Acedia

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24There are times when I have not wanted to be of this planet. In truth, I have grown weary with the world, the politics, and the unending changelessness of things. A presidential campaign lasting for more than two years. The power and wealth of the few and the continued suppression of the many. The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq still mounting in their toll of innocent lives. World famine and financial greed all increasing at alarming rates even when the tools to bring about change exist but are not implemented. The return of once eradicated diseases like cholera, scarlet fever, yellow fever, and polio now indifferent to the drugs previously used in their demise.

I do not want to be with friends nor do I seek to engage in new friendships. Phone calls and emails go unanswered or unreturned. I get through each day as another day of life doing the things I love, but somehow doing these things brings a different kind of satisfaction. It feels as if a completion of life to this point is being made. I find myself waiting for activities of the day to end so I can enjoy the blissful solitude of my own surroundings and wait for nightfall without interruptions. The darkness somehow feels safer for me now. There is nowhere, except for here, where I have to venture. I fall into the void of sleep with no thoughts of waking until the morning sun forcefully opens my eyes.

I am on a journey. It is not unlike journeys I have taken before except for the absence of a fixed timetable but this journey is internal, not external. Whenever I take journeys out into the world, I always come back with stories and experiences to share with friends. Small tokens commemorating the places to which I traveled. Pictures, postcards, etc.  I always come back a different person than the one who started the adventure initially but this journey is proving to be much different from those  I have taken before.

At first I thought I might be in a state of depression except for the fact that my feelings are not out of hopelessness or inadequacy nor are they out of synchronization with the events taking place in the outside world. It is more of a transition. A transformation of sorts. A transformation which takes me to my depths, rattles my brain, and challenges all my beliefs once again. I could blame these feelings on my aging and the facing of my impending death but I think it is more than a sense of doom. It is in a word, “acedia.” I know acedia is defined as “spiritual or mental sloth; apathy” in today’s English dictionary, but I prefer the medieval Latin and more philosophical spelling and definition to the modern psychological one. In Latin, accidie, as it was spelled, is a state that inhibits pleasure and prompts the rejection of life.* Thomas Aquinas associated it with the turning of one’s back on things, a torpor of spirit. Acedia is often translated as sloth, which is actually quite different.

The conditions of such a journey make it difficult to share with friends. I cannot explain something I am in the middle of experiencing myself. I have no photographs of pristine mountains covered with glistening white snow and no stories to share from fellow travelers met along the way. What I can share is this. The journey of transformation is one to be taken on numerous occasions throughout our lives. As soon as you finish with one, another waits on the sidelines to grab you and wisps you away. This type of journey requires a strength of belief. Not in a religious sense, as in a god, but a belief in oneself. A strength you may not even know was possible until you experience it firsthand and like those journeys taken into the outside world, you will return a much different person than when you entered. You will return with a greater truth and belief in yourself and your place in the world. Your awareness, acceptance, and understanding of life will be enhanced by the discoveries you learn about yourself. There is no preparation you can make ahead of time. There is no gear to pack and no magic wand can assist you along this journey. One does not take such a journey with plans to return to where one started nor do you know where or when it will end.

This life, in the end, is but a preparation for our final journey toward death. I believe the real journey starts when our essence or spirit is free of this body. I have loved and I have been loved. I do not ask for anything more.

I wish you well.

 

*Blackburn, Simon. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Walton Street, Oxford, England OX2 6DP: Oxford University Press, 1994.

​I Am Here! – The Poem

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0 There is one other thing to know…when you have expressed yourself to the fullest, then and only then will it dawn upon you that everything has already been expressed, not in words alone but in deed, and that all you need really do is say Amen! — Henry Miller

I watched as you swirled through space
a molten fragment of a star
and took your place third from the sun.
While you were still an infant wrapped in the
heat of your own creation,
I bathed in your red hot lava flows
pushed upward from your heart’s core.
Using your clouds of steam for stepping stones,
I climbed into your heavens and placed the stars
into the sky to navigate your journey through existence.
From your boiling seas, I watched you transform
from amoeba to fish and then crawl onto the land.
I forced the wind through your gills
and breathed your first breath into your lungs.
I rode on the backs of mastodons and led them
from the icy grotto of their death.
I watched as a proud mother your first erect steps.
When you stumbled, I gave you courage.
When you fell, I gave you hope.
And when you left this world, I gave you wonder.

I am the air you breathe,
the water you drink,
the vegetation which feeds your body.
I am the voice which speaks to you in whispers
and consoles you in your sleep.
I am the doorkeeper of your dreams
and the guardian of your fears.
I am the blood flowing in your veins
and every thought your mind interprets.
I am the love you feel when you don’t know why.
The tears you shed for both sorrow and joy.
I am life itself, and I am everywhere.
I am here, (mind) I am here, (body) I am here (soul).

Amen.

I Am Not Me Anymore, At Least I’m Not The Same Me I Was

vcxa8286To be full of strength and vigor one moment and virtually helpless the next, in the pink and pride of health one moment and a cripple the next, with all one’s powers and faculties one moment and without them the next – such a change, such suddenness, is difficult to comprehend, and the mind casts about for explanations. —  Oliver Sacks

 

One of the readers of these pages commented recently that I write a good deal about death. Strangely, a few weeks earlier a reader commented that she thought I wrote a lot about love. Everything is a matter of perspective based upon our experiences of the moment. To these readers I responded “I write about what I know about life and two of the strongest elements of my life are love and death.”

It has taken me two years to write about this experience. I do not know why as a day does not pass without my conscious remembrance, but until now, I have not written a single word about an event which completely changed my existence. The three things having the most influence upon my life have been my experiences, travel, and the people I meet along the way. On December 28, 2016, two years ago today, I had a heart attack, and everything in my life was suddenly and forever changed.

A heart attack is a scary, life threatening experience. I did not know if I would survive it. I believe remembering my EMT training and somehow getting a few aspirin into my body before I passed out on the bed saved my life, although I fumbled with the childproof cap for a few moments as my left arm was completely numb with pain. I was surprised when I regained consciousness as I saw death positioning himself to take my soul. The most frightening part was being alone and not having the mental or bodily control to call for help when it happened. I know exactly how my brother felt during his last moments of life when he recently died alone in his home of a heart attack. The police think he was trying to make it to the front door for help as he had his keys in his hand. I was doing everything I could to remain conscious that afternoon trying to get assistance. I had walked a bit farther than normal that day, nothing unusual. I thought I was just dehydrated until I stepped into my room and experienced that tightening in my chest. 

The attack itself was the most pain I had ever experienced. It was as if someone had put a 200 pound belt around my chest and tried to squeeze it into the last hole ten sizes smaller than my body. The pain through my left arm and my jaw was unbearable. I remembered thinking, “I know the symptoms, if it is my time, thank you for this life.” As I fell onto the bed, with my head almost drowning in sweat and waited to die, no position was comfortable and I could not speak to call for help. It was not possible to stand up. My entire body was overheating, bathed in perspiration, and in excruciating pain. I tried to focus my mind on the front door, perhaps I could make it, but I could no longer even move. The moment before I went unconscious from the pain I remember thinking, “I will go, but I am not ready yet.”

This all started around two o’clock in the afternoon. I regained consciousness around eight that evening. It was dark and I was not sure where I was until I was able to discern from the darkness my desk, my bed, my room, little by little coming back to me, or I was coming back to them. I do not know which. The pain was mostly gone. I could move my jaw and speak. The key indicator in knowing I was still alive was I had to pee. “I am still alive.” I said to no one or to anyone who might be listening. I did not expect to experience this life again.

I cannot change myself any more than I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps. Changes to ones self usually happen from outside the self primarily through experiences which the individual hopefully is prepared to handle. How can I change myself when I am asking that which I deem inadequate or in need of change, myself, to do the changing? To correct its own self? It is akin to asking Congress to police itself of its own corruption when corruption is its nature. An individual can only change himself through a lobotomy, death, a life altering, or other worldly experience. I am reminded of the Parable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

A  scorpion asks a frog to carry it across a river. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, they would both drown. Considering this, the frog agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When the frog asks the scorpion why, the scorpion replies that it was in its nature to do so.*

Our nature is who we are at the core of our being. I have had a number of life altering experiences. This life has taken me on many journeys, and I have come back, knock on wood, from each a changed person from the one who started the adventure. Each time I return with a larger spirit, with a greater capacity for love, for life, for the understanding and appreciation of my fellow man and woman, with an abundantly greater acceptance and love for myself. 

Although I do not wish a repeat of my experience and I do not wish a heart attack on anyone, I think everyone should have a metaphorical heart attack. An experience that takes your everyday life to the edge. An experience that shakes the body and soul from the roots of your everyday existence to the stratosphere of what it means to be alive. Unfortunately most humans will reach death without ever having such an experience in life. I hope you are not one of them.

Following my heart attack, I was uncertain if I would make it to my seventieth birthday. I am now approaching my seventieth-first. Life is complicated. I had no say in my arrival to this life and will have little input if any over my departure. In between I dance with the joy of being alive with greater appreciation for this gift I have been given. This is my nature.

Everything means something until one is dying. In that moment books, movies, lovers, paintings, collections of anything; suddenly, they no longer matter. Their prior importance and place in my life instantly disappeared. Their roles did not diminish, understand, they completely disappeared as if they never existed or had any importance what so ever. I was that close to death.

Everything means absolutely nothing when the heart is a beat away from its last beat. Life becomes a pin pointed focus. I was ready for death then but now the only thing that matters for the rest of my life is that I am alive. Death will come. I know that. I was given an extension, not to change my life necessarily, but to embrace it with a greater capacity. 

I am not the same me anymore, at least I’m not the same me I was.

————————

*The Scorpion and the Frog*

The title “I Am Not Me Anymore, At Least I’m Not The Same Me I Was” is taken from the book Motorcycle Diaries. The words were spoken by Alberto Granado at the end of his journey around parts of South America with Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

 

Does Life Get Better With Age?

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24This is not something anyone can tell you or if they do, you probably won’t believe them, but I am going to atempt to tell you just the same. I am stubborn that way. In my 20’s, I thought I knew everything, and I did from my perspective as a twenty year old. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I lived abroad, and I held a management position in Corporate America. Then in my 30’s I started climbing the corporate ladder at a fast track pace. My primary focus and measurement of success was how often I received a promotion. I lacked any true personal identity. My nickname in the neighborhood was Mr. IBM.

During my 40’s I started to ask the important questions concerning the quality of my life. What is important to me? Am I doing the work I want to do? Am I happy? I did not view this self examination as a “crisis.” No, it was an opportunity to switch gears in midstream if I so desired. I left the corporate world and stripped myself naked of the material abundance to which I had become accustomed. I sold the car, gave away the television, suits, skis, tennis rackets, and everything else which had become a symbol of the person who no longer existed. I decided to add back only those things which were necessary for my existence in the world. I traveled lightly without all the encumbrances which at one time seemed important and/or necessary. I sought a different way of being in the world.

As a result of the lessons learned during my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, I was now free to live my life any way I chose. Each segment of my life when examined individually has merit, but when explored in the totality of seventy years, it has purpose. I am supposed to be here. There is no doubt in my mind. I only know this due to having lived the life I have lived. I understand the value of life and I am grateful for the time I am allotted. I listen to the echoes of my own life and I am comfortable with my body. It is this body that endured the most changes over the years and I am grateful for its endurance, strength and good health. It, my body, survived a heart attack two years back giving additional years to love and reflect upon this life.

There was a time during my youth when the future was all I thought about. Today, in truth, I give it very little thought. For me, life gets better as I grow older because the innocent wonder of the child returns with age and blends with the wisdom gained through the experience of being alive. In the words of Ursula K Le Guin:

I’d like a poster showing two old people with stooped backs and arthritic hands and time-worn faces sitting talking, deep, deep in conversation. And the slogan would be “Old Age Is Not for the Young.”

It is true that youth is wasted on the young but we do not realize that truth until we get old enough to reflect back into our own life.

The Sum Of My Life

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24We 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!

Life, Death, And Creativity

B4C0A454-579E-47EC-B306-E76CD25BDF24I do not know if creative people have a more difficult life because of the stress of the creative process or we just hear about the tragedy of their lives more often because they are in the public’s eye. When I think of creative people like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Robin Williams, etc., I have to wonder if and how their lives are any more difficult than that of any other creative individuals, and yet we lose so much creative genius through substance abuse or suicides: Hemingway, Joplin, David Foster Wallace. What does creative genius do to one’s self image, one’s self esteem, so that individual has no other option than to destroy or end his/her life?

Perhaps living a creative life forces one to burn out faster. I mean how much can one person create? My friend Arne Nybak painted almost every day up until his death at 89. Without any judgement, I partially understand cases like Robin Williams. If I were in a situation where I could no longer do what I love, I might consider suicide a viable option. When Arne knew he would no longer be able to go to his studio and paint, he willed himself to die. I suppose I will never know unless I am in that situation. I believe I would chose death over being a continued burden to a loved one or to myself, but do I really know that?

When AIDS reached the shores of America in the 1980’s, we lost a large portion of our nation’s creative genius. I have a friend who at that time was a member of the Gay Men’s Choir in San Francisco. He tells the story of how the choir had to disband practices because at each practice they learned of another member’s death or infection with the disease. The emotional stress became too much to bear. He channelled his creativity into his business, but many could not find other creative outlets and their lives ended all too soon.

The truth is one does not know what he will do in a given situation until one is in it. Nothing really prepares us for life except living it day by day, situation by situation.

Thinking about things is what the philosopher in me does. When I have nothing to say through writing, I read. I do not pressure myself to write and I do not call it writer’s block (a negative term I do not use). It is just a pause in the creative process of writing, a time to breathe or take a break and do something else. I think society places too heavy a burden upon the backs of creative individuals but we also do it to ourselves in attempting to meet the needs of that society and often the needs of our own drive. Although it might lead to recognition, creativity is not about fame. Fame is so fleeting. Creativity is not. Our creative endeavors should not be driven by a greedy public’s demands. We are not only as good as our last studio album, or our last art showing, or our last book. There is nothing wrong with placing all of our creative energy into one project, one book, or one song. Creativity is not a production line.

In order for the creative process to not destroy the creator, we must control its place in our lives and not have it or society’s demand for more control us.

Life’s Greatest Gift

FCF38573-2929-4C13-B491-12CD9E788FD0What keeps me alive is found between the images, between the words, between thought, the emptiness of feeling, and in the emptiness of the body…there arises the fullness and significance of life…
Basarab Nicolescu

I have received so many gifts,
appearing as presents from you.
The still, shadowy, vapor filled clouds
you always loved to watch—
Their hearts are now fragments of your soul.
The songs of the ocean, gull and red tail,
each contains your warm voice.
The rock you loved to hold,
now embraces you between
its seven distinct layers.
Within this breath—
O’ this sweet touch of air,
That rushes in, to fill me with life—
Is the greatest gift of all.
It is you, alive, inside of me.