Friday, December 30, 2011

Break Free But Be Sure to Have Guard Rails

Mountain island of Chiricuahua National Mon't
After a one hour side trip off the interstate, I eagerly anticipated the promised big views on the eight mile scenic loop in Chiricuahua National Monument, AZ.  Somewhat surprised to see only a couple cars in the lot at the visitor’s center, I noticed a man sitting on his bumper and quaffing a beer in the noon day sun.  The unhurried vibe was exposed.  Following my practice of getting a map for reconnaissance when I get to a national park, I inquired about the scenic loop.  “Sorry” the ranger said, “It is shut down to replace the guard rails which were burned out in the big fire in May.”  That thought ricocheted through my experience on this road trip.  You can drive around but without guard rails (structures) you are in danger. 

Living in the Los Angeles megalopolis my whole life, I have always enjoyed the peace and space of the open road.  On this long solo trip I had experienced something very different.  The open road became a confrontation with my insecurities.  The open ended format of my trip with no fixed itinerary or appointments, worked on my mental state like the road without the guard rails.  I could drive around but my peace of mind was at risk.  Boundaries, commitments, and plans were absent and what I had was a vague plan to drive to the East Coast for the first time in my adult life. I had to rely on my inner guidance totally.  That strategy was intentional because I wanted to strengthen trust in my intuition and the synchronicities that arose.  I did NOT account for the value of  PFD (personal flotation device).  I have often laughed at the mandated PFD for scuba diving or boating, because I am an excellent swimmer.  On the road trip, I figured that building my inner guidance precluded the value of a PFD or back up plan.   To mix metaphors, that is like removing the training wheels on a bicycle before the rider is confident. 

No Guard Rails in Bolivia
Building my inner confidence was my primary goals, while I had a notion seek, meet and interview individuals across the country who had reinvented into a new, more exciting lifestyle.  Unaccounted in this scheme was the need for structure to support that work.  The result was excessive preoccupation with the basics; where to go, when, and whom to interview.  I discovered  without the structure of appointments, activities, and assignments, my focus was constantly distracted into external and internal bogeymen and doubt.  Like the guardrail at Chiricuahua (which is probably rarely used but serves to provide a security and comfort for the driver), my daily barrage of all manner of decisions became the prominent discourse in my thoughts.  With the neurotic in charge, there was no room for the Creative to come in.

Feeling Secure
At times for those of us coming from highly structured work environments, it seems that the greatest goal and satisfaction is to be without schedule.  It is liberating to enjoy that freedom but denying the value of structure can come from a reactive space that may backfire.  As employees we all get used to structure and routines, especially men (the root word for patriarchy is the same as pattern), we seek and make patterns in life.  When that is largely excised at retirement, there is often a disorientation and flailing about until we reach the optimum level of equilibrium of structure and openness.  Finding that balance was the biggest take away of my driveabout.  My journey to the American outback without plan, destination, or schedule.  My experiment in the unknown with no script showed me my freedom edge and how to work with it.  The lack of guardrails at Chiricuahua did not prevent me from seeing the spectacular mountain island with its tall minaret like spires formed by erosion.   I hiked a couple miles into the canyon and basked in the great view without the buzz of cars coming into and out of pull outs.  I totally enjoyed the place and recommend it when traveling between Tucson and New Mexico.  But I do wish I had seen the eight mile scenic drive, complete with guard rails.   And on my next road trip I’ll make an itinerary and plan (in pencil).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Key to Reinvention: Repetition +Expression

Spend Too Much Time in the Tavern and You’ll Have a Hangover!

McCabe's:  All About Guitars
On a week bookended by a beginning guitar class at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica and a painting retreat at the Community Center of Encino, I was buffeted by a key challenge of the reinventing Boomer.  The guitar classes are held in a room that does triple duty as concert hall, classroom, and showroom.  It is filled with all manner of stringed instruments ranging from ukulele to classic Fender electric guitars to handmade mandolins, much as the classes which are packed with instruction on technique and practice drills.  At Master Rassouli’s painting retreat, the opposite approach is taken, no technique--nada, his role is to inspire free expression.   The cavernous, multi-purpose, bare room fits this role perfectly.  On one hand, I was challenged beyond my capacities to absorb the chord changes, fingering, and timing of the guitar and getting more and more frustrated by the minute.  It hit a head when I just shut down and stared at the sheet music, unable to move my hands.  On the other hand, fully prepared to paint another masterpiece with new canvas, new brushes, and resupplied acrylics, I spent the day bobbing around like a castaway’s bottle in the sea.  Between these polar opposites is the sweet spot of growth with creativity.  Between the poles is a tension that can be beneficial for rebirth and fully orbed happiness for the next chapter.

Skill development in the arts offers the satisfaction of pursuing a dream postponed til there was enough time.  It may be playing a musical instrument, learning to draw or paint, writing a novel, learning to dance, etc.  We are often called to the arts as a way of expressing ourselves and as a way to grow and enhance enjoyment of life.  The big elephant in the room is the reality of learning the craft is tedious, slow, and often discouraging.  Joe Robinson (the author of the breakthrough book, ‘Don’t Miss Your Life reminds us in a recent blog, ‘It Don’t Come Easy.’ When you have no natural talent for the field but always thought it would be cool to play piano (or guitar or draw portraits or tango), it takes major motivation to continue on past the unavoidable beginners’ stage.  This has a corollary in meditation practice, where a popular maxim is ‘zen mind, beginner mind.’  In that cosmology the highest place to be is as a babe, a beginner.  A beginner is clear and fresh and open fully to his/ her powers and aware of  the moment. 

Artistic pursuits are often seen to be outlets for the inner soul to express.  Indeed, I have experienced great liberation from simple expressing.  I had an art show a couple years ago called, Expression as Liberation.  It works but only so far.  True awakening is not just on the mountain top but ‘making the oatmeal’  enlightenment, being awake in the day to day aspects of life.  The rush from expressing oneself is liberating and fun, but it is also fleeting.   You always come down.  Kind of like an intoxication that wears off the next day (if we are lucky enough to not have a hangover).  To sustain the high or the liberation one must keep taking more of the intoxicant, but in artistic pursuits the high fades overtime without craft, without skill.   What is missing is the satisfaction of achievement.

Instructors of creativity such as Rassouli, open a door to the self that liberates the soul.  What is usually missing in that approach is the follow up that provides long term satisfaction and deep fulfillment.  I recall my first long meditation retreat with noted American Buddhist meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein.  Our consciousness was so fresh and clear from ten days of meditation, he closed by warning us that meditation at home is often not fun, but filled with discursive thoughts and irritations that may keep one off the cushion (meditating).  His advice?  “Just do it.”  The practice rewards but there are often spells that often are not liberating or fun.

What does this have to do with artistic expression?  In art, the ‘high’ of flow in the moment is exciting but to keep getting that high one must slog through the rough terrain of building skills through drills.  An outstanding spoken word artist, Adwin David Brown says it this way, “repetition, repetition, repetition, and then flow.’  The bliss of engaging performance or creation comes after many hours on the free throw line at the gym, drilling forehands with a practice partner, and swinging in the batting cage.  Miles Davis, the master improviser, said he practiced the scales every day. 

When we enter our first adulthood we are fresh and open to learn new stuff and the long hours of repetition are not so daunting.  Brain scientists have determined that the human brain is not fully formed until around 28.  After we have filled in the spaces of our brain patterns (science reports that we do use most of our brain, contrary to pop psychology).  Recognition of this is important for refiring Boomers who want to learn new skills in the arts or you name it.  Deep satisfaction or flourishing (as positive psychologist Martin Seligman calls it) from achievement is possible with patience and a carefully designed plan for sustaining the growth.  When it is done for the quick high, it is as ephemeral as last night’s drunk.  My personal mantra on climbing this mountain in the second adulthood is:  Show up, be mindful and ‘just do it,’ (over and over and over again).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Name Your Destiny

Get your candy & coffee, Tucson
Instant enlightenment in Prescott, AZ
Chocolate Iguana, 212, Novel, Little Sprouts, Winning, Laughing Buddha, Jungle, and Dominican Joe’s all have something in common and each announces their mission.  All of the above are local coffee shops and each is highly descriptive of their particular vibe and environment.  Names often say a lot about the place or the person.  In my ongoing exploration of non-corporate coffee shops, I have often been struck how the name evokes a certain experience.  Some are highly descriptive and original and the place is reflective of that.  In others a bland name tends to result in a bland experience at the café.  At the Chocolate Iguana (in Tucson) in addition to the usual coffee drinks and wi fi, they specialize in candies and cater to a high school clientele, the Novel  (Ocean Park) started in a hundred year old room with books the walls, the 212 (Ocean Park) refers to the street addresses and is highly local,  Jungle (San Diego) is set outside in a bamboo décor, and Dominican Joe’s (Austin) has a connection with Dominican Republic. Each is very soulful and original in its ambience.

Winners @ Winning, Albuquerque
On the other hand, check these names; Sip Expresso, Café Medici, and Bisbee Coffee .  They don’t say much and their interior designs are all interchangeable.  You could shift chairs and tables around each of them and everything would look like it belonged.  Creativity, originality, and sense of place is missing in these places.  They express a bland spirit and the name and ambience shows it.  Names are important. Along the road of life we all collect various names or labels.  Perhaps they are called job titles (dean of students) or roles we play (dad, mom, sis) or signify academic or spiritual achievements (Dr or Dalai Lama).   When you leave the full time career or the kids move out of the house or you move to new town, a grand opportunity arises.  Rebirth.  Like the first birth, you have a chance to be named and reinvented.

Sip Espresso says it all, San Antonio
Invent anything and it must be named.  There is an old metaphysical maxim:  Name it and you can claim it.  For those of us in the mature years who are interested in renewal or as AARP’s initiative calls it re-Imagining, it is important.  Rev. Michael Beckwith coined the Vision Process.  It can set the tone and direction of this potentially greatest time of life.  Of course, this time can also be the long slow slide to irrelevance or the reinvention into the life you always dreamed of.  Claiming this new or reborn self demands rigor of the heart, soul, and mind.  A useful first step is to rename or rebrand oneself.  Just like the coffee shops that choose a specific concept or name and made the two fit, we can name our new selves and then acquire the furniture that fits.   The zen quotation fits here:  Who would you be if you didn’t know your name and story? 

Dull name, Bland Ambience:  Bisbee, AZ
Where do you start?  Do you have a favorite animal?  A place?  Maybe a personal hero from history.  You could go to a guru and ask him or her what they see or you could open a magazine as Werner Erhard (creator of est) famously did in the 70s.  However you get there, take on a new mantle consciously and be ready for your life to look like your name.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Coffee with Profits & Purpose

Mini-mall altruism in Austin, TX

Guided by my GPS I pulled into a mini-mall at the corner of Riverside Dr and Congress in Austin, TX looking for a coffee shop named Dominican Joe’s.  It was listed in an on line directory.  As a collector of non-corporate coffee shops wherever I go, I have three criteria for a place to make the top tier of coolness.  Those requirements are; 1) free wi-fi, 2) local events bulletin board, & 3) good vibes for writing.  Clearly, the last is highly subjective and that’s where personal taste comes in.  For me that usually means having comfortable couches, friendly staff, relatively quiet, good windows, outside options, and at least half of the patrons working with their screens (the exception is my friend Jim who does his math calculations on paper).   At Dominican Joe’s I encountered a wild card factor that catapulted that location to the top rank:  Profit for a greater purpose.

Locals, art, & coffee, Kingman
Dominican Joe’s was founded by a young graduate of University of Texas who wanted to do something to make a difference.  While on a trip to the Dominican Republic, it hit her, buy fair trade coffee directly from the farmers and open a coffee shop in Austin with a percentage of profits going to build and operate a school in the DR.  I came upon this info in a chance conversation with the manager who was posting a flyer on the bulletin board.  I was enjoying the vibe and in spite of its location in a mini-mall, the place had a lot of soul; comfy couches, warm décor, and friendly staff.  When he told me how he came to work there and the mission of the owner, it felt like I had opened the door to a synergistic mix of community, business, and service.   It is a coffee shop with purpose and a school in Dominican Republic.

Grace, coffee, and gym: San Antonio
My office in Santa Fe

On my road trip of the Southwest, I visited or shall I say imbibed at a wide variety of locally owned coffee shops.  Most serve the crucial function of a community center.  In the historic area of Kingman, AZ Beale St Coffee also houses the local avant garde painting gallery.  While I sipped my morning joe, I was privileged to see the host of locals check in for their morning coffee and gossip.  At the Santa Fe Baking Co, a local radio program interviews individuals on their projects.  Being Santa Fe, NM with its abundance of healers, artists, etc, their ten foot long bulletin overflowed with flyers sticking out the edges.  In Truth or Consequences, NM Little Sprouts served more than double duty with an organic produce market, alternative healing products, and a deli counter.  The absolutely coolest was the Café Passe on the super hip 4th Ave, Tucson, AZ.  They function as a hang out, fine cuisine café, art gallery, and in the evening a live jazz venue.  But out of the couple dozen I opened my screen at on this trip, the only other with an overt social agenda was Grace Coffee in San Antonio.  Housed in a YMCA and owned and operated by a Christian church, it is in a beautiful bright room with jolly baristas and no tip jar.  A sign announces its mission of using profits to serve the homeless. 

You name it in Truth or Consequences
It must be obvious that I am a fan of local coffee houses.   The history of coffee houses reveals the important role they have played for a couple hundred years as community centers starting in London.  Purpose through service is what distinguished Dominican Joe’s and Grace Coffee and that is a reminder for we who have shifted out of the world of work primarily for making a living.  Numerous studies have indicated that the happiness that sustains and continues is from gratitude.  Service is an active form of expressing gratitude.  It is engaging and practical.  It gives something beyond words and money and as such it rewards the giver with the crucial sense of purpose.  It is a purpose beyond the self.  As we age many of us need to feel relevant and service is a crucial way to contribute to the world.  After all if we have achieved a comfortable maturity, we did not do it alone.  We all had assistance; from our teachers in college, encouragement from mentors, or simply the many who provide food and shelter.  None of us do it alone.  So, giving back through service can be the profound purpose that satisfies at this stage of life.  My takeaway from this odyssey of coffee shops from Venice, CA to Austin, TX:  Service is the icing on the cake of business and can be the purpose that sustains authentic happiness for reinventing Boomers.

Coming Next:  Coffee Shops #2:  Name Your Destiny

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Taking That Detour May Lead to Creativity and Home

Nature's beauty carved by man

Driving the straight, flat, road to Bisbee, AZ, I felt like a city interloper in my compact Volvo to the bucolic farmers in big Ford pick-up trucks and their one street villages.  Not oblivious to the cultural changes in urban areas, one of the villages had its own nail salon/ yoga studio.  But it was clearly country.  Pursuing my mission of discovering the creative soul of America by taking the byways off the Interstate, I had a tip that Bisbee was an art town grown over an old mining town.  Little did I expect an outpost from Occupy Wall St. populated with Venice Beach style bohemians.   The Welcome to Historic Bisbee sign is posted at the strikingly beautiful and ugly at the same time open pit copper quarry, once the most productive in the US. Stopping for a photo, I reflected on the hidden beauty of our earth revealed by a rape of the surface that uncovered the multicolored striations of red, green, and purple rock. 

Home as an art piece
This road trip was initiated to explore the authentic smaller art towns of the US by trusting word of mouth and intuition.  Although I used a guidebook, as an experienced traveler I know that spirit of a place varies widely from what is written about it.  Steeling myself for a tacky and soulless re-do of an original town (I expected Prescott, AZ style with shiny Indian war statues and chic restaurants in the former brothel), I had just passed up on Silver City, NM due to time considerations.  I was not going to take strike two.  In other words, in this case I was not pulled by passion but obligation.  It is a kind of discipline with the self.  Keeping this agreement kept me in integrity with my purpose.   

Occupy Bisbee
I rolled into the town and parked and immediately it felt unique.  A couple young men in long hair and beards rolled by and smiled.  I wondered 'how did they get here?'  Turns out it is that kind of town.  Walking around I saw a house whose front was a bouillabaisse of bizarre statues, colorful paintings, and ‘found art’ junk, another one was painted red and white stripes, across the street an artist was painting the scene, then I came upon a vacant lot that would have fit well at Burning Man.  Old concrete retaining walls were painted in various colors, streamers and paintings flew in the breeze, and on the second level overlooking the street was a gaggle of tents.  Signage indicated alliance with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  

Later in conversation with an older guy in long gray hair whose last home was his boat in the Bahamas and a young man in his twenties who works two nights per week at a restaurant, I learned the story:  This town has been occupied for years by a cohort of free spirits sometimes called artists, sometimes hippies but generally refugees from mainstream culture.  Now, with the OWS movement they have taken over the two lots in the center of town.  Both men are friendly and welcoming in the spirit of this authentically ‘quirky’ town.  In fact, my new acquaintances said that many people in the town are paid by their families back home to stay there.  In addition to the arty funk, there are several old hotels that have been rehabbed but not ‘gentrified.’  Every building exuded originality and well, quirky.  The town is real, from its dirt paths connecting uphill to street level, to the drainage pit with a sign that threatens death if you go in it, to the original Queen’s Mine Hotel and its front yard of unrestored mining equipment.  The only new building in town is the misnamed Convention Center which is really a collection of tourist shops.

The complementary mix of the decaying old mining town, the artists, the busy at noon bars, the chic old hotels, and the natural setting welcomed my soul.  This is how I like it; creativity, antiquity, all ages, and sunny skies.   As I usually do in places like this, I asked the older guy from the sailboat how he got here?  He said he was in Scottsdale, AZ (the antithesis) and his brother said he belonged in Bisbee.   Turning to the young man serving the free food, he said word of mouth and then he asked, ‘are you looking for a home?’  This was an arrow to my heart.  Was my yearning that obvious?  They had something I wanted; community, authenticity, and creativity.

Residence Bisbee, AZ
As I drove away, I reflected on the importance of taking that road less traveled.  The road of that leads to the soul’s fulfillment.  Whatever path you take, what is crucial is to trust your intuition and take that side road through the flatlands and fields that may lead to home.  And if not home, a view on another way of living.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Sweet Reward of Structured Spontaneity

Breaking set with Jack "Geronimo" Hoff
Trusting the omens, signs, intuitions, guidance, and I hit the road to new horizons and happy surprises.   My plan was to experiment with my new practice of recognizing and acting on my intuition. The first challenge was to choose a particular goal and then to actually take action from the place of inner guidance, not mental analysis.  In our modern culture of seemingly endless choice, the risk of analysis paralysis is always present (see Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz).  I have found it to be more so since leaving my full time career.  Something to do with having more time to make the 'right' decision.  My mission was to strengthen the intuitive muscle through a field trip to San Diego.  I decided to take a two pronged approach, set up some commitments and then follow up with tuning in to the flow.

Breaking out of the centrifugal force of home and its comforts is never easy for me.   Like many people, I will procrastinate on intended projects in ever complicating ways for days, months, maybe years.  Getting started is the first hurdle.  I have found it helpful to make plans, in ink.   It could be a date with a friend or a non-refundable ticket.  I made plans to visit friends who live in that area on a certain date.  That got me on the road and in action.  Throwing some gear in the car, I had an appointment and destination.  The venue of my intuition practice was to be Ocean Beach, a neo-bohemian neighborhood near downtown San Diego.   I selected Ocean Beach, because an herbal shop I know of has an outlet there.   Rather than going directly to the address when I arrived, I chose to walk around and get the vibe.  Parking my trusty Volvo, I walked about one block and happened upon an esoteric practice that I had not heard of in L.A. or anywhere…Chakra balancing.  I  had recently done a week long workshop based on the chakra model.  Synchronistic.   I enthusiastically said yes and within a few minutes I was in the 'treatment' room (painted in planetarium style with stars in the sky).  Almost immediately, the 'balancer' said she saw red, indicating inflammation, around my lower back (I have been diagnosed by various M.D.s with acute herniated and bulging discs throughout my lumbar and sacrum).  She was right on.    This demonstrated to me the validity of her skills and of the chakra model in general.  Buoyed by this experience, I continued my exploration of Ocean Beach with an expectant and receptive mind.

Happy Herbs, Ocean Beach, CA
From there it was an easy walk to coffee lounges, used music stores, and hip restaurants.  Strolling around the neighborhood evoked a broad smile of familiarity and recognition.  My kind of place.  I decided to walk the main shopping street before going to the herbal shop which was supposed to be on different street.  Suddenly, about one block down the street after the surf shop, the coffee lounge, and the used cd store, I spied the store.  They had moved to this street.   After conducting business and making plans to reconnect with the proprietor in Venice, I discovered the weekly farmer’s market was in a couple hours.  There it was again, the right place at the right time.  The evening was capped by the very friendly local scene and a fine street band playing my favorite  music.

Roots Reggae on the Street, Ocean Beach
Breaking out of the routines and ruts  of life is more challenging the older we are.  For the newly retired, it can be like the proverbial convict who returns to jail because it is his comfort zone.  Liberation from the job doesn't always liberate the spirit.  Developing a new approach to life is essential to get the most out of this special time of life.  Since we are all pattern seekers, structures and routines in life provide comfort and grounding.  But unchecked they can lead to a large dose of ennui.  The breaking of set and the resulting novelty stimulates the mind and emotions.  Escaping from that habituated mentality can be the fuel for reinvention and renewed passion for life.  Don’t wait for the big opportunity, the big romance, the big job, but go for that which attracts your discerning eye and interest.  Then, set up a structure that provides your necessary degree of comfort (it varies with the individual) and then push the edges to the unknown and unpredictable.  Trust your intuition to point to adventure and then blast off.  When you get to the goal, you may discover that the real boon is unexpected people, places, and events that emerged along the way.   

Recent science shows that the happiness that stays with us is the experiential, not the new possessions.  The most impactful (even when unpleasant at the time) experiences are often are those connections with places and/ or people that were unplanned.  The adventure of discovery is available when we break patterns and routines, build supportive structures, go to our edge, and leap.  When we do, maximum life is the reward.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ravi's Magic Carpet of Passion

Pandit Ravi Shankar 2011
The familiar, high pitched voice welcomed the audience in his clipped Indian English dialect with self-effacing humility how we may not recognize him now with his long white beard.  At 91, he is thin and walks with a cane and assistance but once seated in the familiar cross legged posture and his hands wrap around the sitar, he exudes passion and energy with skill that is undiminished by time.  Weaving his spell around seemingly familiar but unknown to this listener, ragas and classical music of India, the crowd instantly becomes still and silent.   A combination of concert, spiritual pilgrimage, and coming together of the tribe, the concert at Disney Hall in Los Angeles, seemed to be a miracle.   Twice postponed, it stretched the mind that this unlikely avatar of our youth was actually here and was going to play.  And play he did.  He and his ensemble sat on carpets that became magical, that we rode to a place that peeked into the timeless, the eternal, the unity of life.  In the Sixties he opened a door to his world and with the support of his since passed friend, George Harrison, led a generation to discover world music.  Never compromising in his fealty for the authentic, classical Indian music, he enthralled us with his devotion and humor.  I recall on the Concert for Bangladesh album, the crowd applauds early on and he says “I hope you enjoy the concert as much as you did the tuning.”  During this concert I kept having flashbacks to 1967 and his concert at the Hollywood Bowl that I attended as a teenager.  At that concert patchouli incense and cannabis sweetened the air.   At the new hall in downtown L.A. (minus the fragrance and supported by an ensemble half his age) Raviji was just as vital in this show as then.

Twice postponed, once redeemed
Ravi Shankar has become more than a musician, his performance is more analogous to a saint or guru but with no schtick (no hugs, no workshops, no obtuse philosophy), just his music.  His depth of commitment to his passion transcends the music.  It exudes and exemplifies the message of gurus; peace, harmony, and presence.  Attracting an eclectic crowd with ample measures of old and young yogis in Indian prints, tradition philharmonic suits and heels, and traditional multi-generational Indian families dressed in saris and kurtas.  Ravi’s music attracts individuals who step beyond the mainstream and into one of the rich tributaries of our global culture.   What transcends the music is Ravi’s powerful passion for his work.  His passion is undimmed by age and now seasoned by a lifetime of 75 years of performing.  It is a passion fueled by exploration of the divine, the eternal, and the timeless in his music.  At the concert, his joy was infectious and egged his musicians and the audience to new heights.  
He clearly lives to share his music and that passion teaches much about a life well lived.  His unique gift is his purpose.

On the scene a fan for 44 years
Seeing, hearing, and experiencing Ravi Shankar reminded me of sharing one’s gift.  It behooves all of us (especially us who are in the last third of life) to discover that uniqueness and then pursue it until it becomes a passion.  That passion can become one’s purpose and as in the case of Raviji, his passion is a benediction for the world.  Overtly, Shankar shares his music but the covert gift is the experience of harmony, self-expression, peace, and unity.   A career counselor, Richard Leider surveyed older adults to find out what makes them happy.  He discovered that the prime factor is a sense of purpose and service in their lives.  Often we don’t know how to contribute to others or to the world.  Uncovering and pursuing our gifts and passions can be the legacy we give to future generations.  The gift not pursued deprives others of our life’s journey.  But even more disturbing, we deprive ourselves of the fulfillment that comes from pursuing your passion at 91 or 81 or 61.  Drill down, discover, practice, and give away your passion.  Then like Ravi Shankar, share and receive the boon of a life well lived.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Catching the Wave in the Last Third

This year it was easy, I didn't have to fly across the country but simply got on the Santa Monica Freeway and drove downtown to the convention.  Either way, it was a chance to meet a far flung tribe where I learned:
  • how to document the stories of my life 
  • techniques of repacking my life
  • the value of having an empathetic ear in relationships
  • the importance of following the unknown path before me
  • how many steps & and how many calories it takes to view a convention
 And that was sandwiched in between;
  • the joy of free shopping bags, water bottles, ear plugs
  • the excitement of driving a fast race car
  • the uninhibited and joyful exercise of zumba
  • playing in a drum circle
  • the wisdom and insights of a well-educated all time great NBA star
  • energy and synergy of thousands of Boomers who aren't done yet
Drive a NASCAR race car
And of course, so much more.  Where the hell did I get such a cacophony of experiences?  AARP's 50+ annual convention in Los Angeles.  I am a dreamer AND a realist and the bottom line is that aging is inevitable and often it is challenging.  Change is inexorable and sneaks up on you.  One day you are forty-five and everything works; settled on a career, happy in your relationship, comfortable in finances, and immersed in avocations that you've nurtured for years.  Then turning corner of sixty plus or minus a year or two things start to change.  You may retire from your career voluntarily or not, a newly discovered body part causes aches and pain in the morning or after playing tennis, or an intimate relationship with kids or spouse mutates.  Suddenly you wake up and realize it ain't 1990 anymore.  The thoughts and feelings may be sudden or subtle but it is unmistakeable:  you are older.  

What are the options at that point?  Kinda like the grief process it seems to be in stages; 1)  Denial:  I am not old, I can do everything I used to, I have plenty of time, 2) Anger:  This is not supposed to happen, we were the Now Generation that did not trust anyone over 30, 3) Bargaining/ Compensating:  OK, I'll get cosmetic surgery, buy a Corvette, and take naps, 4) Depression:   I'll just stay home and watch TV and surf the internet and maybe return to the drugs of my  youth, 5) Acceptance:  I am this age with all of its changes/ challenges and hopefully wiser and I'll do the best I can with work arounds (yoga instead of running marathons).  Here I add another stage inspired by Martin Seligman's new book...6) Flourishing:  Living with joy, purpose, vigor, and passion.  That is the crowd I mostly saw at the convention.  Older persons who confidently claim a place at the table of life in a society that marginalizes, insults, and denies aging.  We are in an era of active aging where 60 is not the new 40, it is a totally new stage of life.  Active, purposeful, creative and contributing conventioneers collected info and freebies.  Not stay at home isolators, this crowd came to grow and to connect with each other and life.

When I attend the annual convention, I feel connected to possibilities and inspired to wake up and live.  I embrace elderhood and at the same time feel great humility to be given this chance to reinvent, renew, and revive.  I saw fellow conventioneers who were fresh faced 55 year olds and the octogenarians in motorized carts, some in shorts and velcro shoes and others in long dread locks and ethnic prints.  At a music vendor there was an impromptu dancer who could've been on stage with her looks and shape and fine moves.  Contrary to the media induced popular image of older people, the AARP crowd is engaged, vigorous, passionate, and life affirming.  'The Path' starring Martin Sheen was premiered at the convention and dramatizes the journey of discovery promoted in AARPs new initiative--Reimagining.  The film takes you on his character's pilgrimage to find himself just as the 20,000 did in L.A. this year.  See you next year in New Orleans and move to stage 6 and FLOURISH.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Finding and Riding the Flow of Life

Relaxing into my first soak in the storied hot baths at Esalen and I heard a cry out from a young woman surrounded by several naked soakers.  She said, “What does your tattoo mean?”  I explained and she said, "Oh yes.  I too am a follower of that.”  A few minutes passed while I gazed out to the undulating Pacific Ocean and its forest of underwater kelp.  Then a different young woman says that she too was a student of that certain spiritual philosophy.  A lively and animated conversation developed and before I knew it she was suggesting a visit to a restaurant where she works in Berkeley.   My response, "of course" (while in my usual indecisive, non-committal mind I was thinking maybe). 

Downtown Berkeley BART station
Energized and clear after a week at Esalen, I drove to Berkeley and planned to spend one night.  The next day I went to the Café Gratitude where the young woman in the tub worked.  My friend on this ride was challenging, "Why do you want to go there?  Are you hitting on that girl?”  In my mind there was no further thought than to continue a positive connection begun in the baths.  The Café Gratitude is part of a chain of seven which has a serious commitment to supporting positive and healthy living through affirmations on the walls and menus and fully,organic vegan food.  The food was excellent and the vibe even better.  Well worth following the ‘sign’ from the tubs.  Later that day after meeting some Berkeley friends for drinks, we were debating where to go:  San Francisco or Berkeley?  Standing at the BART station we were about to drop into a familiar pattern of manly men:  whose will shall prevail?  Appearing out of the dusk was the young lady from Esalen and the café, and she was on her way to San Francisco to do an art performance.  Seizing this clear direction, we went and had an exciting and fun time in the Mission District and its nouveau hip ambience and later at North Beach and its mix of strip clubs and post-beatniks.  City Lights Bookstore still serves up a healthy dose of authentic paper books of poets and other counter-culturalists.    While the “Hungry I” on the other hand paraded a string of luscious young ladies in skimpy attire and big smiles.  Both were satisfying.

illustrating the famous scarab 
Noting and responding to such 'coincidences' is a long standing practice of mine.  The undeniable existence of such correspondence is now called synchronicity.  It is a term coined by one of the two towering (along with Freud) figures of psychology in the 20th Century, Carl J. Jung (Swiss 1875-1961).  Jung’s investigations into the occult and Eastern thought led him to develop the outlines of a theory of acausal connectivity.  In his framework, connections between places, things, and people may be non-linear or acausal.  Their relationships may be understood as parts of a field as opposed to a linear cause and effect.  It is relationships in the web that we experience in those moments of (in Jung’s definition) ‘meaningful coincidence.’  We have all had them; the phone call from someone just after we thought of that person or the sense of deja’ vu of some place we have never been.  Accessing and using this field is alien to most trained in the Western mind set of scientific Newtonian/ Cartesian thought.  Lines and edges of analytic thinking were softened a bit by the communality of Esalen.  Trusting and tapping into this field can rewarded me with serendipitous experiences and less stressful decisions.  I was ready to see the synchronicities that happen in daily life.   

Seeing the flow of life and surrendering to its clear messages is my new growth edge.  I am not naturally intuitive and my tendency is to analyze an issue, then do a cost benefit analysis, and flip a coin and then begin the process all over, with doubt and remorse.  Needless to say this approach can be time consuming, may not lead to the best outcomes, and encourages second thoughts.  Fed up with analysis paralysis, I resolved to note the signs, feelings, omens, and then as Nike used to say, “Just Do It.”  Each day offers clues to the natural flow and trusting in that direction makes life so much easier.  The next day for the first time in forty years of traveling, the hotel was booked for that night and we had to leave.  Nearby hotels were booked or exorbitant.  With ease and minimal analysis, I said it was time to leave to my rolling partner and he protested, “How come, you are too easily swayed.”  I know me and my stubbornness and my strength was to trust my guidance.  We left town and that felt right on time. 

Finally, to naysayers of trusting the flow:  You are the one who gives it meaning and it would not have occurred to you, if it weren’t coming from your deeper, sub-conscious self. 
Next in this series:  Honing your skills of perception and alignment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Didgeridoo Exposes in the Baths

At the edge of the continent and consciousness
The low groan of the didgeridoo in the world-famous hot, sulfur baths perched on the edge of the continent awakens a deep quiet in the crowd.  A few dozen inner voyagers are arrayed in claw footed bathtubs, massage tables, poured concrete shallow tubs, and on the narrow ledges.  The room is devoid of words and movement while the Aboriginal dream making instrument weaves its magic on the crowd of seekers.   Human shapes are barely distinguishable as male or female in the misty, impromptu meditation hall but it is possible to see groups of two or three in still embrace in the water and on the tables.  Not a stitch of clothes in the group, not a towel strategically draped, and not a person in authority but simply a gathering of folks clothed only as the Creator made them.  A family for the moment, self-selected from the larger clan staying at the famous institute dedicated to expansion and exploration of human potential.   The play of the didgeridoos low growl and periods of silence highlight the magic of this place.

At long last I was called to Esalen to partake of the elixir of the waters and the land, under the pretext of taking a workshop by the renowned career counselor/ shaman Rick Jarow.  Encouraged and sometimes pushed by a friend to take the leap out of my ‘been there, done that’ mood of late, the experience was right on time.   Living in an area known for its counter-culture and its cutting edge spirituality, it is easy to slip into my professional know it all attitude (in my past life I was a teacher).  What am I gonna learn and besides I listened to the book?  After calling Dr. Jarow with my whine, he said ‘it isn’t the workshop or the data, it is the land and the waters that transform.’  As a faithful spiritual warrior and recovering seminar junkie, it behooved me to add this esteemed location to my spiritual/ personal growth resume.  Being a practical Capricorn, the goat rears its sure footed legs and kicks me onto scenic Hwy 1 to Big Sur.  At the same time, there was the strong sense of discovery to be found up north. 

From the moment of arrival with my trusty sidekick, the Runner, it felt aligned and synchronistic.  After checking in the instructor appears from the mist and I stick out my hand without hesitation…’Greetings Rick, I am here.’  From there it was an easy flow from the waters to the communal dining to ‘chance’ meetings on the trails or the baths.  The week was long and pushed my ‘know it all’ buttons at times and many times sheer joy arose for no reason.  Dipping into this instant community aged from 20s to 70s, representing all ethnicities and a wide range of economic classes, welcomed by the warm semi-permanent community of 200, was a long awaited journey home.  The tribe was here and they were no longer hidden and dispersed in the masses of the city.  Smiling generously at each person I met and sharing meals was comforting.  One can’t be lonely here for long, alone yes, but not lonely in this group. 

Surrendering to the journey and opening to my desire for community caused me to face my ‘story.’  How can I say I am about community when I push away these open hearts?  Bogus…In a moment of truth telling with the co-facilitator, I got it…I got what I asked for and can I say yes?  I did and am glad.  In my workshop there was an unusually large contingent from my section of the metropolis in the south.  That was a very clear indicator that at home in the big city, the anonymous city, I am not really alone.  My tribe is here at Esalen and at big, anonymous L.A.    A couple weeks ago I met a couple in Big Bear Lake and this week I met them en masse in Esalen.  As was said in the workshop, ‘this is a good day to die.’  My addendum:  A good day to die to the old, isolated, anonymous self and see the friendly trees in this dense forest and the misty hot tubs. Next week’s blog explores finding the flow of synchronicity  or meaningful coincidence in travel.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reggae Colors = STOP, LOOK, GO @ the Bowl

The crowd of fifteen thousand was on its 30,000 feet and singing along with the performers to a song that was a hit forty years ago.  Looking around you could see 70ish couples and newlywed twenty somethings with their infant.  In my row, a group of apparent Polynesian ancestry had two full ice chests of beer and across the walk way was a stylishly dressed woman in her 60s who was caring for and dancing with a man in a wheel chair.  After nearly three hours, the crowd roared as one for the encore by the band whose origin was in the 1960s and included son of reggae icon Bob Marley and his mother Rita Marley.  It was a transcendent moment that expressed Marley’s vision of one love, one heart, one people.   Here in the nearly one hundred year old amphitheater, it felt like the walls of our social categories  were thrown down and life was exposed in its core.  Separation by ethnicity, age, class were all left at the turnstiles and we were together.  Drawn together by a music that proclaims freedom from ‘isms’ and schisms, we were together and free again.  When Marley was alive you would never see this wildly heterogeneous crowd.  Back in the 70s it was nearly all young, long haired white kids. 

This joyous celebration highlighted an important aspect of successful reinvention:  Be willing to adjust to changed circumstances.  I used to be a regular summertime fan of the Hollywood Bowl and then in recent years traffic congestion and parking frustration had risen to a breaking point and I quit.  Crossing the Bowl off my list of venues and I passed on many good shows because it wasn’t easy like back in the day.  Enticed out of my lassitude and negative attitude by a once in a lifetime pairing of Ziggy Marley and the I-Threes by my close friend Ras Herm, I took a chance.   We opted for a different approach.  Instead of fighting the transportation issues, we surrendered and took the shuttle bus with a few other friends.  No stress either coming or going.  Get on the bus with your ice chest and lunch, chit chat en route, and relax into the irie spirit. 
I Threes @ Hollywood Bowl
The show was an absolute treat from start to finish.  MC’d by Ziggy, it began promptly on time, ended on time and included massive video screen and powerful acoustics.  Ras Michael, the Wailing Souls, the Mighty Diamonds and played their classic and anthemic songs so that by the time the I-Threes arrived we were primed.  Each note was perfect as their solos and harmonies soared on classic Bob Marley songs and their personal hits.  By the time Ziggy came on, the crowd was on its feet, moving as one body to the beat and living up to his lyric of “Look Whose Dancing Now.”  As great as the music was even greater was the camaraderie of the 15K brothers and sisters.  As if to confirm this feeling, I ran into four persons who I did not expect to see.   Somehow releasing my judgments and attitudes opened the channels of synchronicity and facilitated the connection with those acquaintances. 

Musing on this splendid evening, I realized how my old concepts of doing the Bowl limited my potential for pleasure.  Breaking out of that cage and adjusting to the changed conditions allowed me to have a transcendent evening with my tribe.  This is one of those downsides from age and experience, sometimes we think we have it figured out and act accordingly.  Additionally, we may think that since something is different it no longer serves us.  It could be in our friendships, jobs, homes, sports, you name it.  Giving it a break, looking for a different approach, and taking a chance could open the door to a reborn experience.  Just as the reggae colors of red, gold, and green suggest:  Stop, Look, Go and forward your life.