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

 

 

 

 

 

. . . maybe

“Let it begin with me. When anyone anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of Al-Anon and Al-Ateen to always be there, and for that I am responsible.” – – Al-Anon/Alateen declaration.

 

There is an old riddle that asks the question, “What kind of insurance does a co-dependent person buy, and the answer is “my fault insurance.” Translation: co-dependent types can sometimes take on more responsibility for situations than they really are responsible for.  I was involved in a minor car accident last night, hopped out of my car and (at least internally) claimed full responsibility for it.  Ironically, I was on the way to my Al-Anon meeting.  After the meeting was over I chatted with a gentleman who suggested that I make sure to tell my insurance agent all details of the accident.  After I basically told him “Why would I NOT do that?”  he advised me that in his experience he has friends who have had car accidents who have taken on more responsibility than needed.   “We’re wired that way,” he said. After I started re-playing the accident as I remembered it, I began to question if my original perception may have a chink or two in its dented armor.

I feel awful. I’m doing my best to combat shame spirals.  I’ve taken the day off work to try to sort everything out.  The young lady driving the van I collided with told me she just got her vehicle.  Ouch.  Not only that, it may be time for me to do a 4th step around driving.  I just had an at-fault accident three years ago which just got dropped from my insurance policy.  And I have had one in the not too distant past.  I do believe I’ve set a pattern in motion.  It has not yet been determined whether or not I’m entirely at fault. So I may be jumping the gun, but a 4th step may be a good idea regardless of the outcome of this accident.

12-Step groups provide an amazing (and free) program for self-scrutiny.  But as stated earlier, co-dependents (I’m a member in good standing of that club) can often take on too much.  I remember an author I really liked named Jess Lair, a former psychology professor at the University of Minnesota. I don’t remember a whole lot from his books other than the titles (“I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got,” “Ain’t I A Wonder, And Aint You A Wonder Too”) and a recurrent phrase in both books of his that I read: “If it’s wrong, I did it.” I don’t remember what context it was used in, but today it describes a pretty dysfunctional place I sometimes visit.  Gratefully, a fellow Al-Anon member pulled me out of it last night.

I was the five minute speaker for my Al-Anon group last night.  I was still a bit shaken as I talked on the 11th step, and probably gave out way more personal information than I needed to.  Our stories disclose in a general way, y’know? I think what I’m feeling currently is embarrassment from what I said in addition to useless shame garbage that is flaring up.

The inner storm is gently subsiding. I had a calm conversation with the other driver this morning, and  I just talked with my insurance agent who will file a claim.  While the guilty party can’t be determined by him, he did provide some interesting insight.  I told him I was trying to enter the right lane from where I was at last night, definitely had my blinker on, and then felt that sickening “crunch” of metal on metal.  Right after I said that, my agent countered with “Yeah, people are really hard-pressed to let you into a lane these days.”  That didn’t make me feel like a million bucks, but he got me closer to $50. Maybe $75. I’ve done my part other than talking to an adjuster so the result of our little fender-bender is out of my hands.  And I am okay with any outcome.  And I am eternally grateful to my friend last night who kind of reminded me of Robin Williams at the end of “Good Will Hunting,” when he tells the lead character “It’s not your fault.”  So maybe it’s our fault.  We shall see.

My attendance at Al-Anon meetings over the years has been sporadic, thus I don’t know a whole lot of people very well.  A former sponsor challenged me on my unavailability. We soon parted ways (What did he expect me to do? Become healthy?) but for various reasons. When I was speaking last night I felt really vulnerable as I opened up.  Without question, this is about as non-judgemental a group of people there ever was or will be.  I still felt like I was under a microscope. And it didn’t help that several of my attempts at humor were greeted by crickets.  Even so, I’ve long been an advocate of people taking a step or telling their story while in the midst of a storm.  To me, that truly is testament to a person working their program.   And their courage. So there’s that.

On the latter topic, I was at an Al-Anon event two Saturdays ago and was in the process of asking a gentleman to be a speaker at an upcoming Uptown Pin Night, when a friend of his walked by.  She asked “How is your wife?” The gentleman casually answered “Oh, she passed.”  I had no idea.  I asked him when she passed and he said “Last night.”  Good lord.  He had tears in his eyes as he added the date to his calendar.  He had no problem saying yes.  His wife was well known in St.Paul recovery circles, and she was very loved as well as revered for her wisdom.   So is he.  I’m very much looking forward to hearing his story, as I have not up til now.  And to comfort a peer, and tell him how much he has impacted my life.  And to offer consolation.  And for that I am responsible.

 

Peace

 

This One’s For You

“Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . not a creature was stirring.  Nothin.’ No action.  Dullsville.” – – Margie McDougall in “The Apartment”

 

I have a sneaking suspicion I’ve not been alone in isolating for the Holidays (or holidays, I guess depending on how you feel) over the years.  I recall the old joke about someone going to an Isolators Anonymous meeting and being disappointed because nobody was there.  I have been a non-attendee in good standing many times over.  I have adhered to the rudimentary mechanics of interacting with family until the pain hurt so much I couldn’t stand it, then going into the pain of isolation and staying there until it hurt so much I couldn’t stand it.  The isolationists ping-pong game.  Over and over again.  I did this since youth, so the stage was set long before holidays began to have any significance.

To put it plainly, my dad cheated on my mom for years and years.  Since I was about six, I recall that his mistress would toss him aside annually for the holidays.  I guess she got the Christmas spirit and went back to her kids once a year.  What that left my family with was a sullen, raging dad at home going through the paces of getting drunk, phoning his mistress repeatedly to call her a few names, and generally  putting a pretty miserable atmosphere in place.  Once in recovery, I read a book (I don’t remember the author) that described in one chapter “dad falling over the Christmas tree.”  I got an electric shock of identification.  And thought this writer had perhaps been peering into our windows at home when I was a kid.  The Christmas tree maneuver was one I remember dad pulling more than once.  Holidays became a curse to endure.

I do however, have a fond memory.  We weren’t poor.  Dad just had a remarkable propensity for “losing” his paycheck about half the year.  Being the capitalist youngster that I was, this often put the kibosh on the presents I was salivating for.  So one year my mom went to a Walgreen’s and found a used record player/radio for me, I think for $1.50.  It didn’t look like much, and I remember receiving it with a kind of blah attitude, and at the same time being appreciative that mom would take the time to make sure her kids got at least something in the spirit of the commercial season.  As the family fought one night that year, I turned on the radio and found it to be so soothing – a comfort of a backdrop that seemed to lessen the impact of what was going on in front of me.  So a night later I did the same as the scrapes began.  I was 13 and surely not averse to crying myself to sleep.   But this night was different.  What I heard shortly after I turned on the radio was what I still consider the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.  It was the newly released “Your Song” by Elton John.  A rather unusual (at the time) blend of lush orchestration, gorgeous piano, and that marvelously silky voice of a young Elton.  Not only did this episode inspire me to be a piano player, it was a panacea for chaos I never dreamed could possibly exist.  Music really doth have charms?  You betcha.  While the memory of hearing that song for the first time doesn’t necessarily erase the rest of what was happening around me, it does in fact transport me to an entirely different, safe, and even magical place.  And it all exists within the mind.  And the heart.  It took chaos as a catalyst to point the way for me.  I recall a scene where a shiatsu practitioner tells Michael Keaton in so many words in the movie “My Life,”  “I did not tell you to back to your old home.  Where you need to be is your heart.  Go there often.”  Hallelujah.

Over the years I’ve had at least two break-ups around holiday time.  I’ve spent most holidays alone, with an unconscious memory looming large as an advisor that people contact = pain.  Here and there I went to friend’s houses on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but in no case was it a replacement for the practiced loneliness I felt at those times of year.  I needed a Self-connection I had no idea how to find, even in my first years of recovery.  In recent years especially I have come to be quite comfortable in my own skin.  I certainly haven’t entirely abolished isolation from my being, but I know how to tell the difference between enjoying alone time and not wanting to wallow in perceived separation.  Loneliness can be a necessary evil, an unwitting catalyst for better things to come.  As Eckhart Tolle says, “pain can be a great catalyst for awakening.”

As trite as it may sound, home is indeed where the heart is.  I somehow grew a family this year. It’s when I stopped pining away for things to be different, (I don’t know when that was exactly) and being “here and now” if you will, and underneath my illusory “self,” that things began to change.  I had a wonderful Thanksgiving at my sister’s house two days ago.  I suspect I will be spending Christmas with she and the clan (again) this year.  Somehow the blatant dysfunction and harsh boundary violations that used to bother me so much and cause me to stay away don’t seem to be there any more.  How did they change so much?  I’m being tongue-in-cheek:  I know they may have done nothing at all.  It’s not perfect between my family and I these days, but the real difference maker is that I no longer need it to be.  Like any human I fluctuate between my ego and Spirit on a daily basis.  But mostly, everything’s okay.

If you’re reading this I wish you Happy Holidays (or . . . holidays).  While healing has it’s own timetable for everyone, it is my wish that you do not deprive yourself of the joy your family and friends can bring you.  More importantly, I hope you come to know the joy that you can bring into other lives.  The joy that has always been there.  In your heart.  As Bernie Taupin wrote so many years ago in a song that symbolized a liberation I didn’t yet know existed, “My gift is my song, and this one’s for you.”

Happy Holidays

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost On State Street

“There’s something you don’t see every day.” – – Peter Venkman/Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters.”

 

If I remember correctly, I was only four years old at the time of the incident, and it took a recounting or two for me to really cement down what now feel like details.  Granted, it happened 54 years ago, so my memory may not be 100% accurate.  Also, some siblings now have access to my site, so if corrections or different versions need to be made, feel free to fire away.

It was not the proverbial dark and stormy night, but it was indeed dark and I remember a bit of a nasty breeze.  Mom sent us to the corner store which was, I think, about four blocks away from our house.  So merrily my sister and brother and I went to what we used to refer to as “the milk store,” passing many of the decrepit and sometimes abandoned houses.  The neighborhood was ripe with stories about ghosts and warnings not to enter this or that house, and to certainly stay out of the woods.  The populace was almost exclusively Mexicans and Jews.  In later years, not with my family, but with friends, I used to joke that if you went by the right house you could hear a mixed breed ghost saying something along the lines of “Si – – I am feeling poquito meshugana today.”  I had no idea if what I was about to experience was ethnic specific, all I know is that I was pretty scared.

As we passed an abandoned house with one of the many neighborhood legends attached to it, my brother or my sister, maybe both, advised me to pick up the pace and not to look into the house if I didn’t have to.  After all these years I still remember a chill running up and down my spine as if being afraid on demand.  I do also recall an inexplicably creepy feeling about the place we were passing.  But a four year old has a short memory, and by the time we reached the well-lit store a couple of blocks beyond the abandoned house, I was looking hard to see what kind of toys or candy I could manipulate my brother and sister into buying.  I believe I struck out, and we stuck to the purchase of whatever items mom had requested that we pick up.  So off we went back home, and after a block or so of walking we noticed someone down the street waving at us, a distinctly female figure with flowing hair and pacing back and forth in front of the abandoned house.  Cool. Mom is meeting us halfway home, we thought.  I also remember us wondering out loud about when Mom got an all white coat.  It also seemed odd that her hair looked white, but I think we chalked it up to the weird lighting in the soon to be torn down neighborhood.  As we approached we noticed “mom” duck into the abandoned house, a move that puzzled us.  As we got closer to the place, we were torn between looking for mom and not looking into the possibly haunted place as we had been instructed as kids.  We opted for door number two and rushed the rest of the way home to mom, hoping for an explanation of where she got the white coat from.  I remember that as we got about a half a block away from our house, mom did in fact appear: in totally different garb than she had been wearing while in front of the abandoned house.  How had she changed so quickly – – and how did she beat us home if we had passed her back at the abandoned house? I was the first to instinctively look back toward the abandoned house.  I remember tugging on the sleeve of either my brother or sister, and starting to cry as I looked back at the woman in white waving to us again, and then returning my frightened attention to mom in front of our house.  No tears were shed when we moved out of that neighborhood about a year later.  I never wanted to go back in that direction again.

Our address was 271 State Street in St Paul, not far from 253, where the Recovery Church now stands.  It strikes me as ironic that a center that promotes spirituality now stands where “spirits” used to have their way.  Just about the entire neighborhood was torn down after we moved, most of the houses being a breath away from condemned.  For the most part I feel perfectly safe and at peace when I drive toward the church for an event, but every now and then I still get a little chill up my spine in memory of my Lady In White, and whenever I hear somebody laugh at idea of ghosts existing,  I feel tempted to take them aside and say, “Let me tell you about something that happened to me when I was about four years old . . . ”

Peace

Or maybe “Boo!”

Happy Halloween

Self Sabotage, Anyone?

“The mind suffers and the body cries out.” – – Cardinal Lamberto in Godfather III

In the final game of the 2012 Minnesota Vikings season, they defeated the Green Bay Packers in a game which saw quarterback Christian Ponder play uncharacteristically . . . okay. He hit wide open receivers all night long, and the local media wrote the next day of his fabulous performance. My own view was that a high school quarterback could have hit such open wide outs. Other than this game, Ponder often didn’t. Also, Christian to me still had that “deer in the headlights” look all night just as he did the rest of his career. I do believe the writers made some mention of Adrian Peterson running for 199 yards in the same game in pursuit of the NFL record. That might have had a little to do with the win. The victory put the Vikings in position to play the same Packers in the playoffs the very next weekend. Then Mr Ponder made what I felt was a curious statement of his mindset. Not verbally, but through his body.

During the game Mr. Ponder had suffered a bruised bicep on his throwing arm, an injury that didn’t seem to bother him much while he threw the ball. But during the week after the game it worsened to the point where coach Leslie Frazier announced that Ponder would not be playing in the upcoming playoff tilt. A pair of sports psychologists ventured a guess that possibly Ponder had manufactured a way out of the high pressure game by pulling up lame. A local broadcaster cried bloody murder as Ponder was after all, a Minnesota Viking. Apparently guys who wear the purple and gold are immune to the egoic shenanigans that can befall ordinary mortals. I didn’t buy it. While I certainly can’t get into Christian Ponder’s heart and head, my experience of him was that he always seemed to play afraid. The timing of the bicep injury struck me as strangely coincidental.

For years hall of famer and former Brewer and Twin Paul Molitor just could not stay off the disabled list. It always seemed to me that it was not until he matured some emotionally and physically that he was able to play a full season. The Vikings had a brilliant running back named Robert Smith who had the same history his first few seasons. Once he got a little maturity under his belt, he was his brilliant self. Amidst many legal woes in the 1980’s, former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson developed a propensity for single vehicle accidents. The product of a chaotic mind? When David Letterman asked him for an explanation, Tyson’s response was “I guess trees just like me.” Currently the Twins have a brilliant young outfielder named Byron Buxton who has been on the disabled list multiple times in each year of his young career in the major leagues. (He even got hurt in the minors this year.) He has yet to wean himself off his habit of running full blast into outfield walls. Like Tyson, I guess outfield walls just like Mr. Buxton.

I was sailing right along about six weeks ago in my training for this Sunday’s Twin Cities Marathon. I ran a 15 miler with no issue, followed by a 10 just a few days after. No pain. I then started noticing a nagging pain in my right hamstring that later spread to my right glute. After putting two and two together, I traced it back to driving. Until late July I had a 3 mile commute to work. My office moved to Coon Rapids (a move I grudgingly accepted)and a drive that used to take me 10 minutes or so has become a happy little jaunt of 30-50 minutes depending on traffic. Cruise control is out of the question due to the stop and go nature of my voyage. Could it be my leg is not used to such a long drive? Or my mind is giving me pause for thought? Maybe it could be called a non-christian ponder.

I like my job. A lot. But quite honestly, 30 years of call center work sometimes feels like its really taking a toll. At this point it has literally become a pain in the ass. After getting completely honest with myself I’m finally fessing up that the drive is really not worth it. Luckily for me, there are plenty of local opportunities to check out in my organization. It seems to me that my body is chiming in (maybe with church bell sized chimes) that its time to move on. I love running marathons and have trained really hard for this one, only to pull up lame with just a few weeks to go, and now only a few days. The impact my drive may be having on possibly needing to bail out on something I love so much has gotten my attention.

My bottom line for all of this is that since my brother’s passing a few months ago, I have gradually approached and entered a deeper spiritual dimension. It feels very nice in here. Like anyone else, my ego is not fond of spiritual growth, and will flex its muscle sometimes as a distraction. In response, my attention is staying firmly on my ethereal body. My spirit can’t run a marathon but I value it just a teensy weensy bit more than anything that happens in my outside world.

I have done acupuncture every day this week, and will go in again on Friday and Saturday. I’m not throwing in the towel just yet. In addition, I have over $200 invested in registration fees and that amount is even before running shoes and various paraphernalia. I would love to do this race, but am open to discretion being the better part of valor. It may not happen. And yes, I am aware of and open to miracles. We shall see. And there’s more to me than running marathons. In the meantime the plan is to steer clear of outfield walls and trees.

Peace

Pandora’s Box

“Death has a cruel way of giving regrets more attention than they deserve.” – – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 

My brother Joe passed away on Monday, July 8th.  I got the news as I logged into my computer at work at seven a.m. and gave Facebook a quick glance.  After the proverbial double-take at my sisters post saying farewell to him, I messaged her.  He had indeed died just a few hours earlier after a years long bout with colon cancer.  I was stunned.

I was not particularly close to Joe, just as there is distance between myself and my other siblings, but I have fond memories of us as kids.  He was the one who got me interested in writing, as I published a one page neighborhood newspaper at his cue.  It was also a nice way to earn five cents.  It was Joe who got me interested in drawing cartoons.  And it was definitely Joe who inspired my interest in music, the less mainstream the better.  I had forgotten the depth of his influence on me until the day he died.  Still, there was more going on inside me that I couldn’t quite put a finger on.

Irritability has been my companion for much of my days since his death.  Considering that I work in a call center and take over one hundred inbound calls a day, irritability and my work make crappy bedfellows. Even with an awareness of my unease, it wasn’t until this past Friday that the full brunt of grief hit me.  A few of my calls were recorded and played back to me during a coaching session.  I was only a little surprised that I sounded as enthusiastic as Eeyore while talking with my patients.  I miss Joe.  And his passing was the trigger that made me release the hold button on all of the losses I’ve not fully grieved.  There is a heaviness inside that takes very few breaks.  I feel like doing little more than sitting in a chair all day once I get home.  Or moving around just to move around. Depression rules.

There was the possibility of a reconciliation with someone that I flat out slammed the door on a few years ago.  We had gone our separate ways, and in our absence from each other I did little to dissipate my accumulated anger from our cat vs. dog last few months.  All I saw was rage when I thought of her.  When I had finally worked though a large portion of it, she was nowhere in sight. She is among my incessantly repeated “what if” scenarios.  I also really miss her, and yet she too is a symbol.  A symbol of my history of short-lived relationships or those that never got off the ground, several of them in the last ten years.  It speaks as much to my fear of intimacy, but that’s another article for another day.

My best friend ever, Paul McGee died in 1983.  My dad passed in 1991, and mom followed in 1993.  In between, my sweet friend Susan died in 1992.  I dated my first sober love in 1991, and in 2004 she committed suicide.  In 2005 my sister Rose died, largely from liver failure.  Her husband followed two years later.  Throw in middle-age and still never having really pursued writing as a career, and I echo Henry Blake’s sentiment on a M*A*S*H* episode after someone stole his beloved desk from his office: “I’m sitting right inside the middle of a great big empty.”  But I’m not in a sitcom.  Or am I?

There have been frequent periods the last few days when I’m unable to focus on any single thing for more than a few seconds at a time.  While I’m taking brief comfort here and there reading up on Kubler-Ross’s “Five Stages Of Grief,” my apartment looks like a cyclone just hit.  Laundry is undone.  There is no pile of dirty dishes, probably because I’ve been eating so little.  And my primary mood is fluctuating between anger, sadness, loneliness, and just plain feeling afraid.  My friend David used to be a fire chief.  I remember him telling me how he counseled one of his firefighters, including telling him “sometimes you just stack the bodies.”  Indeed.  Losses in whatever form do add up.

I have so far been spared anyone telling me to “cheer up.” For that I am very grateful.  Grief has its own life, and I’m not about to tell it to leave prematurely.  I have been in Al-Anon meetings and listened to someone talk out their own Pandora’s Box of grief, only to have the next person start off their share with, “if it makes you feel any better . . . ”  Fact of the matter is that person is not being compassionate.  They’re trying to shut down the person in grief so they don’t have to feel their own reaction.  It is not only much more civil (and much more boundary-respecting in a meeting setting), but also more loving to let a person have their own grief space.  Expressing condolences can be done without the knee jerk reaction of caretaking that is the norm.

My boss took me aside for a chat after we went over my calls on Friday, and I brought up Joe, explaining that I was not trying to make excuses.  She wanted an explanation for why my conversations  with patients, some of them in dire need of help, seemed so lifeless.  She had forgotten about my brothers death.  I had not forgotten it, but had slipped into a deeper and deeper denial, somehow knowing there were many things to grieve behind the door.  My emotions are in charge much of my days, and are often erratic.  Grief can be a very unpredictable, dark tunnel. I will continue to do the things that keep me upright – going to Al-Anon and AA meetings, using my phone, writing.  And while doing them I will remember the statement I forgot to tell my boss during our chat: I’m exactly where I need to be.

Peace

magicianstouch.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Rather Be Right Or Happy?

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

I had a dream a few months ago in which I was clutching a copy of A Course In Miracles. I suspected I knew what it meant but took no action on my hunch for a few weeks. It was then that I started reading the text and doing the lessons. It is a lifetime process, comparable to the twelve step groups that saved my life. Indeed I have often said that A Course In Miracles is the Big Book on steroids so, I think it’s content can be summed up in one line: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”

Step three suggests that we made “a” decision, not “the” decision. I read an estimate years ago that the average human has approximately eighty thousand thoughts per day. To me that’s eighty thousand opportunities to work step three. When I think of will it is not in the vein of “What does God want me to do? I honestly don’t think my actions play a large part of what I’m seeking with this step. What I think the step is telling me is to focus my attention on God, or ask to see something through God’s lens, then the proper action will follow. As St Augustine put it, “Love and do what you will.”

A Course In Miracles says that everything is either an expression of love or a call for love. What I’d like to tie this to is Eckhart Tolle suggesting that the need to be right is a form of murder. Throughout any given day I can be prone to a number of upsets – a rude customer on the phone, getting cut off in traffic, etc. In each of those cases I more often that not perceive an attack on me. It is precisely at this point that I choose between looking at this “attack” as an expression of love or somebody asking for love. I’m an infant to this concept. I’d rather be right.

Recognizing that I’m projecting my anger (most common emotion for example) onto someone else is actually step one of the ACIM forgiveness process. You’re attacking me. I’m pissed. What I can do at that point is the dynamic of the forgiveness process – bring my attention from outside of me (from the object of my ire) back inside, and ask for help in looking at my own projected anger differently. That’s step two. At that time God can step in and ease or erase whatever my dominant emotion was. That’s step three, in which I have no hand. This at least temporarily stops the “attack/defense” cycle I work every day. Most of this is subtle. I can coolly say “No, I’m not upset – I’m just making my point” as a response to a social media post for example, then add a lengthy addendum to explain what I was saying. That I’m right and you’re wrong. To my credit I have refrained from this lately. But even citing my non-participation is an attack. I’m basically saying I’m not like the people who do so. I’m better than them. Plus I’m right. They’re wrong.

My ego, like anyone else’s can be pretty clever. I have begun working the forgiveness process and it may be the most difficult mind exercise I’ve ever attempted. I have no clue how anyone can say out loud “Oh, I did this step” in referencing step three. To me it is hardly a one and done. But to each their own. A Course In Miracles says that the forgiveness practice is all-inclusive, and that any kind of upset is grist for the mill, because as it also says, a small annoyance is actually “a veil for intense fury.” Most of us aren’t aware of the mountain of anger we sit on. My need to be right is insidious. The amount of healing my mind needs is beyond comprehension.

There is one insane example that I’m embarrassed to say I still put into play even after thirty years in AA/Al-Anon. I take my turn and state confidently that “God’s will” has nothing to do with my actions, that in fact God will is something I align with, or as in step eleven I marinate in for awhile, and afterward intuitively my course of action. God does not want anything from me, as want implies lack and God already IS everything. So how can God “want” anything? Thus God will not be happier if I’m a fireman or flipping cheeseburgers for a living. Then the next person takes their turn and goes on and on about how they don’t know what God wants them to do about their car, or which job to take, or how to discipline their child and when will they get a sign. So I sit and stew because they did’t let me brow-beat them into my viewpoint. Don’t you know I’m right, dammit? That may or may not be true. But I’m sure not happy.

Within my mind lies a right minded Self (leaning toward forgiveness) and a wrong minded self (pure ego). In the middle lies my decision maker, often symbolized by the late Ken Wapnick as a tiny dot dwarfed by both sides. Every moment of every day I’m making a decision for either side. Inspiration or memory. Past or present. Looking at the sum of self forgiveness I need to do (through others)is staggering beyond comprehension. I prefer to think of it as job security for being human. And I truly have come to believe that someone with “good self esteem” still is in the same boat as the rest of us. Self esteem fluctuates. I believe there is a massive untold story of self loathing lurking in all of us unconsciously, just waiting for daily projection onto others.

I have a visual of the aforementioned forgiveness process. I see a miles high stack of paper detailing the contents of my mind, and each time I practice forgiveness a single sheet is removed. I feel more peaceful when it happens, and I feel hopeful every time I can conjure that image. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I’d rather be happy.

Peace