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
Societies
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
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

picture-of-old-bicycle
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.

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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.

srichinmoycloseup

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.

 

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.

Is it a good thing for them to give?

Not always.

We’re asking for money at the cash registers again – for a very good cause, one I can really get behind (Our Voice, a community agency that fights against sexual and domestic abuse).  There are all kinds of good reasons why it might be good for our customers to say “No”.  They may need to pull their energy in today.  Even thinking about this agency may trigger some of their own traumatic experiences.  The bottom line is that in that moment “No” may have the most integrity for them – may in some way even be healing.

Brother...

If we want to let it be equally as good for them to say “No” as “Yes”, then – to keep our own energy intact – we need to somehow just not care whether they give or not.   We need to plant our feet, take a deep breath, hold our center – and simply be glad we asked.  That’s all: we did our part in the dance.  Now we turn it over.

Now here’s where there’s a delicate paradox.  At the same time that you don’t care whether they give or not – while you say to yourself that “No” may be just the right answer for them – still it’s OK and maybe useful to have another part of your mental machinery that is pulling for them to say “Yes”.

Why?  Because, overall, yes is more life-affirming than no.  It’s good to say yes. It’s a celebration of life.  Be happy for them that they are in a place of yes.  If they are in a conflicted place, cheer for them to break through their no barriers and choose life.

Bless them whichever way they choose.  This is good for you too.  Embrace life. Don’t ask because you are supposed to ask or because it will look good in your numbers.  Ask because you believe in the cause.  Ask because you want be filled with yes energy.  Ask because you want to offer your customer the chance to have a yes moment.  Ask  because it’s a chance – in a job that sometimes can become robotic – for real human contact.  Ask because otherwise you’re just swiping groceries.

Bring out all your compassion for customers who are in a place of no.  It’s a painful place.  I say “Great”, whether people say yes or no – and I really mean it.  When I say “Have a great day”, I lean into it even a little more with people who have said no.  “I think your day maybe hasn’t been all that great so far.  I wish for it to get better.”

I give them all my big toothy grin at the end.  If they think I’m a goof, so be it.  It may help them dispel any energy that accumulated during this transaction.  It might be right.

My blessings list

All day long at the grocery store, I ask people “What’s been a highlight of your day?” I breeze right past “How are you today?”, which tends to pull for a lot of bullshit.  If they beat me to the punch and ask me how I am, I give the obligatory “Fine” (which they are liable not to believe any way) and jump to the good stuff.

If they reflect my question as “What’s been the highlight of my day?”, I correct them.  “A highlight, not the highlight – you don’t have to figure out what was the biggest one.  Just pick any one of the little ones.”

Part of the point of this is to get us/me to focus on all these little ones – to notice that they are happening.  Another, less secular version of this is my blessings list.  I periodically wander away from this – forget to do it for months at a time.  Then a big blessing is that something brings me back to it.

Absent practices like this I become a little unintentional atheist.  My ego/mind takes over and convinces me that all is chaos, that I am alone and helpless in this big, uncaring world.

I can create my list in lots of formats: maybe my fav is here in my laptop, but I can also write them down in my little pocket-sized spiral-bound notebook or aloud as I drive home from work.  When my dog was still alive, I used to do this almost every evening as I took him for a walk – that was a juicy way to do it, because I was surrounded by blessings: being out for a walk, my neighborhood which I liked, the company of my dog who I loved.  I can directly trace the loss of this practice – two years ago, yikes! – to the loss of my dog.

This example, from my morning, shows how little these blessings can be:

  • Tuesday – 2/9
    • 67 biltmore – spotting that brochure just when i was trying to remember the name of the restaurant
    • google calendar – lots of good stuff, really apprecitaing my smartphhone
    • i get to get a new phone in July!
    • I can feel so good about something happening so many months from now!
    • making plans with the cortes family
    • Netflix worked – Kung Fu Panda shipped
    • a whole new world of Netflix! (I used to belong, but not for several years now)
    • I am having a very pleasant time at my desk thismorning
    • I made myself a nice breakfast

 

I am making plans to attend a meditation at the Open Heart meditation center here in Asheville.  Just thinking about this – and talking with Steve Swearingen and Bob Lantis, two friends who attend and are very enthused about it – has got me going back to two practices that massage my heart: my prayer list (which I resumed a couple of weeks ago) and this blessings list, resumed yesterday.

What’s going to happen when i crack the book Steve loaned me or listen to the meditation CD – much less make it to the actual center?!

The Whale (Majo,2005)

I ride the back of a massive whale
Called luck
Or chance
Or the convergence of the spheres
Or “Just coincidence, you dreamer, you”.

When my son was 12,
I told him that God winked at us
When things converged
He thought me more goofy then
Than even I was wont to be.
Today he says it back to me.

I worked as a gasoline station cashier
I played with numbers all day long
They winked at me many times a day.
My boss and I talked of what life was like
In the 70’s in the good old USA
As we talk, this woman writes her check
For her gas and cigarettes combined
It comes to 19 dollars and 70 cents –
Why?

This girl says her birthday is today
She’s 29 years old
Her several purchases add up
To twenty-nine dollars on the head.
What kind of dance is this
This rhythm of the spheres?

At my fav place to fill my tank
My charge for gas is thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents
The cashier there knows my numbers thing
And is less enrapt with the synchronicities of life
“Boring number this time, hon.”
Next stop the food co-op
My total there thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents.

This whale
Which dwells so far below
The waves which toss our human lives
Has breeched
It takes my breath away
While my mind sees but an empty sea

This is the first or second grade
Of the “everything thing in synch” elementary school
But fun and helps me pass the time
And, in their so-light ways
These connections
Dare me to still believe
This world is chaos, just
The senseless random bounce
Of the billiard balls of life.

Why is this old song
On the radio at this just perfect time?
Or, coming ‘round that bend
Why is this perfect person there?
Is everything connected?
Do my five senses know
How to perceive beyond
The seeming separateness of things?

This sixth sense – sleeping most the time
Sees the web, the one tapestry of life
Can see what’s next
Because it’s all there at once
All the time.

Could it be
No matter what I think of you
Or my gripes that you
Are even here at all
That you were always meant to be right here
Right this moment, now?

If I dive deep
Engage with you more full
It might get clear
The wink you have for me
And I for you

If some events synch up like this
How can I make this happen more
Here in Asheville, where these things go on
Faster and much more than in the normal world?

What if the secret is
That it’s not for me to do it all
That I may not do anything?
This freeze-frame
Where all seems one
May really mean that all is one
There are no actors
Or those they act upon.

There is just life
Dancing its dance
Dancing us
Even when we just sit and watch.