Consulting the Oracles of Time

In a memoir there is always a present time from which a shepherd, tending the flock of memories, sends out his rescue missions. And there are always lost sheep, which this exploring consciousness would like to find, to understand, or to grieve.

This seems to be the way my mind operates: my memory, and the past which that memory preserves, are two faces of a self-referring system; I only remember what I have already recorded; and the already-recorded images of past experience, including those from a second ago, then determine what I encounter now, and also what I expect to encounter next.

Even suspecting that this is the way things ordinarily work is enough to make me look for another approach. If my life is composed of past memories, which I cannot affect, but which determine who I am now, then the whole notion that I am on a meaningful life journey, in which I can chose to respond to the winds of spirit, is cast into question.

My memories seem to be stored in museum displays, which are usually only taken out of their cases on special occasions. But a few memories shadow my days as if they have nowhere else to be. Something similar seems to be going on in my relationship with the future, as if the past and the future have both been indentured to some petty official who never shows his face or announces his intentions. But surely I need a living, dynamic, temporal medium, responsive to my current intentions, if I hope to connect a remembered time with this present time, in a way that allows me to extract something relevant to my present concerns.

If I live in a Lego universe, in which each present moment adds yet another piece to a Lego construct, then good luck using a memoir, or any other imaginative endeavor, to fuel understanding and to engender hope that our world will be able to survive its human occupants. For me, the world feels just as important as the individuals who find themselves alive in it. Unless enough of us care for the world in which our lives are unfolding, then the global Lego structure which has so visibly fallen into the hands of the least enlightened among us, will surely take down with it all that is sacred and, with it, humanity’s roots in a greater realm which I suspect underlies this one.

I have come to believe that there is no privileged place beyond my present life, as it unfolds in this continuously evolving world. But there may be a greater presence–rarely glimpsed–which manifests through this ordinary, often tedious and quite uninspired, one. Or rather, there may be a presence whose fundamental nature I misconstrue and for which I substitute–in place of a vast and fluid presence–Lego replicas, simply because they fit better in the Lego construct I call ‘reality’.

Well, that feels like more than enough about the odds stacked against my ever breaking free from the construct of my frozen ‘reality’. A more promising avenue may be to ask: is there another side to the constructs in which I spend most of my life; and, if so, can I contact it?

Building a bridge using the same concepts that freeze memories into an inaccessible past (and which commandeer the future for replicas of those past memories), seems destined to merely produce another section of the highway on which I am already travelling. Not that I don’t appreciate the ‘infrastructure’ that allows me of move and conduct the affairs of my life in this world. It’s just that another approach seems needed if I am to have any hope of seeing, with fresh eyes, what is under my nose.

It seems possible that the operations of memory—usually reflections in a hall of mirrors which impose the already known onto the unknown—may be manifesting a presence that would ‘happily’ speak to me if I could learn how to listen in a different way. But as long as I rush to identify, categorize, re-cognize, re-member, and in-corporate whatever appears, I am likely to keep finding exactly what I expect to find. Another method seems called for if I am ever to discover a living presence in the unexplored fields of past time. But that method can’t be the method I used to construct my Lego memories, because then I will be setting up in advance ‘evidence’ that supports ‘the way things are’. Then good luck discovering any hidden dimensions in an unestablished, living time.

George Santayana may have been on to something when he wrote in his preface to “Skepticism and Animal Faith”:

“Here is one more system of philosophy. If the reader is tempted to smile, I can assure him that I smile with him, and that my system—to which this volume is a critical introduction—differs widely in spirit and pretensions from what usually goes by that name. In the first place, my system is not mine, nor new. I am merely attempting to express for the reader the principles to which he appeals when he smiles.”

When Daniel first met the lion, with the thorn stuck in its paw, there must have been a moment when permission was given for him to approach. And in that moment the usual must have melted into something greater than the conditionings of both their accustomed roles in life.

I’m assembling a list (and checking it twice) of times of transition that have appeared in my life. Some were welcome arrivals into periods of confusion and doubt, and some were more painful and bewildering. Some offered immediate clarity and some needed time to mature before I could recognize the benefit that they conferred. What they may have had in common is that I was not in control of the changes that then came into my life; that a kind of Grace seemed to intervene; and that I seemed to find myself facing in a different direction after these interventions, newly able to ‘see’ that life was offering different opportunities than I had been previously able to see.

Such a ‘list’, in itself, is not likely to yield life-changing ‘evidence’ of a presence beyond, since I seem unable to resist translating the ‘extraordinary’ into a newly configured ‘ordinary’.

But considering that, months later, the lion was able to ‘remember’ the help it had received from Daniel, perhaps I too can ‘remember’ the times that I have received help, when I most needed it, and honor those times in a spirit of gratitude. Looking back with appreciation might allow, if good fortune is on my side, the voice of an unknown mystery to speak again.

My List

1/ (1944), I drowned at two years of age. (Perhaps this opened me to a realm of light and to the experience of someone or something reaching out and pulling me back into the embodiment of a young child).

2/ (around 1950), I experience a ‘pang of conscience’. The Grade Three teacher had just asked if anyone would share their extra milk carton with a little girl who had arrived for lunch after all the milk had been distributed; my head, like an adder striking, darted down and I sipped from the straw in my second carton. This memory remains with me, and I suspect that it may have planted a seed that has encouraged me to become more aware of the lives of others.

3/ (1957 and ongoing), Eric Grinyer entered my life. He opens many doors to the value of knowledge (of literature, philosophy, international affairs.). And he also contributed to a hidden place inside of me, because he insisted that I never share with others the private confidences that he shared with me. While enriching my inner life, he may have encouraged in me a split between the inner and the outer, between my secret thoughts and my life in the world.

4/ (1964-65), I graduated, and then quit my first real job a few months after landing it, leaving Montreal and thereby abandoning my college girlfriend and a career path that, more directly than any since, utilized my education. I have so many memories from that time: of adventures (a car trip across Canada and the States; my baulking at the job my friend and I could have had (selling encyclopedias in New Orleans), because I felt distaste for the idea of preying on people who wanted to give their children a better education than they had had (the phase that stuck in my gorge from the training run was “not to be fancy, mind you” as we were instructed to point to the gold lettering on an empty encyclopedia cover. Instead, we drove to Vancouver in three days with just enough cash for gas as long as we didn’t eat. I remember that encyclopedia issue as the first ‘moral’ choice I acted on. Then, back in Canada, sitting in the wheel house of a supply boat, sailing all night in the surrounding bowl of the Rockies, poised motionless in time and space; and how I relaxed with the wheel in my hands and the engine vibrating under my feet, in the midst of water, air, and with the land on all sides plunging into a night sky aflame in starlight.

5/ (around 1968), a fire on Stanley Street, Montreal; during which I (a proud slacker) told a woman, leaning out her window a few feet from the flames (which killed two residents of my apartment building), to jump. The next day that fire forced me to vacate my apartment and then my girlfriend and I moved in together; with her encouragement I enrolled in McGill University to study English literature and soon started writing stories. This raises a question now, looking back: was I ready for a change, or did a movement in the underlying substratum of my life decide that I needed one? It felt as if an impulse that was not part of my psyche at the time caused me to walk under that woman’s window and tell her “you have to drop those sheets and come out your window.” Perhaps something–not present in my established embodiment–stepped in and borrowed my body for what needed to be done.

6/ (around 1976) fruition, crisis, renewal, all alternating in rapid succession. I published five short stories, hit bottom and barely climbed out of the depths of despond; then set forth on two years of exploration to both ends of the country, along the way, hitting another emotional/psychological breaking point, I surfaced again, on the far side of a chasm, and spent a year working at an open pit copper mine; then I hitched a ride on the coat tails of my first wife, who knew where she was going, starting with three months in Peru together. During this period, several doves with branches in their beaks happened to fly by, just when I needed the distant lands that they promised. Go figure.

7/ (1983-85) Dad’s death, my divorce, a new job at UNM; I discovered Tibetan Buddhism, Skillful Means, and Time, Space, Knowledge (TSK). Several endings opened the gates to new beginnings. An open question: do I need to hit bottom and lose my current foundations, in order to strike new roots and delve into new terrains? Or have I finally learned to find the new and unexplored in what is already around and within me?

8/ (1990-93) Falling out with Eric; Mom’s death; a second marriage and my first child; a year in Berkley including a six month retreat; back in New Mexico, the co-founding of “Friends in Time”; I became a writer again (after almost two decades believing I couldn’t afford to make-up worlds when I was so marginal in my ‘real’ one) with a novel about whales, dolphins, and aliens (“Asleep at the Wheel of Time”). It was a time for new initiatives and the resumption of old practices. In the rear view mirror (or is it in the headlights of current intention) I see that I entered another phase of life, one in which I am still travelling.

9/ (2002) Taking stock of my relationship with the TSK Vision. My article (“From Zero to One—Exploring Time through Relationship’) about the TSK vision, how it entered my life and how it continues to influence me, was published in 2004 in “A new Way of Being”, and republished in 2014 in “Inside Knowledge”. This, as well as several articles published in magazines and my involvement in several years of TSK Teacher Training signaled the appearance of an impulse to share with others the benefits I increasingly realized I was receiving from the TSK vision. In addition to treating writing as a practice, in which my inner being tries to communicate with an outer world, I now feel that I am part of a (very) small community of fellow travelers who are also trying to share a vision that has helped them live in this world (which is clearly in dire need of this kind of wisdom).

10/ (2018) a year of living in the recent now. Out of a recognition that many of my involvements in life, which have provided me with a sense of meaning, are dwindling, if not out-right ending, I found myself confronting the feeling that I was just waiting for the final rollcall. When, in late spring (reputedly the season when life calls us forth but when some decide they’re not ready to answer that call) I had a mini stroke, after which two parallel impulses arose: to take blood pressure meds and try to be healthy; and to take advantage of whatever time remains to be fully alive and engaged. I’d already started working on a forth book, but now I felt I’d like to more fully enter the narrative arc of this book and also show up each day for the narrative unfolding of my remaining time on Planet Earth.

. . . . .

Writing about your own experience is like recording an interesting dream when you wake up. Most people won’t be interested in listening to you if it doesn’t have something to do with the issues they are struggling with in their own lives. Yet I know that I am not alone in my dependence on being able to break out from times of darkness; and it seems possible that others might be interested in hearing about what has worked for me, even if—perhaps especially if—I had little to do with opening the doors that have led to sunnier climes.

My desire to explore my individual relationship with a larger realm naturally leads to an intention to look for the times when something other-worldly peered through into a life that often felt stagnant, or was spinning like a top in increasingly wobbly circles. Such times of intersession seem significant and worth exploring.

At those times, I found myself being redirected and rejuvenated–able to tread new paths and think new thoughts. In retrospect, it appears that a burst of energy came across the transom from the open sea—energy that blew away many of the inhibitions, depletions, and doubts under whose weight my current life had felt crushed.

Since I know that I am not alone in experiencing such feelings—not singled-out when the ship of purpose and the raft of fulfillment have run aground—it may be of interest to others to read about my personal floundering on those treacherous shoals.

(When a man came to the Buddha and asked what he could do to rid himself of the grief he couldn’t shake after the death of a loved one, the Buddha told him to go into the neighborhood and find a household that had not been touched by a similar loss. The man returned a few days later having failed to find a single household that had been spared such grief. It may not have been stated explicitly, but I suspect that he no longer felt the need to lament how he alone had been unfairly singled out.)

Perhaps I will be singing to a choir of one—and a ‘one’ who doesn’t even include all the earlier versions of myself from whom I would like to learn—but I am now motivated to look back in time in search of what may have been portals into a more open kind of realm than I ordinarily inhabit. At such times, I may have been in the vicinity of a timeless dimension. And that would put me in touch with better company than listening to the ticking of a stop watch, or estimating my distance to the finish line.

One comment to “Consulting the Oracles of Time”
  1. Hi Michael,
    Love this…
    “…as long as I rush to identify, categorize, re-cognize, re-member, and in-corporate whatever appears, I am likely to keep finding exactly what I expect to find. Another method seems called for if I am ever to discover a living presence in the unexplored fields of past time…. but I am now motivated to look back in time in search of what may have been portals into a more open kind of realm than I ordinarily inhabit. At such times, I may have been in the vicinity of a timeless dimension. And that would put me in touch with better company than listening to the ticking of a stop watch, or estimating my distance to the finish line.”

    It’s those portals… those openings… it’s the beginning of time, all over again… déjà vu all over again… from the future the past unfolds… now, and now, and…

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