Thursday, October 25, 2018

I Am Not Who I Imagine

Living and learning can be really painful. Acceptance is so humbling. Everything depends upon a human’s ability to learn from his/ or her mistakes. But when such learning reveals how off one’s self-image is, then another ice shelf breaks off, and the climate grows even more uncertain. Life is full of these kinds of de-stabilizing revelations. There is no movement toward the light, that isn’t presaged by another movement into the dark.

I’ve come to acknowledge the dark. I’m in it now, confronted by my own ignorance and arrogance. I played out a game, a narrative of specialness, that has turned out to be another indication that I don’t know myself. I’m not who I imagine myself to be. 

I once took pride in having learned a lot by surviving an unbelievable ordeal. But, now I see how inflated that is, the truth is that Life spared me, and I don’t know why. But, I didn’t let that bit of ignorance stop me. Instead I assumed I knew something. I separated myself, with that wrong-headed assumption. That is always a mistake. But, it was one I was eager to make, to try to offset the nakedness, the sheer vulnerable exposure of being human. So eager, so blind, so utterly lost. I now know something about how much hurt I inflicted. 

I am so deeply ashamed of myself. I have broken my own heart. I am not who I imagined. And yet, I’m still alive. Life is not done teaching me. Can I open this broken piece of heart tissue, and offer it up again, knowing I am not who I imagine? Can I risk creating so much heartache and pain, in myself and others, to become someone again? I don’t really know. All I know now, is that I am not who I imagined myself to be.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

You Are Not Who I Imagine

Old age is full of life-long realizations, by that, I mean discoveries that lead one to a greater truth than one used to believe. One of those has come to me recently. I’m still integrating it. I’m feeling some mixture of shame and delighted satisfaction. You see, realizing my life-long insensitivity reduces me in my own eyes, but having this awareness at all, especially now, grows my sense that I am still learning, still using the tools Mystery granted me. Becoming more through becoming less is a rigorous path, reserved, I believe, for we who are aged. Chagrin is a badge of courage.

It is that way for me, as I begin to come to grips with seeing the extent to which I have made up some of the most important people in my life. I missed their essential uniqueness, in my hurry to know them. Unbeknownst to me, I was busy making them up for my sake. I let my childhood unfinished business, my adulthood power needs, my unconscious striving, my sense of the Mystery, create my perception. I only saw what I wanted to see. 

I don’t know about you, but when I look at my relationship patterns, I see a lot of mistaken identity. I did a weird kind of makeover on those I supposedly loved. I couldn’t help myself. I forgive my immature, desperate self. I just wish I had been a little more developed.

Theoretically, I am now. At least I can see that I loved so poorly, with such good but lame intentions. I have had the tendency to make up the ones I let get close to me. They all held something for me, something I think my well-being depended upon. I imagined them, missed their essential nature, and then got angry with them, when my projections and blind desire ultimately fell apart. Reality prevailed. I learned — and became more — through suffering with my own limitations, and through mistreating those closest to me.

All of that behavior is a source of grief, but it is good grief, because it pushes me towards seeing others, and myself, anew. Lately, I can see a new, I hope better, relationship awareness settling in. I find myself saying things like “You are not mine, and I am not yours,” indicating some awareness that others exist for their own purposes, and not for my sake. This seems like such a basic decency; a form of respect I wish I’d always been capable of. 

It’s too bad I was never had the psychological distance (maturity) to perceive the other as “the other,” as someone having an existence, a fate, of their own. I might actually be capable of a relationship now.

This is all a result of a life-long inability — a stubbornness actually — an unwillingness to perceive, and accept, reality as it is. I had a host of preferences that got in the way. Life isn’t what I have imagined either. 

Thank goodness, I got to this realization. It has been one of the favors of growing old. I’ve gotten to see, what my responsibility has been, for my many deluded failures. I still have a chance of loving better. 

Now I have a hunger for life, and I won’t accept all the pseudo-realities I once did. This is such an improvement. I chuckle wearily at the lifetime of painful mistakes it has taken for me to become wise to my own folly. I’ve come the bitter way to a better life, one I have more reason to believe I’m not just imagining. For all of that I’m thankful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Where the Light Gets In

“There is a crack in everything.”
                                                                Leonard Cohen

There are some places in life, that are compelling because of their importance and difficulty. 

Some things hurt us so much, at the same time, that they are lifting us beyond ourselves. 

At one moment Life can make me so tender and so hateful. It has been fairly said, “you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.” No matter what your stripe is, or in whose hands you put your heart, the crack that is relationship is going to work one over, break and open the heart, and ultimately let some light in. This bit of reflection honors the frustrating truth that being twisted around by the heart— and where it takes you — is part of Nature’s gift to us.

 Relationship has always been a love/hate part of my life. I haven’t done it well. I have created more hurt than I really care to look at. But, despite the debacles, and now I’m certain because of them, I’ve been grown. Each time I dared to open my heart, for the right or wrong reasons (and there have been plenty of them), I have had delivered to me more insight, pain, wonder and humility than I could handle. The bees made sweet honey (hopefully) out of my many failures.

I could go on in this vein for some time. I am a typical white male, educated by my own insensitivities, socialized by certain assumptions and violence —that made me a bad candidate for the very thing that redeemed me — the love of others. I am amongst the many walking wounded, the lost and lonely refugees of a continuous conflict between differing hearts. I’ve been touched by love too, more now in my later years, and have at last come to see that the miracle has been cracked all along.

I don’t know about you, but I have always assumed that if I could find the right person, or circumstance, I could find relationship contentment. I guess I thought Mystery comes in some preconceived package. It doesn’t. But, I haven’t really given up that notion. I fail, repeatedly, in a gloriously human way. It is one of the things I’m actually quite good at.

Anyway, I’ve come the bitter way to a better understanding. The relationship darkness that haunts me, even to this day, exposes me to more light than I can stand. Good relationships guarantee that I am brought to my kneesand thrust right up against my limitations. I can’t live with them, and can’t live without them. No wonder I’m ambivalent at times.

The light comes in anyway. It doesn’t always feel good.  Sometimes it illuminates a seething mess, but always it brings some tender awareness, a forgiveness that is coated in redeeming humiliation. I’ve done it again –broken something precious. And participated in a birth, of light, of heart, of sweet and terrible illumination.  The light gets in through the cracks in my/our hearts.

Monday, August 27, 2018


“Every aspect of tragedy must be the bones 
supporting the rest of life, 
What I cling to…is the belief that difficulties are what makes it honorable and interesting to be alive.”
                                                                                  Florida Scott-Maxwell (84)
                                                                                       FromThe Measure Of My Days (published in1968)

“Hold to what is difficult”— Rainer Marie Rilke

It was the words of Rilke, “Hold to what is difficult,” that jumped off the page, and started an avalanche in my being. There was some kind of mysterious cascading sensation that made me buy that book, in that unknown bookstore, on that day. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment presaged my luck.

At the time, I knew I was taken by Rilke’s words, I thought of them primarily as good advice from someone far smarter than I. Little did I know that those words were prophetic, referring to my coming life, and the most incredible form of grace that comes into all of our human lives.

I am rendered almost speechless by the elegant democracy of hardship. It enters even the most successful person’s life, there is no privilege that is capable of forestalling tragedy, suffering and difficulty. All of us are in that particular crucible. It is the difficult degree of challenge that brings out the incredible humanity that is available within us.

I’m not just tooting my own disabled horn here. Life seems to have devised a devilishly effective means for evoking our potential. It starts with what appears tragic, and calls for the response that turns pain and insecurity into Creation. There is a kind of alchemy here that goes way beyond human intention to something mysterious, dark, and grossly compelling. What hurts and overwhelms is what teaches and creates best. My soul didn’t see that coming, or perhaps it did, the avalanche started somewhere.

Now I consider myself “Lucky” not because I no longer am in the hands of difficulty, but because difficulty seems to have a permanent grip on me. Being disabled is horribly edifying. Weirdly, perhaps dementedly (I am 70 after all), I now consider the “good life” to be the one hardship has wrought. Wisdom doesn’t come with long life, I now think, it comes with a blessedly difficult one. 

Nothing seems to sensitize us as well as genuinely difficult initiatory ordeals. These are the painfully dubious experiences no shaman can evoke, and no workshop, or lifelong practice can prepare us for. It is the natural hardship of existence, the difficulty of being truly human, that draws out of each of us our true character. One cannot fake pleasure and equanimity in the face of the natural workings of hardship and difficulty. Grace is wickedly accurate.

You don’t have to go looking for difficulty. There is no practice for becoming. Life handles it. Spiritual aspirations don’t provide immunity. One cannot hope lightening will fall on your head.  Difficulty comes in its own way, uniquely suitable for each of us. 

Then we have only our response.  The world smiles when hardship makes us the strangely receptive beings we can be.


This is a complex topic, because it addresses a fundamental attribute of being human, something we are good at. In short, it is a strength, that when carried too far, is a profound difficulty, which must be overcome. You’ll see what I mean as I proceed. 

Over the years, as I have been doing a variety of things related to aging, I’ve noticed that all old people are not the same. The vast majority of older people are caught up in what I call ruts, that is, routines that have always been successful at bringing them comfort and safety. They are the ones I call ‘merely older.’ They, to my eyes, are rut-bound — captive of patterns of their own making. 

I have also noted, and given special attention too, the minority of old folks who are elders, or on the way toward elderhood. They have ruts too, but are actively trying to identify, and get out of them. For them, the patterns of a lifetime hinder their freedom and creativity. As you might guess, these few, are more in the moment, and more original. It is to them, I look, for examples of what’s uniquely possible in we humans.

Here, I’m not so concerned about the plight of old people, as I am about the human tendency to adopt patterns that become ruts — which trap and diminish us. You see, our very development seems to depend upon our ability to adopt good routines, but our aspiration to be free, depends upon our ability to break out of them. Fail to adopt optimal patterns, and one never becomes coherent and recognizable, but stay too long with any pattern and risk becoming rigid and inflexible. 

This is vexing challenge — one that befits an organism as complex as we humans. But, in my estimation, it accounts for the limited number of true elders in our midst. People don’t realize how dangerous their own capabilities are. The successful routine that guaranteed love, attention, safety, or self-worth, ultimately becomes the habitual and binding rut that enslaves imagination and hardens attitudes into prejudices. Supremacy of all sorts lives in the cherished ruts of yesteryear.

Breaking these old patterns, and climbing out of old ruts, is an essential component of being human. This is an endeavor that is always difficult, and essential. It is comparable to molting. A significant part of the difficulty involved, is that going beyond these old patterns, always includes periods of vulnerability. Exposure to the unknown is part of the deal. Enculturated humans in particular are allergic to this kind of exposure — making the ruts (routines) all that more alluring.

Rutting, of all sorts is very human — as is escaping the ruts. That is why children like to get dizzy, and why many people like altered states. Each provides a way to experience the world anew, from a brief, rut-free zone. None of these avenues, as powerful (like mind-altering substances) as they are, provides the innate confidence that comes with discovery. This is an on-board natural skill. It is part of our human resilience — a part, which needs to be exercised, to be believed.

De-patterning, escaping our self-made ruts, is as natural and essential as all forms of birth. We have no choice but to practice de-patterning, but whether we get good enough at it, depends upon willingness (courage) and insight (understanding the necessity of exposure) to practice it throughout a lifetime. Because this is so, it is easy to see that elders grow, like the rest of us, through the breaking of old, formerly binding patterns. De-patterning is another form of emancipation. De-patterning is wisdom — unleashed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Passing from one world into a larger more spacious, complex, and liberating one is a human capacity. It isn’t well-known, but if you think about it, you and everybody you know, has passed from baby to adult. Along the way, there were many stages, many trips beyond oneself to a larger world. All it took was Nature’s pushing, growing us into the occupant of a larger way of being. The capacity to open up, and become something more, is built into our DNA, it is the way of Nature.

Like the crab we learn to abandon our shells to grow, to become, to occupy the world. Unlike the crab our carapace is located more within us, rather than outside, and because humans are a complex organism, molting (becoming larger) is a more complicated maneuver. At certain stages, the shifts that engender awareness, require humans to suffer growth pains, in the form of confusion, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. These feelings arise around the impending urgency of growth, that wells up from within —no matter what — they occur from growing, or not growing.

It is for this reason — the growth pressure within — that there is a lot of normal suffering. It is also for this reason that we humans need to know about opening. A big part of this knowing is hard to stomach, disillusioning even — although a sure sign of maturation. Growing is painful, and involves periods of vulnerability. Leaning into anxiety and fear, feelings that impending change invariably produce, is counterintuitive, even as it validates what a complex animal we are. Opening is hard, but essential, for any kind of resilient being to stride deeper into the world.

It is easy to get mesmerized, hypnotized by the political and environmental conditions that threaten the worst kind of changes. These kinds of circumstances, charge the experience of change, with all kinds of feelings and ideological baggage. Change appears to be so hopeful to some, and so threatening to others. As a result cultural change has grown constipated. It needs a period of openness.

This is where Nature comes in. It open us. Despite ourselves, we humans give birth— to ourselves, to each other, to greater capacity, even to a world complex enough to include our diverse aspirations. The thing is, for this birth to happen, for the quickening that presages it to stir, a period of openness must occur. This means more vulnerability, uncertainty and unknowing than most of us are used to. Inviting a new sensibility, a world capable of holding so much diversity, means surrendering our knowing, putting aside our best laid plans, and our hoped for visions. Openness is exacting.

Nature has delivered to us the experience of opening. It is more awkward and vulnerable than most of us like. It can be as brutal as birth. It can also be a blessed entryway — a portal — a new way of seeing ourselves, each other, and the world we share. Strangely, Nature has anticipated times this stuck. It has provided us with the capabilities we need. Opening is not as hard as not opening. 

Existential threats are known to create communal opening, as do some forms of hallucinogens, ageing can do it too, but the opening needed now is more pervasive than all of that — it is the opening of the human heart. The moment contains existential threat enough — psychedelic wonder sufficient to the task. What remains is for each of us to open ourselves. I know this is easier said than done, but let me remind us all — this is how Life proceeds.

 Luckily, Life has aged me into paradoxical awareness — so I can sense the opening in what’s closing around us.

Thursday, July 5, 2018


Are you in a prison 
 are you in a playhouse

The process of shaping one’s life never seems to stop. Change goes on, with or without us. We get to have some input into this inexorable dance, but it isn’t large and definitive. Mostly, it’s after the fact, lame, and fairly poorly thought out. Still, no factor plays as large a role in how we shape ourselves as the choices we make. Deciding exercises the autonomy that is us — it shapes how we live, and who we are. It is so important, and so rarely examined. I wonder why? Perhaps, this writing meditation will shed some light on this soul-bending phenomenon.

I think my life is mostly a lucky accident. I’ve been given a lot of credit for what I became during an unbelievable ordeal. The truth of it is, not much courage was required. I could read the writing on the wall, dead or alive — I belonged to Life — about that I had no choice. I still don’t. Life chose for me, I survived briefly. I’m in that interlude now. I get to decide how I play this second chance, and that means that I am once again thrust up against my own attitudes about this existence.

I dwell in crazy possibility. I am, afterall, a radical unlikelyhood. So, for me, this phase of this life, is a free pass. Brain damage and luck have forged a strange passport that gives me free reign, a kind of diplomatic immunity, to be weird, eccentric, and slightly off, without the usual consequences. You see, it’s hard to take what’s left very seriously.

But, I remember the time before my stroke of luck. I was such an upright human, so desperate to learn, to live right, to be one of the reliable ones. My decisions, about myself, and my way of being with others, dripped with  eagerness. I was a mensch wannabee. My decisions followed accordingly. I lived well, in my well-appointed jail cell, locked into my desire for other’s to like and approve of me, and what I’d become.

This is a meditation on choice, and I am struck by the paradox, that I call myself “Lucky” because I had no choice. Life took away all my options, and gave me something I could never have cooked-up. The passport Life gave me at the border is something I never deserved, something I never even imagined. Still, it is carrying me through the provinces I thought I knew, and it is introducing me to the possibilities that I couldn’t see. Being human has become a kind of high bafflement, that defies what I was taught, and asks me to go further.

The truth is I can’t decide. Is being here a gift from some source beyond, or a curse? — a lively mystery tour, or an unfolding nightmare designed to unnerve. It seems schizo-enough to be all of the above. So, here I am, unable to decide, and without a choice about having to decide. So, I’m looking for Life to keep carrying me along despite my decisions. And, I’m getting Life carrying me along, in the way it is, because of my decisions. How’s that for justice? I decide despite myself, and I get to live with the consequences.

I know I’m no clearer about deciding, than I was when I began this inquiry. Deciding seems to have some kind of ephemeral veil — what looks easy and necessary, turns out mysterious and undecipherable. Life seems to hang on my attitudes and beliefs, and then some hitchhiking wonder takes over the wheel.

There’s nothing illuminating in what I’ve written, and maybe that is the greatest asset that this treatise holds.