Cracker Jacks

“The goal is very close to us, but nevertheless, as close as it seems, it is far away, because with every horizon reached, another beckons beyond.” – – Joel Goldsmith

 

“Candy coated popcorn.  Peanuts, and a prize.  That’s what you get with Cracker Jacks (bouncy flute riff).” I loved Cracker Jacks when I was a kid.  And the tv commercial. I loved the prize even more, the one that was usually at the bottom of the box.  Let nothing come between me and that prize! So my usual tact was to jam my hand down to the bottom of the box as the candy coated popcorn flew all over the place.  But I had my prize! (Or as mom might’ve said: “You and that dammit prize.”) It is such an ironic metaphor for the results of a lot of meditation that not too much time ever passes without me making the comparison.

On December 10th, 1993, my mom passed away.  I was newly broken up out of a relationship just before she died and things had soured  financially so at age thirty-six I tucked my tail between my legs and moved back in with her.  Can’t beat free rent. By this time the rest of my family had scattered away from mom so I was left holding the proverbial bag. It was up to me to settle the so-called estate.  I was in over my head.  I was talking daily with attorneys, and realtors and panic got to be my normal mode.  I started to meditate daily, sometimes twice.  Then I had an invoice sent to me from the VA.  It seems that mom didn’t understand that my dad’s VA checks were meant to pay for his nursing home fees before he passed.  She was pocketing the money.  I got a bill for $77,000.  After holding the piece of paper for a few seconds I started to laugh out loud.  What else could I do?  Meditate, that’s what.  So I did again and again.  Days, weeks, a few months passed and I swear I was in a meditative state as many as ten times a day.  Feeling scared? Meditate. Lonely or overwhelmed? Meditate. It took me a while to notice the changes that were happening around me.

At first, impossibly it seemed like things were getting worse. A notice from the city to clean up various or face a fine.  Hiring a guy to come and cut down an overgrown plum tree in mom’s back yard, only to have him cut down the two big pine trees in front of the house instead. Things going awry at work.  Was this crap the answer to all of my prayer and meditation?  I had started out looking for some sort of resolution.  After my situation started pointing south again, I began to meditate just to feel safe.  I loved the beautiful feeling of companionship I got.  The little tufts of joy.  The growing feeling that everything was not going to be ok, but everything already is ok. Meditation was truly my safe haven.  Yet it seemed odd to me that it felt like the whole world was against me for the first couple of months.  Like I had crammed my hand into the Cracker Jacks box of the world and popcorn and peanuts were flying everywhere.  As a kid I had to clean up the Cracker Jacks.  In my estate situation, everything began to right itself.  Without me lifting a finger.  I had found the prize at the bottom of the box.

After a rift with a friend recently I had such a barren feeling that I began to meditate frequently.  Twice a day.  Then four times a day. I’ve gobbled up six the of the late spiritual teacher Joel Goldsmith’s books in the last three weeks. My friend and I patched things up.  And then the popcorn and peanuts happened again.  Somebody forgot to add some paid time off to my paycheck so I was temporarily stiffed about four hundred dollars.  Then my rent check bounced.  Twice.  After getting that resolved with a very helpful banker, I figured things were dying down.  Then I went out to my car this morning and found that someone had shattered the passenger side window. I’m hopefully in the preliminary stages of a shift again. Something I’ve prayed and meditated for since about 1993.  I found that I never reached that level of bliss and things falling into place again because I was focused almost always on the outcomes I wanted.  This time, at age sixty-three I figured I have nothing to lose, so why not go for broke?  “Seek ye first the kingdom.”  Only the kingdom.  Not rosy results.

St Paul said to “press on toward the mark.”  I never knew what that meant until I felt a sort of pressing sensation while sitting in meditation.  A companion piece for that to me is Jesus saying “Go, and sin (an old archery term defined as “missing the mark.”) no more.  I don’t think of “sin” as a word I need to dodge any more.  I think it simply means I’m engaged in the world of thought more than focusing on my Self.  I was told once that people have upwards of eighty thousand thoughts a day.  With each “good” or “bad” thought being an obstacle to divinity.  Naqshbandi Sufis talk of living in two modes with no middle ground: an insatiable thirst for the Beloved, and being “drunk on the love of God.”  I prefer the latter, but know I will entertain both if I continue to meditate as often as I am.  And I’m getting less and less concerned with potential outcomes.  I love the biblical phrase “God is a jealous God.” Like a Sufi, my concern is only about union with my Beloved.  The “bad” things that have happened in my life recently are not “bad” at all.  They are merely a precursor to better things.  The Cracker Jacks may be scattering again, but I have found my long lost Prize.

 

Peace

The Rope

“What’s sad is that we bring our own unhappiness with us into situations where it’s easiest to blame it on our surroundings and other people.” – – Tara Braveheart

 

It was a normal looking rope, really.  About six feet long, and just left laying in the lunch room of a busy workplace called The Garden Of Eden.  Nobody even noticed it until one day a young woman came in for her morning shift, muttering to herself – – problems on top of problems: the husband, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  She would give just about anything for a distraction.  Then out of the corner of her eye she saw it.  “Is that a snake in the lunch room?” she asked herself while she hurriedly passed through on her way to a meeting.  “It’s huge!” She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she’d best tell somebody right away.

The first person she saw was a co-worker from the same department as her.  He had come into work muttering to himself – – problems on top of problems: the wife, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  He would give just about anything for a distraction.  His co-worker grabbed him as soon as he came into view, excitedly saying, “Look! Look! It’s a snake in there! And it’s gotta be at least twelve feet long!”  The co-worker quickly obliged and looked in horror at the fourteen foot snake.  Soon, the two of them were talking about nothing else.  They hurried out of the lunch room to alert a few others in close proximity, the people they knew best first, about the sixteen foot snake.  Before they could call an exterminator, a short-term fix was needed.  As the group closest to the lunch room scurried about for boards and nails and hammers to shut in the eighteen foot snake, the rest of the room privy to the slithering nightmare went off to warn the remainder of the building not to go into the lunchroom.  The original two (as well as others) didn’t even notice that they were no longer thinking of their personal issues, and wouldn’t for the next eight hours.   Not until they left the building and headed for home again, anyway. We must keep our attention on getting rid of this twenty foot snake!

Finally, someone from the group closest to the lunch room said, “Hey, I know just who to call! Magic Man Exterminator!  I had rats in my house once and he got rid of them all.  He said he didn’t find anything, and that made me think he was nuts, but the thing was – after he left my house they never came back again.”  So the man went off to the front desk to call Magic Man to liberate them from their serpentine dilemma.

He did indeed look like a magic man.  Dressed in a tuxedo, complete with top hat and wand and white gloves, he looked so grand!  He strode in through the main entrance confidently, heading toward the lunch room to survey the problem.  As he removed a few of the boards,  he chuckled to himself and said to those just outside, “Ok, I’ll have this taken care of in no time.  You can just go about your day.  Are you sure you want this resolved though?  Are you sure you’re not too attached to the problem?”  Those around the Magic Man were floored by the question.  “Of course we want it resolved!” shot back one of the small crowd.  “Are you nuts? Who in blazes wants a forty foot snake in their lunch room?”  “Ok then,” replied the Magic Man.  “Done deal.”

He noted once again that the situation was always the same.  He laughed as he calmly picked up the six foot rope.  He’d been to places like The Garden Of Eden before. A few doves fluttered about him as he walked out the door, and those observing him noticed that he moved with such grace and had such a soothing feel about him.  The soothing aura the Magic Man emitted was so opposite the norm in the building it made everyone nervous.  Though the fifty foot snake was gone, they all had it in the back of their minds to keep an eye out for more, just in case. At least they would have something to talk about. The Magic Man easily picked up on the nervousness, then turned around and tipped his hat saying “Thank you for your business, and as with all of my clients, my service is free of charge.”  He exited through a side door and flipped the small rope into the back of his truck.  A few of the doves fluttered about in the back of the vehicle also, gliding into it on the trail of the Magic Man’s warmth.  The Magic Man fired up his truck and looked back at the entrance and smiled, then laughed the soft laugh of a Magic Man as he noticed a large yellow-lettered sign with a big arrow pointing toward the doorway, the same sign he noticed at all of the building’s entrances: “Volunteers Only.”  Then he started  singing a little Magic Man’s song and began waiting for his next call, knowing that it may be a long wait.

 

Peace

 

 

 

Hope

“You are watching people go through withdrawal from emotional addiction to the myth of certainty.” – – Ashley C. Ford

I will proudly say it took some time for my dam to burst but I have finally succumbed to an attack of Coviditis.  There is little comfort in not being alone.  The pressures of being put into a hugely different work schedule, no live Al-Anon or AA meetings and not enough other self care have led to a blowout with a neighbor in my building, and an overall feeling of depression. What brought on the rift was repeated door slamming by a guy one door down from me.  I decided to confront him once and for all as he passed my apartment one day last week.  Little did I know he had our landlord on his phone and she heard the entire conversation.  Fortunately I didn’t do anything close to threatening but was still rewarded with a call about getting along with neighbors.  Truth be known, the issue has been a ticking time bomb in me for over a month, and though I ended up splattering the walls with my ego, it was finally resolved.

I know I’m putting conditions on my recovery but to display this kind of behavior after being in various programs as long as I have got to feeling just plain shameful.  And I’ve carried it around since the incident with my neighbor last week.  So I’ve been the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. My savvy young boss noticed how out of sorts I was yesterday and she promptly changed up my schedule to have today off so I could do a little re-tooling. For a long time now I’ve thought of the “no room at the inn” story as the equivalent of a mind dominated by an ego that doesn’t allow the still small voice in.  As someone pointed out to me today in Courage To Change, “there is no room in a shame-filled mind.” So maybe I just brought myself to new starting point of knowing there is another way of looking at the world.  Recovery does move in cycles.

Step two suggests to me that belief and sanity are related.  A belief is nothing more than a thought or group of thoughts repeated over and over again.  During my “social distancing” my mind has become a dangerous place to be over repeated musing of the self pity kind – I have to endure this noise, I’m never going to see anyone I know again because of my work schedule, why am I not a millionaire writer, blah, blah, blah.  So the practicing of these thoughts has resulted in a belief that I view the world from and automatically act out of.  Basically, I’ve gotten to looking at the world through shit-colored glasses. Thank God beliefs can be changed.

One of the blessings of my recent experiences is that “aha” moment of remembering there is an eternal peace available in me.  It never left, I just forgot It was there.  Before I even begin practicing Its presence I need to remember that Its there.  Re-member.  To become a member again.  To practice the title of Kent Nerburn’s book Make Me An Instrument Of Your Peace.  My friend David once had a group that was reading this book.  As a new member joined he let David know how excited he was to start reading Make Me A Piece Of Your Instrument.  Obviously something got lost in the translation.  Lately, I know the feeling.

Hope is a strong theme in the Stephen King novella The Shawshank Redemption.  In the movie one of my favorite scenes shows an imprisoned Ellis Boyd Redding reading a letter from his friend Andy DuFresne, a letter Andy sent after escaping from Shawshank.  He finishes it with “And remember Red, hope is a good thing.  Maybe the best of things.  And a good thing never dies.”  One definition of the word hope reads “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  My hope is for a stronger feeling of peace in myself and everyone I know.  I agree with one of my old sponsors that recovery is an inside job.  And also that the external world is a manifestation of our collective ego in all of its grotesque glory.  I also choose to believe that a spark inside of me started the ball rolling in purging me of another layer of insanity.  I am a contributor in good standing to the craziness of the world.  By the same token, taking the baby steps outlined for me over and over again by people much wiser than me, I can little by little, one day at a time, be restored to my real Self, or at least closer to it.

Like Ellis Boyd Redding in Shawshank, “I hope that I can make it across the border.  I hope to meet my Friend and shake his hand.  I hope that the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”  And  I’ve been in recovery long enough that not only do I hope, I know.   Another biblical analogy has Jesus calming the stormy sea after waking from a nap.  Could that be a metaphor of his follower’s faith being asleep until they finally turned to him for help?  How ironic that the human body is approximately seventy percent water.  So from the hope of a peaceful mind springs the peace itself.  I doubt that I will never have conflict in my life again, but for the time being I think I’ve countered the folly of acting like a Covidiot.  As strange as it may sound, I guess due to the “new normal,”  it’s easy for me to forget that we are all under much more pressure than normal.  Yes, I am grateful that I’m still employed.  Yes, I am grateful to be alive.  I am also grateful that being human allows for making mistakes.  We’re all making them.  And we’re all making it through this.

Peace

 

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Honesty

“The search for love is but the honest searching out of everything that interferes with love.” – – A Course In Miracles

In 1965 two psychologists who worked in the same department in a New York firm became fed up with how hostile they were toward each other.  One of them was named Bill Thetford, who told his partner Helen Schucman words to the effect that “there must be another way.”  Not long after, Helen began experiencing what she described as an “inner dictation,” and which she later began referring to as simply “the Voice.”  She continued to take the dictation for seven years, worked on the material with an editor named Ken Wapnick, and shaped it into what is now commonly known as A Course In Miracles, published in 1975. Until her dying day, Helen Schucman had much difficulty applying the basic tenets of the Course herself. She is not alone.

Since November 6th of 2016 I’ve been working to combat a growing sense of dread.  Each day I’ve had the thought “nothing can be worse than what was said or done today.”  I have been incorrect more than eleven hundred times.  Last night I just felt oppressed to the nth degree.  I am not used to being in that place.  I attempted to sleep and couldn’t, running over the world’s events in my head repeatedly. Possibly a diversion might help.  I turned on the tv only to tune in to a program on fascism, with this chapter dissecting the rise of Hitler.  It was obviously not hard to draw lines from then to now. I’m seeing this stuff everywhere.  But I’m getting fed up. I too have been looking for a different way out.

For years now I’ve had a lingering resentment against a guy who I’ve known since childhood.  I have not seen him socially since 2012 when I finally told him our friendship was done.  For years while lying in bed trying to get to sleep his image would pop into my head, and as it was a fantasy I did whatever I felt like in my mind.  Suffice to say he likely would not have survived if what occurred in my head was real life.  So it seemed odd that when I thought of him earlier this week I felt discomfort at the idea of causing him any harm and began to chant a mantra instead.  Automatically. I believe it was Wednesday night when here came his image again, but alongside it was the sentence “You do this unto yourself.”  I have been an on-again off-again student of ACIM and I remember that line used to describe projection. The complete phrase is “Here is the secret of salvation: you do this unto yourself.” That felt strangely liberating, to know that all I’m doing is projecting my garbage onto what I see as a sick world.  So off to bed I went.

As I lay trying to sleep, it seemed too coincidental that dropping my resentment, thinking “there must be a better way,” and flicking on the tube to a fascism piece all happened so close together.  Again I couldn’t sleep and went to my book shelf. I grabbed the first book I could by feel rather than looking at it.  It was one of my ACIM support material books.  I randomly opened it to a page where I had highlighted the following: “We actually believe we know the problems – ours or the world’s. Some are better at identifying them than others, but everyone has some idea of the nature of what is wrong, from heads of state to ordinary citizens.  Even more absurd from the point of view of A Course In Miracles is that we think we know the solutions.” One of the basic ideas of ACIM is that there is only one problem: a sense of separation from God.

A Course In Miracles consists of six hundred sixty-nine pages of text, three hundred sixty-five  lessons, and a ninety-two page “manual for teachers.”  I have had many aborted attempts to go through the entire thing since 1991 as  my resistance has won out every time.  Its only in recent years that I’ve come to understand why.  ACIM (not unlike any recovery program) requires one to look at one’s self with absolutely honesty – gently.  Ironically, being gentle with myself is the hardest part.

When I lay down again after all of this, I had such a deep sense of peace. The words almost formed solidly in my mind: “Oh my God, I don’t feel alone any more!”  I had no idea the depth of loneliness I was in. As my day went on today I pushed all of last night away as best I could, but as I sat to meditate about a half an hour ago, I just couldn’t deny my need to write about it.  So here it is.

Doing ACIM is a lifetime study.  I’ve often thought of it as the Big Book on steroids.  There’s no way possible to read it and do the lessons and comprehend it in one year. So it’s cool to pick up a few books and have everything seem so familiar to me.  I know some of the basic principles.  But I have not “done” ACIM.  So why now?  As cumbersome as it can be, it is the perfect match to the mindless repetitions of world events I’ve unfortunately come to know as normal.  It is also truly wonderful to feel that Presence in such a scary time.  I’ve been in recovery for thirty-one years.  If perfection was required  I would have been toast my first day sober.  I need to practice being gentle with myself while being deeply honest.  It is a tall order, and all of my fear of not finishing may be unfounded.  My world will not end if I drop it again.  And maybe this fear is my first practice point.  I already don’t even know the problem.  The problem is a sense of separation from God.  And it has always been a choice.

Peace.

Lose Your Ring

“All of us have had the experience of a sudden joy that came when nothing in the world had forewarned us of its coming – a joy so thrilling that if it was born of misery, we remembered even the misery with tenderness.” – – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from “Wind, Sand And Stars”

Eckhart Tolle tells the story of a woman with terminal cancer he was counseling during the last three months of her life.  He came to her home one day to find her in great distress and anger.  The diamond ring handed down to her by her grandmother was missing, and she was convinced the nurse who looked after her a few hours each day had stolen it.  After some time passed, Tolle reminded her that she would have to let it go soon anyway.  He then asked her a few questions, among them “Will you become less when you let go of it?” and “Has who you are become diminished by the loss?”  At first her answer to both was a resounding “yes.”  As the two sat in silence for a while she told Tolle that when she tried to feel her answer rather than think about it, she started to feel her “I am-ness.” Hardly a state of being diminished, but one of feeling alive and at peace.  The feeling increased until she died peacefully three months later. When the woman’s mother let Tolle know that his client had died, she also informed him that while cleaning out her kitchen cabinet they found a diamond ring.  Perhaps it was stolen and put back.  Or it may have been there the whole time.

Like it or not, what we’re seeing in the world today is a reflection of our mass consciousness.  Not just Republicans or Democrats, not only Russians or Chinese or Mexicans, and not only people from Lilliput. All of us.  And whose responsibility is it to make changes?  Surely, vote when you get a chance.  Another thing to consider is the answers given when two spiritual luminaries were asked rather pointed questions.  The Dalai Lama was once asked if he ever got angry because of what was going on in his country.  He answered, “Yes, but that is because I am lazy in my work.”  When Ho oponopono teacher Dr Hew Len (think “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you” chant) was asked what he thought of the condition of the world, he paused and then said “Yes – I have a lot of cleaning to do.”  While politicians may make convenient targets (I’m sure not exempting myself here) the fact remains that whatever behavior they exhibit that bothers me is triggered by a similar trait in myself.  Will asking a Higher Power to remove those defects from me resolve the worlds wars and other issues?  Doubtful.  But it just may make my own mind more peaceful.  And the minds of those around me.  It just may allow me to “carry the message” of the peace I’m feeling to a frantic world and have a ripple effect.

In the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” there is a scene in which the police commissioner is watching a presidential news conference on television with a young policeman.  As Gotham City is being held hostage by the villain Bain and his crew, the president finishes his speech by saying “We do not negotiate with terrorists.”  The young cop turns to the commissioner and says “What does that mean?” to which Commissioner Gordon replies, “It means we’re on our own.”  Many of us saw POTUS react to a reporter asking him to reassure millions of scared Americans by attacking the reporter himself.  Many of us wondered why he couldn’t answer a simple question.  But he actually did answer. What I heard him say was his oft repeated “I’m scared.” But I also heard him say “You’re on your own.”  I’ve heard it many times with different words.

The last half mile of my six mile run tonight was littered by messages of hope in sidewalk chalk. One was the chorus of George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” the other Jesse Colin Young’s “Get Together” (“come on people now, smile on your brother . . . “). What a beautiful sentiment in a difficult time.  Yesterday while I ran I got more smiles, “hellos” and waves than any run I can remember in recent history.  We are on our own.  I see this as neither a “bad” thing or a “good” thing, but an opportunity to transcend both.  In repeatedly accessing our highest possible thoughts and bringing the result of that outward, we bring into the world what may seem like a tiny change for the better, but one that may well change another persons life. As I struggled years ago to shed yet another layer in early recovery and felt like I belonged in a padded room, my old friend Jean told me “chaos precedes creation.” I have never forgotten that. At least not for very long.

Things often get worse before they get better. We are in a time of tremendous transition, but when you think about it, there have always been wars. There has always been a menacing disease that we eventually find a cure for.  And then it mutates and we’re off to the races again or an entirely new one surfaces.  There has always been gross inequality in wealth and people striving for it.  There has always been starvation.   It’s all part of our common dream.  Our collective ego is insane and to try to explain it engenders more insanity.  I’d rather let go of my diamond ring.  Loosening attachment to it allows more space for Spirit to flow through.  Ironically, I may find that the ring is still there.  Those of you who remember the harmonic convergence may see this as a comparable time.  A time of great change. Pray, meditate, spend time in nature, however you get there.  Please go there often.  Its up to each one of us.  We are on our own.  And we can do this.

 

Peace

 

World War C

“No one could ever get into this sacred place that only I’m allowed in.” – – Australian Olympic Gold Medalist Cathy Freeman.

 

It began rather innocuously at my workplace.  I had been out of the office (my peers and I schedule appointments for a health care organization) and came back one day to a Skype chain with people cracking wise about Covid-19, and a single person telling everyone to knock it off, this is serious.  More jokes, and then once again “you shouldn’t be joking around about this.” My observation has been that one of this person’s favorite sports is controlling others.  And so I have avoided said person as best I can.  The Skype chain happened early last week, long before we began fielding calls from panicked patients who were sure they had Covid.  My initial reaction to this person’s repeated admonishments was rather ho-hum.  And to my credit I did resist the voice in my head that told me to go to her desk and start singing “My Corona.”  The efforts at control by others have not snowballed impossibly, but they have increased.  After all, fear is a pretty normal response to what’s going on in the world today. I was pleased to note that my reflex response was to go deeper inside.

Each day this week, I’d say that most of the calls I’ve taken from patients have been around Covid-19. There are of course procedures in place to deal with anyone who thinks they need to be tested, whether it be having the person talk to a triage nurse or to refer the person to various websites to do an online screening.  As I’ve said to several times as I transferred callers to our overworked nursing staff, “I’ve tried to refer them to the website but they just don’t hear me.”  So part of my job has become to honor the fears of patients, real or imagined.  Many of my callers symptoms have absolutely nothing to do with Covid, but they will not be swayed.  It has been a major exercise in neutrality for me.  Yes, I recognize how serious this has all gotten, and I still prefer to let it be.

Right now it seems to me that the focus of my work ought to be maintaining a calm voice in the storm.  It has not been difficult.  My brother died last summer.  Both of my parents died in the nineties.  My sister and her husband both died in the two thousands courtesy of alcoholism.  The closest friend I’ve ever had died when he was twenty-four and I was twenty-six.  Seven people who used to come to my AA group at West End died by overdose and/or suicide in 1991. I could go on and on.  Nobody gets out alive.  I am sixty-three years old and supposedly in a pretty high risk group for Covid.   Social distancing?  I had that down pat before it was a “thing.”  Sometimes I genuinely isolate and other times I just enjoy my own company.  Running, reading and meditation don’t interest me as group activities. Using these or Reiki, or practicing the Medicine Buddha systems as solitary activities allow me to bring some peace into my world.  I am not arrogant enough to say that the peace is mine.  I just know where to find it.

I’ve felt largely unaffected by Mr. Covid other than observing the world fall apart.  Maybe I’m whistling in the dark.  I genuinely am looking forward to the other side. But is there a way to do this without pain?  If I get a hangnail it strikes me as cause to call 9-1-1. Other than that, I’ll joke about anything I care to, thank you very much.  Today I felt impact in the form of my young boss making an  effort to move me toward working at home.  I live in an efficiency unit and last year when I inquired about moving home, I was told that my apartment was too small.  I can move into a larger unit but my lease is nowhere near done so it will cost me five hundred dollars to break it.  So much for working at home.

I actually heaved a sigh of relief when the work from home plan crumbled.  I don’t mind change as long as I don’t have to be inconvenienced.  So what happens today?  My landlord called me and said they would waive the five hundred buck fee.  A few hours later my boss told me that they would allow me to work from my efficiency apartment.  Sometimes the chaos that precedes creation is just a pain in the ass.  My current dilemma is that I don’t have a desk that would support two large computer monitors and I don’t have spare cash to be tossing around for a new one.  (Hey, help if you can point me to one or somebody who wants to unload one.) So this is the consequence of Covid-19 for me so far.  My great nephew has a soon to be one year old daughter who was born prematurely and has a compromised immune system.  She may indeed be at risk. It is said that “only the elderly and ill” are in jeopardy.  Ignacio’s beautiful comeback to that was “your only thing is my ‘everything.”

I reserve the right to refuse someone entry into my sacred space because they want me to be afraid with them.  That is not compassion.  I may not share your fear with you, but I may choose to allow love to flow through me, and it is up you to accept it or not.  I will not argue your choice.  Something I’ve heard ringing in my mind repeatedly has been “it is time to shine.” Now is an opportunity to practice being loving.  As Richard Bach said in “Illusions,” “. . .  laughing on the way to your execution is not generally understood, and they’ll call you crazy.”  My worst case scenario in the coming days is grieving the loss of some laziness.  I’m not looking forward to a new computer set-up and the miracle of finding a desk. The rest I have no control over, other than singing “Happy Birthday” as I wash my hands  (maybe I’ll try “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.”) and other precautions.  And so it goes.  If nothing else, I hope reading this made you smile.  And now back my shine . . .

Peace

 

 

Beguiled

“Like a wise man chasing stars, I looked for a child.  One asleep inside of me.  When Christmas was beguiled.” – – Michael Johnson

 

I had no idea how much of a rut I was in.  I had not run outdoors since September of last year, when sciatica began to have its way with me and put the kibosh on my marathon plans.  So when I managed a slow four mile jaunt on February 10th, all was bliss.  Truly.  I know it sounds so cliche to say that something defies description, but it did, and I had been unknowingly homesick for such events.  And so of course, when done running, I ranted a bit on Facebook about my heavenly experience.  But not a lot.  Sometimes a beautiful experience not shared can leave a wondrous alchemical residue.  And so it began a little over a week ago.

There is a beautiful medley written by Elton John years ago called “Carla/Etude/Chloe” that is almost my favorite song written by him. (“Your Song” can still bring me to the brink of tears) As I ran it took me a while to notice that the medley was playing in my head, complete with my fantasy arrangement and a vision of a friend of mine dressed as Groucho directing the orchestra.  When I got home I was craving my guitar and singing.  Then I ran the next day and fanned my fantasy flames again.  And then I set it all aside.  For a few days.

When a spark comes alive in me it usually won’t leave me alone until I give it some attention.  I live with some regret that the sum of the sparks I ignored over the years may have produced enough stars for a van Gogh painting.  And as I continue to live beyond “middle-age” and into my late sixties, I am now feeling how precious that little spark can be. And how resourceful.

My unconscious can be very playful as it is.  There was a period in my thirties when I would go through stretches of not eating particularly well.  McDonald’s would look like gourmet dining.  Then my dream self would kick in.  When my habits were causing obvious damage, I would start having dreams about Julia Child.  I’m not kidding, doctor. These began in the years when I was finishing up drinking alcohol, and even waking up hung over I knew what ol’ Julia was trying to tell me.  Bring on the veggies.  In recent years my tricky mind has resorted to Christmas references to direct my focus to a new beginning.  Usually a song or two, but most of the time a snowy scene.  The Christmas tunes have a way of playing in my head during my waking hours for a while before I actually notice them.  I love the birth metaphor, and they are happening more and more frequently lately.  Ok, Mr Unconscious.  You have my attention.

I played a show at the Underground Cafe in January of 2014 that I still think of often.  I get a shiver when I remember playing “Life By The Drop” along with the entire audience clapping.  What I remember more is I think, the real reason why I play.  Every now and then during the night the music coming out of me almost seemed irrelevant. It seemed like we were all joined at the hip spiritually (I’m trying my hardest to steer away from cliche) and literally in joy.  Enjoy.  The music had been the vehicle.  I felt that show for weeks after it was done.  The memories of that night seemed to be my reason for being for a while, and yet its not a “thing” that I remember.   It was that brilliant sense of nothingness.  I’m guessing that whoever wrote the screenplay for the movie “Cat Ballou” didn’t know what a profound gem of a line she or he inserted at one point, when Lee Marvin’s character says “I’m an ex-citizen of nowhere and sometimes I get mighty homesick.”  I hear ya, Lee.

In 1973 while at my aunt’s house, I flicked on her tv and watched a PBS concert of a guy named Michael Johnson.  I was mesmerized.  I was sixteen years old at the time, and became best friends with my guitar.  It would be years (and some sober time) before I would work up the nerve to play publicly, but Mr Johnson had me.  I even tried to sing like him, and much to my enjoyment my niece told me once in the early nineties that I sounded very much like him.  I had not told her I was mimicking his voice.  Tonight I pulled out my guitar and noticed that it may need a little hospital time.  It sure didn’t sound like it wanted to be played.  So instead of playing I searched You Tube for Michael Johnson concerts.  They weren’t easy to find. After watching sprinter Michael Johnson (sigh) run a few races, I hit paydirt. I found a two hour show.  Michael may not have made it very big on the music scene, but he did manage some chart hits when he was signed by a Nashville label.  He was my inspiration, and tonight he rekindled in me the flame of a sleeping child.  I was pretty choked up listening to some of his beautiful ballads, hearing some of his off the wall humor.  Its been a long time.  I’ve been mighty homesick.

I had no idea a four mile run was going to trigger a greater need to write, or bring me back to feeling so deeply affected once again by my musical life, past and present, hopefully also in the future. My long stretch of down time was really like trees in the winter.  Their leaves are all gone but there’s a whole lot of unseen activity going on in them.  A run. Some writing.  Some Christmas dreams.  And now back to music that had never left me, I had just forgotten.  So if you’ll excuse me, I have songs to practice and a set list to prepare.  I’m once more beguiled.

Merry Christmas

 

 

 

 

When I’m Sixty-Three

“They say that as you get older you gradually lose your mind.  What they don’t tell is you probably won’t miss it very much.” – – unknown

 

I turned sixty-three years old today.  Long gone are the days when people would look at me and say “Gee, you look like you’re in your thirties.”   I’ve watched technology grow by leaps and bounds and struggled to keep up with it.  I’ve learned more and more deeply that “honest politician” is an oxymoron.  And I’ve come to believe that even if we destroy the earth, Keith Richards will still be floating around somewhere.

I’ve heard it said many times including by my friend Dave, “Growing old ain’t for sissies.”  Indeed.  There are pros and cons to life as an aging human being.   I don’t recover as quickly as I used to when I go for a long run.  I don’t even run as frequently lately due to injuries becoming more frequent.  The list goes on, but so does the one for the pros of getting older.  I feel a wisdom that after so many years of life feels immovable. Like it can only be added to.  And as I told my chiropractor the other day, If there was any one thing I could go back and change it would be to somehow grasp the deepening sense of gratitude and peace that accompanies me much sooner.  It appears that as the form of my body is diminishing, the content is growing younger and more full.

One can go into the self-help sections of book stores and see scores of books titles about “being here now” until the nausea becomes too much.  It’s been that way for years.  If you ask me the actual experience of doing the same is beyond words.  “Being” has always looked to me like a directive: be in god.  Add a comma. Human, be in God. The phrase doesn’t say to seek or to look “out there” anywhere.  “Out there” is the manifestation of thought. Maybe pre-scripted.  It will pass, good, bad or indifferent. What I looked for so many years has been in the last place I would think to find it.  The “journey” has no distance.  All of this is so much more pleasant to muse on than my body falling apart, or how I’ll eventually die.  And the best part is that its real.

I’ll kid no one – if I get a hang nail I want to call 9-1-1.  Physical pain is no friend of mine.  I still remember the look of intense pain on my mom’s face after she died.  Its become quite obvious to me that some gateways to leaving the earth are accompanied by reams of hurt unless the person is medicated heavily.  On the other side of that lies the attention of my curiosity.  Bypass the pain and I might have left years ago. (Now, I’m just musing – don’t call the white coats on me.) What lies beyond is the perpetual carrot on a stick.

I was chatting via skype with a co-worker of mine yesterday and at one point she said “Thirty-one years of sobriety – I’m so proud of you!” My response was “aw shucks, it was nothin.'” I had to explain to her that I’m rather proud of the milestone I hit just a few weeks ago and I was just kidding.  I went on to finish part of my answer with “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life no matter what I’ve accomplished or not accomplished.”  If the statement was true I would have left off the last part.  I am not my accomplishments, yet there is certainly nothing wrong with having goals.  At age sixty-three I haven’t even gotten started on the writing career I would love to have.  I’ve spent hours fantasizing about cranking out a pair of articles a week for a newspaper or magazine.  Like many I still think of financial security.  I have no aspirations to be a millionaire but if money fell out of the sky I sure wouldn’t turn it down.  I’m talking more about having fulfillment in a world of form in which my physical self begs to do something meaningful and that I enjoy.  That I’m in-joy doing.  I’m so grateful to know now that choosing joy can be moment to moment.  That’s a lot of responsibility. And I get to pick the vehicle.

Every now and then I go in for a few therapy sessions to get my batteries charged, so to speak.  During one of my last visits a few months ago, the gentleman I was seeing said “Maybe its time to start thinking about your legacy.”  I had to look up the word just now.  So many of the definitions are tied up in money or what I consider misuse of the word “will.”  If I’m to have any concern about legacy, it would be to confirm that I’m affecting lives for the better.  In the movie “Bucket List” there is a scene in which Morgan Freeman (Geez, he’s everywhere.  Even in this article) asks Jack Nicholson rhetorically if he’s brought joy into the world of others.  Nicholson’s character is stuck for an answer.  He doesn’t seem to understand that he’s bringing it to Freeman’s character right at that moment.

Aging is getting me closer to my ultimate goal.  One Course In Miracles lesson states “My only goal today is God.”  It doesn’t matter what “God” means to anyone or what word is used.  When I first got sober I frequently saw a guy at meetings who said he was an atheist.  In my memory he’s one of the more spiritually developed people I’ve ever met.  Perception of a higher being is up to the individual.  What I’m saying is that we all carry a capacity for whatever that is to us, and its our choice whether or not we focus on it and bring it out in the world.  Want to change the world?  You already are.  Your life affects mine. Mine affects yours.  We are bringing each other back home.  I’m a year closer to my end, and yet a year closer to my Beginning. Thank you for the lift.

 

Peace

Heavenly Peace

“I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – – Woody Allen

 

It is suggested in more than one spiritual discipline that we must die daily to become what we truly are.  Another metaphor is peeling back layers of the onion.  Or Michaelangelo suggesting that in every block of stone lies a statue.  All of these suggest a continuous unfolding of the real self inside, through various programs such as AA.  And as AA states, what happens when resentments are washed away is more exposure of the sunlight of the spirit.  Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly it is promised if we work for it.  Something I’ve learned in thirty years of sobriety is that such growth isn’t always the product of letting go of a character defect in agony.

I wrote a song for my friend Connie once that I simply called “Waltz Like This.”  We attended the same Al-Anon group at the time, and I penned the lyric after watching her go through a particularly painful episode in her life.  My favorites lines were as follows: “Not all secrets are painful, not all mystery is sad – when the house where you lived becomes dust in the wind.” While its true that many awakenings come with the hurt of shedding layers, what I was saying is that not every growth spurt happens painfully.  The song itself is my favorite composition.  I later recorded the song and presented her with a copy.  The lyric was somewhat personal, and she told me that it scared the hell out of her.  Yeah, I sure know how to woo the women.

My old friend Doug once said happily during one of his AA talks, “When I was over here working on this, this over here got better.”  His expression is less cumbersome than mine, and gets the point across.  While I went about my business of recovery for the last thirty years, a few things I wasn’t even thinking about were in the process of bearing pleasant fruit.  To be more specific, I somehow grew a family this year.  As my friend David likes to say, “How did that happen?  I don’t know.”

When I got sober, one of my first orders of business was distancing myself from my family.  Not only was I the only person in recovery in the family, I had pieced together a pretty contaminated idea of what it means to be Mexican.  And so stayed away.  It was not a flippant move. To mingle with my family even years into recovery often meant dealing with instant conflict, shielding myself from attacks.   Three years ago at my nephews wedding my oldest sister laid into me when I was trying to make a joke. She is “born again” to a degree. If I said what I was thinking at the time she would have been advised of a new storage place for her bible.  So nothing’s perfect among us, and there certainly is potential for conflict just like any other family.  But it gradually began happening less and less over the last couple of years.  I truly don’t know who’s responsible for what portion of the healing.  I will stick to my side of the fence, as I think the old adage of “if God seems far away who moved” applies.  The more I let my guard down, the better things seemed to get between me and my other sister and her boys.  And I swear their behavior has changed.  Or was it mine?  Or both? How did that happen?  I don’t know . . .

Year after year I stand at a podium and receive a medallion for whatever milestone of sobriety I’ve reached.  For a lot of those years I’ve cited that I really don’t have much of a family.  I have many times stated that I do believe in miracles, but I wasn’t holding my breath where my family was concerned.  The standoff between us seemed appropriate over the years, and neither I nor they really made any effort to close the gap.  In recent years my sister Barb, even though recognizing my tendency to isolate, began to invite me over for holidays.  More often than not I declined.  I just had too many memories of major conflicts attached to Christmas and Thanksgiving.  As lonely as I was during those holidays, I preferred a heavy heart over spending a day feeling like I was in a meat grinder.  So when exactly things began to change, I don’t really know.  Terminal uniqueness may be my guide here.  But I know I’m not alone in this type of situation.  When I was working on this here, my family life over here was getting better.  Grace is beautiful.  I didn’t consciously set out to better my family life.  The elements and the souls of my kin conspired to produce a single heart.  The feeling defies description.

I have spent at least a little time with my three year old great niece who I get to spoil rotten. (I checked the Uncle’s Handbook. There’s a rule stating I have to do this.) I hope to see her much more often.  I presented her with two big bags of trinkets, some small, some not so small, and she seemed to truly get a huge kick out of it.  I spent Christmas at my nephew Tony’s house along with my sister Barb, and Tony’s two brothers.  The wives of my nephews and the rest of their grown kids were there as well.  It wasn’t until I got home that felt a sense of awe.  In advance I had stated in an Al-Anon meeting that I was really looking forward to Christmas.  I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my life.  While at the gathering I invited two of my nephews and my sister to come and see me get my thirty-one year medallion in February.  Christmas with the family, the ceremonial invite – these were not even thoughts in my head as recently as a few years ago. The sometimes blaring music from my nephew’s stereo belied what I felt inside.  The warmth, the peace was almost palpable.  I have died daily.  And feel so much closer to heaven.

 

Peace

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook Wars

“Everything is for your benefit.” – – A Course In Miracles

In her recent book “Blowout,” Rachel Maddow tells the story of a brazen hacker who went by the pseudonym “Guccifer” (“the style of Gucci and the light of Lucifer) who tapped into the email accounts of Colin Powell, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes and others.  Just for fun.  And to become famous.  His shenanigans began in 2013 and lasted til his apprehension the following year.  His base was Transylvania and he bore no political affiliation, and his actions didn’t seem to cause any lasting damage.  However, the ease with which he hacked into accounts and caused turmoil didn’t go unnoticed.  Particularly by the Kremlin.

Maddow goes on to describe a sort of “think tank” created by the Kremlin existing for the sole purpose of creating bogus Facebook accounts. And becoming versed in and preying on every weak spot in America they could possibly unearth.  So what was once considered “social media” began to get more and more contaminated.  One would have to live under a rock these days to not notice the divisiveness in our country no matter what your political affiliation.  And still I’m talking about a different type of Facebook war.

In the last week, I have un-followed three people from my FB page due to content they posted.    What I was getting tired of was repeated posts of stories originally printed one, two and even three years ago.  Let me make this perfectly clear (pun intended): I am no Trump fan. Even so it bothers me to see folks reaching back that far to post stories that are very old news.  It seems to do little to resolve tension and divisiveness in the air.

Solution?  How about not logging into Facebook. (blush) Yeah, I’ve thought of that.  It’s an addicts paradise.  What better place to go and ignore whatever may be going on inside with juicy stories about others.  And events that we don’t agree with, to say the least.  And daily political turmoil.  I’m in no way advocating being ignorant of current events in a messed up world.  What I’m suggesting is that there’s a middle ground between being informed and staying emotionally balanced.  And I’ll be the first to admit that some days it’s a very difficult task.  It’s made even harder for me when I play too long with a social media tool that has become weaponized.

The late Ken Wapnick helped to edit A Course In Miracles with Helen  Schucman and Bill Thetford.  The Course is big on projection, forgiveness, and the enormous presence of guilt in every human being.  Wapnick used to suggest that the reason we like “bad guys” in the movies is because they would get their just whatevers in the end and we could walk away satisfied and maybe even happy.  What he further suggested is really going on is that we’re projecting our guilt onto an on-screen villain, thus supposedly clearing it out of ourselves and onto the offending character.  Presto! Guilt free!  Not so fast.

Anyone who has been in a human body for while knows that the projection dynamic doesn’t work very well for permanent change.  And where are we but in a real life “movie?”  The movie will end one day.  And nobody gets out alive.  As far as I can tell the objective is to leave as clean and peacefully as possible.  The projection dynamic is prevalent today.  No matter what your political, religious, or ethic viewpoint, there exists a smorgasbord of targets in the world.  It can be very difficult to remember that the origin of whatever discomfort I feel is inside, rather than on the bullseye I’ve placed on a person, place or thing.

In 1993 a group of varying size (between 800-4,000)of TM Sidhas put together what they called a meditation project that lasted for two months.  A study focused on the period between July 7th and July 30th, in which the crime rate in Washington D.C. was reduced by as much as 23%.  Before the project, the Chief Of Police was asked what would reduce crime by 20% in his town. His answer?  “Twenty inches of snow.”  My friend Rose does an astonishing amount of work on behalf of nurses in her role as President of the Minnesota Nurse’s Association.  If you’re a FB friend of hers, you will see regular posts of her flying around the country from one event to another, working tirelessly to effect change in a terribly unbalanced industry.  She is a shining example of activism, and obviously she makes a difference in the world.  That is one way.  In a conversation I had with her a few months ago I suggested that there is another way.

About two years ago I told my Alanon story at an Uptown Pin Night, to be followed by an AA speaker.  After I finished I sat down and was blind-sided by a huge hug by the AA speaker on her way up to the podium.  As she began her talk she looked my way and said, “I was so nervous and you relaxed me.”  I say this not to toot my own horn, but to remind myself that there are people I know who affect my world just for the fact of their calm presence.   We all know somebody like that.  They spend a considerable amount of their day focusing inside themselves. This can do much to affect world change, probably more than any of us thinks.  There may be revolution of such folks occurring right now that we don’t hear about due to the focus of news being everything “bad” in the world.  It may in fact be what’s causing such a huge shift in the world, who knows? I know it doesn’t get caused by inundating social media with attacks.  One Course In Miracles lesson is “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts.”  A tall order, but at least for short periods of time, doable.

I miss Facebook being a harmless little fun page where I could send friends messages or look at upcoming events or games.  It’s one thing to post an occasional opinion or political story, It’s entirely different to be obsessed with them.  My solutions are simple. Get off Facebook, or remember that everything exists to be forgiven.  It’s not personal, and it is indeed for my benefit.

Peace