Thursday, May 31, 2012

Marley, the Quest, and What's Next!

World brotherhood drove him
At an outside table, in the bright sunlight, in front of the coffee house ‘office’ my close friend and occasional writing partner popped a big question:  “Did you see it?  He was on a mission.”  The Ravendove couldn’t wait to discuss a new film.

I said, “Yes, I had a few friends over and we all celebrated the man and his music.  He was this generation’s prophet.”  We were referring to the new documentary on Bob Marley’s life, Marley.  As a lifelong fan and student of Marley, I highly recommend the film for the uninitiated and the veteran Marleyites.  His epic story is well told and includes new info and never before filmed associates and lovers.  See it.  Marley was a man on a mission.

Are you on a quest?  Maybe you know someone who is on a quest?  Do you pity or envy them?  Life as a quest is not for everyone, but for those who do undertake it there is no other way.  They are history’s game changers, the people who have impacted us all.  Reflecting on the direction of my life these days, I have moments of wondering if I need to take on such a big purpose.  Maybe there is an easier way?    Perhaps there is a lifestyle that fulfills and is easy and just fun.  Do I really need a mission and quest?  Then the famous Howard Thurman quote comes to mind, ‘Stand before me in my moments of weakness my high resolve.”  The path of courage and purpose knows no other way.
Ravendove continued, “After seeing it my wife said she finally got me.  She knows what moves me now.  He was driven, he had no choice.  It wasn’t a matter of morality or emotions.  He had to live that way.  And she (Rita Marley) supported him in the mission.”
I agreed and replied, “The mission was more important than maintaining a conventional home life.”  Another example in that vein is Bill and Hillary Clinton.   Hillary supported Bill, not in a blind ‘stand by your man’ way, but because of the work.   The examples in 20th Century abound where a charismatic leader’s mission over rode any other consideration.  The towering figures of the twentieth century come to mind from  Thomas Edison to FDR to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr.  In that same vein Howard Thurman said that a man's mission is of primary importance and then comes his mate.

Biographies of iconic leaders reveal the power of living a big question.  How can I serve?  For true leaders service inevitably calls them to a mission.  The mission flows through their ‘god given talent.’  Marley, clearly shows how he was driven to serve by sharing his musical gifts.  Not some kind of philosophy read in a book or heard at a seminar, Marley shared his life’s struggle in his songs.   His early life of poverty, of being half-caste, and father abandonment were the fuel for his talent to express.  He pursued his quest for acceptance by digging for a deeper truth, one love or universal brotherhood.   Nothing could stop him.  He pursued it til he died and left this life with the question still on his lips:  How can I bring people together?
Firebird on the Quest
In truth, we all have a quest inside of us.  But most are unconscious of that mission and are satisfied with low level goals like making more money, having more pleasure, or just comfort seeking.  Finding that bigger question and consciously living that way can be the ultimate liberation for the Boomer.  No longer dependent on the external structures, the quest can truly begin in earnest.  What excites?  What fulfills?  What stretches?  What brings peace of mind?  Ultimately, how do I want to serve?

The quest never ends and the mission morphs while the quest continues.  Each step leads to the answer and the next question.  Discovering one’s mission takes more than study.  The hero’s journey is taken by all, but not all are conscious of the journey, according to Joseph Campbell in his seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Reviewing my life story and uncovering the quest therein, I have noticed a cycle of awareness, action, and acceptance.

·         Awareness:  Taking time to see what is happening in my world, inner and outer.
·         Action:  Doing a specific physical act in the direction of the question.
·         Acceptance:  Non-resistance and consciously working with it.

But the questions don’t stop and nor should they.  Living in the question/ the quest, while living in the world is the answer.   And every answer is provisional because it leads to another question.  To expect to reach the end of life without questions is to indulge in the greatest hubris.  When we get to an end something new immediately arises.   Knowing that basic truth and accepting it opens the door to peace of mind.

The quest goes on.  Consciously and intentionally acknowledging that facilitates inner and outer harmony.  When I am on that last rest stop, I hope to look back and see that I have responded to my questions and accepted the answers that led to new questions.  Then a new and bigger question can arise, ‘what is next?’

Monday, May 14, 2012

Once a Hippie and Now...?

All manner of hippie stuff
On a bright sunny day I elected to get an instant dose of country and nostalgia less than a half hour from my home in Venice.  Winding through the Santa Monica Mountains I passed the crystal store and had a flashback of an old friend from college days.  'Whatever happened to Steve S?'  He loved Topanga and all aspects of the hippie culture.

Always an early adopter, he introduced us to marijuana and then various other consciousness altering substances.  As young suburbanites we yearned to get out of the housing tracts and into the bohemian vibe of Topanga.  Many weekends we would race through there in my little red sports car and stumble upon parties and love-ins.  In those communal days, as long as you were wearing the appropriate threads (clothes) you were welcome.  No invitation needed.  It was the era of free love, community, and music.

Creekside dining @ Inn of the Seventh Ray
An old friend reported that Steve S. had pursued a career with the unemployment department in state government.   Searching through Facebook I found him and we connected.   It turned out he had recently retired and was now free from the daily work grind.  Always musically oriented (he was a major fan of Rod Stewart), he used to play guitar in college.  I figured he would be playing a lot of guitar and taking a lot of foreign trips (he once did the almost mythical overland trip from London to Kabul, Afghanistan). 

We arranged to meet at the classic Topanga restaurant, Inn of the Seventh Ray, to talk old times and get up to date.  Set creekside, the Inn is an institution with healthy organic food and even better atmosphere...serene and in nature.  My overt and sincere agenda was to catch up with an old friend, my covert motive was to see how he was faring in 'retirement' given my own rocky transition.  We had similar backgrounds with secure, highly structured careers in government service that led to post work pensions, we grew up in the suburbs, and we were comrades in the cultural revolution of the 70s.    Our paths diverged when he transferred to San Diego State and I went to UC Berkeley.  Although he eventually joined the Employment Development Dept (after years wandering around the world and academia) and I became a teacher and administrator with LAUSD, we had a lot in common.  And as the song said, 'what a long strange trip its been.'

After catching up on history, he shared the challenge he has managing his time.  With its lack of imposed structure, his new lifestyle has presented unexpected dilemmas and rewards similar to those I have written about throughout these blogs.  But the issue that hit him by surprise was our old friend cannabis.  He related his dance with the herb, like it was a long lost girl friend.  Still loves her but has a hard time sorting out the mixed emotions of attraction, disappointment, and addiction.

Sacrament or devil's weed
Posted over the creek, listening to the bull frogs and watching the hummingbirds, we got down to the nitty gritty (as we used to say then).  Turns out he goes on binges of ingesting marijuana every day for weeks at a time and then goes on the wagon.  In order to stop, he'll go out of town for a couple weeks.  Then upon return, the siren calls and the easy entertainment and comfort is too much to resist.  Betty Bong beckons and he fires up again.  She seduces him like Salome and her seven veils.  Sometimes exciting and thrilling and other times an addiction that saps energy and will.  What troubles Steve is that he has worked for thirty years to have the freedom to do what he wants and he likes to get high.  But the simple pleasure has become problematic for him.

It has been reported that with the aging and retiring of the Boomer generation, the old pipes have been dusted off and more weed consumed by the now older ex-hippies.  So, it doesn't seem to be a situation unique to my old friend.  Many questions arise out of this dynamic:  1)  Managing and limiting use when the usual constraints (job, kids in the house) are gone, 2)  Health considerations when old habits are imposed on an older body (hang overs, excessive eating--'munchies'), 3) Possible enhancing fun and patience in learning new skills, 4)  Integrating the emotional and spiritual insights into the latter stage of life.

The struggle of my successful, affluent, professional friend is not anomalous.  The journey of older life can and should be filled with indulging in preferred recreations.  It may also be a time of spiritual questing and discovery.  New or long dormant interests in creative arts can at last be explored.  Coming from a pleasure seeking generation in the 70s, our formative years were indulgent.  Being conscious of one's age requires threading the needle between a possibly sacred experience that reveals and expresses deep seated desires and  and a sacrilegious excess into escapism and dependence.  How one navigates this path can facilitate the redemption and reward for all we aspired to in our youth or a journey down into delusion and escape. (By the way, reefer could be replaced with any pleasure done to excess; food, travel, alcohol, yoga, consumption).  Dive into that cauldron find the tasty mix that satisfies and keep your eyes on your dream.

The answer may yet be Blowin' in the Wind.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Keeping It Real While Living Your Dream

Malibu rush hour
"Enough already.  I'm done with traffic congestion, crowded waves, surf nazis and I'm moving to Hawaii" declared my old college buddy.  In my head I envied him.  He was making the bold move to Paradise.

After protesting on the front lines at UC Berkeley, we'd  been running partners for over forty years throughout the behemoth megalopolis of L.A.  His declaration was not surprising, he had maxed out on his hometown.   A lifelong surfer then in his mid-fifties, O'ahu seemed perfect with its mellow population and traffic jams that would be considered free flowing in the City of the Hard Angles.  Relocating there would be a dream fulfilled; year round waves, no congestion, and cheaper house prices.  

The patron saint of surfers, Duke Kahanmoku
For a variety of reasons he struggled with building a new life in Honolulu and found paradise to be more hell than heaven.  Unfortunately, he had not considered the main factors in a satisfying relocation and/ or retirement; community, purpose, and structure.  He was stuck with an expensive house to sell in a down market and facing another relocation.  As the old saying goes, ‘have your head in the clouds but keep your feet on the ground.’

Dreams are crucial elements in building a satisfying new life.  The Bible says, 'a people without vision will perish.' Living my whole life in the proverbial La La land, I have known many great dreamers.  Some are home grown dreamers but the greatest seem to be expatriates from their homelands where stodgy pragmatism ruled the day.  Coming to Hollywood's epicenter, freed them to pursue dreams that may have attracted ridicule and scorn in Providence, RI or Ann Arbor, MI or Jamaica.  Feels great for a while, no collection of old friends and family to remind you of who you have been.  You shake the Etch a Sketch and fill it with new friends and neighborhoods and sometimes even a brand new name.  It is liberating to start over.

Like the recent college grad who escapes a stifling, tradition bound hometown to become an actress/ writer/ musician/ waiter in L.A., for the post job Boomer reinventing by living out old dreams can be exhilaratingWhen I left a highly structured career and stepped into the freedom of non-job life, long dormant fantasies became my focus.  If not now, when?  Basking in that glow of total freedom was intoxicating (“I can do whatever I want, go wherever I want, with whomever I want.”)   Bouncing around with false starts for a few years, I finally found and read Ernie Zelinski’s book, ‘How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free.’  It was like he was in my head reading my thoughts.  I was not alone.   Zelinski asserts that newly retired persons need to address three unexpected issues to have a ‘Happy, Wild, & Free Retirement.'

  1. Community:  Whether you choose to stay in your old home and renew your life there or move to a new place, it is important to build a community of like minded souls, a tribe.  People that you can relate to and enjoy.    For example, someone who has always lived in a homogeneous suburban setting may find the characters in Santa Fe either refreshing or weird.  
  2. Structure:  Identify the key activities and skills you want to pursue and set up a personal schedule.  No boss at the counter checking on your arrival time, it is up to you to monitor your program and make it a habit.   A successful reinventor I know said:  “I set up a schedule with goals everyday but it is loose and always changes.”
  3. Purpose:  What is your life about?  Where you live, who you spend time with, and what you do are all informed by your reason for living.  Whatever is your north star, keep your ship in that direction.  If it is travel, then plan your trips.  If it is starting a new career, then set up an outline of the necessary components.  If it is service, then find some practical venue to do it.   Then take action steps.
Clarity of Intent Shaman
Building a clear vision and dream is a crucial first step in living a rewarding post work life.  Taking the time to explore, to plan, and to experiment.  From that effort, the intentions of a new life emerge.  At a recent mens retreat, shaman Fu Ding Cheng said “The difference between desire and intent is clarity.”  Big dividends in satisfaction and fulfillment result. Besides how will you know you have arrived, if you don’t know where you are going?

Invest the time necessary to hone clarity of the three foundations of a successful post job life.  Meld inner awareness, external information, and practical applications into clarity around community, structure, and purpose.   Then through mastery of intent and attention, inner and outer energies coalesce and dreams manifest.  You'll be keeping it real AND living your dream.