How Sweet The Sound

“Grace??? She died over thirty years ago!” – – Aunt Bethany in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

 

Looking for some fresh reading material this past December as a means to work myself through yet another “funk” caused me to walk out of Barnes & Noble with a copy of “Attitudes Of Gratitude” by M.J.Ryan.  It proved to be a light and breezy read with a combination of what I considered flighty ideas and very practical down-to-earth ways to practice gratitude as a way of cultivating more joy in one’s life.  I was hooked. So, with the end of the 177-pager approaching a few days later, I decided to go back for more.  My next score was “The Gratitude Jar: A Simple Guide To Creating Miracles” by Josie Robinson, a rather newly published writer and also a Minnesotan.   She chronicles the 30-day trek of she and her young boy putting a slip of paper into a gratitude jar each night with something they were each grateful for.  In Josie’s case, she also gives account of some of the amazing miracles that coincided with her gratitude jar practice.  Yes, I started a gratitude jar.  Some mighty suspicious coincidental events have happened (more on them a little later) but I stopped at 21 days due to some pressing circumstances. Translation: I got lazy.

The next book that intrigued me was “A Simple Act Of Gratitude: How Learning To Say Thank You Changed My Life” by John Kralik.  The common bond between Robinson and Kralik is that each had a life in shambles when they began their process.  Serendipity took over for both of them, and granted, both of them had to move their feet a little.  But for the most part it seemed like their miracles began appearing “out of the blue.”  Kralik was a lawyer in deep debt who started handing out and mailing “thank you” cards for sometimes simple, sometimes complex acts performed not only on his behalf but also on behalf of others that he had the privilege of witnessing.  So about a month ago, I too starting handing out and mailing cards.  The number of things I’ve taken for granted in my life is staggering.

So, since I started the various processes (I’ve resumed the gratitude jar from day 1 again) I’ve been graced with the following: On New Year’s Day, two days after my gratitude jar began, I was at an AA meeting next to a young lady whose seat had just been inadvertently taken from her.  The only other available chair was next to me.  We chatted and got to the point where I told her I was going to start looking for another job, to which she replied by casually reaching into her purse and handed me one of her cards.  She’s an employment recruiter.  Score! She finds jobs for IT folks, which is not me, but she eventually referred me to one of her cronies at another agency with whom I’ve since met and have become quite confident will be the source of my next employment.  That’s not all.  The name of the woman at the meeting sounded so familiar.  It was later that night that I looked at her card and finally placed her.  I’ve actually been getting emails from her for the last two years through another agency she used to work for.  Yup – it is indeed a small world after all.

Lastly, anyone who’s read this column is likely well aware that I aspire to be a writer when I grow up.  (Hopefully before then).  So one night I sent a Facebook response to the beautiful poem posted by a friend of mine, and I suggested that she go to magicianstouch.net and check out my work too.  High praise was given me, and my friend asked if I wrote for a living, and if not I ought to consider it.  It was what she wrote after that sent a chill up my spine: “Take it from someone who’s spent her whole career in publishing.”  Wow.  So we met a few weeks later and she’s armed me with resources to act on and hopefully get my writing viewed by a larger audience. I’ve know her for ten years and I didn’t even know she was in publishing. Hardly a guarantee of success, but it seems that assistance seems to be dropping into my lap left and right.

Lastly, a miracle has been quietly developing as I’ve gradually practicing moving out of isolation.  I went to an open AA meeting last night and accepted my medallion for 27 years of sobriety.  In all of the years I’ve been sober, I’ve never been in a room where I’ve known so many people.  It was essentially the same group of people I see every month, I’ve just let them in now. A miracle is being presented to me just for the fact of my showing up.  And the greatest part of that is something that I didn’t even notice until this morning: that lonely feeling that constantly gnawed at me whether I was in a crowd or by myself until about two months ago – – it’s not there any more.  I don’t feel like doing cartwheels all day, but I feel a sense of contentment growing at it’s own pace.  All of this started by saying “thank you.”

I vaguely remember the opening scene of a movie in which a man is walking down the street, obviously wrapped up in his own little world as one heavy object after another drops around him, each narrowly missing his body, yet he’s totally oblivious to all of it.  I won’t say that’s how miracles work for everyone, but I will say that it aptly describes my last two months or so. I’m convinced that “miracles are normal, (and) when they’re not happening, something has gone wrong” per A Course In Miracles.  The “something gone wrong,” at least in my case, is forgetting that they’re already there.  They’re all around me.  Always. All ways. It’s just a matter of shifting focus.  I have life-situations that give me fits.  When I can take a deep breath, and notice again and again that Life is actually inside of me, (“The kingdom of God is within you.”) I remember that life situations and Life are not the same thing.  Whichever one I focus on will outpicture.  So, note to self (or Self): please keep focusing on what you really are.  Oh, yeah – and show up. And say “thank you!”

Peace

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The Pony In The Dung Heap

“Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” – – Irish Proverb

 

I remember hearing a story once about a child celebrating his birthday, a child who badly wanted a pony. He had opened all of his presents and then disappeared into an old barn, and was found digging into a giant dung heap.  His astonished parents pulled him aside and asked him what in the world he was doing, to which he replied, “I know there’s just gotta be a pony in here somewhere.”

The recent worldwide events parallel what’s gone on in the world for centuries.  Media scrutiny, amazingly advancing technology, and a federal government more than happy to use world events as a diversion from more devious goings-on allow us to see these events for extended periods of time, and to look over and over again at the tragedy of it all.  At the expense of possibly being called crazy, I’d like to introduce the pony in the dung heap, the “silver lining.”

It was the day before Thanksgiving in 2006, and I was very alone and lonely.  I attended a few AA meetings in the days prior, and a gentleman I’ll call “Robert” suggested that I join him for Thanksgiving dinner at Pepito’s, a free event put on for anyone in recovery.  He asked only that I drive as his license had been revoked.  I agreed, still feeling heavy, but conjuring up some gratitude for having something to do on Thanksgiving.  So we went and had our meal and went our separate ways. In the years that followed I learned more about Robert.  I was amazed at his story, and also was delighted to find out what an accomplished pianist he was. The times we hung out together were few and far between, but I really got to enjoying his company, and though my AA meeting attendance was sparse, I always looked forward to seeing Robert as I knew he went to a lot of meetings at the same place I did, (they have about 40 per week) and the chance of seeing him was always greater than not.  At most AA meetings, we read “The Promises,” from the Big Book of AA.  The promises are what are supposed to happen after we work a thorough 8th and 9th Step (of the 12 Steps of AA), and they are truly wonderful sounding.  “We will know a new freedom and a new happiness . . . we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it . . . fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us,” among others.  Toward the end a line reads, “Are these extravagant promises?” and as soon as whoever is reading The Promises that day reads the line the entire group typically says with conviction and in unison, “We think not!” In the particular meeting room I’m thinking about, I will forever have the vivid memory of everyone stating “We think not!” and Robert instead opting for “No way!” or “Uh-uh!”  It usually made me laugh, and even if I was having a tough day, it would at least bring a smile to my face.

Robert entered treatment for alcoholism in 1984.  In 2007, for the very first time in his entire life, Robert reached one year of sobriety.  It took him 23 years of trying to do so.  I wasn’t there, but I heard that at the meeting in which he was presented his one year medallion, a meeting that was approximately two hundred people strong, he was given a standing ovation.  He certainly deserved it.

Robert went back to his homeland of Puerto Rico a few years ago and overdosed, leaving a gaping hole in my heart.  We were casual friends.  I can only imagine what it did to those who were close to him.  I heard over and over again about “Poor Robert,” after his death and I began to respond with what he meant to me and what he taught me, and after another year or two of hearing about “Poor Robert,” I finally threw in the towel.  He was anything but “Poor Robert” to me.  One of the core slogans in AA is “Keep coming back.”  Robert kept coming back.  For sure his death was tragic for all of us who knew him.  Many of us though,  missed the point of his life. Robert kept coming back.  He taught me something by example that I’ll never forget. Sometimes he went three days without a drink and here he was again at a meeting. Sometimes he’d stay sober for nine months, relapse, and here he was again at a meeting. He picked himself up over and over again.  Robert’s life proved a couple of things to me one of which I already knew all too well:  alcoholism is a disease, cunning, baffling, and powerful.  And I finally got to see, over and over again, someone modeling to perfection, not just saying the slogan “Keep coming back.”  No matter how far down the scale Robert had gone, he kept coming back.  Until he didn’t.  And nobody but the soul of Robert knows what his life path was supposed to be. Nobody knows how his life was supposed to end.  So I guess looking at him as “Poor Robert” is everyone’s prerogative.  I’d rather not.  Robert also proved to me a third thing in living color: nobody ever dies.  I’ll never forget him.  His body is just not here.

This past Saturday I attended an AA meeting that Robert and I both used to attend years ago.  As usual, someone read “The Promises.”  As usual, we all grouped together and stated “We think not!” in response to the aforementioned promises being extravagant.  And as usual, in the back of my mind, I heard him shout out “No way.”  I found the pony, Robert.  Thank you.

 

Peace

The War Inside

“For everything must serve the purpose you have given it, until you see a different purpose there.” – – Lesson 128 from A Course In Miracles

 

There is a miracle occurring in me right this second.  I’m missing the beginning of my usual autumn Sunday ritual in order to write, having been affected certainly by the worldwide happenings of the weekend.  Each weekend I sit in front of a screen and watch 22 grown men who have put on pads and helmets and miles and miles of tape, bash the living shit out of each other.  What a wonderful distraction, and free of charge!  I’m sure not about to give up the NFL.  It does provide a form of fun and entertainment for me, but if I’m truly within myself, can I admit that something else might be going on? Might I be seeing an outside picture of an inside condition?  Is it possible that those little figures on the TV screen are actually images of the violent thoughts contained in my own mind?

I’m not a bible scholar so I don’t remember what book it’s in, but I very clearly remember reading “there will always be wars,” in one of the books, so I know it’s in there.  I also know that the statement is a metaphor and it’s not only talking about wars in the world, but also in the mind. It also makes me think of Eckhart Tolle stating that “the need to be right is a form of violence.”  If that’s the case I’m in the same ballpark thought-wise as about any terrorist out there.  My point today is referencing the above quote: I think we miss one of the points these awful tragedies point us to – – the real war is inside and the event itself, as terrible as it is, is also a movie of what’s going on inside of us on a smaller (maybe) scale.  The purpose most of us give it is to shake our heads at the insanity of all of the violence in the world, a purpose that without question has merit.  My thought is that it has a dual purpose.  It can also serve to drive me back inside and look at a place unhealed.  Every outer disturbance is a reflection, a reminder if you will, that I have much more healing to do.

I have seen Facebook turned into a memorial for those lost in the last few days and in other wars.  One post after another notes the need for our prayers and thoughts, and sometimes also voices our exasperation at the endless stream of the senseless violence in the world.  I too have prayed, and hold the unfortunate losses in my heart, knowing at the same time that they’re also freed from the bondage and limitations of being human, and freed from a world in which we do these things to each other.  Coincidentally, a healing of my own war has occurred with my increasing awareness of it.  On Friday night a chance meeting led to me apologizing to a friend I had a rift with a couple of years ago.  The very second I saw her I knew what would happen between us that night, but what it had to be preceded by was an admission that I had done her wrong.  That had to be preceded by something pointing to the discomfort the incident I had pushed out of my awareness was causing.  There had to be something outside to remind me that the discomfort and identification were coming from inside. 

I will emphasize once again:  the recent world events are indeed tragic, horrific, and without excuse.  Wanna heal it?  Maybe withdraw a bit and remember there are wars of sorts going on in our own country.  How many people in the U.S. died last night from starvation, domestic abuse, or just plain slept outside under a bridge?  How many of them were veterans who fought in wars to protect us? How about if we get a little closer and look at Black Lives Matter and all of the views we had and what it did to us inside. Get a little closer and remember that homeless person you walked right by without acknowledging, or maybe you didn’t know that they were homeless.  Or get even a little closer to the toughest part: maybe think of the friend or family member you said something nasty to and hurt, or the person you’ve been neglecting, or the unawareness of this or that foible that may be causing grief to people around you.  Are these not wars too? Or maybe think of the things you didn’t do like tell someone how much you appreciate them, or contribute a couple of bucks to a local charity to feed the folks in our own backyard, or maybe preempted your own violence by venting a hostile viewpoint on a friend or family member to discharge another layer inside that might hurt someone or even many if it isn’t first admitted to, and then forgiven. What I’m saying is this: these immense, awful, terrible, tragedies also offer us yet another way to avoid ourselves, to say “the problems are out there,” and not inside.

So again, wanna do something to heal past tragedies and prevent future ones?  So we don’t have to watch this exasperating procession of tragedies happen over and over again?  Hug your child an extra time.  Tell your friends you care about them.  Admit that you’re human and that you maybe have some behaviors that need amending.  Pick up your phone and call, don’t text, that relative or friend you’ve had a grudge against for years.  Look honestly inside, deeply and often, for the “hungry dogs of fear” that instantly want to place responsibility for some deficiency you have on an outside event instead of the loveless places inside. As much as I want it to be, whatever crappy feeling inside is not someone else’s fault. I’ve been fortunate this weekend in that I’ve had opportunities to make amends dropped into my lap.  This is not always the case. Like anyone else, I need to be vigilant for my shortcomings, admit to them, and do whatever I need to in order to heal them.  If we all look at the most recent or any atrocity in history honestly, there is the imperative demand that it is making: it’s an outside picture of an inward condition.  If I’m not careful, the tragedy is also providing me with a way to avoid myself.  It is indeed possible to be compassionate and pray for all of those involved this weekend and also remember that the event is pointing us back inside.  The arrow pointing back at us changes the purpose of it.  So grieve.  Talk with friends and family about these awful things.  Remind your kids that they’re safe and loved.  Yet also remember that we’re never going to stop seeing wars outside until we fix the ones inside.

 

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

 

 

 

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

I Think Therefore I Ain’t

“God is not what you think.” – – unknown

 

About twenty-something years ago I took one of my AA Big Books and crossed out the words “drink” or “drinking” and wrote “think” or “thinking” above it through it’s entire contents.  I had no idea the wisdom of what I was doing, and I’ll even say quite easily right now that it sure wasn’t the idea of my egoic self to perform that task.  It’s only this many years later than I’m even beginning to understand the implications of what I had done.  A Course In Miracles states that “the only problem is a sense of separation from God.”  Ok.  So, how do I fix that?  Several other modalities suggest that the rift isn’t healed by anything that we “do.”  Ok, now I’m thoroughly confused.  Or am I?

It would appear that tying in ACIM with other spiritual modes, I’ve finally been able to come to the conclusion that the “separation” is thought, or the racing mind.  I remember in The Sermon On The Mount how it’s author Emmet Fox wrote “the race-mind is the devil.”  I know many who have read that book ten times over and have never ever heard that quoted.  Eckhart Tolle’s equivalent is referencing an “opaque” field that blocks us from our true selves.  Another reference point that is a couple of thousand years older is the biblical allegory of being told not to eat of the tree of the fruit of “good and evil,” aka the world of opposites.  So, Mr. Descartes, if I think I really am not.  If I think I’m indulging in an egoic “created” world complete with problems of my own design.  It literally blocks out the sunlight of the spirit (thank you, Big Book) The I AM is my reality, underneath all of my positive/negative polaritied (is “polaritied” a word? Oh, well . . . it is now) thought processes, then said processes are the “separation” that prevents me from my true reality.  A calm, peaceful source of joy and other-worldly creativity.  Available whenever I’m willing to stop, take a breath, and bring at least some of my attention back into my body, which causes my inner self to start partying in delight over the attention.  It’s been only a few weeks since I’ve been practicing putting my attention into feeling my inner body as much as possible and my world is already looking pretty different.  I’m still a bundle of nerves and fears, but some of them seem to be loosening their grip on me.  It all started with having a difficult moment, and taking a deep breath,  and moving my attention to my physical body, at which time I unwittingly opened a portal to something deeper . . .

 

Some years ago while I was still a smoker, I remember going out to the local smoking hole and encountering a lady named Michelle.  We both talked about our days, and she advised me of the enormous stress that she was under.  I half-jokingly suggested that she didn’t have to think if she didn’t want to.  “I’m well aware that I don’t have to think,” she said, and gave me a run down of reasons why she can’t just plain stop thinking.  Agreed.  I don’t know of many who run around all day with blank minds.  What I’ve found recently though is that if I’m rooted with at least some attention inside, my thoughts appear to be at least some of the time coming from a different source.  I had some really nice appreciation expressed to me by a couple of customers yesterday, including one who cited “your confidence, your knowledge of your product, and your knack for making me laugh.” I haven’t heard that type of thing for ages.  I took care to take a deep breath and sometimes “visualize” the inner self of the person calling and it really made for a rather blissful day at work during a time we’ve all been referring to as “insane” or “nuts.”  Go figure.  So really, there’s nothing really deeply profound about being “enlightened” or “in the now.”  Quite simply, it’s being aware of the inner self and feeding it with a little attention.  Moment to moment, I make a choice of whether or not I want to operate out of that beautiful still space, or get wrapped up in my insane ego.  As my friend David might say, “it depends on which dog you feed.”  They can co-exist, in fact there’s no way to deny that I have an ego.  That just adds to the lunacy.  What I’m suggesting is that I’ve chosen to look at the world from a different vantage point for much of my days for the last few weeks, and while I do that I come upon this strange companion: joy.  It’s been awhile.  All day long I decide whether to operate from memory or inspiration, fear or love, past/future or present.  I do believe this is what Step 11 of the 12 Steps is suggesting.  For years whenever I would hear someone talk about “meditative reading” or a “meditative walk,” my dogmatic superiority would tell me how ridiculous they were, how meditation can be done only one way, and it’s done “formally” by sitting for twenty minutes, using a chosen mudra, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.  I’m by no stretch saying that I’m problem free (in fact I’m home sick from work today and going through my usual guilt about my shoddy work-attendance) but I can say that the worry, anxiety, and other extraneous goodies around any of my life-situations is less than is has been for a long time.  I’m truly having a joyful practice at whatever situation I find myself in (for the most-part) and have sort of a “Pacman” outlook at the resulting transmutation of my ego whenever I keep my attention inside.  As though the positive/negative is being gobbled up inside, with all of my crappy thoughts actually acting as sort of “job security” for being alive.  “Becoming the watcher” of my thoughts is nowhere near as complicated as I make it, being “enlightened” is actually fun, and it’s a kick knowing that these things are part of my natural state.  It’s only when I stray from inside that my world goes nuts.  And even if it does, it’s all passing.  If I think, I actually am an ego, or at least have identified myself with it.  If I stay at least partially inside, I am.  Sorry for the slight modification, Rene.

 

Peace

Out Of My Mind; Back In 20 Minutes

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

 

Last week as I was leaving my doctor’s office he noticed that I was reading a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power Of Now” while I was in the waiting room.  He offered another author that he liked and I quickly advised him that I had been “modalitied up the kazoo,” and that my issue was sticking with any one particular method of practicing peacefulness.  I pointed to the book and said “Like this one – – it just seems too easy and too good to be true.”  Indeed.  When I pick up a book like this, or A Course In Miracles, or The Four Agreements, it reminds me pretty instantly how identified I am with the spooky world inside my head.  My saving grace, though it offers little comfort, is that we’re all in the same boat.  Millionaires, poor folks, call center reps, even some “spiritual teachers” are all at various levels of unease.  The mind, I often forget (thanks to the tricky workings of my mind) would like me to identify with it and see problems everywhere, rather than do something as simple as take nice deep breaths and stop thinking here and there.  Thought, time, resistance, the mind . . . they’re all the same thing.  And none of them are me.

I got off the “mindfulness” boat long ago.  I grew weary of the term early in the new age boom of the 80’s and 90’s, and really feel fortunate to be able to look at that word and question what exactly my mind is “full” of.   Usually poop.  No matter what I train my mind to do, it usually has it’s way with me.  I’m certainly not advocating walking around zombie-like and never ever engaging in a single thought: what I’m trying to write about here is not only taking periodic, brief breaks from the endless cycles of thought, but also keeping attention on and/or in my body.  Feeling the presence in me rather than thinking about it. Bible verse and other spiritual modalities make reference to God being “closer than hands and feet” and “closer than breathing.”  Boy, that’s pretty close.  To know that re-connecting with such a Source is that simple is just plain mind-blowing.  Literally. And scary.  Without all of my thoughts and my mind, what’s left of me

For those of atheistic, or agnostic bend, Tolle offers another option of referring to the remarkably accessible presence as just that, “presence,” or “the now.” For it’s opponent (he goes to great lengths to say in so many words that “presence” offers no opposition – – it just “is.”) he makes reference to “the pain body.”  Don Miguel Ruiz calls it “the parasite.”  A Course In Miracles states it quite plainly as “the ego.” That accessing a peaceful, indeed, quite magical Self that is my true identity does often seem too good to be true, is no surprise.  I’m so much more conditioned to complaining, blaming everyone around me, and feeling like a helpless victim of circumstances that it’s a deeply grooved response mode I’m quite familiar with.  Too familiar.  All three of the modalities I’m mentioned talk in different terms about the ego being absolutely terrified of dying, and mounting a huge resurgence as soon as even so much as a moment’s enlightenment seems possible.  And the fact is, enlightenment is available not in the past, not in the future, but right here, right now.  All I have to do is keep at least some of my attention directed in my body while I engage in every day activities?  Seriously?  Yeppers.  It works.

I once heard Tolle say that going about our day complaining about all of our surroundings, our workplace, other people, blaming, shaming, gossiping, is much like looking in the mirror and then attacking the mirror.  Doing such a thing would be insanity.  And attacking a mirror is exactly what I’m doing when I’m performing everything mentioned prior to the mirror analogy.

I remember years ago seeing a Dennis The Menace cartoon in which he asked what he could do for the day and his mom said “don’t play in the mud,” then “don’t jump in any puddles,” then “don’t let Ruff out of the yard,” to which Dennis replied “that’s not doing, that’s dont’ing.”  No matter what the modality, practicing being present isn’t not complaining, not being unhappy at work, not blaming, it’s keeping my attention inside, not thinking about the Presence inside, but just letting my thoughts be there and  becoming aware of and feeling that beautiful Presence that makes me the same as everyone else.  When I practice this even for a few seconds, it’s pretty impossible to look at another person or situation and judge it.  It’s just there.  And underneath the person or situation is what’s real about it: it too, contains Presence.

At work this past Friday I had a conversation with a co-worker that embarrassed me when I thought back to it today.  In fact, it, and my entire work situation started to eat me alive (parasite).  I began paying attention to the presence inside, would have a huge resurgence of ego saying, “but look at what she’s doing at work, and man, the way she rips everybody and gossips to keep her mind off herself and, and, and, and . .  .” as my predictable ego would sense me going beyond duality, beyond being happy/unhappy, content/discontent, at ease/diseased.  And suddenly I was awakened from a bad dream again.  Until the next time I decide to sleep walk with my ego in charge.  I like the “Presence” way better.

A few months ago I lost a book called “The Infinite Way” that I’ve enjoyed immensely since the early 90’s, and I still had my original copy.  It was in early May, I believe when we went our separate ways.  I used to refer to it as “my little gold book” not only because of the gold cover, but also because of it’s content.  A couple of weeks ago while coming to from a brief meditation session, I had an image of my book bag that I use during the school year.  I hadn’t touched it since spring classes ended.  On a whim I went to check it out, and of course, there was my little gold book.  Someone up there (um, . . . in here) likes me.  From there I went to several other publications that I really like and soon was practicing being here now like good ol’ Ram Dass preached years ago.  I believe I’m back on track albeit ego-fits preclude me being my true self 24/7 lately, on occasion that is to say, I’m prone to a blast of gossip and slamming other people, much like attacking a mirror.  In fact it’s not like attacking a mirror, the actions are one and the same.  In fact such an insane episode I can even take as a good sign that my ego is terrified of receding into the background more than it’s used to.  Just for today, I’m not concerned with becoming an “enlightened being” or “whole,”  I’ve wasted too much time looking for something I could have found sitting in a chair by myself.  It was and is here always.  I just need to focus my attention inside, no matter what I’m thinking.  I am not my mind.  A Course In Miracles states in so many words that everything exists in the mind.  There is no “out there.”  Ok.  Then I’ll be joyfully content with whatever form comes to me of a suggestion that was made to me years ago: “in order to find God, you need to lose your mind.”  Working on it.

 

Peace

 

 

How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” – – T.S. Eliot

 

For the longest time I’ve wondered what it would be like to be at “peak” health, and think I came close maybe ten years ago due to a healthier diet and running sometimes twice a day.  I dropped down from a little over two hundred pounds to about 148, felt great, but couldn’t help notice (and go into denial about) frequent bouts with feeling tired.  Go figure.  I was averaging about 50-60 miles per week in training for Twin Cities Marathon, but for a few weeks was more in the 80-90 range.  Insanity for anybody but an “elite” runner, but I managed, and quite frankly as I mentioned, in-between the tired bouts I felt fantastic.  And trim.  And finished with my third best marathon time ever.  A few notes to myself: I was ten years younger then, was earning considerably more money and thus could more easily afford training stuffs, I was ten years younger then, plus I was ten years younger then. Did I mention that I was ten years younger then?  Still, that stubborn streak, or possibly some lack of acceptance about aging, has me going for 1000 miles total by Labor Day.  I began my goal on June 1st, thus giving me 92 days to average 10.87 miles per day.  Quite the daunting feat for anyone, (except my ultra-running friend Sheila and her husband who likely both take care of 10% of that before they brush their teeth in the morning), much less a 58 year old.

 

A large part of what I’m doing is with what feels like a very extended mid-life crisis.  I finally decided a year ago that I want to write for a living, not work in a call center as I have been doing for so many years. The process to get there has been painfully slow, and this fall I’ll finally be getting enrolled into a creative writing program.  Granted, the call center I’m in has likely been the most pleasant experience of all I’ve been thru, it still is difficult to be in as they all are from time to time.  With all due respect to a great employer, I just don’t want to be there any more.  I read of a similar plight in Marshall Ullrich’s book “Running On Empty,” his diary of running across the entire country in hopes of finding his own depth and quelling various internal fires.  It didn’t sound pleasant much of the time, still I’ve been intrigued ever since by the idea of what it must have felt like to go through such self-induced agony.  I have no idea how he feels about himself now, about five years later, but at the time it seemed like he reached a major life break-through.  If that’s the case, I’m all in.

I’ve not had the pleasure of doing what I love for a living as many of us have the misfortune to be able to say.  The very least this experience is giving me is one more thing to write about.  Already I’m having some beginning fears, ups-and-downs, the mood swings that accompany jumping from running about 20 miles a week to 50-60.  Plus, in order to reach my goal on time I’ll need to average in the 80-90 range for at least part of my little journey.  My work buddy Brian has a child who suffers from a nut allergy, and is active with FARE , Food Allergy Research & Education.  I told Brian earlier in the year that if I had a cause, I would run 1000 miles for it if someone else was willing to do all of the administrative/fund raising end.  The result has been a beautiful personalized website (see below) complete by Brian’s wife Beth where anyone can donate money for research or just leave me an encouraging word.  Believe me, I’ll need them.

So inward hoe to the writing source again, and likely I’ll be writing with more frequency about my joys and sorrows in the next few months.  Already I’ve encountered some nasty obstacles:  I’m being denied access to my favorite ten mile route due to road construction.  My five mile route then got closed off, and most recently my 8 and 4 milers have been altered considerably.  I mapped about the various routes years ago and strategically planned them with various SA pit-stops and other stores where I could stop and re-fuel.  I don’t own a “fanny-pack” nor do I care to use one, I’ve always found such equipment to be overly cumbersome.  So I’ve usually plunked down a buck or two for whatever beverage or fruit/candy bar that struck my fancy at various stations.  No more.  So I’ve compensated by doing laps on a pair of makeshift routes that allow me to stop home for a drink, or at a local BP station close to home.  The good news there I guess is that I may spend a little less money over the next month or so (construction in some of my blocked areas is supposed to be done by the end of this month), then return to my regular haunts.

I usually go through three pairs of running shoes a year which are typically anywhere from $100-$150 depending on make and model, and boy are they a godsend.  I honestly don’t know how distance runners survived pre-70’s without specially designed shoes.  It has become quite the science over the last few decades, and there is a particular shoe type for just about every type and size of runner imaginable.  The downfall is that shoes are advertised to be supportive for 300-500 miles or three months, whichever comes first.  In my experience it’s been more like 200-300 miles.  Max.  Thus I’ll likely go through 3 pairs of shoes this summer alone, rather than the full year it usually takes to wear out the same number.  Luckily for me, I still have what feels like another hundred miles or so in my current pair.  There’s a lot more to running than most people think.  We don’t just put on any pair of shoes and head out the door for a half hour or so, then spend the rest of the day eating spaghetti.  If most of us adhered to the imaginations of a lot of non-runners, more of us would have a lot more injuries than we do and would weigh about 350 pounds.  I prefer to buck the image.

As I build my endurance and try to lose some weight, I am finishing out week number one at 50 miles with today’s five miler.  I am tired, and wondering how I’ll be feeling a few weeks from now, but finding more and more arguments to stay in the “here-and-now.”  I need to pay extra attention to diet and once again look at food as fuel, not just something to satisfy my taste buds with or to overindulge in.  Running right now is an obvious drug for me: when I’m alone and running any cares seem miles away, and I’ve had a lot of them lately – – miles and worries that is, worries of things real or imagined, and wondering if I’m ever going to fulfill my dream of writing as a vocation.  So in addition to the improvement in health and attention to the now, I also am finding additional motivation to indulge in my passion, my first love, symbolically “putting the pen to paper.”  Many are giving me leeway to not run the entire thousand miles by Labor Day, but at this time I’m of a different bend.  I may not make it, but I’m going to go down swinging.  Regardless, I suspect I’m going to come out a pretty different person on the other side.  My crystal ball doesn’t afford me the details of exactly what that might be, but it is yet another carrot I’m dangling in front of myself.  I feel a Presence with me more and more lately that is carrying me through to the other side no matter what the outcome, and I look forward to regularly spending very focused time with It for an hour or two on the road every day.  It is one of my Comforts, indeed.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a thousand miles to run.

 

Peace

 

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And please check out my other posts at magicianstouch.net

Oracles In The Attic

“Some people never get, some never give.  Some people never die, some never live.” – – Don Williams

 

I was watching an episode of the Twilight Zone a few weeks ago in which a couple was stranded in a town, having their every move dictated by a little fortune-telling machine in the booth of a restaurant they had been in.  Since an initial reading, they returned repeatedly for guidance, convinced that they were trapped in this town they were passing through, and could leave only when the oracle allowed.

I have been in recovery for over 26 years now, and I swear that there’s nothing that can form a vice grip on me more than when getting obsessive about a psychic or tarot card reading and living my life according to what I heard.  Twelve steps out the window.  Serenity gone.  Happiness internally only when the outside circumstances and people with me behave according to the dictates of myself and the reading.  It’s only been in recent years that I’ve been able to admit that more often than not when I go in for a reading, I’m looking to hear about future events that will conform to my wishes.  The wonder and usefulness of tarot and psychic readings can easily be perverted into addictive drugs by a mind not focused on the here and now, and instead looking toward fantasies of the future to make it happy.

There is great wisdom in metaphoric stories like “The Wizard of Oz,”  in which Dorothy strays from her own inner teacher (home) to find bliss on the yellow brick road.  True, she learned lessons on the way to Oz, but the predominant one was that there is in fact “no place like home.”  Dorothy ultimately finds that her true joy is in the love she had all along, not the cravings that came about due to her own inner dissatisfaction.  The story of the prodigal son is told over and over again in mythology and movies past and present. Sadly, the real story is usually of someone unable to cope with inner turmoil, instead turning to outside addictions.  That is, those that present an illusion of being outside.

I once began a long string of tarot readings with a few different readers.  What was I looking for?  Same as about everybody else when we go for a reading:  finance and romance.  When am I gonna hit it big.  When is that next perfect person coming into my life.  I noticed after a while that with each reading, I would get an answer for when “Ms. Right” would come into my life, but the aforementioned time would come and go with no one materializing.  So I’d go for another reading.  Same result.  Another reading.  Ditto.  I got into therapy during a very lonely aftermath of all of those readings stretching a span of about two years.  After some probing, my therapist asked me, “did you ever notice something you commonly did after every single one of those readings?”  He knew the answer but didn’t give it to me, letting me go off on my own til I finally put two and two together a few weeks later.  After every single one of those readings in which a partner was prophesied for me, I dropped out of circulation, making certain that the alliance never happened.  After one too many painful endings, I was trying to ensure I would never get hurt again.

Another common trick  I’ve noticed is looking for reassurance that someone is going to “get theirs.”  One Facebook ploy I’ve seen in this regard is that every now and then somebody posts something referencing “karma.”  This often makes me aware once again that I’m not alone, because the way the word “karma” is used on the social media, it can be defined as “God getting someone for doing something I didn’t like.”  Karma, of course, always only works on the other person.  Unfortunately, I can’t even pretend to not be prone to thoughts of “God will get you” on my behalf.  Enough of this, and eventually, luckily, I notice that I’m living in my own manufactured misery.  I’ve even noticed in my case that on occasion the other person is getting their just dues.  And then it stops.  Once again it was therapy guy to the rescue when he said, “fuck with an oracle and it’ll fuck right back with you.”  Wow.  That’s an eye opener, and gave me a shiver down my spine.  I wonder if God’ll get him for that . . .

A few things I’ve seen over the years have taught me the following: 1) No reader is perfect.  Everybody has an off day including the most adept of psychic and tarot card readers.  The reading still needs to filter thru the ego of the reader, and sometimes information can be a bit skewed.  2) Readings provide a potential future, not anything written in stone.  I could write volumes on this. 3) Readings can be an extremely harsh mistress to someone going through an addictive cycle.  Number three, I’m afraid, is one that I haven’t learned fully yet.  The worst thing that I let readings do when in an addictive phase is consume me with potential futures.  The number of writers and philosophers who talk about “living in the here and now” as the only way to create a better future is overwhelming.  Go to any Barnes & Noble and it will seem like every other book written has a version of that sentiment written.  I know. Believe me, my considerably lighter wallet is testament to that.  All of this can take away from the gifts offered by very well intending readers, and I’ve met many who are not only wonderfully kind, but extremely talented and with only my best interest at heart.  I can still cause a reading to go awry.  Readings can be an absolute wonder, but I’m writing this due to the fact that I’ve been pretty consumed by the many I’ve had over the last year.  The few situations in question have morphed into something different so many times over the last year, my obsession with the possible outcomes so great, it’s been crazy-making at times.  It is indeed living half a life.  So to all of those wonderful readers who have spent time with me in the last year, thank you so much.  The info you gave me was accurate as it could be, I’m sure – – but I managed to make it into a replacement for my own heart and soul, a tragic and grievous error that I don’t wish on anyone.  And of all of you I ask only one favor: if I ask you for a reading, please provide me with one.  But only after I’ve submitted to a sobriety test.

 

Peace

 

Please read more of my writings at magicianstouch.net

 

It’s Not Your Fault

“Sorry guys, I gotta go and see about a girl.” – – Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting”

 

The above quote is from the character Sean Maguire as portrayed by Robin Williams in the aforementioned movie.  In the scene, Sean/Robin is explaining to Will Hunting why he doesn’t regret missing the historic game six of the 1975 world series won by the Boston Red Sox.  Williams’ character had a ticket to the game, but when he saw the woman who was to become his wife sitting across the bar he was at,  he pushed his ticket across the table at his friends and told them he had other plans.  As a result, Sean had a marriage of 18 years, including the last two spent taking care of his terminally ill spouse.  Still he regretted nothing, and certainly not meeting his wife in lieu of a baseball game, even through the pain he’s feeling two years after her death.  I have a similar avenue I hope to never regret.  There are a number of people I’d like to tell very simply how I feel about them . . . hopefully shortly after re-enacting yet another scene from this film, the one at the end where Sean tells his young client Will, “it’s not your fault.”

I’ve at times felt an intense sadness over the last few weeks due to the loss of someone I’ve never met.  I don’t cry easily, but I have to confess that I felt even more grief when I found out that Robin Williams had completed alcohol treatment right here in Minnesota about a month ago.  Then came some tears.  I suspect part of my sadness comes from that kinship, one owing to my own bouts with alcoholism and depression.  Depression is a topic I intend to write more on at a later date, a topic I think is sadly misunderstood by the masses.  Robin knew it all too well, likely along with the loneliness and sense of separation that can accompany one even in a crowd.  I’ve seen more references to “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Mork & Mindy” on Facebook in the last few hours than I can count, a movie and tv series that he indeed ought to be remembered fondly for.  Mine are more for the many, many poignant moments in “Good Will Hunting,”  and for a very beautiful, and simplified rendering of the story of the Fisher King in a movie of the same name.  Briefly, the story is of a young king who leaves home in search of the Holy Grail, only to come back a discouraged old man dejectedly accepting that he would never find his treasure.  He then sits at his throne and tells a passing fool, “bring me some water .. . I’m thirsty.”  As the fool pours water into the king’s goblet, it magically transforms into the Holy Grail.  The astonished king asks the fool, “How did you know I’ve been looking for this my entire life?”  The fool smiles simply and replies, “I didn’t.  I just know you said you were thirsty, you asked me for a drink, and so I gave you one.”  How sad that Mr. Williams wasn’t able to get his own cup filled.

I have to say that I have a fantasy of sorts, in hope of averting the possible regret I may be setting myself up for.  There are a few people I work with, certainly a few others in my outside life, that I have to fight the compulsion to just walk up to and hug and say “I just wanted to remind you that you make my day so often, and I love you.”  I also know a few in both places who are sometimes down, maybe sometimes feeling trapped in their lives, or maybe just a little lost and confused as we all are from time to time.  That’s where the very moving “it’s not your fault” scene comes into play for me.  Somebody on Facebook posted that scene, and as I watched it, I was moved to tears in seconds.  What a different world it would be if even a few of us took the time to express such sentiment to someone we care about, even once.  I would like to be one of those few.

The passing of yet another celluloid image usually brings about a notification of mortality in me at best, sometimes more, but not often.  Robin Williams death, particularly learning of it being suicide, brought instant grief.  I get so irritated when I see those idiotic Facebook posts that say that “depression is a result of staying strong for too long” or that it’s because a person is not choosing to be happy.  As a lifelong dysthymic, I can tell you for certain that it’s a tad more complicated than that.  The Williams with the constantly running motor that we all saw on various talk shows always struck me as an over reaction to depression.  Mr. Williams likely had some very deeply rooted issues that still ruled his life.  Most of us do, it’s just to varying degrees.  Whatever pushed him over the edge no one may ever truly know,  but even with his last breath he gave the world a gift, telling us all basically to cherish life.  A life he apparently was no longer willing to try and access.  This was his prerogative.  While those left behind don’t like it,  every person has the right to commit suicide if they so wish.  As a writer on A Course In Miracles named Hugh Prather used to say, “all death is suicide.”  Some of them are just quite sudden, shocking, and every bit as sad as the slower versions. I wish you the peace you sought on earth, Mr. Williams,  I wish all of the joy you gave to millions to be visited on you.  And I wish your next incarnation, whatever it may be as, to be one filled with your inner longings much more within your reach than in this past one.  Thank you for all that you gave me.  I promise to try and pay it forward.

I’m setting myself up for a very politically incorrect task.   One I don’t even know if I have the courage for.  I often try to talk myself into believing that  my desire to grab onto you and hug you and you tell you that I love you is fleeting and happens only when the Robin Williamses of the world die, but it’s just not so.  It’s with me constantly, and sometimes not saying it makes me ache.  There are at least a dozen of you, and in truth there are many more.  Some of you have touched me deeply with a single word that changed my life, some of you I’ve had long, long conversations with and felt refreshed and enlightened as a result.  Some of you have afforded me the absolute honor and privilege of being your confidant, and have trusted me with some of your secrets, and most importantly have had the courage to show your vulnerability and cry in front of me.  For this you may think you lean on me too much,  in truth, you have given me an honor I can’t possibly describe.  Still, it’s not my job to save the world.  Or is it?  It is my job to love, and isn’t that the same thing?  As I said earlier, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to make my fantasy a reality, partly out of fear that if you’re a woman you may think I’m hitting on you, partly if you’re man that it may bring to the surface a homophobic fear or two.  Mostly I think it’s just my own fear of breaking down a barrier that I’ve wanted to for so long. as if to say good-bye to an old, protective friend.  Here’s to my fantasy coming true. I will start right now and if you’re reading this you know who you are.  I love you.  And whatever your burden may be, it’s not your fault.

Peace