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Walking to Paradise

A few nights ago I decided to take a walk just after sunset, as part of my plan to enjoy more exercise during my physical manifestation overhaul. There was still plenty of light, and I planned on only being gone about half an hour, so I didn’t need a flashlight or anything like that. I also didn’t plan on meditating or trying to contact Spirit in any way at all, so I was completely taken off guard by what happened…

Halted Outside the Gates

wethepeopleWe live at the edge of Feldman Park, which lines the Connecticut River at the center of Holyoke, Massachusetts. The Connecticut is an odd river geologically; in the deepest geological time — before Pangaea — the river valley marked the edge of North America. The land on the east side of the river was once a microcontinent called Avalonia, which included most of New England, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the southern swath of the British Isles, and the Low Countries. Then the European, African, and North American plates converged on Avalonia, crushing and crumpling it from three directions during the formation of Pangaea. When Europe pulled away again, half of Avalonia was dragged off, and the remainder left here. The other side of the Connecticut River is, in a very real geological sense, a different continent entirely.

So I walked through Feldman Park, along the edge of ancient North America, looking across the river at ancient Avalonia. A policecar passed quietly; a streetlight flickered and died as I walked under it (always freaky when that happens); couple sat on a bench kissing in the dusk.

It was curious, I thought, that we’d ended up in just this spot. Our family had moved to western Massachusetts looking for a fresh start, looking for a house away from suburban America, closer to the land… A new paradise. And we’d gotten half way there, and been stymied. Our old house had sold for much less than we’d hoped, and we no longer had the money for a new one; so we’d found an apartment, a halfway house, to wait for the rest of our dreams to come true. An apartment perched here on the edge of the ancient continent! As if we’d been stopped because we weren’t quite ready to cross over the river to Avalonia. (The fact that Avalon is the ancient name of a Paradise in the Arthurian tradition is all the more poignant.)

Thoughts like these decided me: I would walk across the bridge tonight. It wasn’t exactly a safe thing to do, since it was a four-lane bridge that carried a lot of traffic, but there was a sidewalk.

The Burden of Guilt

Well, there was a sidewalk on the bridge, but there was no sidewalk from Feldman Park to the bridge. I found myself alternately jogging along the road and pushing my way through tall grass next to the shoulder, trying not to think about the cars speeding past. And trying not to think about all the garbage along the road, and wondering whether the men who dig through our trash every day sleep under this bridge, and not doubting at all that smuggling and drug dealing was going on over in the shadows of the trees.

Because we don’t live in the “best” part of town. There are many people in our apartment complex who speak little English, and their social mobility in the United States is pretty limited. Holyoke was once a rich mill town, but it has fallen on hard times, and its fantastic architecture — it has Victorian homes and stone churches and Edwardian mansions to rival anything in Charleston or Savannah — is all in ruins. Slowly the artists are moving in, and slowly certain neighborhoods are turning around, but it will take time; and it seems certain that as rents rise, most of our current neighbors will have to find new homes.

It’s something that faces me every time I come home from work. Why should I dream of a free-standing house in the country, when the people who live next door are so limited in their options? Yes, I feel guilty about my high income, about the private school I send my children to, my two cars… I feel guilty about my future, because while my standard of living is mostly comparable to that of my neighbors, my life has all the seeds of abundance and prosperity that they will almost certainly never see. Why me, and not them? Where is the justice? I don’t know.

Is it this issue that’s keeping us on this side of the river?

Purification

Now I was crossing the bridge. The traffic wasn’t so bad. The sky was glowing still, silhouetting the mountains. The water reflected the sky’s light, so that I was surrounded by purple and gold above and below me. The mountains surrounding the river were a ring of black girdling the horizon.

Maybe this is a time of purification for us. After all, if we were really going to move into that perfect dream home, and have it BE everything we want it to be, we can’t be carrying extra baggage. And we’re discarding baggage as fast as we can — my wife has lost 40 pounds, I’m finally losing some weight myself, we’re clearing out the basement (and you can get a sense of how stuffed the basement is if you imagine squeezing the contents of our 2200-sq-ft house into a 1200-sq-ft apartment), we’re removing toxic chemicals from our diets, selling or donating all our plastic toys…

And yeah, the guilt. We’ve got psychological baggage, too.

If I’m right — if we are in the midst of purification before finding our new home — then this will be a momentous change for us. It will be a lot more than a new house and a big yard and a few acres for a goat and some chickens. It will some place that we’re not yet “worthy” or “ready” to experience, something we can’t quite imagine yet because we’re not a “vibrational match”, to use the New Age term. It’ll be higher up and further in. It’ll truly be paradise, a pairidaeza in the original ancient Avestan… A walled garden, holy ground.

I stopped before I reached the other side of the bridge: it’s a wide river, and I had to turn around if I was going to make it back in time. I stood a moment, poised between the sky and the water.

The Purpose of Charity and Kindness

A month ago, Apollo said that a person’s guides could save them from disastrous events, like the shootings at Virginia Tech. Those who died there, he said, were ready to move on from this life. Anyone who wasn’t ready to move on would have been guided away from the shooting.

If your guides keep you safe, and ensure that you only experience things on Earth that you’ve chosen to experience, then can anyone ever really be hurt? Can anyone ever experience pain that they did not choose? Can your actions, advertent or inadvertent, ever really cause someone else unnecessary pain?

The homeless, the poor: are these lives they have chosen? If so, can anything I do change that? If I can’t make someone poor, if I can’t raise someone up to wealth, without their consent, without being part of the master plan laid down by them and their guides before they were born — if their state of life is beyond any power of my will — then what is charity and kindness for? What are honor and respect for?

The answer came: they are for YOU.

If you give $20 to a beggar, and the beggar is not ready to move out of poverty or pain, they will squander the money on drink or entertainment, or simply lose it. If the beggar IS ready, that $20 may be the source of the lottery ticket, or the clean clothes for the job interview… It’s not up to you. You get the benefit of giving either way.

If you don’t give that $20, and the beggar wasn’t ready for it, then everything simply stays the same. If the beggar is ready, though, then Spirit will simply find some other way to get that $20 to them.

Giving is something that fosters growth in your own heart. Kindness, respect, and honor are part of your journey. Your kindness may be used by Spirit to help along someone who is ready to accept it; but ultimately when someone is ready to move out of poverty or pain, they will move, regardless of what you do.

So where is the place for guilt here?

Signal

My head spinning, I started back. As I walked, I tried to imagine my body and mind purified, my family and my possessions purified, my heart purified, building a house in paradise, on holy ground. I had a brief flash of vision — bright, bright colors, accompanied by a wash of gratitude. Shivers went up my spine.

Then I was over the bridge and back by the side of the road — the oncoming headlights much harsher now, the woods much darker. My mind flickered between my noisome surroundings and the flash of paradise I had seen. Step by step I came back down from whatever heights I’d ascended.

I was back in Feldman Park, almost home, when I stopped dead, and looked up, amazed. The streetlight directly above me — the one that had died before when I walked under it — was gently flashing back to life.

paradise.jpg

Comments

  1. Jeff, this is lovely! Sometimes I think–no, I’m certain–the most spiritually charged moments are those we don’t plan on, that arise spontaneously, and sometimes in the most improbable places. Holyoke, Mass.–on one hand, burned out mill-town, an urban wasteland. On another… gateway to the Otherworld. (We’re always on the edge of Avalonia, aren’t we?)

    I also loved the local geological information. When we listen, the land talks to us–says a fellow resident of the former Lake Hitchcock. (I’d love to meet you in person some time. Are you going to be visiting MerryMeet? Peter and I will be giving a workshop on Friday afternoon. Or perhaps we could manage either pizza or in a more diet-conscious vein, salads together sometime?)

    I am a bit uneasy about some of your reflections on the place of Guides that keep us out of harm, and the fate of men and women (and kids) in poverty, though. I don’t _think_ you are coming from that “we choose our own realities” place that New Agers love, but it seems pretty close.

    Here’s the thing, though. I agree with you that guilt is not required of us. Empathy and respect, yes–and being open to the leadings of Spirit that say, “Now–step in. Here you can help!”

    I remember the story one member of my Quaker meeting told once, of a day from her really horrific childhood, when she was heartbroken and without hope, and wound up stopping into–if my memory serves–a small diner for a glass of water, since she needed a refuge and had no money for anything on the menu. (I may be distorting the story, which I regret–it works as I remember it, but it was so powerful as told that I hate to cheat the truth of it by a single syllable.)

    Well, the man or woman behind the counter that day took a good look at her, and realized that something heavy was on this child’s heart. And, unasked, served up a hot fudge sundae–on the house.

    As I recall, my friend remembers that action as that person, “having been God” for her that day.

    It’s a tremendous honor, those moments when we can step in, and by dint of some compassion and respect, carry the love of whatever Gods are there for us. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes, the thing that carries the Guide or the Gods to a person who is need is you or me, slowing down and reaching out a hand, not out of guilt, but because we are open to carrying that Spirit at that moment. It’s not guilt that drives this–it’s our love for the Gods, and for the Gods reflected in one another’s eyes.

    I’ve been lucky enough to feel a few of those moments, both on the giving and the receiving end. While it’s important to let go of guilt, it would be a shame not to be open to other, more genuine and connected impulses to reach out, because those moments of being God, or having God touch us, are so wonderful.

    Probably not new thoughts to you, I know–just the other side of the coin I saw in your hand under that off, then on, streetlamp…

  2. Jeff,

    First of all — this is powerful and lovely and the structure of this article — with the light coming back on — magical enough in its manifestation — IF one chooses to see from a magical perspective — BECOMES pure magic in your voice and skill as a narrator.

    Avalon — Of course! I so strongly associate you with a sense of place and Avalon is always the name that comes to me first. I’ve long thought of it as metaphor, as the “place” evoked by your druid path, by the subjects you write about, the Celtic names and keywords I find here, and of course the collective influence of your illustrations… I’m not at all surprised to find, that once again, there is something so literal and common beneath the shimmery magic layer.

    I so often explore High Brow Literary Symbols and find the simple face of the symbolic plainly reflected — like a true beauty stripped of stage make-up…

    As for this issue of Guilt, Abundance, Worthiness — of course, I’ve written about this very topic again this week — but something I realize moving beyond what I’ve already said about our spiritual relationship with Money and now seeing it externalized in your different “details” :

    The desire to SAVE people is a form of controlling them. It is a presumption that we know something they don’t — or that their definitions of value would correspond with ours. We certainly can’t know their spiritual journey — it’s enough of a challenge figuring out why we manifest what we do, let alone start micro-managing anyone else’s path or reality.

    Not only is it not our place to “save” others, it’s not our RIGHT either. We can and should provide whatever is asked of us that we can in our desire to assist another — and you are right about the value being OURS, impacting our own relationship with gratitude and abundance — but it is not our place to decide or direct how those gifts and resources are employed.

    Even if we did know what’s “best” for another, by even behaving that way we are communicating a lack of faith in their own ability or more understanding of their challenges than we could ever have.

    I feel that the best way to show another person how to have Heaven on Earth is to set an example of what it looks like when YOU do just that — and let that serve as an inspiration for what is possible.

  3. Jeff, I agree with Slade. We can’t see the bigger picture of our own lives much less with someone else’s life. My belief is that we all come into each life with the necessary tools and situations (sometimes that is lack and poverty) to teach us the lessons that we decided we would do this lifetime. I know that without my childhood of incest and emotional abuse, I would not be on the spiritual journey that I have on today. Those early experiences have forced me to not be complacent about my journey and about who I am. If not for those early experiences, I would not be in a place to help others. I would not have the compassion to understand their plight. Let go of the guilt. All is it doing is keeping you stuck when you need to be moving forward. I know that because I have done guilt when I was younger. Love you and your journey. Thanks for sharing it with us other mortals.

  4. Jeff Lilly says:

    Cat, Slade, Patricia — thank you for your beautiful and inspiring replies. Cat, the wonderful story you told is definitely the essential other side of the coin. I used to have friends and relatives who would tell me not to give money or assistance to anyone on the street, since it would only be wasted. Even then, I could rarely follow that advice — it felt so cynical and heartless and judgmental. Today I never turn away anyone if I can help it. As you say, Slade, we can’t play God with people, in the sense of judging them or deciding their fates. “Even the Wise cannot see all paths.”

    There was a night I will never forget, about a year ago. I was standing at Times Square in New York City, waiting for a shuttle to take me back to my hotel. As it turned out, I was standing in the wrong place, so I stood there waiting for four hours. During that time, many, many people came and asked me for money. I had fifteen dollars on me, and needed five for the shuttle, so I gave away ten dollars in the first hour. Almost as soon as I had given away the last dollar I could part with, a new woman came up and begged me for money for her and her unborn baby. I couldn’t part with my last five… So she turned away bitterly, cursing me.

    This is the first time I’ve been able to think back on that incident without feeling terrible.

    I want to make sure something is clear here: when my wife read this, she said I sounded a little like I believed in predestination, i.e. that some people are fated to be poor and there was nothing we (or they) could do to help them. Not at all! I believe VERY strongly in free will, and our ability to reshape our circumstances. I am saying, though, that we cannot reshape another person’s circumstances without their consent; and, further, that their consent — their path — is enough to change their own circumstances, regardless of our own actions. But as Cat said, we, inspired by Spirit, can step in to be part of the process of their transformation, and it is a priceless privilege to do so.

  5. To save someone. . .

    I find it to be demeaning and patronizing.

    Saving someone is an action on a third person’s part. It purports your some sort of failure, a lazy person, someone who only deserves charity and not an opportunity to live your life the way you chose and by your own rules*. But the reality is, the one doing the saving has more power and resources than you do and is in a position to exploit you merely to feel better about themselves Look how charitable I am! Look how many more resources, money, power I have! I had the opportunity to save a girl from prostitution, keep a church from being sold, took in a stray dog, and so forth .

    Certainly someone who makes a million a year can “save” someone living on the street because they have the monetary resources (but do they have the emotional and mental resources? Or will they give up and walk away from their “project” and then blame the person they were trying to save by saying something like “they didn’t deserve it. They weren’t grateful enough. They were lazy?). In my opinion, anyone who *doesn’t* save another are more a failure and lazy than the homeless person, so long as the “saver” (savior?) subscribes to the same thought process.

    “Save” would be a good word of the day, if you haven’t already done it.

    *I fully understand there are many who have been shut out of the system due to economics and other controllable factors. I’m making this as basic as I can.

  6. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks for that perspective, Nio. I’ve been on unemployment before myself — with three other mouths to feed and another on the way, and a mortgage I couldn’t afford — and I’ll tell you I waited a LONG time before asking my relatives for money. And when I finally did, they were great about it. We simply got a check, no questions asked, no string attached. But I won’t quickly ask them again. As you say, being dependent is a hard pill to swallow.

    “Save” is a great idea for a word of the day; I actually talked about it some when I did “savior” back on July 12th: http://druidjournal.net/word-of-the-day/2007/07/12/savior/. As you say — your intuition is spot-on! — the sound of the word insinuates “gaining control” over something.

  7. I didn’t know about Avalonia. That is fascinating! Was this before or after the Appalachians formed?

    In college philosophy class, the professor lectured about the fact that no act can possibly be anything but self-serving. We weren’t allowed to ask questions, but I wanted to say: “What about the split second when you throw yourself into a car to save a kid?” I once lunged at a toddler who was standing in the seated part of a grocery cart just as the kid began to lose balance. For my trouble, the kid started wailing and the dad looked like he wanted to press charges. That didn’t bother me. It was a gut action, no thought process behind it at all.

    I do not believe that our free will governs everything that happens to us, that we completely choose our destiny. If that is the case, why do some kids die of cancer before they turn five? Do they take a look at the world, think it stinks, and will themselves to be sick?

  8. Jeff Lilly says:

    Anne,

    My understanding is that Avalonia was a separate continent before the formation of the Appalachians (which was also before the emergence of multicellular life, to put things in perpsective!). The event in which Avalonia was squished between North America, Africa, and Europe also built (one layer of) the Appalachians — specifically, the Acadian orogeny, which is primarily the northern half of the mountain chain. You can read more about it in the Wikipedia article.

    Now, I’m a long way from a philosophy professor, but I think I agree with both you and your professor on this one. 🙂 The key is that your action to save the child is of benefit to you especially if you’re acting selflessly and without prior thought. The benefit is a spiritual one, not a material one. If you throw yourself in the path of a train trying to save someone, and die in the act, with absolutely no thought of your own benefit, you still benefit spiritually. (It’s the only way you CAN benefit, because, y’know, you’re dead.) This kind of benefit is not one that philosophy usually thinks about.

    And dude, philosophy classes where you can’t ask questions? Hadn’t that guy ever heard of Socrates? Sheesh…

    As for the children who die so young, so painfully — obviously I can’t know the answer; but if Apollo is right, the higher selves of these children — their eternal spirits, who have likely had other lives before this one — may indeed have seen some benefit in a short, painful incarnation. It may be that the benefit was not specifically for themselves, but for the people touched by that child in life. The tragic life of a child like that can have profound positive effects on the family and community surrounding it. In that way, the higher self may be sort of selflessly “throwing itself in front of the train”.

  9. I enjoyed reading your post and I appreciate your sharing the experience. As I was reading though I took a step back to look at your highlighted areas… made me think of a tarot spread in a form a bridge focusing on the specifics areas as you did… Outside… the Burden, Purificiation…. Don’t know if you do any tarot work, I wonder if you could further expand, if needed.

    Thank you again for sharing….

  10. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thanks for your comment, Scarlet Begonia. That’s a very interesting idea — a Tarot spread based on those three ideas. I don’t know enough about the Tarot to consider myself an expert, but I could certainly see a spread like that being useful.

  11. That was unbelievably beautiful, Jeff. And I, too, am very interested and intrigued to hear about the geological past of (our) area–I had known that New England and Old England had one been connected but separated, but not that the land had been called Avalonia. So now I know I live in ancient Avalonia, and that the nearby Massachusetts town called Somerset is no accident, as Somerset England is named after the summer settlements around Glastonbury, (Avalon itself) when the marshes dried out and people could live there for the season. And also, when I visited that area of Old England a couple of years ago, why it was home.

    Thank you so much Jeff (once again) for sharing–your writing always makes me think and muse, a lot, and though I can’t quite articulate it right now, I know your blog (and others like Kara Leah’s) is instrumental in helping and guiding me towards my own answers. Thank you so very much.

  12. Jeff Lilly says:

    Thalia, it’s amazing to hear about your experiences with the two Somersets! I’ve never been to England myself — at least, not in this lifetime. 🙂 I’m delighted and grateful that you find my writings helpful, regardless of how or whether you articulate it!

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