23. The Way

August 19, 2017

The book I’m writing is about lessons and learnings, wounds and scars. Wounds can heal, but scars are forever a reminder of the lessons we learned, or failed to learn, as my Dad used to say, “the hard way.” And yet, all of it has meaning and purpose, mostly unknown to us, often invisible at close range, and usually only seen looking back from a distance. Then, if we blur our eyes just a little, the patterns can be seen, apart from the confusing colors, shapes, and lines of cause and blame.

The soul always has a plan that the mind can’t see, and those who follow the soul’s illogical calling, arrive safe and sacred at the goal our life intended. Most of us who stick too close to what the world expects, may not get there, unless we are rescued by grace from our mistakes and given another start. I’ve noticed that God doesn’t like “why” questions, and apparently disregards them as nonessential.  It seems to come down to this:

There is a path — find it — and walk through light or darkness, sun or rain. Teach and learn from each other, for all have a gift to give. This is what you came here for.

We are not given to know the why of things. There was a poem,  given to me once, in a space between two lives – the time between an ending and a beginning. I don’t remember the first part of the poem, but the last part went:

I asked for directions
at the side of the road.
I was told, “Go on;
there is no other way
to go.”

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22. Writing From Within

August 11, 2017

What I’m writing is a memoir, but has become something of an epistle of faith. When I look across my history and the history of my family now, I see patterns and meanings I didn’t see then. There was purpose in all of it, and there is purpose now.

I’m not leading, I am led. The book is being written like a letter not from my outer, ego view, but more as if spoken from some inner voice and seen by inner eyes, uncontrived and unplanned. Whatever comes to me that rings true and real, I write it down. If it has value, it will stay. Everything else, eventually, will be discarded. These things take care of themselves. All of my poetry came this way – as gifts of grace, never as the product of conscious effort, craft, or intention. I trust the soundless voice that speaks, much more than I trust my own limited and confused intellect.

When I was in my twenties, an artist and a fledgling poet, I said to God “Make me your instrument.” Maybe God will finally do that, or maybe that’s the One who placed the desire there to begin with. Either way, the prayer has not really changed much as I have made my mistakes, learned, and relearned. By myself I can do very little of real importance or significance, but when I’m driven to the page by that unnamed voice, something clear and clean and beautiful emerges into the light of ordinary day. In that moment, the ordinariness, the stories, the simple truths of life become what they have always been, but unseen: they become sacred. My response to this can only be wonder, awe, and gratefulness.

21. The North Shore

July 20, 2017

In a few weeks I’ll head up the coast to Mendocino County for a writers conference. This is part of a new and deeper commitment to my work, and it’s the next of many crossroads in my life. I haven’t been there in years now, but this place has been a refuge and a soul-renewal for me before.

The first time I came to the North Shore was when I had to leave the man I had loved for seven years and had expected to spend the rest of my life with. The second time was when I failed my first firefighter physical agility test. The third, when cancer obliterated my well-laid plans for a future, redirected my path, and ultimately was a gift of new life. The fourth was when 9/11 happened, and all of us were plunged into a bottomless pool of grief, fear, horror, and shock, and there have been others sojourns since then.

Mendo rocky banner

Each of the times was different, but the seeking was the same– a space for shelter and healing. The outcomes would be the same:  redemption and a silent reassurance. Each time the gift I needed was given:  Reboot, restart, new beginning.

Every time I go back to Mendocino County’s rugged headlands and redwood forests, it’s a sacred journey. The wise and patient dignity of the ancient trees – the grandfathers, I call them – seeps into my soul and comforts me. The rocky headlands with white-frothed breakers crashing, and the sweet fresh salt air, fill me with awe and exhilaration, and I can feel the strength and power of the earth itself.

The ocean is always a source of absolute wonder. It never changes, and never ceases to challenge and embrace the shore. They are lovers, they are one thing, each eternally joined to the other part of itself. Even as the shoreline moves, the sea never lets it go. The shoreline changes and is changed again and again by that embrace, sometimes caressingly, sometimes violently crashing onto the rocks, wearing them away with time. Along the Mendocino headlands, some of the unspeakably beautiful places I shot breathtaking pictures of,  and walked out on  – one of them, a thin sandy bridge of rock, terrifyingly high above the crashing surf below — the next time I came to Mendocino, was gone. Just completely gone. I looked for it. I couldn’t tell for sure where it had been; nothing resembled it anywhere anymore.

Life is exactly that. Ever engaging us, either embracing us with tenderness or challenging us with force, and we’re always changed and changing through our engagement with it, and this is how it’s meant to be. Life is the ocean and we are the shore, but all of this is only one thing. We are life, and the path is the ever-moving but never separated shoreline.

My advice to you as my fellow travelers here:  See deeply.  Miss nothing.  Take pictures with your camera but also with your eyes, and save them forever in your mind. Don’t let anything beautiful slip by you without being celebrated, for this moment is sacred and will never come again.

20. Hungry For Life

June 30, 2017

It has been said, and I believe it’s true, that we are spiritual beings having a physical life. But it’s not a vacation.

We come here both to teach and to learn. There is a reason for everything, and in everything that happens, there is a lesson. Sometimes we see it and sometimes we don’t. Either way, some of it still gets absorbed into our worldview by a part of our consciousness, and the way we have known our world changes. Like a kaleidoscope, with every turn, the colorful little pieces shift and tumble around each other, and the pattern changes and changes and changes.

Life is not supposed to stay the same. When we think it is, we’re probably not paying attention. We are sleep-walking in a dreamless sleep, while life goes by unnoticed. This too is a choice we have, to each his own way. And it is true that ignorance is bliss. It’s easier, and some say happier, to not think too much, and not need to know. There’s much less stress, very little challenge, and it’s pretty safe living under a rock, “Happy as a clam.” But too much bliss is always an unexplored life, bland as vanilla pudding. It’s perfectly happy for some of us, but boring for others. Some of us are drawn to harder things, greater things, somehow.  We’re hungry for life. We engage with life. We seek it and it finds us.

Those ones of us are often called, even by our best friends, “different.” We tend to take on more challenges, we have more victories and more defeats. We love more, we usually hurt ourselves more, and we make more mistakes. But we have the best, most interesting adventures, and we learn marvelous things along the way. We have more problems, more joys, more life.

19. About Writing Your Memoir

June 21, 2017

Quote Anelou PenI always tell people, “I think everyone should do this.” But with the caveat that you probably should not do it until you’re at least 50 years old, because you might not be able to handle it.

It’s no small deal. Telling your truth honestly and earnestly means time-travel, not just remembering. Being a disembodied observer looking down impartially like a sacred voyeur. You will see things you never saw– about your life, yourself, and the people along your path– truths and revelations you could not have seen with your younger eyes.

This will be painful. It will also be healing. Old wounds you didn’t realize you had will open right before your eyes, and bleed and leak other nasty stuff you never realized was in there. That’s the bad news. The good news is, you will see other things too, that you didn’t notice before: the beauty of yourself and other “imperfect” souls in your story. I promise you, you’ll be astonished, and quite possibly overcome with love and respect for that stumbling, blundering, courageous innocent that you really were.

Emotional wounds are like abscesses, scarred over with guilt and denial. When opened again in a clean place with a good light, they can have the opportunity to drain their poisons and finally heal. We all have old wounds, many from our earliest years on earth, because they just go with the life-path. A big part of the adventure in life is the challenge of managing them, rather than allowing them to manage you. This takes a mature observer, an experienced blunderer, a sympathetic listener. This is the heart of my book.

A friend of mine said, “If it’s unconscious, you can’t make any choices about it; you just let it ride.”  We can choose whether to be conscious of life or not, but when we were very young, we didn’t know that. We made choices according to the rules and opinions of others. Writing a memoir forces us to re-open the time again, to look at ourselves and others in our story with mercy and compassion that puts whatever regret or guilt we have been carrying into a truer perspective. We can honestly forgive, and be forgiven.