“Who would you be without your story?” Byron Katie
My recent move from Encinitas, CA to Sonoma, north of San Francisco has been challenging, interesting, exhausting, and enlightening, with generous splashes of happy thrown in. After a mere month or two, while physically settled, I’m hardly that emotionally and psychologically. Yes, I have my core, my spiritual inner being, that feels pretty much centered, constant, with periodic inner tremors gradually subsiding. One of the most unsettling elements however is that of identity. Read more →
“How to Write About Trauma”. That is the title of the NYT Op-Ed piece dated 08/15/16, penned by Said Sayrafiezadeh, an American-born, Iranian-cultural-inheriting memoirist and fiction writer. I read it with serious curiosity for several reasons. First, I’ve recently begun conducting an Expressive Writing course and specialized coaching practice on the same topic. Read more →
Trauma – “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, like the death of a child.” This is how Google defines it. Webster defines it thusly, “a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time.” Okay. Read more →
Why, you may ask, would I need to know how to sell a kidney? Well, let me tell you, it’s an ugly story. Recently, I went for a routine teeth cleaning and my annual dental exam, only to discover I need 5 crowns. Why? To save one molar and four incisors (two central and two laterals.) When learning of this, and in a state of shock I might add, I asked the dentist “is this because my teeth are old?” She informed me that the molar already had a large filling that had begun to leak (who knew,) but that it now also had a large cavity. To save the entire tooth, she would need to drill it down to a nub and put a crown on it.Read more →
I’ve been reading “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh recently, feeling even more affected by it than the first reading years ago. The beauty of it, her poignant insight, strikes a profound cord someplace deep. Take, for example, the following passage: Read more →
Odd that I remain disbelieving that Bennet is gone, died, finished, caput. Oh, I intellectually understand it, the idea of it. But the emotional reality; How could it be that he is no more, that you are no more? No more phone calls, no more visits. No more Bennet to be with. Where are you, dear friend? Where have you gone? It seems you slipped away, right outside the worn out body, into the ethers. It seems strange you are no longer on the planet. How can it continue to spin? Read more →
After having written about the unique beauty of the place I moved into a few months ago, I thought an update was in order. It seems the place comes with people.
I knew they’d be here. Now, I may be one of the rare individuals who would rather live with others as opposed to living alone. Having said that, living with other people is not without its challenges and discomforts, sometimes small and other times GIMONGOUS. While there are seasons when its best for me to hunker down alone, living in cloistered fashion, more often than not, I’m happier and, quite frankly, better living in some form of what can best be described as ‘community.’ Read more →
So I’m getting ready to move in less than a month, having found a lovely little adobe home-share situation. Because the place is already well-established with current tenants, much of my furnishings will either go to my son for safe-keeping or be given away. Read more →
I watched a documentary recently, “Alive Inside”, about people suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia or impairment, including just getting old, and was profoundly moved. In an odd way I recognized myself which was nothing short of sobering, to say the least! While my mother endured Alzheimer’s some years ago, quite frankly it was not that identification that was so jarring to me. Rather, it was the sniffing out of my own slow leak from a sense of my former self. This was not because I have any more “age associated memory loss” common to being in the early 60’s than the next person. Instead it seems I may be both blessed and cursed with taking my substantive ‘temperature’ of who and what I am and want at a plethora of life stages. It’s almost as if I’m being dogged by some form of conscious interior evolution. Drat!
This past year I have come to observe a kind of tiring, a rejection of that turbo charged daily living that prevailed in my younger years. Having ‘put it all out there’ from ego-driven ambition, the idealism and naiveté of youth, and the drive to prove myself as a consequence of insecurity, I have felt spent—and for more than a year, actually: probably about six or seven!
There’s a down side to outgrowing the above stage(s) of course. While it provides a measure of much needed respite, a kind of inertia creeps in when chucking so much stimulation: inertia or a filling time with illusory often trivial tasks that hide the loss of authentic robust and energized living can result. It seems this downsizing of an over-stimulated lifestyle has come at a price, and not just for me but for others I’ve observed as well.
Now, I have made LOTS of change in my life, some of it wise and some of it foolish although I didn’t know so much about the foolishness at the time. This reflection is probably no different from most people’s on the planet. Still, it is sobering to consider one’s life in retrospect. The rearview mirror-gazing looms large in the accountability department, revealing subterranean conflict that requires a piercing examination, some of it horrifying, some of it funny. Yes, funny. One better be able to laugh at one’s self if for no other reason than to reduce the freight that bad choices contain, especially choices one still feels stuck in. Sometimes, I swear that state feels so dense, so swallowing, I can almost hear a sucking sound. Awful.
Enter a conversation recently at breakfast with friends, one of whom said he was mad at his dad for shrinking (my word not his) from his former robust self. I remember, too, being really angry at a friend who I felt had done the same thing: a brilliant woman with a PhD who got stuck after the death of her husband. From where I sat it seems she was mired down in an over-attachment to the only thing/person that defined her and identified her greatest reason for being. It had always been obvious to me she had her own reason for being.
What I have come to know now is that my friend’s inability to move forward in recapturing the best parts of herself, separate from any identification from spouse, previous profession, or lifestyle (including the energy of youth) happens far earlier than any single event. Rather, a single catastrophe may mask a cumulative pattern of avoidance brought on by the event itself thereby serving as a tipping point that exposes some character defect yet to be resolved, worked through, transcended.
I see this dynamic at play from my own previous inability to resolve or change certain behaviors or problems in my life. It is glacially slow and subtle, this interior evolution thing, right up until it smacks you around and you either shrivel up and die (not always a literal death) or mutate and overcome the problem. This occurred earlier in life when my miserable marriage reached intolerable proportions, as well as when I was forced (thank God) to confront my inability to stop drinking on my own and had to seek help to stop. This kind of confrontation occurred again when faced with a tumor-sized polyp triggered in part by DNA, but also certainly by a lifetime of doing work I grew to hate. I remember my surgeon describing the tumor as “angry.” And, yes, I had been angry; for years and years and years, suppressing it without ever truly addressing it.
But back to the documentary. “Alive Inside” shows old people, dementia-riddled people awakened to some sense of their former selves by listening to music that once moved them. It is a powerful and beautiful thing to see as they leapfrog over a lifetime of who-knows-what-kind-of-unresolved-avoidance-riddled crap, arriving at something elemental and basic in their souls. They are enlivened by the beat and rhythm of life traveling to their head and heart by an iPod filled with music meaningful to them. For those of us boomers who still struggle with unresolved crap, this film offers hope not just for aging parents and loved ones but for ourselves as well. After all, sometimes a person may reach the end of all they can do in a lifetime whether the body continues on or not. And with modern medicine keeping us alive longer and longer, it’s hard to get off the planet these days. This does not mean, however, one has to shut down all faculties, including joy and connection with others which provides the most meaning to all of us.
Oddly, I’ve long had a fascination with old people, a fascination, curiosity, and identification as if recognized from a former state and time. Yet, as I witness my current reluctance, even resistance in avoiding entrenched crap in several areas, I have a new appreciation, even compassion towards those individuals unable to change one more thing, to transcend one more problem. It is hard, this aging process, of which the body’s role is the least of it!! Body breakdowns are a nuisance, yes, but it’s the deeply emotional, psychological, and spiritual wear and tear that really takes its toll. And like so many things, it is easier to notice this dynamic in someone else before we see the slow leak within ourselves.
So as 2015 approaches, I hope to take stock of that which I am able and willing to change in my own life and accept and surrender that which I am not. Part of this (we can call it a New Year’s Resolution) involves summoning yet more strength and courage to look at the really hard, shitty stuff honestly, which is no small feat.
And the other part? I’m pledging to listen to more music, main-lining it if necessary, as well as do more things that invigorate me, animate me, and massage my heart. I’ve even started a list of songs to share with my son just in case I get Alzheimer’s. He’ll know what to do with it. And if I never lose the mind, I will have at the ready a plethora of spiritual ‘nutrients’ that will enliven me for the rest of my days.
For anyone interested in the documentary “Alive Inside”, it is available on Netflix, a portion of which can be viewed on www.musicandmemory.org: Henry. I highly recommend watching the entire film. It’s an eye-opener.
I am so sick of repeating the same patterns, holding the same positions, continuing down the same road with only minor tweaks. Yet, how to make needed change without becoming unglued, unhinged, as it were? Or maybe becoming unhinged is required, who knows. In any case, I am in need of some significant change in my life EVEN if it’s only in how I perceive things which, at times, can make all the difference.
Making change, especially interior change, can be cataclysmic. In the past, it has frequently occurred after an intolerable amount of misery has reached critical mass, at which point I become uncomfortable inside my own skin. Almost always I begin to see that I’ve been living some sort of lie, a self-deception that is no longer sustainable.
The psychic-emotional niggling starts small accompanied by prolonged avoidance in addressing it. Instead, I look for all kinds of rationalizations as to why I should suck it up, surrender to “what is” and the like. Yet, without examination of how I feel or what it is I’m even doing to myself, the “dark night” only deepens. At this stage, I go all intellectual trying to think my way through with tepid success at best. Why? Because, for me, without clear recognition of what’s happening on the emotional front I’m only surrendering the tip of the proverbial iceberg. After all, “knowing about” something is not the same as “knowing,” which is to say, knowing about a feeling whether its anger, sorrow, fear, etc., without the full-throated experiencing of it only delays hitting bottom, postponing the required karmic lesson I’ve been avoiding in the first place.
In any case, after said unresolved misery swamps me I must choose whether to address what is not working and have the courage to change it. This is no small feat since it inevitably involves feeling the emotional pain I have been desperately trying to intellectualize away from all along! Oh dear.
I’ll give you a recent example. It has been brought to my attention I don’t play enough, don’t engage in activities that emotionally invigorate and feed my soul. I work too hard, or think I should be even when I don’t. This is due in part because of the ferocious Judeo-Christian work ethic I was raised on by parents and the Midwestern sub-culture from whence I came. In essence it projects a belief that ‘you are what you do; you are what you produce or accomplish!’ This ethic defines a person’s worth. I have unwittingly allowed it to define my worth. When I don’t meet these expectations I feel guilty, sad; angry. Not good!
Of course, like so many things in life there is an upside to the work ethic. The upside is that it has allowed me to accomplish some satisfying projects in spite of any downside. Unfortunately, it has also driven me to suppress some serious discomfort in the process. I go on to the next thing without playing, without giving myself even permission for anything other than to ‘recover.’ Yet, if I only would have played more I might not have reached the life-defying drudge state that has all-too-often contributed to any discontent. Life-affirming play has always seemed less noble, even frivolous, with the exception of when I used to drink pretty heavily in younger years, hardly a healthy alternative.
At any rate, I know now I must incorporate invigorating play that is soul-feeding, life-affirming, psychically-expanding, and exhilarating. Lately, I have begun to play although it almost feels awkward at times I’m so unused to it. I went to see The Blue Man Group with a friend, a group I have long wanted to see. The event was exciting, phenomenally loud, exceedingly clever, monstrously over-stimulating, childishly playful and really, really fun. I loved it even though at age 62 (not exactly the demographic group for which the program was designed) I was utterly exhausted by program’s end. Yet, I felt so alive. I felt connected to some primal part of myself, engaged and astonishingly released! I felt the best kind of unhinged from my absurdly serious self!! What’s more, later in the day I became aware of a state of relaxation involving a noticeable peace. This relaxed feeling also included a sense of satisfaction which felt normal, which is to say an integral part of my very nature. My God, even animals play, I thought. Oh to be a puppy!
Why I have allowed embedded, deeply tangled psychic assumptions to diminish the value of play is hardly a mystery, as previously noted. Yet I have reached a stage where I can no longer operate from such assumptions. It has simply become too painful to do so. For such a long time I have been so over-focused on work that I have blocked any honest instinct for joyful abandon. Well, no more! I’ve discovered an appetite for play. I want to act on the God-given instinct that fuels my healthy and robust heart, reclaiming an integral part of what I’m meant to be. And while this doesn’t mean I won’t work, it does mean I will play. I think it’s the only responsible thing for me to do. Who knows, I may even get a puppy!