My Internal Landscape

Sometimes, you can stare at things for a long time, and suddenly realize that some hidden image has been sitting patiently and waiting for you to notice it.  Some of Salvadore Dali’s art is this way.  And also lots of optical illusions.  And they say that those annoying 3-d images, if you squint long enough, that a picture pops out of them eventually, too.  (For the record, I am not sure I believe in that last one.  It has never ever worked for me.)


My internal landscape is like this.  Things sit and wait for me to discover them.  Sometimes, it is a connection I never saw before.  Other times it is a feeling I was busy pretending I didn’t have…  Joy at something sad, sadness at something happy, guilt at something I earned.

I recently had this kind-of realization about my pain.  I was quite shocked to discover that I was upset at others when they did not take responsibility for fixing my hurt.  I told myself what I wanted was empathy from the people who love me.  Because asking for empathy from the people who love me is a pretty reasonable request.  In fact, if somebody didn’t have empathy for me, it would be fair to ask if they loved me at all.

In fact, what I have wanted is something much more.  I wanted others to make it thier own mission to fix me.  As I realized this, I realized something else, kind of interesting:  apparently, to some part of me, a pain-free Jeff is a good Jeff…  even a fixed Jeff.

As I came to this understanding, I realized something about my feelings.  And also, I think, I realized something about your feelings.  (Perhaps you’re a bit wiser than me and have already worked this out.)

It’s not pleasant to experience pain: sadness, mourning, depression.  There is a reason that these are all connected with a condition they call the dark night of the soul.

Yet…  they have a place.

They are guides.   Emotions, perhaps especially the unpleasant ones, are direct lines to our inner landscape.  There is no other way, I think, to get a status report from the very deepest part of us.

If others had some magic word that would take my pain away, they would be robbing me of something so important.  As I spent all this time wishing the pain away, I could have been exploring it, and I think I would have been made better, and wiser because of it.

Today is Thanksgiving.  And so I guess the thing I am saying is that I am going to work on thanfullness for the pain.


There is so much more that ought to be said here, and I think I will be posting some of that in the near future.  But I feel like I ought to follow up with a caveat.

Sometimes depression, sadness, and mourning want to become the captain of the ship.  These things don’t harm us directly; they are like an immune deficiency, that paves the way for other things which very much do hurt us. Prayer, Support from friends and professionals, and medication are incredibly important methods to recover this balance, at the times that feelings want to stage a mutiny and become the captain of our ship.



I think there is a feeling

that exists with out a word describing it.

When the camera’s focus softens

When I fade into the background


Suddenly I am monotonous

the edges of everything grow fuzzy

I am naseous but not in my body

I am drained of depth and difference.


It is not a thing I know.

It is a felt reality.

Everything is the same as it was.

Except for just everything.


I have no name for this.

Don’t call it sadness.

Sadness is a waste product of this reaction…

I am looking for the source.


There is some reason for grattitude amidst this.

I see things in a way now that I never could have.

I don’t know how to tell you

That I should have cherished the time before this.



A watery life

Water is boring.  And life… Life can be boring, too.

The problem runs deeper than boring.  That word triavilizes the whole affair. 

Life can seem empty.  It can seem pointless.  It can seem tastless colorless and stale.

There are times when it just seems like a vicious circle: We have a car in order to get to work and go to work in order to pay for the car.  We work so that we can live and we live so that we can work.

There are times that everything we’ve worked for, everything we have once believed in, everything that once seemed so very precious… It’s just suddenly rings so hollow.

Thousands of years ago, Solomon said:

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
       I refused my heart no pleasure.
       My heart took delight in all my work,
       and this was the reward for all my labor.

 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
       and what I had toiled to achieve,
       everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
       nothing was gained under the sun.

Hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare put Hamlet through this experience.  One modern language version puts it like this:

I have lately, but I don’t know why, lost all my joy,
given up my customary activities, and indeed, things are so heavy on
my mind, that this grand place, the earth, seems to me to be a
barren promontory, and this wonderful canopy, the sky – look
at it – this splendid firmament above us, this majestical roof inset
with golden sunlight, why, it only looks to me like a foul
and diseased condensation of vapors. What piece of work is a
man? How noble his reason, how infinite his faculties. In form and
motion, how expressive and admirable in action! How like an angel, in his apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world, the
paragon of animals. Yet to me, what is this quintessence of

Today, we speak of our existential angst, our depression, our sense of meaninglessness.  I am not suggesting that these experiences are the same thing.  I am suggesting that their is this common thread.   On one level, we know that in the abstract, things are enjoyable.  But we just can’t find the joy in them. 

There was a time in my life that I had lots of freedom.  A time I allowed myself to do some things I probably should have not been doing.   I fufilled all sorts of appetites.  I had my share of excesses.

And for a while… it was enough.  Fun was enough.  Fun was great, in fact.  I thought I’d want to live my whole life that way.  And then…

Then, it wasn’t enough anymore.  I needed something more.  All these things that I was doing, they had their price.   Once they had been vibrant, ecstatic even.  But eventually… eventually they were like water.  Odorless, colorless, joyless.

We all know that when the old thrills stop be thrilling we have two choices.  The first is to step things up a notch.  The second is to shrug our shoulders, give up…. And just go through the motions.

We can live off water.  But who would want to?  Sometimes, in life, it’s like our whole diet, our whole world is boring, room-temperature water.

The toolbox

Sometimes, when I’m feeling all depressed, somewhere, deep inside, it’s because I want to be.  I’m not proud of the fact that I can throw some pretty epic pity parties for myself.  But there are times, when I do.

Then, though, there are these other times.  With all my heart and soul, I don’t want to be down.

I have this little metaphorical  tool box, when I’m feeling down and I don’t want to be.  I open it and I survey the trusty options within:

One of my tools is to hike.  One is to read the bible.   I network with family and friends.  I write.  I pray.

Often times, I can find the right tool for the job.

Sometimes, I can’t find which one.  It is too much.  It is too scary to think I might try one and have it not work.  There is this perverse side to hope.  If I hold out the hope that something might make things better, it is safer and it is easier than actually trying it.  Because if I don’t try it, I can always hold on to the belief that things would get better.  But if I actually take it out of the tool box, and do it, and if things haven’t changed… that’s bad.

So there are these times that I just stare into the toolbox, paralyzed.

But the worst is when I reach inside it.  And I try the first tool.  And the second.  And the third.

And eventually?

Eventually the tool box is empty.  It’s contents lay around my ankles.  I am still sad, or alone, or depressed, or whatever.

It occurs to me: if I had more tools in the toolbox, perhaps I’d have fewer of these experiences of staring into that empty thing.

And so the question of the evening:

What are the tools in your toolbox; what do you do when you’re feeling down?

Christmas reflections, version 2

Every year I tell myself
This is the year
That everything will fall into place.
This is the year
That there will be peace on the frosted windows of my home.
This is the year
There will be contentment in the deepest part of me.

And every year
There are just enough
Just enough
Little glimpses
Frozen moments
To give me just a glint of hope
That next year
It’ll be better.

The cynic in me
Says that I should have learned by now.
The cynic in me
Says that it’s not going to happen.
The cynic in me
Says that I am Charlie Brown
And Santa Claus himself plays the part of Lucy
Snatching the football out from before me
Every single year
Right before I kick it.

There is something bigger than cyncism.
There is something greater than consumption.
It is the very fact that we know to feel despair
That we know that
This is not how it was suppused to be
That gives me hope.

There is this eternity in our hearts.
And there was eternity,
And he was also a man
Born among us
Died among us
And he is gone now, but so close.

It is right that we remember him
With this
Happy sadness
Despair filled joy
Aching, longing contentmen.

And this all gives me hope.

And I come to this sudden understanding:
I do not love this Christmas by ignoring the despair we face
I love Christmas because of the despair we face.

Perhaps the delicious disappointments
arise from this tension this attention
we fufill so little of our potential
and yet we are enough to know that we could be so much more.

Despite all my yesterday’s promises I haven’t crawled far out of the mire
and yet I am ever so slowly crawling out of the mire.

A greatness, a nobility resides
not so much in us
as in our aspiration to greatness and nobility.

I am a gnat leaping into the darkness
With only the faint promise of the far side of the canyon
falling and leaping falling and leaping falling and leaping.
And There is this Jesus and he is
The eagle soaring across the gulf
As we are falling and leaping falling and leaping and falling and leaping
That we know to long to be him, to be with him.
This is my Christmas hope.

A happy little fall poem

The leaves

Rusting, as they are on the trees,

Have lost all boldness.


Even my despair is tiresome.





There is this cold.

It penetrates.

The wind, and the wind and the despair and the wind.


I will not speak of those gray clouds.

What else could they be?

But those gray clouds.


Even my despair is tiresome.


What does it profit a man…

The rest of the question does not matter.

Here is the rub:

What does it profit a man

If he does

If he does not


With those rusting leaves

Rusting leaves like butterfly corpses

And the despair, and the despair,

And the wind and the despair.