30 December 2007

Tribe Talk 2

Spent some time yesterday browsing antique and thrift shops with J. Could be my imagination but it seems like there's less and less difference between cost of things in MS and cost of things in CA. Maybe the prices are the shop owners' attempts to stay afloat post-Katrina. In any case, I resisted spending my dwindling dollars on high-priced antiques and settled for spending $5 on a couple of new skirts and one sweater at American Thrift.

We stopped in Ocean Springs at a little restaurant/bar called Government Cheese Grocery (or something like that). A comfy spot--i.e., not crowded, no blasting AC, only one TV on low volume; prompt, friendly service--to drink Irish coffee (alcohol is becoming a cheap substitute for prescription pain killer) and talk on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

It might have been the greyness of the day or the marked social isolation I've experienced during "the holidays." In any event, the conversation turned to relationship. I said that nearly all of my social relationships require a high degree of self denial and compromise and she wondered, that being the case, why I long for "tribe." It was a great question.

We discovered that while she finds relationship in and to groups a great challenge, I find relationship to individuals most challenging. In most cases, it's just a matter of time, I said, before I espouse an opinion or turn a phrase or choose an activity or something that causes the other person to burst into flames or otherwise abandon the relationship. And all the compromise and self betrayal/denial comes to naught.

For J, one-to-one interactions are a process of collecting data: enough data is collected eventually to justify choosing to move forward into deeper connection with the person; choosing, in a sense, to care what they think, to care enough to be hurt if the relationship breaks.

Listening to her, I realized my approach was different. For me, with a few wild exceptions, every encounter holds the possibility--if not outright potential--to become a relationship of deep caring. When it doesn't work out, I'm usually shattered.

I told her that I enter every relationship willingly showing more and more of my hand; but looking back on the conversation today, I see that in actuality I am ambivalent with people: simultaneously insecure--hiding parts of myself to avoid their disapproval--and....yes, hopeful--dragging out all my toys to share with someone I "hope" will become a friend, a tribe member.

What a shock! After years of trotting out my standard spiel about "not doing hope," to discover that I DO "do hope" all the time, one to one socially.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In my tribe

  • we are committed to becoming good people and we support each other's work toward that end
  • we recognize and believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all beings--so when conflict arises discourse does not disintegrate into personal attack; or does so only momentarily until one or the other party reiterates our mutual belief and recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of all beings
  • we each take responsibility for our feelings--so when conflict arises discourse does not disintegrate into "you make me feel so....!!"; or does so only momentarily until one or the other party reiterates our mutual commitment to take responsibility for our own feelings
  • we care for each other, celebrating accomplishments and victories and commiserating in times of disappointment or grief
  • we are able to apologize and equally capable of accepting apology, i.e., letting "it" go once an apology is tendered
  • we start from a place of acceptance and curiosity in our interactions with each other
  • we believe that everybody is an expert on something and nobody is an expert on everything
  • we strive to never act with an intention to hurt--and admit it and apologize when we fail at this
  • honesty, unselfishness and respect are our watchwords and the development of these traits our communal mission
  • we sincerely celebrate diversity as unique external ornamentations of the core Oneness that all of Life expresses
  • we embrace Ruiz's Four Agreements: Be impeccable with our word. Always do our best. Make no assumptions. Take nothing personally.
  • Most of us live in close proximity to each other, perhaps even on the same piece of land
And none of this is window dressing; we sincerely, actively, diligently, consistently and consciously embrace these principles in our lives together. Not like the mission statements and creeds that non-profit organizations and churches espouse--where the words exist on paper or in some oath pronounced aloud in unison at each gathering and all but disappear in the real-life, day-to-day interactions of the members. In the Tribe, there are observable indicators present in social interactions all the time.

And there's probably more to add to the list. I'll let you know.

I love this: gaining clarity as a new year begins.


27 December 2007

Benazir and Tatiana


The senseless killing continues. NPR continues to keep me up to date on the killing.

I'm not saying I'd rather not know; I'm just making an observation. Pointless killing continues unabated and my primary news source continues to keep me apprised.


It's another one of those "just the way it is" features of life in the 21st century.

I like to think it would be a good thing if other events and items of interest were regularly reported. Updates about the numbers of evacuated people and families returning to the Gulf Coast, for example, would be more useful and more beneficial to my mental health than hearing about a young man's shooting spree in a shopping center in Oklahoma.

Besides killing, though, what else occurs at about equal frequency that would be of interest to large numbers of listeners?


I'm sad and angry about the unnecessary killing of Tatiana, the tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. She was killed for behaving like a tiger--chasing a running mammal and eating it.

Earlier this week, I read a thought-provoking essay in The Sun entitled "Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos." (At least for now, you can access the entire piece through the link.) Zoos have seemed a bit strange or wrong to me for awhile--progressively moreso over the years--but this essay by Derrick Jensen really yanked the covers off to make plain at least a part of my discomfort.


Reports I read online today about the incident only serve to illustrate Jensen's points about Western culture's sense of superiority and separateness from "animals". SF Mayor Gavin Newsom's office said, ""Live animal attacks won't be tolerated in San Francisco, and the mayor expects immediate improvements in protocols and facilities so that tragedies such as this never happen again. It's simply unacceptable."

I sent the mayor a digital copy of the Jensen essay but I read tonight that he's involved in a sex scandal so he may not have a chance to read it.

Tatiana
beautiful teacher



26 December 2007

Watch this Video

I'm not kidding. It's about half an hour long so maybe you don't have time right now. OK. But seriously, watch this video. And then let's talk.


video

24 December 2007

Can't Take My Eyes Off of You, Henry


I know he has his own blog and I'm borrowing this picture from there

but I can't find a single image I'd rather look at more than this tonight.

(For you newcomers, this is my strong, bright, beautiful grandson holding the hand of his father--who happens to be my strong, bright, beautiful son.)

Soporific


In common parlance, I would be described as a night person: it is rare I am in bed before midnight and it is never easy to roll out of bed before 8 a.m. Practically every piece of music or writing of merit I've ever produced was begun between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Dinner at 8 suits me fine.

As a child, few things pissed me off more than being awakened on Saturday morning. My mother and sister were day people and Saturday was their Holy Day of Cleaning. I had no problem sleeping through the hustle and bustle of their rising; but their grand schemes always included a noisy, exuberant insistence that I get up and join them in a whirlwind of industriousness. Sleeping in was not an option. Only the lowest of the low, "triflin'" low-lifes, weren't out of bed and engaged in some meaningful, productive activity as early as possible. The Purple Heart was awarded to the one whose list of accomplishments was longest by 11 a.m.: "Why, I've already washed two loads of clothes, vacuumed the living room, mopped the bathroom and kitchen, defrosted the freezer and put on the greens for Sunday..."

I didn't aspire to a Purple Heart. I just wanted to sleep.

In the past few years, my body just won't sleep in like it used to. Some nights I'm up and down three or four times--thirsty, too hot, needing to pee, dreaming too wildly. The new
development of degenerating disks further erodes my sleep in loss of quality as certain positions are now painful or uncomfortable. I long to sleep deeply for vast stretches of time. And have dreams.

When I first came to New Orleans and
volunteered with the Common Ground Collective, I slept in a tiny, cluttered room in the founder's home that held two twin beds and a queen-size mattress on a makeshift platform. The beds were only inches apart. I was assigned the nicer of the twin beds, right next to the window. The other bed, essentially a thin mattress on a cot, belonged to a long-term volunteer, a male member of the Collective's inner circle. The large mattress was unassigned. Visitors or newcomers slept there usually.

I think I slept pretty good but sleeping in was not an option during the month that I lived there. The room shared a wall with the kitchen which also served as a meeting room or lounge frequently. A TV and boom box were in the kitchen. Shortly before sunrise the resident rooster would begin reveille and soon after the strains of reggae music and the sounds and aromas of breakfast prep (for 10 to 20 people) would join him to demand my return to the waking world.

Even without these stimuli, my conscience wouldn't let me sleep in. There was a city to rebuild. Get up!

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

My natural sleep cycle--that is, the schedule I keep without external interference--is to go to bed close to dawn and sleep until noon. (Now and then, whether on this cycle or the cycle of the dominant sleep culture, I am awake for 24 hours or longer.) This is the schedule that my system is always leaning toward, that I must guard against if I am to maintain my current social placement and context.

As "the holidays" have arrived and disrupted all routines, my vigilance has relaxed and I have reverted to form: I've been up until 5 or 6 and sleeping until noon for the last three days. I'll have to make an abrupt turnabout in the next 24 hrs: I've promised to meet a friend's plane in Memphis at 11 a.m. on Christmas Day. I need to leave Gulfport by 5 to get there on time...

I think I'll be drinking wine instead of coffee when I get up.





23 December 2007

Tribe Talk

I'm recycling a small-group email I sent back in April. When I use the word "tribe" --as in, "searching for my tribe"--this is some of what I'm talking about.

------------------------------------

From: Alex Mercedes
To: (bcc)
Subj: Why am I sending this to you?
Date: Mon, Apr 9, 2007 at 11:39 PM


Because the passage spoke to me
and I wonder if it speaks to you

this is not an exam
but it is a kind of test I guess
or I'm fishing or showing my hand

there's more than one kind of loneliness

Here's my dream:
I have two...or maybe even three....friends who live in my town
we might find ourselves doing anything, talking about anything
doing nothing
talking about nothing
doesn't matter

we know that when we're together
and we're real

it's God

I am sharing this Cohen quote with you, all of you,
because I don't remember us ever talking about this
not outright
but
except for the fact that we don't live in the same town
I'm either wishing or believing that you're one of the friends in [my]dream.

Glad you're on the planet and in my life.

Love

Alex


When God Listens

When people come together and get real, which means go beyond ego, a powerful presence instantaneously enters into the room. Lack of pretense equals presence. And what is that presence? It is the Authentic Self, the creative principle, the god-impulse. When people get real, God starts listening! But when there is pretense, the creative impulse doesn't listen, doesn't pay attention. It is only when human beings stop pretending and begin to authentically engage with the life process that God realizes there are some sentient life forms that are available—available for his or her creative purpose, available to be conscious vehicles for the emergence of the future.
Andrew Cohen

21 December 2007

Ask Me No Questions

Mine is an inquiring mind. The desire to know is often secondary to a desire to inquire.

R_____ and I had not seen each other for a couple of years when he arrived in Gulfport last week. We'd kept in touch by frequent telephone and written correspondence.

We met in the San Francisco area and, while I lived there, were 'friends who had sex". (This is, admittedly, a coarse or clinical way to speak of a friendship--and I apologize to R_____ if it hurts to read this. I don't mean to imply a judgment. I mean to identify an interpersonal frame for our interactions.)
When I left CA and hit the road in 2004, I was unhappy with R_____ and our relationship. My complaint was a lack of intimacy between us. I felt that after all we'd shared and explored physically and after all the time spent together, there
should be more intimacy between us.

We were nice to each other, we had fun, we enjoyed each other. But it was not enough for me. I wanted to be seen and known by him. Recognized in some primal, elemental way.



My complaint was valid. And impossible.

My departure interrupted the possibility of exploring the validity together. Instead, we reached an unspoken agreement on the impossibility of my complaint and began a cordial, often deeply satisfying long-distance interaction in which we did not discuss "it". The mutual silence on my "issue" was comfortable and, ironically, we did grow closer...in some way. I felt closer. We eventually even allowed ourselves to say "love."

It was not long after R___________ arrived in Gulfport thatI noticed a recurring conversational format between us. He asked questions rather than make statements. I love questions. Good questions. Questions that open up the space between and around and within people. R____'s questions didn't feel spacious to me; they felt protective or deflective. I kept feeling his questions were posed to spare him the risky work of showing himself to me. The questions kept me in the self-disclosing spotlight and him in the cloaked comfort of the voyeur.



Ignoring my awareness that the new annoyance was actually a renewed expression of my old, impossible complaint, I talked "at" and "to" R_____ about it. Not a particularly productive approach.

For the first 12 hours after he left, I missed him. The apartment felt strange, like a wall was missing. I was anxious and unfocused. I asked myself why...

By the next day, I began to accept the paradoxical nature of our relationship: that I cherish him and that he confounds me; that I enjoy his company and am frustrated by his company; that he lives in my heart and is a stranger to me. That we are intimates and we are not of the same tribe.

On this third day, as the holiday weekend begins and people far and near gather in families of birth and choice, I consider again the meaning of "tribe" in my personal lexicon. A reader here recently invited me to expand my discussion of "tribe" and I have been thinking about it on and off in the intervening weeks.

I'm looking for a good image to open my discussion. Coming soon....

12 December 2007

Three Beans

Somewhere between midnight and daybreak I woke up with a start, frantic to remember whether "thanksgiving" had already passed. A dream had excited tremendous eagerness to celebrate "thanksgiving." I didn't come fully awake; just realized (or remembered) that "thanksgiving" is always ahead of me and went back to sleep.



A few hours later I woke again: my air mattress was deflating. I'd already filled the bathtub with water (to try to find the leak) when I remembered having absentmindedly parked a sewing needle in the mattress last night while doing some mending. I crack myself up sometimes.


I found a quote. If you substitute "hope" for "happiness" it's a pretty accurate statement of my opinion of hope.

I am not at all interested in the pursuit of happiness. I am interested in pursuing truth, and the truth often seems to be not happiness but its opposite.
--Jamaica Kincaid

02 December 2007

The God Sized Hole















After the Purge the other night, it felt like a good time to cut my hair. So I did. And threw away some clothes and took down the postcards from over my desk. And painted my toenails.

It wasn't enough.

I cleaned out the refrigerator (finally) and moved the lawn furniture to a new location and washed both sets of curtains (finally).

I also (finally) got the windshield on my car repaired (an errant pecan shattered it a couple of weeks ago) and disposed of the body washes and gels accumulating in my shower rack...(I know people mean well but if you've never heard me play piano, you probably don't know me well enough to make a gift of body wash.)

That old windshield was dirtier than I realized. It has shaken me to my roots driving around with enhanced visibility for four days. And there's more space in the shower stall now...something kinda inspiring about the minimalism--just me, water, soap and shampoo.

Still, I wanted more. Of something.

I've been quitting smoking for about 10 years and had considered setting my next SmokeStop for the Great American Smokeout (the Thursday before Thanksgiving) this year but the date snuck up on me. "Maybe 1st of December...." I thought. As best I could estimate, my stash of tobacco -- both loose-leaf and factory-rolled--would be running out around the end of November.

In the midst of all this, "Requiem for a Dream" arrived in my mailbox. In the Commentary, the director talks about "the hole"....ah, I hadn't thought about "the hole" for awhile.

Facing The God Sized Hole was the working metaphor for my last SmokeStop but it's been awhile since I thought about it closely. Aronofsky's comments led me to thoughts about the recent round of reflections and feelings triggered in me by new hard work with my adult son and as I learn to cope with the onset of chronic neck pain.

I hadn't thought of it yet, but, in fact, November was An Encounter (again) with the God Sized Hole. Alone in the dark on the edge of the chasm, I am surprised: How have I avoided returning to this place for so long? I look down to see I am standing in footprints I made during my last visit...There's something like comfort in that.

Well, then. As long as I am Here again...and I've run out of tobacco "coincidentally"...and I'm still itching for somethin'... Let's take on nicotine addiction.

I've been sleeping in the guest room for at least a month now. The air mattress is easier on my neck. Last night I rearranged the guest room and slept with the window open.

This morning I moved the office furniture from the downstairs living room to the upstairs front bedroom. It was a workout.

Now my living room looks like a meditation room or dance studio. The front upstairs bedroom looks ready for all kinds of desk and computer work--or sleeping, if you're a guest. The back bedroom is ready for sleeping and reading and watching DVDs and coloring with markers and other kinds of play.

My sleep is unsettled and I'm already beginning to cough. I'm mentally disoriented and emotionally fragile. My mouth tastes funny and intestinal tract is trembling.

Day Two at the Hole.

01 December 2007

Charge of the Life Brigade




























Today feels like the beginning of the second half of my life.

2 films that have recently made strong impressions on me:

Me and You and Everyone We Know and Requiem for a Dream
















Neither film is for "the squeamish"
Both tell stories that are simultaneously super-realistic and incredible

Both remind how fragile...unpredictable...horrible...complicated...and beautiful Life is.

Both make me want to live without compromise starting immediately.

Can you tell?

26 November 2007

Solitude


Someone recently referred to this blog as "a confessional website." The reference was a new concept for me and was made in the context of a misunderstanding. So my first reaction was a frown and a wrinkled nose.

After doing what I could to correct the misunderstanding, I looked at the term again, minus the filter of my negative emotional reaction.

The label does not fit because, at least so far, I haven't revealed any secrets here. Nor has my intention been to seek forgiveness.

The label does fit because I do seek here to see myself and be seen with as little disguise as courage will permit. My selfish reasons for doing this are a) a commitment to "coming out" to myself, over and over again, b) indulging my love of language and writing, and c) experimenting with another format for my lifelong fascination with autobiography.

Other reasons for blogging are a) to meet people and engage in "deeper" dialogue than is usually possible day-to-day, b) to provoke thought, c) to create and hold a space where people can explore personal issues in a fairly "safe" public forum.

There is so much I do not say here, so many days that something weighs heavily on my heart or mind and I want to blog it....but I don't. Because I'm not brave enough to let the world see that particular wound or imperfection or bias. Because I don't feel ready to deal with reader reaction. Because the issue is in process and we have limited capacity to be still while another is in process, to keep our hands and words off the precious unfolding. Process is a vulnerable time; premature exposure to critique and opinion and "fix" and sympathy can be disastrous.

In the last few weeks, I have begun allowing myself to say aloud--to myself and others--that I am lonely. Each time I speak the word in conversation, there is a feeling of confession. Loneliness when it has visited me, has always been a secret, an embarrassment (and we will count the mention here as my first disclosure of a secret in my blog).

I read somewhere that loneliness is a time for coming into closer relationship to the self, for refinement of self-identity and clarification of personal definition and boundaries. This is certainly true for me in the current episode of loneliness.

There is always the fear that my revelation of this secret will provoke feelings of pity in the listener--a possibility I find revolting. What I seek in sharing it is to see and be seen more wholly, to shatter one more layer of social pretense and "come clean." There is longing and pain and hard places inside the experience but it is not fatal; I am not sick or at risk; I don't need saving. I desire witness.

I've also read

As long as we are on a path, we will have a sense of direction. And all paths lead away from loneliness, for loneliness is stagnation, passivity, and inaction. So, you see, loneliness is nothing more than a call for action. When we heed that call, we move forward.
Although inexact, there is some truth here as well. In the process of self-definition and general reevaluation that loneliness often triggers, ideas for new directions and recommitment arise. Among the themes and issues on my work bench this time are family, life work, the importance of place, racial identity and aging, and insights are emerging with gentle boldness.

A blessing of loneliness and solitude is time away from the increasing clamor of the modern world. In the social realm, it seems sometimes that nearly everyone is in desperate need of something from me and I find myself swept up in a frantic rush of either fulfilling or resisting others' needs--or advocating my own.

In loneliness I rediscover my own feet and legs and know again where I stand and in which direction my life is moving. I hear again the essential song of my soul. My heart resumes its true rhythm; my breath returns to uncompromised fullness--inhaling and exhaling. I am delivered to the great plain of Being to press on, restored and watching the horizon for the arrival of my beloved tribe.









18 November 2007

What I'll Give you Since You Asked


This weekend I facilitated a strategic planning workshop for a small nonprofit organization in Biloxi. Contemplating their collaboratively-produced vision statement, a participant took issue with the phrase "unconditionally committed," or, more specifically, the use of the word "unconditionally."

I could appreciate her perspective. Is "unconditional commitment" something that can be required, or demanded or even requested?

It's a huge concept; impossible to verify until we take our last breath. It is a survivor's observation at the bedside of the deceased: Yes, her [love, commitment, faith, generosity, etc] was unconditional. It never failed.

Unconditional is a vow we make in the privacy of our own hearts--to be unwavering, steadfast, reliable until the end.


Today I am thinking about all the people I have disappointed over my lifetime, particularly those who I love. Almost never has it been a situation in which my reneging on an agreement or consciously, intentionally betraying them provoked the disappointment.

Maybe I did or said something which I knew or suspected, from prior events in our shared history, they would not approve of. Maybe we'd never encountered or explored the issue in our relationship to date so I had no idea what their response might be.

Whatever it was, I felt strongly enough about it to say or do it.

In those cases where I knew the other's opinion beforehand, I often assumed there was sufficient love, tolerance and flexibility between us to allow a difference of opinion. Sometimes I knew I risked disappointment (which, with so many people, quickly evolves into a sense of personal injury) but with people I love unconditionally, I proceed with a mostly unconscious confidence that the situation will not devolve into estrangement of the relationship.

I believe we'll keep going. I believe we'll work it out.

But it doesn't always work that way. I am estranged from, what seems to me today, a staggering number of people who I love unconditionally.

The familial estrangements provoke a distinctly dynamic emotional reaction in me. It is as though "unconditional love" comes in at least two varieties-- one denoting "til the end of time" and the other having no end; a "forever, everywhere...and nowhere as well if you go there" kind of unconditional love. An "I am with you and for you and of you always. Amen" kind of unconditional love.

Some would say it is a lot to give. I would respond that, when it comes, it is impossible not to give it. It is mysterious and insistent and gently profound--like air. There's no choice. It isn't even mine to give or withhold.

I'm saying that's the way Unconditional Love reveals itself to me. I can't say how it comes to other people.

I love my immediate blood family unconditionally. I have little to no contact with most of them. In some cases we simply haven't crossed each other's mind with enough vitality to inspire initiating contact. My youngest sister, and to some extent my only brother, fall into this category. I also have easily hundreds of cousins who fall into this category.

I've encountered and internalized some teachings on family and family love in poetry and wisdom traditions. I've also undergone a lot of psychological therapy and read substantially inside the practice. These biases shape my understanding and emotional experience of being estranged from blood relatives who I love unconditionally.

I Googled "quotations about family" and found:

Alex Haley:

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.


Auguste Napier:

In each family a story is playing itself out, and each family's story embodies its hope and despair.

George Bernard Shaw:

If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

Isaac Rosenfeld:

In every dispute between parent and child, both cannot be right, but they may be, and usually are, both wrong. It is this situation which gives family life its peculiar hysterical charm.


There are times when my estrangement from my mother and father provokes extreme self loathing--what kind of monster or miscreant am I? Normal people talk to their living parents. Don't they?!

Other times I see myself as just another little human whose life story happens to be unfolding this way. My story is not a lightening bolt ripping the fabric of the cosmos. It is one little strand in the tapestry of Life.

It is a small strand and it is not unique. It recurs. It is mostly through biographical literature that I discover the universality of my experience. Estrangement is a bleak plane that others have visited. And written about. Or painted or composed music or danced about.

Sometimes I attempt a therapeutic analysis. What do the "experts" say about estranged adult children? What do the wisdom traditions say is possible for an estranged being?

Perhaps three years ago, it was extremely painful to think of the gulf between my divorced parents and the individual gulfs between me and each of them. Very rarely do I feel that kind of pain anymore. And very rarely does an urge come to "fix" the situation. It is what it is. Tragic, sad, ridiculous, paradoxical. It is the way it is.
I love them. We do not talk.

Who is to blame? A dead-end, deadening question.

What did I do? I disappointed them. Deeply. Early in my life. They were hurt and disappointed because of something I was or said or did. And I experienced their wounded disappointment as a fatal wound to my heart. And, as soon as I could, I set about placing as much space and time between us as possible. I ran from the scene and the source of pain.

But I was young. I still needed them psychically. I loved them and needed them. And I felt wounded by their disappointment. For a few years I reached out through occasional letters written in raw, reaching language trying to reconnect to what felt like essential, life-sustaining relationship. My father never responded but his wife sent a friendly handwritten card saying thanks for writing and best of luck always. My mother never responded to letters but was full of smile and surface chat when I saw her at my son's wedding after at least 3 years of silence between us.

I learned that I could survive without an engaged relationship with my parents.

Perhaps my parents feel the same unconditional love for me and each other that I feel for each of them. What proof will exist as we each breath our last that "yes, our love was unconditional. It never failed"?

Time in the Sky


I am reading and hearing reports about airline travel

and last weekend I made a trip to Florida by air. There's a good chance it was the last time I'll travel by commercial airliner.

I'm not outraged, don't have a desire to bitch and moan or start a letter-writing campaign. It's "their" thing and they can do it however they want to. But it just doesn't work for me any longer.

I can still remember my first trip on a plane. It was December 1977 and I was returning to IN after a couple of years away living in Hollywood and hitch-hiking in the West. The flight took off from Denver just before sunset. Beautiful, beautiful beyond words the sky. I remember the exhilaration of mind and body as we left the ground...fascination to see the wings of the plane dipping as we made the curve toward the east while inside the plane all was upright and level...and what to make of all these lives brought together in one airborne room!

I'd never seen America from that vantage point and something like patriotism swelled in my heart. Looking at the fields and houses and highways and malls below, I was awed to consider the hundreds of thousands of lives playing out: even as we flew over unaware, down there, someone was dying, being born, falling in love, taking a pie out of the oven, making a big mistake, reuniting, typing the last page of their first novel, looking up at a plane flying by...

Flying! What an astounding technological feat! On that day, I thought I want to fly and fly!

A few years shy of three decades and so much has changed. The worst part of every trip now is the journey itself. No more. Private plane? I'm happy to try it. I still love flying and it's the fastest means available. But airports and being crammed into a steel box with people behaving badly? No more.

Hate to be a quitter but I've had enough.
We can add "refuses to travel by commercial plane" to the list of my high-maintenance personality traits.

06 November 2007

One can only try

One can only try to be normal.

Normal is indefinite, changeable, elusive. It can mean anything. It includes almost everything, depending on where one is and what time it is. Trout for breakfast, remaining silent, speaking up, a desire for acceptance, a fear of death, five fingers on each of two hands, choosing the green crayon for coloring leaves, having difficulty remembering names.

Normal. All normal.

A neighbor complains that another neighborhood resident is "not normal." Pressed for specific behaviors that support her impression, she says "She wants to know what everybody is doing. She leaves her laundry on the line all night. She has indoor furniture on her front porch. She drinks beer in the morning. Nobody's ever seen her husband."

I often refer to myself as "a freak" which translates variously at Thesaurus.com as weirdo, enthusiast and divine act. I use it to refer to a) the frequency with which my behavior is perceived by others to be curious, odd, inappropriate, quirky or inconsistent; b) the frequency with which I feel out of step with most of the people around me; and c) the absence of certain routines and the excess of other types of routines that define my life.

In my perfect dream of living, no one uses "normal" as a yardstick to measure anything or anyone else and just being is good enough and complaints or problems are discussed in specific enough terms to allow a meaningful conversation about possible correctives.

To say "normal" is to say very little. It is, too often, an unkind, ineffective shorthand. To a degree, it's unavoidable since even the most eloquent speech is incomplete and inaccurate. The limitations of language. But the possibilities between us expand in direct proportion to the integrity and care and intentionality we bring when we talk to each other. The difference between "Be nice!" and "Please don't interrupt or talk with your mouth full of food" is immense. The first statement may communicate your displeasure with me; the second statement offers me some options for remedy.

For some people--most notably and painfully, several members of my family--my ideas about language are troublesome and annoying. My request for clarification or confession that I don't understand are read as being too analytical or "playing dumb." Where do I go from there? It feels like a closed door that I've stood outside of my entire life.

In moments of desperation or wretched yearning, my mind frantically schemes, concocting scripts, lines to deliver that might give an impression of normalcy. I try to design a facade, paying attention to language and posture and facial expressions. How does one convince or prove...or delude others into the perception that one is normal?

Even if the disguise succeeds in the moment, there is the long history of being perceived as "not normal" to deal with. And given the slippery nature of "normal," maintaining the pretense long enough to overcome the preconceived notions and earn the other's trust is a daunting task.

I'm not sure it's possible.

One can only try.

05 November 2007

Heaven on My Mind

There is so much suffering in the world.

There is joy too. And people who will say they have never known joy.

But everyone seems to know suffering.




Belief in Heaven begins to make sense. For some it becomes the only way to endure Life.




I used to say I didn't believe in Heaven. Gradually, of course--since I really meant the concept of a celestial city full of light and music, where a paternal divinity waits to meet me after I die IF I have earned entry, has no resonant meaning for me--I stopped saying I didn't believe in Heaven.

I
decided I liked the word. I reclaimed it. I understood it as a state of being, experienced Now rather than Later--albeit not a state I experience with sustained regularity.

Thinking about it tonight, I wondered why.

It could be simply the constant flux inherent to being human. Nothing lasts forever. A lot of things don't last long. The fiery burst of autumn trees. The breathless enthrall of first love. The first bite of a new loaf right out of the oven.






Mark Twain said, "Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. " That Twain....such a playful curmudgeon.






But what's the difference between believing there will be surcease of suffering at the end of life and perceiving intermittent surcease in life? What difference does it make in the lives we live now? Are we better or worse people? More or less generous, industrious or kind?



The last week has been rough for me and, apparently, also for a lot of friends and acquaintances. Driving home tonight I thought about our suffering. About particular moments so densely saturated with suffering that it is actually difficult to draw a breath. The death of a loved one. The end of a relationship. The loss of a home.

A belief in a heavenly afterlife can inspire the next breath for those who believe. The belief compels them forward, even into yet another encounter with suffering. They keep going because God is waiting for them.


My next breath comes upon remembering that Heaven is here Now for me. That God is here. This Now Is God. Again, Simone Weil''s words on affliction come to mind:


it is no punishment; it is God holding [my] hand and pressing rather hard. ... buried deep under the sound of [my] own lamentations is the pearl of the silence of God.
I have perhaps shared with you in person, or here, the cherished notion that I touch for inspiration: that I sit always in the lap of God and can at any time lean back and feel the divine heartbeat against my shoulder blades, the breath of God bathing my head and neck. I am granted clear vision and an open heart...though I sometimes forget my endowment.

Heaven is when and where I remember my endowment. Sometimes remembering is triggered by beauty. Sometimes by suffering.

Death might be a final, ultimate remembering.



31 October 2007

Trick or Treat

Some time recently I read a piece of wisdom writing but I can't remember where I read it or exactly what it said. A snatch of the teaching, mostly a sense of it or perhaps a word or two, is all that remains in memory. As sometimes happens, I've been reading from lots of different books and magazines and newspapers--as well as blogs and other internet writing--all at the same time, for several weeks.

Now I can't exactly remember what I read; nor can I completely forget what I read.


The furry memory of it feels Buddhist. And very old; perhaps ancient. It may have been a poem. The theme was...desire...or maybe it was attachment.


Something about a quality of detachment or contentment that makes an enemy no more or less cherished than a lover.


Several times a day now the sense of the text comes to me, floats into the center of my field of attention. I stop what I am doing and stare into space and frown just a little--with frustration because I want to read it again but I don't remember where I read it; and also because I am unsettled with the idea and what it seems to mean.


I am not resistant to the idea but it is provocative. It's not like the concept of "unconditional
love", which was understandable, incontrovertible and appealing from the first time I encountered it. My mind wants to play with the current, haunting concept: to consider it, question it, hold it up to the light, cup my hands around it and see if it glows in the dark.

Wherever I read it, I understood the teaching to advocate a kind of meditative neutrality.


I placed the incompletely-glimpsed concept in dialogue with a recent Andrew Cohen Quote of the Week entitled "The Evolution of We" which opens

The evolution of consciousness and culture is not about the individual. It's not the evolution of you, it's the evolution of we—the evolution of the consciousness that's being shared in the collective or intersubjective “we” space between individuals.
(It's a long quote. You can find the full text here if you like.)

Last night, unable to sleep, while I tried to wrap my mind around holding friends and enemies
with the same regard and, by extension, viewing the potential for collaborative evolution of human consciousness as equals since the intersubjective "we" space between me and any Other -- enemy or friend -- would, of course, also be undifferentiated...

Two things happened: One, I received a long, angry, email rant from my adult son; and Two, I discovered a blog authored by some disgruntled former students of Andrew Cohen and a
critical biography of Cohen. Two explosions in the middle of the night.

(I finally fell asleep around 7 a.m. and slept fitfully for two hours. I'm hoping for some sleep tonight.)

Sleep deprivation makes it impossible to discuss fully last night's mental and emotional journey; but I'll say this much:

Due to the presence of the haunting concept, I'd spent the last few days experimenting with finding flat level ground from which to deal impartially with all people. The exercise saved my life today. I don't know if I could have survived reading my son's missive otherwise. If I'd had to receive the hit from the high place or the close place where I emotionally hold him. With everything else that's happened recently, I would have been devastated.

The Web writing pulled Andrew Cohen down to level ground from the lofty place he'd occupied in my thinking.That was a relief because though I've never met the man, I've read some of his writing and attended a sort of intro to Evolutionary Enlightenment talking circle in SF a few years ago led by some of his students.

I'd found some good stuff in his writing but being in the same space with his students was downright creepy. I couldn't explain the strangeness definitively but the dim lighting, the way the hosts all spoke at the same volume in the same pitch, the humongous screen at the front of the tiny room, suspended at a height that forced you to look up, running looped video clips of Andrew while the audience arrived, all the chairs facing the screen... and out of the seventy or so folks who showed up that night, I was the only person of color in the room and one of perhaps five people who looked like they had to work for a living...yeah, all that had something to do with it.

Anyway, this concept, indistinct as it must be for now, has been quietly floating around in my subconscious like a ghost in the machine for days. There's a fetching perfection about it finally howling through to consciousness on Halloween.