This Time Alone

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And so I spend my time remembering
that brightness which fills my soul
and tears apart my heart.
The courtship of queen and king,
the journeys shared and taken,
the love which held us together
when no hope could save us.
I open each door hoping you’ll appear
if only as a ghostly wisp of yourself.

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Strange thing this swirling of lives,
the yin and yang, separated in union,
united by the one part
of the other each holds onto.
You fill so much of my life,
even, this time alone.

How Does One Know God?

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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?

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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."

If I Should Die, Before I Wake

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Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time? — John Updike

I am more conscious of death's inevitability as I age. Knowing death can come for me at any time, I live my life more fully now. I don't have a checkoff sheet or bucket list to complete. I live it, everyday. The things I want to do, I do. The places I want to see, I visit. The men and women I love, I love as best I know how. I like to think the friends I leave behind understand the part we each played in the life of the other. It is my hope you are living your life to its full potential and you hold joy filled memories of the times we shared. It has never been my nature to stick around, go back, or keep in touch after I leave a place or a chapter in life. We are all but actors in the other's dream and I am merely your understudy. You are the star. Remember that!

Henry Miller said:

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware."

This is how I live my life. This is how I want to die. So Death! Do not sneak up upon me in my sleep. I want to see the end you say awaits this life. I want to look into your eyes from the eyes of one who is aware. I want to live life right up to the very moment my essence seeps out from this body and greets you, face to face, soul to lifeless soul.

Resurrection - Life UnMasked

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The moment I let go of whatever it was I held onto, the life flow took over and is preparing me for the journey ahead. I feel a shedding of skins, of all the masks I have worn in my life. Some friends have already noticed the change.

In the market a few days ago, a young man called out, "Hey, does the library have a copy of ... yet?" and he was looking straight at me. I recognized him as a patron from the library but did not know him personally.

"You have to check on line. I retired six months ago," I responded.

"Okay, thanks."

In my mind the mask of the librarian with instantaneous answers died six months ago, but to this young man I was still the same person. That is one of the conundrums with masks. It is not only the mask you create for yourself but also the mask  others see you wearing. No matter how old I get, my mother still sees me as her baby. It is a mask I no longer wear but one she still sees on me.

So now I am off to a new adventure, a place where my former masks are not known. They have no value to me nor to anyone else. No one there cares who I once was, what positions I held, what certificates and degrees hang on my wall. I have the opportunity to be the true me I am. I am excited to see whom that person will be. I don’t know that I will be any different from who I am now but to everyone else I will be seen with new eyes for the first time. This is a powerful experience — First Contact. In this new world of palm trees, ocean, heat and mosquitoes, a metamorphosis is underway. Who I was will no longer matter. The transformation has begun and I’m not even there yet.  It is all happening right Now!

In my new life if someone asks, “Are you...? From...?” My reply will be, “I’m sorry you must have me confused with some else, I am no longer that person you seek.”

But, I will always be my mother's baby.

In The Absence Of Time

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I know a place where time has  
no points of reference to hold onto,  
no hands sweeps across its well worn face,  
no seconds eat away at  existence,  
no flashing light marks the arrival or passing.  
Here, in this infinite space, all dreams live forever.  
Everything, is expressed in the moment called now.  
Here, each embrace is the only one I desire.  
Here, I come whole and leave so much wiser. 

Responsibilities

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 “You are the responsible one,” my mother would tell me when I would wine about having to reheat dinner for my brother and father when she left for work. “I know you will do it,” she would say. The responsibility of being responsible started early for me. I was eight years old. When mom and dad separated, I made myself responsible for mom’s happiness by being the best son I could be and not to cause her any pain or grief. She had already suffered enough staying with dad until I was old enough to understand (12) even though he had been having an open affair since I was six.

I am a firm believer that there should be a statute of limitations for adults blaming their present situation on childhood drama and I am not placing blame on anyone but myself. I took on responsibility during my youth and young adulthood. The more the better. I do not know if I had anything to prove other than I was capable, but that was a falsehood also. I did not know at the time that I could have said no to responsibility nor did I know that corporations will keep piling it on until you break. That is their modus operandi. How much one could handle was a determining factor in how far one would climb up the ladder.

As far as responsibility, I went through the three stages of development that Friedrich Nietzsche writes about in his work “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” I was the camel and told everyone to pile on the responsibilities. I was strong. I could handle the heavy burden. I performed this role until my late thirties. Then I transformed into the lion who fiercely fought for my freedom and independence. Everyone wondered what had happened to the camel who was easily controlled. As the lion, I had to fight and eventually slay my nemesis, the dragon, whose bodily armor carried a “Thou Shalt” written across each scale on his body. Each “Thou Shalt” was a rule created to control me as a member of society. I pealed each scale from the dragon, one by one until he was dead. Then I became the child of innocence again. I was free to determine my own rules and responsibilities for my life. I was free of carrying the burden of others that I so freely accepted in my youth. I was once again unbounded by rules and “Thou Shalt” of others.

During these transformations I learned four things about responsibility:

Most people in our modern western society are overburdened with responsibilities. This is primarily a result of having too many material things. Our things control us. We become responsible for them. We must maintain them to keep them useful (cars, boats, lawnmowers, etc.) We must plug them in to keep them charged. And when we have more things than space to hold them, we store them rather than pass them on for others to use in anticipation of needing them some day down the road. The Storage industry in America is a multi-billion dollar a year business. Most have no idea what they are storing and rather than going through all of that stuff to find something they now need, we buy a new thing to replace the old thing and keep adding to our responsibility for stuff. The more stuff you have the greater your responsibilities to material excesses. We even hire people to take care of our stuff so that we can get away from the burden for a week long vacation.

There are two types of responsibilities: One can be either be “responsible to” or “responsible for.” In any contract situation, marriage, employment, or society we each have a responsibility to abide by the terms of the contract, spoken and implied. In marriage we promise to love, honor, and obey. These are responsibilities. In employment we have the responsibility to perform according to the needs and decisions of the corporation. In society we have the responsibility to abide by the laws of the state. In all of these cases, there is an exchange shared by all parties of the contract. You do this for me and I will do or provide this for you in return.

In contrast, “responsibility for” is not necessarily a contract between two parties. It is often a self imposed responsibility. One party independently makes themselves responsible for someone or some thing often without the other’s knowledge. As I did with my mother. Taking responsibility for something is not necessarily a bad thing as long as it is done with consciousness, but even then the person being responsible for another may build up resentment toward that person over time. This is especially true if this responsibility prevents him from living his/her own life at some point? We are responsible for our children until they become old enough to be responsible for themselves. We are responsible for animals we take under our wing. They become totally dependent upon us for their existence. Once you feed an animal, that animal becomes your responsibility. You may ask, “What about caregivers or people who chose to be responsible for others?” Caregivers, like nurses or doctors, have made a conscious choice. One is to be responsible for the people they care for and two, to be responsible to the organization for which they work. Unless you are Mother Theresa or some other saintly person, even the most caring of hearts can become frustrated and overwhelmed by the demands of being “responsible for” can create. “Responsibility for” extracts a great toll upon one’s being. Ask any parent..

At this point in my life, I tend to shun responsibility of all kinds except for myself.

In the words of the Little Prince:

If you are to be, you must begin by assuming responsibility. You alone are responsible for every moment of your life, for every one of your acts.

I am no longer the camel saying, “Put your burden upon my back.” I no longer assume other’s choices upon myself. I know at face value this approach seems selfish, and it is. I no longer chose to be responsible for other people’s choices because I am aware of the resentment which build up over time within myself when I am not living the life of my own choosing. I choose to be “responsible for” how the time in this life is used and I protect this time the way a hungry animal protects its kill. That does not mean I won’t do things for my friends because I will out of friendship. It means I am more consciously aware of when I can no longer do things for friends when their choices begin to purge upon my time and life, and hopefully I do this before resentment beings to build.

These are three of the things I learned about responsibility. I do not know that they are universal but I have a feeling they are, but most are unaware how much responsibilities take a toll upon their life. My choices and decisions do not always make other people happy but that is not why I am here. The most important thing I have learned about responsibility is this:

I am the only one who is "responsible for" how I live my life and I am the only one "responsible to" myself to ensure I live it the way I choose.

 

When Paradise Is No Longer Affordable

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What does one do when the home you love is no longer affordable or when you realize your time in paradise is running out?

* Get a job so you can afford to live in "Paradise?"

* Max out your credit cards to extend "Paradise" a bit longer?

* Search for a new "Paradise?"

On my return home from one of the required every four months exit of the island, the Immigration Officer said, "You know, you can't do this forever."

I knew exactly what he was talking about but I pretended to be uninformed. "What is that, sir?" I answered in a non apologetic voice. My passport pages were filled with entry and exit stamps from Fiji. I had lived on the island now for over three years using only my Tourist Visa.

"You can't stay here forever on a Tourist Visa. You need to find another way to be here if you plan on staying any longer." He stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

"Thank you sir." I took my passport and continued to the luggage trolly. I thought it was somewhat ironic that whenever I reenter the Unites States, the Immigration Officer almost always says, "Welcome home!" In Fiji, a place I consider home, I am told the day will come when I will no longer be permitted entry into the country on a Tourist Visa. I did't tell him that my application for residency had been rejected because I had not invested at least two hundred thousand Fijian dollars into the economy through the purchase of land, housing, or as a business investment, nor did I have fifty thousand dollars in a US bank to qualify for residency. My income from my pension and Social Security otherwise qualified me under their guidelines.

It was not an official warning. Those, I understand, are sent by post to inform the recipient that he/she has thirty days to leave the country and must remain out for at least one year. I glanced back to the Immigration Officer as he typed something into the computer before calling for the next traveler.

Everything is a sign for something I suppose. Maybe this was my sign to start creating another home or to figure out how to stay in this one. I had managed to pay for my required exists in advance up until now, but my meager savings have run out. It is expensive having to leave the country three times a year. A two month extension is available but it can only be utilized for emergency reasons and not merely to extend my Tourist Visa. No matter where you go from an island, it costs money, and having to leave three times per year amounted to one third of my income.

So how do I stay here? Or is it time to leave? I didn't actually come here with a plan or time frame, but there is so much I love about Fiji. The sounds of the ocean, the millions of stars in the unpolluted skies, plucking a ripe papaya from a tree in the front yard, and quenching my thirst after working in the garden with the sweet juice from a coconut. It is a simple life I live here, but the required exits have made it unaffordable.

I could marry a local and gain residence, but that option is not one I would consider. I am still an old romantic, so being in love would have to be a huge part of any decision to marry. I could extend my time using my credit cards, but that option would always keep me in debt. I thought I had the issue resolved a few months ago when Jeanette offered me a work permit, but it fell through. "Too much government paperwork," she said. Besides, I didn't come to Fiji to work. I came here to live my life the way I dream of my life.

Or, I can take Thoreau's position, "that I have several more lives to live, and cannot spare any more time to this one." I thought, for whatever reason, my major life changes and moves were over, but it seems I still have more castles to build in the sky somewhere if not here.

My Best Friend—Solitude

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Before living it, I learned about solitude from books. Two particular guides into this area of depth were Alice Koller in her soul searching quests written about in An Unknown Woman and A Station Of Solitude, and May Sarton in her books Journal Of A Solitude and The House By The Sea. These two authors changed my view of solitude from one of fear, ( "I do not know anyone who wants to be alone as much as you," my mother used to say as if something was wrong in wanting to be alone. "Go outside and play with the other boys.") into something I could wholeheartedly embrace as my own. This transformation into my love of solitude took a long time to root, but once rooted, could never be pulled from my soul. During my forties, I sent Sarton's books to my mother. A few weeks later I received a letter.

June 16, 1995

Dear Son,

...I know we have not always seen eye to eye, but I always wished the best for you. You were different from the other boys in the neighborhood. You liked being alone. I worried when they teased you and called you "a mama's boy," but you have grown into a fine young man and a well loved human being...

I support you in your choice of solitude. My only hope is that it not take you too far away from me. Thank you for the books. They helped me to understand more about your choices. I will read whatever you send me...

Love, Mom

In her book “Quirkyalone,” Sasha Cagen says those who seek solitude are “distinct individuals, as complete and potentially happy alone as with our families and loves.” She defines “quirkalone” (kwun kee. uh. lohn) n. adj. as “a person who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than date for the sake of being in a couple. With unique traits and an optimistic spirit; a sensibility that transcends relationship status."

Solitude is a topic discussed before in my writings and a topic I choose to revisit in the form of my “Mystery Date.” A writing prompt. I usually treat myself well. I am attentive to my needs and conscious of my desires but I have always had a strong desire for solitude. Many confuse solitude with loneliness but they are very different. Loneliness, refers to a lack of companionship and is often associated with unhappiness. Solitude, on the other hand, is the state of being alone or cut off from all human contact. Think of the solitude of the long distance runner just in a more extended picture. You can be in the midst of a crowd of people and still experience loneliness, but not solitude, since you are not physically alone. Similarly, if you enjoy being alone, you can have solitude without loneliness.

You may ask — "What is it that I get from solitude that I don’t get in relationships?" The flames of my passion burn in solitude because I am living my life, the way I choose. In relationships I so try to make my lover’s dream my own, at which point the flames of my own passions begin to die.

I want to be in a relationship with another without losing my own path. When I love deeply, I give up me for the relationship. When I give my being to the relationship, I lose me. I feel completely lost. My soul is not at peace. It feel as if I’m trying to fit my life into some “normalcy” when nothing in my life has ever been "normal." I tell myself, the me I am will still shine, but he doesn’t. My only salvation becomes time alone.

I strive to not bring harm to anyone, particularly those I love. Love is in its way a protection from harm as much as it is a tunnel into it. So how do I do something for myself without bringing harm in the form of personal pain to the ones I love? It’s not about "others" in any real way. It is about me being me. I can be no other. The me I know me to be. The me who is passionate about this life I so love. Solitude reconnects me with the me I believe in and love, and is therefore is my perfect date. 

 

Source Credit: Cagen, Sasha. Quirkyalone—Manifesto For Uncompromising Romantics. Harper Press, San Francisco. 2004.

Letting Go

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I am taking the words of my meditation on my sixty-third birthday to the letter.

“Be sure not to leave anything behind which will cause you to have to come back.”

I am not leaving anything in storage this time. I am leaving the friends who have become my family, the family of my blood and offspring, and the material things whose only value is what price someone is willing to pay. I am leaving a city that some call "The Happiest Place on Earth," but that too is relative to where you are standing. A city I have left trice before and returned to as often. I am leaving a life which is no longer mine. This time, I believe I won't be coming back here to live.

My soul is floating over the Fiji Islands exploring our new home and sometimes gently swaying in the hammock that this physical body is left to purchase along with all the other requirements of a new adventure. The packing of a lifetime into 50 pounds. What is sold, what is given away, and what is tossed aside is determined by need or importance. A shedding of skins, a chrysalis! Although my body is paying the physical price of moving with aching muscles and weary bones, the weight and burden of stuff is being relieved.

It is funny, how my choices are made. The rock of a man's face, I found on the beach after a storm will go to the friend who was with me that day but also because of its weight. Yet my favorite cast iron skillet will be safely packed. I find my decisions are based on the usefulness of an item more than an emotional attachment. That, however, is not always a reliable indicator. An afghan my mother knitted me as a fortieth birthday present will have no practical use in Fiji but will make the journey wrapped around the skillet, insuring the safe arrival of each. My books, my books. They always suffer the most when I travel because of their weight and this time is no exception. Fifteen books. I made a numerical limitation as an emotional one would have had me over the weight limit for air baggage. They will be shipped along with a few other favorite useful items from this world.

I have the collected memories, photographs, postcards, etc., of travels, people, and experiences of my life. Yearbooks, diplomas, certificates. These have no real value and are yet priceless in many ways. These keepsakes are stored in what I call my Rainy Day box. In the past if I needed a little boost, an emotional pick me up, I would get down my Rainy Day box and randomly pick a letter to tell me I am loved, a photograph to remember a person, place or time, some words to inspire. There were times during this life when I took my Rainy Day box down often. Now, I no longer need the physical evidence of my past to travel with me and I have arranged for these keepsakes to remain here to be available for family and friends to reflect upon if they desire. I am making new memories now. They will only be retained until they are forgotten and no longer keepsakes in storage for a rainy day. My boost is waking up each morning, my inspiration is life, and my memories will no longer take me to where it is I want to be.

Although the selection of what will go and what will not is sometimes taxing, I am very aware I don't want to take too much of this world along. I don't want my friends to send care packages of American goods because the parts of life I want will make the journey with me. I am already a part of the islands. I will make do with and eat the fruits of availability rather than of habit and of consciousness rather than accumulation.

I am counting down the days to the landing in my new world when this body will join its soul for another great adventure in being alive. I so love this life I live.

Brothers—Hermanos

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"Hermanos" is the Spanish word for brothers and was the first Spanish word I learned. On a trip to the Yucatán, I visited a cenote, or underground pool. The water was freezing cold as the only sunlight entered through a small opening at the top of the cave about fifty feet from the turquoise blue water. Inside the cave young boys would dive into the water to retrieve coins tossed in by the tourists. As I sat on the side, a young Mexican boy came over and sat beside me. "Hermanos," he said in a shivering voice as he placed his brown skin arm next to my brown skin arm. "Hermanos," he said again. "Si, hermanos," I replied, and he smiled. I gave him my remaining coins and left. In that brief moment I had the greatest feeling of brotherhood I have ever had in my then forty-five year life.

My older brother and I were never close and now that mom has passed the boundary between us has become wider. She was the glue which held everything together. I know this is not the way mom would have wanted us to be and yet it is this way.

My brother has always been an angry person. His anger grew greater during his tours in Viet Nam. As children, he bullied me relentlessly until I learned to protect myself. He is this way, I think, because of our father who was the same. He, my brother, was the first born. Because of his blazing the trail, things were easier for me and I believe he always resented that fact. I was closer to and more like our mom. He was closer to and more like our dad.

I do not believe anger is an emotion that can be easily outgrown. If we permit it, anger grows and festers inside the person until they become blinded by it to the point where they no longer see it as the core part of who they have become. It is so with my brother. His anger metastasized like a cancer cell inside his body. My brother still denies that he is an angry man, but his actions say otherwise.

He still believes I had an easier life than he and for that reason I should pay. He still treats me like his little brother who, as a child, did anything and everything my big brother demanded of me. I did it out of fear, as with our father, not out of love. Through the course of our childhood, he shot me in the head with a bow and arrow and in the foot with a gas powered pellet gun. Of course after each of these incidences, he promised mom he would never do it again, but those promises were empty. An angry person is like an alcoholic. He will always have angry issues unless he learns how to deal with them in a healthy manner.

During our last incident when I returned home to be with mom as she died, he pointed a .38 at me and threatened to "blow my fucking head off." It was not the stress of the situation. It was the way he has been my entire life. This moment was my prime meridian. I could not change the before, and I knew there would not be an after. I could no longer be around him. I packed my bags and left as soon as I could after mom passed without attending our mother's memorial service. She had already been cremated so there was nothing else to be done. I did not sleep that last might I spent in our childhood home. I no longer knew that person sleeping in the other room. I was afraid of him for the last time. I take any threats to my life seriously.

How do I disown and end a relationship with the only person left on this planet who has known me my entire life? I do not know, I have made the decision to have no further contact. We have never been hermanos like me and the young boy at the cenote. As far as I am concerned, we are no longer brothers.

Three O’clock In The Morning

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I like my coffee black,
my whiskey on the rocks,
my wine chilled in a flat bottom glass—
the way they serve it in Italy.
I like my woman in ecstasy,
moaning my name out loud.
My eggs, scrambled,
moist but not runny.
I like my sheets and towels
made of cotton, sun dried on a line.
I like walking barefoot in the ocean,
the waves lapping at my thighs.
My music, mostly bluesy and hot—
sometimes soft and mellow.
I like the darkness of the new moon,
stars shooting across the black face of god.
I like life coming at me full tilt,
with no time to plan or ponder.
When I wake at three o'clock in the morning,
I like to write poetry—
Just as I am doing right now.

Proust Questionnaire

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Since July 1993, the back page of Vanity Fair has been devoted to the Proust Questionnaire, in which a noteworthy person answers a series of personal questions. The questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust (1871–1922), the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.

I offer my answers to the Proust Questionnaire.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Each moment I am alive, I just may not always see it.

2. What is your greatest fear?
To be falsely accused.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I do not deplore any quality, characteristic or part of myself.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I don’t deplore another’s traits. I accept and learn from them.

5. Which living person do you most admire?
Everyone I encounter, it takes an enormous amount of courage to chose to be alive.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?
This life.

7. What is your current state of mind?
I am home, the most peaceful state I know.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
With the exception of gratitude, all virtues are overrated.

9. On what occasion do you lie?
On fewer occasions than I once did. When I am unable to accept the truth in myself, not because of its consequences.

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Only that I still give it attention.

11. Which living person do you most despise?
Those who have the power and opportunity to improve life for all humanity, to end wars, and famine but choose to do nothing.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
A connection with his anima.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
A very strong connection with her anima.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I don't know that I overuse them but the words and phrases I use the most are "Thank you" and "I love you."

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The "what" would be this life. The "who" would be everyone I have ever loved from whom I learned more about love than I thought I knew.

16. When and where were you happiest?
Yesterday, today, here, now, in a lover's arms, and the day is not over.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?
Just being me. I have gotten pretty good at it.

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Nothing.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Being here, alive.

20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
This is it. I won't be back as either a person or a thing.

21. Where would you most like to live?
Wherever I am, hopefully warm.

22. What is your most treasured possession?
My dreams.

23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Loss of a loved one.

24. What is your favorite occupation?
Having no occupation.

25. What is your most marked characteristic?
Being true to myself.

26. What do you most value in your friends?
The truth, straight up.

27. Who are your favorite writers?
Henry Miller, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Marie Corelli, Rumi, Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Robert Bly, Anäis Nin, whomever I am reading at the moment.

28. Who is your hero of fiction?
I don't have heroes.

29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
No one.

30. Who are your heroes in real life?
I still don't have heroes.

31. What are your favorite names?
Although I am a poet, I prefer not to name things.

32. What is it that you most dislike?
Man's inhumanity to life.

33. What is your greatest regret?
“I always thought I'd see her, one more time, again.” The only regret I have in this life is that I did not.

34. How would you like to die?
Totally aware, "joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware."

35. What is your motto?
I Am Here!

Where Do Poems Come From?

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I am not one of those poets who can sit down first thing in the morning with pen in hand and write a poem the way I can write an essay. I wait for the poem in the way one waits at a stop sign allowing their mind to drift until they are awakened from their escape by a honking car horn behind them. Sometimes the complete poem comes in a few seconds. Other times, bits and pieces drift in and out without a schedule. I can sit and toil over a poem, put it away, and a few months later take it out again. Often these bits and pieces from what I considered separate poems at some point converge into a single poem. That is why it becomes important to never throwaway a thought or a line of poetry.

Sometimes, the poet must prove his worthiness of the poem. I had the title of a poem on a post-it note for three months glued to my computer screen before the poem flowed into my body. I heard the words and wrote them down on paper. I seldom change more than a word or two when poems come in this manner. This poem is still in my opinion one of my best.

The poems I have to work on and struggle with a good deal may be more technically correct, but they feel more like a creation than a gift. Many of my poems come from dreams and experiences. I often write the words down while still half asleep, while the dream or words are still fresh in my consciousness. When I wake in the morning, I am often surprised to see the poem sitting on my night stand. A gift from the angels.

One Word

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But above all, the poet, is he who names things... And that's the poet's mission, profound and sacred communication. And another word for that is love. – Carlos Fuentes

 

If I could have but one word to describe you, 
it would not be a word like "love" or "God," 
for although both of you—are true.
One carries too much baggage,
the other too many expectations.
This word would be a new word.
One created solely to describe you.
A word not encased by the rules of language
nor previously written with the hand of man. 
This word would be a simple word, perhaps only
one syllable long, and yet it would embrace all
the known and forgotten languages of life.

A breath whispering in the blackness of space,
not audible to the expanding galaxies,
not conceivable to the floating nebula.
The power of this word lies not upon it's surface
but in qualities hidden from view, like invisible stars— 
It unfolds with knowledge, wisdom, magic and intent. 
This word would encompass your radiance,
extol the benevolence of your heart, 
be made whole by your acceptance.
Humbled, only from your eyes’ light,
This word would be a new word,
one never spoken or even thought.
This word would be the one word to describe you, 
but one in which I will not live, confined.
This word, this one word, will live inside of me.

Know ThySelf

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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 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.”

Life Under The Influence

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Books, books, books. What a wonderful influence they are in my life. From the time I was a small child, my life has been under their magical spell. They provided the wings which carried me to foreign places and undiscovered worlds and gave me the foundation to better understand the world in which I was growing up.

During my freshman year of college, a Douglass College coed, Marni Politte, gave me a copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran for my birthday. It was then that I became aware of a book’s power to affect my entire life.

That particular weekend was very stressful for me because on Monday I was to meet with my counsellor and declare my major. I‘d considered Political Science and prelaw but a phone conversation with my mother the week before had raised some doubts.

“You’re too honest,” she said, “and lawyers have to bend the truth sometimes in order to defend their clients.”

So, that weekend I poured over the college handbook, looking for a subject to grab my interest. Something to which I could devote my life. Something that I would enjoy learning about. There were too many choices and too much confusion. Overwhelmed with the task at hand, I returned to the gift I received that Friday, hoping for inspiration.

I loved Gibran’s insights into life. The syncopation of his words lifted my heart as no writer I had previously read. Over the span of that weekend, I read The Prophet cover to cover a half dozen times.

Monday morning came and I still had no idea what I would declare as my major, as I sat on the floor outside the counsellor’s office with twenty other freshman students. Our appointments were scheduled ten minutes apart. Not much time for making a life time commitment.

When my name was called, I walked in the counsellor's office. We had only met once before at the beginning of the previous semester. He pretended to know me but he didn’t. We shook hands and I sat down while he leafed through my file.

“Are you still interested in prelaw?”

“No, not anymore.” I proceeded to tell him about the conversation with my mother. I was stalling because I had no idea what to choose and the minutes were ticking away fast.

“Well,” he said with a confused look. “What will be your major then?”

“Philosophy!’ I blurted out.

“Good choice. That’s a small department. Good Luck.” He stood up and extended his hand. After all, he still had another fifty student to see before lunch and had to keep us moving.

“Philosophy?” I pondered as I walked down the hallway now lined on both sides with students waiting their turn to make a major life decision. I didn’t know where that answer came from. I didn’t even know what philosophy was.

I waited at the bus stop still in a fog of confusion trying to understand why I’d told my counsellor I wanted to major in something I knew nothing about nor had I taken any courses on the subject.

I returned to my dorm room, looked up the word "philosophy" and begin to read. When I got to the words, “Love of wisdom,” I knew I had made the right decision. I had literally inhaled a single man’s wisdom over that weekend and it seemed only logical that I should begin to develop my own.

I don’t know had many copies of The Prophet I have given to others over the years, but each is inscribed with the same words that Marni inscribed in mine:

“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming…”

Thank you Marni, fifty years later, I still am....

Find Your Own Shtick

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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.

Preparing For The Unexpected

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I love books. Even though I no longer work at the library, nor is my collection of books as large as it once was, I still love books for the knowledge and information I gain from them. I love them for the journeys and adventures they have taken me on. As a young child I would read the encyclopedia while the other kids would be outside playing. My mother would say to me, "The world can not all be found in books or maps. Go outside and see it. Don't just read about it." Of course I knew she was wrong. My encyclopedia set covered everything from A to Z. If I wanted to know about Greece, I looked it up. Everything I needed to know was right there: maps, history, culture. It was all right there. I did not have to go to Greece to find this information. However, in the end, I was wrong and mom was correct, as she was most of the time.

I set out to see the world, but unlike the early explorers, I had the experiences of those who had gone before me. I had some idea of what to expect but I had no idea of how to prepare for the unexpected. When I started wilderness backpacking, I always carried a snake bit kit. "You'll never need that," my hiking companion would say, until on one trip a six foot rattle snake sat coiled between us and our campsite. It eventually slithered away and no harm was done, but I still carry a snake bite kit with me whenever I go backpacking. I learned to be prepared for that possibility.

When you go out into the unknown world, no matter how prepared you are, you cannot prepare for the unexpected. It is precisely during this exploration of the unknown where the unexpected is most likely to occur. You must face it each moment. It is similar to landing in a foreign country. No one is there at the airport to meet or guide you through your journey. You don't know anyone, no one knows you. There is uncertainty even about the things most common to your own culture. Do they apply here? Whom do you trust? You studied the language before your departure, but you still cannot understand anything anyone says.

At this point all we can do is rely upon our commonness, our shared humanity. Your instincts become your guide. Your smile, your humbleness, your core strengths, the person you are, and your beliefs are all that you own at this point and you rely upon them to get you through to the next phase of your adventure. If I trust these characteristics in myself, it becomes easier to find and trust them in others.

I  utilize all of my senses. I scan alleys and streets. I listen to the tone and intent of conversations. I try to make myself known, become familiar, and eventually reduce the size of the arena for the unexpected.  The unexpected can alway occur but you can take some of the sting out of its bite by being prepared for the possibility of its occurrence. Like life itself, the world is here for our discovery. Go out there and experience it.

Thanks again Mom.