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The Universe Inside Us

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The Universe Inside Us

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John Michael’s newest Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise column, “The Universe Inside Us,” ponders our context and place, both inside and out. 

A high school friend of mine comes back to the valley around the Fourth of July every year from Denver. He’s got a couple of teenage boys and a lovely wife. I’ve watched the boys grow up and, as a bachelor in my late 50s, I’ll take any taste of family life I can get.

My friend rents a room at the local college in a complex that is on the same block I grew up on. We were having some beers the other night, outside, leaning against his truck. The summer smells that night, the level of heat, the level of humidity was so familiar to me from growing up there, I wondered if they were outside of me or inside of me.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand.” —William Blake

I always thought the quote was to see the universe in a grain of sand. Anyway, several years back, I had a vision of a grain of sand opening up and revealing the universe inside. It was deeply comforting. It might be a fair spiritual practice to wander around for a couple of days wondering, Is everything my senses and emotions are experiencing happening inside or outside of me?

I also wonder how long it takes of living in an area before it becomes home.

I grew up in Lewiston, so its rhythms, sights, sounds, seasons, and moods are deeply woven in my psyche. I have four years total of living in Portland and, last time I was there, driving in, feeling the air, smelling the smells, watching the light play off the downtown buildings, it too felt like home.

Last week, images were released from the Webb telescope that revealed countless galaxies into the depth of space. I don’t how many of you believe in different dimensions, but I can tell you they are out there, or in you, so to speak, because I have experienced a couple while meditating. Those pictures filled me with humility. It’s possible, depending on what dimension you are looking from, that every planet in every galaxy is teeming with life. We are, truly, grains of sand in the big dynamic picture of things.

It’s possible, depending on what dimension you are looking from, that every planet in every galaxy is teeming with life. We are, truly, grains of sand in the big dynamic picture of things.

I attend a couple of community dinners each week and have been driving a bus full of humanity to one of them for the past couple of years. I noticed, over time, that I am generally more peaceful when I wake up the next morning after these dinners. This speaks to the value of community and service to a community you belong to. Well, something major gave way while I was sleeping the other night after the dinner. I woke up with a flat stomach breathing natural deep breaths. Perhaps the most peaceful day I remember having is what followed.

Calm before the storm, as they say. Two mornings later, I woke up, body and stomach puffed up with adrenaline, in the middle of a panic attack. I saw a morbid image of my mother as I was awakening, and it shook me. I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs.

It took me half a day to calm down, I had to tell a bunch of people I’m used to helping that I couldn’t that day, even being within ten feet of another person made me nervous. I did call my buddy in Colorado and talked with him to try to calm myself down.

Also on The Big Smoke

After I was molested, I never really felt safe for most of my life. My parents were divorced by that time. So, my mom became my insecure, security blanket, a blanket that could feel smothering at times because, for better or worse, I was her security blanket as well. So, here I am, a year and a half after her death, still working out our enmeshment some. So glad I was able to uncover a great deal of empathy and warmth for her before she passed.

An odd thought came with the morbid image in the dream. It was that she was trying to figure out a way to use planes to write me a letter. Not sure if it was planes or plains, because few things excite me more than the beauty of a prairie. But I check the chem trails for a while to see if I can discern any messages.

I drove up the Snake River the evening before the morning panic attack. I stepped out to take some pictures and thought about the immediacy of nature. Which I suppose means the immediacy of God’s presence in nature. It was after dark as I headed back down the river and I had the thought, To bring a little joy to the world. I felt my heart lurch a little after that thought, like it would be a decent thing to do.

I’m much calmer today and will continue working through the panic as it comes. When I die, I want people to say, “I never met anyone happier.” What could be better for this chaotic world we are sharing than to bring some real joy to it? I love you, my fellow grains of sand, we’re all lit up by the universe inside us, whether we know it or not.


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John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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