Simplicity

The smaller you live (materially-speaking), the bigger you can live (creatively-speaking). — Elizabeth Gilbert

I wish I had known these word earlier in my life, but then I would not have had the experiences to make the words valid. Living a small simple life provides me the freedom to live my life the way I choose to live, and a foundation now based upon simplicity keeps that bond strong.

I have not always lived in this manner. For a good part of my early life I lived rather high on the hog. Part of this was due to my own views of life and part of it was due to my wanting to please others, my wife and my ego. I lived a life I enjoyed at the time only because I thought it was the way things were meant to be. I played the game of keeping up with the Jones without even knowing them.

The change came about suddenly. I found myself in perpetual debt paying for a life I could not afford and working in a job I did not like in order to try to pay for that life. My life had become full of stuff and the maintenance and use of that stuff was costing me more than I could afford in both time and money. Yea, I liked going skiing on the weekends, attending tennis camps during the summers, and membership in the local health club, but it all came at a cost I could not afford. I was living the champagne life on less than a beer budget.

When I left my corporate job, I gave away all the stuff I had accumulated, paid off my bills, and started over from scratch. Before every purchase, I would calculate the numbers of hours I had to work for that item. Was a television or car worth the number of hours I had to work to pay for it? No! became a more familiar word in my vocabulary. I found I did not need or even want those things which filled my previous life anymore. I rode a bike. I worked at a job I loved in a bookstore. Those material things which at one time defined me were no longer a part of my life.

I found myself with free time for the first time since I graduated from college. I discovered things I was interested in doing rather than doing things because everyone else was doing them and because I thought they gave me a certain status. I stopped caring what other people thought and stopped worrying about their judgements. In simplifying my life I found the time and space for my creative energy to be born and more important, I shed all the masks I had worn and found myself sitting quietly alone waiting to be discovered.

They Just Don’t Understand Me

am an Aries in Western astrology. A triple fire sign with sun in Aries, moon in Leo, and rising sign in Sagittarius. There is very little earth and no water in my chart, mostly fire and air. Therefore there are no conficting elements. In Chinese astrology, I am the Rat. A creature who enjoys being on the outside looking in, as the outside acords me a clearer view into the inner workings of a particular situation or problem. On the Meyers-Briggs Personality chart I am an INFP, roughly three percent of the population at large. I am introverted, quiet and reserved, intuitive, feeling, and perceptive. I prefer being alone or interacting with a select group of close friends to large groups. I rely upon intuition, and I am generally focused on the big picture more than the minor details. I am meticulous about things and people I care about. The decisions in my life are made based upon my personal feelings more than what might be called objective information, and although I was a philosophy major in college, my decisions are based on personal values more so than logic. In tarot, I am the Fool, the card without a number or in some decks the zero card. I am a soul in search of experience.

So in summary, I am an Aries Rat INFP Zero Fool. Does not sound too great does it and yet these interpretations summarize to some extent my personality, who I am by definition using these tools.

The closest I have ever come to a tribal identity were the two years I lived at Esalen. There was a connection with the people with whom I worked and lived that I had not previously encountered nor have I experienced since. And yet I left Esalen because I felt my individual identity suffered there. I have no national identity. I no longer identify with America as my homeland because of its racist policies and practices toward Black Americans and other minority groups around the world. I no longer have a family identity and although I am Black, I no longer have an identity based upon race as I did during my rebellious years in college. I feel a kinship with Black Ecuadorians but because their experiences are different, I do not know if they feel a similar kinship with me. The only identity I still process is my identity as an individual which denies all the tools used to establish personality traits which by their very nature are general at best.

I do not know that I will ever be understood. My extroverted friends throw surprise parties for me when I would rather spend the day in silent retreat. They want to surround me with people when I would rather be alone. They try to make me like themselves rather than accepting the stark reality that I am different. They are energized by groups while I find groups draining of my energy because they require too much attention. They find it diffcult to accept the fact I love my solitude because they are unable to spend time alone. They require almost constant entertainment. They want to fix or change me when I require neither fixing or changing. I have accepted the truth that as an Aries Rat INFP Zero Fool, I may never be understood by my fellow humans except for those who share similar traits, and that to me is perfectly okay.

The Sum Of My Life

We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come. – Milan Kundera

Today, I have been alive on this planet for 24,500 days or 588,000 hours. If I am blessed to live to the age of seventy, I will have inhabited this planet for 25,550 days, or 613,200 hours. Much longer than the three day lifespan of the fruit fly and shorter than Methuselah’s nine hundred sixty nine years.

It is easy to extrapolate back into time to calculate the amount of time spent performing the various activities of my life. When looking back, everything has already been done. The sum of the life already lived can easily become a mathematical equation. How much time did I spend…and the more crucial question was the time well spent?

The past is fixed. I lived the life I did. What concerns me more is how I am going to spend the next 1050 days or 25,200 hours if in truth I am permitted that much time. That I am concerned about the time I have ahead is unusual. It surprises me to know I am thinking of future possibilities. I cherish so this moment.

“Old souls always bloom late,” a Jamaican tarot card reader told me some forty years ago. The fact that I remember her words now seems somehow right in step with my life. I am aging. I welcome this process. It is the continuum of coming into my own. The seeds for other possibilities have been sown. I am free of the burden of my employment which I consider the slavery of the modern age. My creative energies feel alive and are flourishing. I dream of all the possibilities life still holds.

My life has been well lived and I am still blooming!

Know ThySelf

From the time I was a small boy, the words “Know ThySelf” have reverberated like an echo throughout my life and consciousness. I remember first reading these words in the Book of Knowledge, a set of encyclopedias my mother purchased from a door to door salesman for my brother and I to expand our world beyond the ghetto streets of Trenton, New Jersey. The words made reference to an inscription on the sacred oracle at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The next time I encountered this epithet was in college as a philosophy major studying the works of Plato. Then again while reading one of my favorite poets, Rumi, who asks the question,

“Who am I in the midst of all this traffic of thoughts?”

These words then appeared in a more modern mode in the Matrix movie series over the kitchen doorway of the matronly oracle of the movie.

Know thyself. Is that even possible? The self or what we think of as the self, the who that we are, is always changing. I am not the same person I was as a college student, nor as a young father, nor as I was a year ago, or yesterday for that matter. The self is always in flux. How many times have we said or at least thought, “He’s not than same person I once knew? He has changed.” We all change as a part of the natural flow of life. Biologically our total cellular makeup is almost completely replaced every eighteen hours. We must adopt or perish insisted Darwin.

In light of constant change, it would seem we might only know the self in retrospect. It is knowing the self by retrieving the story of one’s own life in the way one would write a biography. A biographer reviews his life after the events comprising that life have occurred and not as they happen. The act of recording an event filters the event and the self. We record our reactions and fill in the blanks as best we can. To know one’s self seemingly would entail knowing how we would react before our actual actions occur, but is that possible?

My instructor in the martial arts was a scholar as well as a teacher. He did not believe in “what if” scenarios. When asked how to defend a particular hold or attack, his answer was always the same.

Open your eyes, clear your mind, focus. Give attention to whatever is in your immediate field of energy.

This, I learned later, is the key to every situation one is confronted with in life. It is most important to focus on what is directly confronting you in that moment. In that moment of confrontation with either the self or another opponent nothing else matters. When our reactions are automatic, it is akin to having a habit. We do not clearly access the situation and respond from instinct. I learned this lesson when walking home one night a friend came up behind me to surprise me and I reacted by throwing him to the ground. I did not access the situation. I reacted to what I thought was the situation.

There have been times in my life when I thought I knew myself, but I now believe that knowing one’s self completely at all times is not possible. You have to evaluate each person and each situation on a case-by-case basis. Doing so consistently is the closest one can get to knowing one’s self. Not your reaction to a situation but your consistent method of response to any situation. That response is to “Open your eyes, clear your mind, and focus.”

Find Your Own Shtick

It’s about what YOU are going to do with the short time you have left on this earth… Put your whole self into it, and you will find your true voice. Hold back and you won’t. It’s that simple…Part of being a master is learning how to sing in nobody else’s voice but your own. — Hugh Macleod

The path of uncertainty is still a path…

I created this site to share what I have learned from and about life. A rope extended in case you ever need something to hold onto for a while as those before me did for me. A book, a hand, or a word is often the needed spark to keep us going. The path we choose is different for each of us. No two are alike. I respect those individuals who always knew exactly what they wanted to do in life and followed that path. I never did. I still don’t.

I did all the things I thought I was supposed to do as a young man entering this world. I worked hard, fell in love, married, conceived a daughter, and divorced.  I spent fifteen years in Human Resources trying to be what I was not, a corporate man. I was on a road of conformity trying to blend into a world in which I did not fit, until I could follow no longer.  M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Travelled, was a significant influence on me to begin my personal journey in the mid eighties. It inspired in me the courage to leap into uncertainty.

Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “He who follows any man ceases to follow himself.” Confronting myself was therefore the first step. If I no longer wanted to follow this path of conformity, did I believe in myself enough to forge a different trail?

It is unfortunate that our world places so much value on conformity and very little on creativity. The struggle for personal integrity is a never ending war. I sought a life not drenched in dogma, potholed with beliefs, or railed with fear. So, I challenged everything I thought was true. I questioned everything I believed and separated myself from exposure to the world’s fear as much as I could. I remembered Descartes’s words from a philosophy lecture at college, “In order to reach the truth, it is necessary, once in one’s life, to put everything in doubt — so far as possible.”

Tomorrow, the next experience, destination, or life change  is uncertain, but I do not feel lost. When I let go of my preconceptions of life, life flows. I flow with it.  There is not much conflict and little fear in my life today. I have come to trust myself on this road less travelled and this path has brought me ‘here.’

I have few beliefs. I trust the memories I need to remember will surface when needed but my memories are not my life.  I do not have the time to relive what I have already lived. My life is this moment. There is too much happening right now to think of the moment before this one. The notes of a saxophone playing on the radio, the flickering of the fire’s flame above the candle’s wick, or the cat curled asleep on the bed. As my thoughts are with this moment, my fingers are typing to catch up from the last. In the end we only remember moments. Days, weeks, months, years, lifetimes… disappear.

Of this, I am certain.

How Does One Know God?

To most Western Civilizations the image of God that comes to mind when one thinks of God is the painted image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He (God) is the clothed white haired man, supported by a host of angels, reaching out to touch man, who is naked, with the gift of life. Even as a child I always thought it was strange that God would be wearing clothes since shame/sin had not existed before the eating of the apple by Eve in the Story of Creation.

In Eastern Cultures, the image of God takes on many forms, most of which are more mythical than human although most process human features. There are over twenty forms of Kali, the Hindu goddess of dissolution and destruction who is known for destroying ignorance. Kali means The Black One, the color in which all other colors merge and dissolve. Just as black is the absence of all color, all names and gods disappear in Kali. She is the ultimate goddess. Perhaps the female counterpart of the Christian God.

My personal belief around knowing God is just that, “personal.” It is not derived from any religious teachings or prophets, although I have read and studied many, but from a single dream which left me in awe.

The Temple to God

I saw in a dream…

I am attending a meeting of the worlds religious leaders to dedicate a new temple to God. The temple is built in the middle of the desert with no other life within miles. It is made of granite columns extending hundreds of feet into the air where they meets a massive covering made of ornate glasses connected with beams of gold. The floor of the temple is busy with the debates of world religious leaders at one end and an open air market at the other. There are no walls but entrances appear between the arched Greek designed columns.

The market place is filled with the artifacts of all the world’s religions. There is the schrod of Jesus and the wooden bowl of Buddha. The original manuscript of the Koran. The scribe with which Confucius wrote his wisdom for mankind.

I am myself, dressed in today’s fashion but everyone else is dressed in the fashion of the time when their religion was established. One man dressed in the colorful robes of a desert leader is addressing a large contingency. He insists that God’s temple is within and no building no matter how large or beautiful houses God. He is encouraging all the participants to go outside to witness God in his true house but they are reluctant to leave the new monument.

A desert wind suddenly blows through the temple extinguishing all the candles and lights, so the crowd disperses outside to view the temple in the sunset. I go outside but instead of looking at the temple, I notice a small dust twister no more than two inches high carving something in the sand at my feet. The carvings were an ancient alphabet but the translation was this: “You must know God in a way which leaves the greatest impression upon you as an individual.” The twister now flattens out and blows away the message it just created and then itself disappears. I look up to see if anyone else had witnessed this event but everyone’s eyes were focused on the Temple to God.

Milestones Of Age—What Is Real?

I remember when I couldn’t wait to be five years old so I could start kindergarten. I was busting at the seems to be thirteen so I could be a teenager and not a child any more. Turning eighteen was not an exciting milestone because I was required to register for the draft. Fortunately I was never called to fight in Viet Nam, the Iraq War of the Sixties.

Then I was twenty one. I could now vote in federal and state elections and more importantly, I was finally a man. Huh!

I blindly stumbled through my early adult life having no owner’s manual to guide my steps. I learned from my own experiences and from the wisdom and experiences of others. Upon reaching thirty I was part of the very establishment that I protested against in my twenties. I was living the American Dream or whatever I had been brainwashed to believe was the “dream.”

At forty I was living a completely different life. I was leading vacation bicycle trips to beautiful and exotic locations around the world. When I had given enough time to that or any endeavor, I moved on. I learned to trust my instincts, to follow my heart, and to believe in myself during my forties. My hair started to be loved off. I was becoming “Real.”

During my fifties the physical changes to my body grew exponentially. I remember reading somewhere that up until our early twenties the body produces more cells than it destroys and then suddenly starts loosing more cells than it produces. This trend lasts until our death. Literally the body spends twenty years building itself and sixty years breaking itself down. Although the process occurs over some eighty odd years it is remembered in milestones. The first grey hair, the use of reading glasses when your arms cannot hold the book far enough away to be read, and the first time someone mentions the bald spot on the back of your head or your receding hairline.

“Hey, didn’t you use to have a widow’s peak?”

A few weeks ago I pulled a muscle in my back which greatly affected my mobility and range of motion. One morning I slowly made it out of my bed and used the full distance between the bed and the bathroom to reach an erect walking position. I turned on the light. I was shocked by the image in the mirror looking back at me. I had been looking at myself in the mirror for 58 years but I did not recognize this reflection. The skin hung from his face the way a wet rag hangs on a doorknob. The bags under his eye could have saved the levees in New Orleans from breaking. His body was limp, seemingly without any muscle mass at all. He looked strange, ugly.

Then I searched his eyes for some points of similarity, familiarity. He had a very compassionate heart, an inquiring mind, and a loving spirit. He struggled with man’s inhumanity to man but had found a place of peace within this shabby reflected image. He was a loner but well loved by those who had shared time in his presence. He strived to be understanding before seeking to be understood. He was the five year old starting school, the rebellious young adult fighting for human rights, and the corporate man living the good life. He was the antithesis, the confirmation, the mirrored reflection of all I had become gathered into that single reflection.

My face looked old, my hair was either gray or missing, my joints were not as lose as I would have liked for them to be but my reflection was real and “once you are ‘Real,’ you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”