Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘yin yang’

Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  172                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 157

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1144

As I climb on the bike today my thoughts are with my family, friends, students and fellow pilgrims who have shared words of encouragement with me as I experienced the mixed emotions associated with sending my eldest son off to his active duty station and most likely war.

Yin-Yang: Symbol for the Chinese concepts of harmony and complementary opposites. Acceptance of apparent contradictions as each phenomena is seen as containing some element of it’s opposite.  The universe is seen as moving in cycles that contain underlying harmony, this understanding is essential to understanding life and change.

I realize that any discussion about the military and armed conflict always draws mixed and sometime strongly held reactions from people.  This is even more the case when I consider that I am part of a very liberal and pluralistic faith and have reached out to a wide circle of open caring people who value compassionate relationships.  I realize that questions of the use and existence of the military raise deep concerns for many people.   

I find within myself an ongoing struggle between my positive memories of the military and my knowledge of the destructiveness that military service can visit on soldiers (I have worked with many PTSD survivors from WW2, Korea and Vietnam), and the innocent civilians who get caught up in the conflict (I heard horror stories of collateral damage from Vets).  I have received several strongly negative comments about my recent Facebook and Blog postings.  Many of them expressed the belief that the world would all be better off without a military and conflict/war. 

I whole heartedly agree that humankind and our planet would be better off if we could extinguish this incessant drum beat that has appeared throughout human history, leading our young men (and now young women) off to war.  Ideally I dream of a world where there is no anger, no bullying, no hatred, no racism, no killing, no conflict.  However, I am a realist and while I sometimes let myself dream of idyllic times, where we all coexist in peace, I realize that there are reasons why we need a social institution called the military. 

I believe we sometimes need to grab our shield and spears and man the ramparts in defense of our ideals and of higher good.  I recognize the danger that arm conflict can get wrapped up in ideology, the whole argument about a “just war” troubles me when it is tied to religious principles.  Far too many people have died in the name of God, as each side hurls the label of “heretic” at the other. 

As a Psychologist I ask myself what motivates this apparent “need” for a military.  I believe the military can serve two different but valid functions, one within the individual members (intrapersonal needs) and the other within a culture or society (interpersonal needs).  There  is a great deal of variations in how these needs manifest themselves, also they may differ across time (as evidenced by the fact that the US attack on Iraq represented the first time our nation attacked someone who had not first provoked us… now what was that all about?)

Some of the Intrapersonal needs comes about because of inner conflict, between parts of ourselves, or because we find our “world” under apparent attack (our idea of right and wrong challenged by gay marriage, abortion, growing numbers of minorities).  These frustrations can lead to a “lashing out” at others who are different from ourselves.  I tell my students that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what a “jihad” represents.  It is my understanding that we are to undertake a jihad against those forces within ourselves that block us from achieving a connection with the divine.  As often happens in religious and political undertakings (crusades, liberation movements, cults) the enlightened purpose behind a movement is lost when egotistical and self-serving motives take over. 

We all struggle with conflicting inner forces, we all have a dark side! I believe the critical thing is to find a balance between our inner forces.  Until we can find this balance inside ourselves we will not find it in our exterior world and our relationship with others.  My son struggles, as I have struggled, in a constant yin and yang balance between desires and ideals.  The military with its multitude if new experiences and new views helped me find my balance, I hope that it might do the same for my son.

Another dynamic that comes into play are Interpersonal needs.  I have repeatedly lamented the dichotomous thinking that we see so prevalent in our society.  This form of thinking manifests itself in the “win – lose” and “us versus them” arguments spewed forth by “hot heads” on both sides of the political and religious spectrum.  What is particularly problematic about this form of thinking is that when one group (political party, race, culture or church) chooses to take this perspective, seeing everything as warfare or a win or lose game, it puts great pressure on other groups to assume the same stance.

 Peace and harmony between people only works if both sides decide that this is the overriding goal.  True peace and harmony is not imposed on vanquished by a victor it is a choice made by both sides to compromise and find common ground.  When one side amasses an arsenal the other side has to respond in like.  I do not believe that the response must always be in the direction of a stronger force, if you have leaders with foresight and a greater understanding, the response can be one of compassion and a measured strike at those directly responsible (the actual terrorist or the individual despot leader) you do not have to destroy a whole country.  If you mean to counter a radical ideology you do not need to demonize a whole religion or ethnic group.

Examples of the “Yin and Yang” of life abound all about us.  You see it in nature, in the lives of animals, in our inner self, in our community and our nations. Let us never cease striving for balance for a healthy perspective, for a lessening of conflict and an acceptance of differences.  Let us never cease the struggle to be loving caring compassionate beings!

If you have enjoyed the blog please sign up for stationarypilgrim’s e-mail notification by going to the upper right corner of this page!

Read Full Post »

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  57                              Consecutive Days Blogging: 58

Today’s Mileage:   10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 512

Today we are heading up Fort Myers beach and will soon turn inland toward our next pilgrimage site. Tomorrow is a special religious day for the Buddhists and a celebration of an important Christian doctrine, the Immaculate Conception.  The following day will represent our two month anniversary on the Pilgrimage journey!

Fallen Giant with exposed roots

As I ride, a specific image hovers in my mind.  Yesterday we strolled along the beach at Lovers Key celebrating the shoreline and the beauty of nature.  One photo displayed a line of dead trees. I called it “Shoreline Sentinels.”  What I did not post was a photo of a tree that had been uprooted.  This scene got me thinking about trees and their spiritual significance. 

Symbolic for many faiths.

Trees have been used as symbols for individuals, communities, and churches.  The roots are the anchor, embedded deep in whatever substrate (dogma) the church holds as truth (sacred scripture and/or sacred experiences). Trees without strong roots might not thrive being prone to fall over in times of  stress in life.  The trunk of the tree must be strong and sturdy, like the structure of a church (leadership, buildings,mission).  A thin or rotten trunk may give way and split in the face of life’s storms. The branches and leaves provide protection from the heat and rain. They capture the light of the divine, transforming it into life giving sustenance (fruit). A sick or diseased tree will not provide fruit or shade and may become little more than a skeleton.  It is easy to see why some of the early earth based wisdom traditions actually worshiped trees. Trees provided shade, shelter and sustenance and were recognized as central to their lives.  Many faiths see in the tree a symbol for the wisdom needed to survive in challenging times.

Shaped by stone and flexability.

 Once a mighty tree falls over, whether at the hands of nature or of man, we are afforded a rare opportunity to see signs of a monumental struggle which all too often goes unnoticed! I became aware of this struggle years ago as I would hike around the “clear cut” areas of southern rural forest land.  In forming their lumbering roads the large metal monster machines would push aside trees stumps exposing the hidden root structures.  I learned to come back a year or two later, after the rains had done their job and the delicate roots lay exposed, the thin root bark peeling away. 

Bonsai Roots!

Swirl and flow.

When the soil was rocky the roots took on the quality of water!  Like a stream or river, rocks did not stop the roots but instead diverted the root’s “flow.”  Roots would become stunted and twisted, sometimes forming a bulb or a disk.  If you pulled away the loose bark you might find swirls and eddies etched into the wood, like fossilized patterns of flowing water. We tend to take it for granted that the tree’s struggle is with the elements above the ground, the wind, fire, lack of rain, insects like the pine beetle and crowding of neighbors. From the moment the seed sends out its first root, the struggle between life and the inanimate world begins and continues till the inanimate world wins!

Old man with tablet!

Several years ago in a shop featuring items from China, I came upon a piece of artwork.  Into a tree root had been carved the figure of an old Chinese man.  It was one of several different root carvings in the store.  However, this one was special, for embedded deep within the wood protruded a square rock, like a book or tablet.  The natural curve of the wood, like the old man’s arm, cradled this inanimate object like it was a sacred text.  I purchased it on the spot!

Recently when I visited the store they remembered me as the guy “who bought the carving with the stone.” It’s a powerful image and symbol!

It makes a statement about the constant, even if unseen struggles of life.  It speaks to the need for persistence and flexibility in meeting life’s challenges.  Obstacles can strength us, impediments can be incorporated into our structure, even in death we can be a source of wisdom about the process of life. This is the “wisdom of the wood.”

Read Full Post »

Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding: 48                             Consecutive Days Blogging: 49

Today’s Mileage:  10                                        Total Trip Mileage: 419

 

Holidays and Holy Days on November 26:

Waqf al ArafaIslamic observance day during Hajj when pilgrims pray for forgiveness and mercy.

Day of the CovenantBaha’i celebration of the covenant given in the last will and testament of Baha’u’llah

Holidays and Holy Days on November 27:

Eid al-AdhaIslamic Feast of Sacrifice. The most important feast of Islam. It concludes the Hajj and is a three-day festival recalling Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to Allah.

__________________________________________________

I hope that everyone has recovered from the Thanksgiving Day feasting!  I would like to start off by apologizing to my Muslim and Baha’i friends for failing to note the significant Holy Days associated with yesterday.  I was preoccupied with getting my posting up so my mother could see it as she visited my sister’s gathering.  I would also like to ask everyone to hold the Hajj pilgrims in your prayers. There has been severe flooding in Saudi Arabia and a many pilgrims have died.

As I ride the bike today and note the mileage and calorie count climb, I am reminded of the simple truth about journeys. One might take a break to replenish supplies and energy, but then you have to get back on the road or risk being overwhelmed with the urge to sit “just a little while longer.”  It felt good to indulge in a feast of celebration but it feels good to return to my bike and the pilgrimage.

I decided to use today’s posting to address an issue I left unfinished from the beginning of this journey.  What the meaning and significance of my Pilgrim Symbol?  During this holiday season I am sure there have been a number of shocked and puzzled individuals who have goggled the term” Pilgrim” expecting to see hats with buckles and the Mayflower.  Instead they found this strange, reclined humanlike figure surrounded by a multitude of foreign symbols. I know this is the case as this aspect of my Blog site is the most consistently reviewed by outside searches! Perhaps it’s time I reveal the meaning of the symbols I used to create the image. 

The Human Form:

1)      Reclining human form – this is representative of the stationary aspect of my journey and the fact that my bike is one you recline into rather than sit perched on the seat.

2)      The contrasting halves to the human form – this is representative of the dualistic experience we often have of our physical body.  It is the source of pleasure (light) and pain (dark), we often celebrate it as the vehicle on our journey but then curse it for the desires associated with it.  The whole mind/body or physical/spirit dilemma is wrapped up in this dualism.

3)      The Yin Yang symbol – this is the Chinese symbol pointing to the illusion of dualism, that they are forces locked into an eternal spinning dance.  In addition, within each region is the seed of the other.  If you look close enough at Life you will find that Death often prepared the way for it. The purpose of this symbol is to pull the viewer out of this illusion to see both as part of a process. Reality is about the dance between life and death, between good and evil, it transcends these dualities. This insight represents an important part of my intellectual philosophy which is why it comprises the figures’ head.

The Wheel: literally represents the wheel of my bike, but is full of symbolic meaning. 

4)      Ouroboros: The snake grasping it’s tail – is a symbol in many early faiths for the cyclical nature of things; the eternal return as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end, like a day or the seasons. The importance of seeing our journey as a series of cycles embedded within each other represents a personal insight that helps me to “keep things in perspective.”

5)      The Zen Circle – represents the entire universe in a single, perfect stroke.  Although simple, it is difficult to paint successfully and thus must be done with a clear mind focused on the task. This reminds me to always strive for mindfulness!

6)      The Buddhist Eight Spoked Wheel – one of the early symbols of Buddhism, it represents the Eight Fold Path, the path towards Enlightment.  Each spoke represents one of the “right” forms of wisdom, ethical conduct and moral development. My youngest son was quick to point out to me that some of the spokes do not touch the outer part of the wheel.  I noted that this indicates that I fall short of following the dictates of all of the spokes.

7)      The Compass Points – are represented by the horizontal and vertical spokes embedded within the circle. A reminder to always check our “bearings,” to look up from our path to ensure that we still on the desired path and not lost.

8)      The Quadrants of a Mandala – the horizontal and vertical spokes also divide the circle into quarters. The teaching Mandala of the eastern faiths (i.e. The Buddhist Wheel of Life) typically has as a structure of a circle divided into four components. This reminds me that parts of the cycles of life may look and feel significantly different, but if you step back, you will see them as part of the whole.

      The Staff: my actual staff is not nearly so straight, but sturdy and bent like the back of an old man.

9)      The Walking Stick – pilgrims throughout the world are often seen with a staff as they prod along on their journey.  As a hiker I can attest to the usefulness of a walking stick; to test the ground before us, to lean on and to anchor us as we climb up and down the ridges and peak along the path.  One of my artist endeavors are Taoist Walking Sticks, wall hangings made from sticks, roots, bones, seeds and feathers.  I find these things on my hikes and nature walks.

A Taoist Wlaking Stick by StationaryPilgrim

A Taoist Walking Stick by StationayPilgrim

10)  Grasping the Staff – the reclining figure holds the staff as a reminder that we can’t make this journey alone, we need support at times, whether that be in the form of words of guidance, encouragement or just a hug to lighten the emotional load.

11)  The Cross – the universal symbol of Christianity.  A symbol of sacrificial love and redemption, a reminder of the “devotional” path to the divine.  For me personally it is also a reminder of my Christian roots, the years of Catholic education continue to form a part of my supportive foundations.

12)  The Prayer Flag Banner – I have talked before about the use of prayer flags in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  This is a reminder that we carry with us the needs and struggles of those we love know and meet along our path; that every step we take, all of our actions serve to “flutter” the prayer flag, sending these offerings of praise and prayers of request to “the heavens.” Whether in good or difficult times, we should remember those we carry with us.

       The Top of the Staff: The source of illumination and direction

13)  The Chalice and Flame – the symbol for my Unitarian Universalist faith.  Holding high the light of pluralism, love, understanding and acceptance. For me this represents the shared communal knowledge that helps to light my way.

14)  The Godhead – one of the most sacred symbols of Hinduism is the Sacred Om.  It represents not only the sacred sound (mantra), but is a visual symbol of the various states of consciousness (waking, sleeping, dreaming and God consciousness).  In the upper part of the symbol is a small point (consciousness of God) that is separated from the other forms of consciousness.  The consciousness of God is not found outside of us, although it maybe perceived as being outside, but deep within us.  However, our realization of this fact is blocked by or identification with our body and ego. Placed at the top of the staff, it is a reminder of the mystical knowledge and experience that continues to fuel my journey and provide an inner source of light.

15)  Neptune’s Trident or Hindu Trihsula – one viewer noted that the upper portion of the staff appeared to be a trident; a water symbol and representative of creativity.  I hadn’t seen this till she pointed it out, highlighting that symbolic images are always interpreted through the viewers’ eyes and experiences.  In the Hindu faith, this is symbolic of the irresistible force of transcendental reality and of the three powers: Will, Action and Wisdom.  I cannot look at the image now without seeing the trident, representative perhaps of my Zodiac water sign (Pisces) and my expanding creativity.

       Background Features: I did not include these features initially but added them as I began the Pilgrimage recognizing them as important to the process of the journey.

16)  The Disappearing Tracks – the tire and staff tracks; we should travel through life aware of the marks we leave of our passage.  I believe the most important traces are not great monuments, but are how we touch others, hopefully in positive loving ways. Also, I think it goes without saying, we should not leave any road kill (victims) along our path!

17)  The Sky, Mountains, and Water – one of the defining features of Taoism is its use of nature to illustrate the lessons and process of life. An openness and admiration of nature (the growth/beauty and death/ugliness) allows the messages and insights to come to us, and promote the possibility of Nature Mystical Experience.

18)   The Road or Pathway – we are all on a path, heading somewhere.  Some people like a populated path, other prefer one “less travelled.” Some people want a mapped out path, others prefer to make their own. Some people choose the smoothest they can find, others like to “mountain bike” it.  Existentialists believe that we must find our own meaning or purpose in life, that meaning defines our path.  Being a teacher, parent, artist, lover, blogger gives my life meaning. Our meaning has to conform to life’s challenges, like growing old, but it is largely a matter of choice! We choose our path and we can always choose to change it!

One last note before I leave this discussion, concerning the difference between signs and symbols.  Generally speaking signs are denotive, they represent an object or direction. Like a wheelchair figure on the handicap sign or the “danger” message of the skull and cross bones.  Where as symbols are more connotive, they are meant to arouse emotions and maybe representative of something else. Like a swastika, which is a Hindu sign of peace that now evokes a sense of “evil” in the western world. Some signs and symbols have a universal quality and have meaning easily recognized by different cultures, others are unique and a person must “learn” the meaning of the sign or the appropriate emotions and ideas associated with a symbol.

My Pilgrim’s Symbol is meant to be connotive and arouse emotions and thoughts in the viewer.  You may see what I had intended, or as represented by the trident example, you might see things I had not intended.  Are you wrong and I’m right?  No!  I believe that useful symbols allow a person to see what they need to see, present them with some lesson/thought for them to process.  I would only ask the viewer to take an open approach to the experience of the symbol.  If you see more meanings then I noted these are potentially useful personal insights!  If you pull back in horror or out of rejection, these are potentially insightful personal reactions!

Read Full Post »