Reflections on 2013: Year of Burning Embers

Burning Embers: This year was a bed of burning coals we witnessed the visions of which induced by traversing trials and challenging moments and enduring much in the way of pain and difficult terrain, our feet lacerated and inflamed, our hearts overflowing with emotion too intense to contain, a rite we pass across and emerge from manly and mature. 

Vision Quest: In native american traditions, a shaman-to-be leaves his tribe and ventures forth into the forest in pursuit of his inspiration from the forces at work behind the scenes, aided by plant or fungal windows into the divine. Many succumb to the forcefulness of this at times terrible encounter with the unconscious, revealing as it does the hidden truths that sting with barbaric fury, and unleashing highs and lows of emotion most are not equipped to endure. A few months ago, I read Carl Jung’s autobiographical work, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and was very impressed with his modern day venturing forth in the tradition of those venerable natives. He talks at length about his own personal experiences as he dealt with precisely such an encounter. I was very much inspired by his skillful response to the traumas that unfold from the depths of the mind, channeling them into works of art and creative expressions. I have been on my own vision quest for the past five years that has carved out a very winding path through this mountainous mindscape. This summer witnessed its rekindled beginning with the discovery of virtual currency and the darknet. Climaxing at a massive tribal gathering of 400,000 revelers come to dissolve into a collective pulsation of song and dance known as the Electric Daisy Carnival, this quest has carried me through many Dionysian celebrations of existence and donned me with the feathers and garments of he who has seen. One such vision that vividly colored these excursions into subterranean depths was the state of decay and eventual death that befalls the elderly among us. This proved to be a potent foreshadowing of the major event of the year, the death of my esteemed and revered grandfather. The images followed me continually and shadowed my every step, invading even the recesses of my comfort-clad dreams. 

Elder Branch Falls: I was informed of his passing as I prepared to begin my seventh Vipassana retreat in september and struggled to get in touch with my parents to decide whether I was going to attempt to fly to Lebanon to attend his funeral. In the end I decided to stay and sit the course and this proved quite appropriate, furnishing me my own way to bid his soul a solemn farewell, silently meditating on the perils of life and death, suffused with the onslaught of memories arising from the hidden depths of my mind, bidden by his sudden disappearance to conjure up what remains of him stored in the gyri and sulci of my gnarled cortex, and to drink the auras of his now-gone imposing presence and to consume the legendary lessons of his noble legacy. Many such lessons revealed themselves only after his passing, having been taken for granted as water is for water-dwellers until they are forcibly pulled out of their dwelling. The most important of these is the delicate balance that he was masterful at maintaining between diplomatic negotiation and authoritative decisiveness. He was a king, poised at the head of a large and influential family, and as such was expert at maintaining cordial relations intra- and inter-familially. His passing extracted me from under that protective shadow he had always provided me, and catalyzed the turning of a chapter for my faint sapling that had thus far struggled to stand on its own. It was a very tangible process within me, like the gradual but ultimately undeniable transformation from soft green stem to hard brown bark. He was caring and compassionate and his foremost concern was for the welfare of the noble family he presided over. I felt myself being prepped by cosmic forces for the filling of that role emptied by his demise, as if a hidden reserve of power had been released from his lifeless body and transferred over into his surviving descendants. He and my grandmother were pillars of support for the rest of our extended family; his body failing him over the last two years was accompanied by her mind’s degeneration. She is left in a heartbreaking state of perpetual forgetfulness and confusion. I have just returned from her side in Lebanon, where I flew to comfort her and conduct her emotions to greener pastures than the painful memories of his unshakeable presence juxtaposed with the vague apprehension of his impossible absence. Hers is a terrible fate to bear at the culmination of such a saintly life. Her heart is of the purest gold and her kindness and generosity are unequaled across the globe. It is a consoling smile of karma that she was blessed with a caring nurse to enfold her aching heart and soothe her blistered mind. My prayers are with her always, balancing his firmness as she ever was with her gentleness. May their legacies carry far and inspire many, and may this family continue in the vision he had been caretaker of for his brief moment, then passed along in its continued journey across the ages. 

Lion Unfazed: This image is the first of two pregnant visions that came to me while meditating during the sumer retreat that I referred to above. I witnessed a ferocious storm sweeping over a battered canyon and hurling thunder and elements everywhere. Sitting atop the tallest precipice was a figure diametrically opposed to the scenery: a lion firmly planted and unfazed as he surveyed the cliff with tranquil eyes. Despite the fury of the wind disheveling his mane, his demeanor displayed the utmost serenity and calm abiding. This image gave me strength and inspired me to seek out the inner reserves of endurance needed to wax mature and face the turbulence of reality with manly resilience. The second image, though less tumultuous, was similar in the symbolic message: a camel’s long tongue outstretched and wrapping itself around a hideously thorny branch, and most disconcerting was the manner in which the tongue willingly massaged itself with the branch, pressing hard against the spines until they dug deep into it. There was a similar sort of resilience against pain – though perhaps more literal – in this image as with that of the lion. 

“Hope Springs Eternal”: This was a year of gigantic extremes of emotion, woven together into the same moments that transpired. Exemplifying this is the very short trip to Lebanon I have just returned from, where I witnessed the most abject sadness I have ever felt, first for my grandpa’s passing and second for my grandma’s resultant situation. But in the midst of this sadness was interspersed extreme happiness and joy as I celebrated my cousin’s engagement and the beautiful ceremony that I had the honor of being a part of, as well as the happiness of being united with my family in my home country and visiting places and sceneries I had always been surrounded by since my earliest days. All this took place in a war zone, amidst bombs and refugees and murder on a national scale. To be able to see the kindling of such depth of joy in a place of such dramatic misery and pain was very illuminating to me. It was the starkest message of the intertwined nature of joy and sorrow I had yet experienced. 

Spirit’s Detour: One of my only resolutions last year was to maintain my practice of Vipassana for at least one year exactly as instructed. However, for reasons that I am only now beginning to understand, I have not been able to fulfill this goal. I am now on an extended hiatus from the strict discipline of the path that I had believed myself to be treading. You see, I had committed myself to this path at age 20 and have not had much chance to experience worldly life unrestrained by its forceful fetters of so-called discipline and submission to loftier goals. At this point in my life, I am removing all restraints and putting all faith in my own intellect and decision-making. This is not to say that I have stopped meditating, but have merely stopped trying to live a life dominated by it. Meditation is still a part of my life, but it now plays the role of a helpful practice to be sought out as time permits and to be brought into the rest of my life, not the other way around as I had been trying for these past five years, namely to bring the rest of my life into accordance with a predetermined regimen of meditation. My meditation teacher S. N. Goenka passed away this year; he was about the same age as my grandpa and they died within a month of each other. The passing of these two pillars of my mind has called forth within me the desire to begin the process of constructing my own pillar. Though I have always walked my own path, I have not been bold in my authoritativeness nor have I been courageous in my forging of this unique path of my individuality. Every seed yields a plant that blooms when the time comes, and eventually buds as the innocent petals of its carefree youth are shed. I have a strong faith in the ultimate grandeur of life’s expressions, and the hidden meanings underneath all the mean and mundane moments we must endure and muster ourselves to traverse in the manner of our elders mixed with the experiences we gather in our brief lifespans. 

Caveman Desires: This was yet another image furnished by the quest for such that took place during this year, and became a label for a bold project that I proposed but ultimately had to put on hold due to lack of resources. It occurred when I was contemplating what a caveman would think and feel if suddenly revived or somehow brought into our chaotic and bewildering 21st century. It came to symbolize an idea for a product that I had suddenly envisaged and am still very confident would be a huge success. There was simply never any time available to devote to the development of this idea into a marketable product. This may yet come to pass, assuming nobody else takes the idea and runs with it before me. But, there is a broader significance to this incident: it represents the birth of the financially and entrepreneurially ambitious side of me. I have come to realize that I possess a rare and fruitful mind that I would like to utilize lest it whither away and its hidden potentials remain unwatered. This is continuing to grow and to motivate me in unprecedented ways, waking me earlier than usual and bidding me to develop myself in far-reaching ways and to apply myself to tackling the largest problems with the world’s best minds. A phrase that I learned from my dear friend Nicco continues to resound within my consciousness: “If not me, then who?” 

Man and Woman: It is curious that it took me this long to learn many of the courting lessons our youths pick up intuitively. Ultimately, we must each walk a unique path, and mine has brought so much development in other realms that I needed to wait awhile to learn my place in this social-sphere as a man. Perhaps it derives from having taught classes for over a year now and having been placed in positions of authority enough times to cultivate my confidence and the ability to address a large audience. This helped me greatly in my ability to capture the interest of the opposite sex. This was never a problem for me in the past for those that knew me, but the problem was always one of first impressions, never my strong suit due to inbuilt shyness and lack of confidence handed down to me from previous generations, but also formed in my days as a schoolboy. The beginnings of the transcendence of this weakness of character built momentum rapidly and very soon began to compound upon itself. What is strange about this is that it somehow feels like a relapse into an older behavior pattern of mine – albeit in a greatly refined and matured fashion – one that was beginning to emerge in my final year in high school. What derailed that trajectory was the desire to undertake a vision quest and the subsequent discovery of meditation and the launching of my spiritual path. At this curious junction in my lifepath, it seems as though I am finding a middle ground upon which I am able to blend the lessons extracted from this quest with the larger trajectory of my life, that I have always known myself to be on. It required the tempering influence of all that I have learned in these intervening five years. Now that I have emerged, I feel ready to tackle all the challenges that this life will undoubtedly hurl at me. And most importantly, I feel ready to seek out the partner of my life and to be capable of sifting through the fish in the sea for the one that will raise my children and continue this noble line of kings. In regards to this, I’d like to say one word of thanks to Emma, my relationship with whom was shattered in spring, upon my return from a week of service at the Vipassana center. She was instrumental in helping me to discover my confidence and my role as a man in a relationship. Though that relationship did not survive, it will always remain in my heart as a time of exceeding sweetness and deep love that is quite rare to find in this rocky world of ours. 

Miscellany of Growth: A few other events are worth noting. My professional life has continued to mature and develop as I attended two more conferences this year – the former, JSNC, more of a symposium, and the latter, SfN, the largest neuroscience conference in the world – and received praise and constructive criticism for my work. My growth as an academic is continuing daily, and I feel myself to be more and more an integral part of the scientific community. The second event happened just a few days ago when I was visiting my late grandfather’s estate which now belongs to my dad and the large farm that he has been busy developing and growing. It was ennobling to see my grandfather’s life’s work surviving him and being passed down the generations, the feeling that it will one day be mine stronger than it had ever been during his life. This drove me to try to be more involved in my dad’s running of the estate, and to take on more responsibility within the family.

Burning Embers: As I have already said, this was a year of great difficulties, which have taught me to meet life with a layer of the thickest skin, ready to endure the toughest challenges and to face the most raging of storms smilingly. I AM A MAN, and the world will come to know it. I shall stamp my mark on this rock, without loosing my grip on the thread of love and compassion binding us all together. 

May I be happy, and through me, may all beings be happy!

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