Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reflections on Silence and Not Having a Clue

I was a quiet child.

It should be stated for the record that I am introverted and soft spoken, by nature.

Family lore holds that I would quietly entertain myself in my crib, and that "having a good cry" was generally something I engaged in about once every few months, as a baby and toddler. Apparently I didn't "fuss" and I didn't "demand." I'm also told I had a total of maybe 2-3 "tantrums" before age 16. Whereas I definitely was "there," I don't remember those days, so I can't verify whether all of this is true.

I do remember that a substantial part of my early decision to "just shut up" was fostered by my environment. Initially, I stayed quiet because the mantra of my extended family was that "Children MIGHT be seen, but they should definitely NOT be heard." Subsequently, said silence was reinforced by my repeatedly being told "Just be quiet. You have no idea what you're talking about, and nobody cares what little boys have to say, anyway."

It should also be said for the record that I don't possess much natural inclination to "fight" with people, over points of view. I tend to go "Meh. Whatever. That's interesting. You can keep your point of view, and I'll keep mine." And then go about my business. I sucked at debate because other people's opinions generally seemed as valid as my own. It's not for me to tell others what to think-- I'll happily share alternate points of view, but I'm not going to pound them into anyone's head. Sometimes I smile at the irony that I was in my 30s before I (psychologically) learned about "tools" to disinvest myself from other people's closely held opinions... "gaining" the additional insight that I had already been letting things be, pretty much since I started speaking.

Last week, I did a lot of cleaning up and organizing, of the "stuff of life" we accumulate over time. I came across some journals from the early to (mostly) mid-1990s, when my former marriage was failing, and had failed. Journals, talking about life, and questions raised in therapy. I didn't have much time to really look at them, but I picked up a few threads belonging to that period of my life, just from a quick glance. And paused to insert them into the greater context of life.... my overall existence... age zero to the present day.

"Just because MOST people believe and do something, doesn't make it True."

Whereas self-study often leads us to the conclusion that we should finish the above statement with the words ".... True for ME," there are actually a surprising number of situations where the greater world adopts and adheres to some idea, or action, or tradition that is really not inherently in most people's best interest. A state of near "mass psychosis" arises because folks end up doing/saying/believing something based on little more than "Well, everybody ELSE does that, so it must be right," and there's no pause to question whether or not "the accepted norm" makes any sense, whatsoever, or is healthy, nor whether any "sense" it does make is Global vs. Individual.

For example, scientists have repeatedly shown that we-- as human beings-- attach more strongly to a person who makes us earn "insecure" and "unpredictable" love, in relationships, than to someone who openly and freely gives us love. In fact, we "work harder" to gain approval and "earn" love, when we're being treated badly, than when we're being treated respectfully and kindly. It is almost as if we deem "secure" love to be "boring" and "not challenging enough," and many people actively reject it and dismiss it, as "lacking in passion and intensity." This may hold true for as much as 90% of the population, and if the relationship doesn't actually "end badly," we certainly end up feeling bad about it, much of the time. Yet, most people stay on, and on, and on, in less than desirable and painful situations...

Or, take the state of being an Introvert, as I am. It is a genetically based root character trait, not "shyness" or "social anxiety." But our culture is based in outgoing, aggressive go-get-it-ness, and 70-75% of the population IS extraverted. It is the majority paradigm. Nothing wrong with that. However... it doesn't make introverts "defective," and in need of "fixing," so they can be more like extraverts. And yet, introverts often labor through endless "assertiveness training" courses and Toastmasters classes, pressured not only by the predominant social paradigm around them, but by their own sense of not being like "the majority."

The above are just a couple of examples.

As a species, it seems, we often find some measure of "safety" in NOT thinking for ourselves.

Looking at the journals, I realized that my ex didn't think I knew what I was talking about. I was vilified for wanting to look at how things actually were, rather than how things were "supposed to be." Or how she "wanted them to be," I suppose. When I was a kid, I was told repeatedly that I didn't know what I was talking about. Yet, I could watch the adults "make plans," and "agree" on something... and I could readily see that it would "end badly," through the non-expert eyes of an eight-year old. And it would "end badly," and the adults (whom I thought "knew better," since they asserted that I didn't know) would sit around and be all hurt and surprised that things did, indeed, "end badly." 40-some years later, I watch adults-- sometimes even very evolved adults-- get stuck in the very complexes they insist they have long since worked through, and when I (gently) draw their attention to them, I relive my childhood through being told that I have "no idea what I am talking about." I shrug, and watch their circuses unfold.

"Just because MOST people believe and do something, doesn't make it True."

I am sometimes stunned-- and a little saddened-- by the number of times I have said "no, this will end badly, I don't want to be part of this" only to be met with the assertions that not only do I "not know what I am talking about," but moreover, *I* am the one with the psychosis. Which makes me feel a bit like the lemming who pauses at the top of the cliff and goes "You know what? This is stupid. We'll DIE if we jump off, so I'm not going to jump."

And then I get "institutionalized" for not jumping, because jumping is simply "what people do."

I am, I suppose, an observer of people and patterns, and a "connector of dots."

"Popular opinion" holds that I am "apathetic" because I have become unwilling to engage other people in the "drama and chaos" of their lives. Allegedly I have "issues" because of that. I have "issues" because I say "that fire is hot, and I don't want to sit in it," rather than just willingly sit there and burn myself to a crisp, with everyone else.

Look in the mirror.
What you see in that reflection is also called "projection."

But don't take it from me.
I don't know what I'm talking about.
But I do observe a lot...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sometimes you just have to THROW AWAY the box!

Many people understand what it means to "go for a walk on the beach." Not so many people grok the idea of spending six or maybe eight hours, walking on a beach.

This, however, is what I do. And fairly often.

Whereas I am generally loath to make any "claims" as regards the state of my mental health, I can with considerable confidence say that it has improved, since I started taking these long walks on the beach.

The beach IS my place of peace. Part of my mental health regime. And since I walk on the order of 50 miles (80km) some weeks, it's also part of my physical health routine.

Some might say "Yeah, well, nice work if you can get it, but who can afford to do that?"

It's certainly a valid question, and one I had to answer for myself. Which brings us to the power of intention, and creating our own reality. Whereas I have beach combed since I was a tiny child, my walks used to be considerably shorter-- well, because I had work, and things.

One of the greatest paradigm shifts I have experienced in my life came during my college years. In the course of a junior-year marketing class, we had a number of guest lecturers. One of them was the late Stanley Marcus, one-time principal of the Neiman-Marcus chain of luxury department stores, as well as the man generally credited with originally building that company's stellar reputation for quality and service.

Mr. Marcus spoke to 300-odd students about life and retailing and marketing, followed by the inevitable Q&A session. Many "relevant" questions were asked-- about balance sheets, merchandising, product mix. Finally, someone asked "Yeah, but how do you figure out WHAT it is you're supposed to be doing?"

The reply to which was: "Do what you're really good at, and what moves you."

I suppose there's a smart-aleck in every crowd. In this particular class, there was.

"Yeah, but what if the only thing you're good at is SLEEPING?"

There was the expected ripple of laughter, but Mr. Marcus never missed a beat.

"You become a mattress tester for Serta. You work in sleep and dream research."


"Thinking outside the box" is perhaps the most overused buzz phrase of our time, closely followed by "You create your own reality."

To my way of thinking, there's really nothing wrong with these two concepts, beside the fact that few people truly grok what they mean. And-- upon reflection-- thinking outside the box isn't really that useful because you're still basically trapped in "box-like" thinking. Sometimes you just have to throw away the box... and in a Matrix-like way declare "There IS no box."

"Creating your reality" is not exactly a new idea-- it has just been given some fancy new packaging by ideas such as "The Secret," "Abraham-Hicks," "What the Bleep" and others. Now, before any of you get a bug up your butt, don't get me wrong, I'm all for self-awareness and self-development. I say that often, because I mean it. But here's the thing... these "programs" and concepts are-- ultimately-- just another kind of "box." I believe their greatest value lies not in some nifty "connect A to B" methodology, but in the fact that they teach people to wake up, and be aware, and to become "active agents" in their own lives, as opposed to sleepwalking through existence blindly accepting whatever comes their way as if it were some kind of inevitability.

Personally, I am a bit annoyed by Oprah's (and a number of other "talking heads") overemphasis on money/wealth as the focal point of Creating Reality, but I also recognize that marketing spiritual esoterica to the masses may require a focus on a point of common interest-- in this case, money. 'Nuff said.

But how does this all relate to taking long walks on the beach?

For me, it started with figuring out what was important to me. And the deeper inquiry became one of examining "who am I," absent the cacophony of voices that surround us-- society, media, family, friends, lovers, even teachers and gurus I may have valued. The thing is, if you don't really know who you are, it's hard to figure out what you want.

As part of that inquiry, I ended up in childhood. What really moved me, before the world encroached on my reality and started telling me what I "could" and "could not" do? It's a good exercise. So many people I have met who are truly "in their bliss" can also track a close correlation between a childhood interest/obsession, and what they do now, and love.

Perhaps you endlessly built things, of sticks, mud, sand whatever you could get your hands on... leading to a life building beautiful custom homes. Perhaps you were a consummate observer of your family and its parties; understanding and drawing connections behaviors and outcomes... leading to a life as a brilliant therapist or coach. For me, I was never happier than when I walked on the beach, "finding things."

Fast forward 40+ years. It finally occurred to me that it would be the shit if I could get paid for walking on the beach... enough to justify being "out there," many hours. And so, that happened. I walk on the beach and "find things," and sell them to artists, jewelers and sculptors all over the world.

Now, this is not a story "about me." It's a story about throwing away that proverbial box, and embracing the infinite possibilities out there. Just like the guy in college who was only good at sleeping, what I do in no way "looks like a JOB." In fact, one of the most common comments I get goes something like "You can't DO that!"

Yes you can.

But you have to be willing to throw away the box, and embrace whatever "reality" your imagination creates.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Because I Like To Write

Occasionally I get asked why I "waste my time" writing blogs on the web, and being part of forums, and facebook and the like.

Usually, these questions come from people who can barely tell the difference between a boat anchor and a computer. Yes, folks, there are still people who don't own computers and don't have Internet access-- and have no interest in changing that. They will never read these words, so I feel fairly safe talking about them here...

"Why don't you get off the computer and get a LIFE?" they ask.

Then they seem to back away slightly, as if someone who uses a computer has a contagious disease.

It's a mystery to them that I actually make a living (as it may be), using my computer, buying and selling things from vendors and customers I have never met-- and probably never will meet. When I explain that I actually do meet some of the people I know from "inside the box" they seem to feel horrified.

But I digress.

I write bloggy things and get into other online activities because I like to write. Moreover, I find the interactiveness of writing in this medium "differently rewarding" than I find writing in a journal with pen and ink. Which I also do.

The other day, I was watching some video clips of different "internet people" and social anthropologists, talking about the development and evolution of how we interact, as human beings.

In the "early days," the predominant speculation (or was it fear?) was that the Internet would end up homogenizing the world into a colorless, borderless "soup" where everyone is the same. That we would lose all sense of unique identity and language would slowly evolve into Sino-English mush. And that we would become "de-humanized," and just a number.

25 years later, the song seems to have changed. The social anthropologist types are now more of the belief that the Internet is helping us all return to a more "tribal" system of communication and interaction. Moreover, they are arguing that this is actually what "comes natural" to us, and it was how the world worked until the Industrial Revolution came along and automated, standardized, mass-produced and averaged how we approach things. Now we have a technological system that allows us to connect and gather in "special interest tribes," ranging from "folk dancers who speak Polish" to "collectors of blue feathers."

Or, as the case may be, "people who like to write."

I like to write, but I also like interacting with my Tribe. The Tribe of People Who Like To Write.

Actually, I like to interact with my Tribes.

From students of metaphysics, to beach combers, to enneagram enthusiasts, to stamp collectors, to nature photographers, to eBay entrepreneurs, highly sensitive people and many others.

Never before, in the course of Human History, has it been so easy to reach out and connect with others who share an interest, a belief, a hobby, a pathology(!) or a lifestyle. Perhaps what puzzles (and worries) my non-technological friends is that the "language" used to describe what "having a life" means has changed, and is continuing to change. Most significant of these is the subtle shift of getting to know people "from the inside out," as opposed to "from the outside in."

Meanwhile, I simply like to write.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting off the Train of Chaos

Some years ago, I decided to get off the train.

The "train," in this case, was the train of a chaotic life; the train of constant running around in no particular direction, but mainly in pursuit of something other people called "success." And maybe it was something I'd managed to persuade myself was "success."

Of course, this is a very simplistic way of stating what really happened.

I should also add that I didn't just "get off," all of a sudden... it was a long and rather deliberate process. And I'm onlt just now starting to clean up the final "bits."

I got to thinking about this, today, as I wandered on the beach for about three hours. It was a rather brisk late autumn day, and it suddenly occurred to me that it would have been unthinkable-- just five years ago-- that I would take three hours to do anything such as walk on a beach.

I was "warned" about getting off the chaos train. Most of the warnings took the form of assurances that I would soon "grow bored," and "regret" my decision. I actually lost some friends, over that. That, in turn, got me to contemplating how often our ostensible friends are drawn to what we DO or HAVE, rather than to who we ARE.

Going a bit further down the rabbit hole, I came to realize that change-- "real" change-- of our paradigms often means more than what immediately meets the eye. Taking the left fork in the road, rather than the right (which we have always taken in the past) doesn't just mean that we get to see new scenery... it also means that a whole series of things that normally transpire as a result of our going right... no longer happen.

Everything in life is interconnected. I got off the chaos train (slowly, gradually, almost completely off, now), and EVERYthing in my life changed... not just my stress level. My life, my friends, my work, my lifestyle, my living quarters... even my primary relationship. I no longer "go" to work, I walk on the beach and play around with my hobbies. I can DO that, because my life costs less to live. And I feel supported in that, because the people in my life are connected to ME, not to my "doings" and "havings." And I am no longer connected to a sense of needing to "prove myself" to others.

All in all, it is change for the better. In fact... there's very little of the "old me" that I actually miss. And only one more puzzle piece to put in place, before I completely wave goodbye to the train.

REAL change is not easy... and it often takes a long time, and involves the discovery that "one thing leads to another," and the original intent to do ONE thing ("reduce stress," for example) differently may well lead to a wholesale personal reinvention.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Microcosms of Utopic Kindness

I confess, I'm a regular Facebook user.

I feel a little loath to call myself an "addict;" it's more like "social drinking," I suppose... it's nice to "have one now and then," but my life would go on without it, and I wouldn't need rehab to get over my "habit."

I don't quite have the obsession with Facebook apps many people do. I'm not checking my Farmville every five minutes. In fact, with very few exceptions, most of the apps I've agreed to allow to bug me get a visit from me about once a month. If they are lucky.

But I digress.

When I was a little kid, one of the thoughts most often running through my head was "Why can't everyone just GET ALONG?" Why did people fight and torment each other... often over "stuff?" Why was it all about "pushing others out of the way" to get things? Why did little boys and girls (my peers) turn into screaming hellions having a fit, if they "couldn't have the blue ball," or couldn't be part of some particular game? Why couldn't everyone just cooperate?

I was probably a weird kid. I was neither the "champion of the underdog" (with the exception of ONE eight-year old girl, and she knows who she is...) nor "the bully." I was the one who asked "WHY?" WHY don't we decide that we simply see things differently, rather than fight about it till someone "wins?" WHY don't we cooperate, rather than compete? WHY don't we all just try to get along?

So, what does this all have to do with Facebook? Well, Facebook is a vast wasteland of more or less mindless applications... most of which consume time, while offering little redeeming value, aside from an opportunity to zone out from our daily stress. That said, Facebook apps are also a sort of "virtual microcosm" of the greater world... in some sense reflecting Who We Are, as a species. And... the vast majority of said apps follow the general rule of "let's blow some stuff up, kill some people or steal something!"

It has been 40+ years, and the shit going down in the adult "sandbox" remains the exact same shit I railed against when I was six.

Now there are those who are going to call me humorless, and say "yeah, but it's just a GAME!" or "Well, better I kill someone in a game, than in real life." In response to which I say "I wholeheartedly agree!"

At least on the surface. On a deeper level, that's just a crock. A way to gloss over the statement "life is too hard for me to give a rat's hind quarters about anyone but me." Newsflash: Last time I checked, mindfulness did not cost money. Or time. It's a choice.

But let's return Facebook, for moment. And to the fact that there are these little microcosms of utopic kindness in that giant wasteland. Fairyland, where nothing bad ever happens. You grow things, you don't destroy them. And everybody helps everybody else tend their gardens. No stealing, no blowing up, no killing or maiming. Just a sort of utopic community of friendship and cooperation. Farm Town, another community of cooperation and growing something.

Maybe these comments are merely a reflection of my nature... but frankly? At the end of a stressful day of being "torn apart" by life (which I thankfully am no longer exposed to), I'd rather GROW or BUILD something, than blow up or destroy something.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

In Praise of Being Judgmental

"I'm NOT judgmental!"

It seems to be a phrase most people utter with considerable emphasis and even some vehemence. Many folks even take great pride in "not being judgmental." I should know, I have been counted among their ranks.

But here's a newsflash: You ARE judgmental! We all are.

I'm sure there are those who'll take issue with this (and who have already "judged" these words "offensive" or "annoying..."), but please hear me out.

Think about it: The moment we step out our front door, we start judging. We judge the weather caster because it looks like rain, and the forecast said sun. We judge the postal service, because it's two pm, and there's no mail... and we're expecting a check, and the mail normally comes at noon. We judge the neighbor across the street who's shoveling new gravel into his driveway and looks fitter and buffer than us, or we judge his wife who's cuter and thinner than we are. We judge someone driving a Hummer and five minutes later we judge someone driving a Prius. And, of course, we judge ourselves.

Being "judgmental" is part of being human. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that our survival depends on our judgment skills. "Judgment" helps us choose the right car, the foods we like to eat, and who we sleep with at night. "Judgment" enables us to recognize a "shady character" who's giving off a "wrong vibe," as a result of which we choose to not take a shortcut through an alley where we'd get mugged. If you ask a biological anthropologist, they'll tell that it's all about "pattern recognition," which is just a fancy scientific word for "judging."

So, what gives?

Perhaps the real issue here isn't whether or not we judge, but that "judging" somehow has become surrounded by a huge cloud of negative connotations. The "New Age" and self-help industries have certainly contributed to this, by wrapping any "dark" feelings we may have in pretty paper covered with happy pink fluffy bunnies. And don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of any effort that supports the development of self-awareness and self-growth. I'm just not a big supporter of assertions or claims that I need to turn my back on parts of my basic humanity, in order to be "evolved." But they are pretty much missing the point by saying that all judgment is somehow "bad," and we "should not" judge.

Maybe what's really needed here, is a new vocabulary. Let's throw away "Judgmental" and its negative connotations, and instead embrace "Discerning," meaning that we evaluate and make choices, based on the information we have, to achieve what we believe to be in our best interests. The fact that someone may be "discerned" out of our equation is not about malice, but about choice.

Don't get me wrong here. There are negative expressions of judgment-- prejudice, for example. My point here isn't to advocate that we become negatively judgmental, merely that we don't become empty-headed morons who automatically assign a "bad" label to any day-to-day decision making that doesn't please everybody.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Potholes, and Cans of Worms

One of the "basics" of human psychology is this notion that we tend to suffer from various degrees of "repetition compulsion," when it comes to our lives. Goodness knows that I have made some of the same mistakes twice and even thrice... and have felt like a giant doofus, afterwards, too.

I ponder, though....

Maybe we just need to have lessons pounded into our heads repeatedly before we get it... maybe it's something else. Maybe we repeat the same mistakes over and over, before we finally are able to step away from our "addictions" (I happen to believe that many BAD choices we make are "addictions" to feeling a certain way, even if that way is HORRIBLE) and realize that we need to do something else, in order to find happiness.

Some poor souls... never seem to notice that they walk down the (metaphorical) street, and keep on falling into the same giant pothole, over and over, and over. Some are actually aware of the pothole, but find themselves utterly unable to resist the urge to walk into it, anyway (that's where I get the thought of psychological repetition as an "addiction"), no matter how badly they get hurt. I've been thinking about my mom's life recently (as many of you know), and she did the latter... cheerfully giving the same compulsion "a new name" each time she stepped into it... ignoring all advice around her, generally with words to the effect that "Yeah, but I'm wiser now, and it'll be DIFFERENT this time." It was a heartfelt letter from one of her relatives that made me sit down and put these thoughts into words.

It is this "not learning," and rushing headlong into the fire-- despite repeated and guaranteed failure-- where people lose me.

Maybe I'm clueless, maybe I'm naive. I'm open to both possibilities...

But if there's a "can of worms" presenting itself, in your path... and you KNOW that cans of worms will cause pain, confusion, loss, chaos or whatever "trouble" you choose... WHY would you open such a can of worms, again? WHY would a person believe that-- after having burned themselves a dozen times on the fire-- the 13th time the fire will miraculously "not be hot?" Why would they stick their hand BACK into the fire, for the 13th time, even while flocks of friends, family and loved ones shout "Don't do it! Don't do it! DON'T DO IT!???"

I'll be the first to admit that change-- that is, REAL personal change of one's behavior-- can be extremely difficult. But isn't the point that we are supposed to LEARN from our mistake, not trap ourselves in an endless cycle of repeating them, over and over?

I guess my point is... if there's a can of worms at the side of the road... and you KNOW that it's "a can of worms," and you KNOW this kind of can causes you pain... leave the damned thing there, and walk on by!

What's that saying?

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Yeah. That's it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Death... and Birth (redux)

Some weeks back, I contemplated "death," following the passing of my mother.

Typically, we associate death with the passing of a person, or perhaps of a beloved pet. But death can mean many things. Death of a company, death of an idea, death of a relationship, death of a habit, death of a paradigm, even death of an addiction. And death-- while often painful-- is not necessarily a bad thing.

In my family, the month of August was always a month of many birthdays. But it has also been a month of many deaths. This particular August has been a month of "deaths" for me.

As August ran out, time also ran out on my affiliation with a large web group I've been a part of, almost since its inception in 1996-- both as "just a member," and as "group management." On some level this symbolic "death" led me to a contemplation of exactly what this death was, and the circumstances surrounding "voluntary deaths." In a sense this was the death of a habit. In a different sense, it was the death of a pattern of not-growing; of not moving on. My point here being, that some things need to die, and should be allowed to die.

Sometimes we grow attached to things, in a not-so-healthy way. And we get stuck, and refuse to allow these things to "die." It could be the relationship we're in, going on year 18, even though the relationship "ended" five years ago, or it could be a habit we keep following, even though it is no longer relevant. Or, take therapy. The point of therapy is that we heal and move on, not that we remain in therapy, for 20 years.

Last night, I contemplated the issues of "moving on," compassion, and the hesitance we feel, when it comes to letting go. It led me to consider the problems we often face with patterns and habits, and how we keep doing the same toxic thing, over and over... somehow expecting a different result, next time around... driven, perhaps, by the belief that we can somehow find redemption "if only" it all works out. Often, there's a metaphorical process of running around in a circle going "The sky's gonna fall," while not actually doing anything to address the falling sky.

On a different level, we often stay in situations that involve others out of an alleged sense of compassion, for them, even though the issue at hand is actually about us. We "farm out" accountability for our stuckness by pointing out that were being "considerate" and "compassionate" towards someONE/someTHING outside ourselves. For me, it was often due to the fear of admitting that I simply wasn't able to make something "work." Each of us probably has a different "monster under the bed."

Pema Chödrön, one of my favorite spiritual Teachers, has written much on the topic of compassion. One of the misinterpretations of compassion seems to be that it somehow requires us to "blindly support" someone, in order to be "compassionate." We mistakenly believe that we must validate and underwrite every bad act and toxic habit, if we are to be truly compassionate. However, sometimes the most compassionate act requires us to be "the bad guy." We struggle with this, because how can it be "compassion," if someone gets hurt?

Sometimes a "house of cards" has to be allowed to fall. Perhaps the most compassionate act is to NOT protect someone from their self-destructive actions, but to allow them to actually fall into the black pit those patterns, so they will fully experience the consequences of their choices. Maybe it's a bit like parenting-- unless we actually take the training wheels OFF the bicycle, and thus expose the child to the possibility of falling, there can be no growth; they will never learn to ride the bike unassisted.

Perhaps part of what makes death (of the symbolic, rather than phsyical kind) "scary," is our tendency to forget that such deaths are more often "passages," than "endings." As one of my Teachers once pointed out: "When a door closes, you BY DEFINITION have stepped through, into a NEW space."

I'm by no means advocating that we should not respect, observe, remember and learn from the past... merely pointing out that sometimes we allow "mourning the old" to overshadow new opportunities to such a degree that we get stuck, unable to see and embrace the beauty and potential of what lies ahead.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Living in the Age of Homogeneity

I received a "courtesy call" from AT&T Wireless, this morning.

Ranjit Something-or-other was calling to remind me that my wireless bill had just become past due, and to remind me that there would be a $36 reconnection charge if service was interrupted, and would I like to avoid that, by authorizing him to charge my ATM card ending in "2177" right now?

Sure. No problem. My mom died... I've had things other than bills on my mind.

Ranjit, of course, was most likely calling from Mumbai, or Bengaluru or one of the other major outsourcing call center havens of the world.

And, for some reason, Ranjit's call led me to ponder our shrinking world. Our culturally shrinking world.

When I was a kid, we traveled a lot-- to many many foreign countries. Some of my clearest memories of those traveling days are precisely that these places were all very "foreign." These days, foreign countries seem to have become less "foreign," somehow. In this age of the Internet, the individual "flavors" of places are slowly fading away as we truly are becoming a Global Village. The skylines of Mumbai, Medellin, Melbourne and Munich-- seemed so very different and unique, in my childhood-- now all seem to have taken on a certain sameness, a certain homogeneity.

Don't get me wrong-- each place remains uniquely its own, but still. There's a "sameness" there... whether you look at the 30-story glass and steel office towers that dominate the skylines, or the fact that you can get a Big Mac in all of these cities, or the fact that the Internet has spread the English language with far greater effectiveness than any British empirical aspirations ever could.

But it feels like something has been lost, along the way.

As I thought about this-- without any compulsion to assign "good" or "bad" tags to this state of affairs-- I also noticed that there's a certain growing incongruity in humanity's approach to cross-cultural experiences. The other day, I was reading a post on Marilyn's blog, which brought up a memory of standing in modern downtown Copenhagen, in the summer, watching droves of American tourists congregate around McDonalds. And I pondered (then, as now) how they had spent a large chunk of their savings to experience something "different," yet were supporting this growing homogeneity of cultures by choosing to eat the SAME Big Mac they could get around the corner, at home... for a couple of bucks.

On a deeper level, these subtle changes perhaps all reflect a deeper human need to seek "safety." And there's safety in numbers, and in sameness. We "know" this, somehow, regardless of whether we feel predisposed to jump out of airplanes, or live under a large rock. So perhaps we feel safer about going to Mumbai because the knowledge that we can have a Big Mac is comforting, somehow... and (almost entirely subconsciously, I'm sure) removes some small layer of concern about "What will we EAT there?"

It is said that "the only constant in life is change" (attributed to 17th century French author François de la Rochefoucauld), and perhaps this is true. And the true challenge is to stay awake and present in our own lives, and remember to "vote" with our dollars, rupees or euros in a way that reflect our individual truths, regardless of the changes around us.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Truly AM... an Alien

The title of this post is actually a true statement. I even have a small ID card to prove it; across the top, the words "RESIDENT ALIEN."

Perhaps it is just part of the Human Condition to feel like you "don't belong on this planet." It happens to me rather often, although I am given to pause and consider whether my puzzlement results from cultural issues (being a Dane in the US) or from planetary issues.

What gave rise to my current ponderings was a soundbyte on the TV in the next room, which could as well have said "And in OTHER news today, Michael Jackson is STILL DEAD!" Of course, that wasn't what was actually being said... but the news snippet distracted me from my work for long enough to stop and wonder...

"Who ARE these people who can find endless fascination and entertainment in ongoing 'stories' about a dead pop star? Why does anybody CARE? And why do I feel like I don't share DNA with them?"

Ultimately, this seems to be a question of what constitutes "interesting." Or, perhaps, "noteworthy." Of course, it's a question that can't be readily answered, as everyone is different. Still, there is such a thing as a general consensus, and I find myself spending more time looking in at it (as an observer) than I do being a part of it.

"Death" is fresh on my mind, at the moment, so taking a moment to consider the endless sideshow that has been (and continues to be) Michael Jackson's death is an easy segue for me. So, I sit and I think. Someone walks in the room and announces "Michael Jackson died!" and all the response I can muster is "Oh... really? That's too bad." Conversely, someone walks in the room and announces "Bob from three houses down died!" and I will stop and want to know more.

The difference, here, being that Bob is a "real person" to me-- I saw him ride his bike by, and we'd sometimes chat, when I walked by his house. Michael? Not so much. No disrespect to his music career, but I never met the guy. To me, he is not a "real person."

Evidently, caring more about real people than celebrity icons is proof that I am an alien, just visiting this planet.

In many-- if not most-- homes, it seems that the news of Bob's passing would be met with "Not NOW! Can't you see I'm watching TV? Michael Jackson died...."

Frankly, I prefer Bob...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Death... and Birth

My mother died, on Monday, August 3rd. She was 87 years old.

My father, who died when I was 18, would have celebrated his 91st birthday, today.

Perhaps it is in human nature to seek patterns in everything, and to attribute meaning and structure to random chaos, but it feels oddly symmetrical that mom "left" in time for dad's birthday.

Death is a funny thing. We experience it-- inwardly-- as massive upheaval; in some cases it feels like the world is coming to an end. And yet, when we look around, "nothing happened." We walk through the grocery, and nobody knows that our loved one dies. Bills arrive in the mail, regardless. We make dinner and eat, because life continues. Even when a great statesman or public figure passes, we observe "a minute of silence" and then go back to reading the paper, eating our hamburger or kissing our lover.

Although my mom had many "pink elephants" in the middle of her room, she had what seems like a surprising grasp on the relative "insignificance" of death. I realized this, as I was looking through old notes and journals, trying to get a sense of what "arrangements" should be made, after her death... and found notes from a conversation we had, in 2001:

"Promise me," she said (among other things), "that you won't have this big funeral and religious hooplah, with a bunch of people sitting around and moping. Don't waste time with a wake, and please, no flowers! If you want to have a gathering for me, for God's sake have one NOW, and invite me to it while I can be a participant. If you want to send flowers, send them to me NOW, when I am alive and can enjoy them."

Whereas I realize that funerals and "death rituals" are for the living, she did have a point. Celebrate life, while it is actually going ON, not after it's over.

Thinking about my mother's death, and my father's death... made me pause to consider what I expect, of my own death. And I realized that what's "important" to me is primarily that I am not a financial burden to, or imposition on, anyone. If you can, please do something useful with the biological container I left behind-- I suggest contacting the Life Legacy Foundation, and have them pick up the body. Beyond that? Do whatever you want! I'll be DEAD, for goodness' sake!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Picking Up Things Along The Way

I am a beach comber.

There is more to that than meets the eye.

I have been picking up-- and collecting-- things since I was quite small. It is, perhaps, one of the most pervasive constants in my life.

The path to the beachWhereas I walk on the beach "for a living," walking on the beach is about far more than "making a living." Some people do Yoga, some people jog, some people meditate and some people build amazing model railroads. I walk on the beach... in a sense, it is my meditation; my way of getting Zen with life, and everything in it.

"Making a living" is coincidental. The beach (meaning "any" beach) has deep personal meaning for me; I would walk the beach and pick up "things," no matter what.


Interesting word, that.

For me-- and in the context of this blog-- "things" may (literally) refer to objects found on the beach. It may also refer to the things from a flea market, or the grocery. Then again, it may refer to ideas, epiphanies, opinions, theories and flights of fancy. And people.

Whether we actually "met" through an otherworldly psychic connection (when I was thirteen and she was eight), or through words on web pages much like this, or at a major airport (depending on your perspective), I sometimes wonder if I didn't originally "find" the Love of my life on a beach.

Truth be known, I also "collect" blogs. This is probably (at least) the 50th time I have started one.

You see, the other pervasive constant in my life is writing.

In ways similar to the tides on my beach, my writing ebbs and flows. But, like the tides, it's always there.

Beginnings are good. I like beginnings... they always hold a sense of hope, for me.