Thursday, March 31, 2005

Climb Every Mountain

I climbed a mountain once. It was largely accidental, but changed my life forever. I don't doubt that I will climb more challenging mountains, but this mountain will always be my mountain. The mountain is called Katahdin and it is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, located in the Baxter State Forest in Maine. As a hiker, I obviously was going to get to this hike sooner or later, but the nature of the climb took me by surprise. As we passed the tree-line and began a near vertical assent up the rock face, my partner made mention of the fact that we were hikers and that this looked more like the Matterhorn than the Appalachian trail! We both dug deep, supported each other, and made the climb; neither of us left the same as we had come.

The Indians who had inhabited that part of Maine had believed that Katahdin was a place of powerful spirits and they rarely ventured the slopes of the mountain out of respect and awe for the Gods that lived there. I can't adequately describe what I felt on Katahdin, but I agree with the Indians that there is great power in that place.

I've often wondered that people wanted their ashes left in some special place. Places never really held much sway with me before. I've often told my family that I'd be just as happy to have my body donated to science or put to some other good use. I don't feel that way anymore. Something on Katahdin got into my soul and I can no longer see the two things as separate. When I move on from this world, I want my ashes left on Katahdin.

There's a tall thin Cairn of rocks a few meters from the sign that marks the end of the Trail. This is where I want my ashes left, sprinked between the rocks of the Cairn. This will be the end of my trail in this world as well (hopefully the final end as I'm not looking to return). I finally begin to understand those who want their ashes left on a certain beach or spread over some lake and I'm happy to have been touched so deeply by something in this world. I hope you all get the pleasure at some point in your lives.

As for my wish, I feel a little guilty about it. It's a five hour climb up the mountain and I can see my children (or grandchildren) cussing the whole way up the mountain about what an ass Grandpa was and was he really worth all this work???

.... Please just don't drop me in some ash can along the way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Come Away With Me

Let us shed these tired skins and move on together
Let us leave this land of death and loneliness far behind us
Come with me into the light and we will know the oneness
... that physical love can never equal

The light that shines inside of us is the only truth
The truth of who we are and of what we belong
The light within us knows no death
Death in this world brings birth in the light

Do not hold tight to things that have no meaning
To things that bring neither joy, nor love
What you desire is yours to have
It lies within your own heart

Monday, March 28, 2005

Give Me That Old Time Religion?

I just got back from a holiday trip, taking my family to visit my brother during the Easter break. My brother is a very devout Catholic and we joined them for some Easter activities at their church. On Good Friday evening, we attended an excellent production of the "Living" Stations of the Cross. High School students took on the various roles in the passsion story and there was a wonderful music group and singing. I was raised a catholic and had seen the stations many times without much thought about the morbid focus of the whole activity. My new perspective on things made me look at this very differently and I thought I'd put down some of my thoughts here.

  • After all the things that Jesus said to us, why the hell are we so dedicated to memorializing his death and torture and not his life and teaching.
  • Wouldn't a far better tribute to Jesus be to try to listen to his message to love one another?
  • The ritual of the church seems to keep people from sharing personal experiences and from helping each other connect to the God within us.
  • Sitting in these ceremonies is a lot like watching TV. I wonder how many of the congregation are engaged in the story and how many are wondering about their dinner, or where they're supposed to be later in the evening.
  • Wouldn't it be much better to just get together and talk with each other than to sit in these elaborate productions that don't really connect with most of the people there?
  • If someone wanted to design a way to keep us from our inner selves and from helping each other grow in our spirituality, I doubt they could come up with a better way of doing it than the Western religions have devised.

I'm not sure how many more times I'll find myself in church, but I'll never look at the process the same way. I no longer even find the exercise innocent, as I see it as a distrction from what we need to be to each other. I finally agree with Marx that "Religion is the opiate of the masses." But far worse than a tool of societal stratification, I feel the church is numbing us to our own potential, to our own divinity.

I've always felt that the two greatest perils in this world were church and state. I'm afraid to say that I fear them both more the older I get.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Thought for the Day

I've always loved and felt comfortable with Buddhism...

"Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draws it. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves." -Buddha

Teach Me Tonight

One of my favorite sayings has always been, " When you stop learning, you start dying." I know that this one sticks deep inside me because I've spent pretty much my whole life in a classroom (with breaks of a year or two thrown in between programs of study). I tell myself that all my schoolwork is aimed at an improved way of life and security for myself and my family. That's true, but it's not as simple as that. There's something in those classrooms that I need, there's something there that helps me cope with the rest of this civilization we've built around ourselves.

I shared a dream once with my dearest friend; my dream, throughout my youth, was to have lived long enough ago to have escaped humanity. I always wanted to be a Mountain Man. To live on my own in the woods, with little or no contact with other people. A large part of this dream remains with me today. I feel fully alive and happy when I am in the woods and far removed from the modern world. There are a number of great books by James Fennimore Cooper (The Leatherstocking Tales) that tell the story of a white man that joins the Delaware indian tribe and becomes one of the noble savages. These books were written in the early-to-mid 1800's and most people find them slow/hard reading. I find these books as easy to get through as any bestseller put out today. But, for me, there's something more to the Leatherstocking Tales than just a good story; I find myself going back to these books every few years to re-escape into my imaginary life in the woods amongst the Indians. There's this part of me that wants to be alone (at least from the crowd) and wants to escape modern society... So where's the tie to the point of today's journal? When I shared my dream with my friend, she told me that I was far too much a people person to ever be able to live like that and that I'd be horribly lonely in no time.

In a way she was right. What I would be lonely for would be the interaction with other minds and spirits that only come to me in private times with my close friends and in discussing ideas in class. The friends that are able to touch my heart can be counted on one hand and are, unfortunately, busy trying to get through their lives just as I am and can't be with me always. I sometimes meet new people, at work or in some group that I belong to, and I can see the spark of true spirituality within them. When that happens, I am almost moved to the point of saying, "Hey, let's get a cup of coffee or a drink". But of course, in our world, we leave each other alone to our own paranoias. I sometimes regret the number of friends that I never knew because of the walls that we keep between each other.

So the only place I can get my fix for other souls is in school. There, we are encouraged to think outside of ourselves, we struggle together with new ideas and new ways of thinking. we are exposed to great minds and we expose ourselves to each other as we try to contribute to the communal act of learning. It's not much easier here to find others who sparkle than it is in the rest of the world, but there are enough of them, and we can be honest with each other in ways we never would be anywhere else. I can ask for that cup of coffee and conversation and expect it to happen. My only regret is that school is a "network" and the people that I meet there have drifted from my life as fast as they've entered. They're as impermanent as every thing else in this world. I'll take that bargain and if I have to live in this shallow and misdirected society, I guess I'll always be going to school. It's one of the few things that make sense to me.

Still, I wouldn't mind giving the whole Mountain Man thing a try. I bet (if I had some books with me) I could go a long time without being lonely.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Books for Sale

There's just something about a book... I was on my way home from dropping my daughter at a school play and my son and I ran across a book sale at a local library. I love looking through the boxes of old books for some treasured hardback that I can pick up for $1. We stayed about an hour and ended up leaving with 5 or 6 new books. I managed to find a couple of old volumes that I'd read in younger days and wanted for my library, as well as one or two books I'd heard about and were on my list to read.

I have a study in my house that's filled with books and has a comfortable chair with a good light. I guess a lot of people loose themselves in front of the TV, but I find a good book takes me farther than anything (except time in the woods). I become so involved that I go through a withdrawal as the book ends and I realize that the new friends that I care so much about are going to be gone soon.

Stephen King (I love his books!!!) once wrote that even the most compelling character that a writer creates is no more than a bag of bones, and that these people can't ever truly touch us the way real characters do in our lives. I must, respectfully, disagree with Mr. King. There are people in my life who have changed me and made me who I am and who I'm becoming, but there are so many others that just seem to fill space. A true friend, with the spark of sprirituality is a gift I will always cherish, but I also cherish seeing that spark in a character from a book. Maybe what I'm getting in touch with is the spirituality of Stephen King, or John Irving, or Ayn Rand, but what they give me is more real than anything I get from many of the empty characters that populate my life. As I sit here, waiting for summer to come and my travels to begin, I'll crack a good book and read by a warm light, and I'll thank the author for sharing some of their spirituality with me. I don't much care about movie stars or sports heroes, but there are a number of authors that I'd like to meet if for no other reason than to thank them and to tell them that they've made a diffierence.

If we can't be together, then open a good book. It's funny, but if you look hard enough, you'll see the best of us are all in there.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Take Me Out to the Ball Park!

Baseball...I know there are some who agree with the statement that, "baseball is 15 minutes of action packed into 3 hours." I also know that watching baseball on TV, especially for someone who hasn't/doesn't play the game is about as exciting as watching the grass grow. But there's something in the game that I can't find in any other sport. I could understand completely the things that James Earl Jones was saying in Field of Dreams. Baseball has that place in my heart. There's just something about the game that speaks to a better way of approaching life than the clock-watching that we focus on so much in other sports (and far too much in the rest of our lives).

Today was the first practice for my son's baseball team. I've been coaching his teams for the last four years and it's always a great day to get out there for that first practice of spring. There's still a nip in the air, the field is green and the sound of balls smacking cleanly into the gloves and the crack of the bats (and an occasional warm moment in the sun) speaks to the coming of summer. I can't think of too many things that feel better than a ball smacking into my glove and this is one of the things that I know I miss during the winter months here in the north.

I also see baseball as a right of passage, as a way of connecting with our youth. As I watch my son play, it seems I can touch the years of my life spent on the diamond at his age. It's a connection with my past that is more tangible than most other memories. I can see many of the same emotions in the faces of the other men that work in the league with me, it seems that we are all closer together for having those common memories and for carrying on the game with the next generation. I'm sure those involved with football and basketball feel much the same, but I don't believe what those games give us compares with what we get from baseball.

Unfortunately, the professional game has lost its way since I was a boy and I don't spend too much time with it (I do love seeing a bush league game on occassion), but being on the field with a bunch of ten-year-olds that are just starting to get a grip on thier motor skills is an incredible way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I can't tell you how much it means to see a kid that's been struggling when they finally begin to understand catching or hitting. They beam at you as they realize that they really can play this game. I'm not sure how many more years I'll be coaching, but I wouldn't trade this time with the kids for anything. We'll be back out on the field tomorrow, games start in a few weeks and we have a lot to get ready for...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What is Your Drug?

We have a war on drugs, but I think we're fighting the wrong enemy. I'm really ambivalent about drugs, what upsets me is the constant barage that we all face every day of our lives. The noise that fills our heads and keeps us from being quiet and looking within, from growing to know ourselves and each other. What this does to our sense of ourselves and our place in the world is more dangerous than any drug.

Was the TV on when you got home last night? How much of your daily thinking is focused on the noise of our modern society? How much time to you spend in reflection; asking yourself about who you are, what you want, where you're going, what's important? Having spent my whole life working in technology, this may sound a little disingenuous, but please turn off your TV and go outside, turn off your cell phone and your internet connection too. I'm willing to bet it will reduce your stres and you'll learn more than watching 100 hours of TV. It seems more and more that the time I am most at peace is the time I spend deep in the woods with my best friend. I hope you all can a find something that lets you escape and be yourself. When you do, I hope you have someone to share it with.

I guess I'm getting anxious as the season gets closer (and I can't bring it here faster). Where I grew up (Florida), we didn't have seasons and there was no down-time for being in the woods. We lost something, though, in that we never had the beauty of the renewal of spring after the long winter. The colors were never so bold as they are here (although we had them year-round). Also, the woods weren't as inviting; Palmetto scrub, scorpions, and snakes were a far cry from the wonderful woods and trails of the Northeast. I'll try to work on my patience and be thankful that the trail will be ready in a few weeks when I'm ready to go. When I get there, I'll say a prayer for all of you and hope that you can find some of the happiness that I will be experiencing, and have someone as wonderful as my friend to share it with.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Talisman

There's not many material things that carry much weight with me anymore... I'm not perfect, but I'm no longer as into "stuff" as I used to be. I doubt I could part with my books, but I think I'd do fine losing just about everything else. There is, however, one thing that would devastate me if it ever went missing. It has no real monetary value ... it's just a little silver coin with a Celtic cross on one side and the word "Faith" on the other. This coin has become my Talisman. It was given to me by the love of my life ... she was trying to bring faith into the heart of a sceptic scientist. I carry the coin with me always and say a quick prayer over it every morning... A prayer of thanks for the wonderful things that I've been given in this life and a prayer that she be kept safe and happy until I see her again.

Sometimes physical things can bring us closer to people (or to God); I guess this explains why lifetimes were spent building cathedrals and pyramids. While I appreciate the artistry and work that went into these places, I'm not moved in a spiritual way by them. I always thought this was because of my lack of faith, but now feel that it was because these places were not my Talisman. They meant something to those who built them and prayed in them, they helped them get closer to their God... I have found other Talisman and other ways to connect to the light within me. I hope someday do be able to find my spiritual center without the props. I hope to be able to escape like the Buddhist monks, who can connect with their true selves through meditation. I will continue to try to grow in my faith and connect myself more with the spiritual and less with the material, but I still need to lean on the things that help me make this connection. Spring is coming and I'm ready for a long walk in the woods (several days worth). I'm ready to spend time with REAL people, who I love and who love me... Still, I'm not quite ready to remove the training wheels ... and I'm not letting go of my little coin.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Is it You?

In an earlier post, I talked about people that have that certain spark. About people that draw others to themselves and that impact our hearts as we go through our lives. What about the rest of those that we share this world with? What about those that are clearly evil and malevolent?

I wonder if there aren't many that inhabit this world that are devoid of divine spirit, that are not part of the one true light to which we are destined to return. I've enountered this idea many times before. In "Breakfast of Champions", Kurt Vonnegut throws out the concept that everyone else on the planet is programmed and we are the only being of free-will, that it's all an experiment to see how we'll react. In one of his songs, Ian Anderson writes, " Do you ever get the feeling...that everyone is on a stage and you're the only person sitting in the audience?"

I know and love the many people that have been in my life and touched my heart. I cherish and will always look for other children of the light. I hope to sow as much happiness in this world as I can and to always do my best to help others. I believe, however, that there will always be some that will not be helped. I don't believe that the God of Light holds sway over the evil people in this world. They are outside of his influence. It is for us to help those who are hurt by the evil ones, to minimize the pain and suffering that they engender.

Most religions make excuses for why God would allow evil in this world, I have never accepted their explanations. I don't look for God to make this world a better place. God lives in my heart and it is up to me to do what I can to reduce suffering in this world. I don't believe that any Hell awaits, only that those who walk through this world soulless will not enter the light (as they were never a part of the light). The only God here is us. We are here for each other and must love and care for each other as best we can. When our work here is done, and when we realize what we truly are, we will return to the light together and once more become one with God.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Carpe Deim

Seize the Moment, that's never really been my approach to life. I've always put off and planned to get to where I really wanted to be. I sometimes wonder now if the pot at the end of the rainbow was worth what I missed while I single-mindedly pursued it. I've been thinking a lot about my moments lately; my moments matter a lot more to me than they once did. That may sound like I'm clinging to something as I get older, but nothing could be further from the truth. I've come to believe that I won't be passing this way again and I seem to want to drink in the good things on my last ride.

I read a book once, a very good book, called "Tuesdays with Morrie". In this book Morrie imparts wisdom to a young friend as he goes through a long death from ALS. At one point in the book, Morrie talks to his friend about leaving no regrets, about living his life as though a little bird sat on his shoulder ready to tell him, "Today is your day to die, are you ready?" I love this philosophy and can honestly tell all of you that I'm ready to go today.

I have been blessed with some very wonderful people in my life and have certainly gotten much more than I deserved. I want you all to know I love you and thank you for your friendship, but that if I am suddenly lost to you, I will go happily and cherish what you've given me.

While we're here together, I want to have as many good memories as we can build. Nothing is more important to me than you. I hope that I show you that and that you never have to question whether I'm with you when I'm with you. I will enjoy our times together and try not to let the little things in life get in the way of what's really important - you. I'm not sure why God brought us together, but I feel blessed when I think that I rated a friend like you.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Who do you love?

Sometimes I am surprised by the reaction of people to minor criticism, or just to not having everything go exactly their way. I wonder at these times what might be going on inside to amplify these little inconveniences in life to the point where they effect someone's mood and outlook so dramatically. It seems to me that a lot of these instances are caused when the trigger is hitting close to something inside that person that they aren't happy with, some part of themselves that they don't really like too much.

It can sometimes be hard to love someone that you know REALLY well. They say, "absense makes the heart grow fonder". If so, familiarity must breed contempt. Who do you know better than yourself? How hard is it to live with the warts that we all know we have? I have been lucky enough to be fairly comfortable in my own skin, even though I've done a lot that I'm not proud of and a few things that I'm ashamed of. When you're not happy with yourself, it is much easier to be short or unkind to others. It seems like the bad things we do start us on a visciuos cycle of self-recrimination and more bad behaviour.

I'm going to try to love myself a little give myself a break on some of things that I'm not too proud of and to pat myself on the back for some of the good things that I've done. I'll also try to look for good in others and point it out to them so that they can feel a little better about themselves. I really believe that if we could just learn to love ourselves a little more, we'd all be a hell of a lot better to each other.

I believe that God lies within all of us. Even if there's a lot inside me that I'm not comfortable looking at, God is also in there somewhere and there's certainly plenty worth loving too. Funny how people seem to know when your happy with yourself and they seem to gravitate to you. Looks like a no-lose bargain. I'll spend a little time every day telling myself that I'm not that bad a guy after all - I hope you do the same.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

What Network are You on?

I spoke briefly in an earlier post about the disconnection between ourselves and the people that are important in our lives, our family. The way families grew and loved and lived together for thousands of years changed in the last century and a half; the time we spent with our family was replaced by the time we spend as part of a "network". I want to write in this post about what has replaced the family in our lives and why, I believe, that many of us are lost and unable to cope in the psuedo-families that we now try to live in. We are all members of "networks", the people we work with, clubs we belong to, people who route for the same sports teams. Even our children and parents have been placed in networks; our children are in the school network and many of the elderly are in networks of nursing homes. It is espescially bad for our children as they no longer spend that time with the elderly that they once did.

We get a false sense of family in our networks. We talk to Joe over the water cooler about last night's TV show or the game on Friday. This, for too many, is the foundation we are buidling our lives on. There is no permanence in a network. Joe leaves for another job and you start talking to Ann over the water cooler. Our relationships are paper thin. Will Joe or Ann be there for you if you are sick for a year with Cancer? Will they care for you? And what happens when Joe gets that new job in San Diego? Some networks are stronger than others, and certainly they do provide much to many of us, but I wonder if what we've lost can ever be replaced by what we have? I wonder if many of the problems with our families today are not caused by too much networking?

I am reassessing the things that are important in my life. I spent a lot of time chasing material things and trying to move up in the networks that I belonged to, trying to be key in those relationships. I know that I live in this world and will always be networking, but I'm going to spend more time with the people that really matter to me. I need the company of people who don't care what my contribution to the bottom line is. I honestly don't care who won the Super Bowl. I hope when I'm with the people that I consider to be my family that they will feel the same way and that we can, together, build a refuge from the networks that fill and cheapen our lives.

Norm Shaw Posted by Hello

Friday, March 04, 2005

How Much is That Dog in the Window

Funny world we live in. It seems we are all well trained to be good consumers. Everyone knows that TV is doing it, but not everyone realizes how much it takes place in our schools and workplaces. It seems that we all suffer the same psychosis. Everyone believes that the next "thing" (the next car, the next new pair of shoes, the next house) will be what makes us happy. How disappointed we are when we bring our new acquisition home only to find that it hasn't filled the emptiness inside of us. Why isn't there a dialogue going on about the focus of our lives and how it is destructive to our happiness? The media that speaks to us obviously don't want us to stop buying. Happiness is no more common, and probably less so, amongst the rich and powerful than it is with the poor. Why are so many in third world countries generally happy? How do they live in such poverty without a suicide rate as high as ours (or even much higher)? Maybe thay have something we've lost; perspective. Your happiness most often comes to you through doing things you enjoy, with people you care about. How much time do you do this? How big a part of you life (your daily clock) do you spend with the people who matter to you, with those you love. Your children are in school and you spend most of your time in an office full of people who are not really friends, family or close community. Maybe the things that we do so well, making and selling and buying, are not the things that really matter. I know that I am going to try to focus on the things that are important to me; to my children and to the people that I love. It's funny how much better I feel by just admitting to myself that this is what I want and need. It's as if the blinders have been removed and I finally see how futile the pursuits of my life have been. I can't believe how little I care now for the things that once mattered to me; position, money, a beautiful home full of beautiful things, travel. I actually think I could be very happy in a cave (provided it's filled with the right people). I don't doubt that I'm not still as big a Capitalist as all the rest of you, but I know I will think more about you and less about what I have from here on in, I hope some of you do the same.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Where do You Pray?

I was raised a Roman Catholic and spent my youth in musty churches reciting prayers that had little meaning to me, to a God that didn't make sense. Is it any wonder that I lost the early years of my adulthood in denial of God? So where do I pray now, where do I find God in my life?As I mentioned in my last post, I have come to see God in many of the friends (and even in the faces of some strangers) that have made this life such a good one for me.

But where and how do I pray? I have a church that meets my needs and leaves me feeling closer to God and myself. this church isn't in a building, but lies in the forest. I spend as much time as I can get away and hike with my closest friend on the Appalacian trail. We talk about our lives and about God, we share the time together and we lose ourselves from the meaningless things in this world that get in the way of spiritual growth. I have been doing this now for several years and to say that these times away have changed my life would not be an exaggeration. She has saved me by bringing God into my life; not the distant, illogical God of my youth, the God who allowed the righteous to be damned and evil to befall the good. The God that I know today is a God that lives within us; a God that inspires us to to care for each other, for we are all of one spirit. Look no further for your God than within your own heart. he does not ask for stale prayers from us, but only that we love each other and that we start by loving ourselves. When you love yourself, you love God and until you love yourself, you cannot love others.