The End of a Journey Back in Time: Seeing Old Sights for the First Time

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The word longing comes from the same root as the word long in the sense of length in either time or space and also the word belong, so that in its full richness to long suggests to yearn for a long time for something that is a long way off and something that we feel we belong to and that belongs to us. The longing for home is so universal a form of longing that there is even a special word for it, which is of course homesickness.

― Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife

 

 

 

 

Summer 2017…

 

 

 

I had never before caught a carp in our river, even though I always knew they lived there.2017 048

I had never before seen Imperial eagle soar over those ancient fields, even though stories about them permeated my childhood.

Never before.

 I had never before stayed home for such a long time; I have never before entered so deeply into my own heart and its story — its roots, its pain, and its journey to freedom…

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Thoughts From the Village: on Fishing and Friendship

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The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

 

 

There are only a few days left from our holiday now, and, as always in such times, I find myself becoming a little more alive; as if, having realised the loss that I will soon suffer, I suddenly become better in using my time to rest and enjoy the place in its fullness. I savour it all, while it lasts. Oh, how I hate this mortal impermanence, the ever-looming death of all that is good…

Last night, as I walked up the outer stairwell of the house, trying hurriedly to make myself ready for the arrival of  the regulars — the few childhood friends that came almost every night — I caught sight of an orange-red glow above the neighbouring house. The setting sun sent its last rays over the roof as if to say goodbye to somebody it knew well. On the other side, above the house of my friend Stoycho — a house which I knew as well as our own, and a friend whom I knew as well as myself — there sat the thin, sharp crest of the moon. It hung in the darkening sky with an air of jolly anticipation, as if it was welcoming an old comrade into a night of forgotten adventures and renewed joy. In this no man`s land, the place of timelessness between the old and the new, there stretched the vast canvas of the dark blue sky, dotted with bright, hopeful lights — an enormous, glorious realm, invaded by burly pink clouds and old childhood memories. Ah, the memories — they flooded my soul and I remembered the children who once played on the same street, under the same glorious sky; I remembered the sounds and the smells, the stag-beetles and the toads; I remembered the laughter.

I also remembered the two great fish, one as big as myself, that were brought to our house during one such night. My father, who worked in a thermal power station near a big lake, had bought them from some fishermen and now the hysterical cries of a young boy resounded in the warm summer darkness.

Sharks! We have sharks in our house! Come and see the sharks!

I screamed the words with delight and unbelief as I dashed off to the house of my grandparents, in case they had not heard and would miss the opportunity to see the monsters that lay on the concrete near the outside sink. It was an unforgettable night for me.

I have always loved nature and wild animals. From my earliest years I have always felt drawn to every wild place where a living creature may lurk — from an abandoned patch of the garden, rich in grass, rocks, and life, to the open spaces around the village where hills, forests, canals, and ponds, all merged into one — a realm that held a promise of eternal joy. Unlike my father, who never had the patience to sit and wait beside the river for hours, I gradually took interest in fishing. My father had many friends who regularly went fishing and, seeing my passion, he often arranged short fishing trips on which he also came. Soon, though still very young, I began my own fishing expeditions; always within the realms of our village, always close…and yet, so far into the wilderness. My young heart, already filled with beauty from films, books, stories and dreams, saw steppes and prairies there, in the green wildness that surrounded my home; it saw beyond what was seen; it beheld the great Amazon, the crocodile-infested African lakes and the cacti-strewn slopes of the Far West — the world of rattlesnakes, cowboys and adventures. More often than not, I was accompanied by my trusted friends — Stoycho, Peyo, and Victor — the boys who shared my love for the outdoors.

But the depth, the knowledge, and the intensity of my love affair with the natural world were taken to a completely new level when another boy entered the scene.

Marin`s parents had moved to the village when I was around twelve years old. He was the same age as myself and, after they had settled permanently in the house where his grandparents previously lived, we began a friendship that is still as strong now as it once was…perhaps even stronger.

He was unusually tall and incredibly good-hearted; a hard-worker who has had to grow up too fast, he regularly helped his family with taking care of the livestock. Marin was a boy with a heart for adventure, my own Huckleberry Finn. He thought of adventures that led us deep into the wild, unexplored places of our village — the places where creatures hid and waited for us to discover them. We marveled at the anteater`s predatory larvae as it lurked in its sandy hideout, waiting  for an unfortunate ant to pass by; we waited long in the dark for the little owl to appear; we crawled on our bellies to get a little closer to the snake that swam in the water-filled pit near their house…

We drew close to the wildness and it revealed its secrets to us. The myths were true. The tales were true. The size of the beasts and the danger in those stories grew enormously as we told them to one another; the hope in our hearts, the belief that the best was yet to come — this too, grew, as the horizon of our wild world broadened.

Oh, the wild places were known by many — the land was rich and there was much game; there were many hunters and many fishermen…

But rarely did they see.

The little, hidden corners of the wild were not known; they were not respected. The innocent inhabitants of the hidden places were at best ignored, or, sadly, destroyed without as much as a thought.

Me and Marin did see. We saw not because were better than the others; we saw because we looked harder than them. Not wishing to abandon the wonder of childhood too soon, we hungered for the wild world and it embraced us; we read and watched films about it; we gazed in awe as the live mysteries of the wild kingdom unfolded before our young eyes.

There were evenings of stag-beetles and flying bats; there were unexpected glimpses of weasels and martens. There were stories about horned vipers and wild boar in the woods. We generously shared it with one another, this passion for wildness, and, quite literally, we turned every stone in search for its fulfillment.

And then there was the fishing.

Never before had I seen so much of the wild world; never had I been a witness so so many wonders… The little river and the ponds offered us far more than the small Crucian carp which, though they were little, were abundant at the time. Each one of our journeys, done either on foot, or with Marin`s rickety donkey-cart, was a quest — a mission of exploration and new frontiers — always rich, always deeply rewarding.

Sitting on the bank of the little river, we laughed, we watched, and we felt much. We watched in hushed amazement as the water snake swam lazily with a fish in its mouth, and the terrapin climbed a rock to dry its wet shell in the sun. We gazed in wonder as the hawk chased sparrows overhead and the carp leap from the water with joy; we marveled at the heron, the stork, and the bee-eater…

* * *

Lines, hooks, and rods; the sun and the surrounding greenness, the smell of the freshly caught fish and the dirty fingers that seemed doomed to smell the same way forever — all was good, and all was shared between us.

But it did not last.

You see, by the time when I was well into my teens, my soul was already under a heavy strain, a deep sickness, the symptoms of which would not take long to surface. Events had taken place — attacks that dealt a merciless blow to my connection with the natural world, the connection to my own self. The rock that was previously solid, now had a crack, a wound that would slowly deepen, gaping wider and wider as time wore on.

It was around that time, that I began to slowly drift away from the goodness of my golden days; the fishing trips became less frequent; the wonder began to fade…

Life had shown me that I was not good enough to live it fully; the world required me to become something else — somebody else — or I would never find my place in it…

Or I would never be accepted.

I did not know… I chose death and did not see it at the time. I killed my true heart; I buried the gold and did everything I could to forget that child and his stupid village, his weakness, and his love for fish and water. It became easier to notice the profanity of life and the emptiness of dreams — my eyes were opened and I saw. I saw the empty plastic bottles and the cigarette stubs strewn around the riverbanks; I felt the sun that burned too hot in the summer, and the stubborn mud that would simply not wash off. The summer changed too; it began to offer other adventures and other comforts…

This was when Marin became too inconvenient to be my friend.

He did not fit well under the neon lights of the club, even when he was dressed in his best; he did not belong in a world of pretending, the world of masks and many faces…he remained there, by the river, with a rod in his hand and an impish grin on his eternally young face. He sat there, where an abandoned, forgotten part of me still stood, waiting in vain to be embraced again.

I shunned him as I had shunned my heart; the sight of him drew me back to that heart and its insistent, stupid love of childish games and old, forgotten places…

Tell me, friend, about the people you feel uncomfortable with; the people who make you writhe and squirm, or the ones you simply dislike: what do they call forth in you?

Do they, like Marin, draw forth a part of your own self that you detest? Could they, perhaps, be representing a weakness — the weakness in you which you are trying to forget — while you are doing your utmost to remain strong? Do they look to you like a stupid child, while you are striving to behave like the adult you so wish to be?

I know that well; I have had my share of revulsion and contempt: those who were weak and needy, despite my deceitful politeness, were not truly welcome in my presence. Nor were the children, for I did not wish to gaze too long into their hopeful, silly eyes.

That which I had rejected in myself, I detested in others; that which I hated in them I feared in my own divided self…

Is this not the way of hatred? Is this not how violence is born, how division is created, whether it is racial, social, or religious? Is not this division within, the separation in ourselves, which makes us divided from those without, and separated from all others?

The ‘different’ ones in life scare us; we fear them — the outcasts, the pariahs — to the degree we fear the leper within, and, though we smile to them, we would never enter their world…

For this would mean entering our deepest darkness…this would mean facing the one that waits within us, with weak, pale arms outstretched, hoping to be embraced again.

Many would rather die. Many have died already.

* * *

It is not new governments, new weapons, and new customs that can put an end to wars, terrorism and genocide; it is only love that could do that.

But this love, the true Love, does not have a place for force, not even the force toward oneself, that external effort to love another which we so often need. No, true love begins by embracing one`s own broken self…

Love thy neighbour as thyself — this is the command we are constantly breaking, over and over again, for we have not loved our own selves enough; we have not had the courage to go back to those old, forgotten places, and pick up that heart-broken child in a long-awaited embrace…

We have hated the lost one within us — how then will we love them, the unloved ones, that are all around us?

* * *

 Years after our slow alienation, and soon after I had finally heeded the cry of my heart, I found myself sitting on a forgotten river bank, beside the man with whom I had once shared so much. The autumn sun shone happily down on us, and the first hopeful tugs of our bobbers had already began to show us that we would not wait in vain. There was no shame; only wonder, anticipation, and joy…

And then he asked me, in his pure, lazy fashion, about the reasons which had brought me back, doing the things I once did, suddenly remembering a world I had long since forgotten.

This was when I told him the story of my heart: the long, dark journey of emptiness and sorrow, of forgotten dreams and lost hopes…the story of renewed longing and resurrected life. And he, who rarely displayed strong emotions or desires, using that well-familiar, quiet voice, told me that he too was dying, and that he too wanted to live.

An old friendship was renewed on that day, and a heart awoke to new hopes.

Me and Marin never miss the chance to go fishing now, and the others often join us when they can.

But it is rarely about fishing…

True friendship with another is impossible unless one has first become a friend with one`s own deepest self; it is only from that love that every other love is born.

Seek it — search for that love, and search for that lost self. Go to the wild places, hear the forgotten music; visit the old world again.

 

You may find that someone there is expecting you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

We have all become rootless, but we can return — God is waiting; our roots are waiting.

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

 

We must all become like children again…

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

The Kingdom is within you

You are loved

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.

 

 

The Kingdom is within you. Religion is not.

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.

Faking It

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We all do it, all of us. We pose. We play roles. We say things we don`t want to say.

Once, I took this fakery to be an inevitable part of human life. Not only did I not see it as wrong, but – what was perhaps a greater tragedy – I saw no other way of living. After all, how will we live if we constantly tell people how we feel about them, I reasoned? Won`t the world fill with violence? Murder? Wars?

It is filled already.

Humans are great but fallen creatures, and it is partly our ‘fallenness’ that makes us grasp and search for life where life cannot be found, and ignore the cry of our heart, which we should take heed to. And so, after the awe-filled, hopeful heart of our childhood has been beaten into a shape which fits the ‘normal’ world around us, we no longer see the tragedy. And so a well-polished poser like myself – once a wonder-filled, bright-eyed boy whose heart was later buried under tons of falseness, brought in its place by the pain of rejection we all suffer – today wonders what it is that makes him so unstable, ungrounded on the inside.

When a man spends a lifetime deceiving his own self, he often loses it, as if a dark, malicious god answers his unspoken prayer by taking that which the man wishes to hide away. Many of us have begun their journey in such a way, and although some may still wonder what is their real self, most of us are certain that whatever it is, it is either too wicked to be brought out again, or too weak and pitiful, and therefore, too shameful for anyone to see.

Like  most, I have been living with a false self for many years although, thankfully, I have never quite gotten to the point of accepting it, as if I knew, deep down in the youngest, not-quite-dead-yet part of me, that it is not myself, but a necessary disguise. As if by my bitter hatred for my weakness and later, by my deception, I was somehow confirming that in my true heart, I was in fact as strong, and as true as I wished to be.

For decades I suffered until I could suffer no longer and surrendered to death and the terrible, hidden force which I did not know but cried out to in my dying soul.

But then, oh wonder – I came alive again, more than I had ever been before…

Of course, there are those who suffer worse than I did. I speak of those whose false self is raised upon a more solid ground than mine ever was, those who have so hid their true self behind the mask that it is no longer in the way of the mission they believe must be accomplished so that the world (or their long-dead, unsatisfied parent, or even they themselves) will accept them at last, and secure a place for them. Beaten long ago into submission, the real, once glorious self, is no longer in charge. Its ‘childish’ dreams, hopes, and desires, are snuffed out, replaced by survival skills that, though unable to bring real joy, ensure success, a high place in the hierarchy of the jungle…

In the world as we know it true people are a rarity.

Take today for example. I have been at my present job for nearly three years. Although I love the work and would not trade it for most things that the market can offer someone like me at this moment, I must confess that, I have been growing restless lately. My heart is no longer stirred as it once was at the possibilities to make a difference, and my mind does not stay focused as it did before. In fact, you can perhaps take a guess at where I am at this very moment, as I write this. Yes, I am at work, doing what I enjoy most.

It happened only a few moments ago. As one of my clients, a young man, was reached down to take a document in order to answer a question I had asked, I was already regretting to have asked it. I stood there, saying nothing, being nothing (or at least not that what I should have been), slowly becoming aware of the rift that exists within me. In all truth, the information which he was seeking to present to me, was of no interest to me. As was the whole issue we were discussing. Yet, I lingered, looking like I was available to him, while I was not. Then, time stopped. The seconds that had passed while he was picking up the paper and searching the needed paragraph in it, slowed down and came to a halt as I watched, helpless to do anything but observing this deep division within myself. During those seconds – or maybe minutes, who could tell – I did not know what to do, or what do be.

I know, of course, that we have all had ‘real’, and far worse experiences, tragedies even, but the fact of this only proves my point – why couldn`t I be myself, and stay truthful, even in such a small matter? What has that division done to me, over the years, that I have lost the precious ability to act, speak, and simply be – all from the same self?

Where has my integrity gone – the integrity I was born desiring to have but never quite had? Has it simply vanished, along with the Eden we once lost? Or has it been…stolen?

How often do you endure a conversation because…well, because you have no other way of going through it? How often do you stay quiet when there is a scream inside of you? How often do you stay in silence, confused, scared, and alone in yourself, while others need you in their suffering, and their joy?

Two natures are at war within me, like two beasts struggling for survival. One is cold and calculating, it works with facts and little else. It promises security, reward, and much gain. In exchange, it asks of me to commit a murder and perform a funeral. It does not mind me remembering the dearly departed with joy, and it has no problem with me coming to the grave with flowers every now and again. To get its approval and eternal assistance, I have to do the only thing it required me to do – kill, and bury my victim…

The other nature is the opposite – it promises nothing, and it offers nothing. But it has a sweet voice, the sweetest of them all. When it speaks to me, it brings whispers of a world that bears no scars. It sings like the birds on the roof of my childhood home. It dances like the countless sounds which were once blended into one eternal song, back in those forgotten summer nights. It fights like those men of the legends who long time ago stood up against the evil done by other, weaker and wicked men. This is the part of me that I must kill.

I do not doubt that it will work…I know it, because I see every day around me the lives of those who have done it, those who seem to be free to live the way they want to.

But I suspect they cry at night, and, although no tears ever well up in their eyes, the tomb within them does not give them rest. To live red-handed is not to live at all.

I will not do it.

I will not kill my heart.

It was once buried, but it never died. It took a hand, far stronger than mine, to rouse it, and it is now alive.

The veil of fakery I choose to keep at bay until one day I am free from it forever.