Many Happy Returns

Birth, Death and Friendship

“It’s all one big day.  The sun is a maypole and we are winding away.

How many moments, reflected like diamonds, gather around you

to light up your way?” – Time to Go/ The Levins

***

The return journey around the sun is an opportunity for reflection. As the date of my entry point into the world approaches again, I have been thinking a lot about how our lives are intertwined.

I have never officially participated in a birthday maypole dance, which is traditional on May Day for some, but while I was living in California there was one morning that passed for one. My wife Julia decided to orchestrate a sweet celebration for me by secretly inviting two of my closest friends to town.  There is a dream like quality of discovering two familiar faces that inhabit your heart but not your daily space suddenly appearing behind a door. Time excused itself and the spaciousness that surrounds all things momentarily expanded, imbuing the surprise with an elongated sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

This occurred the day before my birthday. There was much rejoicing late into the evening. Music, reveling, creating new memories to laugh about.  Some friendships pick up right where you left off.  I fell into sweet dreams which were shaken up the next morning when my cousin phoned to tell me that my uncle Jeff had passed away during the night.

My mom’s brother Jeff was my holy goof. Sometimes, he would rake his two-day stubble across my face suddenly in an enthusiastic ritual of affection. His natural earthy musk would be mingled with apple cider vinegar, which he would practically bathe in to promote good health. To this day, this act reminds me that love is something that can playfully invade your private space.

Jeff was a beautiful synthesis of Baba Ram Dass and Woody Allen. He had the understanding of how we are more than our bodies while maintaining enough of the episodic-neurotic New Yorker to keep things real. I had just been down to see him in the hospital the week before. He had been singing to the nurses.

His message to us all during his battle with cancer was to be at peace. He had been an actor and a dancer.  Instead of losing a leg and being dismantled piece by piece, he decided it was best to take his curtain call. He managed to be released from the hospital and with his powers of intention, slipped away quietly in the night.

I entered the living room that morning, with my uncle now a part of me. Julia and my friends were there for me but I felt Jeff was with me, as well. Somehow, even closer than before he left. There was an unspoken reassurance that our journey together was not tragically linear.

I put on one of my favorite records, which is Jethro Tull’s Songs from the Wood. All of us began to dance around the living room. I sang along with the lyric, “Join the chorus if you can. It will make of you an honest man.” Again, there was the sense of being inside and outside of myself simultaneously.

The doorbell rang. It was my neighbors and their little girl bringing me a gift. The sun streamed in as I knelt down to receive the wreath of Spring flowers she had woven for me.  My neighbor’s daughter had long blonde hair and little red checks. There were flowers in her hair, as well, and in the golden light, she looked like a cherubic faery. We invited them to join our dance, winding around each other, taking up the invisible ribbons, celebrating the life that was ours to share.

This was many years ago. Yet, even though those friends and neighbors are far away, I am still intertwined with them. As for my uncle, I offer up this new lyric to him and for all of us holding the memory of someone dear while we celebrating our entrances and exits on this grand stage.

“I cried because I lost you.

I lived because I loved you.

I laugh because I knew you.

I’m vast because I’m with you.”

Many happy returns!

 

You are the Earth- The Earth is You

Reaching the ‘Becoming Life Point’.

“Captain Tree: ‘Leaf your worries behind.

Climb up high.

Be still and you will find.

See the world as it was meant to be.

Free, free, free.’”

-Ira Scott Levin (Uncle Eye)/ Captain Tree

***

In honor of Earth Day, I humbly suggest that the Earth is here for all of us, regardless of our belief, culture, or point of view. It does not discriminate or judge us. Silently turning, it churns out life in myriad forms.

Throughout history, poets have paused to listen to the Earth’s song whistling through the meadows and mountains.  Its verses are endless but the refrain is essentially the same:

“Make of me what you will for you are me and I am you.”

The Earth is modeling a way of being that encourages us to recognize what we have to offer.

If I were to find the cornucopia, the mythical ‘horn of plenty’ that perpetually pours out fruits, nuts and flowers, I would be overcome with wonder. If I thought I was the cornucopia, and could offer beauty and nourishment to everyone I met, it would transform my life. If I lived on the cornucopia and was not aware that I was a part of it, I might not take the time to be still enough to recognize what was at hand.

The famous mythologist, Joseph Campbell, interpreted what the poet T. S. Elliot called the  “still point of the turning world” as “The energy of the center. The inexhaustible fountain, of the source.”

He reflects on this “source” further by saying, “The source doesn’t care what happens once it gives into being. It’s the giving and coming into being that counts, and that’s the becoming life point in you…

…I think of grass- you know, every two weeks a chap comes out with a lawnmower and cuts it down. Suppose the grass were to say, ‘Well, for Pete’s sake, what’s the use if you keep getting cut down in this way ?’ Instead, it keeps on growing.”

Think of this within you.  How often does life try to beat you down? We are subjected to life’s forest fires, that flare up and claim what we love. There are bitter winters, droughts, floods; we are strip -mined, poisoned, polluted, over-populated and yet…Like the Earth, we can still access “the becoming life point.” We may be broken open but are capable of bestowing beauty and nourishment to ourselves and those that are not even here yet.

So, here’s to the Earth and here’s to you my friend. May you come into the fullness of your splendor.

The Sanctity of Laughter

A relative anecdote

“Being Jewish has taught me how to laugh! First and foremost, to laugh at myself and at my situation. More important, to laugh in order to act in the world.  This is not to say we are to make fun of someone or make light of our fate. Rather, one is not to take oneself too seriously, but to take one’s responsibilities very seriously. 

Laughter opens the door to hope and healing. It opens up new possibilities. Listen to what’s funny to children and it will reveal a new world and a new generation. The first Jewish child born was called “Yitzchak” (one will laugh).

Laughter- we pack it in our luggage, we season our Friday night soup with it. Often it is mixed with tears.  We have fought despair relentlessly. Laughter is one of our secret weapons.”

-Rabbi Naamah Kelman, first woman ordained in Israel, Hebrew Union College

My father shared the above quote this year at our family’s Passover Seder. Earlier in the day, he told us a story from when he was a boy living in Baltimore.  On Saturdays, after temple, he and his buddy would use their weekly allowance to go downtown for lunch and a movie.  They would catch a street car for a nickel each way. For thirty cents, they could have lunch at the Chinese restaurant, (twenty-five cents for the meal, five cents for the tip.) Afterwards, for seven cents, a matinee at the movie theater. The street car only came every few hours, so if they missed it, they would miss their favorite Saturday adventure. The problem was, it came shortly after temple and the rabbi would walk home right by where they caught the trolley.  Since they were Orthodox, they were not supposed to be taking a street car on Shabbat.  This was the kind of rabbi that would have certainly told their parents and gotten them in trouble. So, if they saw the rabbi coming, they would hide by diving into the hedges where they would pray that the street car wouldn’t arrive until after the rabbi had rounded the corner.  They never missed a movie.  “I guess you could say,” my father concluded, “that was an example of living through prayer.”

My father has taught me how to hold up the essence of what our heritage offers us without being confined by it.  His rabbi would have said he was not taking his responsibilities seriously but my dad grew up to be the most responsible individual I have ever met.  

I intrinsically see and relish universal truths that dance outside the circle of my prescribed faith. Yet, because of my father, I also know that with prayer, you don’t have to miss the matinee.

Year after year, we hear the same story of Moses being hidden among the bulrushes but this was the first time I heard about my dad diving into the hedges. This puts the tradition of gathering together to celebrate our freedom in proper perspective. Emancipation comes in many forms. Sharing laughter with loved ones is perhaps my favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the history of my people.

 

Spring’s colorful conspiracy.

The joys of renewal.

“A saint is an earth in eternal spring. Hafiz is a poet whose song I sing. Inside the veins of a petal on a redbud tree are hidden worlds where he may be.”- Hafiz (Rendered by Daniel Ladinsky and The Levins)

Here in NY, winter clings as if it begrudges spring its inevitability. Still, the daffodils have started to blossom in wild packs in our yard. They survived a serious snow storm that buried them after they had started to emerge from the ground. When it was time to shovel the walkway the next day, my wife Julia suggested we make a stop-action short that made it look like the snow was shoveling itself. There is always something to enjoy in winter. It doesn’t stop us from heading out to make music any more than it stops the deer and the groundhog (who lives under our deck) from traipsing all over our yard.  They leave trails that look like elaborate dances in the snow. Still, there is a freedom of movement that we rejoice in as the days get longer. We are excited to shed excess layers, putting away the heavy coats and big boots that crowd our entrance ways and closets.

Next week, we will travel down to Florida to join my family around an elongated table. There will be three generations of us celebrating Passover. There will be singing, joking, and philosophical wrestling during our elaborate symbol filled feast. Even though we gather to remember our emancipation from slavery, one of the dictates of this holiday is to be joyful. A mandate of joy seems like an oxymoron but sometimes we could all use a nudge.

I remember celebrating Easter as a kid with friends of my family. I stayed at their house, we colored eggs, they hid them and I went around their apartment looking for them. Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments was on TV that night. The movie played in the background providing an epic backdrop. Even as delighted as I was with the egg hunt, I was aware that the thrill I felt was the connection I had laughing with my hosts. There was something divine about these bright colors staining our fingers, the prospect of discovery and getting to abandon ourselves to play.

Today, I read about the Hindu holiday of Holi, or “festival of colors.” Thousands of people gather in the streets, showering each other with bags of colorful powder called gulal.  The god Krishna was said to have played pranks on children during spring. In honor of this, everyone is invited to be children and a representative of the love-filled deity simultaneously. Again, joy is worked into the ritual. It is a prankster’s holiday where relationships are mended and friendships rejoiced in. Looking at pictures of vast crowds covered in clouds of color, it struck me what a wonderful way to remind ourselves not to let castes or pigmentation divide us.

All over the world, in its own time, spring comes in to warm us up with the promise of renewed life. That is a colorful prospect. Abandoning care long enough to let life in is a liberation. However we choose to celebrate this month, may we feel renewed, connected, colorful and bright.

Hook, Line & Thinker

Navigating Through an Overload of Advice

“I’m all lost in the supermarket I can no longer shop happily I came in here for that special offer A guaranteed personality”- The Clash

Some days it seems the floodgates have opened and we are all but drowning in information tossed at us. We do our best to swim, but then it can seem like we are fish swimming through a gauntlet of hooks.

Even something that is supposed to bring you peace, like meditation, can ironically cause anxiety if it becomes an intellectual exercise. There are so many ways to meditate that vary from teacher to teacher.  Do I keep my palms up or down? Do I keep my eyes open or shut? Am I focused on my breath, the mantra, my heart or my “third eye”? Is walking in the woods or doing the dishes my form of meditation, or do I need to sit for ten minutes or three hours in order to calm my being?

The thing to remember when going through the mega-store of advice with the 5 ways to get this and the 10 ways successful people to that, is that you have an internal guidance system that allows you to choose what is right for you. This internal guidance system operates below the mind’s chatter.  Some call it intuition, some call it discernment. Whatever you call it, there is a calm part of you that offers to help you make the right choice moment to moment.

As someone who loves to investigate and splash around in various practices, I see the value in many things simultaneously. There is a comedic group called The Firesign Theatre that used to sing:

“How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

The book Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda, talks about a yogi who is said to have actually appeared in two places at once.

While that seems impossible, the truth is we just do not know what is possible because we become prisoners to our intellect, and our fear of missing out on what the other kids are doing, (the old FOMO). Perhaps that yogi just realized he was not confined to anywhere at all, so he could simulcast himself like a wandering hologram, or, to borrow from Firesign Theatre again, “a holy-gram.”

So, what am I getting at? I believe we each have something grounding that constantly streams through us. This stream is at once unique as a snowflake and universal as water.

We have an innate sense of peace when we encounter something that rings true for us. We feel the resonance. For example, you might not be a Buddhist but hearing the Dalai Lama laugh might make you feel, “Hey, this guy is alright!” That doesn’t mean your inspiration is telling you to become a monk, but you may agree with him that kindness is key to happiness. You file that notion away and it becomes a part of you.

When we begin to trust the natural flow within us we can navigate through the world without being paralyzed by advice.  Accessing our inner wisdom starts with making peace with all of ourselves. For example, the ego is a part our wholeness in the same way that a  two-year-old having a tantrum can be a beloved part of a family. You can cherish the two-year-old and still not let him drive the car to work.

Calming the part of us that is scared is key. We each can become susceptible to doubt and flop around like a fish out of water wondering if we are ‘doing it right’ (Whatever ‘it’ happens to be in this moment). We may have a good friend that has a practice that gives them great peace, insight, or allows them to travel around in the “astral plane”. We might want to jump on that magic carpet ride. However, if we rush in because we are afraid of not only missing out, but feel that if we don’t follow this particular path, we will remain forever incomplete, then we will not allow ourselves to become grounded enough for any practice to work. There are times when I am overwhelmed, consumed by doubt, and search around for an answer. Then, there are moments of clarity when I allow myself to be where I am and I feel open, flowing, connected to all there is.

I would like to suggest that there is always a part of us that is consciously observing. It watches us freak out, be “brilliant”, and everything in between.  It is open. There is no journey or time needed to access this part of ourselves.  When we are stumped, blocked, misguided by things like fear, depression, or rage, that part of us that is silently observing is still there. The slightest shift of perspective allows us to lovingly reassure our rampaging two-year-old that they are alright.

My uncle Jeff used to say that people and things will try and put their hooks in you but you can let them pass through. It is only in reacting that we get snagged.

By observing ourselves as we swim through a flood of advice, we can keep calm, remain in the flow and give ourselves good advice.

 

Lumpy crossings going up the hill of harmony

Finding where we connect with those who seem so different

I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe is enough to make a bad man show him at his best, or even a good man swings his lantern higher.”- William Butler Yeats

This year to celebrate the Judaic-Celtic connection, instead of drinking green milkshakes and Irish whiskey, my love and I watched The Secret of Kels and listened to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast with Pádraig Ó Tuama.  Mr. Ó Tuama is a poetic theological social healer.  He is the leader of Corrymeela, Northern Ireland’s oldest peace and reconciliation organization. It is a refuge for people around the world. It is a space for people to share cups of tea and listen to one another while learning how to ask themselves the right questions.

When Corrymeela was founded in 1965, they were told the name meant “hill of harmony.” It was 10 years before someone pointed out the Irish word roughly means, “a place of lumpy crossings.” Once we are able to stay centered in an uncomfortable interaction, harmony will arise.  This is a role model we could really benefit from in America right now.

Mr. Ó Tuama illustrated how two groups, seemingly at odds, sat for two days within the heart of Corrymeela before this kind of breakthrough occurred.  A man that considered himself a “fundamentalist” Christian asked those he referred to in the room as “homosexuals” if his words had bruised them. He was told they had.

“Are you telling me that it’s painful for you to be around me?”  the man asked.

He was told that it was.

Mr. Ó Tuama noted that this man “chaplained himself”. That is, he was the one that brought himself to ask that question and was transformed by the answer. No one else could have pointed this out, it was something he had to come to on his own.

This same “fundamentalist” mentioned that he loved a political show on the BBC. Mr. Ó Tuama told him “My partner produces that.” That opened up amazement, curiosity and the capacity to ask the question mentioned above.

This exchange changed not only the “fundamentalist” but Mr. Ó Tuama who said he wanted to see the ways “in which I’m the perpetrator of real hostility and lack of understanding and lazy thinking. I want to be someone like him, who says, ‘Tell me what it’s like to hear the way I talk because I need to be changed.’ ”

This podcast went along splendidly with the animated masterpiece, The Secret of Kels.  The film is a mythical legend about the creation of the Book of Kels, a book that is the most prized treasure in Ireland. It is a Gospel whose illuminating illustrations were started in Scotland and finished in Ireland while the Vikings were ransacking villages for gold. The film suggests that the boy monk who becomes one of the book’s illustrators, is helped by a girl who is the spirit of the forest. The girl is the feminine. She is what would be considered pagan. She is the Goddess, she is the earth and life itself.  Within in this tale, the boy of faith and the girl of nature are able to steal one of the eyes of the serpent of darkness. The eye is a crystal that allows the illustrator to see the miraculous in the ordinary.

This symbol suggested to me that when face our inherited fear and see through the eyes of our ‘enemy’, we can gain a perspective brings light to the darkness of our hearts.

There was a art historian named Sister Wendy Beckett who talked about cultivating the “Gaze of Love”.  That is, placing your love into your eyes and seeing the world that way.

At a time when we are in a place of lumpy crossings with one another, perhaps we can cultivate this “Gaze of Love” to see those whose political, religious, cultural, philosophical and orientation are different from our own. We might even be able to join in a conversation over a cup of coffee or a mug of tea.

“Are there human connection points where quietly you can say to people, ‘Can you help me understand this?’” And maybe then you’ll participate in this fantastic argument of being alive in such a dynamic way that it’s great fun or really enlivening. And you can have a really robust disagreement. And that is the opposite of being frightened of fear because you can create that.” – Pádraig Ó Tuama

We can help one another up the hill, even if we disagree.

 

A Creative Reframing of Stress and Superpowers

Overcoming your fear of utilizing your creativity.

Frame: noun  – “a ridged structure that surrounds or encloses something.”

“Reframing…Your frame is the house you live in.  That which you tell yourself on a regular basis.

What you talk about, you make real. Words are magical incantations.

Create a home that works for you, that brings you peace, that makes you calm.

Frame something that makes you feel good, makes you more patient, more kind.

It’s not a destination, it’s a way of living.”- Drake Powe

One of the advantages of being a travelling musician is getting to listen to audio books and podcasts on the way to various gigs.  Two recent highlights have been Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful resource book about creativity called Big Magic and her follow-up podcast Magic Lessons.

In episode 12 of her podcast, she has a dialogue with author Brene Brown. During that discussion, Brene noted:

“Without (creativity) I am not OK and without having access to everyone else’s, we are not OK.

I absolutely understand, personally and professionally from the data, there are no such thing as non-creative people. There are just people who use their creativity and those that don’t, and unused creativity is not benign.”

Brene Brown

My friend Drake Powe is someone I think of whose living presence is an expression of creativity. Drake was the best man at my wedding. Each interaction I have with him, brings me fully into the present and shifts me back to what is vital in this moment.

Even before he had an outlet for his creativity, Drake’s canvas was interaction.

Drake is a big persona. He is not only larger than life in personality but also in stature.  You might be surprised that despite being over six feet tall with a barrel chest that houses his immense heart,  Drake has wrestled with a fear of being attacked. This might stem from growing up in a rough neighborhood, however, fear of being vulnerable extends to being criticized as well.  Anyone with a presence on line, risks being attacked by mean spirited individuals with a lot of time on their hands.  Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown talk of having to deal with trolls who antagonize them for being powerful women who choose to demonstrate their creativity in an empowering way.  Drake has pushed past his fears and the stress of being an empowering black man in his community. As a yoga instructor, he has felt comfortable dealing with individuals and small groups but recently he has challenged himself to begin speaking in public.

In one of these presentations, he talks of accessing his inner superhero whose power is being calm and optimistic in stressful situations. He has managed to reframe his story, (fears of attack) by applying this superpower. He has recognized that very thing that stresses him out, simultaneously has the power of fueling his gift.

“Conflict is our opportunity when we realize how powerful we are… We are stressed because we feel vulnerable…You are not what you are stressed about…our true state is calm and loving…

Change the size of your framing, make yourself big, make yourself magnificent, because that’s who you are.”- Drake Powe

When I think of what super power I want to have, it is the ability to step outside of time, to be able to experience and bestow a state of timelessness. What pushes my buttons and causes me stress are, most often, fear based time-related issues, such as deadlines and ‘to do’ lists, even if they are self-imposed. When I react from a time-stressed center, my frame becomes small and, as my wife would say, “I am not my best self.” I have experienced that my creativity is heightened when I activate my superpower. Timelessness brings me back to benevolence. Benevolence extends the frame of my being beyond space. The music that flows from that, reduces stress and dances without constraint.

I wonder if each of us has a superpower that is restrained by stress, fear, or not fully utilizing our creativity.

Just for this moment, allow yourself to step out of time, reframe. Go beyond the self you know.

There really is no frame to what we actually are.  Being able to sit within our natural state of being gives us access to our creativity, our ability to be Faster than a speeding negative thought- More powerful than criticism -Able to leap stress at a single bound!

 

The Strength of Gentle-men

The need for a men’s movement for our collective humanity.

Looking at pictures from around the world for International Women’s Day, I am reminded of the hope I felt on January 21st as over 3 million people around the world marched in solidarity to peacefully demonstrate the love of freedom, the love of this planet, and the drive to not be satisfied with less than equality for all women.

I was grateful to be marching in New York and to support what felt like the beginning of humanity waking up to its beautifully diverse potential.  As one sign said, “Women’s rights are Human rights!”

My friend Angie is a mental health and relationship counselor. We talked recently and she told me she has been talking to her male clients about the need for a men’s movement. The women’s movement has risen out of necessity. For women, bonding together to strengthen what has been suppressed goes beyond the right to education and equality. The patriarchy we have clung to as our collective ‘bottom-line’ has created an imbalance that has oppressed the human spirit. Men are conditioned to be bread winners, the top dog, the invading conqueror. Men have been compelled to play a role that equates strength with brute force.

“A mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building an emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of ecstasy.”

Robert Bly, Iron John

Angie pointed out our former president George W. Bush’s comment, “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account…Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive.” Angie was impressed that Mr. Bush was able to include himself in that equation.

I do feel we are on the cusp of collectively being able to relinquish our death grip on the privileged-based hierarchy that undermines our true nature.

Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius, and the author of the Tao Te Ching, talked about four virtues that “are not an external standard or dogma, but attributes of one’s true nature.”

“The first is unconditional natural piety. Natural piety means love and respect for one’s being, both the internal aspects and the external manifestations.; a state of profound reverence toward natural life.

The second virtue is natural sincerity. To be genuine, earnest, honest and whole-hearted. It also means being free of all self-deception.

The third virtue is gentleness. When one is rough, one tends to be aggressive, inconsiderate and unkind to others. This behavior inevitably rebounds on oneself.

The fourth virtue is being naturally supportive. To serve without expecting anything big in return. Through serving others, one can find dignity and the true meaning of life.”

Lao Tzu

This fourth virtue is referred to by Jewish Mystics as “the will to bestow.”

Tony Robbins, a motivational and financial giant, who exceeds anyone’s definition of what it means to be a man’s man has this to say: “I became obsessed with ways to do more for others than anyone else was doing, in less time. I (decided) I would never stop growing, never stop giving, never stop trying to expand my influence or my capacity to give and do good. And as a result, over the years, I’ve become more valuable in the market place.”

Tony is what Joss Whedon, (awesome TV/Screen writer/director) would say was “among the rare men who understood that recognizing someone else’s power doesn’t diminish your own.”

I have a close friend named Eric Reisman who has started a men’s movement called:

The Gentle-man.  He is a mentor who quests to strengthen men’s ability to see that being gentle is not a sign of weakness but that our empathy leads us to our full potential.

Another hub of men’s groups is the mankind project.

My friend Angie’s desire for there to be a unifying Men’s movement is not to emphasize and increase the distinction between men and women. When men are not fueled by insecurity and the need to dominate, there is a freedom that is offered to everyone.

It may be that the men’s movement we need will arise from those men supporting the women’s movement. Being able to be comfortable with who we are, we can begin to identify ourselves beyond form. Then, we will appreciate the need for everyone’s right to be free of labels and social constraint.

“May all be happy in the knowing that we are one family of being with one common heart, a Heart of imageless perfection.”- Mooji

 

Oscar- panning for the Gold-en rule

Looking beyond the flubs to the treasures the Academy Awards offer us as a unique marker of time.

  ©A.M.P.A.S

There’s a lot of love in this room, and let’s use it to create and champion bold and diverse work, work that inspires us towards joy, towards hope and towards empathy.”

Jordan Horowitz, producer, La La Land

 “Tonight is proof that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith…The power of art is that it transcends all these things. That is the magic of the movies and that is what we celebrate tonight.”

-Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs

***

I wonder what my grandmother would have thought about Twitter? It seems to have enough power to wreak political havoc or cause the biggest snafu in Oscar history. It is interesting that this year’s awards may only be remembered for what appeared to be Bonnie and Clyde trying to steal the Moonlight.  As with most things, where we put our attention yields up pyrite or gold.  There was also a vein of nuggets throughout the night such as Viola Davis’ speech that escalated this year’s awards for me.

The Oscars are such a unique marker of time. When I was 14, the Oscars were a holiday for me. The movies were a Shangri-La where my dreams and inner being were kept eternally young and whole.  I looked forward to the Oscars, like New Year’s, like Hanukah. It was a mecca for me. Not that I knew what a mecca was, but it was a pilgrimage to honor that which shined bright in my firmament.  Not just the current gathering of stars, but the art that they represented: the chance to simultaneously overcome and uphold the human condition.

This particular year, my mother and I were watching the awards alone when the phone rang in the kitchen. My mom went to answer it and instinctively, I followed her.  I knew by her body language that something irreversible had happened.  I watched grief come through the receiver as laughter and applause rang out behind us, worlds away.  I watched before I understood what had happened; my mother bore herself up to be the bearer of what she instinctively knew would be unbearable for my father. My grandmother had passed away. This burden was momentarily buoyed up in her by the recognition that my grandma had escaped a drawn-out illness. She had bowed out before having to play the role of a patient, which she would not have enjoyed.

My grandmother Ida was the penultimate caretaker. She had cared for my grandfather for years before he died, she took great care of everyone around her. All of her grandchildren were convinced that they were her favorite. It was obviously me. My grandmother didn’t need an Oscar, her conviction was so complete, each of us can lay full claim to being her favorite. There was no measuring the love she showered us with every time we saw her.  For me, the proof was there in the soft golden gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons, the hours she spent in front of her TV set wrestling with reception so I could enjoy my beloved Creature Features, her slipping me money for a party I was ‘secretly’ planning to throw for my friends.  My grandmother was a movie star in my eyes. She always wore sunglasses.  She was the grand poker player. That is, even in great pain, her grandchildren only saw her smile.  We never knew of her troubled childhood, of her mother and siblings having to move into a new apartment every time the rent was due. She held herself up regally. Ida was a matriarch, a magician, a master baker and chef, a conspirator, the delta of our heritage. For me, my grandma Ida was gentle, radiant, the personification of unconditional love.

My father came home.  I stood in the hallway, peeking around the corner as my mother told him. He put his hand on the waist-high stereo console for support but it did not console him. He crumbled. “She was my strength,” he said. I had never known anything but strength from my father. It was harrowing to see him in a seemingly helpless state. I couldn’t bring myself to go to him. I longed to. I didn’t believe I had the strength within myself to cross that distance or that I would be able to offer him what I wanted to give him if I could.

Here was the drama.

How many film makers try to issue the relief that I longed to pour into my father, to fill him; to make him stand again?

My father doubted his ability to move on successfully without my grandmother.  His vulnerability is something that has allowed me to take up my role with strength.  My grandmother lives fully within my father, as does his father. He remains one of the strongest, most tuned in and genuinely caring people I have had the good fortune to meet.

My grandmother was a star. She was strong and had a full life.  She didn’t need a movie to tell her story but she was worthy of one. She didn’t need a lot of words to convey to each of us how special we were to her.  She may have been a queen on Twitter.

During her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis said:

 “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

So, here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people. And to … the cheerleaders for (making) a movie that is about people. And words. And life and forgiveness and grace….

…And the people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold an award, how to lose. My parents…Thank you.”

As life’s actors, we get to take up our various perspectives: child, parent, sibling, friend, enemy, lover, loveless, confident, fragile, sung, unsung, free, indentured, addicted, connected, intuitive, automated…

“A sky full of souls, you play all the roles. You are the Great Constellation, not just one soul in isolation.” – The Levins/ Great Constellation

This year, the Oscars reminded me to have hope in humanity, even as reports of Jewish cemeteries being desecrated, bomb threats in nursery schools and good citizens being deported rise up to separate us.

“Film-makers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others.” – Asghar Farhadi, director, Best Foreign Film- The Salesman

Keep dreaming, because the dreams we dream today will provide the love, the compassion, and the humanity that will narrate the stories of our lives tomorrow.”

Marc Platt, producer, La La Land

May the gold we seek to be awarded be the golden rule upheld in our hearts.

 

The Spherical Wonder of Intuition

Going beyond a linear understanding of our human nature.

“Intuition binds us together. Without it we lose our sense of purpose and belonging.”

-Malidoma Patrice Somé, a West African elder, spiritual leader and author

“In order to create something new human beings need to go into the unknown”

Marina Abramović, the “grandmother of performance art”

“Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

My wife Julia and I are a musical bridge between communities.  As The Levins, we bring Harmony-Driven Transformational Folk Grooves (TFG) into various settings to promote love and goodwill. One of the main benefits of this for us are the wonderful people we get to interact with. Recently, we played for a meditation retreat up in Hudson, NY.  One of our friends there talked of her upcoming trip to Sedona, Arizona. She said she was excited about immersing herself in nature for eight days because in nature there is no mirror. There is an opportunity to connect purely to your being without having to uphold a manicured image.

Nature is linked to our inner nature which invites and allows us to go beyond our linear rational confinement.

There is a insightful documentary called Innsaei, which explores our inner nature. Innsaei is an Icelandic term for Intuition. The word can also be translated as The Sea Within, or To See from Within. In the film, it is pointed out that approximately 2% of our brain is used for logical, fact and figure, linear thinking.  The rest of it is perhaps an aperture into what is unknown to us and yet constantly surrounds us.

The film noted that for eight generations Polynesians would travel hundreds of miles on the Pacific Ocean without navigational tools. They were able to use their intuition to read the depth of what was all around them.

“For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Another movie which delves into going beyond our linear perspective of the world is Arrival, based on the book “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

In this film, space ships arrive on earth and a linguist is brought in to communicate with them to discover why they are there. The discovery and study of this new language is a wonderful metaphor for us dealing with our unknown nature. We see it as alien, but using intuition we can learn something  that rewires our brains so that we can experience time as spherical.  The solution, described as in Arrival  as a ‘Non-Zero Sum Game’, requires us to share what we have with those that we see as our enemies or competitors to both come away with something that benefits us. The result is a win-win game.

Our capacity to trust our intuition and redevelop our sense of wonder allows us to go beyond the linear constructs of our lives with empathy and an optimistic savoring.

The lead character in Arrival, Dr. Louise Banks remembers the future and concludes:

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads… I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it.”

The melody of our lives reaches out in tendrils to harmonize intuitively with everything we intersect.

Thank you for the fullness of our intersections.