Sunday, May 22, 2011

Got to Build My Life on a Strong Foundation
Gazing at my back yard in Santa Monica, CA, my thoughts wandered to another non-professional builder who worked in his backyard.  Carl Jung would repair to his stone tower on the shores of Lake Zurich at his home in Bollingen, Switzerland.  There he would paint mystical images, speculate on ancient rituals, and write books.  Although Jung was a man of great intellect, who along with his former mentor Freud, towers over 20th Century psychology,  he is reported to have inscribed each stone in his tower with signs and symbols that reflected his theories on universal archetypes, the collective unconscious, animus/ anima, and many others.  Not only inscribing the stones, he also had a major hand in the physical building of the massive castle.  Begun in 1922 upon the death of his mother and regularly added to until the death of his wife in 1955, he believed that a physical activity released the unconscious and yielded great insights (for more on Jung's tower). Jung conducted a lifelong exploration of the world’s mystical traditions and their applications in the modern world.  His work has had major impact on psychology, the men's movement, and what has been called the New Age.  He was a brilliant intellect who bridged Eastern and Western thought. Reconstructing my backyard got me thinking about Jung building his tower and my dedicated to a conscious reconstructing of my life.

My journey of individuation from my former career and lifestyle has taken many unexpected twists and turns.   I carried a lifelong dream of moving to my tropical island idyll,  fortuitously I met and fell in love with a Jamaican woman and it felt ordained.  We proceeded to make plans to move to Jamaica, Hawaii, or?  She seemed to fit right into my house filled with tropical, rattan furniture and all manner of artifacts from between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.  Unfortunately, that big dream was dropped onto a relationship that had a weak foundation and after much sturm und drung it crashed.  At that very time, I had discovered extreme wood rot in my back yard deck and decided it needed replacing. 

The romance ended and I began to demolish the deck, board by board.  After a long marinating period, I decided what to do for replacement.  I then bought the materials and another long delay ensued.  Finally over a year after the first rotten board was pulled (and the relationship ended), I went to work in the yard and began to install the stones.  Without thinking of Jung, I was also working in stone.   Laying down the flagstone of my region (just as Jung used granite quarried in the Alps), it became a practice of meditation, expression, and manifestation.  I was building a new yard/ patio AND building a new life.  Finding freedom in my backyard, finding power in moving the stones, and finding the Creative in my daily practice.  Reinventing myself was no longer an abstraction but a real thing.  Observable, tactile, and original, I was now living a new life both inner and outer. 

Jung inscribing mystical symbols
The project illustrates Self Determination Theory which postulates that autonomy (doing it myself with advice but no orders) and competence (doing something of tangible worth) are cornerstones of happiness.   I am not a professional, in fact this is the first time I have done such work.  But  as I lay each stone, as I face a dilemma and solve it, and as I gaze upon my work, I feel satisfied.   I know my new life is manifesting.  Building a strong container (be it friends, community, career, love) takes careful attention and patience but first you to clean the hard drive, debug, and then install the new programs (mix metaphors).   The three little pigs were right all along, you’ve got to build your life on a strong foundation.  And I can walk on mine.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Savor the Flavor and Take Step One

Demo the old

A few days ago I attended a meditation group that I hadn’t been to for a few months.  In this circle there is a round of updating and sharing around topics where we are facing an edge, a aspect of challenge or growth.  I spoke about my relationship to living in L.A. and where I stand right now with that and other areas of my life.  A couple days later it was reported to me that I seemed clear, calm, and grounded.  At the time, I did not feel unusual but that reflection highlighted shift that has been brewing for awhile.  The shift is about my relationship with myself and my circumstances.  It seems to be a sweet spot that is infused with a sense of acceptance of my life as it is and at the same time, and a clarity about the trajectory of my plans.  Taking the time to imbibe the sweet nectar of this time since retiring from the school district has yielded an unintended result; patience and acceptance.  My job pattern for twenty seven years was to learn the skills of a particular job and within a few years move on to a new one.  Never one to rest on my laurels, there was an undercurrent of nervous energy that kept me moving, looking for fresh career opportunities, the grass was always greener.  Exhausting that venue, I retired.  I was in a hurry to get on with my long nurtured dreams of living on a tropical island.  But I discovered that renewing my life meant rebuilding from scratch.  The thirty year old dream had major issues that needed rehabbing, reconstructing, and reviving.  And that doesn’t happen overnight.  Retiring is one of life’s most significant transitions and as such is a process that can take years.

Momentum is a-building
My backyard has turned out to be a metaphor for this major reconstruction.  I looked at an old, rotted deck that needed replacing and estimated about a month to get the job done.  The project turned out to have its own timetable and it is now about a year and a half in.  The job had its own schedule and has taught me to slow down.  Each phase of the project has evolved after calm reflection.  When the place and materials were ready, I stared at the empty yard for a several months.  Not confident in my abilities, I was afraid to tackle the tough part—installation.  Finally I did begin and momentum and confidence grew.  I experienced the gratification of successful learning and productivity.  Not looking back, I am satisfied.

For us Boomers, we have a large back log of experiences to draw on for encouragement or discouragement.  Part of the fun of life is trying and succeeding at new experiences and as we age oftentimes there is a default position that says, ‘been there or can’t do that.’  Especially when it is something new, like my back yard.  I projected my difficulties in other home improvements to the new one and created a mental block.  The trick was to just begin.  How does this relate to herky jerky efforts at our goals?  In the back yard, I avoided the task and it stalled because of the anxiety it provoked.  I had to calm down and take the time to let the situation settle and then act from a solid place.

When this happens a lot we end up with a back log of undone, half completed, maybe plans cluttering up our emotional AND physical space.  In my fourth year at Berkeley, I was in a hurry to graduate and get on with my life.  It seemed like every day was a year and time was wasting.  Although I did not have a plan for when I finished, I just wanted to get it done.  I finished a quarter early and returned to my hometown and then got busy spinning my wheels since I had not slowed down to prepare emotionally for the big change.  This incident was a watershed and set a direction for much of my life.  In the clarity of maturity and hindsight, that decision is still infused with regret.  Regret for not embracing and savoring that place and time of my life.  Now, in another transitional time (retirement), I have mostly allowed big changes to move at their own, organic pace. Leaning into the questions and not grabbing for the ephemeral answers.  As one of my meditation teachers, RajneeshOsho, once said, ‘Don’t just do something, sit there.’  From the calm of the settling waters, the life then bubbles up naturally, without the maelstrom of second thoughts, fears, choices, and the unknown.  So, savor the flavor of the moment and take the first step.