Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Your Tribe May Be Next Door


Seeking respite from the concrete jungle and cacophonous vibes of Santa Monica, today I rolled a mere fifteen minutes to a country redoubt.   Landing in Topanga Canyon, I posted outside of the Waterlily Café (hippie style stained glass lettering) in the cool air and bright sun.  My short journey was ten miles and forty years.  The air was fragrant with the scent of patchouli and I surveyed a truly unique scene.  Posters advertised the upcoming Topanga Days festival with a roster of local and international bands.  A guy walks by in cowboy hat, another jumps in his old, big pick up truck.  A middle aged couple speaking in Persian and wearing leather get on their Harley and roll off.  A small pop-up tent is pitched in a corner of the parking lot next to yucca and cactus mixed among the sage and palm trees.  A 50ish woman dressed in full horse riding regalia gets out of her Lexus SUV. At the table next to me are a young, bearded guy with big shells poking through his left and right ear lobes and wearing hiking boots and his girlfriend dressed in a floor length black skirt, black sweater, and charcoal scarf.  In other words a rather eclectic crowd.

My thoughts drift to a girl I dated many years ago, who lived in a trailer and kept two horses she rode in the Canyon.   Then there was the wild night listening to Canned Heat at the long defunct Topanga Corral.  A smile crosses my mind when I think of the night when our obstinate buddy refused to leave a party we had crashed 100 yards from this spot.  And the unforgettable once in fifty years snowfall in the Canyon.  Of a recent romantic night at the organic, chic, creek side restaurant, Inn of the Seventh Ray.  Finally, of yesterday when I attended the sixteenth annual Earth Day celebrations and purchased a red, gold, and green tie dyed T-shirt.

Much water has flowed under the bridge and more is yet to flow.  How to bathe in this water of life with its saudade (yearning for the past), nostalgia, memories, and melancholy?   In everyday life we identify time with arbitrary beginnings and endings to organize what is actually a seamless life.  My drifting reverie was not just about the ‘old days.’  It is a present experience with reminders of an earlier time.  Too often I dwell in my concepts and not the ebb and flow of experiences, all the while seeking a full life.  Wandering the world, from tropic isles to desert rocks, wooded spiritual retreat to urban chic, today at last I see what is offered next door.  Like Voltaire’s Candide, I have made many trips that have led me back to the beginning.  It was always there but my vision has been occluded by familiarity. In my own backyard country peace, cultural congruity, and my tribe are at hand. 

The idea of tribe is full of import for us Baby Boomers as we move into the elder years.   When we were young we could identify our tribe through certain signs; beads, incense, long hair etc.   In our time of elderhood we have a boon to offer the tribe.  The community needs us to share our hard earned wisdom, to not let the dream die with us, to revive our vision.   What is your tribe?  Your gift will be made clear when you find them.  Like mine, they may be next door in a neighboring canyon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Them Changes


Today I was hit by the spirit of the ‘good old days.’   Back in Berkeley and sipping a dark roast sitting at a café on San Pablo Ave.  It is a great 21st century coffee house with fine organic, fair-traded coffee, ample room, classic knick knacks, and free wi-fi.  An empty bottle of Lancer’s circa 1966 sits on the window sill as nostalgic decoration. Surrounded by old stuff, the café seeks to evoke a calmer, simpler time.  For us back in the 60s and 70s they were anything but simple and calm.  They were times of great rebellion and conflict in society.  We wanted a change and we wanted it now.  The song that was a harbinger of what was to develop was Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A Changin.’  We got some changes; the lowering of the voting age, end of the draft, civil rights for woman and so-called minorities and the impeachment of Nixon.  Buddy Miles reflected the stress of those many changes in his 1970 song ‘Them Changes.’  In systemic changes we demanded such as stewardship of the environment, ending pointless wars of adventurism, worship of materialism, and economic fairness we have failed miserably.   The bottom line is clear, we have left our children a country in worse shape in significant measures.

The most enduring gift from the Boomer generation is the music and the accompanying freedom to express.   The music created a patina of an idealized time of peace, love, freedom, and harmony over a highly contentious time.  We pointed the middle finger at our elders who were ‘square,’ ‘bigoted,’ and ‘uptight.’  All things Establishment were at the risk of our ire and idealism which showed up in the lyrics of the songs and other forms of expression such as movies, clothes, and hair.  We considered ourselves different, the Now Generation who would set about making the world right in human relations, cleaning up the environment, ending pointless wars, and moving towards economic democracy.  We played with the dark side as at Altamont and the killings that occurred while Mick Jagger sang, ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ but many of us were idealistic and lived for the revolution.   Guided by John Lennon’s words in ‘Revolution’ we sought to free our minds instead of violent revolution.  Following that guidance we were going to build a new society but we did not.  Our nation took a drastic turn in the wrong direction and we are now faced with challenges greater than the Soviet Union and its missiles.  The Soviet menace imploded on itself.  Staring at extreme natural disasters, long term environmental degradation, greatly increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us, religious bigotry against Muslims, and never ending wars (currently three and counting), it is no wonder that the youth of today look to our music for inspiration.   We had the great ideas and slogans but the results are another thing altogether.

We had our hand on the joystick of life in 1970 and we made the wrong turn and took the road most traveled and reaped the fruit of an unsustainable life style.  We Boomers have led the world to this point through the power of our numbers in the market place and the voting booth.  In addition to positive trends such as expansion of gender and sexual equity, organic food, yoga, electric cars, society has lost ground on key quality of life indicators; obesity, traffic, environmental degradation, economic security, wars, et al.  At a recent talk in Hawaii an important researcher on human consciousness and science, Peter Russell, was asked if he felt there was hope for the human race given the extremity of the challenges.  His answer, “I don’t know.  I hope so but don’t see the evidence for it.” As I sat in that room of 100 Boomers and the handful of 21st  century yogi/ hippies, I was struck that a challenge of positive aging is to be knowledgeable, appreciative, and in integrity with one’s past.

We can stay in integrity with our youthful vision of equal rights, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and the end of wars of aggression.   An honest inventory of our successes and failures is needed.  This recollection may be infused with sadness or longing but within the group memory is the power of community.  The photo of the Bed-In in Montreal was emblematic of the hope and power of our generation.   We once had hope, vision, and purpose.   We can make a difference again.  We now have the age and the boon that comes with it; time, economic freedom, wisdom, and mobility.  Those of us who are called can leave a positive legacy.   To paraphrase Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, ‘Let’s not blow it again.’  Perhaps 'Give Peace A Chance' can be more than a song and a memory.   More on this topic in future blogs.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Remembrance, not Nostalgia


Lately I have been reconnecting with some old keepsakes from my teens and twenties.  I had simply thrown letters, reports, awards, photos, birthday cards, and journals into a cardboard box.  Stored in the attic for many years, I was looking for some old sports equipment and discovered mice had begun to feast on my treasured memories.  Salvaging the majority of them, I decided to store the stuff in a plastic carton to protect them.  In the process of repacking I read a few letters, journals etc and discovered key qualities and ideals of my young self.  In some ways, it was affirming of my ongoing essence is very similar over the course of nearly fifty years and I also noted the areas of growth.  Finding those parts (or members) of my self inspired me to look at the old days with confidence that I can re-member without fear of falling into a 'good old days' syndrome.  With the clarity of distance and age I read and rediscovered the rich ore of my timeless self.  My past is my present and can spark new directions.

The Pink Floyd poster attached is emblematic of that time forty years ago.  A time of exploration and freedom, when I was open and curious about new music, new places, and new people.  That night in San Rafael marks the beginning of my adulthood.  We did not know Pink Floyd but heard they were good and jumped in my old Buick station wagon and rolled across the bridge to San Rafael and found a new world and concert hall called Pepperland.   It was a total environment painted in the style of the then current animated feature, 'Yellow Submarine.'  It was like going to another world.  It was a colorful world of expression and joy and the Floyd escorted me and my cohorts.   They were expanders of the musical norm and that was exciting.  Recalling the spirit of that early self is healing and is a beacon to freedom.

In the Sufi tradition they have a ritual called zikr, which is often translated as remembrance of god.  Generally, they take time to remember the true self, the unscarred self, the natural self who comes from a place of one with god.  It is intended for the practitioner to recall that quality and re-member.  To put the pieces back together in their original state.  It is out of this remembrance that the individual aligns himself with love and all of the qualities usually attributed to god.

At times the challenge of the Boomer is remembrance of by gone times and not nostalgia (the syrupy, mushy, powerless memory of a time when life was 'better').  The memory may be a time of romance, youth, place, but it doesn't empower when one dwells in nostalgia.  It is looking back with regret and missing.  Excess nostalgia may lead to depression with its litany of complaints about the world and one's self.  'Back in those days people cared about each other, back in those days I was young with a world of possibility.'  Nostalgia closes the door on life as it is now and lands one in the rocking chair telling tales of back in the day.

How does one practice remembrance, a positive re-membering of parts of oneself that have been lost in the fog of a long ago time?  When memories emerge in thought it is not skillful to push it away like a plate of tempting chocolate cake but to invite it in.  Welcome the recollection and become friends with it, allow the old story to be a teacher about who you were, what were your ideals back in then, what were your dreams, what activated passion, or who were the type of people you gravitated towards.   Your youthful self can speak to you with a deep wisdom of being and from that renewed life and direction.

Remembrance for the Boomeranger may have three steps:  1)  Openness to cues and clues in your present life that refer to the youthful (often idealistic) self, 2)  Follow that clue and see what qualities of life are prominent, 3)  Brainstorm or journal on how that be expressed in your life now.   For myself, I notice the thread of a clue in my emotionality to something.  It may be a welling up of tears or perhaps a heightened curiosity or even a dream.  I am learning to trust these cues and act from that.  That means to follow up like a detective trying to crack a case.  Research on the internet, talk about it with friends, free associate on connections, or even visit a relevant location.  Trusting the journey is to trust your life.   That journey of remembrance or putting back together the lost or forgotten parts of yourself into a new vision, an image grounded on your unchanging self.  The effort required is a path for satisfying your core needs of autonomy, belonging, and competence.  When you are on mission, you will find others that align with core values, and then you can pursue growth in that direction.   Taking that trip may be the new adventure that makes the 'golden' years the most rewarding of your life.  And no drugs are needed.