with Trudi Lee Richards
Show Notes – Episode #1:
A Back Door to Transcendence
How I got myself into this…
I’ve always been a ham, always loved to read my poems and stories aloud to as many spellbound listeners as possible – but aside from the occasional poetry reading, it’s never been that easy to find an audience. It got worse when I started singing – by then I was already an old person in a youth culture, and who was going to listen? I had pretty much resigned myself to singing and otherwise spouting off in the shower when I discovered that my grown kids and their friends – currently my prime preaching target – all love podcasts. So it was a no-brainer…
What do I have to say that’s worth listening to?
Here’s my message: We Do Not Die.
And yes, I’m serious. No matter what you believe, I’ll wager you are at least secretly fascinated with death and the possibility of transcendence, especially these days…
We all know we’re going to die and we have no idea what that means, so most of us are afraid of death. And that fear is not just personal – it’s social and cultural, and has been with us since long before the current health and climate crises we’re facing. At least in the west, our culture has been staunchly in denial of death for centuries, even millennia.
Maybe that’s why many if not most of our institutions are designed to turn our attention anywhere but towards our unthinkable end. Look how much time we spend glued to our screens in the grip of shopping, gambling, gaming, overworking, thrill-seeking, finding our soul mate… Whatever else we are doing with those pastimes, they work like a charm to distract us from whatever we don’t want to think about – namely death and everything else that makes us think of our ultimate doom.
Even so, having such an enormous elephant in the room has got to make us all uncomfortable, at least on some level. So I say let’s bring death out in the open, let’s talk about it.
And if we’d really rather not die at all, let’s rebel against death!
Rebelling against death – the practical approach to living
I’m not just talking about feeling better. Rebelling against death turns out to be the best, most practical tool for living effectively. Death and everything that reminds me of death and loss (eg the pandemic, climate change, getting too fat, my children’s troubles, etc. etc.) scares me, and my fear is paralyzing. Fear saps me of energy, makes me want to do nothing but hide in a dark corner and huddle in front of the TV with a carton of chocolate ice cream.
The only way I can un-paralyze myself is to say screw that, I’m going to live the way I want to live, death or no death! Then I very irrationally but very intentionally look at the future as though it were endless and full of promise – and suddenly I’m full of energy and courage to fight the good fight.
“There is no meaning in life if everything ends with death.”
Those are the words of South American sage Silo, who also says “Death is the biggest illusion there is.”
OK – maybe death is an illusion – but it’s one we all believe in as fervently as we used to believe in the monster under the bed. And with good reason, because it’s obvious we’re going to die.
So what’s the way out? Clearly, reason isn’t going to cut it. Instead, in this podcast we’re taking our cue from the happiest and most “well-adjusted” people we know, those irrational optimists who dare to live as if they were never going to die.
Because that’s the only thing that works with death – if you face him head on, he’ll whack your head off. But he won’t even notice you if you slip in the back way, through the door of the heart, to meet the Winged Lioness and her holy arsenal – meditation, prayer, poetry, storytelling, music…
Me and Mr. Bach
I was twelve years old, a curious, lonely, enraptured child, full of forebodings about the mysterious future. One evening when my parents and my little brother and sisters were all busy with their various pursuits, I felt like listening to music by myself.
Retreating to my mother’s music room, I put on a recording of J.S. Bach’s Musical Offering and lay down on the cool wood floor to listen.
My mother was a music teacher, and was always blasting classical music through the house, so I’d heard this piece before – but I’d never really listened.
That evening, lying there in solitude, gazing up into the dark, I did listen. Abandoning myself to the music, I let the pristine, untrammeled construction of melody and rhythm fill me and carry me upward, upward and upward, suffusing me with bliss…
Until at the peak of this rapture, recognition filled me, and I knew through and through, deep in my bones and to the ends of the earth, that All Is Well. Without the slightest doubt, and with utter relief, I knew that Life is Sublime, and that there was nothing to fear, because Life held me close, and would always guide me.
Hushed in the Sublime, I rode that clear, sweet tidal wave until it spread out in silent ripples, a sea of peace washing clean all Time.
The music ended, and I lay there a long time, tears streaming down my face…
And so the music of Bach became my refuge. After that, even though I was still a lonely misfit, I was never alone. Writing or drawing or cooking or dreaming at home I would listen to Bach, and when I went out, I carried Bach’s music in my heart.
Soon after that first meeting with Bach, I began to see the People Singing. In my mind I would imagine the joyous masses flooding the streets all around the world, all humanity lifting their voices together singing Bach, joy surging in their veins, all guilt and grief and fear assuaged.
This vision comforted me deeply – I was sure that if the people could sing Bach, the world would be transformed.
The slow years of my youth passed, and finally I was no longer a child, and the world called. Shy as a whisper, terrified yet needing life and love with a clamorous, bleak longing, I ventured out on my own, carrying Bach in my heart.
I wandered far and wide in those days, a flower child wearing nothing but an orange parachute for a dress, looking and looking for love. In all my longing and all my lonely searching, Bach was with me, guiding me.
Only once did he fail me – and that was not his fault. It happened one day when I swallowed a blue pill that instead of bringing me love and light, hurled me into a solipsistic hell in which life was nothing but a cruel and meaningless joke. Emerging at last from that drugged defeat, sweating and sick, I put on my Bach – and heard nothing but empty banging. My world collapsed. For months after that, I was in despair.
Through all that, even though I did not know it, Bach stayed with me, silent but true. A dear friend came to my rescue, and little by little my heart rebuilt itself, and Bach sang forth again, and life grew full, and love spread its wings in my heart.
It was only much later that I understood what had flung me into that hell. I had tried to use my rational mind to wrestle the heavens from their heights, and the beautiful tool of reason had turned on me and left me nothing but a hollow, whimpering husk…
But that was nothing that Bach and the joy of life were not equal to. Contrary to my horrified belief during that nightmare, even my trip to hell had a meaning. That was what drove me to look, avidly, single mindedly and without ceasing, for meaning in life – something that without looking, no one ever finds…
That was many, many years ago. Since then I have lived with Bach never too far away, and have taken refuge in him over and over. The music of Bach spans everything, from the Abyss to the heights; it transforms everything, makes everything sacred, touches the Being of my being.
Sometimes I neglect Bach for a while – and when I once again let him wash over me, I blush with joy, and can only prostrate myself before the glory of Life – or, as Bach himself would probably say, the Glory of God – a terminology I am fine with, because even though I belong to no church and no religion, I think I know – or at least I have an inkling of – what he means by “God.”
I also know one more thing: I know that the day of the People Singing is near, that it is coming fast and furious. On that day all human hearts will open, and the friendly multitudes will fill the streets with joy, and trusting and loving each other we will banish all doubt and all fear.
And then we will be ready for the Eternal Beginning of all things.
Tiny poem in response to a cremation mailer
When I contemplate
the Guide says
bow down Now
before every moment.
Death Comes Like a Dancer
Death comes like a dancer
Dark and exultant
Striding and turning with great gestures
Terrifying and beautiful
Fierce and impersonal
He comes whirling from the side
When you least expect him
Young and proud he comes
Power streaming from him
The Free Country
You can’t live there
while you’re still here – not this kind of living,
breathing this air, this blood ringing in your ears,
tasting this spittle.
But you can visit.
if you peer
into the dusty periscope of memory
you can spy the gleaming reflection
of where you know
Once, by a lucky accident,
I woke up there
and spent a long, timeless time there –
immersed and vastly
for many reasons that I’ve forgotten.
But I remember the wide-open meadowland,
lit by a million suns and stars,
a bounteous new adventure
speaking to me,
warm and tickly,
And when I returned here
from my secret escapade,
one thing I knew,
clear and fresh as morning:
When the truth penetrates this ancient cocoon
the Death-lie will crumble
like the thinnest film of moisture
on a summer morning.
In the River House
Oh, my dearest love
Was it a trick of my mind
that you died and left me,
escaping into realms
I could not penetrate?
For here you are beside me
alive in this very moment
in this yellow kitchen
at this long table with friends
in the house that goes
down to the river.
Here you are with me
alive and smiling
sad that I left
but glad to the brim
without a trace of rancor
that I am back again.
Now memory clarifies me
and relief floods me
like the rising Day:
For it is clearer than the song of life
that here with you
and nowhere else
is where I belong!
Can it be true
that it was I who left you,
and not the other way around?
That some requirement
of destiny trapped me, some theater
I had to play out alone?
And you, kind soul,
bowed to your role
while I fled weeping away?
For I have believed in death,
and mourned and wept
and learned the ropes of living
just on my own.
But now that I have seen you
held you and kissed you
so sweetly once again
I do remember:
Nothing is so real as our love.
How I have longed
not knowing the depth of my longing
to be at your side
all these years.
And now I know
you keep a place for me
here in this river house
by the deep, sweet waters
where children and friends
and a feast await.
let me dream you beside me
until we next awake.
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Music from Episode #1:
Opening, midway, and closing tracks: “Ice Voice” by Sergi Boal (segments only, with fade-out). ice voice by Sergi Boal is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (aka Music Sharing) 3.0 International License. https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Sergi_Boal/Nylon_Turtle/01_ice_voice
Other public domain music used in this episode courtesy of Musopen.org: J.S Bach – Das Musikalische Opfer – BWV 1079, European Archive
J.S. Bach, Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, European Archive – courtesy of Musopen.org
This work is licensed under Creative Commons