In the beginning…

The first brick on my yellow brick road to Enlightenment, a path I don’t claim to be very far down, had to have been the word ‘God’.
It’s one of my earlier memories. I can’t say exactly what age but about 5 or 6. I was behind my parent’s house where the small forest of spindly pines begins, I was with my mother.
Many of my early memories with my mom are walking along Lower Mill Road, a road far more peaceful and natural than it’s yellow-brick counterpart could ever make out to be, however just as full of characters. In most of my memories I am engrossed in the microcosms of old tree stumps in the summer sunshine; the tiny red bugs that scurry over them, the tiny colorful fungi, forests in their own right… or bees and butterflies travelling in their own styles… and below always the ants building their civilizations… searching for wild berries or Lilly of the Valleys.
This particular afternoon I was less aware of my surrounds though. I wasn’t hearing the birds in the trees, the wind sweeping the grass, or the forest’s buzz of summer insects. For the first time in my memory I had a troubled mind. The word ‘God’ was swirling around my mind and all my questions and all my mother’s explanations weren’t enough to grasp it.
It was about at a stage of thought somewhere between, “God knows everything, even my thoughts,” “God used to talk to people a long time ago but doesn’t seem to much anymore,” and, “When I die I will meet God.” Hmm, when I die. I hadn’t thought much about that before. When I started asking what will happen when I die, my mom told me, “When you die, all answers will be revealed, you will know everything.” Heavy words for a child to ponder, and though I no longer agree with this teaching it was probably the most influential moment of my life. From that moment began a great obsession with death and life after death that lasted the better part of two decades with a handful of near fatal contemplations.
I was 12 the first time I decided I really wanted to know about death first hand and I went in my father’s greenhouse and tied up a noose with the twine he used for the cucumber vines to cling onto. Dad had already tied it to the rafter, so it was quite convenient. It was still a few years before teenage angst began brewwing like bad liquor, and I wasn’t suicidal in the sense that I wanted to end my life. It was quite the opposite. I became certain that this life was too partial and too fractured. If by death the whole universe could be revealed then I didn’t see the reason in waiting any longer, I wanted to see it now! As it happened, the gauge of the twine wasn’t nearly thick enough to support my body and snapped as soon as the tension hit it. I walked away hoping my dad wouldn’t be upset that he’d have to tie another string around the rafter, it seemed pretty high.
A few weeks later, while waiting for the tub to fill to take a bath, watching the water flowing around and rising, I thought maybe drowning would be a good way to go. Kneeling down, I plunged my head over the edge of the tub into the water and took a huge breath. The shock of the warm water streaming through my nostrils sent me on my back and I acknowledged that I just wasn’t strong enough to go through with dying.
Not too long after that teenage agnst did set in and there aren’t many actions taken from those years that I can claim were for the purposes of enlightenment but the questions still remained. With maturity, independence, and experiencing the loss of a friend, thoughts of death faded and I began to realize if I haven’t learned the proper lessons in this realm, what’s to say I wouldn’t get smacked right back into it? There’s no saying there is anything at all when you die, maybe life’s biggest joke! For now, regardless what’s to come after, I’ve found pleasure in focusing on living and God and I have made some agreements. I know what’s right and what’s wrong. I won’t do anything to bother God and God won’t bother me. I know if I live my life well, I can get there on my own.

14 responses »

  1. Great post!

    I think it’s when the thoughts start coming and we start believing them that “enlightenment” becomes an issue. Everything is pretty peachy and okay before we tie ourselves up in knots with thinking.

    “Waking up” is another one of the dreams we create. It’s like dreaming inside of a dream! But, as the Buddha might say, though I should hardly know what the Buddha would say, it’s a skillful dream — a useful dream.

    Interesting about wanting to experience death… I never had that inclination.

  2. Hey Joseph,
    Great to read this – your writing style really flows with me – I get it and enjoy reading it! It is brave of you to reveal these profound early moments, but hey, the good writing out there reveals truth and takes risks, so you are joining the ranks of good writers!
    I will look forward to all your posts – anything I’ve read by you so far has been really gripping and fascinating.
    Keep ’em coming! Link to my blog if you want, I am currently inspired by you to update it more often. Let’s do it!
    Peace on the Journey,

  3. Ah those early attempts to get to the other side (til you realize we’re in the other side(s). Mine was many baby asprin at the age of two and a half…but then at three I discovered the joys of tipping oneself over in a cardboard box and at four the “magic” woods, poetry and “flying”, so the why -waste- time- here moves lay dormant until 16 ;-}. Looking forward to your next post Joseph! xo JG

  4. Hi Joseph,

    This is a seriously great start to what promises to be a really wonderful blog. Nice one.

    I admire your honesty and openness here mate, it makes for absorbing reading. You take us seamlessly to your conclusions.

    For me though, I have come to a quite different place. I’m not half so sure I can get there on my own. I find God* bothering me all the time…

    ….and find the best way to respond is to just surrender to that. But, hey, isn’t that just the same as your conclusion of focusing on the joy of living anyway?

    It all comes together.

    Great writing mate,


    *God = Infinite Light and Infinite Light, Amida Buddha, the source, the ground, infinite being, the divine,whatever you’d like to call it.

  5. Hi Joseph

    Tremendous writing! Keep up the good work. You have a gift with the written word and it’s also interesting, enjoyable, sometimes fascinating and often gripping to read. I’ll keep tuned in to your progress and keep enjoying your writing,
    Thanks and have a lovely long weekend ahead,

  6. Dear Gil-do,

    Or should I call you Joe?

    A very intriguing intro into the conscious mind of a growing boy who seems to have turned out quite balanced, creative, inquisitive, and inspiring.

    I am in, and cannot wait for another installment.

    As a boy, I was troubled by cruelties I saw; you were pondering existence. I am interested in how your mother’s words seemed to be those of God’s themselves, for you took them as fact, and began your exploration in naive, good natured honesty from there—testiment to the power of caregivers over the child consciousness and the responsibility we have as teachers?

    Nice writing.

    If I may say to Cheon-do herein, I like your analysis vis-a-vie your post on your own blog. You are into this aspect of thought itself perhaps confounding consciousness? I agree.

    Gil-do, keep writing please,

    (Carl Atteniese Jr.)

  7. I really appreciate this brave and unflinching honesty. This is the kind of conversation I find myself craving and always waiting to engage in. Just the other night I was drunk outside an awful night club and I turned to the guy next to me and asked him if he thought the soul was eternal! – in response he looked at me like I was mad and hurried away! I don’t blame him! It’s hard to face these thoughts and questions, to allow yourself to have them. And to write your thoughts, to publish them and hold them up for everyone to read is harder.
    I was shocked to read about your attempted suicides. I mean, wanting ‘to know about death’ is something that we all face at some point, but to act on it is still shocking, even when perhaps it shouldn’t be. Your explaination of your thoughts feels logical and I like the way you consider your position with moralising. Also you prove the point that a fascination with and even longing for an end to life, are not necessarily depressive or nihilistic. It is, conversely, the overwhelming desire to exist to our fullest (to see more that just Plato’s shadows on the cave wall, to ‘understand everything’- as you mother put it) that can inspire thoughts of suicide; of journeying, as Hamlet considered, to the ‘undiscovered country’.
    But I can only say this because of the resolute faith in life that you express at the end of this blog. Otherwise my philosophising could sound irresponsible. Do not misunderstand me: I know we must keep living. (And life is wonderful). That’s not to say that we should shun and silence thoughts of death. Death is the backing a mirror must have if we are to see anything.

    Tell me more, Joseph.

  8. Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008

    “Life responds when we risk.” -Rodney Smith, “Lessons From the Dying”

    Dear Joseph,
    I read your blog posting yesterday and felt quite a jumble of emotions. It definitely took courage for you to write it, and it also took courage for me to read it to the end, which I am grateful I did. I’m also grateful that I, too, am at a point in my evolution where I accept that I know very little with certainty; and that, more importantly, this is a good thing. But I do confess that icy fingers clutched my heart as thoughts began to form around your described actions. Wow, Joseph, I suspect there were other urgings that prodded your curiosity about death than my sharing of a transitory belief. I think we all attract and extract specific details from the massive web of interactions we share. They resonate far beyond their intended context, yet serve our life in seemingly inexplicable ways. Like dream images, such details both reveal and conceal aspects of Self we do not yet know or claim.

    “Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out. —Thich Nhat Hanh

    The irony of of your revelation is that at that time, Grammie constantly lamented that I wasn’t taking you all to church every Sunday; and I held firm to my conviction that I would never impose such a rigid belief system on my children. My own spirituality was grounded in my early connection to Nature and the unseen world, and had been shaped by exposure to many peoples’ spiritual beliefs and practices as well as my own expanding awareness. Because I had been censured throughout my childhood for voicing visionary experiences that were contrary to the fundamentalist teachings of the church we attended, I wanted my children to be free to choose and own their own spirituality.

    As the voice of censure rose in my mind yesterday, telling me I had said too much and too little to you, a wiser voice told me that your life force was far stronger than any impulse that rose around extinguishing it…and you had experimented with fairly weak-kneed methods you knew would fail. I want to believe that you were always protected by a benevolent spirit guide–but that would, perhaps, serve my needs more than yours. But I will banish the chilling “what-ifs” and “what will others think of me” and utter my immense gratitude for where you are in Life RIGHT NOW. And I will even acknowledge that today I actually see something approaching comical in what you described. (Please don’t take that away from me with some horrific rebuttal! :~) ).

    I guess as your mother, I feel I should have known or intuited the state of mind you were in at that time, but from the age of two onwards you displayed an extraordinary capacity to slip into another (higher?) realm of consciousness, from which you often emerged with lucid and revelatory communications. We have spoken of this many times, of course, and I was always fascinated and supportive of your travels beyond–your sandbox reveries and dreamtime adventures. I reflected on your gift at the recent Edgar Cayce conference I attended, when the speaker described Cayce’s ability to detach from what he termed the “earthly portion and personality” of his physical being and suspend it outside himself where it would not be a distraction.

    My own childhood was animated by dark and light mystical interludes, precipitated by the death of my father before I was three and the knowledge that I had a brother, my mother’s first baby, who had died being born. The conclusion I came to was that life was a hit or miss possibility I was lucky to have hit. My most profound early memory, in fact, is of walking barefoot in the grass, holding my mother’s hand and asking her where I had come from. She replied that I had come from a little seed, like the grass I felt tickling my ankles as I walked. Since I held no conscious memory of my father at that age, I imagined that I had sprung up from the earth, and was somehow the offspring of the earth and a heavenly father. My earliest illusions had mythic proportions! I also had a perception that I had entered the world through a very narrow window of opportunity; and given what I have since learned about my precarious delivery, I entertained no inclination to exit prematurely. That is not to say that the world embraced me and my peculiar ways with enthusiastic approval or that I was always happy. But I was aware of being long before I felt any obligation to assign it a purpose.

    “Sometimes people get the mistaken notion that spirituality is a separate department of life, the penthouse of existence. But rightly understood, it is a vital awareness that pervades all realms of our being… Wherever we may come alive, that is the area in which we are spiritual.” — David Steindl-Rast

    One afternoon, when you were about the age you are in the photo above, you were sitting on the stairs gazing out the window to the front porch and sighed so loudly I walked from the kitchen to see what was happening. You looked so serious and brooding and asked me in the saddest voice, “Why am I even here” My heart flew open but I could not speak except to say, “Oh…Joseph! …” Before I could get to you to give you a hug, you leapt to your feet and ran through the door to the porch. I looked out in time to see our cat touching down with a small white bird in its mouth. In a flash, you bent down and whisked it from her and stood up with the bird held in your open palm. You lifted your hand and after a few seconds, the bird flew away. The look on your face when you turned back to me was pure bliss and I immediately said, “Now you know why you are here, Joseph!”

    The gift of such moments is that they endure in the timeless, spaceless presence of the prefect Love they make manifest. Even when remembered years later they inspire a spontaneous rising of creative energy along threads of connection in the consciousness… and beyond. Or, at least that’s what I have come to believe. And even as I wrote that line I was already telling myself that it’s not the belief but the Love lived that makes it so.

    Blessings be, Joseph, Gil Do! I look forward to walking with you and my new daughter in Korea! I am now thinking of the Lewis family motto: “Every land is a brave man’s country.”

    Much Love & Gratitude for the learning that comes; bidden and unbidden … MOM

  9. to mom: one thing that gave me the ease to write that story is that it happened so long ago my body has entirely regenerated more than two times by now. I can truly say that is no longer me, just an idea, a memory of myself that remains.

  10. Wonderful! Joseph’s mom you are such an insightful, special person! I feel so much better having read your response to Joseph’s blog.

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