Friday, September 14, 2012

Pierce the Fog with Your Significance

Everyman is more than just himself;  he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way and never again.

                        Hermann Hesse

Walking into the coffee house in a total fog even though the sun was shining here in Santa Monica, I sought refuge in a corner seat.  Almost immediately a fellow denizen of the place came over to visit.  In my vulnerable emotional state that moment I shared the raw state of my mood—emptiness, self-loathing, purposelessness.   A highly empathic and clear thinking guy, he instantly sussed out the essence of my issue.   Hopelessness, miasma, and self-abnegation were written all over my face and he said, “We are all important all the time.  Everything counts. We are significant by existing.”  That got me thinking and more importantly feeling.  Almost in tears, I looked at the bright sky and noticed my experience right then.  I got that every this moment is just fine right now.  As a meditator for almost thirty years, that was not a radical idea.   The first lesson in meditation?  Be Here Now.  

I was functioning on auto pilot that morning but the conversation started me thinking:   What is important for this day?  What will fulfill me?  What is my purpose?  And the biggy, Who am I?  Trite, common place, and abstract questions, I wondered do they serve me anymore?  Rather than engage the unanswerable, I put fingers to keys, inviting the muse to tell me.

Then another road block:  Why bother?  What makes my story significant?  Worth telling? Important to others?  NOTHING!  I recalled my friend’s conclusion that it isn’t the bigness or smallness but ultimately just ISness.  And in its isness, you, me, and everything makes a difference.  Not in an abstract, metaphysical way.  Not the ‘god’ wants me to live and make a contribution manner.  But that what I do affects everything else.  By virtue of that, we are significant and our lives have meaning.  It has been said that we make up meaning in life.  That is true.  On one level, my actions may appear to be insignificant compared to ‘important’ people in history.   But that makes size important.

For example, while I was sitting there at the coffee house a woman came up to me with a strange request.  She said:  “Would you put my coins in the meter? I have a phobia about dogs.”  Odd request but very important to her.  She did not want a parking ticket and didn’t want to invite an anxiety attack.  Even odder, I used to have an extreme phobia about dogs that I have worked on over the years so that at least I can tolerate that species.   She gave me a few coins and I inserted them.  Mundane but significant to that woman.

Accepting our significance, then what gives a life purpose or meaning. The great spiritual teachers often say that service is what we are here for.  What is service?  Is it limited to ‘do goodism’ such as uplifting others from poverty or suffering?  Perhaps it is simply following one’s hedonistic desires? I have found purpose in a big definition of service—‘sharing my deep, authentic self.’  That is not altruism or hedonism.  It is the Self I have had glimpses of periodically throughout my life.  It is that self that wants to be of service.  Making a difference, a contribution in my unique way.

Jack Klarin, still giving his service
Example:  My father was a civil engineer in his career.  Civil engineers build roads, dams, missile silos, you name it.  Now in his late eighties you would think he is done with that.  Not yet.  I have a project at my house that requires some building and he loves to plan it, think about it, and even lift the shovel for this project.  It is just who he is.  He knows who he is and does it.  That is integrity, that is purpose and when he is doing that stuff, he is living life on purpose.  Is he always ‘happy’ doing it?  Not at all, construction is often difficult and challenging.  The value for him is in a job well done and in the doing of it.  Significance or meaning comes for him in the doing what is at his core.  The other side of the equation is achievement of a goal.  The personality craves completion or closure.  It allows us to savor our experience and move on. 
Getting to completion can be rocky.   Shipping or actually finishing an intrinsically generated project often demands fortitude.  How do you sustain the will to get to the end?  Keeping your eyes on the prize helps, but what gets and keeps us in motion?  Motivation has many components that we have discussed often in this column (see Self Determination Theory) but we can’t do it alone.  One of the elements of SDT is relatedness.  Attending to that aspect can be enhanced by building partnership and accountability.  Around projects that push my edge, I make overt agreements with my writing colleague, the Ravendove.  Both of us agree to do a certain task(s) and email it with a defined time line.  When the due date arrives we discuss our efforts.  Any breakdowns or barriers are discussed and we support each other by offering a different perspective.  That usually brings up new ideas and solutions.  On a practical level, it keeps the ball rolling and on the creative level it inspires.
Finding my core self and its deep purpose or significance has not been easy.  In fact, it has been scary and difficult.   Cutting through that foggy, groggy morning was thanks to the coffee shop conversation, from my personal awareness to supportive accountability.  Then,  I put fingers to keyboard knowing that at the end of the day I was significant and accountable! 
The sun is shining brighter now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ageless Spirits at the Bowl & in Life

Timeless Iguassu Falls, Brazil
Recently, after a round drinks a friend of more than forty years made a bland and pointed observation.  He scored a solid hit, since I write about the topic, attend conferences on the topic, and read about it.  He said, “You are obsessed with aging.”  “You may be right,” I responded.  His comments were sparked by my observation that most of the people in his Marina Del Rey apartment building are much older than us.  I continued, "Being aware of where I am in life’s time line, helps me to get on with it.   Not waste time and make sure I live life.”

Havasupai Falls, AZ
Sunrise at Haleakala Crater
But that comment threw me into some reflection, ‘Am I making too much of this aging thing?  Is it coloring my approach to life?’  Can I be present with aging and still live happy, vital, and hopeful?’   Age truly isn’t everything.   The greatest experiences in life are ageless;   Iguasu Falls, Brazil, sunrise at Haleakala Crater, and the bright blue waters of Havasupai Falls.  And this is not to mention the excitement of personal relationships (fall in love at any age and feel young).   And yet we often create separations in our life by age, ethnicity, class, and myriad other labels.

At the annual reggae night at the Hollywood Bowl this season, agelessness was in the air.  Fifteen thousand people were of one accord in appreciation of the music and each other.  Not limited by their human story including AGE, this community came together around common values expressed with a hypnotic beat and uplifting lyrics.  There were young children in the crowd and many who would be called senior citizens.  The artifacts of reggae culture (red, gold, and green shirts and hats) could be seen on many.  Even the performers spanned the stages of life from youth to the 68 year old father of reggae, Toots Hibbert.    
One Love, One Life, One People, One Destiny

The singing and dancing to well known songs spread a sense of joy over the scene.   We connected across the generations and grooved in the place where timeless spirit resides.   I have attended outdoor reggae festivals for over thirty years, ever since the first Bob Marley day at MacArthur Park in downtown L.A.   This vibration has been consistent from Reggae on the River in Northern California to Reggae in the Jungle in Negril Beach, Jamaica to Reggae Pon de Mountain in Topanga, CA---all ages, community, and upfullness (positive vibes).    

I wonder how many places in life do we have that experience?  Not at church with the typical racial segregation, not at work its inherent hierarchies, not at an evening on the town which breaks into sharp age strata, and even not often with our friendships.  We self-segregate in so many ways. 

Pushing against artificial spirit limiting rules is my creed.  Even as I accept and adjust to the changes that come with aging and changing life conditions, I ask ‘What can I do to be freer?  How can I continue to enjoy sports even with the inevitable physical wear and tear?  What is a fun activity for learning?  Can I re-imagine my life that captures the openness, boldness, and curiosity of youth?  At the same time, what adjustments do I need to make?  Our essence is ageless but how to live that way?

At Agape Church recently, I met an old friend now in his 70s, who lives free AND makes adjustments.  His life isn’t on the layaway plan.  He creates his current life based on his current realities.  This fellow quit his job as a stockbroker at age 50.  He divorced his wife of the time and proceeded to reinvent.  He now has a second home in Panama and a new wife.  But what I’ve noticed over the 20 odd years I have known him is that he is always adjusting.  He changes but doesn’t quit.  A very athletic and fit man, he has done many extreme sports over the years (mostly free diving and ocean fishing), so I was surprised when he said he wouldn’t be water skiing on a family trip to a lake.  He said, ‘I’ll be watching this time due to my back problems."  He is modifying his behavior to deal with his new reality. 

Accommodations because of physical changes are inevitable as we age.  I have denied pain in my back til there was no way and then quit.  The technology of Mr. Panama is to stay connected and work around.   Obsessing with aging is unproductive when it sucks out life and leaves you deflated.   It rewards the soul to stay engaged.  Aliveness busts out.  Staying on the edge and still addressing life’s changes offers a road map to vital living.  That is what happens for me in making friends with those younger than me and doing new activities that requires me to live in beginner mind.   They spark a different view of life.

Old & Younger Together: Ziggy, Toots, Bob, & Freddie
After the concert at the Bowl, the crowd strolled out, singing the songs, and smiling like it was a new beginning.   They had stepped out of age/ class/ race lines and roles and spent a few hours in the freedom of ageless, united, and positive spirits.  Then they walked down the hill to their cars and buses and slipped back into the roles and personae of their daily lives.  Separate souls but when the occasion comes together they are one or as Ziggy Marley sang, ‘Love is my religion.’  And I add, is also ageless.