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Dreams 47174 and 47175

I admire those committed Jungian subjects who write down every dream they have, and amass notebook after notebook over the decades (or perhaps now, extensive voice memos on their iPhones), presumably to be pored over on rainy days, in a directed effort to garner meaning from the apparently random messages from the Id, which we receive on a daily or near daily basis.

I suppose there is a trick learned along the way to remember them.  Just like there is a trick to trigger Lucid Dreaming, which worked well when our hearts and minds were young, but not successfully for me, anyway, for many years.  Back when we were fascinated by the mysteries of the world, the trick was to simply find a hand (either left or right would do) in the dream.  The act of finding a body part such as this will trigger the understanding that you are dreaming.    This, of course, was borrowed from Castaneda  and it worked quite well for awhile.  There are other techniques these days.  All I ever wanted to do was fly, and I had a few spectacular successes, but mostly got caught in the twigs and branches of my own doubts and fears.

Nowadays, when we leave our familiar surroundings, our comfortable beds, dreams ten to leave their mark a little more forcefully.  And so it was recently on a trip to the lovely small city of La Paz, on the southern half of the Baja, tucked in a beautiful bay on the Sea of Cortez, that the dreams came one after another, too many to remember, or even count.  You’ve certainly experienced those early mornings, where you drift off to sleep for as little as an hour at a time to one shocking dream after another.  Here are two that I remember in detail:

47174: (not really, but how cool would it be to write down your dreams every day and have 47,000 of them to read/listen to??) …

I’m on the shore of a tiny pond.  One of those classic ponds with a layer of tiny green algae across the top, cattails along the shore, and the nose of a bullfrog here and there poking out from the green carpeted surface.  It would be a normal contemplative moment except for the fact that three our four large white rats were swimming around the surface.  Yeah .. large, white rats.  Suddenly, one of the rats disappears in a fury of splashing water and mud, gets sucked straight down, with the algae closing over the surface immediately afterward.  That’s alarming, although what comes next is worse, with an enormous lumbering bear, covered with mud, still chewing on the white rat, emerges from the depths and heads straight toward shore, where I am standing.  But I’m not alone as it turns out, because next to me is my father.  This is a bit odd, since I rarely dream of him much anymore, but I’m glad he is there.  

The interaction between this bear and my father seems to occur only in my peripheral vision, and so I am not clear on what is actually happening, but the result is clear.  The bear lies dead before me in just a few minutes.  I turn to my father, angry, and say something like “You didn’t have to kill him!  There must have been another way!”  No sooner do I make this pronouncement that the bear wakes up and attacks my father again.  This time, in full view of myself, and my father refuses to fight back.  The horror of what I am seeing rips me from the dream and I awaken, sweating and terrified.

47175:

Within minutes I’m asleep again, and this time I am entering a Home Depot.  It’s not near my present home, but somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  I can tell from the trees outside the store, as well as the smell. The woods around Seattle smells a certain way, and the smell was very distinctive. People are in the store and staring at me in a strange way as I enter, and I look down at myself and see why.  I am naked except for a pair of ragged underwear and two long Ace bandages on my wrist and forearms. There’s mud all over me, and my hair is long, much longer than the way I wear it now .. and wild.  I realize that I have to get out of that store and away from these people immediately. 

I leave the store and I’m on a dirt road, with no houses and lined by the tall fir trees you see in that beautiful part of the continent, walking quickly.  No cars come by for some time, but when I hear an engine behind me I turn to see a battered little Toyota something-or-other, driven by a young woman.  

She slows, rolls down the window on the passenger side and calls out “Let  me give you a ride!”  I look at her.  She has glasses, a long thin face, and long brown hair. I have seen her before, almost always in dreams with people who have died.

 I tell her, “I don’t need a ride,” and I keep walking.  She doesn’t leave, but follows me slowly, looking through the open window.  

She says, “You need to get in this car.”  I tell her I’m not getting in her car.  

Then I say, “Look, what you are seeing is not really me.  I don’t normally look like this.  I’m nothing like this.”  She looks at me and says, “Same here.  I’m not who you think I am. ”

I am skeptical, but I stop walking.  She pulls over, and gets out of the car.  She is dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans and boots. I realize that I have seen her many times.  She looks intently at me, grasps me gently on both my arms to keep me in front of her, and says quietly, “Look. It’s different this time. You see .. you’ve died. ”  

A rush of  energy sweeps through my body — a strange sort of electric and psychic energy and with it comes a half dozen significant vignettes.  I see my kids back home, my parents in the upstate NY house, the nine acres in the Catskills with the half-finished lean-to from last year, my wife, my brother … and the emotion is swirled together with splashes of horror and fear, but the underlying feeling is joy and release.  I have no idea what emotion is displayed on my face when she next looks at me, but whatever it is she recoils from it in  sense of horror and repulsion.  This does nothing to dispel the flood of peace that I next feel, a sort of syrupy warmth that courses through my being.  This life now over, and long and satisfying it was.

 

 

Unlikely Saints Among Us

When my father was alive, and I was much younger, he and I would have long conversations about what, exactly, was meant by “enlightenment.”  I remember at one point he gave me a wonderful book about a woman who called herself the “Peace Pilgrim,” and who simply walked wherever the road took her, for 28 years.  She walked for a purpose, and while her routes may have been random, her intentions were not.  Nevertheless, collectively, as a culture, we call people that do things like that “crazy,” but of course they are far from it — if we must indulge in our propensity to compare everything, then  it is we that are crazy, settling for a life of drudgery, normalcy, and routine, and they who are sane, alive, and without fear.  It is someone like the Peace Pilgrim who I think sets a good example of what we might call “enlightened.”

Maybe a useful definition might be one who has a freedom of spirit, and who is in touch with the kernel of awareness that is completely liberated from distraction, ego, and fear — those things that keep us locked into a daily dialog with dread.  It’s a bit naive to think that the enlightened person feels no pain, and is only happy all of the time.  Happiness, I think, is more of a natural condition of freedom, of enlightenment, but it not impervious to pain and suffering.  It’s just that the enlightened person experiences suffering with the same clarity that they experience everything else, and so they are more alive than the rest of us even then.

But there are subtle degrees, and every once in awhile, if you keep your eyes open you stumble upon someone who is living in this enlightened state right before your eyes, and in the most unlikely of places.  I don’t remember this happening for about the last twenty years or so, so it’s worth writing about, since it happened today.

Today I took a certification exam, which is delivered by a company named Prometric,  a gargantuan network of tiny and not-so-tiny testing centers spread across the globe like so many grains of salt.  Some of these places are really tiny — they are found in Community Colleges, strip malls, in the lobbies of office buildings — all over the place.  Today’s exam was delivered in the local Community College, and after thirty-five minutes of conversation with the proctor there — a middle-aged woman who worked part-time there — I felt that I was immeasurably enriched simply for being in her presence, such was the energy that she carried around with her, and which she had no trouble expressing.  She absolutely loved her part-time, low-paying job, and gave it her all, to the point at which she had used her design skills to create a set of blueprints for the complete redesign of the center itself — a generous offer that the college, or Prometric, or maybe both, took her up on.  They move into the new building in January.

With just a few simple words she changed my way of thinking about teaching.  The limit I had naturally imposed on myself with respect to teaching these technical courses, once  I get the Microsoft Training Certification, was that I would limit myself to teaching things that I myself was an expert in.  This sounds like a fairly sensible idea, and it could actually work from a practical standpoint because I do have a lot of broad and deep experience in this industry, but she pointed out that what was bringing to the classroom was much more than the dry, procedural knowledge of the subject matter — it was me, my energy and personality, and the ability to help people open up to the material, which in my profession, can be dense, abstract, and impenetrable at times.  And it is indeed my gift for analogy and communication that makes me a good teacher, and not necessarily what I know.  Besides, as she pointed out, the Curricula is set, particularly for the Microsoft Courses — it’s the art of interpretation and delivery that makes the difference, and is why everyone doesn’t simply lock themselves up in a room with a book to learn what they need to learn these days.

But it was the few simple words that she left me with, and delivered in a manner that made me feel the importance of the idea that really stopped me, because I had not heard them so simply expressed in a long time — it was the simple fact that after all of the years she had been alive, and all of the things she had learned, she felt that the only place it made sense to spend time was the present.  Neither the future nor the past held much use for her.  It w as only the present where she felt most alive.  She mentioned God and Blessings a number of times in that relatively brief conversation, but I must say, I don’t think Dogen himself could have said it better.

The People’s Act of Love

Last night I finished a book that I am compelled to call a modern masterpiece.  It’s called The People’s Act of Love by James Meek.  It might best be described in the format of the Hollywood pitch — in this case something like “Cormac Mccarthy meets Leo Tolstoy on the Comedy Channel” …

The book focuses on a tiny part of a huge historical event — the Russian Revolution — and is set in a tiny, remote village in Siberia.  You might wonder how this setting could possbily contain enough varied characters to support a richly drawn story, but it most certainly does, mainly because, in case you didn’t know, there were some 67.000+ Czech soldiers deployed through this period, scattered across the vast expanse of Russia like so many toy soldiers, thrown hither and fro between a half-dozen powers.  There were also apparently some pretty bizarre cults operating around the taiga at the time, plus the native Siberian population wandering around the frozen forests. Not to mention the White Russians scattered around Siberia in the same way that Eastern Businessmen drove West in the 19th century to seek their fortune and, of course, exploit the land and people they could find along the way.   The principal difference, of course, is that a social movement occurred there that did not occur here, where many of those businessmen were strung up like so many light bulbs on a Christmas morning, or marched out into the forest and summarily shot.  This, however, is not the main focus of the book — it’s actually written more as a mystery, and is gripping as well as fascinating to read.

There are certainly parallels to be drawn to our tumultous history of our own West, which in part reminds me of Mccarthy, but also because Meek tends to push Big Ideas through the characters he creates in a similar manner to Mccarthy — and yet Meek somehow manages a hilarious wit throughout.  There is, for instance, a Czech engineer/soldier who spends most of his time attempting to discover and document, in engineering terms, the precise mechanism of female erotic arousal, except that he has almost no occasion to ever touch a woman, and so must grill his more successful compatriots for the information he so desperately seeks.

It turns out that the author himself is an award-winning journalist, and in the acknowledgments he thanks people from a string of tiny Siberian towns, and so you know he traveled through the region in his research.  What a life, eh?  Here is what he  has to say about the difference in writing fiction and journalism:

One of the main constraints on the reporter, as opposed to the novelist, is space. The reporter is required to be economical with words, sometimes extremely so. The 150-word news story leaves little room for considerations of rhythm or poetry, and the 1,500-word news story not much more. As a rule, there is a close deadline involved, too. It might be thought that this training in economy would benefit a fiction writer. I’m not sure. To be comfortable as a novelist or even a short story writer, you don’t want to feel uncomfortable with setting your own limit, or no limit, to length.” (Three Monkeys)

My father was one of those that believed that journalism was great training in learning economy and was mainly a benefit to the fiction writer, and it’s interesting that Mr. Meek is not so sure of that.  But one of the great pleasures of the book is that he takes his time to tell his story, and does so from four main points of view — a Czech officer, a cultist, a mysterious student/convict/revolutionary, and a woman who has traveled from the “civilized” part of the country to remote Siberia for reasons that are not entirely clear at first.

I like to read interviews with writers because sometimes they let slip clever techniques that help them put together something of the scope of People Act of Love.  I imagined Meek standing in front of a large table with dozens of index cards, like I heard somewhere that Nabokov did, but what he actually did was even more interesting  — “At one point, when I had about a dozen characters all interacting in a single chapter, I wrote all their names on little pieces of paper, folded the pieces so that they sat upright, and arranged them in front of me, like an audience, to make sure I didn’t forget that any of them were there. I had them there for weeks.” (Three Monkeys)

I imagine these days there are all kinds of software to help with this kind of process.  Like Meek says in the interview, though, writing is never, ever easy, and I’m sure it cannot be made so with the use of software and other tools.  Reading Meek’s book is not the easiest endeavor, either, and I almost want to read it again because there are clues and various subtleties that I’m sure I missed. I book that rich probably needs to be read twice — to write something of that depth and have it appear on the NYT best seller list is indeed an accomplishment in 2007.

I first heard of the book with a full-page ad in the NYR of Books, which was so compelling that I dutifully ripped out the ad, and then lost it a week later, I’m sure.  But I didn’t forget about the book, although I unfortunately forgot the title and the author’s name … and half-heartedly searched for it as “the book” that would get me reading again.  From 2007 to 2009 whenever I would go into a bookstore, which is at least a monthly occurrence, I would drift from the Computer Books section over to fiction and peruse the shelves, looking for the cover, which is all I remembered — a lone figure walking away from the viewer through a narrow road in a snowy northern forest.  At one point I actually tried to ask for help from a Barnes and Noble staffer by describing the cover of the book, and received the appropriate look (“what, you are kidding me?”) and then on my last day in Boulder a couple of weeks ago, THERE IT WAS, staring at me in the used section.  For the next week I barely put it down, spending more time reading in the last week than I have in the preceding eight years.

What a pleasure.

Now I see that there is a movie in production of this book,  or should I say “Development”.  I thought a little about how it might be to make the book into a movie as I was reading it.   It will be a great surprise to me if Hollywood manages to create this movie without completely blowing it.  I suppose we will see …


The Facebook Dilemma

I first heard of Facebook a few years ago — probably some tech journal, or maybe Harper’s or the New Yorker, where, by the way, I heard of Google years before anyone seemed to use it outside a few academics. Facebook sounded like a good idea for the College set, who must have seen it as a perfect extension of the social web that one creates when one goes to school.  When I first heard of it, it was confined only to college students.  Now, of course, the thing has gone completely viral, and has spread easily throughout just about every demographic.

My wife spends an enormous amount of time on Facebook, and has used it to great affect for her business, by creating a group that now has over a hundred members, I think.  So, after some gentle cajoling, I actually made it through the process of signing up, after having tried a few times, and pausing over the Submit button and hastily bailing out at the last minute.

The earlier attempts were the result of my personality — which is actually quite social and friendly simply because I have always liked “people” in general, and still do — but which also contains a great deal of built-in guilt about not contacting people I have known in my life and when it came to the point at which Facebook looked into my Address Book and found 134 people that I could “Friend”, I couldn’t go through with it.  But when I finally did create the account and even put my High School, my company, and other information into the profile (still refraining from reaching out, though) , I began to get the invitations from “Friends”, each one of which caused a slight pang of anxiety and guilt, because I could not imagine reaching out to any of them and making that connection and then living up to what I suppose a Friend should be, which I imagined as a forty-page treatise describing everything I have done in the last 30 years.

I know this is ridiculous, but it is what it is, as they say.

So today after a brief discussion with a co-worker who reminded me of Facebook when he told me he joined up, I logged in and Deactivated my account.  When you Deactivate a Facebook account, you are asked to provide a reason.  Here is what I wrote:

“I can’t take this step right now in my life.  Too much guilt about not contacting people in my past. This would unleash the floodgates and rain down a torrent of remorse, guilt, and pressure that I could not bear. I would develop Hypertension, followed shortly by Heart Disease, then a slow miserable death.  Presumably, I would not die alone, however, because the 1,417 Friends that I would have, including my Kindergarten teacher, and everyone who ever picked me up hitchiking in the 1960’s.  It would be like dying in the middle of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Album Cover.  It would be a fine death, surely, surrounding by this multitude of people I have not spoken with in forty years — and which with I was able to exchange 140 character quips (wait .. that’s Twitter, isn’t it …) — in any case, while I do see the benefit of dying in this very public matter…  I think for now I will skip it. Thanks.”

An absurd reason from someone who is ridiculous in their inability to … Facebook, as it were.  (it’s a Verb, too, right?)

What is the difference, then, between this blog and Facebook?  Plenty.  Here I am a hologram with no ability to interact, and so I can write away as if I were in alone in a room, or standing on a little platform with a robe intoning nonsense to Luke or Hans Solo.  I don’t even know who reads this, and don’t particularly care.  I haven’t told anyone in my actual life about this — not my brother, my wife or kids.  Not to say that they can’t find it immediately, but there is no expectation of an audience.  And so I am somewhat able to write with the freedom and slight thrill of not knowing who will read it.  Somewhat, I say, since there is always the possibility that someone will read it and be offended by it which belongs to the small group of people that still control my ability to create income to support my family.  I doubt it, though, since these posts are pretty tame, and I haven’t started on any of the stories from my life yet.  They will come …

Facebook says, on their front page … “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”

That depends on what life you are talking about.  With the exception of my wife, the only people really in my life are not on Facebook (they are all under the age of nine …), and so we would be talking about a life from the past, or a life made of people from the past.  A life that would grow to include those that I had known long ago, when I think I was truly a different person, in a different place, and in a different time.  It would be strange, confusing, disorienting — not sure what to make of it, since I’m just writing away now, and not thinking …

Maybe there will come a time in my life when I am not working 80 hours each week, and I don’t have four little kids and a wife  to attend to.  Maybe then I can join Facebook, or the current incarnation of it.  Maybe then I will be happy to spend the kind of time that my old friends deserve.  For now, though, this one-way mirror will have to do.

Stamina, Focus, and the Good Life

An hour and a half ago I was at the tail end of a ninety-minute Bikram class and it struck me that of all of the things that may have contributed to whatever measure of success I might have achieved thus far, one of the most powerful has been stamina.  I can’t think of a time in my life where I was tested so often for pure stamina than the ten years I spent fishing in Alaska, where we were routinely asked to stay up 24 hours or more while offloading 1000 frozen tons of frozen product and fishmeal.  Fishmeal was particularly tough because the bags weighed 70+ pounds apiece and there were thousands of them.  I always stayed to the end, and I remember once at the tail end of one of these marathons one of the BIG guys — and I mean 6-8″, 270 pound big — exclaimed “You’re one of the toughest little fuckers on this boat!”  which I took as a pretty decent compliment. But there’s this zone, or whatever you want to call it, that you must find in trying situations where you simply have to keep going no matter what (like 70 minutes into a Bikram Yoga class), that will help you through.  And I believe that a lot of this has to do with focus, and the quieting of the mind.

Not that I’m a model for a quiet mind — far from it, but if you can reduce the things that you are chattering away about inside yourself you will find a place where there is only the awful thing that you are trying to complete.  Nothing else.  If you breathe, focus, and REDUCE … you will make it.

Needless to say, this can work on a macro level as well.  Like if you are going through a particularly difficult, say, month … it’s the same thing.  It’s just a bit slower, and you must work to pace yourself.  The sine wave of your battle in that case is long — maybe days long — but the more you can focus and let go of the crap that plagues you from inside, the more stamina you will find to finish out the tough ride.

It would seem that we should be spending as much of our waking effort on a daily basis to structure a life that is not subject to a roller coaster effect, whether it be financial, emotional, or even physical, but we generally don’t.  Instead we just hold on and ride.  If that’s all we are capable of, then at least we need to learn how to ride, and focus and stamina are a couple of very good resources to draw upon.

So …. breathe, focus, and quiet the mind.  Repeat as often as possible.

Bikram Yoga

Today is Iophase Internal Administration day, which means between crises between clients, I spent virtually the entire day in this tiny office driving myself crazy working on IT, mainly for my own stuff.  For me this is a special form of Hell, and today is no less a nightmare than any other.  At this very moment, one laptop is 20% “upgraded”, and there are hundreds of GB of data being copied here and there using another laptop, and this machine — my Ubuntu desktop that I just love, or at least I love the idea of it, is available.   The day started out with an important backup routine completely failing for a client, with important data lost, followed by failing USB external enclosures for another client and for myself, reesulting in more lost data, and now hours of moving data around here and there in a panic to preserve what I can.  The office is a shambles, but I don’t have it in me to lift a finger to even try to organize it, so, it’s time to write something.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention in these pages this incredible thing I have been doing lately.  I would venture to say that it’s the best thing I have done for myself in about 10 years or more.  It’s Bikram Yoga (note, this link may die because the High Priests at Wikipedia think it’s an ad – reminds me of the DMOZ in the olden days …), which is a relatively new type of Yoga that is performed in a room heated to 105 degrees.  My wife suggested it, probably because she was tired of hearing me complain about losing my flexibility , and generally kvetching about growing old. Well, If I can do this two or three times a week consistently, there won’t be much more of that.  The classes last 90 minutes, and every class features the same relatively simple 26 exercises, each repeated twice.  The first half is standing, the second is mainly lying down or kneeling.  The heat, which at first seems completely insane, adds a sort of endurance element to it, so if you are the type that won’t do yoga because it’s not “challenging” enough — this will kick your ass.  I don’t care if you are a Triathlete, this will kick your ass.  At least the first few times, anyway.

But it’s not about kicking ass, really, it’s about putting your body through a very nice set of deep stretches and balanced poses that will make you feel better in lots of ways.  It happens to be perfect for me because of where I am in my life — 48 years old with four little kids, and so I am in desperate need of flexibility, the ability to stay lean, and complete silence for 90 minutes a few times a week.  This affords all of those benefits and more.

Coming from a Pilates background, I guess my body was somewhat prepared for some of the exercises, but it’s quite different in many ways.  The objectives are different, while many of the benefits are similar.  Pilates is designed for core strength first, and flexibility second, whereas it seems to me that Bikram is designed first for flexibility, with some core strength required, especially for the balacing poses.   I would say that if you really care about your health you should do both.  (Not that I do … but if I can figure out how to adjust my professional life to provide more time, I sure will!)

The place I go is just across the street from my office, and like everything else in Irvine, its success has a lot to do with clever marketing (“Stay Hot”) and a strong sense of professionalism.  Because Irvine is full of professionals, they demand complete and utter professionalism, and this place delivers.  They have it down — you walk in, wave your card, grab a towel, a mat, and some water if you need it, change if you need to, drop your shoes on a rack before going into the room, do the class, exit out the back door, drop your towel in a bin, grab your shoes off the rack that they have pushed to the back of the studio, shower, grab another towel, change, and leave.  Everything is simple, efficient, and all taken care of.

I’m told that this method of Yoga is polarizting – you either hate it, and run screaming from the room, or you love it.  Judging from the attending which seems to keep growing each time I go, I guess the latter reaction is winning out.

UPDATE … OK, just had to add what happened with the laptop upgrade — just trying to go from Vista Home Premium to Ultimate.  It sits there for three hours, basically spinning, reboots a couple of times, and then the last thing says “Windows failed to configure a component”.  Please reboot and restart the installation.  Great. So I’m ready to call MS and give them a piece of my mind, so to speak, and on the box I see it says, “Upgrade Vista — may require clean install.”  Typical Microsoft.  My wife had a good analogy — they are like the employee who sits in a room for 8 hours, lost on a difficult project, and at the end of the day says, “Uh … I can’t figure it out…” and you just want to say “You could have told me you were having trouble six hours ago!!!”  Compare that with compiling software on Linux, which tells you every step of the way how (and what!) it’s doing.  Or, compare it with Mac .. which just works.

It’s about Time …

I suppose we all eventually get to the point at which we need to produce and deliver, instead of take from the world.  I have long chastised myself for not producing with the generosity of someone like my father who wrote every day of his adult life, until the very day he died.

I am at that point now — and what is it, that drives us there?  Mortality, perhaps?  Children, maybe – the desire to leave something behind, for them, because you know that you will never have time to explain yourself fully to them.   Not that it matters, so long as the output is created and stored in a place that may outlast this mortal coil, as it were.

And so what is the point?  To add to the din, to express oneself, for therapy as much as anything, but also because we can.  It’s the job of the artist to create art — everything else that happens after that has little to do with the creator.

The trick is to spend the precious time to create something worth reading, and esepcially these days, something that we have time to read.  Therefore, brevity above all.