Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Want Out"

I found out today that my good friend Stanley “Chuck” Want passed away.  Chuck worked for me as a seasonal firefighter at Eel River Ranger Station, on the Mendocino National Forest back in the 90’s.  I wanted to take a moment out of my day to say a few things in memory of Chuck.  Chuck lived way too short of a life.  He was one of the most intelligent men I’ve known.  He cared about other people very much.  He was hard working.  But his life was beset with heart break and tragedy of the kind few people know much less have to live through. 

 From time to time he would call me, or I would call him, just to check in and see how each other was doing.  A couple years back, he called me and asked if I could help him with some money.  I thought, “here we go.”  I paused and asked him, “What do you need it for?”  He started to sob into the phone and told me that his Wife had been killed in a car accident, that she had been crushed to death by a car that ran through a stop sign.  He didn’t have the money to bury her and needed help.  Their baby, his only child was two at that time.  Chuck’s own Mother had passed away within days of his baby’s birth.  When his Wife died, he told me the only thing he had to live for was his daughter, if not for her, he wanted out.  I helped him, but it wasn't a loan and Chuck never asked to borow money from me.      

His death certificate will likely read that he died from complications resulting from his diabetic condition, but alcohol took Chuck.  He went toe to toe with booze for many, many rounds, and in the end booze took him out.  The last time I spoke with him, he told me that his people wanted to take him somewhere in Southern California to get sober, and he wanted to do it.  But he said that he knew he couldn’t ride in a car long enough without a drink to go that far and he couldn’t drink in the car with his people.  I offered to go get him and take him to a meeting, but he declined saying, “I’ll keep it in mind.”  I didn’t do enough, I should have went and got him and took him to meetings.  The last time I spoke with him he told me that it hurt his stomach terribly when he put alcohol into it, but if he didn’t put alcohol into it, it hurt even worse, and he was afraid to stop because of the delirium tremens (DT’s) that would surely come.

When Chuck worked for me, sometimes depending on who was on duty, Chuck would be assigned to carry a hand held radio.  Standard and accepted radio use procedure calls for ending a transmission with your assigned radio designator (“Engine 52,” or, “Crew 11,” etc.), or your last name if you don’t have a designator, or the word, “copy.”  Chuck always ended his transmissions with, “Want out,” because he thought it was funny.  Today, I can hear his voice saying those two words, and I can’t help but think of the irony in that.

Today was Chuck’s funeral.  I didn’t know, or I would have made the 12 hour drive to Covelo, in the Round Valley, to be there with his people and pay my respects.  Instead I cried here in this chair, looking out a window at those mountains.  That’s where I got to know Chuck, in the mountains.  Maybe finally now, he can rest and have peace.  I will think of him and remember his laugh whenever I am in the mountains.  At the end, he couldn’t drink anymore, but he couldn’t not drink either.  That is the “ism” of alcoholism.  I know of what I speak, as I have three years sober.  I should have tried harder to take him the message.  He willingly followed me towards the flames, but he wouldn’t follow me to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  I guess that was more scary.

After I found out, I called his Grandmother’s house where he stayed.  She told me Chuck was found in his room, slumped on his knees beside his bed.  He was gone.  There are numerous other close relatives of his who have passed away over the past five years.  His family has had to endure too much death; it’s been one funeral after another, not even time to grieve before the next one.  Maybe Chuck never forsook God, but in his shoes, I may have decided to turn my back on God.  I’m going to believe that he passed while on his knees asking for God’s help, and that it’s never too late.

Rest in peace, Brother      

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Which Wolf Do You Feed?

(quote adapted from a Cherokee story)

An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him angry at a friend who he felt had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story... I too, at times, have felt a great resentment for those who have taken so much, with no seeming sorrow or remorse for what they do. I have struggled with these feelings many times." He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me engaged in a conflict.” 

"One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing.”  Note that this is all fear based.  All of these feelings, emotions or dispositions are based in fear.  Fear we may be hurt.  Fear we may do harm.  Fear we may experience pain or suffering.  Fear that a truth we tried to hide may be found out.  Fear our own sorrow may be too much for us to bear.  Fear we aren’t good enough.  Fear that someone received an opportunity or material favor we did not.  Fear that we are being judged unfairly.   Fear of the past and fear of the future.  I could add to the list, but the point is made. 

He continued, "The other Wolf is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. He does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.  Note that all of these characteristics are based in love.  They come from a loving nature, either absent of fear, or overcoming fear. 

Sometimes, it is a challenge to live with these two wolves inside of me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit. The same challenge is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."  This is an analogy of the concept that we are always at choice.  Every moment, every thought, every decision, every action, is an opportunity to do the next right thing.  Or not.  It is the pathway to comprehending that out destiny, or fate, our future, is not a matter of chance and luck.  We draw to us most if not all of what we get from life, and this begins with our thoughts.      

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Grandfather simply replied, "The one you feed."         

My life started to get a lot better when I began to understand that the solution to all my problems really is this simple.  We believe that we have complicated problems because that’s what our best thinking prodded by our ego tells us.  Therefore, our problems must require complicated answers.  For me, the truth has been just the opposite.  Self-help books were too voluminous and complicated, too much superfluous information.  Therapy focused too much on other people and what they wanted or needed from me, when all along, my problem was me.  When we put out focus on somebody else’s problems, it’s not difficult to see that the simple solution is usually the best solution.  But when the problem is our problem, it’s somehow different, and people don’t understand that it’s not that simple.  A hundred forms of fear invade our peace, the ego says, “If you had my life you’d understand.”  We fall into the trap of believing that that nobody could possibly understand, that our situation is different, that we are unique.  The truth is that we are just as unique as all the rest of the other unique people.  If you find the right places to go and listen, you will find that there are others who share your same story, no matter how far down the ladder you have gone.  I found those rooms, and there, with Gods help, I have begun to find myself. 

Which wolf are you feeding right now as you read this?  Are you feeding the one that nourishes your soul and brings you peace, or the other one?  Whether you agree with this essay or not, you are at choice right now and that choice will determine how you feel.  That feeling will have thoughts associated with it, and thoughts become things.      

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Defining An Occupation

In attempting to do this, it may be easier at this point to define the Occupy Wall Street Movement by defining what it’s not.  It’s not as simple as the condescending opinion that they are just a bunch of welfare free loaders who never had a job and want more of our tax dollars so they can go to college for free and smoke medical marijuana while playing video games instead of working, which is a simpleton opinion I’ve seen.  I see it as a grass roots movement that represents democracy at its purest form because it’s The People’s will and resolve in action, not politicians.  At this point it is disorganized and lacking clear direction, but this is in alignment with the complexity of the many issues.  What matters is that The Movement appears to be gaining momentum.  I’d use the metaphor of a river.  A river begins with many disconnected tributaries, coming from various directions, each tributary carrying the sediment of its origin into the flow of the main river. 
I think that what the Occupiers are doing is highly esteem able, and deserves the highest praise because we all know that we have huge problems, but we are still for the most part just sitting on our collective hands waiting for either somebody else to fix it, or for the sky to fall.  The Occupiers are attempting to do something about it! As the Chinese proverb goes, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”  Ultimately perhaps what they can accomplish is to wake up enough of us to make a difference.  Ultimately it's We The People who are responsible for creating the change we need to have.  The time for complacency and bickering over which side is right is long over.  The 1% who the Occupiers refer to don’t want change, because their wealth continues to expand at the expense of the rest of us by virtue of the current economic policies. 
Some people cry out that this kind of talk is about the “redistribution of wealth,” that we all have the same opportunity to work hard and achieve wealth, etc, etc.  But I think it’s fair to ask people if they will still be singing that same tune when they or someone close to them gets laid off from their Federal, State, or County job?  Will they still be beating that drum when their pension fund is gone?  Will they still be cheering for the status quo in banking policy when more and more ordinary working people can’t afford to pay their bills and put food on the table?  We used to think that these kinds of things were unfathomable, but they are actually happening!  Cops and firefighters used to be untouchable, but they are getting laid off, their pensions are being negotiated down.  Many Americans have already seen their retirements evaporate away.  The loss of taxes from mass foreclosures is forcing utility districts to cut jobs and raise rates.  All of this “missing money” isn’t just gone, it has been redistributed!  Basic economics informs us that money doesn’t just vanish into thin air. It goes someplace.  One man’s economic loss is the next man’s economic gain, and right now it’s that 1% who are making the gains while the vast majority of the 99% continues to decline in prosperity.  And this redistribution of the wealth of the 99% is not because of hard work.  It’s because of economic policy which the 1% constituency has been putting in place since the beginning of capitalism. 
This isn’t to say that capitalism is evil, not even close.  Capitalism is the foundation our country is built on.  It’s responsible for the wealth and prosperity we have.  It’s provided all of the economic growth, the jobs, and our whole material condition.  It’s the outright greed of people who have taken these principles too far and have created this unbalanced, unfair condition by pushing through economic policy which favors the 1% at the expense of the rest of us.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is about reigning in this greed, not about free-loaders wanting more hand-outs, or entitlements. 
There are lunatic fringe nut jobs in any large enough group no matter what their political leaning is.  To define the Occupy Wall Street movement by its rough edges of anarchists and the marginally employable homeless is just a convenient and dishonest excuse to keep one’s head buried in the sand while waiting for others to do something about the direction of our country while pathetically pointing out what’s wrong with the actual democratic process participants from the sidelines.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement is about The People attempting to take back the power that is supposed to belong to The People.

*edited to add- I was curious about who are thee occupiers, so before I wrote this Blog entry, I did a search for Occupy Wall Street photos.  Here are examples of what I found.,29307,2094925_2323217,00.html

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The 72 Hour "Get Home Bag"

What do you need to help you get home if a disaster strikes?

Can you answer the following questions?  Do you know where you will be if a natural or man-made disaster occurs?  Will you be at home, at work, at School, across town, or across the State?  Will you be with your family, or alone and separated from them?  Where would you need to go to be safe, and how would you get there if you couldn’t drive because the roads were damaged?  Do you have a plan for how you would get where you need to go?  Have you talked about a plan for how to re-unite with immediate family members in case you’re separated?  In most cases, we cannot predict what kind of disaster may strike –man made or natural- when it might occur, or where we will be.  But this does not mean that we are just doomed to fate or luck.  We can have a contingency plan in place for where we will go in the event that it’s unsafe to stay where we are.  A good plan includes a modest investment in gear that could make such an ordeal easier and may even save your life.  We can prepare and keep a “72 Hour Survival Bag” in our car to help us get home if we have to abandon our car and walk.   
Most people commute to work or school an average distance of thirty (30) miles round trip each day.  Even if you don’t work or go to school, it’s likely that you don’t just stay home all day every day.  If you live in a metropolitan area, you likely drive past the homes of MILLIONS of people every day. Spend some time considering that.  If a disaster strikes, the millions of people who you share your organized metropolitan world with that you drove past when you left your home to go where ever you went may not be so civil as during more ordinary times; and they will be in-between you and home which could become a problem if you’re walking.  You may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have to worry about this because I live in the country.”  That may be true, but do you ever go to the city? 
If you've ever been stuck in freeway traffic for hours at a time, consider what a major infrastructure outage affecting the power grid, or a magnitude 7.0 or greater earthquake severely damaging the road surfaces and elevated freeway would be like.  If the electrical grid is down gas station pumps won’t work and any food business using an electric cash register won’t be able to sell you something to eat.  You may not be able to drive home. You may be forced to sleep in your car if it is safe.  You may be unfortunately stuck in gridlock where the freeway passes through the worst part of the city with night approaching.  You may have no other choice but to strike out on foot to reach your safe place, or even just to try to find food and water.  It’s likely that there will be no emergency personnel available to help you, or keep you safe.  They will be busy.  If it’s real bad, they will be responding to the aide of their own immediate families.  If you find yourself in a dire situation, far from home and are forced to abandon your car to start walking, you’re going to need more than a snickers bar and a bottle of water.  If you had stashed a “72 Hour Bag” in your trunk, it would allow you to safely leave your car with the confidence that you are prepared to  start walking for home or a pre-planned meeting place (rally point).  
Most people are familiar with an emergency kit for their car. It may be comprised of a reflector triangle, jumper cables, road flares, some sort of first aid kit and maybe a pair of gloves.  This is not preparation for any kind of emergency other than a flat tire or a dead battery.  If you need to shelter in place for the night (such as in your car), you will need a blanket, flashlight, food, and water at a minimum. If you plan to strike out on foot and you’re 30+ miles from home, you will need a lot more gear than that.
The gear needed for getting you to your home or your designated safe location or rally point is typically referred to as:
·       Get Home Bag (GHB)
 ·       Get Out Of Dodge Bag (GOOD)
This gear is not intended to be for wilderness survival, Special Forces operations, or for mountain man or "live off the land" type of situations.  It is intended to be just the basics that any intelligent adult can make use of with little or no training.   At a minimum it should include shoes suitable for walking, some kind of very basic shelter (rain poncho, tube tent, bivouac sack) from inclement weather, extra clothing, appropriate food (long shelf life & high protein), drinking water and the ability to filter more, extra Rx medications, some cash, a flashlight, and a number of other items including something for personal protection. 
Most articles I’ve seen on this topic include fire starting materials.  I agree that it should be included.  But I urge the highest caution and strongly discourage the use of fire for any reason unless it is absolutely necessary.  Fire is highly visible, it attracts attention.  In a survival situation such as I am talking about here, it is possible that some other people may be of help to you, but the fact is that other people would also present the single greatest danger to your personal safety.  Every person who you come into contact with would be a potential threat, especially if they are desperate.  If unprepared, they will at minimum ask you to share your food and your water, and they will not care if you don’t have much.  At worst, they will try to use force to try to take your provisions from you.  A fire would announce your location like a flashing neon sign that says, “come here.”  There is a saying that civilization is only 4 missed meals away from lawlessness.  This means that by dinner time on day two, with no hope of a meal on the horizon, otherwise civilized people are going to start resorting to violence.           
For the purposes of this article, I'll refer to this gear as the GHB (Get Home Bag).
The likely scenario if disaster strikes is:
·       You are going to try to drive home.

·       You will encounter traffic gridlock, or impassible streets or highways and may stay put for some period of time waiting to see if the road clears or help comes.  Or maybe your fuel tank was low and you can’t find a gas station that’s open for business because the electrical grid is damaged. 

·       Finally, you will strike out on foot for home

·       You may have to find shelter or sleep at least one night out in the open before reaching safety. 
You should stock and store a GHB in your car because in our culture, we tend to be where ever our car is.  A GHB is not going to do much good if it’s at home in the garage when we need it because we are stranded 30 miles from home.    
Okay, enough already...what should go into the bag?

72 Hour Go-bag (Get Home Bag)

A component of your disaster kit is your Go-bag. Put the following items together in a small backpack in case you must evacuate quickly or end up on foot.  Keep this in your car and out of sight.  I’ve divided this list into 3 categories:
1. Must Have.  2. Nice To Have.  3. Optional.  This information is presented as only my opinion, based on a lot of reading and a little experience.  
          MUST HAVE:
·       Small backpack, (book bag, day pack). Quality enough for all day carry, but cheap enough to leave in your vehicle.  Wal-Mart currently has suitable packs for under $30  
      Emergency cash in small denominations and quarters for phone calls (leave the $ in the bag!)
      Quality flashlight or head lamp w/LED bulbs (LED’s last longer & are brighter)
·       Heavy weight (not thin emergency type) reflective space blanket.  Can be wrapped around yourself to sleep in above freezing temps.  Also puncture resistant for sleeping outdoors on the ground.  I’ve slept in these many times in the mountains during the summer and fall.   
·       GHB for your pet if you are in the habit of taking your pet with you when you leave home (food & and medications). 
·       Extra sox & underwear in a dry bag or zip lock bag to keep dry
·       Hat based on season (wide brim or warmth)
·       Compact rain poncho (staying dry is critical to staying warm).
·       Pants (jeans or similar), particularly for women who may be in a skirt, or light shorts.  Leave suitable minimum clothing in your vehicle with your GHB to keep your backpack load smaller.
·       Keep a quality pair of comfortable walking/hiking shoes in your car at all times in case you find yourself stranded far from home and you’re wearing high heels, or sandals.
·       1 base layer (moisture wicking) type LS shirt
·       Local map of area.
·       Water (minimum 2 quarts)
·       A means to filter additional water (filtration straw, filtration bottle, hand pump filter, etc)  Read carefully & don’t buy something that only improves taste.  A good device should contain language like this- “Removes up to 99.99% of bacteria, virus, contaminants and pollutants found in drinking water sources.”  These devices are expensive, but clean water is probably the most important thing on this list.  If the power grid is down, water probably won’t come out of the tap or faucet because municipal water is usually dependent on pumps.
·       Food- long shelf life, high protein (jerky, nuts, dried fruit, MRE’s, protein bars, survival rations)
·       Toilet paper, in a zip lock bag
·       List of emergency point-of -contact phone numbers
·       Individual needs: e.g. feminine products, prescription medicine
·       First aid kit
·       Multi frequency (AM, FM, weather) Radio – hand crank & solar capability is best.
·       Extra batteries for flashlight and/or headlamp
·       Loud rescue whistle
·       List of allergies to any drug (especially antibiotics) or food
·       List of Rally Points in case of family members separated from each other
·       Health insurance identification cards or photo copies
·       Extra prescription eye glasses, hearing aid or other vital personal items
·       Sunscreen (small tube of SPF 30 or higher.)
·       Dust masks
·       Gloves
·       Multi tool (Leatherman type)
·       Pocket knife
·       Extra tee shirt
·       Sharpie marker, pens, writing paper
·       Duct tape (small roll), or electrical tape (good multi-purpose & packs small)
·       Light sticks
·       Fire starting materials- lighter, some kind of wet start tinder, some kind of firesteel
·       Length of para-cord (50’), cheap & easy to find 
·       Tube tent
·       Extra cell phone battery
·       Wet wipes (personal hygiene) in sealable container so they don’t dry out.
·       Bug spray (small, non-aerosol container.)
·       Small bottle of Ibuprofen
·       Extra keys to your house and vehicle
·       Pepper spray canister
·       Consider a carrying handgun & ammunition. 
California law states that we can legally transport an unloaded handgun inside of a locked secure container with bullets or magazines also inside of the same locked container.  Some people mistakenly believe that the “locked secure container” means the trunk of a car.  The term “secure container” is not defined by the law.   I use a high quality locking soft sided bank deposit bag for this purpose.  The key is never further away than my pocket.  The unfortunate reality that we must be aware of is that there is a segment of society who during times of civil disturbance or disaster will not hesitate to loot and victimize others if they believe that they can do so without risk to themselves.  If we have to travel on foot through populated areas, we will encounter other people.   We can just hope for the best with each encounter, or we can be proactive to protect ourselves.    

I neglected to encourage gun owners or new gun owners to seek out training.  This is a MUST, not only legally to purchase, but because it's a valuable experience and the smart thing to do.  Currently in California, a Basic Firearms Safety Certificate is a requirement to purchase a hand gun.  This consists of a written test as well as a simple "hands on" practical requiring the gun owner to load and unload the hand gun as well as visually check that the chamber is unloaded.   There is a study guide available.  The Basic Safety Certification is the minimum requirement. 

I strongly urge the new gun owner, or the long time gun owner with no firearms training to seek out quality training.  You may feel that you already know everything you need to know about safe gun handling and tactical firearms use, but these courses are usually taught by retired military, and/or law enfocement types who have a lot of real life experience and the desire to share it.  The Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) course is an excellent training program that covers safe handling, very basic tactical use, equipment, legal aspects, and a day at the range of live fire practice.  Even if you have no intention to get the CCW permit, or carry a hand gun outside of your home, this is excellent training.  

Shooting ranges are ordinarily managed by a gun club and the gun clubs should have National Rifle Association (NRA) certified instructors.  There are other certifying bodies, but NRA is the best known.  The courses are inexpensive and usually offered on weekends and evenings.   Currently the local gun club in my area offers training courses such as, Refuse To Be a Victim, Personal Protection in The Home, and Basic Pistol.  The best thing I've learned from a handgun course had nothing to do with gun use.  I learned that avoiding being a crime victim in the first place by maintaining an awareness of my surroundings and the people in it everywhere I go is the best way to stay safe.  I thought that I was already a highly vigilent person, but learned I had room for improvement, particularly on the subject of understanding how criminals choose targets and locations for personal crimes. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finding Out What's Inside

“When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out – because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what is inside.”   Wayne Dyer

Recently I have been trying to finish cleaning out my garage which had become sort of a real life metaphor that represents the confused and cluttered life I used to live.  I feel like I need to finish cleaning my garage once and for all, and by doing so, I will free a piece of myself that feels like it is intrinsically linked to the condition of that garage.  That garage is like an anchor on a chain that is attached to me, always reminding me that I need to deal with it, that I can’t ignore it any more.  My garage became a repository for anything at all that my family didn’t have room for in the house, but truthfully most of it is my stuff.  Anything left inside a car probably got put in the “never-never land” of the garage, never to show up in the house where someone might use it.  It is full of boxes of stuff; old papers, our kids toys from years ago, fire gear from my career, tools I couldn’t find, lots of books, sports gear, the usual stuff. 

Sorting through those boxes, I sometimes find something useful or interesting.  This is similar to the process of self-examination and personal growth I’ve been going through, in that I also sometimes actually find something within me that was always there and is actually functional.  I found a couple of old journals from when my grown kids were young.  No doubt they won’t appreciate this, but I admit I peeked inside.  There were no surprises, or secrets I’d rather not know about.  What I found hurt me to read and I probably deserve that.  Not just because I peeked, but because having feelings is relatively new for me.  Today I get to feel the hurt. I need to feel the hurt because it teaches me.  I found comments in those journals about how mean I was to them.  I didn’t find any mention of what a great Dad I was, or how kind and thoughtful I’d been. 
My wife recently told me a very sad story about my kids and I, which I had been completely unaware of.  I don’t know why she had spared me the truth before, but had she told me in the past, I would not have had the emotional maturity and sensitivity to feel the significance of what I’d done.  I may have even scoffed, or dismissed it as insignificant, choosing to rationalize and live in denial.  When I used to come home from long fire assignments, I would isolate myself.  I remember doing that.  I just didn’t think anything was wrong with it.  Instead of sitting down in my big chair in the living room and letting my kids climb all over me, after a brief greeting, I’d say I needed to unwind, then I’d go lock myself in our spare room and start drinking.  Each summer during fire season, from the time they were born, this was normal for my kids.  They grew up with a Dad who showed them that he preferred the company of his own self, over his family when he came home from being gone sometimes for weeks at a time.   
What I had not been aware of that my wife informed me of was that when I used to lock myself in that spare room, my two baby girls would lie down on the hallway floor outside the locked door and wait for their Daddy to come out because they wanted me to show them some love.  They missed me and they wanted me to hold them, and tell them how terribly I had missed them, and to let them fall asleep on me.  Instead, I disappointed them every time.  My wife told me that she made excuses for me to try to help them somehow understand.  She said they would fall asleep there on the floor outside that door, waiting for me to come out.  I never knew this because my wife would pick them up and carry them to bed before I came out and saw them.  When she told me that, it was maybe the saddest thing I’d ever heard.  I felt that sadness very deeply and I cried.  I cried because today I feel the pain of being aware that I did that to my wife and kids.  I can’t imagine how sad it must have been for my wife to have to see our little girls waiting on the floor outside a locked door for their Daddy to come out.  Waiting for so long that they’d fall asleep disappointed.  The man I used to be never even thought anything at all about locking his self in a room, isolating his self from his family after being gone for a long time.  That was just how I lived.  The man I was then had to live like that because I didn’t know any other way to deal with life.          
I am not the same man who I used to be.  I couldn’t possibly be, or I would not have the life I have today.  I am told that I am a changed man by people who I’ve spent significant time with in the past and who still know me today, the most significant ones being my wife and my kids.  A friend who I coached High School basketball with used to sometimes say to me, “I’m never going to really get to know you am I.”  It was more of a statement than a question.  That comment puzzled me.  I had no idea what he meant, but it shouldn’t have surprised me.  My wife used to sometimes say that she felt like she didn’t really know me.  I had no awareness of how much I was shut down and closed off from other people. 
The relationships in coaching –both player/coach and coach/coach- are magnified because of the emotional highs and lows resulting from competition.  At the High School level the pressure intensifies.  Traditionally the idea of success is tied to wins and losses, and there’s usually some expectation to win.  The troubles the kids can get into, and the problems they may have are not just little kid problems anymore and they will affect the team.  There’s no staff to organize home tournaments, to do the fund raising, and to organize travel logistics.  Some parents think you’re fair game to second guess, criticize and even attack verbally or sometimes physically.  You’re in the public eye, and there’s nowhere to hide.  You see up close how the kids and the other coaches respond to pressure- what comes out when they are “squeezed.”  Being rather emotionally shut down, I probably seemed to be what might be described as unflappable. But really –and without any awareness of it- I was always just looking to avoid most any feeling at all because that was how I learned to survive emotionally as a young man.  If I couldn’t feel it, then it couldn’t hurt me was what I erroneously believed. 

Recently this same coach and I shared a dorm room for a three day weekend while coaching at a summer team camp.  We had some good discussions in the evenings that had nothing to do with basketball.  We talked about being men, about being a husband and a father.  It felt good when he said to me that he felt like I’m a completely different man than I used to be.  I realized I’ve become a man who another man can actually feel like they know.  I don’t know how I could have sustained a marriage for almost 20 years while being someone who nobody could really get to know.  That realization has inflated even more my already high regard for my wife.  She is truly the best person who I know, and I am a very fortunate man indeed.  Her presence beside me is all the proof I need that miracles do happen and that I lead a charmed life.   
 It took me almost two years to work through the 12 Steps that have given me this new life, this chance to live with peace in my mind, and joy in my heart. Those 12 Steps have saved my life.  If not my corporal life, then certainly my life as it is defined by all the good things that make up a life worth living.  I am no longer the man who for more than a decade was so lost he did not have one single dream wherein he recognized any person or place.  I am no longer the man who was so emotionally shut down that he had no clue what his wife was talking about when she’d say, “I can’t live like this anymore.”  I am no longer the man whose own Mother recently described him as being, “The only one who didn’t know how much of an asshole he was.”   Today I get to experience and learn from my feelings, both the happy and joyful ones, as well as the difficult and painful ones.  I have been born again in a way that is actually measurable in its visible rewards.  I am still reminded by my experiences almost every day that all I’ve really done is that which I was supposed to have been doing all along, and for that I deserve only the knowing nod of, “it’s about time.”  I am learning to be a kind, patient, and considerate man.  This deserves no special accolades beyond the appreciation of those closest to me who used to suffer along with me the man who I was before.  It’s a good thing that I am a changed man for if not, I’d certainly be alone.  Not lonely but alone.  There is a difference.  While there were some feelings I was capable of experiencing, I’m sure loneliness wasn’t one of them.            
When I say that I am a changed man, it’s important that I make the observation that the man who I used to be is still there within me.  Those character flaws which used to quickly rise to the surface, sometimes with the slightest squeeze are like my shadow; I will never be rid of them all together.  What I actually have today is a daily reprieve from the compulsion to be cruel, thoughtless, unkind and insensitive.  This daily reprieve is dependent upon the fitness of my spiritual condition.  Because I am human, I will sometimes make mistakes, the aim is for progress not perfection.  Every day I ask God for help.  In fact, other than praying for others that’s all I ask for, “Help me to be a good man today.”  The moment I begin to swell up with pride from thinking I’ve accomplished something, or that I know how this works on my own without Gods help is the moment my ego (E G O = Edging God Out) starts to lead me away from being humble. 

The practice of becoming spiritually awakened is a path I share with many others who are applying the principles of the 12 Steps programs in their daily lives.  These are not a program of derelicts, they are programs made up primarily of over-achievers.  There are a lot of very strong, very intelligent, very influential and very powerful people who are committed to practicing a 12 Step Program.  I personally know or am aware of teachers, lawyers, cops, firefighters, councilors, office managers, a judge, business owners, movie stars, probation officers, and doctors who go to meetings and work the Steps.  Whether you know it or not, the world is a much better place because of this.  In fact, if tomorrow the millions of people in the world who are doing this work went “back out” and became the people we used to be before we found a spiritual solution, the world would probably eventually be thrown into a state of total chaos and anarchy after a brief period of the most fun the world has ever had. 
(insert winking smiley face emoticon here for the humor handicapped)                      

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoughts on Religion

"A human being is a part of a whole, called by us _universe_, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."       Albert Einstein

Someone in a Blog comment asked me to express my personal beliefs about Jesus.  Though it may have been an innocent query, my experience has been that this is frequently a transparent and loaded question.  If my beliefs happen to be in agreement with theirs, they are satisfied.  However if this is not the case, they might take it as their personal mission to change my beliefs to match theirs.  The real question they intend is, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”  First, despite their protestations of only caring, the answer is really none of anyone else’s business.  I respect and admire the goodwill of providing aid and comfort to others less fortunate through the service activities of a Church, but that’s about as generous as my regard for organized religion gets.  It is my feeling that the thought to, and the action of seeking to convert another persons over to one’s own beliefs is primarily an ego based activity that makes the proselytizer feel good about their selves when they can persuade someone to accept Jesus as their Savior.  If they cannot, they may feel pity for us, even expressing to us that our poor soul is damned, “You’re not going to get to Heaven that way.”  This sort of egocentric behavior is in my opinion an ultimate example not of God’s will, but of an individual’s self-will.  I have avoided a response even though I intended all along to write about this because I understand the nature of the invitation.  It’s not innocent curiosity.   Also it’s a rhetorical argument, proof of which is subjective and in reality just one’s opinion, much like my own here.  I have no interest in organized religion beyond studying it.  It has falls short of what I need spiritually here and now.        
I’ve always had a sense of and believed that there is a Higher Power in the universe, and that I was a part of it, connected to it, that this is the meaning of, “We are all One.”  I feel that it’s narcissism to believe we are all not a part of God, it’s egotistical to think that we could somehow be a separate entity, apart from God.  The only place we can exist apart from God is in our minds, where we can choose to believe what we will.  It’s my belief that organized religion created this division purposefully so it could build its self into a powerful entity serving to fill the void it created and thereby gain power.  Perhaps there really are people who feel the awe of a powerful presence while standing before a thorn crowned, bloodied crucifix statue inside of a building.   I have always been more likely to feel the magnificence of a Higher Power while outdoors, standing in front of or at the precipice of something beautiful and spectacular, like Yosemite Valley, or The Grand Canyon.   The first time my babies looked into my eyes and steadied their gaze, I felt more connected to God than at any time seeking this connection inside of a church.  I feel this kind of experience is not just my nature, but it is human nature.  It is our nature, the product of “universal law,” which is higher than man’s law.  For me, finding God in a building on a Sunday would have been a learned disadvantage.  I first would have had to forget the innate sense of connection to the Spirit I came into this world with –though could not express before I’d mastered language- and then replace that connection with a man-made-go-between, an interloper.  I believe that I was born of this awareness I refer to, having on my birthday just come directly from the Source, and so were you.   This sense of God I am innately aware of is entirely independent of any exposure to religious dogma, and the fevered preaching of men claiming I was born into sin, warning me of their culled tale of eternal damnation, and salvation.     
I acknowledge that I have not had very much exposure to organized religion during my life time.  I was not raised in the Church, and my involvement with any church has been limited to brief periods out of curiosity with various denominations here and there, over the course of my life.  I would describe myself as not being significantly scarred by organized religion; therefore not suffering from the seeds of fear, self-loathing and guilt organized religion means to propagate to assist in perpetuating its self.  I neither begrudge anyone else their own choice of who or how to worship, nor do I have any desire to change a single mind that is not my own.  I reject for myself Man’s limited religion in favor of God’s unlimited spirituality.  I need look no further than to the teachings of Jesus Christ himself for substantiation of what I speak.  Jesus taught no doctrine or theology what so ever, only mindful principles for living.  He taught that all illness, both physical and mental were the result of our thoughts.  His were teachings on how to live happy, healthy and free today in this life.  Men took Jesus’s teachings, along with various biblical passages and inferred meaning where they though meaning needed to be to suit themselves and their ambitions.  I feel that when Men first formed their doctrines and theologies for their fellow Man to conform to is when organized religion first set about down the wrong road.  My experience with religion has been that it teaches us that God is apart from us, “out there,” as opposed to God’s true nature which is that God is a part of us.  That which we seek is inside of us, not “out there,” and apart from us.  The men who invented fiction from The Truth culled out of various scripture the rules and conformations that didn’t exist in scripture but they felt needed to exist.  They invented doctrine and theology from an uncomplicated set of essential life principles that were already complete just as they were.  Emmet Fox explains this far better than I ever could in his short book, “The Sermon on The Mount.”       
I would define organized religion as worshiping by the guidance and instruction of good intentioned men who honestly believe that they are doing God’s work, but are in fact not necessary for me to have a relationship with God.  These same men would of course protest an alternate definition for their purpose.  They function as an intermediary go-between where none is necessary.  Why would I drink from a pipe when I can quench my thirst directly from the source?  The experiences and exposure to organized religion I’ve had has always served best to repel me away instead of to attract me towards any denomination or particular church group.  It’s been said that there is no religion large enough to hold every theology, doctrine and belief; however spirituality can hold all of it in its open hands.  Where spirituality is open and inclusive, organized religion is often closed minded and exclusive in nature.  There are many ways to the top of the mountain and my belief is that anybody who claims that their particular religion teaches The Way, has literally been sold something that I have never desired to buy into.  It’s just not necessary.  In more recent years, I’ve found that organized religion has been lacking because I needed help with living my life right here and right now, not in the future, not in some “after life.”  I have struggles in my life today, my relationship with God has made all the difference right here right now.  Eternity is going to have to wait.