Friday, June 10, 2011

Even Wild Animals Don't Like Cages

Awake and on task
The day is long as it approaches the Summer Solstice.  Sun shines most of the day and I spy the desert tortoise coming out from his hibernation.  Like that tortoise, I am awaking and practicing a new mindfulness about my hibernations or distractions.   Sometimes they are necessary activities, such as cleaning the house or washing clothes.  They must be done.  But there are other tasks that are not so clear cut;  a web search on the eleven children of Bob Marley, a conversation with a passing neighbor, or even a trip to Trader Joe's.  But is it the highest and best use of my time?  Is it something that is aligned with my purpose?  Is it a project that is fun?  Is it more than busy work?  A typical response from most people when they are asked how they are is 'keeping busy.'  Is busy its own reward?  Certainly was not in prehistoric times.  Skylarking (Jamaican slang) or taking it easy was a major part of the day.  It was time to commune with others and nature.  Time to be mindful of life.   A slowing down and allowing the dust to settle.  I am discovering that much of my life was busyness:  Activity with no or little value added.

Musing on my freedom from a job, from a draining relationship, 'self-improvement', and rental properties, I have faced a big void in the area of 'have tos.'  Much more of my life is free time and the question arises?  What are my true core needs? What goals and visions come out of those needs?  Drilling down to that core self is not easy.  After much reflection and meditation, eventually clarity of purpose emerges and then the challenge is to maintain focus.  This is when distractions and busyness take our attention and our rob time.  In effect these activities become bars to our satisfaction.  One way in which 'bars' appear is in unconscious habits.  We all have them.  It may be taking two hours to read email or reorganizing one's desk, yet again.  Large amounts of our time are spent in activities that are 'not important and not urgent' in Stephen Covey's terms.  Getting a handle on where we actually spent our precious time is crucial for living a fulfilling life.  I have been examining my activities with the assist of a tool from my friend Joe Robinson (the author of Don't Miss Your Life) and it revealed how little of my time I actually spend on what I say I want to be about.  My self study showed how I spend too much time on email and internet searches and more than I thought on driving around town.  A two mile trip to Trader Joe's can easily eat up a couple hours.  Answering the day's email often eats up another two.   This is especially relevant for Boomerangers who have recently left structured careers and jobs and suddenly have 50-60 hours per week to fill.  The external controls are off and it becomes incumbent on the 'refiree' to develop internal structures that support new goals and purposes.

Why is this important?  The patterns, habits, routines of life define what your life is about.  I used to spend 60 hours per week on the job and the remainder of the time on maintaining my life and recovering.  My life was about work.  At this stage of life, the sands are slipping through the hourglass and each day is more precious than the gold I can earn.  Recognizing that time is a resource just as money is, I looked at my weekly routine.  Once that information was available, I began to reflect on what is important to me?  Is it going out five nights per week to be 'entertained' and then recovering from the night before's excesses most of the next morning?  Is it driving through traffic to run an errand?  Is it a long winded chit chat with friends and family?  Is it reading the same old news in today's paper?  The day can build unconscious structures and bars that help us to feel secure but don't fulfill.  In effect they can be empty calories with no nutrition.

Escaping from mental slavery
After awareness, is support.  Since most of the day is almost habitual, I need help in breaking some habits.  Some I keep because they result in desired benefits.  Others have to be broken or at least done after the important things are done.  Support from other like minded persons keeps me focused when it is too easy to slip into busyness with no pay-off.   Other people can keep you accountable to what you say you want to do.  Nowadays, I have regular meetings with friends on two different topics of primary concern for me.  In those meetings we take notes on Google Docs and thereby hold each other to our agreements by writing what we said and promised to do.  Recently, I and a friend (pictured above) established a support group (Creative Cagebreaking Collective) for breaking through the unconscious barriers and actual difficulties that hold us in place in our artistic lives.  By participating in a regular group with a clear focus, the eclectic mix of personalities can help each other see blind spots that may hold us in place spinning our wheels.

Living for today and yet not wasting the precious time we have allotted is crucial for Boomerangers.  We have up to thirty/ forty years of active life in front of us.  Let's make it fun, rewarding, and a contribution.  As Bob Marley said, 'Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our minds.'  And I add the line from the Beatles, 'With a little help from my friends.'

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Past Points to a Long Life

Labyrinth @ Joshua Tree Retreat Ctr
Returning to my favorite quickie getaway recharge town in the Mojave desert (Yucca Valley), I discovered the long shuttered coffee lounge is reopened.  Minor structural and decor' changes have occurred but its essential classic 40s architecture remains.  Pleasantly surprised after missing it for over a year, I ordered my coffee and quiche and went outside to enjoy the warm desert air. I started the day running into the annual Memorial Day parade on the main street, starring soldiers from the nearby 29 Palms Marine base.  Slightly peeved at the inconvenience, I did my ritual walk of the labyrinth at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center.   After saluted the seven directions at the medicine wheel, I found my way to the intersection of 29 Palms Hiway and Pioneertown Road.   I fully intended on driving home the long way through Landers and eventually to Deep Creek Hot Springs for a long hike.  But my tentative plan ran into a greater purpose.

Sighting a small, older man in deep concentration on a book by L. Ron Hubbard, I immediately (without thought) said his name and introduced myself.  What developed over the next two hours was a wide ranging, up to date conversation built on a powerful legacy of the Sixties.  This elder is a legend to my generation growing up in Los Angeles.  Art Kunkin was the publisher/ editor of one of the first and most successful 'alternative' newspapers back in the 60s and 70s, the Los Angeles Free Press.  His influence as a promoter of the emerging hippie/ radical culture can't be overstated.  If you aspired to hipness at all (and what high school kid didn't) his rag was required reading in my high school days.  It was how I found out about the anti-war movement, the protests in Berkeley, love-ins, Hair (the musical), concerts, marijuana etc.  In it I read poetry by Charles Bukowski, media criticism by Harlan Ellison, and excerpts from the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg.  In those pre-Internet days the access to information was limited to the nine TV stations, the L.A. Times, and the local throwaway papers.  The excitement of the times was spread to the suburbs by newspapers such as the Freep (as it was affectionately known by its fans).  It was the only media we had.  No websites, no  MTV channel, not even a lot of phone calls (don't forget long distance was expensive).  The totality of alternative/ radical information was Mort Sahl expounding radical views and interviews on local KHJ TV and the Free Press.  By the late Sixties, its weekly circulation reached over 100,000.  

Seeking more of this exciting and new culture, occasionally my fellow wannabe hippies would make the long drive to Fairfax Ave in Hollywood and visit the Free Press bookstore.  It was a repository of hard to find items in 1967; candles, incense, radical books, black-light posters, beads, and bongs.  The crack in the 60s suburban conformity widened and became an outright fissure in America and the Free Press and others like it were the harbingers of Dylan's prescient 'Times They Are a Changin.'  Too young for the swirling storms brewing on the college campuses, we looked to Art Kunkin to keep us in the know.

Ran Rhino & Art Kunkin
Meeting this legendary figure of the Sixties, reinforced my view that this stage of life offers the chance to renew and revive the spirit of our youth.  We were a generation that had so much hope for improving the world and living differently.  We know how that all turned out.  My hope for change was buoyed by talking with Kunkin.  I discovered he is still in the vanguard.  He spoke at length about his latest project, a technology for living up to 200 years of age.    At 83, he is well versed on the latest advances in media and uses the Internet for disseminating his discoveries of ancient alchemical teachings for life extension. The techniques he works with can be read in detail on his website and in his weekly column. Not one to rest on his laurels, he is an exemplar of life-long growth, courage, and service. 

As I was leaving, Kunkin graced me with a very useful tip:  meditate on the attributes of those that inspire you.  Art Kunkin is one of those who influenced me from afar in my youth and now inspires me in my elder phase.  He represents forward thinking that is not bound by age .  At 60, 70, 80 and more, life can be a journey of exploration, growth, and service.  Looking at habits and comforts in my life and remembering the excitement of youth, my big take-away is never stop learning and when you learn something, share it. The second lesson of the day is to trust my intuition because it knows where I need to go.  Although I missed my hike to Deep Creek Hot Springs, the synchronous stop at the coffee lounge was right on time.