Thursday, May 28, 2009

At the Bitter End it's not so bitter

With plenty of time to spare, my son and I arrived in New York City, daunted and excited by the heat, traffic and cavernous setting of the landscape. Easily, we found Bleeker Street and wandered along in the redster, recognizing that full of shops and restaurants, it felt much like Burlington's Church Street, but much,much longer.

At sight of the Bitter End's blue awning, so small in presence, so large in reputation, my throat clutched and I worried I was a most foolish man. Just as quickly, excitement took over and we felt giddy in the reality of playing on that stage. Finding a parking spot just a few blocks farther down, we raced back to put our foot at the door.

Really way too early by several hours, we set out to explore, but settled almost immediately at a table just two doors down for lemonade and to get oriented to the big city life. A British league soccer tame was just beginning on TV and a few minutes later a man (also from the UK) marched in with a guitar to play. We needed to go nowhere else, and figured this was all meant to be.

James Maddock kept us entertained with song and gave me a lot of information on playing music in the city. The soccer match kept my mind off the nerves tingling in my throat and fingers. A short walk in either direction introduced me to other well-known stages.

At 6:30, I was swept into the motion of the event, meeting, greeting and preparing myself. The famous brickwall that has been background to so many big names looked just like any other brickwall with a grand piano and a stack of monitors and speakers before it. They gave us a green room (covered in graffiti) to tune up and relax, although there were no chairs and it was filled with cardboard and an ice machine that clattered constantly with a shocking crash, ice chips in melted puddles on the floor.

My entrepreneurial roadie son set up a little table with CD's for sale displayed neatly, and ordered another OJ and 7up, pretending it was alcohol. We often joke about the deadbeat dad influence I have on him, taking him to bars to shoot pool and watch football or listen to music. Now, i have put him to honest work.

The time of the set vanished quickly even as I tried to linger in the moment and relish the sweet sound of the PA system. It was easy to relax and dance when my voice and guitar were reflected back so gently and cleanly, as if no one else were talking in the room. Such a long way I have come in a short time since finally rejecting my former partner's embarrassment that I might go to a party with my guitar. This was just way too fun and others seemed to like it too.

Afterwards, my energy was both ecstatic and n umb, brilliant and subdued as the pulse of the evening and the good music wore on. It was also a reunion with a college roommate and formerguitar partner and his wife, another dear friend, so we soon turned the corner to a wonderful dinner al fresco. The whine flowed with stories new and old, the evening cooled as the waiters entertained. Our cosmopolitan experience seduced us into wanting many more.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Roads Taken

Full of ice cream, mango and a break-a-leg bon voyage from a good friend, my son and I redstered into the sunset, on our way at last to play music in the Big City, may show at the Bitter End. Happily, traffic on this holiday weekend was not flowing our way, so we cruised along in an easy gear with reggae soaring.

A road trip feels like one of our best activities together. We wander with purpose, redefining adventure, relaxed in our rhythm, banter bouncing between us, comfortable in our shared quiet and exuberance. Currently we have our favorite tunes, live sets of two rousing bands with vocals that compel us both to join in with full harmonies at the top of our lungs.

It astounds me to realize on our next trip, he will be able to help me with the actual driving, his grown hands on the wheel. Even more so, his voice has found the confidence that, if he wanted, he would be welcomed on stage to sing with me.

Through the late night darkness, we covered the miles with bits of conversations about romance and relationship, parents and children, the dreams that have been celebrated or dashed. The final hour he slept and I faught to stay awake, intoxicated with joy and dread for what lies ahead.

Having made it by the middle of the night, we stumbled into his apartment with laughter that we don’t need to be very quiet since my dad sleeps without his hearing aide, but we whispered anyway, exhausted adrenalin painting it all surreal. I poked around my father’s little apartment, identifying all of the precious pieces that once defined our anchoring home, but seem only transient here.

In the morning, I recognized my little show-and-tell self in my father as he represented his simple life to me in the tiny details of a fragile man nearly blind and deaf trying to keep his way. Simple tasks like unpackaging a new mouse for his computer, or changing a light bulb, are piled up and waiting for help when his children come to visit. The cabinet is empty, but he has what he eats exactly where he can find it, and carefully scribbles what is missing on the list for his weekly travel to the store.

His age, his weary aspect, his frailty are the constant subject at hand, yet a new sculpture of an old couple resting on their bench sits modestly in process. An alabaster whale has revealed itself on the cushioned (against a fall) coffee table and another larger block of stone awaits his definition on the terrace outside. He regularly checks his email and asks questions about posting messages to his facebook account. A man who talks so readily about impending death, praying it will take him swiftly, still living vitally.

My mother has lived in the ether of Alzheimer’s for some time now, having long lost her ability to pray for anything at all, sitting in silence or delighted by some shadow we cannot see. The pain of witnessing such a vacuum in someone once so robust with wisdom is daunting. Were I to live nearby like my sisters, I could understand my visits might be fewer and fewer, but living far away, I packed several into a small day like my suitcase over-flowing.

She sits in her wheel chair, propped with a pillow, surrounded by others in their chairs, oases of souls in a wilderness of lost minds. In her own room, I brought out my guitar to her wondering eyes, but the pluck of first strings opened them wide with amazement and she shivered with remembrance of things she cannot articulate.

At first, shy and tentative to play for my estranged mother, respectful of the institution where she now lies, I played quietly, fingered notes too deep for words. No matter the shell, however, I soon realized this is my mother, the woman who always listened with rapture and critiqued with honesty, celebrating my achievements and guiding disasters into learning opportunities, consoling my broken hearts. Given the burst of creativity that ignites my living these days, I owed her no less than the true story of my being, whether she could hear me or not.

Tears enveloping my words, I sang to her of perpetual motion and dances in the rain, broken mirrors and the commitment to this new life of passion that I knew she had always wanted for me. Voice scratched with emotion, I told her of the stories I am writing, the tale I tell in this blog, and the project for peace that would, if she could understand me, make her so proud. None of this would be happening without steadfast encouragement she gave me through all of those many years before.

A glimmer of her soul came to the surface as the music unfolded, the heart-splitiing gnashing of her teeth sub-sided slightly as her lips tried to form the words to the folk songs she had taught us on camping trips and in long lines to an artful event, or around the marble table on mornings of waffles and posing for my dad’s portraits.

For an instant, her eyes shimmered and danced, her body shivered with a delight so beautiful. Our tears mingled in an embrace, even as she just as quickly slipped away into that darkness again, leaving her only son alone, but OK.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Out of the Ravine

It is no exaggeration that people are regularly killed at Tuckerman’s Ravine on the east side of Mount Washington. A friend of mine once witnessed someone plummet inescapably downward. Two, in fact, died this year in the very gully we eventually skied today, yet thousands come and go each spring without harm.

So it was no surprise that in preparation this week to take my son for his first experience, the vision came to me several times, replete with a mountain of guilt and horror, of watching his frantic body tumble and slide to smash on the rocks below, never to slap me a high-five again. A friend told me this image so clear would ensure it not coming to pass, but I certainly had my doubts about exposing him to such risks. Still, we were groggy near dawn, but on the road to this adventure that is a ritual of spring for many devoted skiers in the East.

My father was with me, long ago, for my first trek up the mountain and heart-shuddering turns. I remember the terror of standing on a tiny ledge, the slope so steep my shoulders brushed snow, and wondering what act of will power would actually move me forward, or could I just stay preserved in that moment forever, suspended and motionless, inert and fearful. Finally down I came, one frightening turn after another, death defying, each one a little easier, each one a life-lesson of proof that we can overcome our fears.

There is no benefit of a lift at Mount Washington to whisk you up to the Ravine. Each one of the very few turns made in the day requires countless hard steps, beginning with the long trek up to the Ravine with skis and boots awkward and heavy on your back, and then kick-stepping one at a time into the snow upwards as high as you dare to go.

Heading up the access trail together, our banter soon dwindled with the hard effort of finding the meditation or music to quell the increasing pain. The lifestyle of our past did not get us often into woods or up mountain trails. I advised him to seek the path water might take if it could flow upwards, exerting as little effort as possible. He wanted to argue good-naturedly the obvious fact that water cannot and never will run up uphill.

I had come with my bank account once again empty and a mind full of distracting worries about how I can focus to solve this constant irritant in my life once and for all. My heart was distracted with the yearnings for someone visible and elusive, a dream come true, but not conforming to reality just the way I might like. Head full of words to write and soul full of music to sing, I exercised ideas of how I can pursue my creativity without resorting to the hammer and nails that seem only to have built confusion in my life, destructed as much as constructed.

Two hours of stepping one boot before the other, placing each with intention and flowing to the next best step when I stumbled, soon re-enforced the powerful lesson of being in the moment. We all know the angst we feel over things out of our control does us no good, yet the insatiable urge to process continues to distract. Focusing my breath to match my steps, I could ease my mind in each moment of these worries, moving forward, rising upward.

The trail reaches Hojo’s, the base for the Ravine proper, and provides a place for rest and regrouping. Wishing for shorts earlier, now we bundled against a cold and windy lunchtime. Tired and aching, we talked little, gazing over the gullies and outcrops that still held snow, refreshing ourselves with squished sandwiches and warm vitamin waters. We rallied to the whoops of excitement from some of the few other skiers on this quiet weekday, making their one run down.

In ski boots, a half hour later, kicking our way slowly upwards, I understood how, no matter the efforts of the team that gets you to your particular Mount Everest, it is ultimately the climber alone who takes each step. Reaching the top, of course, is the goal and the measuring stick, but the quality of each step along the way provides the deeper accounting to the individual. Together at the start, my son and I, like my father and I forty years ago, were on our own journeys, sharing and celebrating our accomplishments, but taking each step alone.

Tired and cold, my son got as high as he needed, as far this first time as he felt comfortable, made his few turns and was content to wait for me. On my own journey, I climbed, kick-stepping higher and higher, facing into the snow right before me, moving slowly, cautiously, stopping often to rest.

My heart beat hard, my breath pulsed with screams. Each foot of altitude was an effort, skis on my shoulders, poles for balance. Calf muscles cramped and my ears roared with the immense silence of being so alone in that small wilderness. At each place I rested, sticking skis into the snow, I turned and gazed outward, stunned by the sweep of the valley below me, washed in patches of cloud and sunshine, the world at my feet.

My journey to this mountainside has been full of more struggle and heart-ache than delight and wonder, though I am blessed with children and memories beyond my most passionate dreams. Self-doubt inserts itself insidiously into every idea, souring the musical notes and blotting this very page.

Yet, in the wind-blown silence that surrounded me on that snowy ledge, there was a cacophony of reassurance. Should I tumble, death might meet me where my son waited, watching me from the rocks below, but a determination within my tired soul settled as profoundly as that beautiful silence whispering all around me that I should come safely home to write about our day and how these few steps, together and alone, forever shape our lives.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Balancing, Balancing

To protect the innocent, I have purposefully refrained from writing about relationship in this very public forum. My personal laundry is one thing, but the linen of others—no matter how clean it might appear to me—should be kept off the line.

That being said, a friend of mine suggested recently that as much as I may be tempted by this fine spring weather and the fragrance of a particular blossom, I am not yet ready to embark on the slippery slope of a committed relationship. Since she has come to know me well over this past year, her advice shook me for several days.

So much of our lives, we are trained to believe we are not complete without the partnership (or at least the shell) of a committed companion. Until recently, it was defined specifically as marriage. Anything less than that invited whispers and sympathetic or judgmental nods of the head.

Today, there are more options approved by general society and tolerated by even the strictest moralists. It is even acceptable to believe a man or woman could be OK living emotionally independent, but I assert that deep down in our hearts, not very many of us trust this model.

So I went back into my cave, nursing my cold and thought long and hard about the pronouncement of my friend. Did this make me unwell? Unhealed? Emotionally unbalanced? No matter the solid ground I begin to confidently leap from under my feet, I wondered if I appear palsied and pitiable to any who see me, a friend to embrace, but only at arm’s length.

This woman has been cheerfully bearing the brunt of my euphoria and bravely dispelling the clouds of my little depressions over this past year. She has edited the first drafts of many a scribble and critiqued some songs practically verse by verse as they came out. Better than anyone, at this point, her insight has the power to stop me short, and knowing this, she is careful how often and with what gentle words she doles it out.

Though I have silently wrestled with it throughout my life, her finger landing on the pulse of my priorities interrupts the flow like an alarm clock in the middle of a sweet dream. From the distance, detached and admiring, each one, or a few of my activities together, may appear as a noble endeavor, enviable and worth celebrating with accolades.

Closer in, however, the ensemble burns with an overwhelming chaos in danger of consuming itself with unleashed, unfocused energy. One hour I am a musician singing away, working on a CD, and finding others to make a band for a merry trip down the proverbial road. Moments later, my latest blog entry adds words to the fantasy of publishing a book and appearing on Oprah’s show as the newest expert on midlife crises and new warriors who will no longer suffer abuse.

I have become fitness compulsive, throwing myself down mountainsides on two sticks, or standing in the way of a soccer champion built like a tank, thinking I am happy to get the ball away from him one in ten times. Desperate to avoid a paycheck attached to carpentry, I am thrilled to frame paintings for another friend and install window trim for yet another.

Needing to get a Real Job with benefits and paid vacations, I volunteer instead to write a grant that might pay a small stipend to help organize youth around the world working for a sustainable planetary community of peace. Another friend offers me just enough dollars to write some publicity for his production that lets me talk as if I now have a career in film-making.

Scratch the surface and I am a whirlwind, making plans and rescheduling to fit some thing or some one else into the mix. Enamored of one flower in particular, distrusting myself, I gaze across the entire garden, wondering if others might ignite an interest so sweet. This morning, I nearly accepted a place on a board starting a school, simply on the basis of having done so twice before.

So why not now?

I paused in my cave and listened to the words of my dear friend resonate profoundly off the silent walls. A week later, I find myself no better prepared to answer the question, but willing to explore it whole-heartedly, to try to dance in the rain and learn to sit in the shade when the sun shines too intensely. I continue to play music, enjoying last night the wonderful response to the premiere of my new band, and type away gleefully this morning when I should be finishing the renovation of my bathroom.

This mixture of priorities, all individually reasonable and commendable, resembles the diverse series of building projects I took on that combined to destroy my business, and ultimately my marriage, forcing me out of my home and family. Without a clear focus in my personal life, a commitment to some thing or some one else is hard to make, and harder still to keep. No matter the longing to feel the embracing arms of comfort and security, love, passion and reassurance that is possible in the middle of the night, it cannot be sustained in the daylight until we are strong enough within ourselves to select, organize, prioritize and finally reject things that ultimately do not serve us well.

This I could not do in my business and previous marriages. I was lost though I thought I was found, and in longing for that completeness, I was overwhelmed by the complications of giving and receiving from a less than whole place of heart.

Healing is taking place. Day by day, doors open wider and priorities now allowed to prosper, watered by kindness and encouraged by my own tender attention, seem to thrive, while others take care of themselves. Am I so different now? Perhaps more cautious, probably more self-directed, definitely more soulful.

In the meantime, I am grateful to the good friends, sisters and brothers all, who can poke me so gently with their sharp fingers of discernment.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Passing in the Aisle

This week I have several times stared at my yellow pad and left the page blank, or worse, moved on with scribbles crossed out and nothing productive to bring over to the computer or launch to this site. With this chicken is combined an egg of a stuffed head and scratchy throat, and the fear that my life has come to a standstill.

On Sunday, I felt great, painting a friend’s office and looking forward to a week of high points as numerous and multiplying as the weeks before, no hint of any body drag. The next morning my throat clenched with an ache that woke me startled and remained in varying intensity throughout the week. Not horribly sick, I am just swollen headed, lethargic, coughing and whining.

It was not enough to stop me from a great evening of music, sitting in with a jam band as part of my quest for compatible musicians. I was exuberantly able to write a grant that will probably lead to a satisfying part-time job. From the mouth of my cave, I could look out on the world to find numerous ways to promote my activities so that they can become full time work. In a strange sort of way, there are numerous small piles for which I can account, though it feels as if I have done nothing at all.

Given the excitement of emotional energy and physical stamina expended in these last weeks between band changes, writing projects, the trip to Oregon, and friendships new and old, I am not surprised to collapse and day dream in lackluster colors. In some respects, pushing so hard, it takes a sniffling malfunction to enforce a rest, but having been so productive lately, I bristle at less.

Regularly, friends who read this blog comment that they could never feel comfortable exposing so much inner dialogue, fear and wonder to public scrutiny. Plenty of times my own embarrassment or sense of decorum provides some censorship, but I have never been shy about answering truthfully when asked in passing, “How are you?”

This has led to long conversations in grocery store aisles, stepping forward and back to accommodate the people who actually are shopping, while I vomit forth the latest adventures. My redster shows scars where I lean against it for an hour, stopped on my way, but sharing a lesson listening to some one else.

Too often we scurry and scatter, unconnected with ourselves and others, little busy bodies who promise to make time later and never get there. Our hearts are full, but our schedules make it so easy to dance alone, blowing kisses and throwing one-handed hugs.

Stopping to tell a story, beautiful and sad, risking a tear in the middle of the aisle, connects hearts and creates another strand of that wonderful web that makes life worth living. In being so open and honest, so rarely have I felt regret, earning instead most often a solid and lingering hug. Revisiting old friends in Oregon after twenty years was an astounding affirmation that no matter the size of my bank account, some risks have paid off handsomely.

So with head stuffed and throat sore, I recognize my symptoms are from a cause far deeper than a simple virus. I openly feel the fear that this journey towards creativity which I have undertaken is an ill-advised mountain to climb, likely unattainable to the degree I desire, given the need for tuition and braces I face. I wrestle with the joy and pain of opening my heart and settling this week for a song, the writing of which leaves me slumped, sick and emotionally exhausted, but relishing the sweet mixture of rain and sun that washes over us every day.

And I am so grateful to have such friends with whom I can share the truth of how I feel.

How are you today?

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dancing in the Rain

A year ago, I worried that I was way over the hill and would be unable to accomplish much at this later stage of life. Most artists and writers have done their best work by midlife and coast along, especially in this generation, on talk shows and tours, recycling their old thoughts. Even though I never expected to write a single song or sing a note even close to on-key at anytime in my life, as a kid with nothing to lose, I could let the sounds in my head flow, and delightfully discovered I enjoyed playing what came out.

It was an added bonus when others seemed to like the songs as well. I stood on stage to share the music with others, but mostly because I just adored the feeling of the notes amplified and turned back on me in the most gentle and exhilerating of embraces, being able to adjust and sharpen the sound with a little trill. I have been immensely flattered and moved whenever I got a request for a particular song.

One of the highest compliments came one day back in college when I was in the middle of the usual rush of traffic to the mailroom before lunch (this is before computers and email, you have to understand, when we lived for letters in the mailbox). I heard someone in front of me whistling a familiar tune and was astounded a few notes later to recognize that it was actually one of mine, living a life of its own out in somebody else's head!

If I didn't think it was such a miracle to be able to bring this music to the surface, I would feel compelled to craft and manipulate these songs, but as it is, I humbly accept that there is a power that seems to find voice through me, and I continue to do my best to stay out of the way and let them flow. That being said, I have been blessed with a new one, for someone special, which can be heard here.

We cannot control our own feelings, and it is certainly impossible to control what someone else might feel, but that we can feel at all is another miracle. It is wonderful to let go of fear, and risk to really feel whatever flows in and out of the heart, all the joys and pain, finding sunshine on rainy days.

Dancing in the Rain

I don’t know what you’re thinking
But I hear the words you say
They send my heart sinking
Like the sun at the end of the day
And I can’t say for sure if it will rise again
And I can’t say for sure if I can just be your friend

Well, I bargained for this lesson
When I dared to open my heart
Your smiles keep me guessing
Though you’ve been so very clear right from the start
Still I fell for that sweet look in your eye
And I can tell it’s worth any tears I might cry

And there’s no need to worry if my heart’s going to heal
We both know the sun always rises again
I could never regret learning just how good this can feel
To know the wonders of love you’ve got to risk a little pain
It’s like dancing, dancing in the rain

So let’s get on with the living
After we've shared this little cry
Life’s all about the giving
To find love in our heart we have to be willing to try
I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know you this well
And I’m so glad, I feel like dancing
Feel like dancing, feel like dancing, dancing in the rain

I’m looking for sunshine, and I like dancing in this soft rain
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Thursday, May 7, 2009


Over the weekend, I received an uncharacteristic phone call from the other guitarist in Cache. The night before, we had played at a private party, the very first time in front of anybody, and though it was hard to hear, lacking all the right equipment, I was pleased and excited with the blends and the confidence that grew with every song.

But there was a clue in his message, a phrase about hearts and minds, that tipped me off, so it was no surprise the next day to get a follow-up message that I had been voted out of the band. My initial reaction was a bit of a snivelly little boy whine (“…they don’t like me, boo hoo”), followed by a defensive snort (“…well, I’ll show them!”).

The truth, I told my son a few minutes later as we fiddled around with instruments in a music store, is very understandable and should be expected. If it is so difficult and takes such time, effort, risk and patience to find a girlfriend, multiply that by four and remember that everyone has to get along with everyone else.

Each member of Cache contacted me individually to express their respect and support for my music. Their insistence that I should be pursuing my songs whole-heartedly without distraction removed much of the sting. They felt I would do better staying focused and not side-tracked trying to accommodate the taste and directions of others.


It was a curious burst of emotion to absorb, especially on my birthday and combined with a similar heart throb that stole my breath for a little in the afternoon. Each event, however, was so full of appreciation and the promise of wonderful, exciting and ever unfolding adventure, like getting comfortable with not seeing any whale spouts, I found the joy in the day and reveled in the sunshine and companionship that was right in front of me, enjoying the best birthday ever.

Sharpened and inspired, the next morning I immediately placed an ad and scoured Craig's List for potential matches. Like the search for a date, I looked at bios and pictures, listened to voices, wondering how that keyboard might sound, judging this style too punkish for me, that finger too fast and wiggly.

Quickly, I received a message back from a young drummer who was very enthusiastic about the sound, my sound, and had some impressive local credentials, having already played with people more known than little old me. Emails turned into phone calls, and his excitement hurdled my concerns over his age and maturity.

On the way to the audtion in his home, I still had low expectations because he is just graduating high school, after all, and getting a driving lesson from his mom. Into the first song, however, it was clear that he paid a lot more attention to his drums than a car. By the third song, I was amazed by his ability to read my body language and change the beat as the song stopped short or raced ahead. By the sixth, we were rocking like we had played music together for months, his flourishes and rolls perfect on the crescendos and backed off on the verses.

Two hours flew by faster than most fifteen minutes. In the same way I might peek in and introduce myself to a new friend of my own son, his mother came down to say she liked the music, and was relieved, I imagine, to see the kind of man who might soon be taking her son to dark (and no longer smokey!) bars.
Other drummers, I know, are available, but my intuition tells me Ian is worth the risk. So the landscape of my musical avenue has changed as radically as the highways we traveled last week in Oregon, my vision turned sideways and re-routed, but more focused and immediately achieving a more stimulating result.

Likewise, by having the intuition to trust me so quickly to frame her paintings, a marvelous woman has also contributed to this lesson that the ones who do actually reveal themselves are able to honor, support and hold precious, with leviathan strength, our creative journeys no matter how young, or beautifully petite, these whales may appear.
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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sweating the Details

When I worried about how to ground the energy of this trip once returned home and buried in the daily details of living, I had not paid attention to my calendar.

The very next evening, still jet-lagged, I went with a friend to a lecture by Dr. Yonten, a Tibetan healer who talked about the mind/body connection. This gentle man, soft-spoken with a delightful laugh, related the health of the physical body to the spiritual well-being of a patient. Emotional pain can radically affect how well the body functions and be more a cause of disease than any bacteria or virus.

This subject has become important to me as my doctor friend and I embark on a venture to write about alternatives to standard medical practices for healing. His own experience in the hospital has been life-altering and motivated us to move from theory to actual words on paper. The more we articulate the idea, the more contacts we have with people like Dr. Yonten.

The next day, I returned for a consultation, not suffering from any particular aliment, but curious to learn what could be prescribed to alieve the emotional stress in my body over these many years of failing business and struggling marriage. He received me in the side office of the Sanctuary where he had lectured, listened to my story, felt my pulse and looked at my tongue, then dealt me a month’s worth of Himalayan herbs that taste horrible, but are predicted to cleanse my chakras. My heart certainly felt calmer in his comforting presence.

On this glorious spring Saturday morning, as buds burst and snow is forgotten, a leader of my men’s group hosted a traditional Native American sweat lodge. Starting early to cut the sticks to bend in the frame and the logs to heat the rocks, there was much work to be done, and the men set to it mindfully. Every aspect of the event was ceremonial and full of ritual, providing a long opportunity to meditate in motion.

Once the lodge was built, covered and blessed, and the fire set ablaze, the ten of us lounged in quiet conversation. I played some music to accompany the peaceful hours, and we nibbled on nuts and oranges until it was time to enter the sacred space.

Ritual directed all the movements; there was order to everything. The fire was due east of the door, connected by a pathway that could not be crossed except by a man carrying the rocks, glowing with heat, carefully on a pitch fork. The actual sweat lasted about three hours, the ten of us circled around a pit, shrouded in absolute darkness, surrounded by the powerful smells of sage, sweet and bitter roots, cedar and lavender. Water created steam and our bodies were purged of toxins, our spirits purified.

The process allowed for guided acknowledgement of the life force energies around us, opportunities to celebrate our victories and pray for the souls of loved ones we know are suffering, and commitments of intention in our own lives. We sat vigilant in the darkness, breathing deeply, heavily rooted to the circle of brotherhood that contained us.

Cleansed and liberated this evening, I am content to sit alone, resting from all of the spiritual encounters of this past week. I suck on the muddy herbs of the Himalaya and rinse my mouth with hot water, contemplative and peaceful.

It is marvelous that boundaries are collapsing, allowing us to experiment with a mixture of philosophies, cultures and practices. In a very short time, I have walked with pagans, meditated with a Tibetan, sweated with new warriors of integrity, and played music at a raucous party in a garage. Life is full of spirit around every corner if we just make sure we slow down enough to notice.

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