Friday, May 27, 2016

A Question about Halloween Answered.


At Zona Refrescante restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador, every afternoon on Thursday, Ecuadorians meet with native English speakers to practice speaking English. It´s fun, and it´s a way for people from both cultures to inquire about strange customs they don´t understand.
 

This bright middle school age student had a question for me this past Thursday about Halloween. I pause to interject. This girl of about 14 years never lived in any English speaking country. She learned what she knows not only because eight hours of English per week is a requirement at her school, but also because as she explained, English is her favorite subject! She speaks it well and has decently good pronunciation, and she impressed me.  
But all that above about her is beside the point.
This girl, an obviously curious expression on her face, was asking me to explain Halloween. I tried but felt flabbergasted. I didn´t have an answer satisfactory to me.
Halloween as it´s known in North America doesn´t exist in Ecuador. The custom most akin to Halloween in Ecuador is called the day of the dead, I´d say, but this tradition is so different from Halloween that in fact the connection is most imprecise. Ecuadorians visit the remains of lost loved ones at their tombs in graveyards on the day of the dead. They place flowers and cards with messages on the tombstones, and eat food and drink a special drink called colada morada. It´s a time to pray for the dead and a time to communicate with the dead.
 
 
This to me is its, granted, unsteady similarity to Halloween. But take a look at one of the most popular Halloween costumes---the costume of a skeleton. Somehow in some way Halloween has something to do with death. And death is scary. Look at the costumes kids wear on Halloween--- ghosts, goblins, monsters, witches, pirates and devils---all scary, all evocative of frightening manifestations that would scare you to death if not make believe. So what IS the point of Halloween? Is it just to have fun going around to houses in the neighborhood carrying a bag to collect candy?  Get real--- that´s the biggest part of the point. But I think Halloween has a deeper meaning, which I wouldn´t be thinking about if it hadn´t been for that Ecuadorian girl´s question.  
   

In my mind the Halloween costume represents the dark side of human nature. It´s the side we ordinarily hide but that we bring out into the open in pantomime on Halloween. We proclaim there is this evil side to us that is like a monster or a demon. We say yes on Halloween, yes we are part bad and yes this part of us exists.
The beauty about Halloween as every kid in North America will attest is the collection of big bags of candy. Maybe this is symbolic as well. Is this a representation that evil spirits can be bought off?  After all, the ghosts and goblins leave the house once their bags get filled with candy.

  

Friday, May 13, 2016

White Flag Defeat and the Power of Surrender


To surrender? What does that mean?  It means you know you´ve been defeated and you accept it. You´ve been knocked out. You don´t have it in you to fight anymore and you give up. You fly a white flag.

Addicts in recovery have surrendered. The heroin addict who cannot stop injecting heroin realizes he has been defeated when he surrenders to the reality of his addiction. He needs the drug. He will suffer almost unbearable pangs of withdrawal unless he gets it into his blood stream. By a surrender to this fact of the matter, the addict makes possible a shift to the entirety of his position in the world.   
 
 
This thread of talk refers to what is personal and private. Heroin addiction never stopped some notable musicians from performing their music. Alcoholics have been famous figures in the literary world. The talent and energy that drives this success is immaterial to addiction. Addiction is monstrous, yes. It is almost all-powerful, yes. But it does not necessarily prevent people from achieving success. People are made of durable material and even those of us with broken wings can fly far.

But what addiction does do is render people, no matter how talented or famous, enslaved to their addictions.

I have an example of the power of surrender I want to share from my personal life, although it´s not about addiction.

The Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay, September, 1945

It´s about a condition that developed over a ten year period when I worked graveyard shifts as a security guard. My body acclimated itself to being awake at night. It became accustomed to sleeping during the day. Ten years after having stopped working in security, still, I get tired and sleep during the day. I perk up ready to greet the world during the dark hours of the night. My sleep and wake hours were completely turned upside down by the decade of years I worked security at night.

I fought the condition with ferocity for a long time. I did everything I could to reverse it so I could sleep at night. Nothing worked--- except the effective sleeping medication called trazadone, not available where I now live---Ecuador. My nights turned into anger fueled and frustrating episodes of insomnia punctuated by bouts of intense binge eating.      

I surrendered to the reality of my insomnia about a month ago. I accepted that I have a condition I can´t change. I elected to go with the flow. I gave up worrying about when to sleep and instructed myself to sleep when I´m sleepy and tired---ordinarily about five o´clock in the morning. I go about my pursuits calmly and without rancor or agitation at night. The capitulation to my insomnia erased the emotions which had been driving me to binge eat at night.

A connection exists between the troubles I had with insomnia and the troubles of addiction. Nothing about either of these two maladjustments can or could be remedied unless first a surrender occurs---the hoisting of a white flag indicating the profound realization change needs to enter into the picture.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Five Duties that a Man Owes to Himself




1. The duty to hold himself on a level equal to others.

This is an essential duty, because a man who holds himself equal to others is being realistic. He comprehends that in every category of characteristic, knowledge and ability, some will do better than he while others do worse. He understands the playing field of life provides advantages to some and disadvantages to others. He realizes these circumstances occur in a manner completely outside of his control, so for these he takes no credit nor assumes any blame. He asserts his equality to himself and in his mind will have it no other way. As well he feels the force in natural law which indicates that indeed all men are inescapably created equal.

2. The duty to be honest with himself.

This duty is of vital importance because a man who is not honest with himself is pretending to himself. Pretense isn´t grounded in reality. Pretense is a lie and a man who lies to himself distorts the incomparable validity to his unique individuality. It is a crime against the self of major magnitude. Fear is the father of this crime. It is being afraid of oneself that fosters the lie of the pretense. The duty of a man to be honest with himself  often  requires courage, which itself is a critical part of the definition of what it means to be a man.

3. The duty to master his emotions.

Emotions are powerful. Without the steadying hands of thought and determination, they are inordinitely powerful. Without the constraint imposed by the power of reason, emotions become high risk factors that can lead to major regret. A man owes to himself this duty even if it is never entirely accomplised to his satisfaction. Reason is what separates us from animals; not to utilize its capacity to choose behavior and to regulate conduct is akin to high treason against the self.

4. The duty to do the difficult.

Self-respect is earned by accomplishing the difficult, and self-respect is a key ingredient to man´s spirit. This is why this duty exists. What´s difficult and why are personal and unique to every individual who accepts the challenges of the difficult, but all difficulties engender patience and perserverence. Nothing worth much has ever been gained by doing what´s easy. Practice comes to mind as an essential component in the accomplishment of the difficult, and the repetitions of practice are not easy.  However, nobody ever achieved any measurable level of competence by infrequent or sporadic application of the will.

5. The duty to enjoy.

Forms of enjoyment are many and varied, but every man by the workings of nature is tailor made to enjoy hobbies and interests which have personal appeal. These interests are part of the make up of the individual;  it´s a duty to cultivate these interests by enjoying the pleasures they afford.  Life is altogether too priceless  to discard into the trash bin those enjoyments only living can offer. If a man must dedícate himself to making time for enjoyable activities, this dedication is only fitting.  To do otherwise amounts to nothing less than rude and ungrateful behavior towards the spirits of life.

 


     
 

 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Did Tears Fall for the Children of Palo Alto?


The night storm had vanished and I looked at broken black clouds over the city of Palo Alto. Rain had plummeted day after day, pelting the ground in a concert of constant deluge until at last dawn hours stirred. I viewed a wet street empty save for solitary cars directed east or west across a Caltrain railroad track. It was 2011.  
 
A stretch of Caltrain track in Palo Alto
 
One after another students from Palo Alto´s highly accredited high schools were awaiting death on the track in the path of oncoming trains. This epidemic of suicide had alerted the media. ABC and NBC news reporters appeared with cameramen to interview local officials.  

I guarded the tracks as a security officer. I witnessed how these calamities wounded the heart of this town in California´s wealthy Silicon Valley.

Downtown Palo Alto

This blond, slender 40-something woman always wearing blue jeans walked daily, across the track on the opposite side of the street. She´d pause, look both ways, then sprint over to hand to me a cold can of coke. Not once or twice mind you---she always did it. And every time she did she expressed in that action love for the lives of the children of Palo Alto.  

Late, late at night a car stops, the teen-age driver exits; he opens the trunk, grabs a beer and sets it down in the middle of the street, then without word said he drives away.

The Hispanic gardener in the truck with its lawnmower and rakes and ladder in the back---the driver waits for a train to pass. It´s scorching hot and the gardener hands over to me a cold bottle of water.  

Many times, indeed so many it was not uncommon, people would stop their cars on chilly nights or balmy days to exit and deliver to me a cup of coffee and donuts or cookies.
 
On one grey drizzly night a pretty Philippine woman arrives at my guard post and what she does is she chats with me. She keeps me company for almost an hour. I´m a 61 year old fat man with balding hair. I know the gift of her pleasant companionship was given less out of concern for me and more for love of Palo Alto´s youngsters.

A middle-aged man in a short sleeved white shirt would come during the day once a week to stand beside the tracks. He carried a bible and would read scriptural passages, then raising an arm skyward he´d pray. I saw this happen and I knew the reason. The man loved the young people of Palo Alto. Not infrequently I saw women make the sign of the cross as they drove over the tracks.

At the many intersections of street and track, volunteers with walky-talky radios and beaming searchlights would patrol the region at night until the last train run at 1 a.m.  A report might signal a teenager had been spotted hanging about the tracks at such and such a location, and it looked scary. A call to police would transpire and I knew these volunteers loved the children of their community. I know it now.

A Caltrain train

Blinking red lights and clanging bells warn of an approaching train about every twenty minutes, either on the track north to San Francisco or south to San Jose. Mechanical arms adjust down automatically to block passage across the tracks. The light on the face of the locomotive shines in the distance and I watch, and wait until the tracks clear, until the train speeds past with steel thunder and whooshing air. I did this job for a year.

 

 

    

 

Friday, December 11, 2015

How I Will So Love My Concubine


It´s me. I know it´s me crippled that derails my solicitudes to find a woman. I see 85 percent of the guys walking around here with wives or girlfriends but not me?  I see 14 year old kids with their girls but not me. What the flinging suck is it about me that keeps me single? It must be that I cannot walk with the gait of a normal man because believe me I have been looking for my girl.

The woman is there on the other side attracting me. I´m on this side--- being attracted---and apparently attracting her. I start walking towards her to get to her side and kaboom! I step on a landmine and brother I´m blasted out of the picture. I´m gone. Nada mas Mike. I didn´t see it you understand. I didn´t know it was there and I wasn´t probing the terrain in front of me with a mine detector.  You know how I feel about them?  About those landmines?  I hate them because they get me every single time. Those defensive weapons women employ to weed out the losers from their winners just blast me to God´s kingdom come so regularly I expect it to happen by now. It´s ordinary. It´s no big thing. It is my fate I am to remain single for the rest of my life.  That´s my conclusion.

I´m not going to kick my foot against the rock stone of my fate any longer. I quit. I´m done with it. Evidently I am a vast disappointment to the good women of this world. The time has come for me to accept this. I do so now.

Do you want to know something?  I really don´t trust the good women of this world---the unattached ones looking to mate. Too many of them don´t do what they say they are going to do. I get lied to again. Bam! Too bad---my hopes were high on her. Why do these women not stick around long enough to discover I´m a great guy? I just don´t get it.

But no matter. I know the women out there I can generally more often trust. I know the women out there who don´t play games or confuse your head---women more likely honest, fun loving and forthright.

They don´t hide landmines that blow you to pieces. They just want to make you feel happy for a few dollars more in this too often bastard of a world. Treat them with kindness and respect not expected and you will see for yourself, pal, what they give to you in return is not so far away from what is genuine after all.

I make my declaration. I´m outa here---To the guys who know how to avoid the landmines and get laid and married---go for it.

I´m going to find a concubine---she´s going to be a friend I help support---a friend to whom I am dedicated. I will care about her and most probably too deeply because I´m a great guy.  She will help me survive in return by treating my particular conditions of loneliness and lack of intimacy.

You know what else? I will be damned if I stop going to church.

Friday, November 27, 2015

My Most Personal Story: About Mom

My mom was an adept conversationalist, proper in dress and demeanor, and well read. In New Orleans where she grew up, she had been a high school radio announcer and member of the debate team. She knew me well enough to realize I had an irreversible condition even before I did, and she told me it was the only part about me that had ever really worried her. My mom had actually worried about me.

I’m going to tell this history in a non-judgmental way---as much as I can, I won’t allow emotion to muddy or cloud the telling of it. No matter how my mom had treated me in these particulars, I acknowledge the ways in which she operated against me were actuated by conflicts from which she herself suffered. They contorted her and attended to me via her in a vicious manner throughout the majority of my minor years.
The deepest root of the matter was that sensual and sexual feelings in me were enigma to my mom. They antagonized her. The innate desires that attracted me to girls horrified her and so as a child much of the time I was on high alert.

My parents when I was six and seven years old often monitored me in my bed at night for any slight, muffled signal that I was “touching myself.” Whether I was or wasn’t---if they thought I was--- I risked a spanking. I felt dread and associated pleasure with pain. I hid. I lied to escape bitter consequences of forthrightness.
I have always been enamored of women---as a kid I was--- and I am now as an adult. The feelings beg for satisfaction and expression. I always wanted to have fun with girls. I always wanted to hold hands with a girl I really liked. I wanted always to walk with a sweetheart in a park or on a beach.

But mom laid down rules. I was forbidden to deliberately walk with a girl home from school, i.e. seek out the girl to walk with her; walking home from school with a girl was permitted only if it should occur by chance.

Another rule forbade the entrance of girls I knew into the family home.
This next requires explanation. Every summer my parents sent me to San Francisco for a two or three week vacation at the house of my maternal grandmother. Before going one year, when I was eleven or twelve, mom issued an order forbidding me to enter the house of any girl while in San Francisco. I did anyway. This was reported to her by a sibling after the vacation, and Mom grounded me for the rest of the summer.
In 6th grade a boys' and girls' party was held for members of the class. After the party separate slumber parties were planned for the girls and the boys. Mom refused permission to attend the mixed party but granted permission to go to the boys' slumber party.
At my grammar school in 7th grade a sock hop was held in one of the classrooms and I attended contrary to the wishes of mom. A sibling reported the disobedience and I was reprimanded.
Mom forbade me to see the film “Westside Story.”
One afternoon--- a group of mothers who lived in the neighborhood and who had children, friends of mine, attending the grammar school I attended came to visit mom. They knocked on the door and mom let them into the house. I was watching and listened while perched up the staircase out of view. The women were asking mom to allow more freedom to me in regard to going to dances and mixing with girls in general. In short order mom curtly showed them to the door.
When I was 13 years old, our family went on a Catholic Church retreat to the desert. I met the most beautiful girl there I had ever seen, by far, and we clicked instantly. It was love at first sight and for two weeks I was living in heaven on earth laughing and enjoying companionship with this girl. Her eyes just sparkled. At the end of the retreat, we exchanged mailing addresses. A few weeks later, my folks called me into the living room. Mom was holding an open envelope and she had extracted and read the letter inside. She tore it to pieces in front of me and I realized then it had been a letter to me by that girl in the desert. On the inside I seethed at the insult and disregard to my privacy but didn't say a word.

When I was a junior in high school, I was on the phone with a cute blond and mom came with arms akimbo and stern face and stood inches away from me, making it impossible to have a private conversation.
These were all invasions against the heterosexual masculinity in me in a long standing war waged by mom.

When I reached 17 years of age I decided I had had enough. I began to devote myself to dissipation. I got high on drugs and stayed high on drugs as much as possible---I trashed the work ethic. My parents couldn't take it and kicked me out of the house and I joined the army. I took a discharge 16 months later and for the next nine years I lived on welfare in various northern California locations.

One day many years later, in another era, after I recovered and was leading a self-sustaining life, I was visiting my parents at their home in Los Angeles. Mom and I were sitting in the living room with other family across from one another. Our eyes met and mom’s body jerked erect. She stiffened. She didn't do the jerk; the jerk had been done to her. Then I saw a curl of what looked similar to black smoke rise above her, and felt that the demon---that tormenter---was revealing itself.
Last week, I was preparing to do the Essential Somatic Movements contained in the CD by Somatic Educator Martha Peterson.
I watched and listened to this gentle and caring woman explain how the movements eliminate pain. She encapsulated everything about the embodiment of the female gender that's especially wonderful. Innate wisdom, compassion, sincerity. And I couldn’t help myself. I started to cry--- deep sobs of tears because this Martha Peterson was in no way at all someone evil. She was good and kind and gentle and my mom for all those years had remonstrated against my feelings in favor of girls altogether as special and good. I cried for some minutes; until I didn’t have any more water. In my 65 years this was the first I felt not bitter or angry about the abuse but just hurt at the enormity of the crime done against me--- and my mom.

 

 

 

 

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Man without a Country


Alan by no means appears the strapping type who would cross continents and traverse oceans in an eight year drive to meet the peoples of the world. He approaches instead the diminutive. We sit across from one another in couch chairs one afternoon last week talking under the bamboo roof of the guest commons at Hostal Rosario del Villa in Cuenca. He laughs easily and looks about 42 years old, wears a worn baseball cap and appears altogether nondescript, perhaps even somewhat undernourished.

Istanbul, Turkey

Alan’s assured cadence and deep voice tell a different story. Those reflect a personal need molded onto a framework of intense curiosity which for almost a decade has stopped at nothing to find universal commonality no matter country or culture.

Cusco, Peru

So is Alan a traveler? “I can’t really characterize myself as anything,” he says. “I can just say that I travel because that’s part of my life.”
A part of his life that’s more consequence than choice he says.
Alan had been working with computer software and hardware in the Silicon Valley high tech era, and started part time, taking personal growth courses and studies. It generated full scale change but not until Alan rammed into a dead end wall years later.

Koh Phangan, Thailand

He has always enjoyed helping people, he explains, helping people discover their hidden aspects, helping people to resolve differences, helping people to better understand their motivations.

Time after time people encouraged him. You’re so good at doing counseling, they said, you ought to practice full time. So he got out of the high tech field and without a psychology degree that is in fact what Alan did for about the next six years.

“I thought about (getting a degree) for many years” he says, “and every time I went to go something stopped me. The main thing is they weren’t actually seeing people, they were seeing statistics in general and I wanted to see people in specifics.”  

He says he did it until he got really good at it. He could figure out their focus of attention, see the things inside themselves that they wanted to change. But Alan says almost everyone wanted to change superficially, for instance, how to change to make more money or how to develop a more likeable personality.

“Is that all people really want?” thought Alan. “They were satisfied with what to me was just a beginning. It was just bread crumbs. And people were delighted with it. And I wasn’t. I needed a path, I needed to go somewhere.”
He felt frustrated doing life coaching because to use Ecuador as a metaphor, people wanted to hear about the country but only one percent ever traveled to it. No one wanted to actually go. People didn’t want a change that turns things inside out or the change that pulls the root of the self out for brave examination.

It was like people “watching the travel channel but then turning off the TV," says Alan.

Buenos Aries, Argentina

This was the dead end experience that birthed the consequence of Alan’s travels across the globe. He visited Asia, South America, the Middle East and Europe. He lived in Buenos Aries, Santiago, Spain, Istanbul and Cusco, Peru. He went to India. He began searching for a commonality among people that unites despite habits of language and culture or country and belief. He “ticked” to find what made other people tick under the clothing of their heritage and cultural upbringing.

This tick is what Alan describes as “intent.” It’s a third aspect that forms a triangle of being along with the nature and nurture aspects, our genetic and environmental aspects. No two intents can be exactly alike Alan is saying, not a one can match exactly that of another. Alan argues these intents are the stuff that make us tick.

While traveling for these many years, Alan has lost contact with his country of origin and to the extent his English has been expunged of American slang. He speaks a neutral English which German or French people can understand.  

Santiago, Spain

“I’m an American in the official sense," he says, "but I don’t see the world through the eyes of an American.”

I don’t know how Alan’s awakening took place. I don’t know if it was like the rise of a morning sun over the horizon, or whether it came as a thunder clap that dismembered the lone tree on an empty tract of land. But according to Alan it was a discovery that contradicted his almost canonical belief that inside everyone exists something which unites them to others of the same species.

…”that came as a big blow to me” he says, “…we were really not…. everybody has something that makes them tick but that’s the only thing they have in common.”

When the interview progresses to this point I’m beginning to wonder if in truth the design of an individual’s being is so unique it cannot ever unite in fundamental fashion with the being of another.

Alan’s finding overturned and undermined the very purpose of his world travels and led him to go on to write a book published last February, available on Amazon in print and digital forms entitled, “The Story between Us, Living and Relating from Being.”

Alan required anonymity to tell his story, and as the author of his book, he’s known simply as Alan S.