Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Step Back in the River and Taste the Fresh Water

The venerable maxim ‘You never step in the same river twice,’ popped into my mind as I drove south on Lincoln Blvd to LAX.  Originally, I imagined a nostalgic trip, a type of pilgrimage to honor the teacher and the teachings.  Upon arriving at a non-nondescript office building was the first surprise of the night, the organization occupied a whole floor.

Escorted by a new friend from Australia, we went to the meeting room.  It contained one hundred chairs arranged in a semi-circle facing the platform, with its four white and chalkboards that outlined the ‘work' or agenda.  Two high director’s chairs completed the scene.  Almost a replica of (except for the modernized chairs and the white boards), the room where I did the original ‘training’ back in the seventies.   Not much had changed. 
As before, the seminar leader began the evening by welcoming guests with a thumbnail description of the seminar.  Well-dressed in a suit with an open collar shirt, he personified an educated, intelligent, and confident professional.  Little had changed in this culture in the over thirty years, since I had last participated.  In spite of name changes, retirement of its founder, sale of the the intellectual property, and myriad attacks in the mainstream media, the core of the training survived intact.  More than I can say about my own body and spirit.  But that is another story.  

What brought me here to this meeting?  My Australian friend had traveled over six thousand miles, specifically to continue his education with this organization and to immerse himself in the rich stew of the consciousness/ spiritual community of Santa Monica/ Venice.  He was committed to reinvention.  What could have been the draw for him to come so far I wondered?  Initially, I had politely declined his invitation, not wanting to go through the high pressure sales pitch/ enrollment process I remembered from the old days.  Then at lunch one day he said with a big grin, ‘You know mate, I forgot that as a graduate you are eligible to sit in on the seminar.’   

Werner Erhard on his directors chair
Mulling it over, I decided that the time had come to revisit the origins of my personal spiritual path begun so many years ago (1979 to be exact).  I have long considered the training as the turning point in my personal growth path.  My inner life was kick started with those two weekends .  Connections made after that first experience led to meeting an Indian guru and then a new age television minister and one seminar led to a workshop which led to a retreat and so on.  Personal and spiritual growth became a pillar of my life.  Suddenly over thirty years had passed.  I retired from my career in education and began a reinvention process.
Life review is common after significant transitions such as 'retirement.'  Where did I come from?  What did I accomplish?  Connecting the dots of one’s life.  So, when this friend invited me, my notion was that it might be fun to go down memory lane for an evening.  Maybe a bit like going to one’s old high school or first summer camp.  Remember the good things and taste a bit of the old emotions.   But subconsciously, I felt something needed to be completed.  Some strings needed retying.   

Sitting in that familiar setting and format, I felt like I had been on a long trip in space and returned to earth but time had stood still.  I was older and a bit wiser but the scene was the same.  The chalk boards on the stage announced the intended results of the seminar and laid out the agenda for the evening.  One highly verbal older woman reported she had been doing this work for over thirty years.   She gave it credit for the three degrees she had earned and declared her intention to publish her book, at last.  A young woman shared her challenge in getting her new husband to understand her.   Another person declaimed about her cranky neighbor.  

The normalcy and commonsensical nature of their dilemmas was striking.  Not in an obscure ivory tower way, nor in a god soaked church, but simply human and down to earth living.    Real people with practical projects and goals in the world. The supportive and clear thinking of the seminar leader impressed me.  He did not play around with platitudes and vague concepts. Very real and practical coaching.

What does it all mean to me?  In this highly transitory era where computers get updated daily and even the laws of physics are provisional, personal growth workshops have a short shelf life.  In spite of the highly trendy nature of the human potential movement of the 70s somehow Landmark has survived and prospered.  Standing alone after all of its peers have long since died, Landmark (the successor to est) is over forty years old. Is it a cult?  Not to me.  Money is not requested nor donated as in ‘spiritual’ settings.   It is straight; pay for the seminar or if indigent get a scholarship.  No coercion, no usurping of your decision making, no handing over your money.
Dip into the river and taste new water
My journey to the past demonstrated that the lessons I learned back in the day are still relevant.  My experience was different because I am different, but the message was the same.   Tell the truth about your rackets, complete the past, make and keep your agreements, and live from intention.  Timeless technology that lives on.  The trip to the river that night was not a journey down memory lane but a taste of the flow of my life. 

Our experiences and education of years past are not necessarily dead and gone.  They can be revived and applied in this stage of life.  Consider a reconnection with old programs, teachers, schools, places, and activities and see if you can find the pearl of great price?  That pearl is eternal, never decays, and in fact grows bigger in the incubator of a life lived with on purpose. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Build a Bridge Over Your Generation Gap

Black Light Flashback
Prompted by a notion that popped in about three months ago, I stepped into a neighborhood church , the Church in Ocean Park.  Built in the 1920s, it is a bastion of alternative cultural and progressive political events.  In the entry way there was a group of five holding hands and praying; a tall, long haired young man and four young women dressed in yoga togs.  Instant hit of calm and peace.  

Going upstairs, the glow of the black light highlighting a fluorescent paint mandala summoned old memories of concerts, darkened apartments, and head shops. The yoga class was finishing, with a room of about 100 lying in savasana (corpse pose) deep in meditation.  Mats rolled and stowed and then we were ready for the dance, the Sacred Dance.  

Christo Pellani & crew
On the pulpit festooned in Indian fabrics and prayer beads was the eclectic band of violin, didgeridoo, djembe' drums, guitars, and bass.  Unfolding slowly and meditatively, the crowd of all ages and genders, but mostly twenty and thirty something women, awoke.  The free and unconditional dance of individual souls merged into a diaphanous body of twirling, jumping, gyrating oneness.  Flowing sarongs covered whole back tattoos, yoga pants, skintight tank tops, and hand woven vests.   Hairstyles ranged from dreadlocks to waist length blonde to bald to gray to colored spikes.

Looking at the crowd it could have been 1970 and not 2012 except for one crucial element.  In this youth culture there was a sprinkling of older people.  Individuals like myself, original hippies who were in such places in the 70s.  Back in the day the old generation would have nothing to do with us and vice versa.  This segment of the youth today have taken the torch handed to them by the Boomer generation (yoga, meditation, free dance) and improved on it with a powerful infusion of globalization.  On stage the performers were a mix of ethnicities and played a variety of world beats, melodies, and chants.  Above all the apparent differences, there was a celebration of oneness.  

Walking into that setting with my 1970 ideas, I feared that they might not be cool with an old guy in their party.  Nothing of the kind.  By the second thirty minute song I was jumping and contact dancing with the best of them.  In keeping with the theme of unity in the many, a giant circle was formed to close the night and each dancer said their name.  Not anonymous consumers of a performance but a members of a group--the Sacred Dance. 

1970 or 2012?
Some great lessons were learned that night: 1) The generation gap has bridges, 2)  The seeds of love we planted have bloomed, 3) Movement liberates the spirit. 

The Sacred Dance had been on my  to do list for months. Each month I had something pressing that kept me away; the undone taxes due next week, the emails unanswered, the dishes not washed, the Lakers on TV. I always had a case for staying home--the default position for most people in the evening, especially those over fifty.  Breaking out of that inertia and into active life took effort.  Without effort I would have been sitting like a stiff on the couch with a glass of champagne or two.  

In this inner dance is the paradox of the spiritual path.  Often spiritual teachers suggest to surrendering to spirit/ god/ etc.  Usually this is interpreted as going with the flow, not making stuff happen.  It is a balancing act of trusting the inner call and making right effort.  Buddhists call it skillful means or in more colloquial language 'knowing when to hold'em and when to fold'em.'

That night I tasted the gift of these times.  The kids are alright.  The generations are not at war.  I know many people in their twenties and thirties that are fun to be with and enjoy my company.  One fellow, Evan, at one of my 'offices' (coffee shops) considers me a peer even though he is thirty years my junior.  He said, it is what is in the heart that matters, not age.  This young man  has many tribal tattoos, piercings, and earns his living on his computer.  Definitely not a Boomer. 

Renewing, reviving, refiring, and reinventing post-work Boomers can learn a lot from the young people today.  Go to a yoga festival, attend Earth Day celebrations, join Facebook groups of mixed ages, and get out and do something new and different.  Don't be afraid to stand out, you won't.  With any luck you may be considered a wise elder.  Regardless enjoy the seeds we planted then and know the fruit today is sweet.  You'll probably find it rather familiar.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stop Studying and Start Experimenting

Ever play a game that had no goal?  No end point?  Was it fun?  Did you play again?  At a recent gathering of friends someone pulled out a word game called Bananagrams.  No one else had ever heard of it but within five minutes we were all playing and totally engaged.  Predictions were made about who would win due to certain skills he had but that didn’t dissuade us.  One of the players said she is a tough competitor and really wants to win but that is less important than playing.  Kinda like life.
Life is not a roulette wheel.  It is not totally dependent on chance, skill counts. Developing skill in the next (post work) chapter is both an inner and outer job.  First step is developing clarity about the qualities you seek.  The next is skill building.  This can entail training and study but at some point it is time to pull the trigger and get out and do it, experiment.  Pay attention, make adjustments, and do it again.  Likely it'll never end and after one goal is achieved another emerges.  And as with the competitive player mentioned above, participating is the great reward regardless of the result. 

As I write these words I am looking at the new Sayulita, former surfing village near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, being built in the plaza.  The roads have been torn up, utilities buried underground, fresh adult sago palms planted, all in anticipation of up leveling tourism for this formerly sleepy fishing/ surf village.  A gentrified town means more business equals a better standard of living and the residents presumably win.  They and the government are taking a bold reach for the tourist dollar.  On the beach a few steps away are dozens of beginner surfers renting boards and rash guards and getting out on the waves.  They fall, get back up, and fall again and eventually catch a wave.  They are not aware of the big set about to hit Sayulita.  They are practicing and learning a new skill with the goal of riding to the beach.  

How many times in life have we had big idea such as personal or spiritual growth but never got specific about how that would look?  So, we begin our journey on the path.  Some get very serious.  They take seminars, workshops, retreats, classes for years.  Pursuing the gold ring of peace of mind, contentment, happiness and other worthy aspirations.  But many never arrive and just continue 'growing' (in theory).  I've heard some proudly call themselves 'seminar junkies.'  They are like a heroin addict whose original reason for the drug gets lost in the comfort zone of chasing the high.  Many people are lost in the addiction because they have not implemented the learning in the world.  Seminars, trainings, and workshops are great and can offer positive insights but without grounding in the ‘real’ life it is just a concept or theory.   There is always another teacher or course.  

Dan Millman has written about this in his book, ‘What is the Purpose of Life?’  Quoted in Science of Mind magazine, he says ‘in fact being a seeker can become a chronic condition—and the search can in many cases, only reinforce the dissatisfaction that sent us in the first place.’  He suggests practice in the world is the way to end the constant search.  Like the surfers who get in the water, paddle into a wave, fall down, get up, and eventually ride all the way home. 

The players in the word game Bananagram, the beginning surfers, the town seeking more tourists are all practicing, experimenting with new approaches.  That is what brought me to Sayulita.  For too long I fantasized about getting away from the cold winters in Santa Monica and going to a foreign redoubt to focus on my writing projects.  Analyzing the pros and cons of where to make such a move set my head spinning like the girl in The Exorcist.  I went around and around trying to figure out how this would fit into my overall life plan.  I was stuck in a miasma of indecision.  Finally someone suggested calling it an experiment, a practice.   

Taking that cue, I made the reservation, set up a plan (rules of the game), and did it.  I can apply the lessons of that experience to the next project.  Until I actually did something in the world, it was a fuzzy concept in my head and no progress was made.  The big rock in the road was striving for absolute surety and clarity of the result before doing it: analysis paralysis.   What I needed was to take out the hammer and chisel and chip away.

One of my teachers, Rick Jarow, advised to not set ultimate goals and set trajectories with interim goals, since oftentimes en route we will gain information that can shift what we want.  Keeping this in mind helps to lighten the importance each decision.  Life is filled with adjusting and so should our goals.   The key is to take action in the world and pay attention (awareness).  In my case, I checked Sayulita and realized my vision was not compatible with the town’s goals--new data.  They want more tourists in buses and I want a natural, peaceful, native, tropical getaway.  Without the experiment, I wouldn't know that and it would be another one of those maybes occupying space in my mind.  

Each of us needs to find that place where you have done enough workshops, seminars, retreats, reading, etc and then DO IT.  Do something physically on the trajectory of your vision or dream.  You will likely be surprised at what you find somewhere over the rainbow.