A transcendental crossing
I had shut my eyes and walked backwards only a little way, trying as hard as I could to pay no heed to the loud noises about me. Someone tried to have me sign a petition, to save some Amazonian moth, but I managed to get past them. Then I stumbled through a door, and I heard a girl’s voice, and she sounded terribly bored; she tried to sell me on a cup of coffee. It was pricey, but didn’t I know that the coffee bean farmers in Ethiopia were poorly paid? I told her that I didn’t drink coffee, but she didn’t seem to care, it wasn’t about the coffee really, it wasn’t even about the farmer. It was about the brand, and what the brand said about me. But I managed to get away. I had backed up even further, and that sound, that constant noise, finally began to abate. It was still then, for a moment, as I went eyes-shut backwards along my way, before finally, in a singular backward stride, my right foot landed with a splash in some water.
I opened my eyes. It was a shallow river, gently flowing, with a forest on the other side. I could have easily waded across, but I noticed an old bridge just a little way along from where I was, so I made my way to it. The old bridge was made of granite stones; it must have been there for thousands of years, so perfectly was it integrated into the landscape about it. On this side of the bridge there was a gate, an iron gate, and it’s doors were swung open, and tufts of grass grew about the bars betraying the fact that it had not been shut in many years. I was about to walk across when I noticed a tall plinth nearby. It was surmounted by an unlit beacon, with a torch at hand to light it. It seemed like a good idea if I did so. That way I would be able to find my way back; it would be my reference point, and orientate me in relation to whatever lay beyond. So I lit it, with a prayer.
Flaming beacon, guide me in my search for truth.
Set me on my way here at your transcendental crossing,
towards a greater knowing of myself,
a greater knowing of that which is in me,
the architecture of me, which sets me upon courses before any choices are made.
And conversely, do not shine for us, here, alone,
may you lead others in their search,
here to your bridge of granite stone.
Having crossed, I made my way along the gravel path, and the sound of the river began to fade into the background, replaced by the sound of the wind blowing between the dark green pines, and the sound of my feet, with each step crunching below. Further and further into my solitude I went. I remember pulling back the bark from a tree, and the sap sticking to my skin that I rubbed into my hands, black lines of detritus that I could not budge. The tree that was in me, that was under my nails. My breath and the wind, my spirit and the Spirit. A harmony within a harmonious place. We need such solitude, to think our own thoughts, to inwardly orientate our attention, to find our creative self. But distractions come - from without, but also often from within, within the self… Then a screeching sparrow darted out from the wood. It’s words were garbled, but so noisy. I could not help stopping in my tracks and looking at the little thing with astonishment. So much sound coming from such a small bird. I shooed it away, but it would not go. I tried listening to what it had to say, but its words were really difficult to make out. At first, I thought it may even be speaking a different language entirely, but no, it was just such a high-pitched, strained series of words. I focused - it was chirping on about my responsibility, something about what was really important. I asked the sparrow why it had come to lecture me. But the sparrow did not even acknowledge my question, she just carried on. So, once again, I tried to get away, wanting to find my solitude, but this time I had no luck. As I walked away, it followed on, closely. My quickening steps made no difference. Getting increasingly agitated I tried to think of what I could say to banish the blasted thing. That’s when I heard something coming from up ahead. Singing.
It was coming from what looked like a public house; drawing nearer I could make out the sign – it read ‘The Trickster’s Tipple’, and so I went in. There was a gleeful cheer amongst the patrons, who chortled, toasted, and swayed together to the sacred harp music being sung, acapella, by a group in the corner. I sat on a stool at the bar, and the man next to me introduced himself as Oscar Wilde. And then sure enough, the little sparrow, who had followed me in, sat herself down upon the bar top. And her diatribe continued, without even a beat, “It is the principle of it, our obligation to the problems in question, out there, back beyond the granite bridge. It’s about what needs to be done. And whatever this is, is a waste of time! And what of you” chirped the little bird at Wilde, “Don’t you think morality is important?” Wilde looked down at the bird and replied, “Yes, but I don’t think importance is.” And with that, the sparrow fell silent.
Wilde’s words made me think about attention. The attention we pay, or do not pay, to things. Our attention says a great deal about us, almost everything there is to say about us in fact. Tell me what has your attention, and I will tell you who you are. On one hand, our very freedom seems to hinge upon our ability to choose that to which we give our attention. And yet, that is only partially true, as what does grab our attention often seems to bubble up arbitrarily from within. It takes a lot of self-examination to begin to determine why our attention has fallen upon the given thing, whatever that is, and even then we probably couldn’t get to the bottom of it. We pay attention to things because we discern a lack within ourselves, a deficit, which our attention to said thing redresses in some way. Or we pay attention, out of guilt or a sense of obligation. There are certainly many things in this world demanding our attention, attempting to shame us into giving our attention. So much so, that one could easily live one’s entire life in the grip of this series of things that society has collectively determined that to neglect warrants shame. In this way, we could easily become completely paralysed in our global consciousness. Ceding our freedom to forces beyond the self. To say that importance is not important then, is to free ourselves from the hierarchy of concerns as society has determined them. To deny that entire, attention grabbing edifice, and instead to attend to the Self. I think this is essentially what being a church goer is all about, a recognition that there is a certain kind of attention, not valued in the world, which is nonetheless worthwhile.
So let us now leave Oscar Wilde, and our dumbfounded sparrow, leave the pub, and going outside let us even leave the beaten track. Let us stray into the woods, into nature, amongst the trees, and therein find our solitude. To lose ourselves, to become invisible, merely thoughts amongst the branches, until even the deer walk by unconcerned. Spirit of breath, that blows through the canopy above, may we locate your rhythms within our innermost self. For we belong in the wild wood, and the timeless wild wood belongs in us.
And I’m sitting upon the soil horizon, amongst the pine needles and the pinecones, glad to be present to thyself, myself. My breath and the wind, my spirit and the Spirit. A harmony within a harmonious place. And the sun breaks through all the more, as it climbs from sunrise towards high-noon, and the birds move between the trees, but they do not speak, not this time, for there is no need to speak. And all the deer go about their business, foraging amongst the shrubs, but in time they too move on. And the wood pauses, a short intermission before the pine trees inhale, and the wind carries with it, to me, the sound of rustling, a little way off. The gentle steps of a kindly stranger. And I see him, and he’s bearded, and wearing a brown brimmed hat, and he’s carrying a staff, upon which hangs a white scallop shell. And he smiles, for he’s happy to see me, and he approaches. He asked me if I too was looking for hidden treasure. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I told him that I supposed I was. He said that many people, through the ages, had travelled to these parts across the granite bridge, and here they had buried their treasure, and here they kept it safe. I asked him if he was speaking of pearls, and he told me that that was one name for it. He said that once, he had quite by chance found himself here. He accidentally stumbled his way here backwards through a dream, and once here, once he had beheld this place, this wood beyond the river, he vowed to give his all, if that is what it took to return.
But it turned out that his resolve in that moment knocked up against the hard reality of what returning would take. It proved exceedingly difficult to get back; there was a kind of pressure that kept him away, a clock, a need, a worthy demand, and so it was that many years passed before he was able to return. It took a reorientation of sorts, a letting go, a gentleness of spirit to achieve it. I asked if he now had the opportunity to walk these parts often, and once again he smiled. He told me that it was now his daily delight to walk in the infinite freedom of this place, never knowing whom he might meet, or what he might discover. With that he gave his blessing to me, and went on his way. And I, inspired by his daily ramble, his daily nourishment, took up a nearby branch to serve as my staff, and set off further into the depths of the wood.
I had been going along for some time when I walked into a solemn tone, a sadness that hung in the air. The woods thinned out, and I came to a cobbled path bustling with activity, men and women going to and fro, silently, with sombre looks upon their faces. In one direction people went along carrying flowers, and in the other not. I began to walk alongside one such person, who carried with her a single lily. I asked her where she was going, and what lay ahead. After a long pause, she just shook her head, and said that she didn’t know how to say it, or how to put it into words. I asked her what she didn’t know how to put into words, but she didn’t respond. We just walked along silently together, along with the crowd. The whole scene had a reverential and ceremonial quality to it, as if a great king had died and we were all going to pay our respects. The path was lined with torches on either side, and I imagined that the crowd going along never abated, not even at night, and that was why the torches were a necessary addition. Whoever or whatever lay ahead must be of great importance, I thought. Then, the wood opened out into a wide sweeping glade, and there people came to a stop, laid down their flowers, and bowed their heads. For there in the middle, lay God in state, God in decomposition.
God died many centuries earlier. Some say it was the atom bomb that killed him, some say it was the cynic’s grin, some that he threw himself down from heaven above to free you and me, and others still that he died upon a tree at Golgotha. Whatever may be the case, the fact is that God died, and that as the 20th Century sage declared it, we all have blood upon our hands. There was a time, long ago, when God declared thusly, and so we knew it was so. God walked with us through the garden of his making. He delighted in proclaiming to us his own majesty, in the way that he bent the laws of the world as he had established them. He made himself known to us through his messengers, who passed down his words, his stories, his parables, and carved them upon tablets of stone. But all those days are no more.
When God emptied himself out from heaven, and landed with a crash upon this orb, a vigil was held for many decades, and many people of course gathered from all around, to watch and wait, and they wrote their lamenting poems. But what came after that, I didn’t know. No one had ever told me. Where does one inter God? But when I walked into that glade, and saw him lying there, it made a poetic sense that he be taken and laid there, across the river, across the granite bridge, and laid on the ground within the timeless wood. For there, that deep infinitude, was old and decaying there on the soil, that it might feed, and nourish, and re-divinize the ground, and the wood, and our souls.
As I looked about me, and saw the mourners, I realised they were not shedding tears of grief, as I had thought, but rather tears of joy, tears of thanksgiving for their God, who had died that we all might be liberated from those universal cosmic oughts, liberated from our destiny and purpose and set loose. As I left that sacred glade, staff in hand, I began my walk back along the almighty causeway. And walking along, my thoughts returned to the topic of attention: the attention we pay, or do not pay, to things, our attention which says so much about who we are. And the attention-grabbing techniques of a world trying to shame us into a particular course of action. Within our world, we can think upon the moralist - he or she who tells us what we should be attending to, the screeching sparrows within that seek to impose their sense of ought upon us - and the primordial God of old who operated in a similar way. Imposing a particular way. I’ve been using the masculine pronoun for this God, the God of our patriarchs, not unintentionally. That God of old was normatively pronouned in such a manner. On the other hand, the God who inhabits the trees of the soul, or the wind of the timeless wood, he-she-it, is a different matter.
I came to a crossroad, and I read the wooden moss-covered crossroad’s sign, that pointed in many different directions. The arrow that pointed back the way I had come simply read ‘libertas’; another arrow pointed towards a meadow, and that arrow read ‘concordia’; still another pointed down a narrow path, and that one read ‘palace’; and finally the arrow which would surely bring me back, read ‘The Trickster’s Tipple & the Granite Bridge.’ I turned down that path, and began making my way along. Back along through the timeless woodland which lies beyond the transcendental crossing, deep within the wellsprings of the Self, where God’s spirit moves and blows between the branches, where the lost come home, where truth seekers find their meaning, where we can discover the true scope of our freedom, here within the Kingdom: the Kingdom within.