Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Post Traumatic Growth

This is disturbing. So much so, that I had a hard time sleeping last night. In a moment you’ll know why. I hope you are disturbed too.

I imagined, as I was preparing to write, that I might entitle this piece “Uncommon Sense.” But, I’ve already written something with that title. I was drawn to that way of entitling this missive, because it was a play on Thomas Paine’s revolution inducing essay, “Common Sense.” I realized last night that what is here is revolutionary. Here’s why.

This line of thought started when I was watching the Newshour on PBS. In a feature segment called “In My Humble Opinion,” a guest addressed trauma. She said essentially that trauma survivors were more traumatized by the reactions of the ones around them. By being treated as damaged by their loved ones, they came to believe themselves damaged, and to correspondingly suffer like they were. The power of social belief was so great it piled insurmountable hurt upon them. Only those intact enough, within themselves, had any immunity to these social views.

She was not traumatized, although she had been through two wars in Africa, and had come to America as a black woman. She was solid enough to speak out on TV, about what appeared to her, as a powerfully defining and painful social force. Only by defining herself, had she resisted becoming the quivering survivor of harrowing events, defined (by herself and others) as forever tainted by what she had been through. Her support system was prepared to provide her with a life sentence, as someone traumatized. She was savvy enough to know that form of help didn’t help, in fact, it could hurt her, if she let it.

Thank heavens she went beyond conventional practices, and made her voice heard. She named our social belief structure for the disabling agent it sometimes is. There are people walking around now, who are wearing the scars of these misbegotten assumptions. You may be one of them.

I consider knowing this disturbing, because I can see the same thing happening to old people. The societal assumption is that the old person is headed down hill in an inevitable decline. There seems to be an invisible funnel, which envisions old people headed down, into the narrowing end. Ageist beliefs end up channeling most of the elderly into diminishment. A few, intact enough to resist, exhibit post-traumatic growth and demonstrate the realization that the funnel is actually the other way round. Aging unleashes unimagined potential. They grow until they dissolve into a greater way of being.

Social beliefs, are disabling, far more so, than disturbing events. This is a painful truth, one that is truly traumatizing. Old people thrive when they escape the debilitating assumptions of common ignorance. Mass mind — the beliefs that define a culture — evoke a reality that makes post-traumatic growth difficult, but not impossible. The ones who have escaped, say more about themselves than us, but as a minority, they say enough about us, to be revolutionary wisdom.

Graying challenges us — to go beyond the traumatizing beliefs of a culture, mad with the assumptions of adulthood—and to become, not the discarded drone, but a real human being. The old beliefs don’t help. But, there are fresh assumptions, even not knowing, that offer a child-like new beginning, and mesmerizing new potentials. Thanks to post-traumatic growth, a new enchanted world is becoming more obvious.

I hope, that knowing of the power of collective ignorance, disturbs you, it does me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Augmented Reality

I’m always fascinated by the latest consumer technology. So, I’ve been watching what’s being developed. Recently, along with the virtual reality fad, has come something short of that, called augmented reality. Augmented reality (or AR) is being used to sell quasi-experiences, to people looking for cars, vacations, or real estate. As is my bent, I want to use this missive to suggest that there is something totally organic, and very much a part of regular human-life, that augments reality naturally.

For a longtime I’ve had the prejudice that we should be devoting our human energy to internal development, rather than to things that only reinforce our over reliance on externalities. In other words, I have reason to believe that there is a whole lot more investment in techno-toys, which ostensibly increase our skills and connectivity, than there is investment in bringing out our inner capabilities. We could connect so much more deeply and efficiently if we would just invest in our own selves.

Luckily, Life has already done much of this for us. People often don’t know this, so every now and then, I feel aroused to remind us of what Life has already endowed us with. There is a kind of augmented awareness available to all of us.  It isn’t a very easy one, nor do we have complete control over it, but it is elegantly folded into our existence.

I’m talking about an aspect of human life that opens us up and changes reality. Organically, no drugs, or other products, involved. There is an awesome aspect of living that makes everything more vivid and precious.  I’m talking about what happens to us when we feel that our lives are sufficiently threatened. When Life gets adequately rough, and we experience existential vulnerability, the awareness of how fragile we are. Then Life also opens up — and becomes incredible.

This state, which I call existential vulnerability, augments reality, and brings out the meaning inherent in existing.  This kind of vulnerability coaxes out of us the most human qualities. This is the kind of vulnerability that verifies the words of Hafiz, “death is a favor to us.”
Being excruciatingly aware of how momentary and transient our lives are — is extremely clarifying — it reveals just how precious and fragile this life is. Life takes on a glow that goes way beyond understanding.

It appears to me, that the vulnerability that arises in response to existential threat, heightens awareness, and infuses all things with a kind of benign and mysterious aura. To me, this is the true augmented reality — it has a kind of mystic familiarity that calms and reassures.

In some twist of fate, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much more aware of how the worst of times, the eras where I’ve experienced the kind of fragility and existential vulnerability of being on the edge, are also some of the best, most formative, times in my life.

Aging has lead to a reversal in my thinking, The worst times in my life have been the best. Hardship brought out of me qualities I would never have volunteered to acquire, and I learned a lot more about being human than I thought possible. Life augmented my sense of reality.

There is another thing aging has done for me. Again, organically, aging by bringing me closer to death, has increased my vulnerability and awareness. I am going down, but strangely, I am also going up. Life is breaking me down, teaching me what vulnerability is, putting me rudely in touch with my own fragility, and simultaneously, augmenting reality.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


I don’t expect anyone to read very far in this one. Here’s why. Its about disappointment and hopelessness. I remember a time just months after I had my stroke, years before I realized how “lucky” I am. I had moved out of my country home, a dome house on 3 wooded acres. I was living alone for the first time in years. I was deep in grief, in fact, I was never sure what I was grieving, the loss of my marriage, family, country home, health, or career. It all went so quickly.

Amazingly, I could walk then, even drive. I was so bereft that I sought out a therapist, I needed someone to talk with, someone who could help me put myself back together again. Surprisingly, I found someone who was a stroke survivor, someone who knew something of what I was facing. Little did I know, my luck was already operating. I went to work with her, only to find that her regard for me, manifested through her puncturing my hope. Each visit she made clear to me, that despite my attachment to returning to some version of normalcy, that, that was not likely. Gradually, I gave up any notion I had about returning to anything like I had been.

She was ruthless and skilled. I went a way from each session more bereft, and with a greater recognition of my situation. And, that was before the rare brain syndrome came on. Then, over a four-year period, I lost a whole lot more of the capabilities I had left, including any hope of surviving. It was the hopelessness of my situation, which brought about the transformation of my consciousness.

That is what this missive is about; the unsavory nature of what transformed me. There is no sugar coating it. I had to give my hope up, not because it was a good idea, but because I had to. I was on the way out. So it looked — hope for recovery was gone — I lived like a terminal patient. I didn’t know when my time was coming, but I knew it was. Later, I lost more than my physical functioning. I was not my body, nor was I my hopes, dreams, or aspirations. In the end, I was reduced to a quivering mass of helpless flesh.

Living to reflect upon that time at death’s doorstep, I have come to realize that hope, the illusion of control, and thinking I know anything, are completely foolish. I had to be at the end of the rope given to me, to get that none of the presumed protections like hope, faith, or love, really serve —when Life knocks, and asks for everything. I became aware of how vulnerable we humans are. I didn’t like knowing it then, and I don’t like knowing it now. Luckily, Life forced me to know it, to feel vividly just how raw and vulnerable I am — we all are. I didn’t know it till later, but that knowing, about how vulnerable we all are, set me free.

Recently, I have been dwelling with David Whyte’s exhortation to elders to “inhabit our vulnerability.”  Despite my experience, I imagined that David was advising we elders to try to make ourselves vulnerable. That way we are more likely to experience and communicate the wisdom of Life. Now instead, I realize that that vulnerability is a given — it just is— because we humans exist, we participate in the if-i-ness and uncertainty of Creation. I am just as vulnerable now as I ever have been.

That doesn’t reassure me, nor does it make my life easier, but it does free me from the mirages of my attachments to hope and believing. These things have the effect of closing me down, of obscuring the real miracle I get to live within. I am now much more caught-up in the moment, sensitized by what I’ve been through — more existentially open and vulnerable. Life comes to, and through me, in amazingly complex and simple ways.

Giving up hope was essential for me (it wasn’t voluntary), I suffered complete exposure, and I have since, realized how genuinely “lucky” I am.  May you know hopelessness, not knowing, and the loss of control, in your aging process — may you experience such exposure — — so you can be amongst the happy ones.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Loving In A Dangerous Time

The hours grow shorter
                                                       as the days go by,
you never get to stop
 and open your eyes.

One minute, your waiting
 for the sky to fall,
next, your dazzled
 by the beauty of it all.

These fragile bodies
of touch and taste,
vibrant skin:
this hell-like place.

Spirit’s open
 to the thrust of grace,
there isn’t a breath 
you can afford to waste.

When you are lovers in a dangerous time.
 Lyrics by singer/songwriter Martin Kerr

The world is awash with painful, poignant paradox; so miraculous and so perilous. Living has never been so full of drama, loving never so risky. Still, this is the time when the thrust of passion and the open heart, are the greatest gifts that the world gets to know. Loving, with the world in such tumult, is an act of great strength, desire and grace.

To love now, is both insane and totally responsive. The odds are not favorable. So many don’t want to bring babies into this world, some are brave enough, perhaps deluded enough, to start a family. We have created a context that fulfills all of our nightmares, and yet grace prevails. How is such a thing humanly possible? It isn’t, and yet, it is. The heart has always been illogical.

One reason, often cited, for human life, is to learn how to love. This tumultuous age certainly provides a most challenging learning ground. All of the ingredients of distrust, alienation, pain and separation, call out, so pervasively. Loving in this storm is wanton soulfulness, a beauty beyond understanding, a courageous act, a lifting of the heart’s veil, a blessing that is deeper than what we have made.

The world scars us, but how we respond to that treatment, that is where the miracles reside. The beauty of the world, so vulnerable, is strong enough to coax out of us, what is uniquely human in each of us. It is a match made by Mystery. This hell-like place, that serves as heaven.

Loving in such a dangerous time requires us to live as fully as we can. The delicate ambiguity of this place provides us with the severest and most apt challenge. It calls for our depths, our gut-wrenching willingness to risk, and lastly, our most desperate prayers of redemption. It is a risky, perhaps soul –rendering, business. Loving, if it is real, always takes place in a dangerous time. This one is custom made.

Did I capture any of it? There is a tension that runs right through the heart of everything. It is what makes living the complex joy-ride it tends to be. There is plenty of heart-ache to go around, some gravy-like good times, and to spice things up, a dollop of awareness. Living brings such luck and such soul-wrenching grace. Maybe I succeeded in hinting at it a little. I hope so.


“take more time, cover less ground.”— Thomas Merton

I’ve been writing the Slow Lane since 2005, and I made a vow to myself, somewhere in that first year, that I was going to write about “slowing down,” at least once each year thereafter. So, this is the current iteration of that plea/awareness.

I’ve taken the time to look at the other Slow Lane pieces I’ve written on slowing down, and there isn’t much new to say. Speed kills! Not only literally, but also figuratively, as many of the important things about life go whizzing by. Thomas Merton talks about the speed of our lives being an important part of “the violence of our times.” Reality suffers many abuses and distortions; the pace of life is one of the big culprits.

I’ve come to the place where age has wised me up. I’m pretty sure nobody is going to alter the pace of their lives because of something I’ve written.  It isn’t even clear to most people that they have any choice in the matter. It seems like we are being driven at greater and greater rates by the maddening culture we live in.

Thus, there is a kind of powerlessness that surrounds this issue. This generates grief in me. So much passes quickly when it is unnoticed. I mourn this kind of passing. The ephemeral beauty of this life gets missed. That is tragic to me.

Part of the blessing/curse of my stroke, and its aftermath, is that I have been slowed down, almost to a stop, so I can see what I, and others miss, in our day-to-day rush.  Glorious awareness brought me to my knees, and it filled me with horror and sadness. The world is so miraculous and so unseen! My heart is perpetually broken by the complexity of what I experience passing.

With time, a form of grace has descended upon me. It makes my grief about speed even more poignant. Aging, amongst many other things, is slowing us all down. It is reducing the tendency many of us have, to go through life
invulnerable, to the eternal moment, when Life moves at the speed of love.

It seems that Life, or the Universe, enjoys an internal slow dance that brings things together in just the right timing. I’m growing more enamored, as I’m being pushed along my own life trajectory, of the concert-like collaboration of Life, with my own sensitization. Life is killing me softly. It is easing/aging me into a slow motion awareness of my own spiritual unfoldment. Life, like a faithful stream, is carrying me towards, the fulfillment of the destiny created for me.

There is no particular speed in this inexorable process. I dawdle to my own heart’s delight. It makes no difference. Life is going to make of my life what it will.

Whether I smell the roses, or pause before the majesty of it all, doesn’t change the outcome. It only cues me in to the miracle, I’m getting to participate in. I think my life is richer because of it. I know my regard for everything, especially other walking stars (an Angie Arrien term, by which she meant people), goes somewhere beyond the charts. Decelerating has added a whole lot of dimension to life. To me, slowing down has only been a preface (a very important preface) to a long steady knowing crawl home.

I am enjoying the crawl now, like never before.