Friday, August 8, 2008

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.


  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. Wow. Amazing to be here to read this exchange. Amazing.

    Thank you both. Thank you, and sincere bows to all.

  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. ps: i did try to infuse as much comedy as was approapriate...
    but it wasn't the easiest task~

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