Sunday, October 12, 2008

Spiritual Warfare

It is called warfare. And in this battle, there are only two sides. Simple categories delineated by minds that refuse to go beyond the shallow pools of right and wrong… they choose to ignore the multicolored rainbow that colors our landscape and instead, focus on black and white. The complex world in which we live is broken down to its most base, and in this realm of right and wrong and good and evil, without room for the complex variance that speckles the human existence, they dwell and feast and grow angry. I can see the thick invisible circle they have drawn around themselves. Their confidence vibrates with tiny red beads and their temples pulse with fear and blood. With their tinted eyes and the solid rock in their chest they call "truth," they wish for but a simple moment. Just a couple of minutes to reveal our errors and their Truth.
But no one can really KNOW. Truth is subjective, the very nature of it is porous. As slick as water through fingers, it slips and morphs within time. I once asked my mother about god. When I was a little girl, I asked how children decide their religions. It was a one line answer and she looked at their daughter, who barely reached her hip and said children usually become the same religion as their parents. And so it is assumed, what my mother believes, I will believe. Whatever faith my parents have clung to, I will cling to. I am from the chosen people. We value education, we were slaves in Egypt, we did not kill Jesus. We marry people like us, we raise out children to go to temple and eat challah bread and go to college and marry other jews. We did not kill jesus, even though they will throw stones at us and say we did.
Perhaps this passes as truth for some, but among the billions of people who also cling to their beliefs, who hold on just as strong to their Truth, no one can really be certain. They can kill people or convert them, they can subject a population to religious laws, but only a blind faith in their rightness is certain
I can surround myself with others who share my views, people who think like me and believe in god the same way, we can compound our ideas and inflate our egos. We can sing songs together and talk of the coming Armageddon, but objectively, we are a group of humans that have chosen to believe in the same set of assumptions and interpretations from a very old book. For thousands of years, there have been other groups of people that have done the same thing, most have felt they had truth on their side. People believed in the formation of the earth from the mouth of a slithering Anaconda. There are people who believe in a blue-skinned god with many arms. The minds of humans are warped and beautiful, and there is no shortage of religious variance. So how can one person claim the Truth? Out of all the myths and stories that dot our history, how can one group claim dominance? Most people claim the truth and all of them are wrong. It is an egotistical assumption. It is faith. While the outlets of this human trait are very obvious when talking of religion, we all have this tendency. I lived with a man who thought he had formulated the best way to wash dishes. In his opinion, it was the fastest, most efficient way which produced the cleanest results. Any attempt to change the washing technique by other housemates was met with a brutal argument. He believed his method was right, therefore, everyone else was stupid and wrong. Why didn’t we just do what he said? But there are many ways to reach clean dishes, if that is the ultimate goal. What bothered him was that people would choose a different way, despite the knowledge of his perfected technique. Religious fundamentalists cling to the unchangeable idea that they have found the perfected truth…theirs is the only way to understand god and the universe. In their teachings, it is their way, or the one road down to hell, where a cruel demon waits to deliver their deserved punishment.
This is what I must understand. I do not know what is real. I do not know truth. There are many ways towards an open eye.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Struggle in a Hole

I write with a vague sense of dread. I listen for a ringing bell, but there is a silence thicker than sludge which coats my ears. The telephone is silent, I wait for a presence on the other end. A familiar voice that often calls me back to the land of softness and kisses. But with each second that passes, I slip a little father into the deep hole. I recognize this dark pit like the smell of tortured death and sticky blood; my chamber of cobwebs and singular hatred, it’s windowless and cold. It is a space of hollowed dank earth and composting life, but I cherish this hole, despite the offending smell of urine and rot, I find my way back here in seconds, even when I’m miles away. After hours of soft lovemaking, despite drops of crystal bliss, one word can light the way to this hole. The fall is fast and the landing is even harder. From the bottom I look up, barely aware of life outside. Haven’t I always been here? Feasting on fat worms and drinking the piss of ghostly demons. As I wait for the phone, each typed word is an attempt to crawl out. When my fingers pause, I slip…so I try to move fast. Can I transform this lurid form? or will it take me over, transforming the pretty girl on top into the monster that hides in her caves. With a word she is blackened with pain. One misinterpreted silence sends her down, her home awaits. Puddles of mud are her mirrors, and she chokes on the mangled images. There is no room for love here, just a tender bed of pain, made of nails and her own lost flesh. In this place she makes yellowed curtains from joy, and cakes out of hope.
But I cannot make the phone ring, the man does not answer, he does not call. I worry about the labored breathing I heard twelve hours ago. The small black phone jiggles and lights up, but perhaps his eyes are closed, lost in the soft blue shades of his dreams. Answer my call. I put myself in your vision, a small girl holding a little yellow flower. I see you reach out with a long, slender, white arm; pushing the stem into your beard, you smile and say thank you. The flower moves in the wind like a pinwheel, harnessing the strength of the wind, you grow taller. Like a windmill stuck into a leafy black brush. Oh my love! Can you hear me calling? I try to grab the sides, try to grasp tiny bits of life on the edge of my favorite black hole. The landscape is vast and flat, an arid land of long-yellowed grasses and a red-black sky. Like the colors in a negative, nothing looks real. Matter is white, while the air becomes more heavy cloaked in colored blood. Moment by moment I drift. I am looking down into the deep hole. Now, I lay on my back, amazed how far I have fallen. Now, I am climbing out. I am falling in, I am climbing out. I am far away, I am moments from slipping once again. There is no constant, just the ongoing battle, the struggle to stay out and the desire to fall in. I hear the inner record that makes me lose my balance, I see the ground begin to sway… I take the deep breaths that help me stay above ground. The negative mantra plays, the careful steps dig me out. On and on, the tug of war continues.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kitchen Nightmares

They send him pleading letters. Within, the words are desperate and begging for help. Begging for guidance. The problems are mostly cloudy, rolling ambiguous shapes that never seem to point to a definite solution. They are not sure exactly what is wrong, but their restaurants remain empty, and each day, new worry lines etch their marks within the soft folds of weary flesh. Their hearts are burdened with thoughts of bankruptcy, home repossession, guilt and pain. Their worries are marked by heart attacks and restless nights. In this state, the restaurant is a temple of gloom, and those that work and eat there are poisoned by its desperation and deepening failure. After fitful nights, the owners wake up, seized with the burden of another day. More of the same. And so, in a last measure of self preservation, in an attempt to resurrect themselves from the pit that they have learned to call home, they write to him.
Like a gleaming messiah, he shines and comes to them with sincere wishes for success. It’s his love of food that makes him move. His supreme respect for taste and pleasure. He comes to help, he comes to ignite passion and integrity. He comes, demanding personal responsibility and a desire to change. His authority is based on a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and on his undeniable success. Restaurants, TV shows, adoring food critics; he has succeeded in this business. He has knowledge.
And they write him for help, and if they are lucky, he comes. He comes with an open heart. He comes to see, to identify the problems and the very bad habits of these establishments. As he observes, he notices the flaws, the rotting food in the fridge, the lazy wait staff, the nervous manager, the cluttered atmosphere, the over complicated menu, the owner who invests all his money in white china. As the teacher begins to identify the problems, the owners, the cooks, the staff- they begin to resist. Many of them fight back. They argue…they become identified.
It is mostly the owners that resist. Even though they begged for his help, now he is here, criticizing their home, their dreams, their work, their identity. And as their sense of self is called into question, as they reel from the criticism which they take as a personal insult, they fight against him. They walk off the job, they yell and cry. They hate the man that has come to help them. The man who has nothing other than their future success on his mind. Yes, he hopes for a good show, for good ratings, lucrative advertising, good pay, but first, he comes to save a failing dream. An idea that had been put into action without a plan. It is his hope for them that keeps him there. During the name calling, during the childlike tantrums of adults, he stands, grounded in his mission.
The owners knew there was a problem, it was why they wrote for help. Their mounting debt and empty restaurants were the symptoms, but when the root of these problems are discovered and brought up to the sunlight, it is these same problems that they resist changing. The owner who clings to his plates, the owner who cannot stop trying to do everything. The owner that clings to the outdated decor. If they can see past their egos for a moment, if they can take his advice, if they use his advice, they usually see results. They see increased sales, compliments on the food and a returning sense of humor.
The teacher has walked this path before, many times, and he stands firm, rooted and waiting for a moment of insight to rupture the ego; within this space changes can be introduced. And sometimes, when the results become as obvious as day and night, there is a moment of true realization, and a new way of being emerges.