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!
If I could only point out your discrepancies, your flaws in thinking, I’m sure I could fix you. After all, I’ve read all the books and, having made some progress, am wiser than you might think! So goes my ego thoughts when feeling the need to impart my superlative ‘spiritual’ (or otherwise) wisdom to another.
Recently, I had the great (mis)fortune of doing just that. A client I’m consulting on a writing project was describing some of her spiritual practices, a few of which I had imbibed in during an earlier phase of my life. As she named several teachers/writers, I described them as being part of the ‘astral circus,’ which surely implied how I perceived her spiritual state. Oh, how self-righteous I felt, couching my presumed intention to impart something of value to her undoubtedly for her own good. How generous I was imparting my ‘advanced’ wisdom in helping her along her own path. Yet, as soon as I used the term I regretted it, knowing it was so far out of context not to mention incredibly ego-driven on my part to do so.
Oh, the arrogance!
Of course my behavior was to boomerang, a karmic consequence if there ever was one, coming fast and loose a few short weeks later. Upon stewing on this absurd display of impudence and pride however craftily I thought I had disguised it, my client called me on it. She told me she was hurt by what I had said, feeling I had denigrated her beliefs and therefore her. Regardless of whether I felt my perception was right or wrong I knew from whence my true impulse came: and that was from the ego, spiritually beneficent or not!
Once her assertion was leveled, I instantly apologized knowing deep down that my true intention was to position myself as ‘better than,’ ‘further along than,’ and ‘more spiritually evolved than,’ her. In rapid succession I became aware of two other things: of being exposed, having to confront not only her but, just as importantly, myself, and also that ‘being right was more important than being kind.’ Ha! How spiritual is that?
So we talked it through and I recognized the enormous value of owning (taking responsibility for) the truth of what I had done. What’s more, once exposed to myself, I was aware of doing this kind of thing throughout my life, whether imparting precious insights about politics, God, healthy food patterns, parenting, whatever. While becoming increasingly more conscious of the dynamic of “I know best,” it seems I have generated an opportunity for practicing humility and none too soon!
Fast forward a couple weeks after my lesson in humility and truth-telling to self and karma has surely sought me out. How? I was to be on the receiving end of someone else’s presumably ‘well-intentioned’ spiritual vanity when a friend told me I had made numerous ‘dualistic/causal’ statements that hampered my spiritual advancement. Oh, the justice in the universe! Naturally, I was angry and defensive, calling her on some of her own ‘causal’ beliefs even though her style is often different than mine. But dualism is still dualism and naturally, the paltry ego went into action right away to point this out. It also occurred to me that defensiveness can take the form of defending one’s integrity and it seems I owe myself that much.
Still, as the days wore on, I fumed. But something else was unfolding as well. My regard for my client’s honesty and integrity for communicating how she felt in the first experience grew in my estimation. In addition, in the karmic exchange that followed between she and I a greater ‘owning’ on my part occurred, which was a relief. With this, I felt profoundly better, allowing the emotions to surface and dissipate.
What’s more, I became aware that until such time as any of us truly become enlightened and transcend the ego altogether we are stuck with it. That doesn’t mean, however, we can’t take responsibility for the (ego’s) actions, quite the contrary. Becoming ever more conscious of what we are doing is the way to reduce unwanted effects, ultimately taming the pesky illusion we all suffer from. I, for one, am only able to practice this process when conditions are right in combination with my intention to do so, when the opportunities present themselves, and so I must.
With that, I (dualistic description that it is) march on, practicing vigilant awareness on these, at times laughable at times cry-able, human characteristics we all suffer from: those of vanity, pride, and arrogance, juicing our own positions, juicing my own positions and perceptions, resulting in the unconscious habit to ‘make someone else wrong’. As Helen Keller so rightly put it: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
I feel the pull to write but am minus a subject. It feels equivalent to taking a walk with no particular destination in mind, aimless to be sure yet compelled to put one leg in front of the other just the same. This endless tugging reminds me of singers singing scales or humming some little ditty just to keep the throat and windpipe limber, not to mention for the sheer pleasure of it. So I’m writing for no particular reason other than writing has showed itself to be my nature. For this reason I pound on keys, flexing some invisible muscle that serves as play, satisfied I have a small but sturdy impulse on which to creatively act.
A number of years ago I had the great good fortune to co-produce a program for Iowa Public Television called Dames from Ames. It profiled four women writers: Pulitzer Prize winner, Jane Smiley, current Iowa Poet Laureate, Mary Swander, and fiction writers, Sharon Warner, and Fern Kupfer. One of the questions they discussed was “can you imagine ever not writing?” All of them seem flummoxed, conceding it essentially felt unimaginable, with the exception of Smiley. Yet, even Smiley’s concession seemed qualified with “I suppose I could lose my appetite for it,” or something to that effect.
In a previous work life, I arranged, marketed and hosted author events for the now defunct, Borders Books & Music. In that capacity, I met an amazing number of writers from a wide variety of genres, some just starting out, others’ seasoned and quite famous. I recall marveling at their efforts and, in some cases, phenomenal talents. I was also curious about their inner lives. What energy compelled them to act so fervently, some of them prolifically, on that writing impulse which, for me, was monstrously repressed and still latent at the time?
I have since come to know that the urge to write about even nothing in particular randomly erupts of its own accord, now claiming my mind, fingers, and voice, operating from the key creation was composed in. It’s not even personal although the exercise is acted out from an individual subjective perspective. I liken the writing environment to what the physicists and social scientists call M Fields or EM Fields, an energy system that generates electrical and magnetic activity, a coalescing of functions comprised of like characteristics and qualities. It’s akin to a flock of birds in flight that form a collective, working toward a parallel destination or purpose. In short, they are drawn together and operate within an Attractor Field.
Field Theory requires me to write even if no one reads these words. Since unleashing me from the straightjacket of conventional work, my impulse to write, write, and write, even if it’s about nothing in particular, must be acted on. It’s a requirement of the field I find myself in these days. My brother is a photographer and suffers from or enjoys a similar compulsion. It’s part of his nature to take pictures. He simply cannot help himself. The nature of a writer is really no different; only the unique expression it takes is. This is true for all the arts. What’s more, I have learned the hard way that to suppress the creative urge is literally destructive, deleterious to life itself. It is likely one of the principle reasons I have been so painfully frustrated during much of adulthood, not allowing myself to fully become immersed in the flock I was born to inhabit.
And so, my eye is fixed on some vague notion that I occasionally may have something worthwhile to say in what I write. If not, I’ll write anyway, willy nilly, hoping at minimum, to stumble on something useful for others to enjoy. Some small niggling comment or curiosity will penetrate another’s skull, prompting an investigation into how Field Theory affects their own lives. For to ignore my urge to create with words feels downright irresponsible at this stage, even sacrilegious, a sacrilege I can no longer afford, even if I write about nothing at all!
I have always loved to write, not just to have written as some famous writers have contended. When I am in the writing state it often takes me to an exquisite space where I am lost in a world of both beauty and reckoning. For me, the beauty of writing is in capturing a mood, an experience or inspiration, distilling it down to something universally recognizable as essence. While I don’t always do it well, there are some occasions when I succeed. What’s more, the process can become a delicious birthing of sorts, somewhat akin to a rhapsody transmitting both melody and a lyrical clarity that takes on a life of its own. There are times I cannot stop myself from writing, possessed with an urgency to translate what at first appears ineffable into something cohesive and sure, rich with meaning, containing nutrients to feast on in the process and even later on. Quite simply, it connects a smaller me to a larger Me, expanding my awareness in the process.
For communication, a fervent connection, is the name of the game. Even the Divine knows that! I almost imagine Him laughing at my depiction of His intention. After all, why else would Michelangelo have the capacity or desire to paint the fingers of God and Adam pointing at one another, projecting their transmission onto the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling? From whence did Michelangelo’s inspiration come if not from the Divine? Implied in this, of course, is His (and my) insatiable appetite to communicate, to connect, not just to myself but to others as well. Why else would this ceaseless impulse be given any of us?
And so, in my own humble way, I offer my modest creations painted not with a brush but a palette of words, all in an effort to render the depths of my heart as I understand it in any given instant or experience. It thumps away, that heart, never resting except in the silence that occurs between each beat. Consequently, the itch to write resides in that silence, demanding attention, requiring I give language between my small sense of self to the larger One. For in the end, I am absorbed in something greater than my finite mind and heart can even imagine, knowing all along I must honor it if I am to be true to my very nature.
Venturing forth into the great unknown; it is so very overwhelming. I have a 90-year-old friend who is in the process of moving to her (likely) last physical location, a retirement facility. While she has moved many times throughout her life, often not of her own choosing, she has become skillful at it nonetheless. Still, this time is different for her intuition tells her it will be her last before the ultimate address change to the great beyond, the most massive unknown of all.
In a minor way I can relate to her trepidation as I get ready to collect social security, another milestone surely but likely not my last. While my ‘retirement’ poses a different kind of overwhelming quality, it cannot compare to my friend’s, although I will also be moving to downsize expenses. Yet, through my own confrontation of a shrinking time frame, surrendering to the inevitable earthly departure requires a different kind of living until the actual event occurs.
Taking stock and reviewing a life is not for the faint of heart. Naturally some of us cannot help but examine ourselves when confronting such pivot points. I hear in my friend’s voice her own examination although she rarely relates much detail. Mostly, she shares the fact that she is undergoing a process that is difficult. It requires courage and honesty, surely. There is an unmistakable whiff of both pain and even pleasure as she negotiates it all. Yet remarkably, there emanates a kind of gratitude and respect from her for the privilege of living through it all, regardless of sorrow and reget.
This entire examination process feels essential to any forward spiritual evolution of my own as well. And while I don’t know exactly how she views the process for herself, I sense her necessity in doing so just the same. It is inexplicable how the soul, a larger Self takes over at some point, almost demanding it be done, even if not continuous. While I have the freedom to say no to that Self, some quality deep down where I really live, cannot. After all, I have to take the long view of infinity and me in it, regardless of location, for I know beyond any reasonable doubt I am accountable for my choices.
Surrendering to this accountability is both painful and relieving. For example, I haven’t always been kind. I haven’t always been courageous. And I certainly haven’t always been generous or selfless. I haven’t even always been honest! The details of these broader acknowledgements have been acted out in daily living with family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. While I’m hardly alone in my transgressions, I’m still no less responsible for not just acknowledging them but ultimately transcending them in an effort to be free.
So I watch as my friend moves slowly through her ‘last change’ silently but communicating just the same, all the while feeling the parallel energy of my own. Even if our presumed timelines are different, traversing the spiritually examined landscape is recognizable and familiar. So much of the process between the two of us is unspoken yet felt; a quiet transmission that passes the baton from one to the other, a delicate yet sturdy sharing in some inexplicable way.
And I am grateful beyond measure.