Ursula K. Le Guin Passes the Torch

An author leaves us the legacy of our humanity.

The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969. Often misattributed to Hemingway.

Leaving the library with the crispness of winter in the air this last week, I pondered the noisy freight express that pushes us, collectively, as a society, into the time-clock chores that eclipse our existence.

Being so “busy”, I wondered if we could afford to take the time to savor the lives of those who offer us the opportunity to participate in the fullness and spaciousness of being here.

Last night, I got an answer to my question when I heard that Ursula K. Le Guin had passed away. Here was an author, poet, translator, essayist, that I cherished, who has consistently inspired me to step off the conveyor belt.  Ursula was as candidly human, as she was a creator of worlds and encouraged us to honestly engage in life.

In 1968, Ursula originated a wizarding school, almost three decades before Harry Potter went to Hogwarts. But this daughter of anthropologists, steered the genre of fantasy and science fiction past the borders of literature into an open exploration of our humanity.

Throughout her novels, collections of poetry, children’s and Young Adult books, essays and translation of the Tao te Ching, there is a subtlety and finesse that upholds a balance. Her feminism, while strong and consistently well spoken, does not overshadow her humanitarianism. Her writing goes beyond ‘isms’, into a space where we may, “feel that progress is less important than presence.”

Just as the old Jewish adage states that “a good question is worth five good answers”, Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing asks us to ponder our lives. We are invited to consider our need to cling to such things as, hierarchy, gender roles, ambition, overstimulation, rage, youth, status, constant growth, constant noise, and control over everything.  Here is someone whose journey stands as a torch we can take up to venture into the unknown where our lives beckon.

I find it significant that she lived to be 88, the number of keys on a piano-forte. Ursula was like a beautiful instrument, with full dynamic range. The melodies she offered ring out to us as keys to unlock our cages of certainty.

This past year, Mrs. Le Guin had been blogging, active on Twitter and just published a new collection of essays called, No Time to Spare, Thinking About What Matters. (Did I mention she was 88?) I checked this book out from the library and plan on buying the other book she published last year, Words Are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books. Instead of buying it online, because it is more convenient and less, “time consuming,” I will honor her memory by walking into a bookstore, revel in the experience, and savor some human interaction.

The Wild Comedian Breaks Free

How Comedy Can Transport Us Beyond the Walls of Conformity

I loved the first season of Amazon’s, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. For me, it is timely historical fiction at its best. It features the story of a woman in the 1950’s who starts to question the tightly wound structure of her reality after her husband unexpectedly leaves her. Throwing herself into the world of stand-up comedy, she finds she has a natural talent for it.  Her first two times in front of the microphone, she gets arrested for obscenity but it is really because she went beyond the bounds of where society felt safe. On the show, she becomes friends with Lenny Bruce, comedy’s pioneer crusader for seeking truth outside of society’s comfort zone. Lenny helped pave the way for the wild men and women who dared to laugh at the elephants and asses in the room.

Comedians have the prerogative to laugh at what we hide behind. They are the ones that get to speak truth to conformity and fear.  The wildest comedians have a driving ambition to break out of all constraints.

I remember watching John Belushi on Saturday Night Live and in Animal House, and feeling that he might actually be able to explode right out of his body.

Comedians like Mel Brooks were my first heroes.  They brought a zaniness to life that seemed to expand its possibilities for me.  By the time I was in High School, I actively declared, “Normalcy is a fallacy!” I had caught the same bug that prompts the comedian to go beyond boundaries, to discover a larger, less confined space in which to dance.

The wildness of many comedians, conventionally, has been associated with alcohol and drugs, which can break down walls of inhibition. There is a labyrinth of defenses that we have built around us, not only individually and culturally, but historically as a race.  So, while the conventional means of breaking down a few barriers seems to work, part of us may yearn to find another way to go out past our collective defenses.

Jim Carey started off as a wild comedian, who seemed like he could turn his body into rubber and bounce off the walls into another dimension. After making the film, “Man on the Moon,” about Andy Kaufman, another comedian who pushed reality to the edge, Jim went on an odyssey to learn how to transcend societies’ corral.

Recently, I watched Jim’s 2014 commencement speech at the Maharishi University of Management. It is well worth watching. He is still his animated best, but has come to a calm place within that is not limited by his physical form.

Jim Carrey’s Commencement Address at the 2014 Maharishi University of Management:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V80-gPkpH6M

Jim then grew the long beard, that has become associated with philosophers, gurus and seekers. He began to risk sounding insane while talking to the paparazzi, declaring that he didn’t exist, that he was just another character, like the many colorful characters in his 40 films.

“I played the guy that was free from concern so the people who watched me would be free from concern.”- Jim Carey

Jim is identifying, not as a “Me” but as the energy that animates all things.

“It’s a play, it’s a giant field of consciousness dancing for itself. “

“We all long to belong, and the truth is, we do. We already belong to the wholeness within us and every living thing. The plethora of groups, communities, circles, families, here on our planet are like flowers, they allow for variance of taste to offer us the opportunity to connect to the beauty that we are.  However we connect to this wholeness, the joy lies in our ability to celebrate it within our interactions.”

“The effect that you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.  All that will be left of you will be what was in your heart.”- Jim Carey

I am grateful for the drive that continues to play with reality and wake us up from complacency. Waking up to the richness of being, provides so much to rejoice in. I am especially thankful for the bouquet of interactions that I have with everything around me, especially you. This certainly is a wild ride that affords us the chance to literally laugh our asses off.

 

 

 

 

Myth, Ritual and the Holidays

An end of the year reflection

In this interim between the winter holidays and New Year’s, there is an opportunity to reflect. We may have a moment or two between social obligations to consider who we are, where we are, what we are grateful for, why we are here and how we are going to get where we want to go.

If we look at the rituals and myths we have set up as markers to navigate time, it will give us a greater understanding and insight to these questions.

The intensity of Christmas, for instance, is marked not only by the celebration, but an utter clinging to the myth of Santa Claus. This Christmas Eve, the weatherman on the evening news, had a radar screen that showed where St. Nick’s sled currently was. There is almost a militant adherence to the upholding of this myth. At the heart of it, is not an avarice or anticipation of material gain, but a cheerful magic that comes to remind us of our own benevolent nature and capacity for giving love.

The lighting of candles on Hanukkah at this time of year is a ritual that is based on a myth. The candles represent one can of oil, meant to last one day that burned for eight nights. The significance of this ritual and myth symbolize the courage of the human spirit as it stands up to the seeming dominance of tyranny. Every night of the holiday, more candles are added to increase the light. Each kindled flame represents the presence of a collective determination to uphold personal freedom. The honor of lighting these candles is a personal reminder to uphold the freedom of our collective humanity.

The ball that falls in Times Square at midnight at the end of the year, is an illuminated symbol of our collective adherence to linear time with all of its nostalgia and unknown possibility.  The ritual of celebrating with friends and even strangers, in a friendly, spill over the side of our comfort zone manner, goes beyond the tiny bubbles in our glass. It is an anticipated prolonged moment that makes us consciously aware of the present. In its own way, it offers us a portal to transcend time, our body, our routine and environment to recognize that we can change our hard-wired reality into something we equate with hope.

We can fly through the years on automatic pilot, and celebrate holidays and rituals perfunctorily, or we can use them to usher us into the present, savor our interactions and enter into a space where the person we long to be and the world we hope to belong to, raise a glass to us.

Happy New Years!

“We’ll take a cup of kindness yet”- Robert Burns

Where We Belong

The advantages of being a bridge between communities

One of the advantages of being on the road a lot is getting to listen to audio books like Brene Brown’s latest, Braving the Wilderness: “The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.”

In the book, Brene describes her struggle with Maya Angelou’s quote, written above. Brene shares how her own life experiences and forged path kept her from belonging in any one place or to any one community. She finally realized, through vulnerability and honesty, that she belongs to herself, which allows her to belong everywhere.

Standing in a wilderness that is outside the borders of each established group, but within her own boundaries, allows Brene to “speak truth to bullshit” while remaining civil, to be courageously vulnerable, and to come close to hold hand with strangers, because “people are hard to hate close up.”

As The Levins, Julia and I have held the intention to be a musical bridge between communities. We feel so grateful to be able to celebrate with each group we sing with and encounter. There is depth and truth within all the communities we visit and yet, we don’t fully feel we belong to just one. We recognize and rejoice where truth overlaps in puddles that we can splash in and sing.

My roots are in Judaism, which I moved away from as a teenager. I explored various faiths and practices. Music brought me back to Judaism and I discovered that what I had found in my travels, was all within its depths, hidden away. It was not pointed out, but left for me to discover on my own.

I feel that Judaism is a part of me. It may even be in my DNA. Yet, I am grateful to sing for not one, but several Jewish communities of varying denominations, as well as the other spiritual, folk and Literary circles in which we are privileged to perform.

Each community and group throughout the globe face their own challenges. There are politics, inter-personal dynamics, and obstacles that must be sorted through to achieve harmony.

Brene talks about each group’s tendency to fall into the, “If you are not for me, then you are against me,” mentality.

It is all too easy to become subservient to our need to be accepted by our “home team”, whether that is the faith of our birth, our political party, family or whatever circle we would feel most lonesome to be outside of. To be brave enough to examine and speak from your heart-centered truth, will, at times, be at odds with your home team but will also strengthen and enrich that team; even if they cannot hear it at first.

Julia and I have often witnessed, when someone from outside the group periodically   visits, they can usher in a fresh perspective. When we are in the car and are stuck within “our own little group,” or are feeling a strain between us, it is wonderful to listen to an “outside voice,” such as  Brene, or Krista Tippet’s On Being, or even a fun game-show podcast. These, “visitors” from outside our group, open the window between us, so that we can shift our focus back to the love and good feeling we have for each other. Being a musical bridge allows us to have a similar effect when we visit and sing for a variety of communities.

Brene refrences a concept by the sociologist, Emile Burkheim called Collective Effervescence. This is when a group of people come together for something, like a concert, and experience a temporal unity by being in the moment together and sharing the excitement and joy of what is taking place. The people experiencing this may belong to different groups that would not usually get along, but through this Collective Effervescence, they bond.

If you examine your life, you may find that you have many opportunities to be a bridge between communities. Between your family, your place of work, your friends, your spiritual practice, or book club, there is bound to be varying opinions and stances. Standing in our heart-centered truth, we can begin to see the beauty of the people who seem to be outside of our inner circle. We can look for moments to create or encourage Collective Effervescence.

Being brave enough to stand on our own, we can bring real honoring presence into each group we encounter and usher in a little light and understanding to close the gap between us.

 Julia and I have one week left of our Indiegogo Campaign for our upcoming new album, Caravan of Dawn. It is Harmony-Driven music for folks, like you, who usher in the light wherever they go. Please join us! https://igg.me/at/thelevins 

 

Bringing our Love-Fear Paradigm to the Table

A Thanksgiving Opportunity

My wife Julia and I were recently driving in Manhattan. While in gridlock traffic, we looked left and noticed a glowing electric sign that was hanging in a window that read, “Right NOW is all there is.” We slowly moved along and a block later, across the street, a painted window read, “Love what you do.”  As we inched forward, we started laughing as we finally noticed the truck in front of us had an insignia, “Trust”, painted on the back.  It was a beautiful synchronous moment, where we realized that our environment was reaching out to us.

We have driven on this street, several times but never saw the signs on either side because we are usually racing to get somewhere. Traffic in SOHO is never predictable and we are often generally concerned about running behind. Yet, the difference this time was, as we drove, we were listening to a book that was aligning us with love and engaging us to be more present.

Fear and love, being the two motivating forces at play in this reality, create a co-existing paradigm, similar to the particle-wave principle of light. Light is both a particle and a wave, depending on how we observe it. Similarly, being in a state of fear or love, shifts our focus and changes our environment.

.

In the midst of chaos, we have access to a pervasive calm.  What streams through us, moment to moment, is a love that offers us insights. Love can transcend the fear-based projections which motivate violence and suffering tending to dominate the world.

Both fear and love support us completely. If we are fearful, then the universe provides us with endless reasons to maintain our apprehension. If we are grounded in love, then we are able to recognize or find strength and inspiration, even in the midst of gridlock traffic.

The custom of gathering together for Thanksgiving is an opportunity to demonstrate this Love-Fear paradigm. It is all too familiar to allow dread of awkward interactions to pave the way for passive aggression, political declarations, outbursts of judgement followed by toxic silences.  With a determined intention, we can also decide to be present and align ourselves with love and gratitude. Despite all of our fearful quirks, the love we embody is worth bringing to the table. With that love, we can look past one another’s faults, and the factions we find ourselves in, to strengthen our bonds. It will also help with our digestion.

Whether you are gathered around with family or friends, or find yourself in solitude this week, may love be present. Happy Thanksgiving and a love-filled feast!

The Halloween Hypothesis

Exploring the Celebration of Being

Halloween is, for many, their favorite holiday. I must admit, it still has a magical allure for me as well. The masquerade, the merriment, the comradery of children going from house to house, the sweetness of doors being opened; confections being proffered, the prospect of manageable mischief and dancing amid a riot of fall colors, roasted pumpkin seeds, and monster movies…    It is a holiday that, in our lifetime, has been inextricably linked to childhood, with all of its abandonment and wonder.

Perhaps, our fascination with this celebration goes much deeper on a subconscious level. Halloween beckons to us to enter into our imaginations with the purpose of exploring aspects of ourselves that we may keep hidden away.

During the year, we become so fully engaged in the business of propagating ourselves and worrying about our various concerns, that we may not even take the time to have fun with who we are capable of being. We also tend to define ourselves by our affiliations. We identify with our religious or philosophical beliefs, our political parties, our businesses, our careers, our accomplishments. All of these, contain aspects, but by no means are, the totality of our Being.

As a child, or even as an adult, we long to know what it feels like to be more than we perceive ourselves to be. The chance to be royalty, a superhero, or a ninja, builds up our self-esteem in unique ways.

The darker aspect of Halloween playfully allows us to explore the shadow parts of ourselves with an air of acceptance. It is as if we are saying to ourselves, “Can you love me as a villain, a ghoul, or… a hot dog?”

Surely, we are all capable of being scary, ugly, mean and horrible. Maybe, the social permission to represent ourselves in a no holds barred fashion, could act as a repression release so that, even on a subconscious level, we can air out the forbidden attic to dance freely with all of ourselves.

Even the worst aspects of ourselves are only slivers of who we are. The truth is, all of us are a nexus of a universe expanding internally and externally. We are unique interlinking particles and waves vibrating across 11 dimensions and more. If we really had any real inkling of the vastness of our true Being, we would not have to consign ourselves to the pigeon holes we might place ourselves into on a daily basis.

The pointy hat, I am trying to uphold here, is that we are more than we allow ourselves to be and getting the chance to play is liberating.

So, whether you celebrate, shun, are indifferent, or ignore this holiday, I hope you find a way to trick yourself into the treat of the fullness of your Being.

“Well, if you want to sing out, sing out. And if you want to be free, be free. ‘Cause there’s a million things to be You know that there are.”- Cat Stevens

The High-Wire Act Between Wisdom and Delusion

Recognizing how narcissism blocks the uniqueness of our Being.

Recently, the theme of narcissism has foisted itself into our collective conversation.  According to Webster, it is defined as: “Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.”  We can perhaps come closer to understanding the term by delving into its synonyms: self-absorption, self-love, self-obsession, self-centeredness, conceit, egoic … But we can’t stop there, because, wrestling with narcissism is part of the human condition.

There is an in-depth book about “Transformations of Narcissism in Self Realization” by A.H. Almaas called “The Point of Existence.”  In it, Mr. Almaas discusses narcissism as identifying with a part of our experience and not being able to connect to the fullness of Being.

Mr. Almaas points out that there is a spectrum of narcissism that ranges from what is deemed healthy to pathological, and that being human, we are pretty much all subject to being on that spectrum.  So, it’s possible that, at any given point throughout our day, we can over-identify with the thoughts we are having, with our social status, with our current emotion, with our body image or a pain that we are experiencing.

Narcissism can make life, “all about me” and in doing so, it ironically robs us of experiencing who we really are, as well as diminishing the richness we are offered in each moment.

Over the weekend, my wife Julia witnessed an interview with a young man who had just written a book and given a TED talk. In the interview he was trying to explain that “he did not believe in” and “wasn’t looking for” inspiration.  He stated that he was his own source of inspiration.  He explained that everything essentially originated with him, that things weren’t interesting in themselves but it was the way that he looked at them that made them interesting.

Julia and I discussed this last declaration, turning it over and over, examining what drives us to feel we are the source of everything we see. Life is often a game of semantics. For example, inspiration and intuition are concepts that can be intertwined. If we are creatively prompted from within, our ego will often want to take credit for everything. Could all of us find ourselves, at times, doing a high-wire act between wisdom and delusion?

The paradox, for me, is that wisdom can be found both by going within and trusting our intuition, as well as being able to listen and honestly observe what is taking place around us. Thinking that we, as separate individuals, have it “going on” above everybody else, is a form of delusion, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I wasn’t there to hear the above-mentioned interview, and cannot presume to know what is in the artist’s heart.  I can certainly relate to artists who are so tuned into the process of creating, that everything around them becomes interesting because they have an internal commitment to wonder.

I believe that we each have a unique perception of the life-force that flows thorough all things. If we lose sight of the fact that we are that life-force, currently inhabiting a body, then it becomes very easy to become convinced that we are separate from everything else. Because we are aware of the life-force that is connected to all things, our ego can convince us that we alone are the source of everything we see. When that happens, our unique take on things usually gets blocked by our need to be “special.”

We recently enjoyed an interview with the world renown cellist Yoyo Ma, who refers to himself as a Citizen Artist. He told host, Krista Tippet, that playing music wasn’t a competition but an opportunity to share and create a moment between the artist and the audience with the objective of making that moment special.

Most people would agree that Yoyo Ma is successful and at the top of his field. Yet, Yoyo Ma considers the moments shared by him and his audience to be the real goal. In fact, making those moments as special as possible, for him, is the point of playing music in the first place.

I would say, beyond his incredible dedication to his craft, it is Yoyo Ma’s ability to be present as presence that makes him both unique and universally appealing.

Perhaps inspiration comes to us as we let go of our over-identification with our experience or our need to be special.  Perhaps, it is in allowing ourselves to be here fully, and be fully with what is, that what we are able to share becomes worth sharing.

This is a moment to moment dance that we get to choose, both individually and collectively. As human beings, we wrestle with narcissism. Still, we all have immediate access to the presence within this present moment that invites us to be fully who we are, and which opens the door to an infinite variety of uniqueness within every interaction.

Recognizing that our ego is a part, but not the whole of our existence, we can begin to open up to the wonder this moment affords us, even on the high-wire.

Loving, Forgiving and Loving Life Again

Bestowing beauty while healing

Photo by Chungkuk Bae/ Unsplash

I had a very close friend call to wish me a happy Jewish New Year. She told me that she had seen a man going through the trash outside of her house and had asked if he was hungry. He said he hadn’t eaten all day. She went in and packed him up some food in a grocery bag. She looked him in the eye and asked his name. He had started looking in his wallet to give her ID, as if he was in trouble. She told him she hoped things would get better for him.

It is a custom to collect food for the poor at this time of year but here was something that went beyond bringing cans of food to a temple. This was direct human upliftment. My friend laughed and said when her partner heard about what she did, she would say that now the man would come back all the time. I said she could tell him that it was just a one time hand out to honor him. My friend laughed and asked herself, ‘what if it wasn’t?’ “What if I spend an extra thirty dollars at the grocery store each week and can help him out?”

This story goes beyond mere charity. My friend has struggled her whole life to climb out of the shadow of a horrendous and abusive childhood. She told me this is the first time in her life that she doesn’t feel like a victim but a survivor. She credits her survival, beyond therapy, to love and friendship.

We are heading into Yom Kippur, which is a holiday of forgiveness. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are an opportunity for reflection and atonement. The idea is to reach out to those we have wronged during the year and ask for their forgiveness. Although, there is a divine prompting to this ritual, it remains a chance to become vulnerable, to open ourselves up to our humanity.

Throughout her journey towards being what she calls, ‘ a survivor’, my friend has consistently been a bright light of love to those around her. She has raised beautiful children, she has been a teacher. She has been not only a lighthouse but a shelter for those that she perceived to have been abused. She stands up for the rights of others. She has been a pillar of friendship and faith in humanity for me. She has even forgiven the one who tormented her. This was not because she condoned their actions but for her own sanity.

 

It seems she has forgiven life itself for the hardships it has handed her. She has managed to find the vast good and beauty life paradoxically holds out to her. This is the kind of forgiveness that allowed her to laugh and bring hope and joy into her world, even while she wrestled with the lie that told her she was no good. She has navigated through the pain to the fullness of what can be given and received.

Yom Kippur uses the imagery of a Book of Life. We are encouraged to say to one another, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a healthy and happy year.” Beyond religious conviction, this ritual prompts us to expand our circle beyond ourselves, but to be included in the rippling gratitude that recognizes faults, slights and hardship can all be overcome with love and forgiveness.

May you be inscribed for a meaningful and transformative year of great beauty that brings you and those around you a freedom vaster than survival.

Connect to the Chuckle Beyond the Easy Thought

Breaking out reactive control to embrace the unknown.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“All want to do, is empty my emerald-filled pockets on this tear stained world for you.”- Hafiz

This weekend, Julia and I were fortunate to play a concert for two wonderful communities in Ohio. At one of the events, our dear friend and guest speaker, Lisa Ferraro, offered an inspired talk about being mindful of, what I’ll refer to as, “the easy thought” and the thought that follows on its heels.

Very often, our mind will assess a situation and present us with what it thinks will be the best, easiest or most pleasurable thing for us. Occasionally, this will be followed by a quieter thought that will seem harder but speaks to something that is beneficial on a deeper level which may turn out to be even more significant for us.

This, soul/heart/intuitive thought, (call it what you can dance with), often prompts us to embrace the unknown. Our mind is often annoyed with this thought because it will take more effort and a certain level of surrender. Lisa gave a wonderful personal example of an instance in which her easy thought told her to exit a delayed flight if given the chance and go have a fun with a friend at a great restaurant. Her second thought challenged her to stay on the flight even with risk of further delays, because the possibility that was ahead of her at a conference in NYC was so unknown that it was intriguing. When faced with the choice, she decided the original plan was more important and stayed the course. Lisa not only had an experience in NYC that was beyond what she could have imagined but she ended up being of tremendous service to a group of misplaced travelers attending the conference. Her story and talk encouraged us to listen to the thought that follows, allowing ourselves to go into the unknown and “letting love blow our minds.”

During our concert that followed, a colorfully dressed bearded character with a large peace sign necklace waltzed in and locked eyes with me. I smiled at him but his expression seemed to suggest, “we will see if you are for real.” As we started playing, song by song, we witnessed him rejoice with his whole being. His audible expressions added a tangible affirmation that lifted and drew others out of their shell. He approached us afterwards and extended an invitation to hire us that night to sing for his guided meditation group.

At this time, it is important to note that Julia and I had been marking the end of this concert as the end of our busy week/weekend and the beginning of well-earned rest. The light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. We had been on the road and powered through a number of performances since we’d left NY mid-week. That morning’s 4:30 a.m. alarm reminded us, once again that by 3 pm, we would be able to “turn-off” for the evening, prior to our drive home the next day.

So, when I was approached by this gentleman, my easy thought was, “I’m not sure any amount of money could entice me.” Then, my subsequent thought was, “This is a unique opportunity to expand our community and who could possibly deny this wild appreciative being and his heart-expanding girlfriend?”  So, like a very wise man, I responded, “I have to first consult with my wife.”

She reluctantly agreed, as she was quite attached to our original plan, but was also inspired by the earlier talk.

Later that evening, we arrived at our host’s house and he was guiding a meditation that ended with telling the folks around him to “connect to the chuckle.” He had everyone giggle while focusing on how it centered the spirit, allowing the opportunity for connection. I thought, “Wow, this is a laughing bodhisattva, a spiritual prankster.”

He had set up a keyboard and introduced us to his students. We started to play, and with humility, I realized what a gift we had been given.

Here I thought that Frank, our host, was a joyful radical fringe element of the community we had met that morning. Now, I realized that he was the center of his own group and was acting as a sort of covalent bond, between circles. Julia and I strive to be a bridge between communities, so Frank was kin.

I have always maintained that consciousness thrives in small pockets, rather than in one big organized group. Frank and his girlfriend, Dawnzie, were an emerald-filled pocket onto themselves.

As we played, a young woman asked us to repeat one of our lyrics. Saying aloud to her, “If I could reach across the great divide, our tears would become nourishment and heal us from inside,” it struck me that part of the ability to reach across, was to listen past the easy thought and embrace the chuckle.

Posted all around the meeting room were mandalas, pictures of enlightened figures, and posters with many of Franks light-hearted sayings, such as, “Stay in the Pleasant Tense.” He offered us one of his books of poetry which delighted us all the way home. His phrases have started to come up like a play list in my mind:

THE HOLY GRAIL: THERE ARE MANY HOLY GRAILS – AFFECTION FOR THE MOMENT, GENUINE LOVE FOR EVERYONE AND PASSION FOR LIFE ARE SOME GOOD EXAMPLES.”

BUILD A COMPLAINT FREE ENVIRONMENT AROUND YOU.”

KINDNESS ENRICHES ANY GIVEN MOMENT AND OFTEN CAUSES LOVE TO APPEAR IN PEOPLE’S EYES.”

TRY TO GET CLOSE TO SOMEONE SO YOUR AFFECTION HAS SOMEWHERE TO SPLASH.”

-Frank Tennyson/ author of several books, including, Nod Wisely-Smile Knowingly, No One Wins When Clowns Fight, Zigzagging through the Straight and Narrow.

Enjoy a video of Frank talking about staying in the “Pleasant Tense”: https://youtu.be/FwiXgVmoGXw

Wherever we travel, moment to moment we are offered so many riches, we cannot possibly contain them. Instead of remaining insular, we can listen for the ways we can expand and connect our circles, to spread the wealth around. Chuckling, we will find we are connected to more than we can give away. Julia and I are looking forward to nudging each other towards our intuitive thoughts more often.

Every Age is the Best Age to Be

Engaging while aging.

Iris Apfel- Fashion Icon- is 96

“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”- The Levins

My parents recently shared a marvelous HBO documentary with my wife Julia and I, titled, “If You’re Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast.” The quote belongs to George Burns but show is the inspired by Carl Reiner, writer of The Dick Van Dyke Show, among other amazing accolades. It spotlights individuals in their 90’s, who are actively doing what they love and exemplifying the phrase, “still going strong!”  It featured not only Carl’s fellow comedians, singers, actors, and writers but runners, painters, sky divers and more.

As a performer, any time I see someone decades older than me still rocking it, I am seriously heartened. If it is being done, it can be done.

Dick Van Dyke- 91, Carl Reiner- 95, Mel Brooks- 91, Norman Lear-95 years young

When I was young, I joined a band of merry makers who performed comical skits for a local nursing home. We didn’t “knock ’em dead” but we didn’t stir them to life either. The truth is, we weren’t very good but this was my first real exposure to older people sitting around, seemingly lifelessTo my young mind, they had been attacked by the spiders of time, who had consumed their vitality and left them covered in cobwebs. It terrified me.

When I came home, I told my mother about the experience and began to cry saying that I did not want to get old. My mother hugged me and told me not to worry. She suggested that I continue to focus on doing what I loved. Then she said something that sent up a flare in my mind that has never gone out: “Every age is the best age to be.”

Betty White, actress and animal rights activist is 95

My fear was assuaged and I remembered my grandmother. My grandma Ida was filled with vitality and so were her gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons. These cookies were always preceded with a mighty hug and practically leapt from the dish, rising up with the love that had gone into baking them. Here was the difference. My grandmother’s vitality was not inspired by fulfilling some stereotype or motivated by winning my affections, but was driven genuinely by merely offering love.

One of the points made in the film was that one key to vitality was spending time each day in face to face engagement. Not on the computer or phone screen, but face to face with someone in conversation. Face to face engagement with life itself. Actively enjoying life is its own vitality generator.

My family exemplifies this. My mom, in her eighties, does Kundalini yoga, meditates, swims, does her crossword puzzle, and laughs with abandon. Her older sister Phyllis is still auditioning and acting in LA.  My dad remains an avid reader, actively studies history, goes out with friends, and is the classiest host of life’s party that I know. His older sister, Bev is 89, volunteers at a pre-school, plays mahjong, and just got back from seeing her 98-year-old cousin whose catch phrase is, “We’re on the move!”.

Before we saw the documentary, Julia and I were pondering all the time spent in youth, pining to be older. She conjectured about how much more constructive life could have been or how much fun could have been had instead of yearning for the things that could be done when we were “old enough”. That yearning is supplanted, for many, with a new yearning for all the things that can be accomplished once we are sufficiently prepared. Life can be postponed with the thought that everything must be “in place” before we begin to live our dreams. Conversely, we can miss opportunities, telling ourselves that we are no longer in our twenties, thirties, forties, etc.

Ursula Le Guinn, author is 87

The documentary mentioned how much energy we now spend as a society trying to remain young, not allowing ourselves to see how beautiful we are, where we are.

Over the past few years, when Julia and I have gone to sing for local assisted living residents, we have witnessed drooping spirits rise up and bloom as they start to sing along with songs that they remember. This isn’t just a remembrance of the past but a shared connection with others in the moment.

Tony Bennett, celebrated singer is 91

Active engagement with something or someone we love, puts the wheel back in our hands. Whether we are blessed with examples within our circle of family or friends or take heart from documentaries like Carl and his friends, we can choose to do what we love, with love and share that love at any age. When love drives the boat, we can navigate the waves with pleasure.

“Hope brings motion. Motion brings change. Change is your friend when the going gets strange.

The going gets strange.”- The Levins

Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, peace activist is 90