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.