hillbilly sculpture by tj worthington
A moment yesterday of internal panic. I had backed into a parking space by Lowe's grocery store. A woman sat in the car beside me on the right. I know my car well enough now that I can easily back into a spot. I was watching the car behind me, not wanting to touch bumpers, and stopped where I estimated would be about right. I touched the brake. Suddenly, I was going backwards fast--there's a car behind me--hit the brakes. My foot is on the brake! What's going on? The woman in the car beside me had been waiting for me to finish my maneuver, then she moved forward out of her parking spot the moment I stopped. Very unsettling feeling. I was looking over my right shoulder. The car beside me moving forward gave the illusion I was going backward, like I'd put my foot on the gas pedal by mistake. It was unsettling that I did not hit the car behind. After about a second, I saw it was the car beside me pulling out of its parking spot. Immediately, I thought of Tolstoy's story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. At the moment Ivan's spirit starts leaving the body, he feels a sensation like he is sitting in a train, thinking he's facing the front of the train, and when its motion begins, he started going backwards expecting to go forward. In my moment, it was about a quarter second of fear I'd ruined the front end of the T-bird behind me; get a town cop, accident report, insurance, major bother, insurance rate goes up. No problem. Just another optical illusion.
Even though I had my car under control, the movement of the car on the right threw me into a swivet: Oh no! Messed up my day! And just as immediately: it was illusion. The shock of wondering if I'd put my foot on the gas pedal instead of the brake was very much in the realm of the possible, even though I knew I had not. But I've learned from experience that my perceptions are not necessarily true. I mean true like a well-focused telescope, or an arrow fletched well. Curiously, at the moment I recognized what had happened, at the very split second, Ivan Ilyich came to mind. My association with that kind of perceptual error is dying. My immediately next thought: does this mean I'm dying? Is this my warning like the way animals sense an earthquake before humans do? Next thought: No. Don't be so dramatic. It was just a perceptual switcheroo. Of course, I'm going to die. I don't need a "sign" to tell me. I'll love the rest of my life that my doctor, when he diagnosed heart issues said, "You're gonna die." I laugh about that every time I think about it. He grew up Polish catholic, so he wouldn't have much understanding that in the Baptist religion I grew up in, the first thing you're given to KNOW is you're gonna die. I've known that very well from early childhood. You're gonna die. You're gonna die. Yeah. So are you, I wish I'd been quick enough to say at the moment, instead of turning the key in the car's ignition in the parking lot.
Immediate next thought was Country Joe in the original Woodstock film singing, "Whoopee we're all gonna die!" Yeah. So what's the big deal? What's to be sad about it? I suppose it's the unknown that makes it sad to think of someone close dying, and frightening to think of self dying. Just about all the people in the world are informed by half a dozen major religions that are the same at the core, but culturally different from each other. Like we people are the same at the core--the reason parables about sheep and goats in the desert apply to us in the machine age--though with different personalities, different experience. The different religions are collective personality and experience differences. After hundreds and thousands of years of misinterpretation by the human mind, which becomes a kind of cancer over time, the religion is threatened, because the spiritual part of our lives that religion symbolizes cannot breathe with the python grip of dogma, and fantasy for truth, mind. Like I cannot join a church that requires me to attest that I believe the virgin birth. I don't, and I don't see why I should. Just because a lot of people believe it so they can be acceptable?
A lot of people still believe the earth is flat and square. A lot of people still believe God made a clay doll, breathed life into its nostrils and named it Adam. Whatever. A lot of people believe a lot of things. Me too. I believe God is everything and nothing. I like for what I believe to be a result of my experience. I don't need fantasy. I'm satisfied this world as it is around us qualifies for fantasy enough. Perhaps it's why I like having what we call nature all around where I live. A chickadee on a branch in the rhododendron, holding a sunflower seed with a foot that is also gripping the branch, pecking at the seed like a woodpecker, is much more interesting to me than sitting in the left turn lane at a green light in Sparta, watching a continuous line of cars go by on Friday afternoon, waiting for the light to turn red so I can make the turn. I'd rather watch my feathered friends than walk the aisles of the grocery store, except that sometimes I see someone I've not seen in awhile. Like in the grocery store after the incident parking the car, I saw James Caudill, someone I met probably 20 years ago and remembered. Remembered for his curious mind. His daughter was with him, granddaughter too. Both had curious minds. We talked for quite a while. The chance encounter was worth the dreariness of a stroll through the supermarket, pushing a grocery cart like the urban homeless.
Getting down to what I believe, since I don't believe what's expected of me, I'm going to have to start with a general definition of believe. Seems that to believe something is to say I don't know by experience, but for one reason or another, or a host of reasons, believe it to be so. Belief is pretty powerful, nonetheless, because it takes believing God Is to get "saved." I don't mean by church, but by the way of the spirit. Scripture after scripture says you must believe first, then the spirit manifests in manifold ways that are invisible, inaudible, and you get it. It's like it took believing God Is to become aware of universal loving consciousness that is intimately personal and happening all the time. It's like believing is having God's cell phone number. It's not whether it's a creative aspect of believing that matters, it's a simple thing like a key to a door that opens to fullness of life, understanding experience, an attitude toward life that one can live with comfortably. Belief as the key to the unknown. I don't see that believing "in" the virgin birth does any good toward anything but a correct answer on a checklist of what you're required to believe if you want to belong.
That doesn't mean I haven't learned from experience that Jesus is, indeed, who he says he is. By now, I don't think of that as something I believe. It seems silly for me to say I believe Jesus is who he says he is. I believed it in the past. By now, I feel like it is experiential knowledge. Not just Jesus, but Rama, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed, Meher Baba. Each one is "different" from the others only in the way each color in the rainbow is the rainbow itself. They are light itself. They are darkness itself. They are everything in between, itself. They have brought us the secrets of life and death, taught us the way to have a good life. What does it come to? Oughta, should, needta, gotta, s'posed to, and the big one: Better Not. The God I know isn't like that at all. The God I know is a lot of fun and a really good friend, the best, most reliable, most loyal. But I've only found that by throwing off a heap of cultural beliefs I was trained to believe along my way from childhood to present.
I could, in good faith, practice any religion, because the God I know is the core in every one of them. Muslims pray several times a day. Ok, that's what we do. Christians go to church. Ok, that's what we do. In my association with Meher Baba, I find my path is experiencing everyday life paying attention, allowing Creater to spray WD40 on the hinges of my heart to pry it open gradually with a pipe wrench in each hand. It's in my own heart I find the "reward." The reward is actual peace. Very real peace, not just the idea of peace. Absence of conflict is what I mean by peace. Minimal conflict inside, minimal conflict outside. This peace is the subject of all scriptures, how to get to inner peace. Duh: absence of conflict. The parables and teachings concern getting through our lives here on earth at peace with neighbors, family, strangers.
We are social beings like horses. Solitary confinement destroys us. Through the playground of "this world" we get there, to heaven in the heart, inner peace, a little bit at a time. When I say I have peace within, I don't mean completely. I mean compared to what it used to be. Conflicts within, not much. I know a few people I'd prefer not to know, but don't let them bother me. We don't resonate. That's all there is to it. It's natural as a nuthatch and a titmouse not resonating. It's true certain people stir up potential for inner conflict if I'll allow it. It's all under my control. But some are like landmines, you don't see them, then they blow up in your face, or between your legs--Eek. I've got them and I know it. One event several years ago had me furious for a year, wishing I could allow myself to plot a murder. Then I realized it was to my favor, anyway. A little slow. But eventually got it.