Thoughts From the Village: Emotions and the Bulgarian Stoicism

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We have been home for a couple a weeks now. August is always hot here, often nearing the forties; sometimes, like the year before, even reaching beyond that. This vacation is no exception; after suffering through our first week when the gauge hit thirty-nine almost daily, we can finally take a breather — it is cooler now, and there is a pleasant breeze almost every day…

As I write this sitting under the shade of the vine, in the comfortable nest of my old home, I leisurely behold the sights of my past. Looking at the old, familiar street — the walls, the fences, the people, and the clear sky of my childhood — I feel the old, familiar sense of…what do I call this…?

A sense of feeling less, and being less; a kind of suppression and a block to being fully alive; something like a dam, made to be a barrier to strong emotions — the good ones as well as the ‘bad’ ones — a wall, erected against their expression…

I see my old friend: one of the oldest, truest comrades I have ever had, going in and out of his house — but why is it that I do not feel the joy which I have when I am away from him and think of our next meeting? Why do I feel so numb and unable to express how I really feel on the inside? Why am I so reserved; why do I always hold back?

And I know that, just like me, my friend also feel the same way.

Perhaps it is the culture here; we have all been brought up like that. We are all gravitating between unspoken love, hidden hatred, and well-controlled joy; we are all, to a degree, living a life which is stifled life. It should come as no surprise then, that I do not know how to live from the heart — that heart which feels so much and has so much to give, yet is often silent.

I do not know whether it is a cultural thing, like the proverbial ‘stiff upper lip’ of the British; I am no expert in nationality and culture. But I have become a student of my own life and, after years of one painful and glorious discovery after another, I have learned a thing or two about myself and those around me.

On this little quiet street, in the green Thracian lowlands, me and my few peers grew up as happy as any group of average children could be, perhaps even more, yet expressing our true emotions was never trully a part of it all; it was always that missing, unmentioned, and seemingly unimportant part of life. Later, when we entered youth, we drank and celebrated young age as most young people did; then we embraced and kissed each other, but those displays of our affection toward one another were never carried into the new day — we left them behind, abandoned and hidden in the dark smoky corners of the old restaurant, waiting to be remembered and picked up again the next weekend. The restaurant, just like ourselves, came alive only on Friday and Saturday night; it became a nightclub then, and the old Soviet-style interior took on a colourful and glorious glow, along with our own neglected selves.

But our joy could never last.

What we felt while we were basking in the fleeting light of our short-lived glory, we could not take with us; what we were when we were most alive and most able to express our hearts — their nobility and beauty, but also their ugliness, their sickness and their pain — we could not be permanently.

This is why we so chase our addictions — the addictions we all have, for we have all been born into a world that has no room for our true selves; a world that offers no fulfilment for our deepest desires.

And so, even after years of facing my old pain and offering the most secret places of my heart to be healed, I am finding myself locked into the old patterns still, in the days when I am too weak or too tired. During those times, like the proverbial dog, I am readily returning back to my own vomit; back to the dirt and the death from which I have been lifted. I know the river well; the old river which, flowing for decades within my soul, has eroded a deep bed for itself. And since the direction of its flow has been my path for decades, I do not need to do much; I only need to simply let myself be carried by the waters, back to the familiar, back to the effortless comfort, back into the mire of my past.

Being home always brings me on the bank of that river, as close as I have ever been; for this is where the river first flowed, and this is where its deadly, wicked course was first set. Yes — deadly, for in my life, like every other life, there are unseen forces that seek my destruction; those were the hidden powers that once preyed upon the child…

I must make it clear here that my parents, like most, did their best to raise me in a good and healthy way. Sadly, like me, they are broken human beings, and, back in those times, their best was rarely enough to protect me from that which they themselves have not been protected…

 

* * *

 

While we were in my wife`s hometown — a little, charming spa town called Varshets — we met a spectacular young woman, and she quickly became our friend. This woman, who had, until recently, a professional volleyball player, had travelled the world and seen its wonders; she had also travelled her inner world, and explored its light and its darkness…

She was tall and lean and fit, glowing with the sunshine of Israel where she lived; she was radiating something else, too…

She was a warrior who had fought many battles; a heroine who had found and reclaimed a great deal of her truest self, and for this reason she was calm, free, and happy, totally unashamed to be — simply be — herself.

It was this — the power of her presence, this unhindered being — that so impacted both me and my wife, and made us want to know her better; this was also what encouraged us to keep walking the path of redemption, and not let the constant battle steal the joy of the present moment.

I am bringing her into this story because, during one of our conversations in the swimming pool, she put words to, and answered an unspoken question that had formed in my mind ever since we began our vacation.

‘In this country,’ she remarked in her fiercely passionate way, ‘ we might not abuse our children physically, but we crush them with our words!’

She was right: words that have the power to darken the eternal glow of the child`s heart; they can bring shame, worthlessness, or inadequacy to the soul so early in life, while the little one depends on the parents’ words for self-worth and identity as much as the body depends on oxygen and food for its survival.

Stop crying…

You are such a baby…

Behave — or else!

You should be ashamed of yourself!

And even:

You are worthless

We have all heard at least some of these; we have all felt their bitter sting. And we  have all been changed as a result of their message.

 

* * *

 

Although words have the power to change and shape the soul by bringing life or death to it, there is something more dangerous and deadly than words. Dangerous, for it is much harder to discover, and deadly, for it does its work in secret and, if left unaddressed for long, can shorten and even abort even the most promising life.

This is the unspoken coldness which creeps in from our parents to us while we are still young and helpless; this is the voiceless whisper in their eyes that tells us we must conform to this world — their world — and be less, simply because they have become less, and do not know any other way of being. Perhaps they have also felt threatened by the brave dreamer, by the little beauty and the young hero in their child, whose bright eyes speak of immortality and tell of a life that is too wild and too free — too eternal — to be manageable.

The Stoic-like mindset which me and most of my peers have inherited has indeed been a result from words — mainly the words of our mothers and grandmothers, for the women in our culture are far more free and unashamed outspoken than the men. It has also been a product of that unseen and unheard message which, like poisonous fumes or deadly sickness, once spread over us from our fathers` silent eyes…

And we all became like them, in one way or another — seemingly connected to those around us; never alone, yet lonely and silently suffering inside, bearing the curses, the wounds and the scars of all the generations past; the unhealed and unredeemed pain of the grandfathers who once groaned inwardly but could not make a sound as the heavy boot of the Sultan crushed their neck.

Today, men here die quickly, one after another, long before their time. Some are drowned in alcohol — their only escape from the pain; some are lost in sudden or gradual madness…

Most of them, however, the strong, upright, working-class people like our fathers, simply fade away; their once strong and powerful selves slowly erode with the merciless onslaught of time which steals their dreams and hopes. Then comes the final blow — normally, a sickness of some kind, an affliction which has been laying dormant for years, waiting for the weakness of spirit to set the stage and open the door for the destruction of the body. This murderous work is often done by the cancer which is so prevalent here, especially among the men; this most feared terror of our time kills, steals, and destroys with an alarming rate in this green, fertile place. Yet, we must know that in too many cases, maybe even most of them, what is seen is conceived by what is unseen — and the sickness of my people is no exception. Think of a broken spirit, too shameful to be acknowledged; of old pain and past heartbreak that are too painful to live with; imagine a lifetime of denial and repression of the true self and its feelings…

Take the strong emotions of grief, or better yet — anger, which has been cut off and stifled, pressed back down in the soul during childhood, only to surface later as a mysterious condition of weakness, lifelessness, or some other living death…

And you will see why we suffer as we do; you will perhaps learn something of your own suffering too.

But you do not need to flee from it as the people of my homeland do; you do not need to seek numbing pleasures and fleeting comforts as most people in the world do.

For I am here to tell you:

The way up is down and the way out is in. Go against the flow of the old river; turn against your own deep patterns; rise up and fight, even though you do not see your foe…

Do not fear your pain, for it hides a great treasure; indeed, it was once sent as a weapon, as a veil, to cover and silence your true, glorious heart; it is the device forged against you and the expression of your truest self…

There are diamonds in the dirt; there is new life and joy to be found, only by those who are brave or too tired to live in the shadows of grey, compromised existence…

You are brave, I know; and I know you are tired — tired of the endless search and the endless charade. Do not despair, for it is now time to find that lost treasure; it is time to enter the battle…

Do not fear.

You are not alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . .

 

 

 

 

 

A Story. A Heart.

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I’m standing before my old high school
It’s been 10 yrs since I touched the door
But to heal the old pain we must face it again
So I’ll walk down that hallway once more

David Wilcox, Last Chance Waltz

 

The following story is from the life of a boy – a boy who once lived and now lives again. It is a story the telling of which I will leave to him, for it is his story and it is best that he tells it. Hear him now…

 

 

The Lost Heart

 

Life was slow in the village. But life was also fun, and full of hope. At that time, American films and television shows, as well as most of the other foreign programs had only been in the country for a few years, but I did not know that. I simply enjoyed them. In those days I took everything for granted, and oh, how happy I was. It is only now, after some time in the darkness, that I can see clearly how sick the world around me has been; it is only now that I can see my own sickness.

But this is now, and I will not speak of the present. This story is about my past and I must tell it well…

As I said, life was quite slow once. Slow, before it got faster, and very fast, before it slowed down again. Back in those first slow times, I was a king. I was the prince of my little world; I was the center of the universe.

You see, one of my problems was that I was too sheltered. Nothing big was happening at the time I was born; the war of my grandfather had been fought and won long ago, and the war of my father – that endless striving for staying afloat – was being fought for me at that very time, and all I had to do was feed of the spoils.

At the time when I was still locked inside myself, confused and self-obsessed, my father had already started working and had been expelled from five schools; never for doing badly at his studies, mind you, but always for fighting. He was a beast, my dad, just the opposite of me. At the age of fifteen, I already knew that I was not a man like him. I knew, deep down in that mysterious place where knowledge is turned into understanding, that I will never become a man worthy of my own respect, and the respect of anybody else.

I was, in other words, a loser.

When the other, normal boys kicked the football and ran around like maniacs, screaming and hollering at each other, I stayed away from them – I could not do that; neither of those things were natural for me. Most of my attempts at being an athlete ended with the others jeering at me and mocking me, and even though we did not have any really ‘bad kids’ in our village, the others` opinion about me, as being a not-quite-like-them type of guy, filled me with self-pity, bitterness, and resentment. I was no good and I knew it. I know now, I can see it, that I was inwardly comparing myself to my old man, that I was trying to race against him as I was growing up. But this was one race I could not win, and the knowledge of this deepened with every passing year, until that one night, when it finally cemented itself over my heart, freezing my dreams and stifling my true voice. From that night, I began to change.

From that night, I began to die.

You see, we were never close, me and him, and I always wondered why. Why was it that everything I did was not good enough for him? Why was it that we never enjoyed any time together, apart from the times when I helped him, quite fearful and anxious, with his chores around the house? Why was it that he always expected me to be ‘strong’ and not allow anyone to ‘push me around’, to be as he had once been and do as he had once done?

Did he not see that, while he loved sports, I loved reading; did he not see that while he was strong, I was weak; did he not hear me when I woke up at night, screaming with terror, waiting for the embrace that never came?

He was my hero, yes, and I held him up as a standard – no, as a god that must be pleased and appeased. ‘What would dad do if he was here’ – this is what I always asked myself, deep down in that forgotten chamber, the place that is abandoned and shut up in most people. Yes – but I was not like them. He was more like them; he has shut the door within, and could now simply live and be, undisturbed by what people thought about him, knowing he was always in the right…

And in the right he was, quite often. This was what made it very hard to know the truth; this was what made it impossible for me not to adore him.

This was also why, in that deep and secret place, I hated and feared him.

He was not my father. I had no dad. He was my king and my god; he was also the slayer of my soul.

I am getting too deep again, and this was not my intention. It was the facts that I was after, not all the stuff behind them. I must forget, I know, but I cannot help it; I have been cursed with deeper vision and a bleeding heart. And death; I have been cursed with a slow and painful death. It began on the night I was telling you about.

I was fifteen…

On that night, I was wearing a black T-shirt which was stamped with the name of The Prodigy and had the terrifying face of their frontman Keith Flint on the front – you see, back in 1999 they were my favorite band. In those times I devoured their music like a ravenous teenage beast; in return, they gave me hope. I hoped that, after my immersion into the world of music, after my entrance in the local party scene (though you could hardly use that term for what used to take place in that little rural community), the others will forget my clumsiness as an athlete and my weakness as a person; I hoped they will forget that I was what I hd always known myself to be, even before that day – a weakling and a pushover, a boy not worthy of his father`s name. And my hoping, it seemed, worked, at least for a while.

It was my sense of humor, I think, that began to turn the tides; it was that good-hearted desire to simply have fun and be the life of the party (but that only when there were none of the more serious males around) that made me a good companion, liked from both boys and girls. And it was in those years – the time between the end of my first decade and the half of the second – that I was at my happiest. You see, I was a believer back then, a true believer in the ‘live and let live’ philosophy. And because, in those few short years, I had finally achieved the nirvana of my adolescence – that living when I, left undisturbed by all, disturbed none – I was as happy as anyone could be.

Life was good and the world held promises. There were treasures, I began to discover, riches hidden in the darkness of life; there were jewels hidden under the cloak of night, gems that I could not see in the daytime. The eyes of the girls shone like precious stones, reflecting the light of the moon, the stars, and the projectors in the restaurant that turned into a nightclub every weekend. And that was when my weapons, those tools forged to secure my survival in the world, were most used. A fighter I could not be – this I knew only too well – and my nice-ness overflowed; I could not stand up and face another when it was called for; I could not be right and stand my ground – but I was forgiving, and I was accepting, even of those who did not want to be accepted. The stories I had read back in those lonely years, were now used for fuel, and the fire of my pretense bathed us all in its warm, seductive glow.

All was forgotten, and all was now well. I was new, and life was good again.

Until that night.

 

* * *

 

I knew the boy, of course I knew him. And he knew me too, but this did not stop him. He needed someone to fight with; he wanted to test his strength but had no courage. And so he found the perfect man to meet those needs.

After his provocation, to which I half-jokingly protested (I could not hear my voice, it was too weak and too quiet) he grew serious, and this was when my knees started shaking. I know, it Is hard to believe, but I have always been that way around other boys  – all those that seemed to be more confident, more alert, or more aggressive that I could be. And I know why…I know why now.

It was him, my father, whose image they evoked…

But it was him, my father, whose strength I needed to become a man; it was his love and his fury that I needed to face them! But how could I receive anything from him while we were so far apart? And how could I be closer to him if he was so cold and scary?

But this is now, and that was then. Now, I am strong, and I am dangerous. Then, I trembled like a leaf.

 

* * *

 

Bang!

The first blow landed on my jaw and made my head snap to the side. I saw stars and felt no outward pain, though the pain within was growing every second.

‘What have I done to you? What have I done?’

My voice sounded weak and feeble and I was disgusted with myself. Why, oh why didn`t he just kill me and get it over with.

Bang!

This time, it was my nose. My face was already burning at that time; whether with shame or pain, I could not tell.

Slowly, methodically, my assailant worked me as if I was a piece of raw meat, pounding me with his fists in sadistic, youthful delight. I did nothing to defend myself – my body felt overcome with an apathy that came from deep within, from the soul that knew well its weakness and the futility of any action I could have taken. This had been, after all, my lot in life: I was a weakling, and weaklings got beaten.

We were in the darkness behind the nightclub, at the back of the old Communist building. I had always found it comfortably dark there, but there was no comfort for me that night. The old, good things of my previously quiet life, the things I had always looked at and loved for their warm familiarity, were growing more hostile and more remote around me with every second. Even the music sounded hollow, empty and void of life. The song that shook the old place from within as I myself was being shaken from without by slow but accurate blows, was called ‘Ghetto Superstar’ and I will never forget its tune. Months and years later, I played that same song at home while, trying to ‘toughen myself up’, I practiced blows and kicks on my mother`s pillows, rehearsing a dreaded confrontation with my enemies.

I don`t remember how many times he hit me, five six, or maybe ten. But I remember well the feeling of despondency that overcame me as I dragged myself back home. I was not hurt, save for one blackened eye and a reddened face, but, as far as I was concerned, I had been destroyed; I had been attacked, violated, and left for dead – left as good as dead. Yes, death was far more desirable than the fate that awaited me in the next days, months, maybe even years. I did not even know if a wholesome, happy life, the life I had just begun to find, was possible for me anymore. How would I look at my peers; how would I look at the boy who had beaten me – not with anger, as I had none; how would I look at myself – that stupid, childish self whose face I disliked ever since I could remember?

Hot with shame and inner torment, I opened the door of the house. It was not yet midnight and it was hot. My traumatized soul recoiled with horror as I realized that my father was still awake, watching the football game. It was a couple of years before the first air conditioner was installed in our house, and all doors and windows that had mosquito nets on them were opened, apart from the front door.

Inside, the man whom I respected but did not love, waited for me.

As I stepped into the television-lit room, I made a big mistake. I was a rookie in everything I did in life, no matter how long I had done it for; I was also a weakling, and weaklings never win.

Congratulating my father briefly, before my eyes could meet his, I pulled the T-shirt over my head, proceeding to take it of me as I quickly walked away from the danger zone and toward the back of the room.

‘Hold on,’ he said sharply, a vigilant bulldog, suddenly alert and ready, an old, battle-hardened warrior who, though wearing only his boxer shorts, was fully dressed, clad in the ageless regal robe of his grim dignity.

‘Come here and let me look at your face.’

Sheepishly, I obeyed. Had I not been humiliated enough already?

‘Who hit you?’ he asked me sternly. I looked at him. He was brimming with a scary tension that seemed to have shed fifteen years from his back. The tattoo on his chest was no longer old and grey, belonging to the past; it was now alive, and it was dreadful.

A coffin and a cross, this is what it was; and it was my coffin, and my cross.

I told him who had done it; I spoke in a hushed voice, void of emotion, void of any pain, though God knew, there was enough pain to drown us both. I was silent, dry, and broken. I felt shame but it was far from my lips; I felt sorrow but it did not touch my eyes. I was barren.

His blue eyes pierced me with fierce intent. They were for me, I knew, but I knew it in my head only. The hard blue gaze penetrated deep into the very depths of my lost, confused soul. It swept through all the masks, pretenses and defenses; like a blade, it ran through me and traveled fast down to the most secret chamber of my being, to discover emptiness and loss. I was disarmed and I was beaten, but it was not the enemy without that had done that. It was the wolf who hid under my roof; it was he who murdered my heart; it was he who drank my bitter blood.

‘Listen now son…listen to me now.’

The blue gaze was now too firm and steady, too hard and impossible to bear. I squirmed but I made no sound and did not move.

‘In the days to come’ my father began in a low, controlled voice. ‘You must find him when he is alone. And you must beat him, and beat him well.’

‘None of those brats should push you around — you must not let them!’

His voice was now raised and that dreadful tension was gripping him again, making his aged body young and brilliant with some dark, malicious potency. He was a god, and like a god, he was immortal.

‘If you let him get away with what he did to you,’ he continued, knowing little of the torment in my soul. ‘They will all try to do it, they will all think you would let them do what they like to you…’

My father`s voice dropped again; it sounded cold and unfeeling to me, like the voice of a general who sends his best troops, already beaten, starved and ravaged, back into the battle, back to their certain death; like the voice of a crime boss who orders the death of an innocent man; like the voice of a father who, intending to make his son cold and invincible as steel, cares nothing for the soul of the boy, the soul which should have been nurtured and loved before it could be hardened for battle.

There were no feelings within me, save for the shame and the confusion. I did not know what to do, or what to be, and I walked over to the end of the room and sat on a bed, making myself busy with changing my clothes. Even though it was more than twenty years ago, I still remember it all – the brown tiles on the floor, the broom in the corner, my black socks…

I think that perhaps he saw what I had no strength to utter and, I can at least hope, he sought to make things right. It was then that he drove the dagger deeper into my heart.

‘Ah, forget it…’ he said in a voice that failed to appear gracious and understanding; he could barely hide his disappointment. ‘You are not like that. You are not made for this sort of things.’

The last sentence did not even have the thin coat of pretense that clothed the previous ones; it struck its mark, clean and true to its malicious purpose.

I was dead.

There were no tears. There were no emotions. My family had never had the time and the freedom for such things. Within me, there was only emptiness and some vague, dry sorrow. Oh, but the emotion did come, and it poisoned my whole being. But it was not strong, not in that way, it did not have to be expressed and released; this was not its design. It was a hatred for myself and a burning desire to die and finally be done with. My mind formed words that my lips did not utter; instead, they floated back and forth within me and around me, keeping me numb and occupied, taking my attention away from the bloody throes of my dying heart.

 

A worm…a worm, and not a man…

Never…you will never become a man…you will never be like him…

I hate you…little, twisted, ugly boy – a boy that has not grown and will never grow…I hate your dull, ugly face, and I hate your slow, clumsy body…

Why are you still alive, worm? Don`t you know the world doesn`t want you?

I want you dead; you must not live, you hindrance, you burden, you awkward, heavy load – die and be gone forever!

I want to kill you, and raise another one in your place…you are a mistake – a mistake!

You must die.

Curse you. Curse your very life…

 

I will kill you…I cannot let you live.

 

I don`t know how long my torment lasted; maybe a minute, or fifteen minutes. But I remember that, when I finally got up and left that hot and heavy room, each slow, heavy step of my feet took me further away from everything that was good and real in my life.

A child cried in the dirt and I did not pick him up to comfort him this world is no place for children; I stomped on him and kicked him until his screams were heard no more. He is still there, rotting in the darkness, and I am still here, empty and alone.

I did not know what I was doing. None of us know…it happens too quickly, or in a slower, more secret way, but the result is always the same – we lose our heart, or we give it away. It is taken from us, or it is killed. Look around you, you who read this, or better still look in the mirror if you dare. Look at them; look at us all…

Do you see the walking corpses? Do you see the empty shells of life, the souls that are dead but are still living? Our land is full of shadows…

They were once alive but are now empty; we were once ourselves but we gave it all away without knowing. A sad story indeed, and a fate we all suffer.

No – if these wraiths are running the world, I want no part of it. There is not much more I can tell you now…you heard it all; you have seen the beginning of my downfall.

Oh, life went on, on the surface, and the seasons came and went as they did before. But in this new season, as my dying soul withered inside of me, my body grew stronger and my wish was granted as a new self was raised. Masks, as many as the stars over my quiet village, were put on and taken off – so very often. A new regime had taken power and the great purge had begun, for this new rule had no mercy for the past. Old dreams were put to death and old desires perished. What was new was cold and gleaming and it had no truth and hope; but it had efficiency, and it had power to survive. The world no longer seemed that bad, and in the years to come, joy began its gradual return.

 

* * *

 

Oh, the smells…

The stale, dusty aroma of the white powder as it hit the nose; the scent of perfume, youth, and gentle skin; the smell of victory and triumph; the sharpness of the whisky and the sweet softness of the cocktails – it all connected, blended into one, and day after day I chased and caught it. I was not like the loser Gatsby who reached pitifully for the distant green light; my life was in my hands, and I took in through my pores. I was alive – alive! The front – oh, the front was nice; it stayed nice, for I had not become a beast. Not only nice, of course, but effective too. Did I not tell you – there were exams taken and work done; names were whispered and love promised; there was a plan for success and a promise for life…

But let me tell you something, you who read this – it all came to nothing in the end, for I could not live without my heart. I could not love without my heart.

 

* * *

 

No more. No more…

I cannot bear it any longer.

Long have I sat into the nothingness; long has my soul suffered while I toiled day and night to heal the ache that would not heal…

I am going on a search, on a quest if you wish, and I will plunge down into the darkness. The coward does indeed die a thousand deaths and I have died many…

I will leave this live of endless dying; I will take the risk and go back into the darkness. It was there that I lost my heart, and it is there I must return…into the heart and into its pain; before the heart dies its finall death and my sentence becomes final.

There is terror that awaits me there, and this time, I will face it…

And if I live, I will tell you of my journey.

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

Summer

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My senses prickled to the presence of the Otherworld. I saw everything in sharp relief: the risen moon, the bear, the men holding the torches, Uther, the glinting point of the spears, the stars, Pelleas, the hardness of the wall, the stones at my feet, the silent dogs…
It was a dream and more than a dream. The dream had become reality — or reality had become a dream. These times are rare — who is to say where the truth lies? Afterwards, men shake their heads in wonder and endure the scoffing of those who were not present. For it cannot be explained, only experienced. But this is what happened:
Uther boldly approached the bear and the animal lowered its head and dropped onto its forefeet. The High King held out his hand to the beast, and the bear, like a hound recognising its master, pushed its muzzle into the High King`s palm. With his other hand, Uther stroked the bear’s huge head.
Men stared in astonishment: their lord and a wild bear, greeting one another as old friends. Perhaps, in some inexplicable way, they were.
I will never know what Uther thought he was doing, for he could never remember it clearly. But the two stood this way for a space of a few heartbeats, then Uther lowered his hand and turned away.
Stephen Lawhead, Merlin

 

 

 

 

Not long ago, in the time when I was most happy and forgetful, there were many summers.

They were all different, surpassing one another in beauty; they danced a colourful, unforgettable dance. Yes, those summers had colours, wild, happy, and alive – the madness of the lights in a nightclub, the playfulness of the eternal sparkle in the eyes of beautiful strangers, the redness of a sunrise, seen through weary eyes from a beach that still bore the marks of the night. They had smells too – the smell of perfume and cocktails, of sea and sun-lotion; the sweet, stinging smell of whisky and the stale, dusty smell of the white powder, close and intimate and uplifting – a friend hidden in the pocket, a trusted ally in the battle for eternal joy.

Those summers connected me to other seekers – some were close, some not so much, and it seemed in those days, that nobody was being used, and everybody was completely happy.

But in my happiness, I hid; in my connectedness, I was cut off; I was disconnected – divorced from myself and from all others. For I did not know that my heart was left behind…

I did not know that I had lost my summer.

And so I grasped for those summers and I made them stay. They lasted long and my soul was free. There was no care, no harm, and no focus  –  I needed freedom and I had all I wanted.

But it did not last.

No matter how deep was the division within me, no matter how dark the grave that I had dug for my heart, the heart was not dead and it did not sleep…it was awake and it had great hunger.

It did not want to simply smell the sweetness in the air as we celebrated our youth beneath a sky that promised memories; it did not want to look into the deep eyes, that starry darkness, shining with proud beauty; it did not want to merely taste of the aromas, feel the budding feelings, drink from the rich laughter…

The heart wanted life; it searched for the life it once had and the world it had been made for. All the pleasures I gave it did nothing to appease its hunger. They only numbed me, so that I could not see that they were mere signals and signs; they pointed to one different reality, to a world where everything is at it should be; where no pleasure is unlawful and no good sensation ever brings pain. A world where goodness endures and fulfilment is eternal.

This is what my heart was hungry for. And this is why I knew no rest.

My heart was on its search for summer.

I am thankful today that even the retreat from any deep feeling, that armour woven back in the unsteady days of my childhood, could not keep me from sensing the disturbance. I am grateful that even my life on the surface, when I lived in that shallow, happy place, could not keep me from feeling the tremors that shook the depths.

It is easy to feel happy when you are not yourself; pleasure is all you need. It is easy for an actor to play roles, for this is what an actor does best. But roles do not last and if the mask is not taken off, it will rot and eat away at the face behind it.

On a day when I had not succeeded to keep the facade of happiness from crumbling; when some strange weakness came upon me, usually brought forth by something which seemed small and insignificant, I could not retreat too quickly from my feelings. A hint of rejection, a scratch of humiliation or exposure…then, it came; it always came, that message from the depths. Sadness, deep and old, darkened the horizon of my hopes. A hand that had no form yet seemed somehow familiar, reached out from another world, from beyond time, and gripped my trembling soul. The sadness often came when I looked upon the past; it came when I allowed my eyes to stray and rest unchecked on a forgotten sight; it came if I allowed myself to think too deeply, when I allowed my soul to be haunted by its own desires.

So I ran, though I did not know it. I ran from the sights and the smells; I ran from the familiar roofs and from those who lived beneath them; I ran from the old friends who I thought no longer fitted my new world.

Little did I know how much the old world yearned to return.

For me, summer was a time of eternal sights and unforgettable smells, a time when time did not exist and when all life sang an immortal song, a song of being.

Sunshine. Vines. Lazy skies. Cobwebs carried by the wind…

And creatures. Creatures that gripped my heart and stirred it to life, creatures that awoke wonder from beyond this world, and told me story after story without uttering a word. In a hushed awe, I watched as mysteries unfolded before my eyes, day after day.

A stag beetle with majestic antlers. A buzzard, soaring high, right above our house. Bee-eaters, each a small explosion of colours, livening the bleached sky with their loud, extravagant presence. A snake – a gleaming stream of quicksilver, swiftly moving among the plants; a vagabond that lived a hated, outlawed life, waiting for the time of his vindication. Storks – many of them, circling the high blue vastness in the morning; owls, calling to each other in the evening; a beech marten — a fleeting glimpse of a bushy tail on the roof at night:

It all existed once, and I lost it.

Embittered at the world and my inability to grow, and fit in it and become the man I wanted to be, I cursed it all, forfeiting summer forever. Thus, I passed from the life of summer – that one summer, permanent and eternal – into the realm of many summers, a world of empty promises and shadows. The summers came and went, each taking a part of me with it – a precious part that they had no right to take if I had not myself given it freely. I was stranded in a lonely island, where I survived as best I could.

But all was not lost.

Summer, though shunned from my life, waited for me, even as I was searching for it.

It called to me – the sights, the smells, the very breath of the village – connecting me to that which I unknowingly ran from.

I avoided nature, and I hid from the creatures, for they brought forth the child in me, that self which I so hated. This was the self about which I had once believed lies, the self I saw as weak, slow, and stupid, and it was my hatred for that weak self which drove me away from it, and away from all that reminded me of it – away from the village and those old secret places, away from the fishing and the woods; away from the people too. It was not that I purposely avoided those places and people, back in those years of numb blindness; I simply needed to feel less. I needed to see and feel less of them, less about them and toward them, because I needed to feel less of my own hated self. For that self, the self I saw as pitiful and childish, was now buried deeply and I did not want to resurrect it; it was dead, and for this I was glad.

In the presence of such greatness – the greatness of the place where I was once alive, the greatness of those people`s older, but unchanged selves – I could not help but feel, and feeling was what I wished to escape. So I barred my soul against the power of that place; I shunned the people, even though I still sat with them, listened to them, and laughed with them; I shunned them in my heart, just like I had shunned it, that very heart, and allowed it no depth, and no true desire. For me, the loss was final, and those obstinate old people and things; those sites that still kept the fossils and remnants of my eternally lost paradise, had to be kept at bay. They had to be seen as rarely as possible, lest they opened that door within me which no man can shut, the door to grief and madness; the door through which a life of youth and promise would go, and disappear forever. No, I did not want that door to open, I hated to even think of that lost self. That child had too much pain and too much sorrow; he did not fit into the brave new world. He had too much hope for old, lost glory, and this is why I sentenced him to death.

But he lived, and from his grave, he reached for his summer.

And more and more often, I found myself beholding the old, familiar sights, listening to and telling stories which should have long been forgotten, and sitting on the bench in front of our house, looking at the street where I had once played with my friends. Often at least one of those friends would be with me, there in that place which kept so many memories.

In those moments, the place beckoned me; it those times summer rose from its grave and was again, though still only in my heart…

There, on the spot where more than two decades before a child had played and laughed with that immortal glory still sparkling in his eyes, I now sit, I listen, and I live as if I had never left the place…as if I had never left that boy behind, locked deep within me, darkened by shame and lies, laden with worries and burdens, haunted by unseen terrors. No, for although I had once shunned him, he is now mine. I have fought hard for him, and I have fought hard for summer, and despite the heavy loss, despite the suffering and all the pain, I have prevailed. He is now free, and this writing comes from his true home, the place where summer resides.

Although the war has not yet ended, the battle had been won.

Sitting there, under that eternal sky, on that eternal street, surrounded by birdsong and fading glory, I marvel – could it really be true?

Yes.

Summer is returning.

Roots – Part 2

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What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The street I was standing on had the appearance of a street that had two faces, or two natures. The old houses at its bottom revealed something of its darker past, while the modern ones at the top showed much warmer, more presentable character, as well as a desire to be in the present, and not look back.

A desire to forget their roots…

Yes. The new and modern design of the last houses, their wealth and beauty, looked like their owners had intended to clothe the past with new garments, to dress it with rich and beautiful clothes; they had attempted to transform their houses – they lives – into something radically different from the life of their ancestors. A noble task indeed, and a good desire, for we all know the dark sides of our past; most of us remember well the shame of our family, community, state, or nation. But there is one problem with this way of dealing with the shadows of the past.

It does not work.

One look at the modern buildings confirmed it. I examined one of the new houses and was stunned to see that everything about it – its very shape – was a reminder of its past. The house did not simply carry a memory of its roots. The house was its roots, for, just like a tree cannot stand without its physical roots, a house cannot exist without its roots which, though unseen, stretch far back in time and go deep into the heart of the world, deeper than the roots of any tree. We all have roots; we all have history.

Most of our history is not ours at all, and this perhaps explains the vengeance with which we attack and attempt to cover and erase all that is dark in our family history, that unwanted part of the heritage we have all received from our parents and theirs. But our attempts, as noble as they might be, do not serve a right purpose; nor can they be successful in redeeming our bloodline. Fought in this way, even the most righteous of wars will be lost. Alas, this is the story of most of us; we have not fought well; we have not swung the sword in the right direction, and, to a greater or lesser degree, we have all been defeated. You can see that defeat in the eyes of the father who, after years of fierce battle with his hidden addictions and compulsions, discovers that his young son is now tormented by the same afflictions, and that, despite the father’s heroic efforts, the darkness has been passed on. You can see it in the confused eyes of the aging man who, after a lifetime of denouncing the ways of his harsh and abusive father, is still lacking the masculine identity and the inner strength that only a strong but loving father could have bestowed upon him. Or in the face of the woman who has lived under a terrible (or, for that matter, a passive and emotionally absent) father, and then, for some inexplicable and tragic reason, falls in love and again becomes chained; enslaved by her love, or rather, her need for the same kind of man – abusive or passive – as her own father had been, the very man whom she had resented for years.

No, roots are not to be denounced; neither are they to be embraced blindly. Indeed, there is another way in which a redemptive battle can be lost. It happens when one, often in a sincere attempt to honor one’s bloodline, chooses to overlook their sins, their afflictions, and their darkness. Such a person remains ever distant from his real roots; too busy defending the castle from the outside, he can never get inside and see the true hearts of his people, the hearts that have undoubtedly passed true, unique blessings to him – blessings that often remain unseen, unacknowledged; precious gifts that are never truly received. Always defensive and overly protective of their family’s name, these people are often the first to ‘honor’ and ‘serve’ it, but their motive is as perverted as the ones who denounce their kin outright. This is indeed a kind of denunciation, since such approach does not allow for real closeness with the family members in question, not even a frank look at their true nature. There is no real examination of their good, their evil, and their own heritage, and therefore, there can be no true forgiveness and no subsequent discovery of their true hearts, and the story of their own personal harm. As opposed to demonisation and hatred, this way of relating is far more subtle and so, even more destructive.

I know that well, for I have lived with this particular affliction most of my life. It is only in the recent years, and after a series of events with deep and life-changing consequences, that my inner outlook on life, other people, and myself, began to change. Never before have I experienced such suffering, yet I would not trade those times for anything in the world. Pain, when it is left unaddressed, festers in the soul; it poisons us and it clips our wings, and, though we do not even suspect it is there, it slowly drains the joy out of our lives. I know this now, yet for decades I did not. Indeed, in my blindness then, I even thought I was happy – as happy as a human can be, as I often put it. But I was wrong, and my heart was hiding great pain. It was the pain that made me run from my roots, and it was the pain that made me blind to them, to their greatness and to their curse.

You see, when was old enough, I ran from my roots physically; but also, and most of all, I ran spiritually. My soul needed to run; it longed to travel far and away from what I knew as my roots. And although, as I said, I have only recently began my return, I am discovering that the return takes me far deeper than that place, so pitifully shallow now, where I once thought I belonged. Oh no, roots are deeper, and roots endure.

Since my first years, I could never bring myself to say, or even think, anything negative about my father. To me, my father was not merely a god; he was God. This is how I grew up, and this is what I believed, deep in my wounded, confused soul. I was not aware of that, of course, and did not became aware of it until, after my first brief encounter with the Truth, I one day found myself in a men`s group. Those men had all been walking the road to wholeness for some time, and all of them said, or hinted in some way, that I (like all people, they insisted) may have a problem with my father, and only a willingness to acknowledge that, and look at my inner life closely, could bring about the change I seemed to be so hungry for. I was hurt, and, deep down, I was very angry. To me, this could not be further from the truth; my father was a good man — their fathers were not. I stubbornly clung onto this belief until, in time, both pain and grace helped me in my desire to open my heart and look inside of it for the first time. What I saw was darkness, hatred, and terror, and to my utmost horror I discovered that my father was not what I thought he was; he had never been what I had so desperately wanted him to be. For the little boy within me, the man I had always called my father and had so adored, was a stranger; he was also an enemy. To my true heart – that self I was born with, that should have been nourished, loved and accepted as it was – my father was a merciless god; a god on whose approval depended the very life of the boy I once was. Although, in worldly standards, he was indeed a good man, indeed, a great man and an example to all, he failed to embrace and love me; he was cold when he should have been gentle; he was absent when he should have been present and involved in the small details of his son’s life. His virtues were impossible for me to attain, and his character I could never hope to emulate – he was a god too high for me, but I had no other god to worship. It was that need, among other things, which twisted my soul; it was that helpless frustration with myself which forced my heart to tremble in fear and hate itself, believing that I am no good and will indeed never be good. Such beliefs are like poison to the soul and in time become tools for forging the self most of us wear like a mask to ensure our acceptance by those around us – the performer, the joker, the smart one, the macho man, the good girl – oh, so many are the faces of the broken self!

But there is hope. And I am here to tell you that freedom is possible, and that, even what we may now call our character, can change. But it is hard. A journey must first be taken. A quest through darkness, a mission that promises hardship and unexpected twists; a pilgrimage which offers only grief and sorrow…on this journey, pain is a constant companion.

Yet, underneath the pain, there is gold. The roots also are there.

You see, what I just told you about – my blind worship of my father, the false face and self I have had all of my life – has, in part, already become history. There is of course more – more to leave behind and more to receive — but the way I now live; the way I now see others and myself — yes, even my father — has been forever altered. My heart is now free and is not tied to any, save for those to whom I wish to give it. There is no sickness in the blood ties; there is no dependence; there are no taboos, and there are no idols.

Freedom is attainable, but it is only gained when we are hungry enough, or indeed, desperate enough, and so are resolved to face the great wave of pain at last, and instead of swimming away from it, we choose to swim towards it, and plunge into the darkest depths. There, in the deep, are the wave’s roots, and there we discover that its roots are made of water – the same water that gives life, and does not kill. Thus, in our abandon of life, we find it. This has all been spoken of, and this has all been taught. And the Man who once taught it is teaching it to us still…

Seek the narrow gate. Lose your life, so you can find it.

How have you tried to cover up your roots? Have you, like the people on that Spanish street, painted the ‘house’ of your soul and body; have you changed its doors, or remodeled its roof? What are you running from?

Did you, perhaps out of hurt, shock and embarrassment, renovate your house on the outside, doing your utmost to change its appearance and identity, while sacrificing and losing much in the process? Or did you, perhaps out of fear – fear to disobey, fear to dishonor – choose to remain blind to all darkness, hastily covering all stains and blemishes as soon as they are exposed by the events of life?

Do you disown those whose lives were meant to uphold yours; those whose name was meant to make you proud, but instead have brought you only anger and shame? Or do you worship them like I once did, choosing to ‘see only the good’ about them in an outward act which can be performed truthfully only after the ‘bad and the ugly’ – their darkness – has also been seen and looked at; only after it has been stared in the face, and its hold over your life broken and released.

No, this is not the way of hope; it is not the way of love and true redemption. Roots must be uncovered, wounds must be entered, and pain must be felt… There is darkness in the roots, I know; yes, there is poison there that kills…

But hear this:

 

Beneath all shame, there lies a noble heart.

Behind a twisted face, there hides a treasure, and an art.

The coward wasn’t born one, and the whore in secret weeps.

Beneath the mire runs pure red blood; the yoke of shame the soul in torment keeps.

Roots must not be forgotten; pain must not be left unwept.

The cave of the ages must at last be opened, and the brave must enter its depth.

Only then will blood become true blood; only then will the storm stop its raging.

If we are cut off from our roots, in sorrow we will be aging.

 

 

Roots – Part 1

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“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

 

Whenever I am abroad, if I can help it, I try to avoid the noise and the glamour of the so-called popular destinations, those places that tourists so love. I like to feel close to the country and its people, and I like to immerse myself in their life, a life which is often very different from my own…

I returned from Spain last night. There, for about two and a half weeks, my wife, myself, and our little daughter, spent time with relatives who live there, in a place called Alfafar, just a few miles from the heart of Valencia. Apart from one trip to the city center, and our almost daily journeys to the beaches of a village called El Saler, we did not travel much. But every evening, when the sun was still strong but no longer as malicious as it was earlier in the day, I took a stroll down the streets and squares of Alfafar. I sat in coffee shops and pubs; I watched the local people and tasted their drink and their food. I also tasted a little of their life – its sorrows and its joys. And even though my understanding of Spanish is incredibly limited, I finally succeeded, to a point, in immersing myself into a life that was indeed quite different from my own.

I must admit here that I am seldom able to do that—I am rarely fully present, and I am almost never fully open to others and indeed myself. But I have tasted a little from that manna from heaven; I have felt the joy of real connection, and so I know that, when one is close to such a state of childlike abandon of self and its unashamed openness to the world, one is able to fully connect with oneself and with others. But it is namely this, the openness, the vulnerability, that scares us, even to the point of death. Is it easy to see then, why most of us are in constant in motion, constantly running — either in our minds, or our bodies, or both — and trying to avoid the danger or being exposed to our own selves, as well as to any other person?

Fear drives us and we run like cattle.

Always trying to get a good look inside myself — for I know that this is where the treasure lay – buried, soiled, and darkened, but a treasure nevertheless — I have learned to examine the seemingly small details of my inner life, even the very way in which I examine these details. And thus, whenever an impulse seizes me, and winds stronger than my will or reason sweep me off my feet; whenever I am met by some force – a dark, fierce, and overpowering one, as in the times when I have both suffered and caused destruction, or a gentle, mysterious, and alluring one, as in the times when more life and redemption has come my way — in such moments, I look, and I listen.

You see, in my ‘natural’ introversion, I still, though now far less often than before, occasionally find myself in a state of depression, a dark and gloomy prison, patrolled and guarded day and night by the agents of self-hatred and shame; strewn with the watchtowers bearing the mark of my old enemy — the venomous and immobilising judgment of myself which, aided by the barbed wire of a mind busy like a beehive that has been kicked and turned over, makes escape almost impossible. It is not so much that I am a better seer and a better listener than others, but when one is locked in such a prison for years, there is very little that one can do but to look and to listen. Thus, long before I could even conceive that an escape is possible and freedom is available, I became the seer and the listener that I am now. And, by the unfathomable grace and bottomless mercy of God, I have for the most part retained this ability to see and hear things deeper than their outward appearance.

I was not in the prison on that day, the day I came back from my walk, but I was slowly heading toward its black gates; the darkness of its walls loomed near, though I was not yet within their grasp. But my head was beginning to hang down in apathy and, as what I counted as the best part of the day slowly ran between my fingers, my soul began its rapid retreat to its old hateful but familiar hiding place of passivity and paralysis. As all other systems prepared for a shutdown, the mind readied itself for its overtime. Doing what I have always done since childhood, and meanwhile hating myself for my weakness, I began to slowly succumb to the ‘natural’ forces of my life, tired and powerless to resist their onslaught. At that moment, I passed by a long, straight and narrow street on my right. Being already very close to my destination, my thoughts which were by then running wild and uncontrolled, galloping all over my inner space, were interrupted by something which did not come from the mind. It came from somewhere deeper, and for a moment, before it was overpowered and drowned by the mind`s endless chatter, tireless reasoning, and unwanted flashbacks, stood out, causing everything else to fade. In a second, it was gone, and I decided to keep walking. But, knowing better than to dismiss even the smallest and seemingly insignificant movements, impulses, and desires of the heart, I slowed down and, still with some hesitation, finally halted to a stop. What was it about that street that haunted me so? What gave my heart such a pull? And what was the thing that was trying to prevent me from finding out — was it the loneliness that I felt as I first glanced at the deserted street; was it its resemblance to the other empty streets I had seen in my life, perhaps those empty, dead streets back home — the streets filled with houses in which lived no people but only the memories of them? There was not much chance of finding out, unless I turned back.

After a few impatient strides, I was at the bottom of the street, where it joined the main one on which I was standing. It was an old street, the type of which, prior to my first visit to Spain two years back, I had only seen in films. I found it very strange that there were no parked cars and no pedestrians walking on it. For what seemed like a long time, I stood and watched it — the old wooden doors, the high walls, cracked by the sun, broken and eroded by the merciless onslaught of earthly time. My soul was flooded with the echoes of times long past. No cars passed during those moments, and no people.

I sighed. The sigh expressed my frustration at the inability to fully grasp what the ancient reality of the street was telling me, and perhaps the impossibility of being one  with life and immersed into its secrets — the secrets of that street and also my own. Those secrets, as deep calls unto deep, called upon each other; they attracted each other, making my rational mind (with my somewhat reluctant permission), nothing but a bystander and a witness to this great mystery…

Most of the houses at the beginning of the street were old, and carried the aura of those mythical scenes I remembered from those films, books, or paintings, the titles and names of which I have long forgotten, or have been too young to remember. A hero returning from exile or battle could have once walked that street and placed his hand on the same iron knocker that I was beholding, now old and eaten by rust. An old woman had perhaps opened the heavy wooden door once, to say to someone standing outside that his loved one or his family no longer lived there. Who knows who had entered and left through that door, back in the ages past? A soldier with uniform and a rifle perhaps, a tired miner with a black face and ragged clothes, or a well-dressed diplomat or a lawyer with a mustache…who knows.

As I neared the middle of the street, I began noticing that there were more and more new and flashy houses, far more here than there had been at the beginning of the street. By the time I reached the end, I was seeing only new and modern houses, houses which form and design hadn’t changed that much at all; what had been changed, however, was the outside layer of what made a house a house — the materials of which things were made, the walls, the doors. Instead of the old weather-beaten and creaky doors, those houses had firm and heavy metal doors, or doors made from new wood; instead of the old rusty wrought-iron hinges, they had new gleaming ones; their walls did not have bare patches that revealed old clay bricks — they were strong, thick, and covered in marble or painted with a firm, fresh paint. I slowly walked on the empty street and thought. I thought not so much with my mind, but with my heart, by letting the heart ask the real questions, while the mind rests and is used only to process any perceived answers — like the fox in The Little Prince, I too have found this to be a better way.

What I am looking for here, I wondered. This was my first question. Then came the second: What is the street telling me?

Roots.

Yes. It was about roots.

My roots. I was searching for them, my true roots. There, standing under the Spanish sun, on a mysterious and gloomy Spanish street, the like of which I had never seen before, I was looking for myself. I was seeking to look into the depth of who I was and where I had come from; I was trying to see what blood ran into my veins — what was its curse and what was its blessing. And, of all places, I sought this mystery in a place that least felt like home, for it was always in such places that my hunger for home, my thirst for belonging and finding my true self, was most awake.

And the street? It seemed like the street was trying to forget its roots.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Capturing the Moment

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The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
C.S. Lewis

I have been at it for a long time – for as long as I can remember myself, in fact. I have reached and I have grasped; I have done my utmost to attain the unattainable and to retrieve the irretrievable. And I have failed. And I am still failing, miserably. Over and over again.

But I have also learned a thing or two. Here is what I know…

Humans thirst. We hunger. We long to have that something which has either never been ours, or has indeed belonged to us once, back then, before the beginning of all ages, and it is now beyond our reach. Either way, one thing is certain – we long, we seek, and we are haunted. We are stalked by some unnamed goodness; we are haunted by a hidden joy which, when it does come, is always unexpected and is, sadly, never lasting.

At the dawn of my earthly sojourn, I first became aware of it in the calm, reassuring glow of the sunlit world outside. I saw it in the sense of peace, serenity, and wellbeing; in the feeling of being home, and the unseen but almost palpable promise which was radiated by every sound of birds and crickets and every smell of my childhood home…

It was in that home that I first awoke for the secret life of the heart. It was there that I first observed the wild creatures that so gripped my heart – the insects and the other small ones that crept on the warm, friendly soil of our garden, and the birds that flew high in the vast, welcoming sky – storks, bee-eaters, and hawks. It was in that place, where my first real dreams took place – those mythical visions for a heroic future; the aspirations for a place and role in the world, and indeed for the world. This was also the place where I first felt special.

Again and again, that deep something came to me in those times…a longing for something beyond words, even beyond thoughts. I heard it in the soothing murmur of the rain that fell abundantly in those cool first autumns; I saw it in the wings of the swallows that darted to and fro above my head in the balmy days of my early summers; I smelled it in the scent of the flowers when I came outside in the night – a hopeful soul, hidden under the starry cover of darkness, watching, searching, feeling the world around, enchanted by the miracles of life and the joy of simply…being.

The hunger, awoken in those earliest times, grew within me as I myself grew.

Like all living souls, I did not find a food fit to satisfy my hunger; and when I thought I did, the satisfaction never lasted and I was always hungry again. And, like many, if not all people at times, I began to arrange for more. I tried to catch and keep every one of those things, feelings, and people. I tried to catch those times; the times when all was good around me, as well as within. I tried to seize the day; I tried to capture the moment.

We all know those good times; we have all had them. They are the times when everything seems to come together for us; the moments when all is well in the world and we wish that time itself could stand still and let us savour our joy. It often starts with what may seem like a little thing – a nice conversation with a nice person, spiced by a group of certain tastes, smells and sounds, and suddenly – voila – a door is opened deep within, and a panting, gasping heart is let out to breathe, see, feel and be alive again…

And then it passes.

Monday comes. The night is over. The holiday ends. And we return to the place where we seem to be spending most of our life – the place of labour and of so little joy; the place where there is no room for the heart; the place where a free, childlike soul promises nothing but trouble.

Year after year, I grasped after the wind and so very often I am grasping still – reaching after the passing moment, trying to capture it, or at least make it last longer, just a little longer…

If ever a meal, or a drink, or a film, or a song made me feel like I was having one of those special moment, I always made these things a part of my plans; always kept them in my arrangements for the next special time. I was trying to hold on to the passing time, to keep it, hold it close, as if I was using it like a shield against…what? Against the pain, the heartbreak, and the disappointment that comes even in the happiest human life – from the slow and steady wearing of the soul which comes with long years of being in a job we hate, to the gaping bloody wound caused by a sudden brutal tragedy.

But no matter what I did, I could not capture the moment, and the moment always fled. And the more I tried, the more I failed; I failed not only to capture that one favorite moment, but also to enjoy other moments – those moments that I never looked for and therefore, missed.

My arranging for life made life slip through my grasp, leaving me alone and lonely and filled with sorrow. And, even though a lot of healing and transformation took place in my life in the last few years, and it keeps taking place still, sometimes with a great intensity, I have to admit that I have not yet recovered fully from my propensity to chase that which cannot be caught.

But now, it is different. I now know. I am now at peace, or at least most of my being is, and need less and less of that security which I so desperately sought once.

It was once said to us that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and although these words were spoken thousands of years ago, they are becoming truer for me with each passing day. And I learned that the promise that I once sensed in the warm air of home, is indeed true.

It is all true – and not only do I believe it now, but I now know it. I know it with the certainty of a man who is lost at sea and knows for sure that if he is not found, he will be dead. Such a man also knows that his lostness only confirms the truth about his own design – that he had once stood on a dry land, happy and free from the deadly grasp of the water, and it is in this freedom where he truly belongs.

I now know that those first whispers of life, that deep longing for greatness – both the greatness within and greatness out in the world – have all been true. True indeed are my deepest hopes.

Dead people do come back to life; dead dreams do too.

It is hard to believe, I know…but look into yourself, dive deep into the realm from which you have been seeking to escape for such a long time – yes, that dark and scary realm within your own self – and you will see…

Why do we like stories that have happy endings? Why do we hope, deep down – perhaps far below the reach of consciousness itself – for a life in which good always wins? Why do most of us love to watch those movies where the hero returns from the battle, perhaps is even raised from the dead, and takes his place in the realm he`s fought to save and among those he loves and love him? Why do we suffer when life is hard? Why do we weep in the face of death and rage when a disaster strikes?

Yes, our revulsion to darkness reveals the Light which made our souls. It  reveals who we really are deep down, and where we have come from. We long for eternity; we are made by eternity and for eternity…

Take one advice from me: do not try to capture the moment. Enjoy it, then let it go. What you are seeking is not there – it only speaks to you through that door, the door of your desires; the door of your heart which, though broken, is still alive.

Do not let it die.

You Are Desire. You Are Immortal.

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When a child is born, a child desires much.

There are dreams, there is love, there is fire in the heart. But over the course of few short decades, things change dramatically. The longing for greatness and immortality gives way to a simple desire for a long and relatively healthy life, or rather, existence, in a smaller, safer world – the world where, though there are no great adventures, there is at least peace and comfort. The in-built love for self, and the natural, curious, love for the world changes into a silent hatred of self and of the world, a tragedy beginning with the first pangs of disappointment and culminating in the soul-death so many are living today.

I have come into this world with great longing, but where is my passion today?

We all come here with fire in the chest, with the fierce, uncompromising desire for more – the more that we know deep down that we are, and must be.

But we are, all of us, deceived. For the world today is far from what it should have been, and it cannot, will not, accommodate our glittering, robust hearts. Not only does the world not yield to us, but it indeed turns against us, like a previously calm sea which suddenly roars at the unsuspecting swimmer, turns on him and swallows him forever. But is it the swimmer`s fault for expecting peace on a calm windless day? Is it the child`s fault for awaiting a life of adventure, promise, and hope from the day it comes into it, arms outstretched, eyes open wide, loving and waiting to be loved?

Some time ago, I was watching a documentary on the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of ‘The Great Gatsby’. As I sat there, following the trail of his lost childhood, my heart leapt. I was startled, as if I was pulled out of deep sleep, and I fixed my gaze on the screen, staring at it with amazement and a growing lump in my throat. The lovely, fair-haired boy whose picture I was seeing before me, had grown up to write something which, whether he knew it or not, came right out of that beautiful, noble heart, the heart whose playful fire could still be seen, glowing through the young dreamy eyes. I could hardly believe it.

‘In my first childish love of myself, I believed that I would never die like other people, and that I wasn’t the son of my parents but a son of a king, a king who ruled the whole world.’

Hot tears, angry and eternal, stemmed out from my bleeding soul and poured from my eyes. I wanted to stroke the hair of the little boy and talk to him, assure him that, yes, he is indeed special, and his desires are true, coming from the truth itself, no matter what the world around him seemed to say. But I could not reach the child. He was far beyond the reach of my trembling hand. It was not the warmth of his hair that my fingers touched, but only the coldness of the screen.

Do you see now…do you believe me now?

Yes, it had been a mistake. You`ve made a mistake by believing the world, you were wrong in letting it tell you who you are, who you should be, and who you will never be, despite the protests of your truthful, noble heart.

It is a world filled with mystery and pain, a world which is as beautiful as it is terrible, a world which is soaked in the good, warm presence of an unseen love which gave that child his desires. It is also a world which is possessed and tormented by an evil power, dark and malicious, filled with hatred unknown to any human. The love, this is normally what our story begins with, and as the darkness, the pain, and the loss chip away at our hearts and their trust and hope, it usually ends in despair, fear, and hatred. Indeed, in a confused, fallen world such as ours, the most awakened, deeply longing people seem to suffer most terribly, as if their hearts, somehow remaining opened by the love and to it, are also opened and vulnerable to the black blade of that hidden attacker that sooner or later strikes at all of us…

Is it any wonder then, that most of us shut their hearts down, retreating into a life of un-feeling, rather than risk staying open to joy but, inevitably, pain as well?

Which one is the better option – to desire and suffer, or to choose the path of safety and trample on the heart, imprison it and make it numb to sorrow and to gladness?

I choose life.

Sadly, most of those who, in their lifetime, chose this life but found no bigger orbit than themselves in the world, have paid the price for taking the right side in this unseen but deadly battle. They did not know they were in a battlefield and, while they were being murdered, they still saw no enemy.

Scott Fitzgerald died before he had entered middle age. His life was filled with sorrow and pain, just like the life of many others who refused to bury their hearts and expressed them, offering to the world the fruits of the tree they themselves had not yet seen.

‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’

This is what Scott wrote as the last line of ‘The Great Gatsby’, and this is what is written on his gravestone, the final line of his short, misunderstood life.

I think that this is what we are doing, to a greater or a lesser degree – trying to recover that which we have lost, that golden something which, if we allow ourselves but a moment of true stillness, will surface in our hearts and fill our eyes with old, long pent-up tears. But I think that it is not the past that we mourn, but rather, the selves we were back then, when the longing was alive and the mysterious love was still present in our hearts and hopes.

What if it is true, and you can know that truth for yourself? What if your story – the light, and the shadow, can begin to make sense, can at last be interpreted in a light different from the gloom of loss? Yes, it is true, it is all true. Your heart was not lying to you, back in those sunlit, carefree days. You, my friend, are immortal. You are your desire, and your desire is you. To go back and recover it, is to recover yourself. To heed the voice of the heart once again, you must first heed the voice of the One that made the heart and its desires. To hear that voice, you must make sure that the voices of duty, obligation, or rationality, even the voices of your faith and religion, are silenced. There is no life unless we allow for our security to be taken from us, and there is no joy unless we recover that which was once lost. Not only do we need to beat on like Scott, fast against the current and into the past, but it is beyond the past where we must go. Dare we…?

Life is not worth living if it will end in loss.

Air is not worth breathing if it will make us old.

A wraith cannot love.

A madman cannot grieve.

Heed the ancient voice.

Walk the ancient path.

And you will find life.