September 29, 2007

The power to be.

The power to know.

The power to know how to be.

Is it really your power or is there a greater mystery?

In my mind power automatically brought up the notion of control. Control over one’s life, one’s direction or movement in the swaying stream of existence. Sometimes the steering wheel seems to have slipped from the hands and you careen into the unknown but that doesn’t mean that your personal power has diminished. In fact these times can bring forth hidden resources that reveal the actual limitless power of the lone individual. So maybe power does not depend upon control. What do you think?

In my college years I felt a certain amount of invincibility and went to great measures to test the physical and mental edges of my being. I only caught glimpses of my personal power in moments of introspection when I stepped back from the insanity of the alcohol-saturated collegian life. I did not directly pursue these inward times and they came to me unbidden as the facade of partytime started to fray at the edges. I started to see through the veils I had placed before my eyes in order to continue with actions that no longer made sense. A coping mechanism no doubt. How could I confront the fear that lay behind the self-image I projected and cultivated?

These days I feel a lot less invincible but more in touch with the power that resides within this being. I’ve become much more comfortable with the temporality of this existence.  I feel closer to death and strangely enough more embracing of life.  I sense the power of the natural world and the powerful effect we have on each other’s lives.  I may have lost something when I turned my attention towards my own personal power.  I know there are many old friends that fell away during those transformative years when I by necessity separated myself from their company.  But I would not trade the power that has been revealed to me for a flight back to the good-time world of the party people.

Powerful expressions found here. 

Reading as a way of life

September 26, 2007

I have been honored by awareness to share some of my relationships with the books that inhabit my life. Here we go:

My Reading: Well like many of you out there in blogland I read a good deal. Not even taking into account how much I read online(blogs, news, email, etc.) I am always in the middle of a book. If you’ve read my sidebar you can see that I am in graduate school. I read for hours every week from my textbooks and school articles as well as the posts and responses put online by my classmates. For pleasure I have one assigned book a month through my book club (this month is The Book of Salt by Monique Truong) and I usually squeeze in a book or two throughout the rest of the month. Secretly I wish that I would write more and read less but I find that reading is so much easier and wins out more often than not. Though I keep trying!

Total number of books owned: I have not counted but I would say a couple of hundred. Although it feels more like I am borrowing them because I have no problem lending any of them away. (Librarian mentality!) I probably own more books now than in any other time period in my life. I’m a light traveler on this earth and don’t feel too much pull to a particular volume. The ones in the library are always fine by me.

Last book read and bought: Unfortunately I cannot find my textbooks in libraries so I must purchase them. My last two purchases were Copyright for Schools: A Practical Guide by Carol Simpson and Library 2.0: Innovative Technologies and Tomorrow’s Users edited by Nancy Courtney. I’m sure both of these selections are tops on your wishlist!

Five meaningful books: An impossible task to define a mere five but here we go!

  • Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller: I came across this book in a moment of magical serendipity. Walking into a used bookstore its plain cover caught my eye and I had this knowing feeling that attracted me immediately. Of course I didn’t completely trust my intuition and carried it around the store for awhile browsing around and considering whether it was worth $3.50. If only I would have known at that moment how much joy would pour into my life I’d have never questioned the purchase. Fortunately I walked out with it in my hand and my reading life was incalculably altered.
  • Krishnamurti to Himself by Jiddu Krishnamurti: Honestly I could pick out any volume by K and feel the same awe and homecoming. Although not my first tasting of “spiritual literature” K broke open my mind and offered a radically different lens from which to view everything. I have since explored other teacher’s writings but his words still ring true.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky: A book that showed me the possibilities of the novel. A discourse on the nature of man and the possibility of forgiveness but also a really good psychological thriller. Once you get a hang of the the variations and length of the Russian names you will be amazed by the writing and brilliance of ideas.
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger: For the sheer pleasure and ingenuity I need to include this book on the list. People I know who have read this book either love it or put it down within the first few chapters. Scenes from the novel still come back to me and I think this book created one of the best conversations in our book club. What role does fate play in our actions? How much control do we really have? Also there is a beautiful love story that anchors all of it.
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan: I just recently finished this book and still it resonates with me. Pollan does excellent investigative work to discover how the food we consume gets to our plates and the people that play a role in that service.

I will pass the baton to these fine folks: Patois, Karen, and Betty C. Anyone else that would like to share their reading please link here or write in the comments.

Learning on my own terms

September 19, 2007

I am writing this for the September Write-Away Contest at Scribbit. The prompt is learning.

It started towards the end of my Junior year in college. An itch inside the head, a malaise spreading across my landscape–the knowledge that my education would soon be ending and a realization that what I had learned did not matter. Oh I had learned some things alright: how to teeter the edge of drunkenness and oblivion, how to get by with B’s by doing the absolute minimum, how to always move in the direction of pleasure at the expense of self-knowledge. I had been caught in the machine, taught that high school must precede college and from college to a good-paying job and if I’m lucky a nice girl to settle down with.

But something happened that Junior year, when the stories I had been told no longer made sense. When the frustration grew so great that the only movement that seemed possible was self-oblivion. Either I die or give up. This game that I had been playing, that was playing me had to stop. I started to read. Not just the text I had to for classes but what called to my heart, what helped me make sense of the mess I now found myself in. I looked with eyes that were beginning to focus on a reality that could be explored freely with a questioning spirit.

That summer I locked myself away. I was still living with my family but I moved in a sphere that kept them on the periphery. My routine: Wake at 3PM, eat and go to the back room and read. And write. I would break only for sustenance and return to Dostoevsky and Castenada, Hemingway and Steinbeck. Midnight to 5AM were the magical hours, complete silence and me seemingly the only one awake in the world dreaming wide-eyed while the words of the masters flitted before me.

I lasted like that in my cocoon of learning for a month and a half until my mother awakened me to my responsibilities. I found a job as a cook in a practically empty bar and could read for hours in the back of the kitchen. In the fall I returned to school more myself than ever though I easily slipped back into old routines. Drunken nights with old friends, study and regurgitate, repeat. There were times I would remember what I had learned and the notebook would come out and I could reflect on my loneliness and my betrayal of the soul. A man caught between what he knows to be right and the inertia of shallow friendships projected upon the backdrop of degree pursuit.

Not until I left school could I begin upon the journey towards true knowledge. I found myself on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the winter, no friends from any of my previous incarnations, a man ready to begin anew. There was no weight of expectation that I brought with me, to be anyone other than myself, that ever-changing glorious manifestation of the divine. My Outer Banks acquaintances did not know the beer-chugging frat boy. They did not have any memories of my past selves and I could slowly release those alternative characters I played and let shine through what was dying to come to light: me.

Gifts of the Trail Angels

September 18, 2007

A few years back I spent three months hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  I knew that I would be spending most of my time walking on a footpath, taking breaks to eat and rest, doing whatever needed to be done to make my way north.  What took me by surprise however were the people that populate the mountain trails and smaller towns.  I soon came to realize that this epic hike would not fall only upon my shoulders because I relied upon them for safe passage.  They were the shopkeepers that had food I could buy for supplies.  They volunteered to keep the trail passable, cutting away fallen trees and moving sections that had been washed away.  Here I was thinking that I was doing all of the work and yet there were so many hidden hands that made my existence possible.

Within the ranks of these generous folks were a blessed few that took the giving to a whole new realm.  We hikers affectionately called them Trail Angels.  My first encounter with an Angel resulted in a crisp apple on a cool spring morning.  Sometimes I came across a cooler in the woods, stocked full of strawberries and sugar, peanut butter sandwiches and cold sodas.  A nice note attached that welcomed us to the feast.

I needed to hitchhike into town to replenish my stock and never failed to find that kind person that would bring me into town.  On one occasion a minivan stopped and the woman who got out opened up her side door and along with the two youngsters strapped into there seats we made our way to first the grocery store, post office and then laundromat.  Finding out how long my clothes would take to wash she picked me back up an hour or so later and dropped me off back at the trailhead.  Amazement does not adequately describe my state of being.

I’m not sure how so many good folks became clustered along the length of the Appalachian Trail.  I lost count of all of the singular instances where someone went out of their way to give me a helping hand.  I do know that we long distance hikers are a needy group (did someone say buffet?) and quite possibly the universe matches that need with an overflowing generosity.  Years removed and I am still in awe of the gifts given by the Trail Angels.

There are more gifts to be found on Writer’s Island.

Collecting and Delivering

September 15, 2007

My first real job as a young lad required me to fold and deliver about sixty newspapers in the wee hours of morning.  I would start about 4:30AM and finish up an hour or so later.  Of course the newspaper is put out every day which meant that my job needed to be done 365 days out of the year.  There are plenty stories to tell of life before the sun rises but for today I’m going to focus on the other part of the job: collecting money from my customers.

A good portion of my customers paid their bills through the mail but the other half paid directly to me.  I couldn’t rightly expect them to have their money ready at 5AM so I would go by their houses in the afternoons and evenings to collect four dollars every two weeks.  I don’t know how many of you have ever gone knocking on doors of people who are not expecting you.  In my experience if you do it for some time you will see some things that may surprise, delight or frighten you.  Women or men half-dressed and looking groggy, dogs barking ferociously through a very thin screen door, young kids scurrying around the house with no adult in sight.

Delivering newspapers was easy, collecting from the households required my intrusion into strange lives.  For a shy boy of fourteen I was acutely aware of the awkward exchanges, the bills that were months overdue and still they would not answer the door (I know you are in there!).  Walking up to a front door and seeing an adult video playing on the TV and silently walking back to my bike (I’ll collect from them next time). 

I did have nice exchanges and the Christmas-time collecting was pure joy.  Tens and twenties were handed over (Keep the change!) and my pockets bulged in thanks for a year of service.  On occasion I would get invited inside and asked about school and sports, pleasantries that would transform the money exchange into a personable meeting.  I learned a lot about myself during these times, my first glimpses of adulthood and responsibility — relationships I would cultivate that involved neither school nor family.

Amazingly enough I answered that morning alarm for three and a half years.  The money I collected helped to fund my other collections: music and baseball cards.  Soon after I retired my bicycle they started requiring all customers to mail in their bills and the days of collections ended.  Now they no longer allow newspaper delivery from boys on bikes and have moved it to adults in cars.  Too much risk involved, too many untrustworthy characters in the night.  An opportunity lost for young men to hone the interpersonal skills required of the collector.  Evenings spent going door-to-door in search of owed money with eyes wide open to the strange occurrences of other people’s lives.

Mushroom Extravaganza

September 12, 2007

Walking through the backyard last week I discovered first one and then two mushrooms.  Training my vision to spot the different shades of fungi I celebrated in the variety of shapes before my eyes.  I pranced around spying the wee toadstools tucked behind a blade of grass or under the cover of a larger sibling.  Who knows from where they came these denizens of the lawn…







Sitting, legs crossed, buckwheat husks supporting the bottom.  Arms hanging slightly to the side, hands finding their way to the tops of the thighs, palms upward to the heavens.  Neck and spine aligned and most importantly eyes closed.  Coughing heard intermittently but mostly it is quiet.  Finally I am here, ready to break through the wall of mind to find what: enlightenment? peace? understanding?

I gently rock from side to side, perhaps the perfect positioning will start the kundalini rising and I will skyrocket out of sight! Attention brought to the breath, feeling sensations, awareness expanding, I’m almost there.  But wait. Whatever happened to my old friend Andy who lived across Bow street, the city line smack down the middle of the asphalt, we forever going to different schools.  When did I see him last? Agh! Back to the breath (how am I ever going to get there if I can’t concentrate?) feeling sensations (don’t think, don’t think) awareness expanding ( is someone snoring?).

I think my left leg has fallen asleep.  I haven’t felt sensations from that area of the body in some time.  I shuffle two fingers to the calf and pinch, nothing.  Angling forward I re-position the butt bones.  Blood rushes into the clamped vessels and a coolness shoots down my leg.  Excrutiating tingles, explosions of jubilant corpuscles celebrating the return of the sanguine flow.  I (my mind) try to find equanimity amid the sensation-rich undulations.  Remember calm… Remember peace…Did the Buddha ever suffer such petty setbacks?

Okay. I’m back on track.  Perfect posture, breathing steady, sensations sensed.  Let me be uplifted to the highest bliss, toss aside these human shackles and ascend.  Eye peaks to the clock.  Ten minutes have passed!  Ah yes this may be more of a process…but I’ve heard it can happen in an instant…now where did I read that?