17 June 2010

On The Walls of My Room

Shirley Temple
Audre Lorde
Carlos Santana
Josephine Baker
Bob Marley

A National Geographic map of Earth's "Population and Resources"

A Lunar Phases calendar for 2010

Two postcards: one with the caption "One of my favorite places in the entire world is wherever you are"

and the other a 50s era photo-penciled shot of 24 women in two-piece bathing suits lying side by side in a circle to form a human "sunflower"

A photo of the sculpture "Thermonuclear Family" by my dear now-deceased friend, Jean-Paul Darriau.

A small print of "The Song of the Lark" (Jules Breton). This was one of the first paintings I ever saw outside my home. It hung over my desk in first grade. I looked at it for hours over the course of that year. I remember the girl's broad, dirty feet; the rough texture of the field and the breath-taking imminence of the dawn sky.

These images hang over my desk.

Other items hang on other walls. Three original pieces, created while I was in art school, hang over my bed:

an 11 by 17 inch collage of torn images, a drawing made with black charcoal on black construction paper, and a 9 x 14 inch oil pastel abstraction on coarse paper.

Every day I consider taking them down and throwing them away.


I have no mirrors on the walls. There are no mirrors at all in my room.

The Shirley Temple picture is framed and under glass. When I need to see my reflection, I stand so the light is just right and look into it.

09 June 2010

Opening to Memory at the New Dawn

The other night, I was wondering "What ever happened to J______" my childhood best friend. Even though I had a vague memory of having tried unsuccessfully to find her online a few years ago, I gave it another try. This time when I typed her name into the search engine and hit "Send," the screen blinked and brought back two pages of hits.

My illustrious forrmer best friend... In the most recent Google citation, a 1997 article in Ebony magazine, J_______ was VP of a Fortune 500 company and former state's attorney general. In the accompanying photo, behind the executive haircut and dark blue power suit, I recognized my first and truest friend. My love for J_________ was intense and unconditional and fragile and I haven't known a friend-love like that since.

When asked by the article's author what it takes to succeed, she said
"...I have to set a standard for myself... independent of anyone else.... I never set out saying `I'm going to beat him or her.' Rather, I say that I want to accomplish this objective or this goal. Then the question becomes how do I get to my personal best.

...first you must define what success means to you as an individual -- not what it means to parents, family and friends. And then you have to be committed to achieving success, ... and that means sacrifice. ... The issue is your willingness to commit to and go after your objective. ... you must like what you do....If you don't like it, you'll never put the energy into it to be successful."

Discerning my "life work" is the #1 project these days. I'm reading and listening and asking questions. I accept Thomas Moore's message in A Life at Work without resistance. It is more difficult to open to J________'s words. For decades I've vacillated between nervous picking at the scar of losing her and disciplined denial, trying to leave it alone and let it heal.

It took a few days but on this day, I'm finally able to read J________'s words as part of the inspiration and information pouring in in this time of discernment and meditation.

Also on this day, a coincidence is revealed: , the day I did the Google search for J____________ was her birthday.


I don't remember now if Pallas or Carlton first brought Landmark Education to my attention. They're both graduates of the program. In the intervening years, subsequent reminders have come from both of them as well as other voices. Perhaps a decade ago I decided to enroll -- the dynamism and intelligence of every graduate I'd ever met was compelling -- but program policies made me ineligible: I was taking anti-depressant medication at the time and had a hospitalization for depression in my history.

The policies have since changed. When our friend Vanda came through town last weekend, Landmark came up again. Vanda is also a graduate. [Note: I hope the reader follows the link and checks out Vanda's video clip.] Something in the quality of our interactions led both Pallas and Vanda to recommend a re-consideration of Landmark.

Again, scar tissue made consideration difficult. Being rejected by Landmark all those years ago had been painful. Again, it took a couple of days to gather sufficient strength and willingness to override my defenses. In the resulting "clear space," with Carlton and Pallas' generous support, I registered for the upcoming Landmark Forum in San Jose. There's residual emotional matter that feels mostly like a healthy skepticism; but there's also excitement and curiosity.


Vanda also brought a new conceptualization of "the personal blind spot." I conceive of it now as a psychic space (that feels to be located behind and to the right of my head) where core elements of my "operating system" are stored. These elements are automatic -- no dialog boxes need to open for these applications to execute and run through my behavior and thinking. The files are stored in "System Preferences" and require a series of "advanced" steps to access and modify.

This blind spot manifests as a feeling that there's an auto-pilot "program" running through my life, a meaning-making program that limits and defines my perceptions and understandings. As I make my way, making choices based on these understandings, I experience "effects" with an incomplete sense of the "causes." To enjoy new effects, I must make new causes.

OK. I want to "go there." I'm ready to learn the steps and begin reprogramming... I think, I hope, I believe that Landmark will be a valuable tool in this process.

07 June 2010

Against the Wall

My friend is addicted to methamphetamine. He says he is not addicted. He says there's a malevolent group of men and women who read his thoughts and eavesdrop on all his conversations. They follow him wherever he goes and they are out to kill him. Those of us who love him believe this is a delusion. He disagrees.

I've had alcoholic friends and friends who overeat and friends who could not make it through a day without coffee or shopping or several hours before a computer. I smoke cigarettes every day of my life. But in each of these cases, the "user" was/is aware that the habit/addiction diminishes the quality of their life.

My friend does not believe he's addicted. Periodically, he sees that meth use diminishes the quality of his life but he loses sight of this. He changes his mind.

I am heartbroken. And frustrated by feelings of powerlessness. The experience feels like a painful but necessary lesson in humility. I'm not nearly as smart or capable or powerful as I sometimes believe. There are limits to my imagination and my sphere of influence.

02 June 2010

Following the Rules

In the morning (or whenever I get up) I perform a little ritual: start the coffee, make my bed; grab a cigarette and a lighter (and sometimes a book) and take them to the little courtyard in front of the house; move the chair into the sunlight, return to the kitchen to complete coffee prep and take my beautiful Peet's Coffee thermos outside. I smoke and drink, read, pull weeds, watch the birds glut themselves at the feeder and think.

In the house where I grew up there was a right way and wrong way to do everything. It's probably one reason I am drawn to improvisation as an adult. There are lots of "right" ways to do things in improvisation and I like that.

There are rules; but the rules govern attitude rather than specific behaviors or movements or sounds.

I hate being told what to do. When someone gives me an order, it drives a wide, white bolt of lightning down the center of my inner landscape...buildings start crumbling to the ground and trees fall and the air is filled with screams and angry shouts. As a child, I simply did what I was told. As an adult, I throw a tantrum inside my head--visible on the outside to varying degrees depending on the situation.

The psychic dissonance is even greater when the order is delivered in a manipulative or passive-aggressive spirit. The cacophony grows louder with the addition of the snarling voice of my "inner judge" as I criticize the psychology of whoever is issuing the demand.

I suffer when someone gives me an order.
It's a ring of my Private Hell.

Many spiritual and religious traditions speak to the issue of human suffering and how to minimize or eliminate it. Tonight I will attend a dharma talk on Heart Sutra. I anticipate receiving insight on the judgment-inspired dimension of my suffering and I will listen when it comes. As I make my way through the current Life Curriculum on Life Work, it is clear that my journey from "here" to "there", from mostly suffering to more joy, will involve change: change of perspective, practice, opinion, habit, approach... I am willing.

Extrapolated from "Don't tell me what to do" is "I hate rules." This morning, I was struck by the predictability and precision of my coffee-cigarettes-weeding-and-reading ritual. I follow the rules closely in my morning ritual.

Following rules is not the source of the suffering; having rules dictated to me is the issue.

"I don't want rules! I want to improvise!" is the mantra intoned as I stamp around in my tantrum. This morning "Don't tell me what to do! I want to improvise!" transformed into "Don't tell me what to do. I want to make my own rules."

The words "improvise" and "imagination" usually operate in tandem in my lexicon. Whenever one is banned the other immediately and automatically deactivates.

This interpretation or perspective appears to me now as a possible contributor to my suffering.

Another new ritual or habitual behavior that has developed in these first two months of return to CA involves concurrent computer work/play and piano work/play. The piano bench sits only a few inches from the desk chair in my little room. I sit at the piano and work intensely on Bach or Chopin for a spell and then slide over to the desk and answer email or play a computer game or, today, blog. Back and forth between the two keyboards for hours, with an occasional break to step outside and smoke.

The effect on my psyche? A scene of humming industry: my mind's eye sees conversations at cafe tables and gardens being watered and dogs running beneath a sky of pristine blue where wide-winged birds soar in pulsing sunlight. A steady breeze stirs gently and the lungs of everything that lives fill and empty and fill again and empty again.

There is order and beauty. Imagination and improvisation course through every moment, every action, every aspect of the scene. It is the exquisite beauty and order of chaos.

It is difficult to allow the mind to find its natural resting place (and I do believe a river of tranquility flows somewhere inside each of us). There is so much to think about. There is so much memory to cling to and fret about. So many judgments to pass and defenses to construct. So many plans to make and escape hatches to secure.

But we do much of this kind of thinking unconsciously. Awareness of the ceaseless churning and chattering is a first step toward returning to tranquility. A next step is realizing that we are creating much of the churning and chattering--the World is not shouting at us so much as we are shouting at ourselves.

These two tiny steps "outside" place us a little closer to tranquility. Stepping outside the storm to observe it places us...outside the storm.

When I listen for my life's calling, I hear an indistinct song about helping myself and others toward honest, humble, compassionate observance of the journeys of our souls and spirits as represented in the ways we think. And, insofar as, "As I think, so I behave" is true, to change the World by helping people to change the way they think. I want to help us make rules for living that allow and encourage imagination.

This is an important part of my life work and I'd like some company on the way.