Tag Archives: Gratitude

A Handy Houdini Escape Ploy

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Grandma Dorothy and the four grandsons (I am the one to her left)

 

New Start–146
(Published in Ascent Aspirations)

Opening Stone-Henged Doors

Open sesame speak friend and enter
Roll the stone from Jesus’ tomb

There is always a latch trick
To opening stone-henged doors

When they work the tricks
Are slap your head simple

And when they don’t work
It’s at least amusing excusing proof:

You’ve let the situation get
Complex on you

When you’d been warned
Not to get any on you

Complexity that is
The opposite of Zen

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
As followers might know, lately I’ve been waxing biographical. But people always say, can you give me an example? And if I were asked the question, how do I account for my (lately, if yes, belatedly) happy state, well, I being an honest boy would reply, it was from my version of Sufism. Which begs the same question, wanting an example showing how those two things might be connected.

And the only example I have at hand is my own life. And it has struck me that (at least to me) the path through that thicket was damned interesting, and instructive, such that now I can make a few observations.

So you see I have come full circle and so let’s circle back to my childhood-acquired Sufi inklings.

The nice thing about childhood is you have nothing to compare it to. If you are in an orphanage, (Yo! I was, as you would know from the preceding blog posts) and other kids aren’t, it’s just like getting used to the fact that some other kids have rich families (Better Halloween costumes and all). And too, it’s like the Lillian Gish line in the movie Night of the Hunter (Four stars! Charles Laughton’s only and yet masterful directorial attempt!) where she tells what she most admires about children: “They abide.”

So back to the story:
I guess I could tell about when at age eight I dressed up as a girl for Halloween and couldn’t use any restroom. Mostly to please (the Wagnerian honcho lady) Mrs. Hunt’s nine year old grand daughter Sandra Sue, who dressed me like a girl doll. When I tried to go into the boys’ bathroom, a man stopped me and admonished that little girls weren’t allowed. Fortunately the Halloween party was at the country school house and there was, just outside, an assortment of hidden places to pee.

Or I could talk about my infatuation with Sandra Sue and how we played post office but just when we got to holding hands we went for a walk at dusk and she sat down on a cactus and we had to go right back where she was sequestered by fellow females gathered to pluck the quills from her butt. (I kid you not)

It seemed after that that either I had painful associations, or it was too cacti-infected anticlimactic, but the upshot was no more Sandra Sue for you know who.

I hope your romances end better . . .

But this is all high school. I guess I should just mention the heart stuff and move right along.

I hope I have not painted an incriminating picture of Mrs. Hunt, the very large and intimidating matriarch who ran things in those parts. In actual fact the main (Dickensian!) punishment was having to go to bed early and not watch television with all the other kids. Each night we would lie on our stomachs on the living room floor in front of the television and lick salted lemons, and raw potatoes too now I think on it. The punishment was extra draconian if it involved not seeing Disneyland on Sunday night.

No the sins there were not so much of commission. More of omission, I believe the Catholic church calls them.They weren’t even sins, as in tell me in what real world venue is a Mrs. Hunt going to be a mother? But she never even smiled sweetly at us, with the notable exception of an imitation of life when the welfare lady turned up. (More on that anon). Quite a contrast occurred however between her behavior with us ward of the court kids and her genuine and obvious affection for her own family’s children, who lived also in our midst.

As I implied, the county child welfare lady would came round to check up on us. Stupidly, she didn’t just drop in. No, she made it by appointment and in the few days before she showed, Mrs. Hunt put on a semi-sweet vaguely convincing sweetness facade. And she always smiled beamingly upon us in front of the lady. But we were hip to the threat behind her eyes, if we should tell any stories about peach tree switches or the rampant unfairness with which she treated us, especially compared to the kids in her own family. (Who could do what they wanted to us with an impunity bought of knowing they could lie and always be believed . . .)

And yet justice demands we not call it Dickensian. C’est trop fort.

But we had to get tough, fend for ourselves, and cry every night for our mothers.

As for any religious impulses, I was big on Jesus.* Just like the negro slaves turned that way. When you have nothing in this world, you hope for a good next. And say what you will, what with all this talk about God being love and its corollary that when you see love in action it does say “God is here!”

And if you really feel that in your blood and bones, it’s a handy Houdini escape ploy. I refer to the wonderful glow of gratitude that you have been granted such exalted company.

More on this anon, or as my beloved Grandma Dorothy used to say when she retired, “I’ll see you anonymous!” (If you’ve heard that before, sorry but I never tire of it.)
God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*I was always talking to Jesus. It was a regular, if one-sided conversation. (Especially there when I felt I needed to go faster on my bicycle. Maybe next time I will tell about how I got that for Christmas.)

And I’ve heard that’s a good thing. At least it seemed so to me while reading in the (to me) inspiring and very short book about and by Brother Lawrence, (A monk from five centuries ago) called The Practice of the Presence of God.

Of course, I also talked to my bicycle. (Hey, company is where you find it)

But for heaven’s sake I was just a child. I am reminded (in my defense) of C. S. Lewis who was very pleased when he asked a boy what he liked about Easter. The boy replied, “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” Lewis thought Jesus would be flattered to be put on a par with a child’s love for chocolate.

I Became an Expert Fruit Pirate

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This is a not-nearly-as-tall version of Scotch Broom (See below for the Scotch Broom reference.)

New Start–123
I Crossed the Rural Road to Brave the Creek

I crossed the rural road to brave the creek
With its terribly clawed crawdads
But barefoot feet wet I pressed on to a sandy
Stretch studded with cactus and yucca spears

And I toured towards the much taller than I
Scotch Broom patch of yellow flowered thicket
With the inner (for pow wows) clearing
Featuring fallen logs for Indians to sit upon

A wary warrior (It was scary at dusk)
I was thinking each clicking cricket
Was perhaps a rattlesnake
Yet Sir Bold Boy advanced

Until he chanced to glance under a rock:
Where there was hiding a horned toad
And I ran back to the road
Screaming that I’d seen a dinosaur

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
This is a continuation in the saga of my youth, which turned me toward Sufism. Last time I was still describing the “orphanage” farm I was early relegated to. But as I hope you will see, it was a mighty interesting place, and experience.*

On this farm there was fruit growing everywhere but it was forbidden that any of the children should steal any. Foster children, that is. There were other children belonging to Mrs. Hunt’s family. I already mentioned Sandra Sue, the granddaughter, that I’d had a crush on. But, most notably, there was also younger and scrawny Donald Lee, another grand child. And of course Donald Lee had carte blanche to raid any tree, and eat the fruit in front of me to show what he could have and I could not.**

It was a small farm, but it was too big to police. So I always figured, let them prove it in court. Or even, let them find witnesses–so I became an expert fruit pirate! And the truth was, there was an incredible amount of fruit, and often in out of the way places, and daily available, was the cover of darkness. Actually, I think the rule was mostly designed to minimize thievery, forcing it underground.

There were upsides besides, to this abundance of fruit. And there was an exception to the child no eating fruit dictum, during harvest times. For instance finally we could roam marauding-free up and down the berry aisles, eating with impunity. Just so we returned regularly (albeit with massive purple stains around the lips) with our pots filled with ripe berries.

Another upside was Mrs Hunt set her female kitchen crew to prodigious canning exercises. There were stored row on row of mason jars full of pre-sugared fruit, ready to pour into a pie crust. It was mass production, and so every night we had desert, most memorably, berry pie.

Of course this surfeit of food didn’t stop me from getting a reputation, after dinner, for raiding the pigs’ slop bucket. What can I say? Pirates have no shame.

There was another upside to all that fruit. Perhaps you have heard the rumors that on a farm everyone eats well. Well, it at least was true out there, in Live Oak Acres. Every night there was roast beast, or (especially) fried rabbits. It was horrible to hear, but Mrs. Hunt regularly tied them up to a clothes line by their hind legs then sawed their heads off with a butcher knife. And once she put me in a pen with a flock of ironically-named ring neck doves, and told me I would be locked in there, until I’d wrung the neck of all the doves so she could freeze them (she had wall to wall freezers). I only remember my predicament. I don’t remember how it got resolved. I think it got repressed.

I don’t remember either (later story down the road) the moment when I began denying Jesus. Repressed again, I expect. But more on that later, if I stick with this mini-memoir. (I started out a fierce Jesus lover, but later fell under the fiercer influence of my atheist older brothers.)

Yes, we ate well. Though not so much as vegetarians. And not only because Mrs. Hunt raised her own meat, (pigs, the occasional Brahma steer, rabbits, chickens, Guinea fowl, pigeons and doves). But also she (who must be obeyed) had a Seventh Day Adventist brother (they are by rule vegetarians) who loved to hunt and because he couldn’t eat the deer himself, he donated his umpteen carcasses for his sister to freeze; and so we ate a lot of venison too.

(It was refreshing how her brother kept to the spirit of the Seventh Day thing . . .)

I guess I should mention the wild quail we ate a lot of. They would land en masse in a field back of the main orchard, and Mrs. Hunt’s son loved to take his shotgun to that shooting quail in a barrel exercise.***

This (small) “farm” was set like a jewel in a frame across the street from a creek with crawdads in it and beyond that, desert-like sandy land with yucca everywhere and in the far corner of Mrs. Hunt’s property was a big cluster perhaps thirty yards across of six foot tall Scotch Broom, which we named “The Green Weeds.” This was penetrated by trailing entry points like milk canals in oatmeal, and had a central clearing with fallen logs to sit on and pretend we were Indians. The photo seen above is of Scotch Broom, though of a stubblier, shorter variety.

Yes, physically, it was a child’s paradise. Natural beauty everywhere, rural roads, few cars, five hundred yards between the houses, and if you hiked toward Sled Hill for fifteen minutes you could indulge in daredevil entertainment. It was a pretty steep hill with matted straw in the summertime, which was slick to the runners of sleds which could be made to go I guess thirty miles an hour hurtling downhill. You could just take your pick of the best sleds always waiting at the bottom because why take them home? There was no fear of theft as they were only useful on this hill, and too heavy to cart around, anyway. They were all hand made out of old lumber and the rails were nailed with tin strips to make them slick.

And there was nearby a dammed-up creek swimming hole and in heart of the summer Daddy Bill would put the kids in the back of his pickup and take us all screaming to the swimming hole.

And once over Sled Hill, it was a two mile walk down a rural lane (there was an apricot tree growing wild on the side of the road. What fun!) to the two room country school house I went to for first through third grade. I had the same teacher for the second and third grades, because there were only two classrooms, and three grades in this school.

This teacher, Mrs. Hicks, knew who I was ward-wise, (of the court) and she would often invite me to hang with her at her house, helping in the garden. She was a mother away from home to me and even now, I am crying with gratitude just remembering her fresh-from-the-garden tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. Of course I am easy, when it comes to tears.

Well, again, times up. Mini-saga continues next time.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell
PS: Need I mention that I was terribly lonely?

* Interesting like the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Just kidding. Sort of. And also bearing in mind a favorite Hazrat Inayat Khan quote, “For every loss, there is a hidden gain, and for every gain, a hidden loss.” Implicit in the context of this was the fact that the gain doesn’t necessarily equal the loss, and vice versa. In fact, there often are vast discrepancies.

The corollary to which reinforced frequent Sufi wisdom, which says best not to get too excited when you get a “gain” nor too depressed when you receive a loss. Hard to tell how you came out. A very useful thing for keeping an even keel. (Sufis are big on that)

** This is not the worst I received at the hand of the spoiled brat Donald Lee. We often went without shoes, and Donald Lee, for instance would follow close behind with a shovel in hand, which he used to jab violently down just behind my bare heels. Kind of like in the westerns when they would shoot at your feet and tell you to dance. Of course I was a year or two older and bigger than Donald Lee, and so sorely tempted to just punch him out and have an end on it. But if and when I did, he would run to the formidable Mrs. Hunt who of course believed her beloved grandson over me whom she used to regularly accuse of stuff, saying “Evidently it was Eric. He’s the ring leader!”

And then I was banished from television at night, a punishment I wished was a whipping instead, especially when Disneyland was on.

But there was a dénouement to this. Three years after leaving, to supposedly live with my mother again (wait til you hear about that one!) I came back for a visit, and Donald Lee had every aspect of being ashamed and apologetic for his erst treatment of me. Also interesting . . .

***He was drafted into the army, sent to Germany, but soon got a dishonorable discharge for having attacked a black man with a razor, and justifying it because he was “only a nigger.”

Geometric Theorems

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Trojan Horse

New Start–94

Hiding the Corollary

Sometimes I don’t know how to react
To my own tears

Part of “me”
(A Trojan horse I’ve let in)

Tries to make me feel small
And weepy

Carefully hiding the corollary
Pretending (to the throne)

That I should then
Put a blanket over

The light of
My intense gratitude

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:
“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
Okay, back to the grand finale (big finish!) of my (in this sequence anyway) five part attempt at proving the existence of God.*

A while back I was (IMHO) supporting my belief in the existence of God by proving the existence of gratitude.

Okay, perhaps you dispute that gratitude is a divine quality. But hey, one of my axioms is that all the good stuff comes from God (another axiom being of course that gratitude is good stuff). And I don’t wish to be dogmatic about it and can thus appreciate that you may have different axioms. But please at least recognize that all our “truths” are based on and derived from (as corollaries) our own set of axioms. Which are our a priori beliefs. We start with these because they are not subject to proof, as per Euclidian Geometry.And as all geometry guys know,** and indeed all honest scientists know, that is the basis we all perforce operate from.

Scientists (all the unreasonably skeptical ones, anyway) for instance, usually, if not always, have this secret axiom they are not honest enough to mention, which is this:

If something exists it is subject to the material laws, is observable, and ultimately reducible to scientific analysis.

Now obviously something infinite cannot be put between their Procrustean microscopic slides and analyzed. Not at least by finite eyes. Remember my quote from (an earlier post, on this theme) the mahamystic Meher Baba, who when speaking of (and to) God, said “None can see You but with eyes divine.”

So they might just as well save their breath and say infinity is impossible. (Why not cop to that–It’s one of their axioms!) Interestingly though, modern physics is talking a lot these days about the infinite universes there may be, subject to infinite variations in their laws. Indeed, they are also coming around to debunking scientific observation itself, as a form of corrupting the evidence. (A la the Heisenberg principle that famously says that by merely observing something, you are influencing the result)

Although ironically, a tenet of mysticism is that merely on witnessing your own inner workings, you also influence the result. (Ironic because in this case, it’s a good thing) I believe this is the principle behind Vipassana Buddhism, which entails a useful practice: Just notice what you are thinking; notice what you are doing: notice all your subtle hopes and expectations. And as you get hip to yourself, you automatically change. Just as an example, when you are trying to get someone to bend to your will, and telling yourself it is to help them, when you notice the subtlety behind the fact that it’s your own bread you are really buttering thereby and not necessarily theirs, well, you start to stop doing it. Because you are too ashamed to continue, I expect. Which brings me to the single virtue behind my own personal salvation. I wouldn’t trust me further than I can spit except for this: I WILL NOT BE A HYPOCRITE. And when you really start to see yourself, this becomes a quite useful tool.

But back to my analysis, another of my axioms is that you know the value of something by if it (and to what extent) makes you happy. I believe it’s what Jesus meant by “By their fruits shall ye know them.”

Meher Baba said that the source of all unhappiness is posing as what we are not. (Pantheism strikes again!) An honest (and perspicacious!) person I think would admit that this is a path to misery. If for nothing else, because of the weight of the load we would then carry around. As it has famously been said, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. And if nothing else, that produces complex stuff, which is a source of pain, which explains the wisdom behind the old Shaker hymn, “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free . . .”

And also, as for me, why am I happy? My personal theory is it’s because I have found an art form through which to express my heart (Poetry). And yes, these blog posts. (For which I thank you gentle readers! It is so sweet to have an audience! It cures a kind of loneliness) Maybe good art, or no matter that, all art, which at least expresses the heart, is a way to cut the Gordian knot, and get down to (coming full circle from the title of the original of this cycle last December) “The Brass Tacks of Simple Truth.”

And of course the expression of any and all of the divine qualities is a major source of happiness. (For the above reason of thereby lessening the strain of your attempts at seeming what you inherently are not. It really is quite a strain.) And perhaps for that, gratitude is a major theme of my poetry, because it’s a major theme of my heart.***

Maybe I have been given this exemption to Leonard Cohen’s rule, (about the cracks in things, since gratitude is in itself, a form of light–see December 5 post)**** so that I will be grateful. Perhaps I should be grateful then for my own gratitude.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*To be honest, a lot of this isn’t so much proving the existence of God as it is in refuting the arguments which deny the existence of God. I do have a lot of respect for agnostics. At least as to the term, those who while not convinced of the existence of God, yet are not so rash as to think it proven that God does not exist. (Kind of like angels not wanting to rush in like fools)

**I don’t know how many of you are familiar with geometry but thing one with proving geometric theorems is choose your axioms. Like Euclid famously did with this one: “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” This seems obvious and yet a whole branch of mathematics, called non-Euclidian geometry, offers proofs bases on alternate axioms, famously including this: “The shortest distance between two points is NOT a straight line.” And just between you and me, (And I’ve heard rumors!) my guess is that comes up with some prima facie weird conclusions.

***I do not claim to be ANY sort of saint, not even a neophyte one. But I am a grateful person, and I do hate hypocrisy, which Meher Baba said was the bull goose sin. I think it’s these twin fibers (well maybe there are three, if you include hope) that make up the rope that pulls me out of the quicksand I would sink in otherwise. Fortunately any divine quality will make up that rope. (so many divine qualities, so little time!)

****
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
–From Leonard Cohen’s poem, Anthem.