzle of curious joy.

It is simple and exacting at once to take pictures. But I don’t worry about becoming a great photographer; I expect different things of this happy habit. I do aspire to note and capture some essence of a thing or being. I want to see and find truth, the one nestled within another. What astonishes is how much variety of life there is, how what is similar, especially human beings, can be so alike yet distinct. All this patterning and deviation from pattern arranges a vivid criss-crossing, a panoramic verve. And I value the peculiarity of being human, that we have personal identity, a spirit we can claim as ours due to DNA, group culture and life circumstances as well as our relationship to this greater picture. To an ever-evolving and sacred map of infinity.

Earth. The plant and animal life it sustains is a freakishly complex yet flexible work, in process of being born, growing and living. Dying. Rebirthing. That little remains static is essential to the scheme. We witness its suffering, too. I give my attention to this composition of energies. I don’t want to be distracted or seduced by spectacles that lack substance. Fabulous work is going on quietly beneath our noses; dramas unfold in nature and lives that we barely can imagine. We inhabit this place with minds intent on other things, on the minutiae of daily routines, demands of work, wants and basic needs. We rather too often take our beating hearts for granted until our living is under siege. Unpredictable events are spawned by weather or political conflict, or disharmony between friends or strangers, misunderstandings within our own families. How can we allow ourselves to be waylaid when we have brains wired to make choices–smarter ones? It happens so easily.

So begin again, I think.

I awaken and come back to the body’s reign. I sit down at our too-cluttered table, drink tea, welcome another chance to survey more unfolding of events. I pray for opportunities to learn and love, to better trust my instincts, my evaluative skills. I hope for rain and sun; both are necessary and appreciated.

I do value my traditions, principles and insights, yes. But I also keep strong my desire to learn more of what I do not know or understand. I want to honor these moments I am given. That includes clarifying a more thorough view of what being alive means to people, to me. I care not only about what works, symmetry and a flawless synchrony but about errors and anomalies. It all is here to explore and consider. Life is a empowered by its essence of one sort or another. As creatures set upon this globe, we do not have to do much more but stay alive in the end, I suppose. But it flourishes with our contributions, hopefully for the greater good, not just our own. Experience is truly transformative when we participate in the creative actions that occur each day.

So I watch, I listen, I aim and I click the camera button. The photographs tell me generous stories. I am filled up as I enter the moment and share it. They give me a way to better understand. And the taking of a picture also gives me freedom from this nattering self. One moment is suspended, is a gift, even as it is already moving through and beyond me. I am important enough but so is all that is before me, incandescent with matter and spirit.

Discover and believe. Live and strive. Do not forget to offer your beauty and help to one another. Become your own best witness to the smallest of miracles.

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