Thursday, May 28, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture

What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, I guess that all depends on how you look at it.
If you look at the world from a negative perspective maybe you’re going to think that everything is wrong with it.  But if you look at it from a position of happiness maybe you’re going to think that there’s really nothing wrong with the world at all.  Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that life is either beyond repair or beyond reproach, it just means that these kinds of observations and judgments are pretty much subject to one’s internal influences.  As much as we might like to think of ourselves as impartial, or at least capable of impartiality, we, in fact, are not.  We are always at the mercy of our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state of being.

If I have a headache, maybe the world looks a little bleaker than if my head didn’t hurt like hell.  If I’ve been intellectually lazy of late, maybe the world looks too complicated to even give it much thought.  If I’m sad, or forlorn, or feeling rejected by someone that matters to me, maybe the world feels very unwelcoming, or too uncaring.  If I’m feeling spiritually disjointed, confused, or lacking in faith, maybe I just don’t care about the world at all. 
And, on the other hand, if I feel great physically, the future may look bright.  If I’m been exercising my mind, maybe I understand the world just a little better than had I been indolent.  If I’m happy, maybe I experience the world with its arms wide open to me.  And if my faith is strong, maybe I see the majesty of God in the world around me.   

We don’t like to think that we look at things in black and white, but in fact, black and white thinking asserts itself independent of our own intentions.  We credit ourselves as liberal assessors of any given situation, as conscious evaluators, as contemplative thinkers, as sensitive appraisers of the world around us, but in any plausible judgment of life in and around us we fail in our thinking to compensate for the influences that affect those same judgments. 

The only way I know to remain positive about the world around me, however, is to put myself, and keep myself, in the best physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual condition that I’m capable of.  It, in and of itself, tends to produce an attitude of gratitude that enables a positive connection to life and living.  If I’m going to err in black and white thinking, at least I know I’ll be erring on the constructive side of things, and that always seems to do better by me than the alternative.   

Only then can I be confident that I see things as alive and regenerative.  Only then can I truly count on understanding what’s wrong with this picture.

And what is right with it as well.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Broader Education

Way back in Catholic grammar school I began, what was for me, my broader education by watching the complex dynamics of teacher/student relationships.  My teachers were nuns, stiff disciplinarians, and generally unhappy and uptight individuals.  They were supposed to be a reflection of God, but there was really nothing about them that inspired me to want to be like, or even closer to, God.  In fact, some of them were downright mean.  There were a couple of different nuns whom I considered kind and loving, but for the most part they were pretty intolerant and scary.  They were the ultimate authority figures.  They had the uniforms, habits, and the stiff and unyielding posture.  Seemed like they never relaxed, and almost never smiled.  There was a general and pervasive fear of displeasing them.  Anyway, I took it all in.  I observed which student behaviors earned the praise and accolades from the nuns.  And I took notes.  Unfortunately it was the phony, kiss-ass gestures that garnered the most affection.  It was the do anything to please personalities that came out on top of the proverbial pile.  It was not in my make-up.  And it was certainly not in my nature.  I was angry at them for the way they wielded their authority.  And I was intent on not joining the status quo.
At the time my educational experience was actually still ahead of me, and was really quite beyond what was to be learned from the nuns, from the books, or from the system. 

As has been the case for most of my life, I have tuned in to the less obvious, finding the obvious to be, well, obvious.  It has been the underlying dynamics of relationship, the psychology of behavior, the quiet innuendoes, the barely visible manipulations, the system of punishment and reward, the need meeting, the mating dance, the body language, the games, the who behind the mask, the flattery clubs and the social climbing that have fascinated me the most.  It is what has held my interest.  It is a glimpse into privacy, an understanding of camouflage.  It is what makes sense of the world for me. 
The rest is just veneer.

I have never earned a degree, and it has never bothered me.
I probably never will, unless by accident.

Friday, May 22, 2015

My Hope, and My Desire

 I surfed the California beaches for many years, both as a teenager, and later in my adult life.  I've found few experiences to rival those early morning plunges into the cold Pacific Ocean.  Feeling naked, sensing every pore in my body suddenly explode, the frigid water and brisk dawn air conspiring to awaken my soul.  The expectation of the adventure, paddling out through the waves as they crashed over me in a vain attempt to hinder my progress, to turn me back, to deprive me of the pleasure of that first ride.  Challenges (obstacles) barely noticed for the focus of the reward.  Meeting the challenge becoming even it's own reward.  There are no words to describe the ride.  The more I could abandon myself to the rhythm of the wave, it's subtle changes in personality, it's requirement for immediate response, the deeper I became immersed in it's primitive, but natural intent.  The more integrated I would become with the water, the clearer would become my understanding of it’s inherent freedom.  Over time I learned to heed the casual beckoning of the waves in their attempt to guide me gracefully, and safely, through the ride.  Sometimes the wave would hurt me.  But more often than not we'd end up shaking hands.
            The optimistic energy in my life has been this same experience.  The cold air, and water, being the awakening from dormancy; the paddling out being the process of getting my consciousness, and will, directed through the obstacles, taking up the challenge; the ride being the freedom, and joy, inherent in the extraordinary expression of it's boundlessness.  The simple act of abandoning myself to the mystery of the unknown, the unforeseen, stripping naked before myself, and for myself, jumping gracefully from the bridge of possibility. 
To live in this place, to truly live in this place,
is my hope,

and my desire.

Absent the Approval of a Father

In my personal life, in my social experience, and in my work, I became, through the years, increasingly aware of the void left by the absence of a father’s approval.  Yes, my father loved me.  Yes, he cared about me.  Yes, he was alive, and just a phone call away.  But I never felt connected to him.  I never felt secure in our relationship.  I never felt like I could talk to him.  I could never feel his support, or his love. 

In working for so many years with young people as a Youth Center Director, a High School Counselor, a Mental Health Counselor, and a Minister, I found in so many of them the same void, the same need for acceptance, for love and approval that I’d lived with for most of my life.  These were kids at risk.  I worked with many adults as well.  And they were adults at risk.  They were really just the kids at risk, but years later.  I too grew from a teenager at risk, to a young man at risk, to an adult at risk, and finally out of the, ‘at risk’ part altogether.  Well, I didn’t exactly grow out of it.  I worked my way out of it.  I worked very hard, and for very many years.  But the common thread with most all of these troubled souls was the disconnection from their father.  Whether they were male or female, it was the disconnection from their father and the inability to feel his approval that most often created the alienation and vulnerability in their lives.  The ‘at risk’  part played itself out in the same way with most, if not all, of them.  There was the involvement in drugs and alcohol.  There was dangerous and impulsive behavior.  There was flirtation with death.  There was the seeking of love wherever it, or an imitation of it, could be found. 

In different periods of my teenage and adult life I personally lived near the same edge, closer to it at times than at others, but near the edge nevertheless.  Unlike so many young people who would eventually become subject to its intoxication, I was able to recognize my vulnerability, my own overwhelming need for my father, and not settle for the readily available, but inadequate fix of cheap love, cheap booze, or cheap drugs.  It would have been easy to lose myself in its grip.  I had been years craving the love of my father.  There had always been other men more than willing to offer themselves to me in various unfavorable circumstances, and there have been just as many years of my understanding that it was an imitation love they were offering, and that it would never fill the void I carried within me.  Too many at risk people have been unable to internalize that understanding for themselves.  I have seen so many become first immersed, and then lost, in homosexuality, in sexual addiction of various kinds, in grief, despair, and self loathing.  I have yet to know anyone who wound up truly happy, truly fulfilled as a result of such personal compromise.  I have always felt very deeply for those in such need.  And I still do to this day.  That will probably never change.   

Some have had a similar relationship with their fathers that I had with mine.  Some have had fathers who were brutal, sadistic, cruel, and even criminal, making mine look like a puppy dog, albeit a pit bull rather than a big cuddly.  But some have never known their fathers.  Some fathers were absent in body, some absent in mind, or spirit.  Some absent since birth, even.  Some fathers were separated from their children by divorce.  Some left, disappeared, or died later on in life before they and their child ever connected in a deep and meaningful way.  But all of those whom I’ve known to have lived apart from such connection, acceptance, and approval suffered many of the same symptoms that I lived with for so many years. . . . . . . . . sadness, loneliness, hopelessness and alienation. 
It’s what drives the teenage suicide rate.  It drives much of the gay and lesbian life.  It drives a great deal of the drug and liquor industries.  It drives the psychiatric client lists.  It drives the new age spiritual movements.  It drives spiritual feminism.  It even causes people to be driven down a compulsive road to success, ever needing to prove their worthiness in order to gain the approval of their fathers. 

It also drives the search for meaning in ones life. 
And it has always driven me to write. 
The fact that early on I was able to find a means of circumventing many of the destructive ramifications of such a void does not diminish in any way the powerful impact, the pain, and the regret that the absence of a meaningful father/son relationship has visited upon me over the years.

I am not unique in that respect.  Not by any means.  In fact, I would consider myself to be the norm in such a common dynamic, rather than the exception.

If you’re a father please find a way to connect with your son or daughter,
no matter what their age.
Or yours.

It is never too late for such a redemptive union.
It could be life changing for the both of you.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Your Own North Star

           There is an element of life that, for me, requires awareness, a soberness, if you will, that would enable me to be in a kind of continuing self-analysis.  Not for the purpose of measuring myself against another, but to be able to take accurate inventory concerning my progress in life and my development as a person.  It is important to know where I’m at in my journey.  I believe it is for all of us.
            My own standards are much higher than any that might be imposed upon me by the world at large.  If I set them according to what I feel to be my potential and beyond then I need not give concern to someone else's expectation of me.  It has been a process of adjustment and readjustment throughout my life.  It has become, however, a familiar and relatively comfortable position to take with myself.
            Life does assert it's unequal and prodigious power over me.  Sometimes more profoundly than I even care to admit.  But I am harder on myself than anyone else ever could be.  I also appreciate, more than anyone, the numerous minefields I find myself walking through while at the same time seeking to keep my balance, and my direction.  I do not subscribe to, or waste my energy with, pop psychology or new age soul candy as a solution for anything.  In my view, there can be no greater detriment to genuine spiritual consciousness, self-discovery, or one’s personal equilibrium.  There is, it seems, a new ideology, and a new spirituality coming around every corner of every neighborhood we walk through in life.  There are distractions for each of us, and there are paths for us to be led down that lead only around in circles.   
It is important to not get lost in the maze of your own condition.  It is important to know where you are, to remember who you are, and to know where you stand with yourself.  If your psychic compass cracks there is the North star.  It is the brightest star in the Little Dipper formation, located very near the celestial North Pole.  It is always where it’s supposed to be.  Know where it is.  Do not be lost within yourself, floundering in the dark like a raft on a midnight ocean.  It is perhaps this spiritual disorientation - more than any other in life - that extracts the most costly toll on our psyches, our stability, and our balance.  It cuts to the very core of who, and what, we are.  It causes us to search for ourselves while in a condition of compromised filters and clouded perception.  It leads us through alleyways, and doorways, into which we otherwise might not walk. 
Having accurate bearings is paramount in life.  If you find yourself lost in the dark out on that vast ocean learn to find the North star, your own North star, something about yourself that will always be as it has always been.  
Something solid, something trustworthy, 
something deep within yourself.

A Disconcerting Dream

I can’t remember it all clearly, but I was being beaten by a man much bigger than me.  Whipped.  Cleanly.  Deliberately.  Very surgically.  Not with passion, but with great skill.  Not with a belt, but with a switch from a tree.  A willow tree I think.  It made cuts like a knife across my skin.  My skin was soft and lily-white like a young girl’s.  Like a freshly fluffed pillow.   
I did not cry, and I did not scream.  I was in terrible pain, but I was not upset, as if I were used to it.  I was conscious of the violence of the moment.  I was conscious of the trauma, but not affected by it at the time, except to say that I was sad.  And I was lonely inside. 

Like an orphan,

in an empty room.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Message From Within

Hear my voice in your solitude, and in your pain.   
I will be with you in your grief and in your joy.   
I will stand beside you in your faith.  
I will embrace you in your unbelief.   
I am He who has always been, 
and who will be with you till the very end.

Until the sands of time have passed. 
And even longer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

It Keeps My Head From Exploding

Every so often I need to write just because my head is so full of thoughts that I need to expel them or take the risk of going nuts.  My brain begins to twitch, and my fingers begin to stretch looking for a keyboard to express myself on.  I often don’t understand what it is I have to say until it’s been said.  Then I can look at it and relate it to something that has either been bothering or inspiring me.  But sometimes it is neither.  Sometimes it’s just to satisfy my need to not be tormented.  Kind of like why an addict needs a fix.  It is also a means of circumventing complacency.  For me, writing can often be comparable to stretching my body before a hike so that I don’t pull a hamstring.  I suppose the expression of my thoughts is the mental equivalent of that body stretch. 
Keeps my head from exploding.

When I know that I do have something specific to say I’ll say it the best I can, but it seems my fingers are never really able to keep up with my thoughts.  I’m always a few sentences behind what I’m thinking as I’m racing on the keyboard to not let my thoughts get too far out ahead of my fingers.  When they do I begin to not make any sense.  But many of you already think that of anything I might have to say anyway, so no real worries there. 

I’ll just continue to plow the fallow ground in my head, and you can continue to feel like it doesn’t make any sense. 
Works for all of us,
Don’t ya think?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Playing Together Goes A Long Way

No one needs me to point out how difficult it is for people to get along these days.  If you’re living in a cocoon you don’t notice it, but if you’re an active participant in life, which most of us are, then you can’t help but be conscious of it.  Black people and white people don’t seem to get along any more.  Christians and Muslims don’t get along.  Democrats and Republicans don’t get along.  The rich and poor don’t, the urbanites and the country folk don’t, and men and women don’t seem to get along too well these days either. What has happened to our species?  It’s as if we’ve been infected by the notorious and deadly Me virus.  Nothing matters but me; what I want, and what I believe.  I, Me, Mine’, as it were (a phrase that was coined by the late George Harrison in a song of the same name).

I was watching an Animal Planet program on television the other day.  It was called, ‘The Worlds Oddest Animal Couples’.  It was about different species of animals thriving together.  Not just getting along with one another, but thriving.  The emphasis of the show was that play seems to be the common element among divergent species, enabling them to overlook their natural inclination to fight with, kill, flee from, or just to simply avoid one another.  Play was the magic potion, the primary ingredient.  It is what enabled them to accept one another as friends, and as equals.  It is what would break down the hard-wired instincts of fear, caution, or mistrust.  The program illustrated the friendship and trust that one species would have for another even though, historically, they may have always been enemies; the predator and the prey.

Believe it or not the documentary highlighted the relationships between a group of wild polar bears and a pack of husky sled-dogs.  Typically a polar bear would kill and eat a dog in a minute, and without even giving it a second thought.  But this film showed them romping around together, wrestling, licking each other, and even cuddling.  Absolutely remarkable.  The show depicted a threesome also; a friendly and loving relationship between a black bear, a lion and a tiger.  Even more remarkable.  Never has there been a more unlikely relationship.  There was a jaguar and a Jack Russell terrier, a lion and an impala, a chimp and a leopard, a Great Dane and a deer, a rhino and a sheep, a cat and a group of ducklings, a bulldog and a lion, a chimp and a hyena, a lion and an impala, and a rhino and a lamb.

Now, in the interest of accuracy I must point out that some of these animals had been raised together since they were pups or cubs.  But many of them were not.  The Great Dane and the fawn got together when the fawn wandered into the dogs yard.  They became friends on their own, and remained friends throughout their lives, even sleeping and cuddling together.  The bears and the dogs found each other on the Alaskan ice fields and became friends the same way.  The polar bears were wild as the hair on my electrified head.  The huskies were raised and trained as sled-dogs.  Polar bears have always been their mortal enemies.  Their newfound relationships were of nobody’s making but their own.

I don’t have the inclination to describe all of the relationships to you, only to say that if you get a chance to see this program be sure and take the time to enjoy it. 
Play, being the primary element in the unique connection between the species, has caused me to look a little closer at group sports, the most obvious arena where adults play with each other regardless of their ethnicity, political persuasion or religion.  And it seems to be one of the few places where people do seem to set aside differences and support one another.  I can think back on many of the positive associations I’ve had with people who were not necessarily ‘like me’, and realize that it was usually around sports or music.  Competing with or against one another, it just didn’t seem to matter.  It was play.  There was an acceptance, a mutual support, even a common sense of humor accompanying the playing of the game, or the music.  We were playing together.  Of course, some took things a little too seriously, but that was more about their own ego than any ethnic or cultural differences a player might have brought to the event.  Play.  That’s what it was.  It was PLAY.  Play is a good equalizer for people.  It’s good for knocking down barriers, building friendships, and accepting differences regardless of previously held biases.

When one is habitually restricting themselves to their own familiar group, whether it be a church, a shared ethnicity, a shared political perspective, or a social commonality, it is very easy to cultivate, and engage in ‘Group Think’.  Once cultivated it becomes very difficult to think for one’s self.  Group Think is never a good thing to practice, and never a path to peace.  It will most often result in further division, stunted growth, and personal unhappiness.  I know that everyone is entitled to, and likes to be around, people with whom they are comfortable.  There’s nothing the matter with that, but if we never stretch, or step outside of our own boundaries then it is foreseeable that the proverbial lion will, most assuredly, never be inclined to lay down with the lamb.

It’s incredible, the things we can learn from animals.
How about we focus on our similarities for a change, rather than our divergence?
How about a little more play with one another to help us forget about our friggin’ differences?   
Have some fun with someone. 
Playing together goes a long way.

You’ll see for yourself.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


I’m old enough to remember when shoes used to be worn primarily as protection for your feet.  Regular guys had two pair of shoes.  One for everyday to wear to school, or work, or play, and another pair for what used to be called ‘dress up’.

I still consider myself a regular guy even though I’m much older than I used to be.  I don’t really even know how a regular guy would become not so regular of a guy.  I must have missed that class when I was in school.
The main difference between then and now, however, is that I have a couple of dozen pair of shoes now, rather than the two pair I had for so many years.  I’m kind of ashamed to know that I have as many as I do. 

What I want to know is, “How’d I get all these shoes?”  I never went on a shoe binge.  I’m not the kind of guy who picks up a pair of shoes as an impulse buy.
And I’ve never bought a particular pair of shoes just because someone I’ve admired had them.  All I can figure is that I acquired them ‘as needed’ along the way.  I am an ‘as needed’ kind of guy, I guess.  

As a boy, when I’d wear holes through the soles of my shoes my mom would cut cardboard inserts to slip inside the shoes to protect my socks from getting holes worn in them.  We were not really poor.  I mean we had money for food and gas, and a roof over our heads most of the time, but we didn’t often have extra money for shoes.  I wore them as long as possible.  Actually wore them until I’d outgrow them.  By the time I would outgrow them the soles would be worn down to nothing.  I’d actually be walking around on cardboard. 

Today shoes seem to be symbols of one thing or another.  Many people have dozens of pairs of shoes.  Some people have dozens of pairs of the same shoe even, and in several different colors.  I don’t know what that’s a symbol of, but it does seem to indicate a desire to never again have to wear cardboard in their shoes.  After all, I’d like to believe I’m not the only one whose mother put cardboard inserts in their shoes. 
Some women, celebrities, and athletes, have hundreds of pairs of shoes.  I suppose shoe-fetish aficionados might also.  I shouldn’t be one to talk though because, as I’ve said, I’ve got a couple of dozen pairs myself.  But what I know as well as I know my own name is that a person can only wear one pair of shoes at a time.  I imagine that some of those people with hundreds of them never even get to wear half of them.  That’s kind of sad, to have all those shoes and not be able to wear them.  I suppose the unworn ones would tend to feel neglected, or relieved, depending on whether or not their owner is someone who is particularly hard on shoes.
I must admit that out of the couple dozen pairs of shoes that I own, I have three pair of the same kind.  Years ago I found a particular tennis shoe that I really liked for about twenty bucks.  That’s pretty cheap for a good tennis shoe.  And there are not many that I really like, so when the shoes I was wearing wore out I looked to get another pair of them.  I wear a size 13, and the store I bought them at didn’t have any more 13’s in stock for about a year.  I couldn’t find them at any other outlet either.  So, long story short, when they finally got three pair of my size in I bought all three of them.  I was afraid I’d never find the shoes again.  But now I should be fixed for the rest of my life.

My wife and I have a couple of dogs.  We love them, and care for them the best that we know how.  We’ve been taking them on long hikes just about every day.  Shoes are one of the ways that indicate to me how smart these dogs really are.  When they see me put my hiking shoes on they get as excited as is possible for a dog to get over a pair of shoes.  As you know, dogs don’t wear shoes.  I’ve often wondered what they must think about humans wearing shoes.  I wonder if they think we’re a little odd for doing so, or if they think we might just be a little smarter than the average dog.  I don’t know that they’d ever admit that if it were true, particularly because I’m pretty sure they know it’s not. 

I have tennis shoes, dress shoes, river shoes, hiking shoes, hiking boots, work shoes, work boots, cowboy boots, motorcycle boots, ugh boots, moccasins, flip-flops, slippers, slip-ons, lace-ups, buckle-ups and sandals.  I’m quite aware that there are indigenous cultures in the world that only wear sandals, and it looks like most of them do alright with it.  Maybe I don’t really need all of these different shoes.  Maybe I can get by with one pair of all-purpose shoes, or go real organic with just a pair of sandals.  Works for some of those societies we see on Animal Planet, or the National Geographic channel. 

Some of the most important and influential people in human history have been partial to sandals.  Look it up.  Jesus comes to mind, but of course they killed him.  I don’t think it was because he had ugly sandals.  It probably had more to do with his disinclination to walk a mile in Pontius Pilate’s political shoes.
I’ve often wondered what must have become of his sandals.  I wonder if he wore a size 13.  I’d sure like to get my feet in them.