The Physics of Desire

Wednesday night I had the honor of sharing poems “in praise of the earth” with seven beautiful and talented Santa Cruz poets. Here’s one of the poems I read.


The Hunger That Crosses the Bridge Between

The physicist studies photons and particles,

while the seeker watches the sweet pea blossom

and waits at dawn for the hummingbird to sip its nectar.

What brings us to our knees before the altar of the holy?

In the darkness below ground,

what stirs inside the seed of the sweet pea?

In the moment when you strike the match,

what calls fire out of the sulfur tip?

It’s the physics of desire,

and God writes the equation for its fulfilling

in every place we might look.

(Title from Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

In praise of the earth poets
In Praise of the Earth Poets

A Temple in Time

On the winter solstice a few days before I turned fifty, I rose before dawn, smudged with burning sage, and drove to a park overlooking the ocean where I could walk in silence and plan a ritual for my upcoming birthday. Although I didn’t know it then, my musings that morning turned out to be the genesis for this blog.

The sickle of the old moon hung in the eastern sky, and frost glazed the fields. As the sun rose over the hills behind me, I knelt and touched my forehead to the earth “for all my relations.” Two days earlier I’d asked a friend who was turning seventy if she had any words of wisdom to share. “Know yourself and accept who you are,” she answered. Her advice was in my mind as I pulled the hood of my down jacket up over my head and walked towards the ocean.

From the cliff I watched sandpipers on the beach below race away from an oncoming wave, then chase it as it receded, and they reminded me exactly of the frenetic way that I plunge into activities, then rush through them so I can hurtle into the next item on my to-do list. I work fulltime, I commute, and I never have time for everything I want to do: read novels, garden, knit a sweater, hike, cook dinner for friends, listen to my beloved play love songs on the ukulele … Sometimes I also worry about money and being alone in my old age and whether I’m a good enough person, but mostly I’m tormented by a lack of time. Who was I? A person afraid of not having enough.

Yet here I was looking out at the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean in a wide open morning lush with stillness and winter sunlight. The night before, my writing sisters had sent me off into the silence of this sacred world with laying on of hands and blessings, and now the whole day lay before me. How could I really feel that I didn’t have enough?

Then an NPR story I’d recently heard on my way to work suddenly came to mind: about how climate change is making the world’s oceans so acidic that many sea creatures can no longer survive there. I gazed out at the Pacific. From up here it looked peaceful and pure. Further out beyond the shelter of Monterey Bay gray whales were hurrying south to the lagoons of Baja where they would mate and give birth in a few months. This blue ocean that stretched further than my eye could see had always seemed to me like the great mother, the epitome of bounty, yet in her unseen depths the creatures that called her home might be dying.

We actually don’t have enough, I thought. Not enough clean air to keep our climate stable, not enough oil, food, water …

But on the heels of this thought followed a crucial phrase: we don’t have enough if we keep using it as we have been. If we as a species somehow decided to start being good stewards, there would be enough. Maybe not a superabundance, but enough. And what was true of the human population on the planet was true for me in my personal life too. Yes, there are limits. My time in this body is finite, and I can only do so much, but if I recognize my limits and use my time, energy, and money wisely, I have enough, not so much that I can squander it, but enough for what is important.

Is that what this blog is all about? Triage and time management? When I told my sister about “The Kingdom of Enough,” she said, “So it’s about simplifying your life?” Well, yes, I imagine writing about the virtues of thrift and sustainable living, but I also envision more. Life is short, and we live in a crazy, consumer culture that is busy bombarding us with demands and desires, yet in the cave of every heart peace reigns. I want to explore how to touch that grace.

Later on that winter solstice morning, I climbed down to the beach and collected small gray stones polished smooth by the ocean, cradled them in my hand and hoped the years were polishing me in the same way. A little cove offered a meditation spot, and for a long time I sat alone with the sound of the surf and chirping birds. I felt like I was in a temple in time. Yes, constraints exist for me as an embodied creature, but in the life of the spirit there are no clauses or caveats. The soul has all eternity, and the power of love is infinite.

 

A Map to the Kingdom

Let me draw myself a map

out of my world of scarcity

into the kingdom

where everyone has enough.

The map I’m talking about

requires a subtle yet revolutionary algorithm

to rewrite the neuronal pathways of my brain.

Let my ears hear the soft call to prayer

from the cave of my heart

instead of the 21st-century symphonic blast

begging me to worship at the altar of the mall

and buy more apps for my iPhone.

The promise of productivity

and the buzz of news and games

want to trick me into believing

they can fill me up and give me purpose.

But no.

Rewire the neurons,

and let me rejoice in the gift of each moment

instead of fretting about what I don’t have time for.

Then I can find the cartographers

who will collaborate with me

in mapping our way to the kingdom of enough.

In that place time is the currency,

and relationships are all we want to buy.

 

Mary Camille Thomas