27 November 2005

24 November 2005

The Emergent Character of my (Left) Knee

What is it about being in a competitive sports situation that causes one to do things that they would never think of doing in other situations? Why would a person run full speed and not turn away from another person running full speed, just to catch a frisbee?

Honestly, these are not the main thoughts going through my head as I sit with a massive swelled up multicolored bump on the side of my knee. I'm instead meditating on the cosmic significance of injuring my left leg (as opposed to my right) and what that means about my ability to follow through on my decisions and relate to others. That last comment is for the other amateur kabbalists in the audience.

I'm sitting in the emergency room of Haddasah hospital. This thing (technically a hematoma) is big and ugly enough that my GP thinks it's time to get it reeeemoooved. I've been sitting here for hours.

How do you find meaning in these events? These things that feel like nothing but a setback, a bother, a distraction, wasted time?

There's the amateur kabbalist approach. As I'm stewing in the cosmic left leg, a nurse runs over my left foot with a wheelchair to help reinforce my musings.

There's another approach, though, that is making big waves in my head and in my heart.

I hurt my leg and have to walk on crutches. I notice people with canes now. I notice ambulances. I hear the pain in people's voices more. I have to hang out in the emergency room and it's drab and sad and draining. I notice the other people there, some of them seem to be long term residents. Now I have a little more space for sympathy. Now I have an inkling of what it would be like to bounce from doctor to doctor to hospital to doctor and no one knows what to say. I find myself in a deep way alone, and I can hear the voice of a friend, make space for him. When he tells me, "Everything's All Right", I can hear him crying out, "I'm Alone!"

I can't say that it's the ultimate cosmic solution to the problem of suffering. But who knows? It might not be so strange to think that we suffer to help us hollow out a space in our ego for another. It helps me turn what can be a destructive energy into something worthwhile.

I really don't know what I'm talking about, but it could be that this making space is a left leg activity.

In the end the doctor argues that it's not a good idea to cut me open. Nothing's broken, everything seems to be roughly in working order, we'll just let the body do it's thing. Works fine for me...

20 November 2005

The Question of the Gates

A man’s senses filter out for him anything that does not jive with his worldview.

To what can this be compared?

To a king…

The king maintains a policy of openness. Anyone who presents themselves at court is accepted for audience. The king listens and responds. In this way, he hopes to protect himself against the blindness he saw destroy the one he replaced.

He hopes to be encountered by passionate advocates and troubled souls, and he is willing to weather the advice of fools as a price. But those who approach him are flatterers or criminals who praise his policies, and are later found wandering around the palace, stealing silver and troubling the servants.

Every palace has walls. These walls have gates, and these gates have guards. These guards serve the king by keeping out undesirables. Anyone who looks strange finds no access to the palace. Anyone asking to see the king is immediately suspect. “The King,” the guards reason, “is far too busy to be bothered by people such as this, surely he employs us to keep them out of his palace.”

Slowly, the king becomes aware of the behavior of his guards, and he feels himself to be a prisoner in his own palace – cut off from the world. From the high windows of the palace, he can see the streams of people that approach the gate, and the meager few who enter. He is too far away to make out the character of those who are turned away.

Something needs to be done, surely, but what can he do?

If he opens up the gates completely, he is open to attack.

Perhaps he can retrain the guards? Years of habit have seasoned them to their role.

Perhaps he can take off his crown, make himself small, and leave the city – to see for himself what is happening in the world? He worries that he may never find his way back.

What is a king to do?

14 November 2005

Two Gates - Variations

Further explorations into the gates of the palace. See the notes at the end of the previous post for context. If I recall, these were written on a plane from Israel to New York. The flight touched down in the clear, sharp, blue calm after a snow storm, in a field of white, surrounded by dancing snow spirals.

There are at least two doors into the palace. One of them is watched at all times by guards who mechanically plunder everyone who passes. What is stolen is thrown away. In this way, the palace is deprived of much of the riches of the kingdom. The other gate is watched closely by the highest ranks of the kingĂ‚’s ministers, sometimes by the king himself. They watch not to censor, but to experience. Much passes through this gate. In this way, the kingdom is enriched, and corrupted. I passed through this second gate as a storyteller.

There are two doors into the palace. The one is constantly guarded, and even the kingĂ‚’s family can not always pass with ease. The second is open to musicians, jugglers, comedians and fools.

There are three gates into the palace. I can not speak of the first, but the second is a maze. Half of the people who enter it never leave, and a third of the rest go crazy. Those who pass through its corridors are in the end turned either into madmen or fools. The third gate is wide open to anyone who enters, but no one dares, knowing well of the second gate. Only jesters and musicians make the journey, and that is why the life of the city is in its music.

No one has ever entered the palace unchanged. The experience of entry itself is an ordeal. Even when it is quick, it is transforming. Entering through the main gate, a person will be lucky to find himself with his eyes and ears. Oftentimes, when a person tries to enter the main gate, only his name makes it through. This is announced in the palace, but the person is no more. Through another gate, all who enter are enriched. A simple musician will be loaded with silks. A storyteller will be painted in shades to match the taste of the court. The king has often ordered that a simple gate be created, where a person can pass unaccosted and unadorned, but there has always been some lesser minister who can not help but exercise his influence on the passers by. Still, the king holds out hope.

There are no gates to the palace. Though it deigns to have commerce with the entire realm, nothing has ever really made it in or out.

The palace is riddled with gates. Everywhere a person turns there is someone coming or leaving. It is difficult to say where the palace begins and where it ends. Fools believe that the palace is defined with clear borders, but those who have undertaken even the simplest of investigations know that it is far from clear. It is a fractal problem. Just like every poet is a thief, so too is everything both inside and outside of the palace. The Talmud says it best - Each person has to say "The world was created for me," and simultaneously, "I am dust and ashes."

The front gate is well guarded, but most who are turned away dress themselves in disguise and sneak through any of a thousand other gates. The may be discovered and welcomed in the palace, or they may operate for years as insurgents in the kingdom.

08 November 2005

Two Gates - The Beginning

There are hundreds of ways into the palace. The king is involved in all manner of business. I’ve heard that there are certain doors open only to those who are closest to the king. I know nothing of those doors. I can only tell you about two of them.

The first is the door that everyone knows. It has been called Western Gate, Trader’s Gate, and Middle Gate. All manner of commerce passes in and out. This door is the eyes and ears of the king. By those who pass his gate, the king gauges the health of the kingdom. Guards stand watch at several points of the gate, selecting, with what has become a mechanical efficiency, who and what will be allowed to pass. In this way the king is robbed by his servants.

The other door is Fool’s Gate. It leads directly into the king’s innermost chamber. It has no guards. By this gate the king regains what has been robbed of him.

I have passed through Fool’s Gate, as a storyteller. I can not tell you what I saw along the way, I took care not to leave with anything that was not mine. I told the king a story about a man who was slowly and systematically robbed of his world by the trickery of his senses, but it’s hard to tell the king anything that he doesn’t already know.

This is the first of a series of short pieces I wrote about a year ago, mostly on airplanes, inspired in content by the idea of the mental censor [Koah haMevakair] found in the Piasetzer Rebbe's book "Conscious Community" [Bnei Mahshava Tovah, Seder Emtza'yai vYesodei haHevrah, Section 6], and in style by Jorge Luis Borges.

I intend that the king here is not God, but the core, the soul, of each man - God in Man. I am a bit uncomfortable that it may be misinterpreted, wildly, by those who suspect that the king is God.

03 November 2005

Notes on Storytelling

A good friend asked me to write about storytelling. I never put together a well stitched piece, but I did jot down some notes. I went back to look at them today, and thought they were interesting. This is largely unedited - just thoughts and feelings as they came out.

If you tell a story and don't add anything, why tell the story?
There'’s adding and then there's adding.

If it comes from the heart, it goes to the heart.

You can sense who's really listening.

There are stories that are true that never happened, and there are stories that happened that aren't true.

You live a story by telling it. There are stories that I never understood until I told them over-and-over.

I was alone once, feeling strange. I couldn'’t quite put a finger on the malaise. Told myself a story and cried like a child.

It's hard to put a finger on the deepest of life's experiences, but a story somehow manages...

A story brings the listener and the teller there - they live the experience of the story.

Sometimes it's best when you don't understand the story as you're telling it - when you don't try and give people a pointed dose of advice in the story, but create a space where you can live the story, and they can live the story, and they can grow from it, and you can grow from it.

Creating space is key: pauses, spaces.

How do you know what story to tell?
Sometimes the story comes, sometimes it doesn't. There can be a moment when a story comes and the next moment you know it has to be a different story.
Sometimes they ask you to tell a story, and a story you haven't thought of in a year demands to be told. Sometimes they ask you to tell a story, and you want to run out of the room. Is it them? Is it me? Does my sub-conscious perceive something that suggests a story? Does God put a story in my mouth?