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Advice to Oliver

Grandfather and grandson

On the last day of 2018, my younger brother died after a long illness. He was finally at peace. Two weeks later, my first grandson – Oliver Stanley – was born, prematurely. He is in the preemie ward at the hospital in San Francisco. Jim died slowly and Oliver is taking his time coming into this world. Feeling one life pass and another come into being … and having just turned 70 myself … I am experiencing an almost organic sense of life.

In that spirit, I am moved to pass on some advice to my grandson. Some day he will see it, when he learns what words are. It may not make much sense at first.

One: Remember to breathe. Deeply. Find a rhythm. Rhythm is the secret of life.

Two: Learn to practice. Improvement for its own sake. Right now, your body is building your little muscles, learning to operate in gravity. Strength requires resistance. Resistance appears as you learn to separate yourself from your surroundings. Practice builds the muscles to do the work.

Life is an exercise in paying attention. Facing all this incoming information, you are putting patterns together that will last you the rest of your life. With practice – and patience – you can make yourself into whatever you can imagine.

Three: Learn to pray. Praying is just looking inside, learning to see with the heart. Where are you in there?  Imagine you are part of something greater (trust me on that one) and quietly look inside for what that might be. Praying is not asking for help, imploring the angels to swoop. Praying is, with a little practice, playing a note in a much larger chord. You will look for experiences that remind you of what it is like to be a part of something more.

Just like the sea reveals invisible forces playing on its surface, like the unseen wind bends fields of grass, the world is shaped by currents you cannot see. They are in-visible. What you can see outside is just the beginning of the game. Prayer develops a sense of what is behind all the clutter.

Four: Learn to let go. You will spend a few years learning to grasp things – fair enough, since you don’t have anything at the moment – but the time will come when you feel like you can’t take any more … the structures you have built up in your head won’t bend any further to explain things. That’s when you need to let go. Let go of thoughts, wishes and desires that worked once, but now are just piling up in the corner. Structures in your mind are just structures in your mind. Beliefs are not things.

You can’t reach if you don’t let go. Life is a stream, not an object. You can’t hold the river. Nothing stays the same, regardless of how we try to keep life a certain way by pinning words on things. You can’t push it either. Too many things go into every moment. Everything is in motion. It’s just a matter of speed. The world is alive. In your early years, life will come to you. Look forward. Pasting the past onto new experience, as comforting as that can be, will obscure what it is you may not have seen before. For me, at age 70, life is beginning to roll away. I don’t mind. I have playing in the stream for decades. Trust the magic of beginnings.

Five: Listen to your feelings: you are in for a lifetime of wondering what’s right and wrong, good and bad and so on. What can you know for sure? With practice in paying attention and being honest with yourself, you can always know how you feel. The way to grow is to answer for how you feel in a way that is good for everybody. It sounds simple. Knowing how you are feeling means learning to look inside. Answering for that feeling means expressing that energy in the world, being responsible for your self. Why do it in a way that is good for everybody? Because that is the way life works.

Six: Don’t take other people personally. Everyone else is busy trying to sort out the same stuff you are. If they say they have it all figured out and it’s not good for everybody, they are wrong. The point in being alive is to express who you are. At first, it is up to your Mum and Dad. You are in luck there. They will get you off to a good start. As you grow, your idea of who you are depends entirely on you. Others can never know and can never judge what you are thinking.

When others see you out in the world, it is always from their point of view. A shorter person will see you as tall. A taller person will see you as short. How someone sees you depends on them, not you. Your guide, all that you know for sure, is how you feel about stuff. If something out there in the world bothers you, there is a corresponding internal awareness of something you know to be true. Respond to that. Everyone else is in the same boat. The first words we hear are people telling us how to be. They are just repeating what they were told.

Seven: Be guided by joy. Joy is only rarely shouting out loud. Most of the time, joy is a quiet, sometimes almost silent, note. It can be a whisper that rings with a chord quietly connecting to the universe and it can be an avalanche that is overwhelming. It can be too much to deal with at one time. Everyone will teach you how to put joy aside to get stuff done. That where prayer comes in. A quiet moment of reminder … who you are behind the scenes. Joy is not a color on the spectrum. Joy is the spectrum. Joy is sad and happy at the same time. Joy is the experience of the fact that it is all here, now. Joy all the time and we would never go anywhere or do anything. Bring your life into accord with opportunities for joy … without making a big deal about it. No one can do that for you. Joy is the stream of being at the heart of everything.

Everyone has rules – designed to deal with the way life comes and goes. And everyone breaks them. No one is good all the time – we wouldn’t know what good is. Talk to your parents – you are in their hearts. Keep your word – make it mean something. Express yourself. Ask for help when you need it. When in doubt, reach. Look people in the eye and pay attention to what you see there.

For now, we will teach you how to break the world into bits and pieces, so that you will fit in. The day will come when you will see how to put it back together again. You won’t ever really forget how it was when you didn’t have to breathe. But you weren’t you then, so to speak. You are always a part of everything. You will just forget that for a while, in order to get stuff done. Ultimately, each one of us finds that there is only one way to deal with this messy human life – and that is to be brave and follow your heart.


Being Good

dunescape smallThe New Year. I am thinking about Being Good. As usual. And every year I wonder what I mean by ‘being good’.

‘Being’ just is.

‘Being’ is like light. It is not noticed unless it is reflected. That is the tricky part. The same light makes a red rose, a blue sky and any variety of shiny objects. Being just is. So Red, Blue and Any Variety of Shiny Objects depend on who is looking. The observer creates the scene.

And then there’s ‘Good’. Anything can be ‘good’ when compared to something ‘worse’. There are those who believe that ‘good’ is suffering. Those souls resonate with pain. A soul is a single note. A single note falls into accord with a similar frequency. This music is the in-visible fabric of our lives. Being good at something is being ‘one’ with it. An identity can get lost. The challenge is to find the right degree of separation. Being bad at something shows no accord. Where there are no chords, there will be no harmony. This is when we start playing with the words.

Every year, as we start again, I promise myself to be better at keeping my own word – to myself and others. Part of that process is being more precise about promises. What do I really mean? What do the words represent? The closer the words are to what actually happens, the better I feel. I have a habit of bending the words to fit. The New Year is time to gather my intentions and hold them up to the light.

In the old days, there was more ritual around letting go of what was and embracing what will be. The solstice was a celebration of the nature of life itself … a moment to let the manufactured mind go and join the larger process of which we are a part. The journey of life condensed into a ceremony. There are in-visible patterns that take shape in the flow of information available in the universe. Mythic patterms. Joseph Campbell writes about the Hero’s Journey. Jude Currivan describes the evolution from Loneliness to Aloneness to Alloneness. The essence of transformation is letting go.

I felt the transition more acutely this time because my brother died on the night of December 30th. He had been struggling for a couple of years with the effects of an under-active thyroid and severe diabetes. He was bed-ridden, blind and keen to have it all end. He believed that Christ awaited him on the other side. I gave permission to relieve extraordinary measures, when he fell into a coma. It is not that Jim is happier now. It is that he is no longer buffeted by dualities beyond his reach. He is no longer just Jim.

Truly knowing ‘Being’ requires knowing ‘Not-being’, so we can never really know. No thing can be distinguished that is everywhere, all the time. This is the secret of life … in order to be, it must end. For anything to be, it must pass … including the awareness that I am.

First we are instructed to “Be Good!”. Then we learn that Good is a relative matter. Values vary. Eventually I must decide for myself. What we can’t understand, while we are being taught what is what, is that the whole separation thing is made up.  If ‘being’ means ‘consciousness’, then being ‘me’ means consciousness in a location. We are the same consciousness in different locations … all flowers on the same tree. We need to see the differences in order to take care of the business of being in a body. But mind is more than that. Dreams arise when the body rests.

Our mental structures are designed to move a body back and forth, to get from here to there, to take and give this and that. Put the labels aside and there is nothing that is not. That is being. The awareness that I am. Before the other stuff … the rest of the sentence … is added. ‘Sum’ is Latin for ‘I am’. Every moment, I am the whole thing.

To me, being good means joining the music … just a strain, once in a while. I can’t listen for long, I know that. I can’t listen and manage myself at the same time. It is renewing to be reminded that the music is there.  A chord is made up of notes played simultaneously, a connection between two points on a circle of sound. The emergence of a shape in the air. The realization that I am more than just this.

Being good means being in accord with what appears to be different. Every moment, I am seeking resonance, sensing a way through the blizzard of labels and their insinuations. As I have grown older, the notes ring with memories. The melody underneath is so quiet, it is hard to hear. One must be listening closely. That is what I wish to feel more of this time around. The music in which I am such a tiny part.

water and rock



Palm Springs hike

Early morning hike into the hills south of Palm Springs

Stories aside, the Winter Solstice is really the beginning of a new year. The earth reaches the end of a pendulum swing across the solar system and spins back toward the sun. It is dazzling to think about all the motion whizzing around us. In the middle of it all, we conjure a world, a platform where we can find our balance, even though no straight line lasts for long.

It’s easier to relax into it now that I am older … having made it through this dance 69 times. Looking back, I can see how much time I wasted trying to control it, trying to be right. The more cycles I see, the happier I am just to be OK.

Although we return along the same path, after reaching the end of the swing, the whole business has moved in the meantime. A spiral, not a circle. The same pattern in a different place. The more I do this, the more I am inclined to mistake the pattern for a place all its own. The pattern becomes comfortable and I begin to apply it everywhere so that the circumstances, which seem to be out of my control, matter less.

I was struck by something astronaut Scott Kelly said about his year in space. He was asked what was different about living without gravity. Scott described the feeling we get at the end of a long, hard day. When you’re tired and aching, you can lie down. Gravity pulls on your body and it lets go. You collapse into the bed and you feel all your muscles dissolve. This is a feeling we can only get on Earth. In space, says Scott, there is none of that.  There is no end, no rest of that kind. Missing completely one end of a cycle we are used to … and designed for. His body was not made for that. Over the year, it began to come apart inside the skin.

That’s one end of the spectrum. The limits of the material world we are built for. Physical boundaries. The other end is a retreat entirely into the imagination. Let the world outside fall to pieces while we dream. The body won’t last long that way either. Nothing remains at either end of the pendulum swing. We have a specific place in the scheme of things.

Cycles of different sizes are frequencies. There is a frequency to the seasons, to the months and to the days. There is a frequency to love and hate … and to good and bad. As some animals are keenly aware, intentions have a frequency. The patterns that I personally am most used to resonate with some designs and not with others. My true intentions are broadcasting ahead, like radar. This is the journey of discovery, because underneath it all is the frequency that never goes anywhere – me. The trick is to separate the signal from the noise. Souls are drawn to harmony. The individual notes only have meaning in the music itself.

The child in me keeps hoping, like a character in a Shakespeare play, that I will see a sign from the universe. Reminds me of all those years I spent waiting for the metaphorical good news in the mail. After seeing a few cycles though, I can’t avoid the fact that it is up to me.  But I don’t want to just make it up. I want to be aligned, connected. There is a note, a sound, a vibration to an underlying rhythm … the body of the pendulum swing. When I don’t see it, it is not because it isn’t there, it’s because I want to favor a certain point in the swing. I want to keep things a certain way. That never lasts for long. I want to more consciously go with the flow. When I encounter an agreeable resonance, I feel like I belong.

The signs I have seen from the universe tell me that I am connected, that all my anxiety about being alive has been fundamentally a waste of time. Unfortunately, like everything else, that state of mind comes and goes.

I’m a little early with this New Year’s greeting. I want to suggest a little time to prepare. Real intentions can be a little hard to find. And it is real intentions which will be seeking to ‘shake hands’ with the world at large next year. Following the prevailing winds is the direction toward something new. By starting over, at the same time as the planet itself, seems like we might catch a breeze.

I see a turn coming, away from the defensiveness and bad behavior that accompanies insecurity.  We have forgotten that we are all in this together. The way life spills into our awareness, we will be reminded. That is the nature of this coming year. There is magic and mystery in the realization that if I truly change my mind, the world changes with me. Spirit is stirring. Words are unable to keep up with new perceptions of the universe and the nature of reality itself. Everything is connected. The makeshift world I built by separating stuff out of the current resides only in my mind. That’s all I will ever know. However, what I can experience, what I can feel, appears to be limitless.

The instructions on how to navigate a non-dual reality are shrouded in terms meant to defy the imagination. If it is everywhere, then it is nowhere, so the usual rules don’t apply. For a reason. If it is too easy, it will be abused. This is something we see all the time from those ‘who have found the way’. Realization accompanies the effort, not the result. Where the little (someplace) world stops and the big (everyplace) world hovers is on the edge of identity – the origin of free will.

On 12.21.2018 we can make up our minds with galactic winds at our backs. We can choose how to be, what to become, while everything is still new, with the momentum of Spring. The more of us that do it, the easier it gets.

What sometimes holds me back is that I don’t have to change. I don’t want the discomfort that accompanies not being sure of something. Sometimes I am too comfortable, too lazy, too apprehensive or too impatient to do something properly. Only doing it properly, with awareness, makes it work. I know this and I still flop about half the time. I have a lot to learn.

As we are pulled back toward the sun, we are renewed – knowing that, for a while, there is more light to come. Life will get brighter.

Thanks for following the blog. I wish I could say what was coming next but it’s probably something I haven’t seen before.

Happy New Year!