Wednesday, July 27, 2011


On a recent hot, summer, weekday night, I found myself with an eclectic group partying in some (to my mind) unusual ways.  The tv was playing a yoga video, a guy was playing with a karaoke mike, and a clique was in the corner in earnest conversation nibbling on the raw, organic, vegan fare.  After integrating myself with some casual conversation, I settled in to enjoy the festivities.  In my experience of partying over many decades, parties generally are of two types;  loud music and dancing or conversational.  This night I encountered a party of the twenty-first century with today’s young generation.  An entertainment revue was about to begin.  First, a young, fit guy got out on the floor portrayed Beyonce’s writhing to a tee, then another chubby guy with his hair in a sumo wrestler knot tears off his shirt and simulates sex with the Beyonce impersonator.  They are followed by a super athletic dude in a re-creation of his not so distance high school break dancing days.  Everyone was encouraged to jump up and show their stuff in the center.  All were applauded with great enthusiasm. 

I was invited to this party of twenty somethings by a young acquaintance.  My first reaction when he invited me was to beg off.  After all he is much younger than me, what kind of a party is happening on Monday night, and besides I have to get home to MSNBC after my regular meditation group meeting.  I noticed as I considered going, that I had a host of excuses to stay in my narrow, comfortable routine.  I could sit on my recliner and imagine what I missed but I would have been way off base.  I pushed off the shore of my safe harbor and dipped my big toe in the water and went to the party.  It was a new and unique experience for me.  Was it my kind of party?  No.  Am I glad I attended?  YES.

Caution, planning, research all have their place in building a new life after retirement, but one element that gets little attention is the comfort zone.  By the time one retires, he/ she has built up a debris basin filled with detritus from a whole range of experiences ‘good’ and ‘bad.’    Wary of wasting time, it is easy to be conservative and not go out to new places or make friends or learn new skills.  Those attitudes preserve one’s safety and comfort but must not allowed to be the prime directive of a newly unencumbered life.  Security and routine have their place and when they become the only place it is joy killing.  Novelty excites.  Remember the first time you saw the Grand Canyon or fell in love.  Very different events but they both are infused with novelty and the unknown.  Security concerns grow as we age but the most exciting old people I know are into new stuff.  Not what they have done for forty years.  Put outdated and fulfilling habits in the dustbin of your history.  Take a stand for the new and unknown.

Not everything tried and true need be off loaded.  I have an old friend from high school who says he doesn’t want new friends.  Of course, keep the old friends, if there is still life there.  But this guy wants to control the upset in his life and there is a price.  He doesn’t have to stretch and feel the anxiety of the unknown but in the stretch of getting to know new people we end up growing and experiencing the excitement of the new.  It may be in an inter generational friendship or perhaps in a completely new activity such as learning to play a musical instrument.  Conscious change keeps the brain and the spirit growing.  Keeping the brain active is recommended to stave off age related Alzheimer’s, depression, and myriad other age related conditions. 

These days when I am in doubt, rather than defer to the predictable and comfortable I say yes.  Take a chance, go to the new place, call potential dates, write a blog, paint a picture, and take a class.  All of these actions are adventures into the unknown that I have pursued in the quest of a full tilt life.  When I am on the fence, if there is no strong no I just say yes.  Then the magic of the unknown can manifest.  Is it always good, successful, or fun?   Absolutely not.  I recall a recent trip to a beautiful Caribbean island in the off season that was a major letdown.  Nothing to do and very few fellow tourists but I did gain a friend in Australia with whom I am in regular contact.  Any new thing I do I always learn something about the place, the activity, and or myself.  Facing the end of the timeline of this life ought to be enough impetus to Leap before Looking.  Don’t just think about it, do it and excitement and tension can build.  Who will be there?  What will happen?  And if it doesn’t turn out to be exciting, at the very least you got the energy moving towards the fresh and new.   Pushing into the unknown prevents the calcification of emotional arteries and keeps the energy flowing.  Riding that flow is adventure.  Time is getting shorter, the body is getting more aches, and the bucket list of life is happening right now.  My prescription:  At least once per day, take one action without analyzing, planning, and preparing.  Just Leap and then Look.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Karma Pays Off in Music to My Ears

Bang, rattle, bang, I look up from my computer.  At the door was an older gentleman (80+) whom I have had occasion to speak with over the past year when he walks his dog.  I looked up from my solo study on those near and dear topics to my heart; self-improvement and getting organized.  The first I have honed over a span of thirty years (maybe more if I trust my recently discovered musings as a middle-school student) and the second is genetic.  My 86 year old father is still bemoans the fact that he is not organized.  My life’s journey with both has been rift with struggles, sinkholes, and successes.   My personal/ spiritual growth path has wandered from the est training to Siddha Yoga to zen to talk therapy to men’s mythopoetics to chakra balancing to isolation tanks, a long and winding road and not always the road less traveled.  In a symbiotic relationship, my genetic disposition to be organizationally challenged and the self-improvement path have been twin poles around a core self that seeks understanding and community.  In pursuit of that firebird-like quest I had a glimmer of affirmation at the door.

Clutter or disorganization is largely in the eyes of the beholder.  In some circles it is taught that the excess stuff blocks the energy flow to bring the new.  Escaping my stuff, I enjoy going to an empty, sterile  motel room every couple weeks for inspiration when I am stuck.  I can trace an ancestral tradition from my grandparents to my father to my constantly growing stuff.  Without a doubt, it increases as we age.  If we annually collect the same amount of stuff from say, age 20 til 60, we end up with a shit load of papers, souvenirs, and all manner of tshotsches.   Lately, I have been on a mission to cleanse, purge, release, trash, stuff formerly stored in boxes in the attic.  Because of this mission (not initiated willingly mind you but that is another story), areas of my house that would normally be free and clear of clutter are now immersed in piles of boxes, papers, and electronic bric a brac.   In the best of times, my relationship to organization is estranged (orderly here, messed up over there).

Yesterday, I had a successful run through some stuff that had lain around the office for months.  I perused, sorted, and trashed a bunch of old student papers, letters (remember those time capsules?), cancelled concert tickets, posters, and photos.  Yeh!   Feeling elated and looking at a bright, clear day here at the beach and I decided to reward myself with a bike ride listening to my mp3 player with its five thousand+ songs. I couldn't find it and frustration had me running around the house;  high and low, inside and outside the house, the car, and the yard.  No mp3 player to be found and then acceptance kicked in.   Changing my mind I elected to be hopeful of finding the player tomorrow.  I was done and as they say in prayer ‘released’ it and went and had a fine ride at the beach.

Back to the rude interruption from my elderly neighbor who is very hard of hearing, I jumped up and with probably a trace of annoyance in my voice said, “Hi.  What is up?”  He replied, “I have been trying to find you for days and you haven’t been here.  But I found a music player on the sidewalk and figured it must be yours.”  Naturally, I thanked him profusely and immediately walked with him to his house which it turns out is only three doors from my house.  While waiting outside, I spied a sign in Hawaiian language.  I inquired about that and he told me that they used to go to Maui every year for fifteen years until his wife took ill a few years ago. 

That did it, icing on the cake of ‘coincidence,’ synchronistic ‘proof’ of the web that connects all of us and the demonstration of personal karma in the present.  I have had an abiding fascination with Hawaii since sixth grade (in the cleanup I purge old reports about Hawaii), and lately been visiting Maui twice per year since refiring.  I got the old gentleman’s name at last (this is a major metropolis and our culture doesn’t include getting to know your neighbors) and plugged in my mp3 player.

What happened?  In my mind, it is the positive karma of being friendly with the elderly dog walker which built a relationship.  From that he knew and felt well of me and cared enough to save it for me.  Additionally, my peace of mind was preserved by not ‘trying’ to find it endlessly.  The evidence of our connection showed up in the Hawaiian sign.  Can this result be planned?  Absolutely not, but one can build a lifestyle and personality that is open to engaging with others positively and grounding oneself in acceptance of what is.   The bottom line is practicing peace of mind.  Meditation is a common practice to enhance that state.  Practical benefits have been documented scientifically in areas of physical health, emotional health, creativity, sleep, weigh control, and many other areas.  These days a great variety of styles are taught that are not religious in nature and the pay offs are sometimes surprising.  Today’s benefit?  I get to take the bike ride with my five thousand songs.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Listen to the Youth and Receive the Boon

Harbin's Walnut & Azalea Bldgs + Guests
Sitting in the garden at the isolated, spiritual hot springs retreat center and riding the wave of tasty lyrics and sweet guitar picking, I noticed a young guy in blonde dreads beaming from ear to ear.  The singer was a fellow Boomer, a woman with short salt and pepper hair and a relaxed demeanor.  After a concert last night in the Temple, where the solo guitarist hit the crowd of spiritual retreatants with his own unique blend of Carlos Santana and Jai Uttal by way of the Amazon jungle, this thoughtful and peaceful music was a pleasant shift.  She did several songs that bespoke the wisdom of more than a few years of life on the road less traveled.

A thought popped in about the young guy and how cool it was that in this place all generations are present and welcome (except teens who seemed to be self-excluded).  The special blend of an ancient, 19th century healing waters resort and 1970s back to the land spiritual seekers has manifested secular, new age, hip resort in the mountains above the wine country in Northern California.  Imagine the community of Taylor Camp (Kauai) discussed a few months back except it is all grown up and a responsible and contributing member of the community.  On the deck that surrounds the healing pools on any sunny day you will find day trippers from the Bay Area along with wandering young (and a few not so young) sadhus (Sanskrit term for spiritual seekers) from Israel or Germany or Topanga.  On the recent holiday weekend at Harbin the call of the waters reached tsunami levels as the deck was filled with retreatants reading books on all manner of progressive and spiritual topics and chatting softly while they allow the healing rays of the sun to bake their bare bodies (yes even down there).

Prohibition of cameras, electronic devices, and clothes induces a special vibe of peaceful openness.  Strike up a mundane conversation about the weather and soon it will move into a discussion of the relative merits of Tibetan Buddhism with Theravadan Buddhism.  Or anything from organic home building to esoteric symbols of an individual's tattoos.  Almost anything goes as long as it dives below the surface of job, money, kids, and sports.  The personal is celebrated and shared freely.

On this most recent trip I met a woman who is the chef at their fine organic restaurant and does sound healings with crystals and teaches yoga all in one day.  Another 50ish woman with a range of colorful tattoos on her shoulders rode up on her Harley for a night and camped out on the redwood deck.  While sitting on the deck and seeking some shade from the 102 degree heat I was tooth and jowl to a forty something woman and I made an off hand remark about the sci-fi book she was reading. Over the next two days we explored a range of topics from spiritual novels to educational equity to Buddhism to martial arts.  Another acquaintance represented the tribal nature of many of the guests.  Originally from Germany, she had lived in Maui (in the spiritual neighborhood), Sayulita, Mexico, and Topanga Canyon and now was a refugee from the fires near Santa Fe, NM.   On the deck and in the pools about the only type you won't see are button downed, suburban track home, 9-5ers, looking for room service and a flat screen TV in the sports bar.

Harbin Temple
Suffused in this eclectic mix of humanity, there is the zeitgeist of what we called back in the day the counter culture.  It was/ is a mix of values that promote sustainable, creative, connected, harmonious, communal, healthy, organic, and freedom loving lifestyles.  That is what I got in the impromptu concert in the garden.  The singer was classic and could have been a 1970 Haight Ashbury hippie or for that matter 1945 Hudson Valley folky.  And the young cat from Berkeley was listening with wide ears of that is cool today.  We had a short conversation and I learned of his dream to have a creative tea house on College Ave in Berkeley where performers and artists come and share.  A sonorous Asian gong went off in my head and I connected with my long simmering vision of a coffee house where the local talent hangs, performs, shares, and communes.   The world is small and time is subjective and especially so at Harbin.  The young artist explained his process of holding a vision, building the partnership, and finding the place.  Inside I said, 'for those that have eyes let them hear' and 'a child shall lead them.'

For us who are on the backside of life and seeking to close out this life's journey with meaning, engagement, pleasure, achievement, and relationship, it behooves us to be around younger people with open minds and hearts.  Their freshness has much to show us when the 'been there,' 'done thats' arise.  Remembrance, it is said in the Sufi tradition, is crucial in building a spiritual foundation for life.  In encounters with young people, the Boomeranger would be wise to pay attention because you may have a chance of remembrance of your young, free, baggage less self.  That old self tempered with the wisdom of experience could push your boat back into the river and break out of the eddies of sameness and routine.   As the Byrds said, "thinking young and growing older is no sin...Now I think I've got a lot more than just my toys to lend" ('Going Back' by King/ Goffin).  Meeting, connecting, and hearing the youth can be a 'magic carpet ride.'  Remember to shine on the youth, they have a boon for us Boomers.