Friday, August 12, 2011

Living in the Now

I am struggling to understand this concept.  I do not think I have grasped the essential wisdom of it.  It seems to me that I live too much "in the Now" - tending to whichever crisis is shouting it's need at me most loudly.  Living in the current crisis leaves me with a distinct feeling of claustrophobia.  I do not have room to expand or plan.  I am reactive instead of proactive.

I have read many books which talk about the wisdom of living in Now, but I still do not really understand it.  Part of the trouble, I suspect, is the inherent responsibility of possessions.  I own a house with a roof, for example, roofs need to be replaced on a regular basis and paying for the roof is not something one does without planning ahead.  Where does future planning exist in "living in the Now"?

My chosen lifestyle requires a lot of "giving thought to the future".  I see how Jesus or Buddha or Richard Rohr or Thich Nhat Hahn or Ekhart Tolle etc. have arranged their lives so that they can accept what comes to them with grace and wisdom.  I admire that, but I do not see how I can emulate that.  I cannot take the advice of Jesus to the rich man and sell all my possessions and live the life of a mendicant.  I need electricity to run Sam's machines.  I like air conditioning and heat.  People in Chicago regularly die if they do not have one or the other.  I really don't want to lose Sam or to die myself simply because I didn't plan ahead and budget well enough to pay the bills.

When I look for peace, I rarely find it Now.  I find myself fighting to rise above the Now to get a clearer perspective.  Now is usually terrifying.  There are too many things that need doing Now and most of them seem to be begging me to instantly save them from destruction.  Everyone and every thing in my life seems to need me to do something Now.  If I do not step aside from the current moment and reflect on things other than Now, I descend into chaos.  I cope.  I react.  I loose track of what is important to me.  I lose track of me.

Stepping outside the stream of life, reflecting, planning, pausing, praying, ignoring Now, I find a modicum of peace and the space to untangle the threads that pull me out of shape.  I reform myself and can begin to make decisions about which threads I want to pick up and which ones I want to let drift away in the wind.  But stepping outside is hard.  I need to fight for my solitude - fight myself and my impulse to surrender to the demands of Now.   It is far too easy to allow myself to drift in the chaos of Now and be swept away by the expectations of the people and possessions in my life.

I am learning that "Yes" and "No" are the two most powerful words in my vocabulary and both need to be used with caution.   I need to pause, at least momentarily, and reflect before saying either "Yes" or "No".  When I am swept away by the chaos of Now, I give myself away without thinking and usually it is by saying "Yes" or "No" thoughtlessly.  I am too prodigal with myself when I live in the Now.

And yet, when I listen to these wise men talk about their concept of Now, I realize that they are talking about something substantially different from what I experience.  I think my failure must have something to do with a difference of definition.  I have trouble grasping what they mean.

I think they have a lot less need to feel control and a lot more trust in the universe or God or whatever they call it, than I have.  I do not trust God or the universe to have the same priorities that I have and so I feel a deep need to control or at least try to control at least some of my circumstances.  I realize that God/the universe is more powerful, capable and even ultimately more kind and loving than I am on a global scale, but it seems clear that we are not more important than the lilies of the field and our individual survival is not of paramount importance to that force/entity.  So my individual responsibility is to take care of myself, Sam and my little corner of the earth.  For that, I need perspective and time outside Now to think.

Clearly there's something I don't get yet.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Doing The Math

60 next week.  Ak.  Actually, my knees are 60, the rest of me is still 45.  (Thank you Edgar of BoRics on Ashland near Diversey.)

Charley's cancer really solidified our resolve to figure out what we REALLY want to do in this life.  The goal is for him to retire next summer and for us both to begin doing something that brings us satisfaction and a moderate income.  It's a lot riskier doing something like this at our age with The Sam Factor than it was when we were young and unencumbered.  On the other hand, it may be our last chance to risk everything for a dream. I remember sociologist Tony Campolo once cited a survey of 80 year olds who said their greatest regret was about some opportunity or risk not taken.  So we are getting serious about this.  We're probably going to be 80 in 20 years.  Or 35 years.

The thought that has been repeatedly coming to me is that I am not a beginner.  I have done and learned a lot of things over the decades.  No really.  A LOT.  I'm not starting from scratch.  So all my experience must add up to something, I just have to do the math.

Sadly, math is not my strongest subject!

To get a handle on what/who I am, I've been going over my journals.  This in itself is weird.  I write journals feverishly at times and then not at all for years.  I keep them mostly because we have a house and there's room.  I never actually planned to look at them again.  All I really planned to do with them was destroy them before I die.  But turns out they are very interesting.  (What a narcissist!)  There are several themes that run as far back as the journals.

I love:
Creativity - making lace, jewelry, knitting, general craft stuff.  Music - singing, string instruments, penny whistle, odd percussion instruments from all over the world (  The wisdom of people with cognitive disabilities.  Children. Learning something (anything) new.

I have a very love/hate relationship with my interpersonal skills; but I am a good leader and a good listener and perhaps a good teacher.  Listening makes me insightful because I can synthesize what I hear from different people, or the same person at different times, into a single thought.  I'd probably be good at negotiation, except I wouldn't like to spend a lot of time in the same room with angry people.

Listening also helps me notice when two people are arguing about two totally different subjects.  Sometimes I can notice this even when one of the people arguing is me! It's a very odd experience and one I really don't know what to do about in the moment it occurs.  It is usually best to first agree with the other person - since their point really has nothing to do with mine - and then cautiously restate my point.  It's funny how often arguments are not about what the participants think they are about.

My journals also point out that I have a lot of fear which is mostly nutty and keeps me from making my dream into a goal.

And I like to write about the philosophy of me.

I don't know what this adds up to, but at least I've defined the value of X.

Experiments For Further Reflection on the eve of my 60th birthday:

1: Charley is going to buy me a ukelele  (I think I'll get a tenor, it has more tuning options)
2: I'm going to go to the beach with my grandchildren and try to blow giant bubbles like this:
3: With my friend Lawrence from Esperanza ( I'm going to paint a picture of "Helen's Bird" as part of the project "Dynamic Duos: Works in Collaboration" which will be displayed in October as part of Chicago Artists Month.