November 22, 2006

The Furnace and the Stove: Another Fable (with a strong personal note)

My older brother came to visit for a few days the weekend after I changed the old converted coal furnace for a spanking new boiler (Reason vs. Intuition). After about 20 minutes, I commented jokingly on my restraint at not yet having asked him to come see the new furnace. Immediately he marched downstairs to the cellar--- with me following. “It certainly is different,” he remarked, as he checked out clean-lined red heatsource that replaced the indomitable old snowman that had held court in the nether region of this our family home for eighty years.

Later over dinner he noticed that I had also replaced the old stove in the kitchen. (It was 5 years ago, when the third of four burners on the 60’s era electric stove became unusable. The new furnace apparently primed him to see the handsome, not quite new stove.) Half joking, and buoyed by good wine, I opined that replacing the stove was like getting rid of mother and the furnace, dad. We the children were finally in charge, I thought. It's way past time and all for the good.

Sometimes in spiritual circles it is said that you choose your parents. Besides the biological absurdity of this, it never made sense to me because I was clear that I never would have chosen the parents I got. They were good people; intelligent, funny, with excellent values---but nonetheless challenging parents.

My father was a patriarch with a scientific bent, who did not easily allow emotion or other people's needs.

“Dad, I have a question.”
“The answer is no, now what is your question?”

My mother was emotional and, as might be expected, increasingly needy over time. The strongly receptive part of her nature was constantly at war with the equally strong independent side. A truth teller, she was very often right. Yet even when she was right, in context she was frequently wrong. The house was too often a complex battle scene between my mother and father, or my mother and my mother, or my mother and everyone else.

A few days after my brother's visit, my aunt and I--- based on a plan we made months before--- went to the cemetery where my parents as well as her mother are buried. I had been to the family gravesite two or three times before and had found it a vaguely peaceful experience. The man in a yarmulke and jacket at the tasteful but frigid administration center pulled out a magnifying glass to find the site on his mimeographed plan of the cemetery. “Oh boy,” I thought, “this is going to be tough to find.” My concern grew when he realized that the first mark he had made on the map was incorrect and had to go through the procedure again.

Carefully following all the roadside indicators, we went round and round in circles between the carefully landscaped Mount of Olives and Mount Tabor. (I suspect a map of the Holy Land would have been more helpful than the mimeographed plan I had in hand.) “Perhaps they had recycled old the plot and sold it to someone else,” crossed my mind. After about 45 minutes---with the help of some reluctant maintenance men, we found the spot. I bristle at this kind of poor administrating, and I had to work actively to calm myself.

When I finally sat down on the small bench, my parents’ presences immediately filled my mind. I felt transported into a place of wordless communication and connection with them both. Most remarkable of all to me was how well my being fit with theirs. I never remember having ever experienced such clear consciousness and deep emotional connection before. We were separate --- it was a precondition for this delightful exchange--- but we were at the same time inexorably joined. This joining was harmonious, yet complex and dynamic--- like a wonderful rich trio sonata. It was an experience of complete spiritual communion . I don't know whether we choose our parents, but if we do, I now understand why I would have chosen mine. I also understand the rightness of their choice of each other.

I also don't know if the presences I felt were actual presences from the beyond, or my internalized sense of my parents. Because it's a simpler hypothesis and because I have no experiential evidence to the contrary, if pressed, I would definitely say the latter. But the answer to this question doesn't matter to me at all. Even if they were internalized presences--- it was a real encounter with internalized presences. This in the end might be more even more important. Replacing these weighty relics of my mother and father's material existence ---the furnace and the stove--- --- rather than excising parents, seems to have freed me to experience their spirits more deeply.

Like their material doppelgangers, they each gave a different kind of fire. My father's fire, the fire of the furnace, warmed and sustain life. It forged truth of the practical and worldly kind. My mother's fire, the fire of the stove, was of the psyche---it transformed the world so it could be absorbed. Its truth was the truth of essences---seeing through the surface of things to their intangible core.

I certainly would change many things, if I could do it again with executive control. But I see that---besides being formed by the very rich consciousness of these two beings --- I have inherited from each a priceless gift. From my father, I have inherited my analytic, scientific mind that strives for clarity. From my mother, I have inherited unusual receptivity and an interest in the powerful yet subtle reality of what we cannot see. Their vital fires are both part of me.

About 10 years ago, after a number of working as years as a scientist, I began studying intuition. There is lots of dissonance where I now sit right in the middle of the bridge between the furnace and the stove---the science and the experience of intuition. On one side is cutting edge science of the mind and on the other, subtle experience---including spiritual experience. My work has inherited the complaints of each side of the divide for the other side. A number of the scientists find it too experiential or anecdotal, and a number of the experience people are resistant to the analytic material.

I believe these often warring sources of transforming heat, the furnace and the stove, must learn to speak each other's language and to understand each other's truths. I am glad to be one of the crucibles in which this alchemical marriage is now occurring. The wonderful heat of this joining is such that, even with all the dissonance, there is no place else I would rather be.

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