Friday, March 8, 2013

The Tipping Point

Seems like the whole world's walking pretty and you can't find no room to move. -- Bruce Springsteen, "Tenth Avenue Freezeout"

The changes are incremental at first: a lost word here, an unpaid bill there, a forgotten birthday card.  But they add up, and pretty soon, the world is moving too fast. It pulls away, slowly, but steadily. Pretty soon it has rounded the bend ahead and you are left plugging along on your own. 

Each word, forgotten appointment, missed commitment leaves a vacuum, an empty space, where once you know there was "something." The brain scrambles to place the missing puzzle piece back into place, searches in vain for the word

If you are not supposed to be right up there with the hustle and bustle, there is not much of a problem. You coast along and eventually pull off and take a long nap under the trees that line the road. 

That is the luxury afforded to the affluent, those ready and able to retire. 

But you are supposed to be right there with the group, on top of the latest initiative, plan, problem, report, appointment, decision. That's when things get dicey, when you feel shame.

You feel like you have to keep up if you want to have health insurance, pay the rent, keep the car running. Pulling off into the trees is not an option and you push yourself harder to keep up.

For a few years you can do it. You close the gap and the rest of the group believes that you are there with them, willing and able to sustain the pace, eat up the tasks of midlife -- house-holding, productive contribution. But those efforts become harder and you can't continue that level of output. The pace is just too fast for your heart, lungs, legs. You vision shrinks to a tunnel. You see the world through a tube that becomes longer and longer, limiting your field of vision.

What happens then? Those up ahead forget you and move on, consumed by their own problems and pushing hard enough to hang or maybe even pull ahead. 

You are left with a memory of what it was like. But even that fades as the will to go on withers like falling leaf.

At some point you are asked to surrender. Your income, insurance, car keys, friends, faculties, are all confiscated. If you are lucky, you get left alone

Then it begins not to matter so much, except when a cadre of cells detects the pheromones of hope or desire. 

Such is the insult that is called growing old. But an insult only works when one is still attached to the illusion of an identity that has to be defended. Aging has a way of ripping away strength and the hope that I might still win.

In Western culture, where personal worth derives from achievement and image, the decline of faculties can lead to despair. We see ourselves as our work, our wealth, our looks, our abilities. Even some "spiritual teachers" conflate the soul with wealth and social standing. (Those teachers, by the way, tend to charge exorbitant rates for their wisdom; they tend to live luxuriously and work only with the well-to-do.) The arts, though, if they are good, see past the ethos of the bottom line, the Performance Principle. Eastern thought even gives us multiple chances to get it right. You're working for a different master

Recently, I was overtaken by a surprising surge of energy that one could only call love, a fierce, unrequited love, and I had no defense against it. Some fine writers have reported back to us readers that such experiences signal their descent into the swirling waters of surrender, annihilation of the self, a live wire of intensified poignancy. Rumi writes "there are no edges to my loving now." and Gabriel Garcia Marquez says, "The truth was that I could not manage my soul, and I was becoming aware of old age because of my weakness in the face of love." Ruben Dario writes "When I want to cry, I can't/but I cry without wanting to."

The controlled self, whatever that is, falls away, and joins something bigger, more universal. It seems that what looks like decline in aging may be an opportunity for entry. Falling behind is not necessarily the end, but rather passage through a portal. A lifetime of keeping up may be prologue. One's heart, or soul, or better self, a spiritual presence, or whatever you want to call it can begin to guide you.

As the racers fade around the bend, what seemed disaster may become blessing. The light burns most intensely when it consumes the ephemeral.  

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mecury is in Retrograde -- Rejoice!

"Whatever that means," I think to myself when my friend and spiritual advisor, Constancia, delivers the astrological bad news.

"Things are going to break and go wrong for the next couple of weeks," she adds, "so be careful."

 When I stop to think about it, I realize she may be right. Mine and others more than fair share of things going wrong seems to have grown larger in the last few days.

A sleeping man is swallowed by the earth beneath his bed; law makers think it's a good idea to throw Head Start kids onto the streets; my computer crashes; friend, neighbor, and kindred spirit Philip decides to move to England; my son hits a parked car; the buckle on my bike shoe breaks mid-ride.

While evidence of the world going to hell in a hand basket is both my default way of seeing things and never in short supply, I opt to widen my view. My remaining cat (the other was taken by a coyote) loves me (though not as much as she loves Kyle). I still have enough cold, hard coins to obtain a burrito (bean) between classes. I have wonderful friends who delight in making fun of me. The list is pretty long if I work at stretching it.

Yes, I am not in a position to join my affluent brethren on their ski trips to Durango or yoga sessions in Bali, but I can jump in my truck and drive to Eloy, thirty miles up the road, home of The Whopper.

Life is good. In the state of grace and gratitude, rather than envy and grasping, I hope to loosen my grip on all I think I control or possess.

And Mercury is helping me along in my lessons on letting go of even the modest gifts the universe has given me. At 56, it is time to practice detachment, I am told. Things, The Body, Relationships -- All -- will soon be history. The only logical response is to surrender, no, embrace, the decline and loss.

In the spirit of that old Mercurial messenger of wrack and ruin himself, George W. Bush, I say "Bring it on," just in little ways, por favor.