Merry Day After the Day After Christmas

I sing a song of Christmas
All  the things that happened and that didn’t happen
The times I reached out
And the times I kept my mouth shut
Christmas more than any other day
Is so overloaded with meanings
Memories and disappointments
How do we touch the fantasied
Joys of Christmas past?
How do we make up for
All the pain we have endured on this day?
And it’s not just us
All around us – everywhere in our society
People reaching too high
Being brought too low
If I can get this to happen with this person
I will be vindicated as a person
It will validate my life
Once all these false ornaments
Have fallen off the Christmas tree
What is left?

Today I kept my mouth shut
When I felt the urge to say things
That could have stirred old wounds
Today I completely emptied my storage locker
Itself an exercise in confronting old demons
And tiny Christine, the property manager
Offered, from the goodness of her heart,
To help me of the broken wing
My immobility an assault on my manliness
Not inconsequential
To hoist two boxes into my car
Then did it all by herself
And my hundred dollar monthly payments end today
Today, my therapist Lorrie listened to me
And helped me make sense of all this and more
Helped me understand
That I’m making up all the meanings I put on these things
That I don’t have to do anything to fix these things
That my pain is mine to deal with
That no one needs to heal it
That no one needs to hear it
But maybe my therapist and maybe a good friend
Today my housemate Lucy
A good friend
Listened to me
While I reinforced what I needed to remember from Lorrie
While I sorted out some things that were still not clear
While I praised  myself for some little victories
While I extolled my love for people who have helped me
And people who have pissed me off
Today the guy at Hearn’s Cycles
To whom I took my brother’s old bike

That he gave me when he was dying of cancer
And now it seems that I am never going to ride
And have no place to keep
Which I desperately wanted to save from  the dump
The Hearn’s guy, on whom I dumped all this story
Gave me a strong handshake
Looked me in the eye
And said “Your brother’s bike will have new life.
I promise you this.”

Today, having returned from slaying and being half slain by
All these dragons
At the storage locker and the bike shop and the dump
My little four pound dog Toni
Greeted me like the hero I’ve always tried to be
And in one day have proved so often not to be
And maybe am anyway
She snuggled in my arms
And got very quiet and totally content
In that moment she wanted nothing else
And in that moment, that one blessed moment
Neither did I.


I went to heaven

(I continue to be on sick leave from my broken arm.  Some combination of solitude, newly living in the country with a wonderful housemate, and all the love and support my friends have been pouring out on me seems to have me reflecting on my spiritual life.  Here’s part of the story.)

My early life was quite religious, but never spiritual.  My family life was loaded with trauma and my Catholic schooling was populated with a vengeful God – not a God of love, not a channel for transcendence.

Using marijuana in college (late 60’s) and taking several acid trips in grad school, I started to dismantle my ego.  Each acid trip started with an experience of such intense oneness that I just wanted to stay there – and was followed by my ego fighting back and leading me to terrifying dark places.

Also in graduate school I was exposed to Eastern religion. I was initiated into Transcendental Meditation and that first initiation took me to heaven – the freedom from the ego that I felt with acid, with none of the chaos or loss of control.  But, while I had many more nice experiences during my two years of TM meditation, I never went to heaven again.

Si Chinmoy took me to heaven.  I read Be Here Now by Ram Das (didn’t we all?) and came away from that reading really wanting a teacher.  I never had any sense that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of TM might be my teacher, but now I was ready for one.  I was living in upstate New York, but my wife and I had taken jobs in Nova Scotia.  Two weeks before we moved, I went to a yoga retreat at a nearby spiritual center that I had never visited.  I had heard that Ken Pillar, the director of the center, had a reputation as a psychic.  When I walked into the center for the first time, Ken called to me across a large room, “You’re going on a long tip – you’re going to meet your teacher.”

About a month after moving near Amherst Nova Scotia (we bought a little farm house on the Bay of Fundy 20 miles from our jobs in Asheville and in the neighboring Spring Hill), I was looking at a bulletin board in town.  It was devoid of any reference to personal growth, consciousness or Eastern religion.  Except for one poster for the Halifax Sri Chinmoy Meditation Center: “Open meditation Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.  No charge.”

Halifax was about three hours from Amherst.  I called the number on the poster and spoke with a very warm and friendly young man named Jim.  We arranged that I would leave work an hour early the next Wednesday and drive to Halifax, then stay overnight in a guest room at the center and drive back to Amherst the next morning before work.

That next Wednesday I was filled with happy anticipation: I was maybe on the path to meet my teacher!  I understood from Jim that Sri Chinmoy lived full-time in New York City (the Jamaica neighborhood in Queens).  It was a long trip from Halifax, but the “disciples” – which the committed students called themselves –  and other students would frequently pile in a car (lots of drivers) and drive the thirteen hours to New York, so there wold be plenty of opportunity to see “Guru”.  None of this talk of disciples or guru fazed me: I wanted a guru and I was ready to be a disciple.


Sri Chinmoy

I arrived at the meditation center about 15 minutes early and had some animated chatter with Jim and Harvey, who lived at the center, and about eight other people.  I was told that not all of them were disciples, that there was a special process you went through to become one – and that male disciples were dressed in crisply pressed white shirt and pants, and women in saris.  None of this caused even a bump for me.  I was picturing myself in those white shirts and pants.

Jim explained that Sri Chinmoy’s path followed a Hindu lineage called bhakti yoga – the yoga of love, devotion, and surrender.  This lineage was strong in the part of Bengal where Sri Chinmoy was born, including the Sri Aurobindo ashram where he grew up. The way you meditated was to sit (everybody sat in straight-backed chairs) and look at a table with a tall lighted candle and a picture of the guru in his highest meditation.  You could meditate on the candle flame or the picture.  Because, in the picture, Guru was looking at the divine – the Supreme, our divine father – looking at him could take you there.

Sri Chinmoy meditates

Sri Chinmoy looking at God

When the meditation began, I had a few minutes of restlessness, then got quiet inside.  After two years of TM, 20 minutes twice a day, I did have some skill at quieting my mind.  But I was not prepared for what came next: I went back to heaven!  That experience of transcendence that I had experienced once only in two years of TM was right here again – and if anything even stronger.  I’m not going to try to describe how happy I was.

That night I went to bed filled with peace and happiness.  Even though I was sleeping in a strange place, I slipped easily into sleep – and all night long I had terrifying dreams of a strange Indian guy who was trying to steal my mind! In the morning, I dressed quietly and slipped down the hall to where my shoes would be waiting by the front door – and I could escape.  When I tiptoed past Jim’s room, he called out, “John!” “Yeah.”  “Do you want to meditate?”  “Er, uh, sure.”  I don’t remember what went through my mind as I prepared to meditate.  What I remember with extraordinary vividness is that as my breathing quieted and my body got peaceful and I looked at the picture of  the guru, I went right back to heaven again!

This experience of visiting heaven repeated many times over the next three years on the Sri Chinmoy path – and very seldom in the forty years since I left it.  I’ve had many wonderful experiences, but not that.  As my friend Tom Kilby said to me tonight when I described some of this to him, “Dude, you’ve been to heaven!  What’s up now?  Why are you not going there?”  In this time of solitude and no work and all this love and support flooding in to me, I think I am meant to explore this question.


A Legacy Of Loss And Loneliness

You are so beautiful

I’m on the shelf – injured, out of work.  It’s meant to be a time of reflection.  My minister, who prizes my  poetry, threw down the gauntlet: “Write a poem about yourself.”  (My therapist had given me the same assignment a half-dozen times – “But I wasn’t out of work then, Lorrie!”) My last blog post “The miracle of the surgery scheduling” is all about being loved and protected – and that story keeps making me cry.  My friend Kimberly  read that post and left a comment: “You are so loved and protected every minute of the day. We all love you Majo!” I sent that to my therapist, who I am scheduled to see on Tuesday, along with this thought from me: “I think I was put here to discover the truth of that. If realizing that the OR scheduler saved a precious slot for me makes me cry every time, then realizing how totally loved I am – what will that do?”  I’m meant to get my hands around this. And so I wrote a poem.  It poured out as fast as I could type it.  It came from somewhere else – certainly not from my limited mind. Some of it may speak to you. 

You Are So Beautiful
When I was growing up, it was not safe to be good
I was born nine years into my parents’ marriage
A miracle baby, when they had almost given up
I was adored – a little God
My karma was set – I was meant to be worshipped
Then 16 months later my little brother was born
I was the miracle child – the prince
And he was, “Oh, he’s nice too”
And thus my real life path was set
I am meant to be wonderful
But not to get caught at it
By someone who will be hurt by it

Then, after my father died
My mother remarried
A man who hated me for being the apple of her eye
My own father’s jealousy was softened by his pride in me
I was his son
My stepfather not only hated me
He hated my mother for loving me
And so I was the cause of so much pain between them
Not just me – my goodness
My goodness caused pain
My goodness was a bad thing

The nuns taught us about the sin of pride
To like yourself is a bad thing

I have spun several theories about why in college
I loved my fraternity so much
Awesome parties, drinking was a lot of fun
The frat drew pretty girls
The guys in this particular fraternity
Were serious students, very smart, very funny
I have, over the years, spun several theories
But now, in this moment, I go to the heart of it:
I liked that fraternity
Because those guys liked themselves
And so they liked me
And they were a kind of community
When I shined in academics
Or in running track – really, it was a few years ago
I reflected well on them
It was safe to be good

My friend Kate the other night
Was journaling on her shadow
She asked me “What’s the opposite of jealousy?”
I said oneness
I learned it from Sri Chinmoy
My old spiritual teacher
When we would be jealous of the San Franciso meditation center
So loaded with musical talent
He said, “You are separating yourself
From them – that’s the big mistake.
Feel your oneness with them.”

And now at Jubilee
People love me so much
Appreciate my poetry so much
But they appreciate me
Because my poetry is so personal
I show so much shadow in my poetry
Poke so much fun at myself
I think people get it that
I’m not all full of myself
But still it’s safe to like myself
When I need a fix
I’ll go to the prayer wall, to Ruth Stephens
She’ll say, “We all love you so much”
It’s a community – it’s about us
It’s like a fraternity on steroids
Or really on grace
It’s why we like the musicians and the other artists
When they shine – the Paulas, the Delias, the Daniels, the Shems, the Jim Taylors, the Brian Claflins
Then we shine

I have this housemate Lucy who clearly is amazing in many ways
I told her so – “You really are amazing”
She admitted it – “I think I really am amazing”
It was thrilling – we have it out in the open, not hidden
If she knows that she’s amazing
Then I don’t have to hide it that I’m amazing
She won’t hate me for it
She loves me for it
One thing on which we always seem to agree
We each think the other is amazing

Yesterday at Jubilee
We sang to a newly baptized little boy
As his parents carried him around the room
For us to adore him
The Joe Cocker song
“You are so beautiful”
Did I resent him for being adored?
No, I got really happy!
It happens most every time
Baptisms are the best!
I think for mostly all of us
Why do we not get jealous of these little babes?
There is some magic here
Is it their innocence, their vulnerability?
Is it the active or latent parent in each of us
When we see this little child so deeply loved
We feel loved too
They called the child Redeemer
And so it is – we are redeemed.

The miracle of the surgery scheduling. 

I sustained my injury in the middle of Saturday night.  The ER doc referred me to an orthopedic specialist who I saw the next Wednesday.  She looked at the x-rays that had been sent to her from the ER and re-wrapped the arm – making no attempt to set anything.  “You can see here how the bone is shattered.  If you are willing to do it, what it needs is surgery – plates and screws.”  I was not surprised at the need for surgery – the ER doc had called it a “nasty break”.  When I checked out of the office, they scheduled me for surgery on Friday nine days out.  I could see no reason for waiting that long – they had not set anything, nothing was going to be healing – except that they just didn’t have an OR appointment available any earlier.

That was Wednesday.  Friday around 12:30 p.m., I found a voice message that had slipped by me in my phone.  Actually I realized that when I got up that morning I had not turned my ringer back on.  “This is Charlotte from Dr. Riley’s office.  We have had a surgery time come open on Monday morning and wonder if you could take it.  Call me back at extension 2561.”  I was thrilled and immediately disturbed.  “That message has been sitting in my voice mail for 90 minutes.  That’s a long time – this doesn’t feel good.”

Charlotte didn’t answer at x2561 and, since this was her direct line, I could think of nothing else to do but just to leave her a message.  And I felt terrible!  “This is the last working day before Monday.  They are going to lose a lot of income if they don’t fill that OR slot.  They immediately, after leaving the message for me, continued to work their way down the list of other people who might want to move their surgery forward.  And almost certainly they will find someone who, like me, sees no point in waiting around until Friday.  And all because I never turned my ringer on.  This is all fucked up – and it’s all my fault!”

About ten minutes later, Charlotte called me back.  I barely let her say hello before blurting out,

“Did I get the spot?”
“Yes, you got it.”
I didn’t believe it.  “But you left your message 90 minutes ago.”
“That’s alright  – you got it.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. You have to fill that spot – it’s too expensive to let it go.”
“But it’s your spot.”
My mind was racing.  I didn’t say, but I rapid-fire thought, “That’s not the way it works.  Medicine is a business – it’s about making money.  This isn’t about my spot – it’s about getting someone in that OR bed, now, before the weekend.”
“We saved it for you.”
I didn’t cry on the phone with Charlotte, but this is the point in the story where I always cry, even now ten days later.
“We saved it for you because you needed it the most.”
It wasn’t about me screwing up or not screwing up.  Their decision was not based about getting a body in a bed.  They risked losing that lucrative OR slot because Charlotte wanted to do the right thing – wanted to give it to the patient who needed it the most.

In that moment not only was I forgiven, but the doctors were forgiven.  In that moment, there was nothing but forgiveness.

On the shelf

I’m on the shelf.

Two weeks ago today, I fell in my dark bedroom and shattered the radius bone of my left arm where it connects to my wrist.  It was surgically repaired five days ago – one big metal plate and five screws.


one big plate


5 screws

I have, pretty obviously, been out of work for the last two weeks – the pain in that arm is starting to lighten up, but for the first week any contact with that arm hurt like hell.  And while grocery store cashiering is not super-physical, it definitely involves using both hands.

Lucy the CNA.  A few days after my accident, which occurred in the middle of the night, I tried to reconstruct the events, especially as regards my new housemate Lucy.  “Did Lucy see me naked?”  At first I did not have an answer to this question, but then some of the memories started to fill in.  In the country pitch dark, in my new – three weeks -bedroom, I attempted to sit on the side of my bed, missed and crashed down on my bracing arm.  I emitted a scream that must have frightened my little dog, peacefully ensconced at her usual lower corner of the bed.  I then proceeded to get dressed, wincing and grunting and swearing.  Seeing how much every impact with that wrist hurt after it was wrapped in the ER, I don’t know how I managed to get dressed.  I think I was highly motivated.

So, when I walked to the other end of the house, knocked on Lucy’s door and called “Lucy…I have to go to the hospital.”, I was fully dressed.  And that has been a guiding principle in my convalescence here: “Lucy shall not see me naked.” This principle got trickier when she helped me shower.  The first challenge was figuring out the “Jim-Dandy Chinese Cast Protector” that I bought at the CVS.  cast protectorLucy immediately established herself as more technical than me, figuring out the 12 teeny-tiny photos and to-me non-user-friendly text.

Next we needed to wrap the bum arm in the protector, which involved unwrapping me first.  I managed to hold up my towel with Lucy seeing no more than my fat belly, which was humiliating enough.  Lucy actually has work history as a CNA, so theoretically none of this should be a problem.  But she ain’t my CNA and for me we have been teetering right on the edge of a problem.

Snowed in.  Today it’s not just me off from work – it’s everyone!  These snow days feel like forgiveness.  I’m not the one who isn’t working – it’s a day that’s all about not working.  And these are days for writing.  Thursday I wrote two poems – a birthday poem for my son and one to honor my friend Amanda.  Yesterday I wrote a poem for a young woman that was commissioned for charity at my church.  This has all felt like amazing abundance – truly a gift.snow 1snow 2snow 3

Today, because I have the whole day on my hands and we can’t get out, you all get this. Actually because me and my birthday buddy Matt – also in Asheville – both have off.  Matt and I met in  a writing class with our friend Nina Hart and kind of stand for writing for each other.  So when I saw on Facebook this morning that it’s his birthday, right after I wished him a happy birthday, I asked if he was writing.  Which could be mean if he’s not, but I don’t have the moral high ground  – I haven’t (before just now) written anything for this blog for two weeks.  So that’s just what happened: he replied that he was writing some, not enough and I threw down the gauntlet: “We’re both snowed in, right?  Let’s write something.”  It’s working for me – I hope it’s working for him.

There we go,  my new blog post.  It worked for me – I hope it worked for you.