Author Archives: summersongsunlimited@yahoo.com

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

Empathy Closes the Gap

Finding ways to relate to the “other”

Bring anger and pride under your feet, turn them into a ladder and climb higher.- Rumi

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville, I believe we each have been deputized as ambassadors of good will. When things become so ugly, it is easy to get drawn into the rabbit hole of fear and contempt. While it is certainly important to speak out strongly against hatred, it is vital to stand as love. That is the strongest aspect of our being. Being able to align ourselves with our compassion will allow more people to recognize and come back to their own humanity.

Isis, neo Nazis, the KKK and similar terrorist groups represent a cancer that can claim us if we become disenfranchised from our hearts. Many people are drawn into those groups because of a prolonged isolation from love.

It becomes all too easy to put people out of our hearts when we are confronted by violence and atrocities fueled by ignorance, greed and fear. The motivation for us to strive not to give into hatred ourselves, is the toll it takes on our internal being, peace of mind and overall health. If we allow fear and loathing to dictate our speech and actions, the outer circle that we banish our “enemies” to, will start to contaminate the inner circle of our loved ones, as well as everything we hold dear.

I have talked to friends who have survived family abuse who said they finally came to forgiveness, not because they would ever condone what was done, but because it was the only way they could survive and have any semblance of wholeness.

One of the things, I believe, that has opened this floodgate of hate crimes is our increasing inability to talk to one another across a widening divide. While leaders have used fear of the “other” to gain personal power, average citizens are drawn into factions. They are carefully segregated and become calloused towards folks with who they might otherwise have been able to find common ground.

Professor of Sociology, Rob Willer, points out in his TED talk that many of us are going into our separate ideological silos. We watch different news, have different friends, we are reluctant to date someone from a different party and don’t want our children to marry across political lines. His suggestion for bridging the gap between us is what he calls “moral reframing.” It is recognizing that everyone has their own moral values. When you are speaking to someone about a button-pushing issue for them, use language that embraces their morals. Certain terminology that will allow them to let down their defenses long enough to actually listen to you.

I believe that life is, in part, a game of semantics. We all have a set of vocabulary words that we feel define our beliefs. We also have a set of words that set off flares for us. The key in this game is not to have the person you are trying to reach pull up the stakes of their circus tent and hit the highway on you.

“Moral reframing” will obviously be much harder to practice with people who have been indoctrinated into a hate group, but even within those dark circles, there are those who can still be reached.

I used to watch To Kill a Mockingbird every year, to remind myself what it means to be human. In one of the most powerful scenes, a small girl innocently dispels a lynch mob by talking kindly to one of its ring leaders, who seems to wake up and remember that he is a family man and a decent person at heart.

The time is now to start reaching out to those who have not yet reached the place where they are susceptible to becoming inhuman. This tragedy in Charlottesville, and the one in Barcelona, have shaken us up. There is a window of opportunity for us to start a conversation. I am not suggesting we start with the people perpetrating the violence but with people we know, maybe within our family, who belong to a different political party, who may be feeling the need to reach out as well.

We all feel innately that we are in the right. I was taught in theater school that when playing a villain, you do not play them as if they are choosing to be evil but make the audience feel, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”

Rob Willer ended his talk with the words, “Empathy and respect.” These are the pillars that hold up the building we are all sharing. They are the key to every philosophical and religious understanding.

It is also only natural that, with the tensions we are retaining, with all we encounter in the news, that we will use humor to lighten our perspective. While I am a fan of certain political comedy, and applaud the comedian’s ability to spotlight truth in the face of tyranny, I also know that there is a certain point where I can find myself tipping into vindictiveness.

I recognize that when we continue to insult and hurt one another’s feelings, it escalates our collective antagonism. The result has become increasingly more violent. We can begin to find ways to relate to those we consider to be “other” in small ways. The Hindu teacher, Yogananda recommended that we become “smile millionaires.” I have personally found that a genuine smile offered without an ulterior motive, can dismantle walls.

Perhaps practicing “moral reframing” even before we look for the right words to say to one another starts with a willingness to admit that those “other” people are still people, even when they are consciously or unconsciously identifying as monsters. If we are not at the place where we can admit that yet, then we can start by becoming more human ourselves.

 

“I can see you are me in disguise, let me wipe the tears from your eyes.”- The Levins

 

Being Bigger Than the “Veil”

Shifting Our Perspective to Seek Solutions for Racial Equality

“I’m on my knees looking for the answer. Are we human, or are we dancer*?”

-from the song Human/The Killers

I saw a moving, one-man play written by Alexa Kelly, and performed by Brian Richardson, at my local library about the life of W.E. DuBois. It was called A Man for All Times .

Poet, author, editor, activist, Dr. W.E. Du Bois believed that literacy and education were tools to help us lift the veil. The “veil” was what he called the racial divide in our country. W.E. DuBois helped found the NAACP and his newspaper, The Crisis, was a vital catalyst, support and contributor, as well as critic, of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a complicated man who quested for world peace, convinced it was the key to equal rights for all people.

He strived to bring his fellow countrymen and those around the world, their basic inalienable human rights. He was a civil rights leader who died the night before Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream speech.”

Hearing this fact about the timing of his death, I started to cry. There is a torch that is passed in clear daylight that remains invisible to the eye that is “veiled.”

Watching the documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on James Baldwin’s writings, it became apparent that what Mr. Baldwin, an eloquent, beautiful and courageously observant author had to say in 1965 is just as pertinent today. Essentially, the veil over our eyes prevents us from really looking at the inequality that is perpetuated consistently on a vital portion of our population.

When we look at the human condition, greed and privilege are too tempting for those who already have what they perceive as power. It is hard to resist and, unless we shift perspective, we won’t be willing to give our “privilege” up, even if it means moral bankruptcy.

In the documentary, James Baldwin also suggests that there is a gap between what we want to be seen as and what we are. This causes problems in the home, which spurns us to create scapegoats outside of ourselves, to blame our unhappiness on, to put someone else down in order to build ourselves up to where we think we ought to be.

The problem comes from the belief in a “me”. My ego will never be appeased, it will always think it should have more. Ironically, what we are is actually more than what we conceive ourselves to be.

“We look at life from a viewpoint of seventy or eighty years. But if the reference point were seventy or eighty billion light years, what would our reference point be then?”

- Sailor Bob Adams/author/teacher of non-dualistic perception

What if the question to the answer we are seeking is, “Who are we beyond the veil?”

What if we woke up, not just to realize that the world isn’t white, or black, but that we are, “DANCER”*? It is an investigation.

Are we just these temporal bodies or are we something that dances within everything? What if the awareness inside of us in this present moment is something that is looking out from everyone’s eyes simultaneously? Our seeming separation from one another and the planet we live on, causes us to strike out, to attempt to dominate everything. But if we are everything, we do not need to go to all that trouble or to make that much trouble for everyone else.

Martin Luther King understood that retaliation escalates hostility. What may have woken America up, momentarily, during the Civil Rights Movement was seeing people, men, women and children being attacked and not striking back. There was an alignment with a love that is vaster than ignorance and hatred.

I remember a friend telling me about being in a restaurant where a huge, tattooed biker stood outside the window watching him with venomous hatred. He had gone outside and said something like, “I know you hate my guts and that you probably wish I was dead. I am not challenging your beliefs.  I just want to know how you came to have them.”  The man had been braced for a fight but found himself telling my friend his story.  At one point, he said the man’s eyes went out of focus and, when they came back, he seemed to be in shock.  Here he was getting to talk about his pain. He was talking to my friend, oblivious or despite the color of his skin color, telling him something he may never have gotten to share with anyone, even himself.  After he finished, he actually said, “Thank you.”  This was a form of empathetic martial arts.  My friend said he doesn’t know if it changed that man’s life but it changed his. He had grown up with violence and had been all about conflict up until that point.  Now, he realized that being able to shift the conflict, staying centered in peace was a path he could take.

The mind tends to divide. The heart can unify.  What we are goes beyond the veil.  By each of us meditating on being bigger than a body confined to a timeline, we can connect to solutions that will allow us to see one another clearly, finding a way to prosperity that does not require someone else to pay a price that we would never be willing to pay.

Time, Space and Turntables

A Vinyl Meditation.

Some of my earliest recollections are of my dad selecting a classical album, as if it were a bottle of rare wine from his cellar. He would get me to lie on the carpet, close my eyes, and then say, “Tell me what you see.” The needle would hit. Crackling into life, wasn’t just an orchestra or a symphony, it was portal. There were landscapes, dimensions of worlds that opened in my imagination.

By the time I was a teenager, sitting with your eyes closed, listening to a carefully selected album was a social event. It was something that allowed us to gather together as friends. It opened us up and increased the bond between us. We loved holding the covers, especially the double albums. We obsessed over the history and details of the music.  We prided ourselves on knowing the band members, the year an album was released and the studios where they were recorded. It led to the discovery of new groups and the ability to recognize every signature riff. We analyzed, memorized and held discourse on the lyrics.   Getting absorbed in the artwork, in the interludes, was our version of meditation. Singing and dancing to the latest and greatest records was the foundation of our community. Those experiences serve me to this day.

In considering if my group’s next musical recording should be pressed into vinyl, I read that people “over fifty” do not buy records. The new demographic concentrates on teens through thirty. Surely, hipsters in Brooklyn are buying them, but I had to ask myself why I had yet to pull  out my old turntable.  Did I get a pang when I saw a milk carton filled with records at a garage sale?  Sure. Have I experienced a secret longing to buy the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 album on display at a roadside restaurant? Absolutely.  So, what was my hesitation?  Time and space.

In our fast-paced reality, I have a hard time justifying spending time to pull the turntable out if its storage space.  It would also take time to clear a space for it, as well as unearth the lone crate of records that remains from my vast collection of vinyl that dwindled as I moved from place to place.

I allow myself time to occasionally binge watch something with my wife, so why not take time to engage in an ancient ceremony of sound? TV is a conventional, accepted mode of relaxing, so I could justify that, but taking time to enjoy vinyl seemed to be like climbing a tree for some reason. It is something I used to love to do, but seemed like it would take too much effort to enjoy.

Recently, while visiting a high school friend, her son couldn’t wait to show me his vinyl collection. He had hooked up his turntable to a guitar amplifier and other speakers around their basement. My friend was delighted because her son was not only listening to his music, but he was becoming enthusiastic about bands she had tried to get him to listen to for years. We sat down and listened to his makeshift surround sound, while he turned me onto a group that I wouldn’t have heard on my own. We sat and listened, not needing to talk.  When we did, the bond between us deepened. It felt like a mystical rite of passage that I feared lost in this generation.

After visiting another friend whose turntable definitely augmented our evening together, I finally decided to jump over the invisible barrier and dig mine out again.

Something amazing happened. I created the time and space to set it up. The exhalation of determination parted the red sea of my schedule. I even took the time to make sure all the speakers around my living room where hooked up properly. I became aware of the moment as the needle engaged the groove. Was it different then playing CDs, or listening to my favorite music on my iPhone with headphones?

It was.

There is a tangible warmth and immediacy that fills the space with vinyl. I chose an old record, which felt like taking up where I left off with a close friend. The cracks and pops were endearing. I never have enjoyed when the record skips, but now it reminds me that life isn’t a polished exactitude but something that is happening right now.

When my iPhone is on shuffle, or I am streaming music, I love it. It is like having my own radio station. Still, the turntable stands as an opportunity to savor life in a different way. It can be similar to the Japanese tea ceremony, which is an elaborate ritual designed to enhance the harmony and beauty inherent in everyday things. A turntable isn’t automatic. There is first, the selection of the album, the removing of the vinyl from its sleeve, then you get to choose a side, place it onto the spindle. The dust can be lovingly brushed off. The power is turned on and you get to practice the care of placing the needle where you want it to land. All of this, provides the opportunity to become present enough to really listen.

Vinyl offers the chance to reconsider the connection that individual songs have to the whole. Why did the artist choose these songs in this order on this album? The art of creating an album, of listening to an album from beginning to end, has also been relegated to shuffle. Records can again become like books, speaking to us of other points of view, widening our perspective.

I grew up in an era when there were 45 records on the back of cereal boxes. There were brightly colored Close and Play toy phonographs. We had a stereo console in our living room, that sat opposite our family piano. My father had a walk-in closet filled with records.  I knew the words to nearly every Broadway show because my mom played those records all day long.

In college, I used to eat ramen pride noodles, so I could afford to go to Vinyl Fever, where the owner would make recommendations that would expand my horizons. Today, I will spend twenty dollars on a bowl of ramen noodles in NYC, and I could get a new blue tooth turntable for thirty-five bucks.

Perhaps, vinyl’s comeback is a sign that our society is yearning to slow down enough to reconnect to something tangible. Something that we can savor; that we can share to unite generations. A  way to bring harmony and beauty back into our daily lives.

I have been enjoying selecting albums in the mornings to play. They fill the house with a soundtrack again.  Regardless of how old you are, allow yourself the luxury of a turntable, if you can. It will do more than connect you to your past, it will bring unexpected breadth back into the present.

 

The One Word that Makes America Really America

A Contemplation for Our 241st Birthday

I read a book in which an Aboriginal tribe asks why we celebrate birthdays. They point out that we get older regardless. That, in itself, is not a reason to celebrate.

“We celebrate if we are a better, wiser person this year than last. Only you would know, so it is you who tells the others when it is time to have the party.”- Mutant Message Down Under/ Marlo Morgan

Today is America’s birthday. It is up to each of us, individually, to decide if the collective spirit within our land has become better and wiser.

There is a part of me that wants to rail out against the plans to defund our public libraries, the first of which was founded by Benjamin Franklin. The current efforts to privatize our public museums, parks, and schools, for me, diminishes the flame that fires our collective imagination and soul.

Emma Lazarus was the Jewish poet who gave our Statue of Liberty these words to proclaim:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”

I feel the pilgrims, the founding fathers and Emma would all be ashamed at our current lack of hospitality.

Still, there is a part of me that appreciates that we were the first nation to not be ruled by a king. Our ideal is that America can be ruled by the people, for the people.  A nation that recognizes its inhabitants are…

“created equal…endowed…with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”- Thomas Jefferson

To me, America is all of humanity living peacefully, boldly, as weird as we want to be.

There is an image conjured up in the TV show, This is US, of an abstract painting. While the painting is a metaphor for life, it can also apply to us here in the US.

“We all get to come along and we add our own color to the painting…

And these colors that we keep adding, what if they keep getting added on top of one another, until, eventually, we’re not even different colors anymore? Just one thing, one painting?

Not you, me or them, it’s just us. And this sloppy, wild, magical thing that has no beginning and no end is right here. I think it’s US.”- This Is Us – Kevin’s Painting of Life https://youtu.be/xh-Tof_QxKU

I am celebrating today because I am grateful that, at this point, we still have the one word that really makes America truly beautiful.

We still have a free press and can share the ideas of those we admire. So, I would like to allow the American author Tom Robbins the chance to reveal this one word to you:

“The word that allows yes, the word that makes no possible.
The word that puts the free in freedom and takes the obligation out of love.
The word that throws a window open after the final door is closed.
The word upon which all adventure, all exhilaration, all meaning, all honor depends.
The word that fires evolution’s motor of mud.
The word that the cocoon whispers to the caterpillar.
The word that molecules recite before bonding.
The word that separates that which is dead from that which is living.
The word no mirror can turn around.
In the beginning was the word and that word was,,,

CHOICE”

 ~ Tom Robbins/ Still Life With Woodpecker

From the far right, to the far left, from the Jimi Hendrix museum in Seattle to the Pride-filled sunsets of Key West, from the nude beaches in San Diego, to the bilingual English and French speaking residents at the tip of Maine, and everyone in between, the CHOICE is still yours!

Happy 4th of July!

 

Being “Vintage” in our Disposable Culture.

Keeping things real in and out of business.

This week, my wife, Julia, and I took our laptop to the Apple store to get a new battery for it. We were told that all models before 2012 are considered “vintage” and Apple no longer works on them.

Our computer is a great product and, with a new battery, it will last a few more years. We surmised that Apple doesn’t work on “vintage” products because they want us to buy a new computer every few years, even though we don’t need to.

Before I ever considered buying a Mac, I remember their “Think Different” campaign.  They had posters of people like Albert Einstein, Jim Henson, Jane Goodall, Jackie Robinson, Pablo Picasso, Amelia Earhart and the like. They had a commercial that said:

Here’s to the crazy ones

The ones who see things differently…

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I just read a book called Mutant Message Down Under about some “crazy ones” who call themselves, the Real People. They are a small Outback nation of Aborigines, who have been around for fifty thousand years. In all that time, “they have destroyed no forests, polluted no water, endangered no species, caused no contamination, and all the while they have received abundant food and shelter. They have laughed a lot and cried very little. They live long, productive, healthy lives and leave spiritually confident.”*

They are “crazy” enough not to even want to change the world but to recognize how wonderful the world is, as it is.  They live with and honor the land, which provides all of their needs, for free. They honor each individual among them in a way that we reserve for the people on Apple’s Think Different posters.

One of these Real People noted:

“Your businesses were started so people could get better items collectively than they could get by themselves… But now the goal of business is to stay in business. It seems strange to us because we see the product as a real thing, and people as real things, but business isn’t real. A business is only an idea, only an agreement, yet the goal of business is to stay in business regardless.”*

Julia and I are grateful for our Mac and various technologies. They are powerful tools that help us create and share ideas. Still, we strive to be the “crazy ones” who will find another store to replace our computer’s battery. Being “vintage” ourselves, we believe that we are not living life to just buy new things. We are living life to generate as much love as we can.  We believe that we can recharge and even replace one another’s batteries with the way we honor one another.

We do not need to live in the Outback to appreciate the value of life. Even though living in the city makes it harder to see the stars at night, we can see them if we persistently look up.

*- Quotes from Mutant Message Down Under by- Marlo Morgan

Change your Story, Change your life

Do I live in a friendly or hostile universe?

I was riding the train into Manhattan when a man sitting opposite hailed me.  He showed me his purple heart metal and said he had two of them.  Apparently,  he wasn’t being given enough common courtesy from the woman taking the tickets. His father came to the US from Italy and, as soon as he had landed, signed up and fought in the Second World War.  He, himself, had served in Vietnam but ruminated that, with the people coming into the country now and the way folks acted, he wouldn’t do it again.  I said there were a lot of good people. His opinion was that there are only a handful. We agreed that a little common courtesy went a long way. Just talking with him seemed to sway his view that this society was no longer worth serving. He boarded the train with a story in his head that he was verifying. That story was capable of being shifted.

When I got home, I found a letter from a close friend. She said someone had given her an unexpected sum of money and she was sharing it with Julia and I because she believed in who we were and what we were doing. This kindness and consideration blew us away. Even though our friend could have certainly used this money for herself, she felt she could afford to offer a portion of it to us. She believed sending us this gift would enrich her being. Knowing this friend, I can say that she does feel that this society is worth serving.  It is another story that can be verified.

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I do have to remind myself often that I live in a friendly universe.

However, I have demonstrated the validity of this decision to myself innumerable times. When I find that my mind is taking me down a rabbit hole, and I am becoming anxious about the state of the world and what might happen if this or that occurs, I declare that I live in a friendly universe. I can actually feel the story I am telling myself start to shift. The outcome, for me so far, is that I continue to live in a friendly universe. For that, I am immensely grateful.

I believe the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, would have agreed with Albert that our beliefs and reactions to the world around us reflect the stories that we subscribe to.  Each religion, spiritual practice and culture revolves around a set of stories.

People in power with vested interests, and salesmen in the media, often try to convince us that we live in a hostile universe. This belief leads to fear of others whose stories are different from our own. It can also lead us to take our own stories literally and become ridged in our thinking. Once our hearts are closed off, we often find that we do, indeed, live in a hostile universe.

I also believe we can get to a place where we are able to share our stories to mutually benefit one another.

I know someone whose basement was flooded one year just before Christmas. All of her families’ presents were destroyed. On Christmas day, her doorbell rang and when she answered it, instead of finding a person, she discovered a mountain of presents for her family. When people ask her if she has told her kids that Santa is not real, she says that he is. Someone used their story of a jolly man who brings presents and good cheer to others, to help this woman’s family; they became Santa Claus. Santa is a story that we can take to heart, that we share to mutually benefit one another.

There is a Jewish legend of the Lamid Vavniks, that predates Santa and describes 36 anonymous folks who are so pure of heart they keep the whole world in balance.  This story makes it a virtue to do something wonderful for someone else in secret.

How many other myths or stories outside of our comfort zone could benefit us in ways that we have not even considered?

Being willing to not only shift our own story but recognize something beautiful in someone else’s story, can help us to decide, on a daily basis, that we live in a friendly universe.

The Story I Can Hear

“If we see it all as literal, it might end up in a fight.

If we see it as a story, it might work out alright.

Let’s go out and meet the modern, willing to embrace-

See the gold inside the dust, be the change that’s taking place.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills my eyes and opens up the skies.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills the skies and opens up my eyes.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.

We’re busy telling stories. Meanwhile, life goes on.

It listens to our verses. It sings all of our songs.

One song. Our songs.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.”

The Levins  (inspired by Joseph Campbell)

May your story place you in the center of a friendly universe.