The Sweet Smell of Destruction

Photo by Tom Grasso
Photo by Tom Grasso

Sometimes we believe that destruction is a bad thing, that it is painful, hurtful, the end of something. Yet, as an incense stick proves, utter destruction will release a sweet fragrance. It can be our practice to find it, embrace it, and allow it a sense of its own eternity.

We can, always, choose to not focus on the burning but on the release. We can, always, choose to not grasp the fiery end of transformation but just let it be, and then focus on the wafts of sweetness that are always there in the change. We can, always, choose which end of destruction to embrace; the end that burns us or the end that reminds us of heaven.

Your choice. Your life. Your experience. Enjoy it. In joy.

Peace.

Goodbye, Dear Friend. Thank you for the lessons.

“Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally… Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves.” ~don Miguel Ruiz.

She drinks too much, and I know it. Through the multiple 2am calls of slurred speech it became painfully obvious. The countless tears and broken promises only supported the contention that I was, forever, losing my friend.

She would call for help, and I would lose sleep and little bits of me giving it to her. She would cry, scream, and then sit idly quiet for minutes at a time. Then came the question, and the answer she wanted to hear only so she could start the cycle all over again.

Sometimes she was coherent, but mostly she wasn’t. One time she knocked on my apartment door and fell inside when I answered it, reeking of the disgusting combination of alcohol, sweat and cigarettes. She knelt where she fell, sobbing uncontrollably about all of the ills she saw as uniquely hers. When the sobbing stopped she reached for my manhood, telling me she wanted to get me off for “being such a good friend.”

I declined, and kicked her out of my apartment after getting her car keys from her. I yelled at her to sleep it off, and that I’d talk to her when she had sobered up. I watched her stumble to her car, at which time I use the remote to unlock the doors so she could climb into her back seat. I then locked the car, uttered a silent intention for her safety, and went to bed.

At 5am I was woken up by her knocking at the door. I invited her in, and made her some tea. She sat there, apologizing, telling me about the events that led up to her drunken stupor. These were excuses, of course, because her destination was always the bottle, but watching her create these grand schemes forcing her to drink herself into oblivion were both painful and fascinating at the same time. She had a fantastic wit when it suited her addiction, a wit she’d purposely dull in order to be unnoticeable in the room when sober.

After a short time she left. It was the last time I would see my friend again physically. She would call all of the time, always drunk beyond description and completely out of her mind. She’d ask me about meditation, about awareness, about how to heal, and my answer was always the same:

“You’ll heal when you make the choice to heal, and evidence of that choice will be in your arriving at a therapist’s office, or a rehab center somewhere. I’ll drive you if you want.”

That would be met with momentary silence, and then a powerful diatribe of profanity and insults. Most she directed at me, some she directed at her. I always had the feeling that she was looking in a mirror somewhere, shouting all of these insults at that reflection. Sometimes tears would form and make their way down my cheek. Sometimes I’d threaten to call the authorities. Sometimes, I’d just hang up.

The last time I talked to her was typical. My cell ringtone woke me from a dead sleep, and the combination of my own fatigue coupled with her own inability to talk made for an interesting beginning to this particular conversation. The words weren’t much different, but she seemed a bit off. Even for her.

“I’ve taken some downers,” she finally admitted. I sighed.

“How many?” I answered.

“Just a few. You have nothing to worry about.”

More insanity followed, finally by the icing on the proverbial cake.

“I’m coming over there and I’m going to fuck you.”

“No, you’re not,” I answered tersely.

“I’m such a loser that I throw myself at you and you won’t take me.”

“I think you are a winner. The alcohol and drugs? Well, not so much.”

“Fuck you, asshole…”

More insults and names, none of which I could take very personally. I cared for her, as a friend, and would sit there with her until she got tired of the bullshit. I would not take a thing she was saying personally. That really seemed to piss her off.

Finally, after a few minutes of trying, she had enough.

“Just go fuck yourself,” she yelled. “I’m done with you. You can’t make me feel this way. You can’t just reject me and get away with it. You’re a piece of shit, and I can’t believe I wanted you anyway. I’m too good for you.”

Then the click. I was used to the click, what I wasn’t used to was the lack of her apologetic call the next morning.

A week went by when I got the news. It came from a Facebook friend who she thought would be my “perfect match.” That friend, however, was engaged to be married. I laughed at the mistake.

“She’s dead,” read the message.

“What?”

“Her organs shut down and she passed away. She drank herself to death. Her funeral is this weekend.”

I just sat there. I can’t say I was shocked, but I was stunned. Apparently, she had never sobered up, then slipped into unconsciousness and died. Her life and her potential both snuffed out yet fully realized in long moment of suffering.

“Thank you,” were my last words on the subject.

It took me a while to allow the experience to settle. I lit an incense stick, sat on my meditation pillow, and just let everything swirl and fall into place.

In the end, I realized love. I loved my friend, so much that I let her be even as I tried to help her with her suffering. I would offer her the information she requested while letting her choose what to do with it. I would try to pick her up when she fell, fully realizing that sometimes she just needed to sit in her own stew. I let her be her, never judging her as much as I reflected on my own reactions to her. I’d only leave her when her path was too much for me, when she seemed intent on carrying me back into the proverbial burning house.

In the end she felt I rejected her, but I know I didn’t. She offered many beautiful things to the world, and I had embraced them with such dedication that I had no room for the darkest parts. I let dark areas linger around us because she wanted them to, but they were rarely the things I saw. I knew many beautiful things about my friend, and in my truth, in my compassion, in my love, I could not let what I saw as darkness enter.

Sometimes it’s not dark at all. Sometimes my eyes are closed.

When she was hungry, I gave her food while always allowing her the choice to eat. When she was thirsty, I gave her something to drink while always protecting her right to choose whether or not to drink it. When she was naked, I gave her clothes, always allowing her the choice to put them on. She, in turn, gave me insights that will always serve me if I’d only choose to use them.

In the end, I gave her the best of me while always honoring her choice on whether or not to accept. I believe she also gave me the best of her while always honoring my own choice to accept or not.

In the end, she made her choice on how to end her experience. While I might not agree with it, I realize that is my problem, not hers. Maybe at some level she did hear me. I can almost hear her contort my words to suit her own needs, and I chuckle a bit at the wisdom.

“I will destroy my body if I so choose. Your acceptance of this is not mandatory nor necessary.”

She would be right, of course. Well played, my friend. Well played.

I sometimes wonder if I just didn’t get the fact that not only did she understand what I was saying to her, but that she was a tremendous student. She’d often say that she loved my philosophy of living, and her questions always seemed to be directed at exactly how to live it. We’d talk about the Four Agreements, and how the essence of suffering is found in the strength it provides, both in its experience and in its survival.

“We just need to stop seeing suffering as so ‘bad’. Then we can discover its true value and we can ride that wonderful wave for all its worth,” I’d say to her often. She didn’t object as much as most do when I describe suffering in this way. Perhaps she understood much better than I gave her credit for.

It’s been almost a year since she passed, and I’ll admit there’s been more than a few times I’d wake up at 2am, half expecting the phone to ring. It doesn’t, of course, and I often smile at the expectation. There are times when I will sit in stillness and honor her memory, not as some wayward person on the path to self-destruction, but as another in a line of great Masters that have been in my life to which I gently bow in honor. I only hope I’ve been a student equal to their task.

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Nothing (A Poem)

I sit, and I wonder...
Where are you?
Why is the air so cold
Why is the silence so deafening?

I look for you
That smile, the way your hair wisps around your face
Through the numbness I reach for you
Through the haze I call your name.

Nothing.

I long to hear your laugh
Find the spots that make you gasp for air
Draw the lines that make you moan
Take the best you have to offer.

A simple prayer is whispered
Through time, through the ether of my mental state
I wait patiently for your reply
Or an echo, or a sign.

Nothing.

To set this moment, time and space
In such perfect synchronicity
One must become the softest rock
The neutral water in your drinking glass.

So I beg of you to take a sip
A notion of a potion not that magical at all.
Tell me, please, I beg of you, reply
As I wander away I look toward the sky for answers.

Nothing.

Once I was a boy afraid
Now a man, fearless and determined
I bear the wounds of battles fought
And bare my soul to the legions of insanity.

I call your name, or at least I think it is
Can you hear me? Can you feel it coming?
Still I bask in empty light
Waiting for the warmth to charm my mind.

Nothing.

Like a snake in a basket
I dance to music no one else can hear
I fall asleep when the respite comes
Only to awaken to her tune again.

I want to bite you but I can't
Such a tortured battle waged within
The fighter without a fight
He looks for peace at every turn but sees...

Nothing.

A growl, a sigh, a morbid curiosity
No need to marvel at this godless saint.
A pinch, a whisper, but this is not a dream
Yet I swear I whispered something in your ear.

Your smile, the answer I've been looking for
The warmth of your body cuts through the icy air
I stir in my slumber looking toward the evening sky
I reach, to you, from the nightmare that I feel.

Nothing.

It is nothing that I look for
And it is nothing that I'll lose
Yet it is nothing like I've ever known
It is nothing but a lover's song.

I find nothing gets me going
For there is nothing to ever gain
As nothing pleases you
And there is nothing that I have to give.

One day we'll close our eyes
And meet our Maker, we'll travel home.
One day we'll say our final prayer
And find the answer we've always sought. 

Nothing.

 

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Discomfort’s Sapling

How can I go another minute without kissing you? How can I refrain from hugging you, from tasting you, from feeling your warmth against my skin?

How can I remain still when the Universe is quaking all around me? How can I look at my empty hand and feign a smile? How can I find my rest when there seems so much to do?

To the fears I cannot censor, I raise my golden chalice. To the courage I cannot seem to muster, I utter a silent prayer. To them, I am just me.

I am discomfort’s sapling.

Lost, like a puppy dropped off in an unfamiliar place, inundated with newness, crippled in awe, cowering in an unfamiliar corner of my mind.

Found, like a man left on the shores of some deserted island, with no one to know but himself, with no songs to sing outside the ones ingrained in his own mind. There is so much to discover here, yet no one to share it with.

I reach out to the stars, they only stare back.

“Happiness (is) only real when shared.” ~Christopher McCandless

And so it goes. One set of footprints in the sand, with only the gulls to hear my laughter. I swear they’re laughing back at me.

I am not alone. I am with me, the rest of you are just illusions. I love the way you feel, the way you move in and out of my reality, but there has always only been one set of footprints in the sand that doesn’t really exist.

I’ve created the sound of the waves as a peaceful song in my mind to calm my wild beast. I’ve created such wonder in my heart as to wish you here, believing that the taste of your lips and the beat of your heart will somehow fill the gaps in the music I’ve created.

Another stanza, another verse. So the beat goes on.

I sit here, nearly naked, allowing the winter Sun to beat down on my longing skin through a giant window. It’s hot, almost unbearably so, but the discomfort creates some space for my vision to grow into the words I type.  This part of me I share, this part of me that is like the Sun, is that part of me I have not created but allow to be. I can’t imagine life without such a creation, without such space, without the tortured seeds that burn deep within me.

Maybe you are there and I am here because it’s the space itself we need to create this dream. Maybe if we were any closer we’d burn out. Maybe any further and we’d face a frozen death. Maybe I can’t count on the gravity of love to pull you closer. Maybe I should just be grateful you exist at all.

“Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” ~Hafiz

Maybe the demand that you fill my hand and kiss my lips is too much for this universe to bear. Maybe the skies would burn and the sands would turn to broken glass upon our union. Maybe Venus was not meant to touch the skin of Mars, she was only meant to touch his heart and to tease his holy senses alive. Maybe the earth that separated them was meant to keep creation alive.

Perhaps, in time, wonders will cease to amaze me. Maybe the endless debate with mindless minions living in their past will end as I bathe in my own present moment. Perhaps my imagination will no longer be boggled, and my heart will no longer cry out any one name.

It seems right in its wrongness. It seems sharp like the blade of a well-honed axe. It will cut, I am sure, but to which trees do I choose to apply its mission? Which wood will I choose to burn?

Perhaps it’s not a choice at all. Perhaps its just a function of our Universal reality.

Love, I will leave this to you. I will do a better job of listening, of hearing that melody through the madness. I will see the patience in the lines you have drawn and the vision of the truthful shadows you have created on the canvas all around us. I will pay attention, I swear it as a sacred oath, and I will head your solemn vows.

Time for stillness, for a group hug with those whose arms are open. I simply have no other answer.

 

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The First Fire Call Back

So, yesterday I answered my first fire call in three months. It wasn’t but the end of October I believed that I would never respond to another call again. So, as usual, I had a realization in the response, and a lesson learned.

I’ve been responding to all kinds of emergencies for the better part of 23 years as a volunteer firefighter, EMT, rescue dude, etc. I had begun to take it all for granted, and had lost sight of the very special nature by which all responders do their thing.

Yesterday, I didn’t take the putting on of my turnouts for granted. I didn’t take the sounds or the lights or the brothers in the rig for granted. It was all so freaking special, so I slowed time down as best I could.

Yes, fire trucks have a distinctive sound, a guttural growl if you will. It sounds different from the inside, as it should, as if those of us who enter the bowels of the beast are graced with a different song than the rest of mankind. Then there are the lights and sirens…and yes, they sound different on the inside, too.

Yesterday brought back a pretty cool memory. When I was a kid, my step-grandmother (whom we called “Nana”) used to burn the tall weeds that stood about 50 feet from her small brick home. When they were burned to her liking, I got to put out the fire with a garden hose. I used to love that, which reinforced my desire to, one day, put fires out in much larger arenas.

Yesterday’s call was a grass fire that was close to someone’s house, which was out before we arrived. We had to pull a line off the truck to wet down the area, and I had an instant flashback to Nana’s house and those weeds. I felt the “coolness” of working the nozzle like when I was a kid, and again the realization that this time, I was in my gear doing what few people get to do. I get to satisfy my desire to help others and to feel the rush of excitement when we answer a call.

And yes, I was a bit excited getting to work the line. I felt alive, and a bit emotional in doing something I have done countless times before. The routine no longer seemed routine, the mundane came alive in excitement.

When we got back to the station, I stayed back to help the engineer fill the tank. I wanted to do all of the things I would have left to newer members before. Hell, I even rolled the hose back up and put it in its proper place. Where is newbie when you need one? :)

Sometimes, it seems, the renewal of that love of living takes us back to the beginning of things. That’s where the real zest is shown, a zest that is sometimes blunted by time and experience. Yet when you almost lose something you have always felt called to do, that zest becomes razor sharp again.

I’ve realized that I have been certainly blessed in my life. I’ve love and lost, felt the enormity of suffering and the bliss of relief. I’ve experienced the excitement of a kid in something that seems so awesome become routine, and I’ve experienced a renewal and rebirth not in the dramatic need for faith, but in the real desire to LIVE.

Someone once said something to the effect that to truly live is to see each sunrise like a newborn baby, as if each one is seen for the very first time. I can tell that master nearly lost everything once, and then realized how precious each moment truly is. Even the most mundane are special, they were once very extraordinary.

So, when someone now tells me about my fire service career, “you certainly have a lot of experience” I can smile knowing they don’t know that half of it. Part of me is relieved they don’t, it took a lot of tough times to get here. Yet, part of me is wishing they did. It is that freaking awesome.

Peace.

 

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Different Days

While I don’t often find the use of the word “better” to be appropriate (I use “different” in its place), I certainly find this song completely in line with my own experience.

I remember the series of days when I was “broken down to kneeling”. Once I was listening, the voices did come as waves of emotion that still stroke my heart. Those days broke me down to my very core so that I could build myself back up again. I have learned great love for me, and for others, in this process.

And now I’m bursting.

And I’m disciplined. Listening. Learning. Employing the knowledge I’ve gained as wisdom, the truth I’ve found as a passionate reminder of my, our, true potential. Every moment I am reminded of the limitless possibilities, and am sometimes saddened when I’ve seen the barriers constructed to keep us away from reaching our truth.

I was made the way I was for a reason, and it would be silly for me to hide that light under a basket. So why not just be me? I am that fucking awesome.

So says the Sun. “If you burn easily, hide. If you don’t like the light, turn away. If you find my shade of orange distasteful, turn your attention elsewhere. I will always be, unapologetically, me.”

And as such the world thrives. For each of us, in our own way. After all, the Moon has her lovers, too.

Hug a Tree

I wasn’t always this way, but the last portion of my life has involved tree hugging. Lots of tree hugging.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hug a tree as often as I’d like. In fact, I miss hugging trees more often than I actually hug them. Maybe it is high time I change that. In fact, there is a dogwood in the back yard that seems to need a hug.

The best part about hugging trees is that they always hug back. Always. Even when they are near the end of their life they find the strength to embrace whomever asks for a hug. They won’t question your need, or look at you strangely, or doubt your motivations. They’ll just accept, and give.

I love those wise, old bastards who just sit there, allowing. They grow in the direction nature pushes them. They’ll bend, and sometimes break, in the breeze; often issuing little testaments of gratitude in the rustling leaves or the splintered sounds of being broken wide open. They’ll sometimes fall to the ground and never try to get back up. Instead, they’ll hug the ground and understand that this place, too, is worth hugging.

I’ve never heard a tree try to pretend it is a man, or a deer, or some other being judged “better”. They never try to outdo their neighbors, or appear “prettier” in some state of meaningless competition. Oak tress don’t try to be pine trees. Pine trees don’t try to be birch trees. Trees are too busy being trees, too in love with being who they are to be anything else. They love their leaves, their branches, and their experience too much to be anything other than who they are. Everything about them is good enough.

Maybe that is why trees aren’t afraid to hug. You aren’t their competition, and they realize that you can always change your mind.

Trees are rooted firmly in the Earth even as they reach for the heavens. They adore the firmness of the ground even as they bask in the liberation of open air.

Trees love the sun and rain equally. Their dance remains the same regardless of the weather, as if to say “There is beauty even in the rainy days.” What’s not to love about such even temperedness?

Trees don’t complain about the change of seasons. Those who lose their leaves in autumn do so with a splendid display of loving beauty, never taking issue with the impermanence of it all. Even as those trees cry lovely tears of orange, and red, and mixtures in between, those tears lay perfectly upon the ground made hard by winter’s edge, softening that ground, making it a bit easier to tread.

Best of all you don’t even need arms to hug a tree. You simply need to walk among them and pay attention. Raise your level of awareness when in their home, and you will realize the reality of the truth you were born with. Sometimes the best hugs are offered in just being present, in receiving the presence of others while giving freely of yourself.

Trees do that. They will bask in your peaceful presence just as they will listen quite acceptingly to your lamentations. They will always accept what you bring to them, and they will always be giving of themselves if only you are open to accepting.

That’s why I’ve become a tree hugger in my later years. It feels good to hug a tree. They remind me of a place within me just like them. Peaceful. Stoic. Strong. Flexible. Accepting. I like being reminded of those things, even when the world is trying to cut me down for lumber.

Take a walk…and hug a tree. You will be glad you did.

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Westward Ho!

I can’t help the fact that I love you. And I need to leave you.

I can’t help the fact that I need to leave this place behind. I need to lace up my boots and walk toward the setting Sun, knowing full well that when I am settled I will see it rise again. In this journey, I need to feel the Sun on my back as the chilly morning air is warmed, and feel it on my face as the crisp night air surrenders to the evening sky.

I want to live simply, with the mountains under my feet and their people by my side. I want to close my eyes and feel the power of their grace as the thin air cleans out my tired soul. I want to know the fullness of nature as She brings me home, and takes me to untold discovery.

I want to bring you there, my little ones. I want you to feel the holy union of man to his Mother, of the soul to its Creator. I want you to learn to follow a different compass, to find your own true north through eyes not tainted by my ideas but trained by the lost art of self-discovery. I want you to write your own stories in your own way using whatever tools you wish to use. I want you free, guided by your own set of truths, by the words already written deep within you.

I will help you find those words, my loves, but it is you who must read them.

My days by the ocean I love are numbered, but it lets me go knowing what is best for me. To the altitude I will go, to the snow-covered peaks and happy valleys, to a place where the climb is upward and the run is downward. To a place where the rocks glisten with the rising Sun, and the hills cry out to a Moon they have always known.

That’s where my heart dreams, and my soul finds its Earthly home. There, the loner in me can find his solitude as the lover in me burns his relinquished veil. There, the artist in me can sing his hallowed song while the man in me curses the blisters born upon his feet. There I can feel a hand on my back and a rhythm in each and every footfall.

In my mind, I am there. Soon, my body will follow. Westward ho I go!

 

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Coming Soon to Elephant Journal!! “Two Artists, One Heart” (A Mature Excerpt)

When I closed my eyes I could feel her bare breasts pressing firmly on my chest as my fingers worked magic through her hair, our tongues wrestling in the glow of a moon in full worship of our love. I felt the full grasp of her womanhood as she took hold of me, and I knew deep down that this embrace would be difficult to end.

Coming soon to Elephant Journal! It will be shared on my Facebook page when it is published.

Love. Get Dirty.

In the rays of light that caress me through my window, I feel it.

Through her words, often spoken in moments of deep emotion, I feel it.

In the deepest moments of insecurity and loss when she offers you safe haven, I feel it.

Through the rapid wind where she vanishes like the mist, I feel it.

Love.

Love is often lost in the modern sense of things. It is like a drink we often drink too fast, like fine dining we have replaced with fast food and drive-thru windows. We seek it quickly, lose it rapidly, and then wallow in the effects of our choices for days.

We fall in love for various reasons, not realizing that every reason to fall in love is the wrong one. Love has no reason. In fact, love is often unreasonable, and it takes us to uncomfortable places we’d often never choose to visit. Love just happens for no reason at all, except that it wants to.

We refuse to fall in love for various reasons, not realizing that every reason to reject love’s advances is the wrong one. Love is often unreasonable, and when the undertow of the its great ocean pulls us in we can either choose to relax and go along for the ride, or fight and drown in its mighty current.

Sometimes we’ll drown either way. The point is, however, how we choose our demise. Do we choose it in ease or in struggle, in panicked chaos or peaceful acceptance of the realization that we are not really in control?

Lovers are unreasonable beings trying to make reasonable choices with ideas that don’t really exist. They fight with themselves often, as the pull of what they were taught opposes the reality of what they are experiencing. Gone is the “way it should be” replaced by “the way it is.” It can be a painful process, depending on how new the experience is.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t work with lovers. Love is unconventional, and applying the laws of physics to it drives it to oblivion. The best lovers dance to the song written within them, knowing full well their true partner will be dancing the same rhythm without even knowing it.

So, when the rays of sunlight caress me through my window, I feel it. I want to share it, and I want to know it. I want to pull her close and let her feel the warmth too. I want to kiss her while squinting in the light, pull her close as our bodies glow in its effect.

When she speaks, I can feel it. If you want proof that words are energy just sit still and listen to your lover. Regardless of the words, you will feel each of them. Her words will flow through you and over you like a warm fire during a blizzard. In fact, you may not even realize the blizzard until you listen to her speak. The tone and sound of her voice will give you pause, and you’ll find yourself needing more.

When you feel lost and abandoned, unsure of everything around you, she is there. Like bedrock in the sand she holds your weight, letting you know that you have nothing to fear. She’ll grab your face and your eyes will be drawn to hers like the Moon to the Earth, and you will know. All is in order even in the chaos, and all is as it should be even in the turmoil of your boiling cauldron.

When she vanishes, you will feel it. Whether it be an hour, or a day, or a week, her absence will scour your body like the roughest wool. When she gets busy with those “other things” you will feel her absence. It will sting you like the harshest wind-swept sand, and ensure that you never take her presence for granted again.

That is love. Unreasonable, unconventional. Painfully beautiful. Like the mud puddle your parents told you not to play in, simply roll around in that stuff. Get dirty, and she’ll get dirty with you. Then, if you are lucky, she’ll help you get clean.

But that’s another story…

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