Puzzles

Whenever I recall a friend telling me, years ago, that he was recently hiking in a forest and soon found himself, as he said, ‘in the middle of nowhere’, it reminds me of a somewhat strange hope I always have when I start reading a work of fiction. As surprising as it may sound, I hope I will feel sort of startled and dumbfounded by what I am reading, even somewhat lost inside the pages. Delycia and I are currently reading Moby Dick for our book club, and whenever I feel like I’m ‘in the middle of nowhere’ (which is quite often in this book!), I say good for me, for then I might have the stirring experience of finding my way to ‘somewhere’. I often forget that in order to experience illumination I have to first experience darkness, and that the contentment of new knowledge can only come after the discontent of confusion. If I’m never ‘in the middle of nowhere’ when I’m reading a story, never utterly puzzled by the words I’m reading, how can I ever feel the thrill of stumbling upon the story’s true meaning?

These days I am often totally puzzled by this jigsaw puzzle I am trying to decipher.

Sometimes I feel as lost in this puzzle as I often do when reading Melville’s abstruse sentences and paragraphs. Staring at all the unsettled pieces still without a home in the puzzle, I sometimes sigh with a sense of hopelessness, but it’s often right then that a single piece somehow shines like a signal for me, and I set in its special place, and smile, knowing that even the strangest puzzle – on a puzzle table, in the pages of a book, or in life itself – will always come together – often in beautiful ways – for a patient and persevering person.

SNOW, FLAMES, AND A PUZZLE (written on January 21, 2014)

Outside, a billion big snowflakes are floating down on our neighborhood, while inside our snug house, the flames of an inviting fire are fluttering and leaping in the fireplace. There’s a similar and lovely randomness in both – the snow sailing here and there and wherever, and the fire doing its dance in a thousand ways. There’s also a jigsaw puzzle on the table not far from the fire, and lately the pieces have seemed as haphazard as the flames and the snowflakes. I know, though, that they’ll all eventually fit together, just as the flames will eventually settle together into one smooth pile of ashes, and just as the snow, by sunrise, will be spread across the streets and yards in a single dazzling sheet.

Staying

I would like to learn to ‘stay’ more often – remain right where I am without wandering off to some other place or task. There’s something special, I think, about ‘staying put’. Stones do it constantly, and easily, just sticking to where they are for months and maybe years and centuries. The stones in our stone fence have stayed there for years, precisely where they were placed, and stones in fields have been sitting in the same places in, I might say, a pleasant peacefulness.

And these stately, distinguished trees I passed on a walk in Elm Grove Cemetery this morning – how patient they seem, how single-minded, just staying right where they are day after day, year after year!

Perhaps I’ll try a little ‘staying’ each day – just letting myself be left somewhere to sit silently, to persist in simply being where I am, to suspend all stirring and rushing, and just stay, a senior-citizen stone or tree, sitting in peace. 

IN STAYING
 
In Staying, Kansas, 
staying is a popular pastime. 
Trees usually stay standing 
precisely where they are,
almost as if they think
they are lucky to be there, 
and laughter lingers longer here 
than in other towns.
Pillows wait patiently
for people’s heads to finally find them, 
 and happiness,
in Staying,  
insists on hanging around, 
hoping someone will notice. 
Towels in bathrooms stay put, 
well prepared for people’s hands, 
and the sky continues, 
day after day, 
to be the sky.
Best of all, in Staying, 
peace persists, hangs on,
continues, and carries on.  
 
 

Hamilton and Delycia, staying put …

Walking

Yesterday and today, we did three-mile walks in beautiful Denison Pequotsepos Nature Preserve, in the early morning as the sun was just starting to spread its light. As usual, I felt stronger and more loosened up with each step. Somehow, life seemed larger and more aglow as we made our way along the lovely trails. Below is a slideshow of scenes we saw along the way …

WALKING 
 
Walking can work miracles, 
can make leaves leap up
and grass give its gifts 
to your feet. 
Walking can make you wonder 
why sunlight lives on certain tree limbs, 
on silent stones, 
on sticks that seem precious. 
Walking can carry you,
like a cloud 
that will never disappear. 
Walking can be where you live 
and why you laugh. 
Shoes passing over stones 
seem to always be smiling.  

This Is It

I guess like most of us, I have been searching for wisdom for most of my life – searching for some sense of who I am and what this thing called life is all about. Sometimes – often on silent, unblemished summer mornings like this one – I realize, to my dismay, that my search has been wasteful and silly, since true wisdom doesn’t have to be searched for. It’s wherever I am, as ever-present as air and as immeasurable as the sky. To find wisdom, I simply have to stop searching for it, open the door of my small, cautious self, and walk out to where boundless wisdom is always making its miracles. It’s truly as simple as that.  Like the confused Buddhist student monk in this cartoon, I have to wake up and realize that ‘this is it’ – that ‘right here and now’ is absolutely all there ever is.

BEING BACKED UP 

 He’s always backed-up,
which brings him an easy, consoling feeling,
like flying in an infinite sky
with never-failing, always-helpful winds.
When worries assail him,
simple presence has his back,
reassuring him that now
will never be any better than it is now,
which means it’s matchless
right at this moment,
and that miracles can arise
even from fear and fretfulness.    
He gets help from the happiness 
he sees in old, simple streets 
and in stones that sit in peace. 
His support is always present
in every spreading-out 
and restfully soaring 
new moment.  



 

Here are some ‘right here and now’ moments from our walk in the Peace Sanctuary this morning …

… the paved path leading into the Peace Sanctuary, with Delycia up ahead …

… early light on the Mystic River

from the trail high above the river …

Commonplace Miracles

This morning, while Delycia walked along River Road, I walked in St. Patrick’s Cemetery overlooking the Mystic River, and I was fortunate to see these marvelous scenes:

swirls and cushions of clouds above the cemetery …

the river in its glassy distance …

and sunlight displaying its matchless skills …

However, later in the day, at home, I noticed other miracles – more commonplace ones that I usually overlook. Here’s a simple but miraculous scene in our bedroom …

nothing fancy or unusual, just some simple furniture and a lovely lady taking a nap in lovely, everyday light. As my favorite poet, Walt Whitman, wrote,

“Why, who makes much of a miracle? As for me, I know of nothing else but miracles. To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle.”

Settling

When I lived for a few years beside the slow-moving Wood River in Rhode Island, I sometimes stirred up the water in the shallows just to see it slowly settle back to its usual clearness, and now, occasionally, when my life seems blurred and unsettled, I still think of how, given time, that river always returned to its accustomed stillness. I guess I need to give my so-called problems time to smooth down and settle, like the river always did. I sometimes need to do nothing but sit on the ‘bank’ of seemingly bad situations and let them loosen and slowly resolve themselves. All too often I only stir up the problems by making anxious attempts to fix things, when sitting in stillness might be a better way. Storms always, in due course, lessen and sail off in front of the sunshine, and my difficulties might do the same if not whipped up more by my fretfulness. Perhaps I should see a problem as simply a short-lived fuss and splash in the nonstop Wood River of life, and look with confidence to see things settle and sparkle once again. 

I thought of this today because, this morning, Delycia and I floated once again on the always loose and relaxed Wood River, not far from where I used to live. As always, the river seemed absolutely settled and serene. Wherever I looked, I saw tranquility, even in gangs of water striders skating speedily across the surface.  Below is a slide show of some of the quiet scenes we saw .

And here is our guide, Delycia, relaxed and settled …

and here is a brief video of her, leading the way …

… and a little poem from several years ago …

ONE SETTLING DAY 
 
One day,
it seemed like all of life 
started to settle down 
into a well-rounded society. 
There was an easygoing system 
in all things,
and all was strange 
in a spectacular way.
It was as if the spirit 
of spring 
was felt even in struggles,
and even sicknesses 
started to have 
the sunshine of summer
inside them. 
On this day, 
any shallowness in life 
had a freeing spirit inside it, 
and suffering was sometimes superior
to happiness 
in the wisdom it shared. 
All the people
felt like satellites
circling through the universe,
and satisfaction was so sticky 
no one could escape from it. 

Smoothness

     Often, when coming off an interstate highway, I notice the smooth flow of cars moving on and off the highway, and it sometimes starts me thinking about the predominance of smooth movements all across this world – movements that seldom make the evening news. Cars, for instance, all across the world are evenly streaming around clover leafs 24/7 all year long, with only an occasional disruption – billions of cars smoothly cruising along with a silky kind of ease and efficiency. The same is true of pedestrian traffic, the countless numbers of walkers who work their way effortlessly along streets and sidewalks, a ceaseless and almost graceful pedestrian river. Sure, there are jostles and annoyances now and then, but mostly the stream of walkers the world over just keeps fluidly moving. If I could somehow see all this unruffled flow of cars and pedestrians from a few miles above the earth, I would think this planet was a safe and stylish place to live. Unfortunately, the evening news seldom shows us the elegance that’s all around us. I guess the relatively scarce instances of disruption and disarray tell a more exciting story, but they don’t tell the truth about the overall smoothness of this life we lead together on earth.   

Here are some clouds in this morning’s sky that seemed so smooth as they slowly shifted snd swirled … 

 
 
SMOOTH SWIMMING
(at the Mystic Aquarium)
 
Big and small fish
flow along together,
taking no concern for the cold
outside or the shrieking
of politicians and voters.
There's a smoothness here,
a helpful kind of quiet,
a calm among many kinds
of creatures that keep quietly
floating even while fear
fights its way through
cities and countrysides,
where people live
who could learn
from these restful, confident fish.
 
 
 

Unhurried

In my 45 years as an English teacher, each summer, as I looked forward to a new school year, the word ‘unhurried’ often came to mind as a description of the kind of teaching I hoped to do. I wanted to avoid rushing through a lesson, running through a review, sprinting through a ‘to do’ list, or charging ahead with impulsive words and actions. I wanted to do everything the way the sun rises, with an easy kind of poise. I knew there was never any need for urgency in teaching English to teenagers. The planet would continue turning whether I covered three or six or zero comma rules in a class period. Our hearts would continue beating and our trillion cells would keep being reborn no matter what happened (or didn’t happen) in 9th grade English class on Barnes Road. I wanted to do everything with attentiveness and consideration. Flowers can’t be hastened into blooming before their proper time, nor can good teaching be rushed. I hoped to allow each 60 seconds in class to be utterly thorough and satisfying. All the moments in the universe are precious ones, so I figured I might as well slow down and appreciate each one as it effortlessly displayed itself in Room 2.

We took a very unhurried walk this morning in the Oswegatchie Hills Preserve, and the forest itself seemed a model of ‘unhurriedness’. All was at peace. A feeling of leisure lingered all around us as we walked. Nature, I guess, naturally does things in an easygoing way. Even the worst storms seem to flow with ease, albeit a muscular sort of ease. I think we both felt surrounded by repose and relaxation as we walked.

Here are some scenes of serenity in the forest …

…. and here’s a short video from the hike …

 
A COMFORTABLE LIFE
Ellie G., 42, Blessings, CT
 
It’s fun for Ellie to see 
how comfortable 
the life around her is.
The trees in the yard 
seem snug in their world
 of winds and sunshine, 
and storms 
are mostly loose-fitting, 
so she’s able to relax 
and be casual 
as thunders crash
and lightning streaks along
in a leisurely way.   
Happiness, for her, 
is always unhurried 
and, if she stays patient, 
it calmly arrives like 
an easygoing friend. 
Her heart 
is a comfy place, 
safe in a friendly way,
and vast 
 like an endless, cozy home.  
  
 
 

Goodness

     Goodness is a steady and faithful follower. It seems to pursue me everywhere – in stores, where I can always see a gracious smile from at least one person; on walks, where strangers sometimes send a greeting with a wave; and especially in the midst of disappointment or sadness, when I can always count on goodness giving me its gifts. Goodness is persistent and enduring – a dutiful follower even in serious unhappiness. It’s always just behind me, right in my footsteps, ready to help.    

And here’s a threesome of pure goodness – Annie, Gabe, and young Louie. How can a dad and grandad be this lucky!

 
PERSISTENT GOODNESS
 
One day
a man with advanced cancer 
grew weary of goodness
and decided to flee from it forever. 
He tried to not see 
the graciousness of the nurses and doctors, 
nor the benevolence brought by the sunshine 
at his hospital window,
nor the mild manners
of autumn’s leaves settling 
on the windowsill. 
He turned his face
 from the affectionate softness
of his comfortable bed,
and from the goodwill
of the clean walls and helpful floors.
He couldn’t stand the compassion
 of his visitors, 
and he always jumped away
 from the generosity of a new morning. 
 
It was no use, though, 
for goodness never gives up. 
The man finally surrendered to it, 
and both he and his grateful cancer
 fell into its soft arms.
 
 

Reflection

I sometimes think of writing a story about some reflections of trees in a river, like these on the Wood River where we kayaked on Friday morning …

and, in my story, the tree reflections decide that they are, in fact, real trees, not just reflections. Gradually, these tree reflections become proud of their separateness as ‘real’ trees, and begin thinking that they are better than the other reflections, but also start worrying, because maybe the other tree reflections, which are also ‘real’ trees, will be able to hurt them, and even kill them!

This story, even if it never gets written, is an important one to me, because it portrays, in some ways, my own situation in life. I usually think of myself – my ‘self’ – as a separate material entity existing in a universe of countless other material entities, all competing with each other to stay separate and healthy, but when I’m wide awake and thinking clearly, I see how foolish that is – just as foolish as these tree reflections on the Wood River yesterday thinking they are actually real, individual, separate trees, and not reflections.

More and more, as the years have passed, I have come to see that what is called ‘I’ or ‘me’ or ‘Ham’ is simply a reflection of something so vast that it can’t be comprehended or described. Every thought I think and move I make is actually a reflection of the thoughts and movements of this infinitely forceful power, which I sometimes refer to as Spirit, or Soul, or just Life. These tree reflections don’t really have to work hard to sway and bend, nor I do I have to work hard to live a fulfilling – even miraculous – life. Like the tree reflections, I just have to relax and let the powers do their marvelous work. Lucky me.