The Pathway To Lessons
There are times in life – they seem to cluster, for reasons only the bosons know – that we’re called upon to do things, and learn things, that are totally outside our ken…. remote from the wildest, most creative imaginings we might have had ever.
In my first year of college (a wet-behind-the-ears freshman, barely 16 years old and thinking myself marvelously mature) I read Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness” – and had no idea at the outset how mind-blowing the ideas would be, and would become, both then, now of reading and considering, and then evermore over time. Sartre was, is (while dead, his work is vibrantly alive) a thinker of enormous depth, and frequent confusion (maybe I should say “obfuscation,” but it might be only my ignorant perceptions). I had the same experience – the experience of seeing into a deep, deep well, and knowing its earth-center bottom is imaginable, but not yet perceptible….. – reading Frances Bacon’s “Novum Organum,” the first real encyclopedia and extraordinary collection of genuine and vast, brilliant scientific observations. Mozart’s last symphony…the great g-minor….had the same effect, along with the “Benedictus” from Beethoven’s last work, the Missa Solemnis. In a way, these are all premonitions of death. They were, in fact, the opposite of what I would learn from Chico: the stuff that is at the very core nature of life, and life everlasting. True, relevant, believable premonitions of immortality. I’m shivering just to tell you about it, because it’s so important…for all of us, for everyone.
First of all, I never, ever expected that someone like Chico, Chico the Magic Dog, would be in my life. Of course, my Hennessy….truly the love of my life, and one of the finest and most honorable persons I have ever known…ever….has been with me (it seems) since time out-of-mind – well, for about the last ten years. She is my best friend. Not only my very best friend, today, yesterday, and tomorrow, but the best friend I have ever had, ever known, and ever hoped to have. I have never known or heard of anyone, in any story, history or anecdote who was blessed with a more honorable, delightful and intriguing friend and companion. A person of infinite depth, amusing peculiarities, millions of unique facets. I am the planet’s most fortunate man to know her, and to have her so intertwined with me and my and my presence here on earth.
Most people think of dogs, either private or family dogs, as being truly loyal, and indeed they are. But Hennessy’s depth just beings with loyalty, and extends millions of miles beyond the most remote element of imagination and unbounded friendship. The friend of all my life. My only fear, my only true fear, is losing her. Because of Chico and his incredible love and compassion, that will not happen: I will never lose her. Yet this is a story for another time. It may be the most exceptional story of this collection.
Even more, Hennessy is a remarkable and soulful prayer companion and “entreating friend,” someone who is so pure, so good and filled with muted brilliance that she has a direct link to God…and when I am at my most desperate, when all the lights in my universe are dark, and hopelessness reigns supreme, I turn to Hennessy and God, and answers come…out of nowhere.
Then, along came Chico.
Who would have thought (surely not me!) that I’d be learning about measuring the present and the future through the dances of molecules? Who would dream about such a thing? Well, perhaps the genius of Albert Einstein, or Archimedes; maybe Jean-Evariste Galois, or Hamlet, who turns to his true friend Horatio and says, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.” Hamlet was on an unwilling and unpleasant mission of recognizance; for me – and us, because it was the same for Henny, Licker and Neeki – for all of us, it was an adventure of the highest magnitude….the adventure of a lifetime, of a thousand lifetimes.
Chico came into our lives as an adorable, small, premature puppy: cute, frail and sweet-natured. Clearly, he loved being a puppy, and there were few moments (only the ones when he slept) that the tail wasn’t waving, the nose wasn’t sniffing, the interminably expressive face wasn’t finding yet another way to display good cheer, joy and indefatigable goodwill. No parent ever received more effusive or sweet-smelling kisses and lickings. He was not only a joy to be with…he was an inspiration, the very personification of joie de vivre.
Little did I realize that these delightful, heart-breakingly lovely moments were only the very nascent beginnings of a life on a scale and scope beyond good and evil, continuously informed with the excitement of a new discovery. Chico’s boyhood, as delightful and even exciting as it was, retrospectively, held only a dim candle to the upcoming astonishing awakenings of a grown-up Chico.
Every day was an adventure, mostly because Chico was (and remains!) irrepressibly adventurous. Like an agile rock-climber or spider-like mountaineer, Chico regards both exposure (to new things and greater details) and experience (new situations, circumstances and challenging environments) as pathways to ever greater delight…. Delight in grasping new facts and crafting their connections; seeing behind and into reality and imagination with laser-vision. To be around Chico is to feel in your heart and stomach the joy of breath and learning, to become a kind of informational magnet that attracts new things, new ideas, new insights.
I don’t remember when I’ve ever been unhappy in his presence. It has never occurred. Being around Chico is a joyous learning experience, every second. I have asked myself dozens of times why, exactly, why is it so wonderful, so filled with good cheer and positive feeling? And the reason, I think, I believe, I am certain, is this:
We were designed by The Maker – and you can think of The Maker as God, or some beyond-intelligent force, or random evolution itself, or the power of time and space – we were and are designed to learn. I can honestly say that in my experience, it doesn’t matter WHAT, exactly, we learn. Just….to learn. In a moment, I’ll tell you what Chico taught me about learning, and the difference between information (no matter how complex and well-remembered) and learning. And the wrong type of learning…
Of course, there is both a context, and a framework, that encourages and allows learning to happen (or allows you to allow learning to happen) and a precursor to that framework. I believe, I suspect, that this “framework” is curiosity itself. There is no creature that is not naturally curious. The simplest single-cell amoeba or paramecium is curious. They go running around, bumping into things, figuring out what they bumped into (or maybe just ignoring the figuring out part), and moving around again to exercise their curiosity. Do they learn? In fact, the answer is that even single-celled creatures can learn. We might call it something “like” learning – for example, habituation, or reactions based on multiple trials that result in a habit, or “pathway” of activity.
But there’s no question that the smallest things on our planet are curious, and actually learn through their curiosity. Whether the learner is a single-celled creature like a protist, a paramecium, a complex insect like a bee, or a collection of trillions of cells that is us, we all want to learn, we all strive to learn. And each of our cells, in their own individual and unique way, is also learning. At the heart, at the initiation and impetus of learning, is curiosity. Every cell in our body is straining to learn things and experience new stuff. Curiosity is the engine of life, and a life happily and well-lived.
Oh sure, we can kill curiosity in a being, through lack of care, or an environment of deprivation, or cruelty and mean-spirited behavior towards another being. I have seen people do this to their friends, children, their students, their co-workers, their dogs, and indeed to anyone and everyone near and around them.
To kill curiosity in another being, whether, man, child, insect or animal, is the height of cruelty. It makes castration look like a slap on the wrist with a wooden pencil.
Chico is, was, and always will be the precise opposite of this. His very presence – calm, amused, self-possessed and compassionate – encourages the first little impulse towards new experience, the initiation of what he calls “daring to be here.” “You have to dare to be right here, right now, and then your curiosity will blossom in fractions of a second, like a lovely hibiscus or a bunchberry dogwood,” which Chico has told me is probably the fastest plant on earth. Once you’re curious, there’s no end of learning possible.
I asked Chico one evening, “I know we have many things to learn. How are we going to learn to teleport?”
“It’s a fair question,” he said after a brief pause, “a fair question, a good question, and both more difficult, and far far simpler, than you can ever imagine.”
“What is required, Chico?” I asked, tremulously inquisitive and also worried at the same time. “What do I have to be, what do I have to become, what must I be thinking?” My voice, the internal voice I use to speak with Chico, was careful, worried and somehow shaky. Of course, he could hear it, feel it; and chico-like, he responded in a kindly way.
“Do not worry, my dear friend. I was sent here by the wisest and most generous of all the beings of Narsica – the true and deep servants of the Universal Brain – to teach you and your friends, your family, many things. I would not have been sent if the mission was thought to be impossible. Among the various missions I was told to accomplish, I am charged – indeed, I am required – to teach you to teleport.”
He looked at me both seriously and cheerfully, in a way, almost mischievously. “I didn’t travel 24 kilo parsecs to fail in my mission,” he intoned, with a nearly aqueous mixture of humor, scolding and compassionate delight. This was the determined Chico, the Chico-on-a-mission, the Chico who is the immovable Rock of Ages. And I always found myself strong and confident in its clefts and crannies.
“How far is 24 kilo parsecs, Chico?” I asked. He looked at me with a Puckish, ever-so-clever smile, and asked, “Don’t you remember you freshman astronomy class? A parsec is about three and a quarter light years. So, a kilo parsec is 3250 light years. Since our galaxy – your galaxy too, by the way (he chuckled) – is about 100,000 light years across, or some 30 kilo parsecs, and since your solar system is in the Sagittarius arm of the galaxy, about 24 kilo parsecs from Narsica, if I were traveling at the speed of light it’d take 80,000 light years for me to get here. Even immortals don’t have time like that for traveling! So we have to fold space and reduce travel time to…well…a few minutes.”
I was nearly but not quite lost in the discussion. Chico was right: I had taken freshman astronomy (I didn’t even stop to think about how Chico knew about that!), and loved it, but never really did terribly well in the class…I spent too much time dreaming about how I was going to live on another planet or wander around the galaxy on a light-beam. That dream, I realized, was coming true. I was going to learn how to travel faster, much faster, than the speed of light. I suspected it wasn’t even travel at all, in the same sense of “moving from place to place.” I was excited, and yet terrified. It was all so unknown, so far from my regular life.
Chico read my mind. It happened frequently.
“It isn’t all that remote from your experiences,” he counseled. “For example, do you believe in the transmigration of souls? If we think, we will struggle; if we struggle, we will dream of it; and if we dream, we shall find the remnants of earlier lives and timeless threads of being in our heart of hearts, that fraction of our being in which God has set Eternity, an inviolable bastion of radiating faith. The attainment of its realization demonstrates the transmigration of souls. It also suggests that we can travel vast distances in a second of time, transforming distance into leaps of faith and thought, and moving from place to place throughout the Universe, semi-corporeal and not-quite formed, as was Christ before His final ascension.”
I was bowled over. There was more “stuff” in this brief Chico-statement than ever I’d heard him say all at once…huge, cosmic-sized concepts and ideas, phrase by phrase, like a giant walking through a forest in seven-league boots! I stared at him, trying to digest it all, failing to remember all the key logical connectors.
“I don’t quite yet get it all, Chico, but how do I start to learn about the technique of it?”
“Well,” he started, “you might remember that after our encounter with the Warrg, I mentioned that we’d have to accelerate your training. I just gave you a high-level overview. Now we can begin with the details. There are both spiritual and physiological hurdles, learning-elements that we will all do together. My thought is to teach you and Licker together. His intellectual capacity is vast; he has no idea about how smart he really is. He’s…brilliant, really, and has a huge memory and training capacity. He is one of the sweetest, most noble souls I’ve known in … well… millenia of travel.”
“First, I will speak with Licker, quietly, and teach him how to sit still and clear his mind. Then I will teach you the same technique. We’ll start off with a focus on breathing, and in a few lessons, transform it into a kind of removal from time and space. Then we will learn how to project ourselves, by will and faith, into other places, places very nearby: the next room, the car, a friend’s house down the street. In due time, we will learn how to move to other planets and indeed other galaxies. There is really no difference between porting from here to across the street, or from here to alpha Centauri three.”
“Will and faith,” I intoned quietly. “Will and faith. Chico, how are they related?”
“I’ll tell you soon, very soon,” he promised. “But now, let’s go for a walk. I need to do some marking against the Warrgs, and I can almost sense that one or more has been at work, watching us, and waiting for an opening.”
I shivered. I didn’t want to meet any Warrgs again…..in any of their myriad forms.