Vibration us up, baby: The Cohens episode

Just a couple of weeks ago things were looking oh so bleak again in our business. After a summer of miraculous saves, let me emphasize this, often after the last minute, sales had been meager to non-existent for several weeks again. It had been Dickensian gruel. Not enough to subsist on.

Since the 2008 crash our biz has fluctuated like the power in a third-word city. Sometimes it’s on so powerfully you can blast every appliance known to man, sometimes it’s off, just off, and you can’t help but wonder, was it something we said? Do I need to bathe more often? After three years of below-subsistence gruel you begin to think it’s personal.

Our habit is to burrow in. We calve off from others the way sick animals do. We lay low. We commiserate. We talk pep in between talking woe. We sometimes find the resurgence of spirit needed quickly, sometimes not. We have our own little ways to keep going on the going forward.

I’m here today to speak to one more spirit enhancer that you all know but we somehow missed along the way: time with vibrant friends.

You’ve heard — God knows I’ve heard it many times — that if you want to lift yourself up, make sure you are spending time with uplifting people.

A couple of weeks ago we re-learned the obvious. We went out to dinner with our friends Mike and Carolyn Cohen. In retrospect it’s a wonder the dinner happened at all, but we went. We were as low as the low note in a country song, and we didn’t shrink from it, we copped straight away without seeking to mask what couldn’t have been masked anyway, our dispirited selves. 

Mike and Carolyn, possibility thinkers, chirp by chirp, idea by idea, note by note, led us up the path, past the blues, through rockabilly, mercifully skirting power ballads, into free-floating jazz, that place where things seem doable again.

Such is the power of people. At the right conjunction in time friends can lift you up in ways you can’t. You know this of course, but we, smart people, didn’t. So I pass it along in case you, smart people, forget this too from time to time.

(Oh, and this has a happy ending beyond just a temporary amp up. We dove right back into our business, juiced to tackle what needed to be tackled and to do the doing that needed to be done. This resurgent energy spilled into yes, we can do this! The season is only a few weeks away, we will find a way. Turns out the season started early, like two days later. The season found us. Sales found us! But more than that, vigor and excitement found us.)
(Yay.)

More? Sure, here you go

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Released from hope, you live in the very moment you’re in

Today I’m passing on a part of a Q&A conversation I’m having with Dorrie Koller. I requested this email back and forth with her because Dorrie has grappled with abrupt, life-altering transition in a way few of us have to deal with all at once. And she’s done so without flinching from the emotional onslaught, from devastation to joy to a mix of emotions impossible to name.

Within the past year Dorrie lost her husband, her lifemate for the entirety of her adulthood, a man she met at 19. She lost her mother, whom she’d cared for personally within their home for many years. As if to complete the taking away of all life in the household, her beloved dog companion died too (Sparky!). For financial security she found herself having to move from the art world she relished into a new line of work . . .

Her kids are grown and live elsewhere, and had already spent every available weekend traveling to their parents’ home during her husband’s illness for the previous two years. As Dorrie put it to me once, she felt abandoned, as if she’d been orphaned — 

Me: 

Dorrie, let’s start with this profound direct quote from you:  “I’m feeling very good about life — not the whole life — just the important part, right now.  It is amazing how this tiny difference is bringing me back to me.”

Knowing
what you’ve just undergone in the past year, can you tell me a
little about how you got to this place?
Dorrie:
I
recently read a card that said, “hold on and be dragged.”  I stood
there looking at it, shaking my head and grinning.
Wow.  I know that
feeling.  Most of my adult life was filled with desires to “better” my
home, my yard, my relationships, my finances, my education, my skills,
and talents.  This was done out of enjoyment, but also in order to
secure my future.  
Whenever there is hope for the future, there is
also fear that those hopes will not pan out. Therefore, we hold on to
them, tightly and get worried if that future looks threatened.  When
Don came down with terminal brain cancer, I was dragged down the long,
long bumpy road of dashed hopes and fears.
I
was a very hopeful person.
 A person with a lot of hope has to have a
lot of plans, and that was something I was near perfect in.  I had no
idea that hope only deals with the future, and while I had heard that
futures are never guaranteed, well, gee.  Whoever goes around thinking
about that little morbid detail?  
Everything in my life was done for
the future.  Think about it.  You go shopping in the morning for dinner
tonight.  You put retirement funds away in places where you acquire more
interest over time.  You want your kids to get good grades so they can
get good jobs.  The list goes on and on.  I loved the planning, and I
was a very optimistic person regarding my future.  
Then, Don got brain
cancer, and life as I understood it to be, changed.  There was no cure;
therefore, no real future for us anymore.  We surgically removed what we
could — and then waited for the cancer to return.   We were supposed to
get on with our lives as normally as possible.
But
nothing was normal.
 We were like actors in a play, and neither of us
knew our lines. From one day to the next, we never knew what was going
to happen to Don.  I could plan NOTHING. Not dinner, not a
conversation, certainly not our future.  
Every month for a year and
four months the MRIs came back all clear. We would have a minute or
two of elation, complete with tears and heaving chests. By the time our
seat belts were fastened and we were on our way to our victory
luncheon, the dread was back full force and worse.  The possibility of
living like this for the next 15 years seemed worse than a death
sentence.
The September MRI results brought our first day of peace.
 Don had eight more tumors.  It was a relief in a sad sort of way.  The
relief was a succinct understanding that there was nothing we could do —
a certain lifting and discarding of a false sense of responsibility
towards something that didn’t even exist in the present moment anyway.
 The burden of the future was gone.  By letting go of hope, I also let
go of fear.
So we lived with zero hope, because
“we” had no future.
 Living with zero hope means you live in the very
moment you are in.  If it is a nice one — well good.  If a bad one —
well, bad. We didn’t have time to react emotionally to these moments,
and we were so numb we didn’t even know how to.  
It didn’t matter
anymore, anyway.  We had no desires to change anything, fix anything,
create anything, see or experience anything. We had an overwhelming
sense of the repetitiveness of movies, stories, news, needs, and
restaurants.
Life became so simple.  Just live.  We loved milkshakes,
butterflies, wind. That’s all. We would sit outside for hours and have
not a single thing to say. We would look at each other ……. and draw a
blank.  Even words lost their meaning.   As things progressed, Don even
withdrew from me and our kids.  I understood. He was on his own
journey — and as surprising as this might seem — I suddenly realized
that I didn’t have brain cancer.  
For the first time in 38 years, I let
him go.
I realized that we had been walking side-by-side on separate
trails all along; and, they were now parting.
Things got a lot worse
until one day in December, my fighter just gave it up.  He wanted me to
call Hospice.  Don had even given up the desire to keep on living and it
was entirely OK.  The peace was astounding throughout our house.
Every
bird singing was miraculous. Dinner was delicious.  Being in each
other’s presence — beyond description. The breeze we felt along our arms
while sitting on the deck that night felt like a caress from God.  
By
letting go of what is considered the most precious thing in the world —
life, itself — I felt as though we were being given it back — eternally.
We received life back in every molecule and every fiber of our being,
from every fiber and molecule of every other being. It was like
becoming one with the universe.  
I learned that I own nothing, control
nothing, that I have no future, and that I am the future.  I learned
that Don and I were not two, nor were we one.  We were two and one.
Death
is the ultimate truth.
 You can’t change it, revoke it, make it less,
pretty it up, or put it off. We truly live our lives one breath at a
time. You cannot lose what you never had — the future. You can only
know your future when it is your past.  
You really can love better when
you let go of what you think will be the results of your efforts in the
future.  It puts you right into the very moment of what you are doing —
and all you are doing is loving.  
My huge loss gave me a great
understanding of the impermanence of everything, which eliminated my
desire to spend precious time of mine trying to control future issues
that may never be.
It simplified everything for me.  It gave me back my
freedoms that I enjoyed as a kid.  As a small child, I never felt
compelled to fix everything and plan everything.  I simply enjoyed it
all.  I lived in the moment.  I have come back to that — back to me.

Two Dorrie-inspired posts


Other posts because they seem to fit

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My latest favorite meditation

My latest favorite meditation isn’t meditation at all by some strict definitions. It is this: loving contemplation.

At the end of the day when nothing is stirring, not even a Bodhi dog chasing after shadows, I sit meditation-style on my bed and let my thoughts free. Only when you set your thoughts loose do you realize how yoked your mind has been — necessarily — to the tasks at hand in the previous hours.

The day is one engagement upon another. When your thoughts are unbound you can savor the day, the life. You sift your experience, and no matter what comes up you lovingly, affectionately embrace it — as if from the highest Source.

And you innately know how your highest Source would view your experiences. It would do so with unsurpassed tenderness.

Through loving contemplation even pain, even anxiety, are transformed. Even distress is transformed.

And for all those enjoyable moments of which life is mostly comprised? Double the fun. First the experience itself, then the contemplation of it from your highest perch.

Affectionate attention begets miracles.

Perhaps the profoundest miracle is acceptance, of the actions of others, and most especially of your own maneuverings through the world.

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When being grateful is too much

Sometimes saying thank you for this, thank you for that is too much. Sometimes the blaring white noise of existence overwhelms to the point of temporary madness.

There are times when being grateful is beyond me–

But I can always muster a muted yes

It’s my favorite mental shorthand to acknowledging the good. There I am — beleaguered by the day, the last three crap years really, with the enormity of it all, with the battle for business resurrection — I can’t find gratitude, not yet, but I can stop and find that tiny thought spark to halt the bad vibe thought train hurtling off the rails.

It must be obvious, like the Mountain Dew in my hand, because my mind — staticky like a badly-tuned radio station — can’t hone in. It can’t think things through. It can’t even get to but I’m grateful for . . . .

For example: I can think about my son for a fleet moment. Yes. I can erp that out in the hollow of my mind.

I can locate the image of a good friend. Yes. I don’t even have to think what that friend means to me, the image will suffice and do its duty. The meaning is in the image, it’s better than language, it contains the language of friendship and the experience too.

I can take a breath, yes, and let it out slowly the way smokers do.

I can lay down on the ground, not a bed or a couch, the ground! Something about muscle and bone on the hard planetary surface that . . . yessss . . . relaxes one. It is draping yourself on the earth. The earth can’t help but kick some energy back.

Soon enough, the yesses come freely, come forcefully, flowingly. Soon enough, I’m yessing it up. Yes to this! — Yes to that! — Yes to yo Mama too!

Yes, yes and YES!

If you want more, say yes to these

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Is your power on?

Have you connected

recharged

gone silent

have you spent contemplative time today, steeping in your you-ness, reflecting on the day, the life

have you gone on a (meditative) walk

have you powered down . . .

in the great rhythm of life energy it’s the break from the action that spurs new action

action, renewal

engagement, separation

the multitude, solitude

motion, rest

it’s a rhythmic cycle

you need to power down to power on

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When all is hairy scary: Go silent, go limp

When all is hairy scary, when all is awhir, go silent, go limp.

When all is a chaotic hubbub of hubris, relax . . . and go into the silence.

When your heart frets, your gut torques, your soul shrivels . . . slip into the silence.

Many say meditate. Many say pray. When gripped by panic I do both. I alternate like the way I sleep, one side, then the other. One mode, then the other.

I’ve awoken at 4-ish in the morning, gripped by how am I going to pay that bill and then I meditate till I can’t . . . this is when I commence to pray. Then I pray until I can’t . . . now meditation takes the helm.

Back, forth. Back, forth. It echoes the rhythm of life. Action, renewal. Motion, rest. Impetus, resolution.

Something in the looping between the poles draws you to ground, till you sighhhhh . . . till you subside. There you find peace, between the two, no longer in either realm, but still silent, awake, aware, in a gentle space, curious now, alert to possibility now.

You may even wonder, um yeah, how am I going to pay that bill? But it is a question born of curiosity, not of desperation. You’re on the winning side already.

Entangled posts

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It is what it is . . . but it’s not what it will be

There’s a perfect pithy phrase in the culture right now: 

It is what it is.

It reminds us to look at whatever is occurring right this hot moment with (spiritual) acceptance, no matter how fackacka the situation.

It just is.

This maxim reminds us not to overthink it.

It is!

The saying encourages us to relax into the experience — it is what it is, it’s real but it doesn’t have power over you.

To this I append: . . . but it’s not what it will be.

I do this because so many (including me, always including me) use the saying as a shorthand for (mental) acceptance of a recurring situation, as if it were a permanent condition.

But it’s not what it will be is a reminder that flux is the universal constant, that all things must pass. It is the coda but also the kicker — to live knowing that every experience is fluid, even those that seem frozen in eternity.

This reminder, that I, in my feeling-thoughts and thought-actions, influence outcomes — 

It is what it is . . . 
(business calamity, to use a situation I’m familiar with)
(debilitating back pain)
(betrayal)

. . . but it’s not what it will be
(could be a comeback, could be a new adventure)
(could take up yoga and become supple as a snake)
(could find deep self-love from the experience, could find enduring love elsewhere, could engage in true forgiveness)

It is what it is — this grounds you.

. . . but it is not what it will be — this propels you.

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How one man rights the world: Bragging on a friend

Quietly, and without fanfare — that’s how one man I know does his part.

My Ras friend and I were cemetary walking in Charlotte, NC, last weekend — talking this and that, who’s up, who’s down, who’s willy nilly, who’s a clown — when Ras did the most elegantly simple thing. We’re in the home stretch coming back to his building near the city center, and like horses returning to our stables, we’re picking up speed — talking, talking, talking — when my Ras friend bends down without breaking stride and scoops up a large chunk of litter, and on we go — talking, walking, talking.

I could tell you all sorts of things about the Ras, about being gay and black and Southern and Christian (what a combo to navigate there, eh?), about how he has TV Tourette’s (witnessing Ras blurt sassily back at the TV is a favorite entertainment), about how he once tried (too subtly) to start a trend by affixing a tiny lock to a shoelace on one of his sneakers (it didn’t catch on)(but here’s your chance hep cats . . . run with it).

There’s so much more there, of course. A vibrant soul has much to excavate. But all this tells you less about his deep down character than this moment of casually swooping down and making the world an infinitesimally better place. It’s indicative of the way he moves in the world — he does this all the time, oftentimes so subtly (like the lock on a shoe) that most would not take note . . . but it is there nonetheless, in the way he assists others, the way he takes a stand, in the way he performs a duty.

Isn’t that how you know the world will turn out just groovy gravy — when people — in this case my Ras friend — think nothing of making things right, even when it involves picking up after inconsiderate others. I wanted to give him a big ole sloppy hug — but my Ras friend discourages that kind of overly exuberant display of affection — so instead I’m writing this mash note, affectionately.

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Let us leave pretty women to men without imagination

Let us leave pretty women to men without imagination.

— Marcel Proust

Now — allow me a paraphrase of Proust:

Let us leave pretty things to those without imagination.

And even more now, let’s invert that paraphrase to its broadest interpretation:

All things are beautiful to those with imagination. (!)

You’ve had that experience. So have I. That experience of suddenly discovering the rabidly, revolutionarily, ecstatically beautiful in a broken urbanscape . . . or junk . . . or something barren . . .

Or in a weary moment . . . a heart broken open moment . . . a moment of pain . . .

I remember working at my Dad’s tire store as a teenager, changing tires in the humid-hot South Florida summer. Back then, without air conditioning in the bays, with a fan that you heard more than felt, it seemed as though even the buildings were wilting in the oven of August.

I had to run around the outside of the shop to fetch something — I still recall this vividly — and there stood a puddle of water with an oily sheen atop it — it was thrilling to behold in its shimmery pearlescence. I was gripped by it and had to move back and forth to catch the view from multiple angles. The striking beauty there — like the Grand Canyon — could not be held from solely one vantage point.

Not far away were stacks of old tires we’d flung there till we could haul them some day to the dump. All around lay cracked pavement . . . the sound of cars whizzing by this unpretty expanse of suburban-industrial decrepitude . . . .

This oily puddle was my first experience with the beauty inherent in everything. Everything. It’s there. In everything.

All things are beautiful to those who can see.

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The road through Booger Hollow

I passed Booger Hollow today in my travels — just thought you’d want to know.
 
I could make this twisty, knotty, pitching, roiling road through the mountains a metaphor for life (watch out! Emotional Exhaustion Excavation on the left — avert! avert! Business Collapse Rock Slide on the right — jenkies! Betrayal Abyss straight ahead, there’s no swerving from that one . . . ) — but I won’t.
 
You’d want to write about Booger Hollow and the road that runs through it too if you were a goofus with a penchant for the oddbeat. It is the Eastern U.S.’s retort to the breath-stoppingly picturesque Phoenix-to-Sedona road. At one point early in the morn, a fog descended so dense it was as if the world were dissolving before my eyes, till only 15 feet of it remained.
 
Ack, I’m too far in now . . . looks like I will have to wade in further and go for it . . . . This surprising and at times careening road knifing at sharp angles through tight mountain passes makes for vivid experience. Isn’t that what we seek from life? Compelling experience?
 

Let’s say your story ran like this:
 
She was born into riches — and things got better. She had scads of fun (a nod to you here, Ras) — and then things got better. She grew beautifuler! Suitors abounded — things got even better.
 

Yawwwwn, can I have a pillow with that bedtime story? — I’m nodding off already, aren’t you?
 
We (!) –dynamic human souls that we are — grooove on the challenges. We love the contrast, the intricacies. We crave the complexities, turns of events, disasters even — because that’s where the story gets really interesting. (Bankruptcy Falls! Relationship Hairpin Curve!) That’s where we find out (create) who we truly are.
 
So we relish the excitement — jones for it — until, finally, one day, we don’t.
 
(And then things get better.)

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