Thursday, February 19, 2009

East of Eden ... Thou Mayest

I finished East of Eden this week and now I'm letting it slosh around in my mind for a while. Probably the one overarching theme in the book is that we don't HAVE to give in to either the angels or the demons of our human nature. We can make a choice. Thou mayest rule over sin, is what Lee reports back to Sam Hamilton and Adam Trask after his exhaustive study of the Cain and Abel story.

In that sense, the book is hopeful, even though plenty of its characters don't make that choice. Tom Hamilton. Charles Trask. Kate. Aron Trask. All of these people become a slave to their rigid view of the world in one way or another. Let me say a word about sin while I'm on the topic. The word sin carries with it the weight of its historical application in Western society. It is seen almost as a giant board of Do's and Don'ts. This is a sin. This isn't. Think this and you are sinning. Do this and you are a sinner. Consequently, over the period of a long life (or, let's face it .. a single day) we are all branded as sinners. To take this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, all sinners are in need of forgiveness and salvation so we can be cleansed and reunited with God.

That conception of sin doesn't work for me. I throw my lot in with Neale Donald Walsh, author of Conversations with God, who wrote that there are no divinely ordained Should and Should Nots. "Sin" is better described as failing to present That Who We Truly Are to the world. In that way, it is stripped of its judgmental quality and frees us from shame. God is not disappointed in us when we fail to be our Highest Self because it is a process. And the process of living is to continually give ourselves the experiential lessons we need so that we can continue to walk down that path to being who we really are - beyond the material, beyond the ego, and into the fundamental unity of all things.

By Christian standards I've committed a lot of sins in my life. If I were to handcuff myself to that theology I would either be driven to despair or compelled to ask for forgiveness to wipe away those sins so that I could be reconciled with God. In my mind, those "sins" were mere lessons. Who am I to judge - and much less condemn - actions which ultimately have put me on the path that I now walk? Those things I have done that don't represent the Highest Version of Who I Am taught me through experience that there is no respite or peace in the false shade they offer. I couldn't have learned that any other way.

I have a choice. I may rule over sin. How I'm choosing to do that today is to kick that term to the curb.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Supernatural Aid: Step Three of the Hero's Journey

Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his or her guide and magical helper appears, or becomes known.

I like to think of the guide being more like guides, plural tense. Even in the short time since I have truly committed within myself to making this journey, I have noticed people and interviews and books that point me in a direction I need to go. Take this evening for instance. I had downloaded what I thought was a new interview on Fresh Air with comedian Demetri Martin. But as I started to listen to it I realized it was from a couple of years ago ... and that I had heard it before. Yet it was speaking directly to me. Terry Gross asked Demetri how he went from being a law school student on a complete scholarship to being a comedian-in-training. He went on to talk about not feeling any passion for law school and one day asking himself two questions. One, what do I really like doing. Answer: Joking around with his friends. Two, how do I make money from that. Answer: Be a comedian.

Demetri Martin used to work as a writer on Conan's show. It just so happened that a couple of weeks ago Conan appeared on a two-hour edition of Inside the Actor's Studio and I watched it with rapt attention as he talked about knowing that he was called to be an entertainer and just pushing forward at every juncture, even when it was far from sure that he had made a sound professional decision one way or the other. Conan's parents were a scientist and a lawyer respectively. It couldn't have been easy for him to have gone to Harvard and come out and said, "Well, Mom and Dad, I'm going into comedy." Yet he knew that is what he was good at.

Going back to Demetri, re-listening to the interview reminded me that he was the son of a minister too. His Dad preached at a Greek Orthodox Church and he talked about growing up listening to his Dad's sermons. One thing he realized about his Dad early on was that he was authentic and more recently he has seen in his own life that people are drawn to authenticity in whatever professional or calling or interpersonal relationship they find themselves in.

That is a core question. How can I be authentic? Well, the only way one can be authentic is to work in a way that your labor reflects something of who you are as a person. I can be authentic only if I try and do what I love to do. Once I commit to that, somewhere down the road I can worry about how to make money doing it. One step at a time.

Oh, and speaking of other supernatural wisom, here is a link to Conan's commencement speech at Harvard in 2000:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Best Laid Plans ...

This past week was a lesson in how even the best laid plans have to be put aside to deal with current realities. About a week ago I came down with the flu for the first time in years. For the next four days I basically laid around, trying to recuperate. By Wednesday morning - still thinking it might have just been a cold - I felt strong enough to go into work. One day later, sitting at work and fighting off fatigue and the chills, I realized I had underestimated my foe. So I went home again and spent the rest of Thursday and Friday at home.

Because of my sickness I decided to push back my trip to California. I had been planning it for sometime but now it just seemed rushed. Added to that, I hadn't gotten anything done at work this week, so the best decision seemed to be to hold off on it until the beginning of March. So that's what I did. I'm always a bit disappointed in myself when I can't follow through on plans or goals that I have laid out. In this case, I think my decision to postpone the trip was warranted. As was my decision not to go to my Thursday night volunteer appointment because I still had the flu. I went out of my way to inform Cam both by phone and by email that I wouldn't be able to make it.

Now I am at home, working my way through the last chapters of East of Eden with the All-Star game on mostly unwatched in the background. It's been a quiet three-day weekend so far. My goal this week is to catch up on work, get back in the swing of things, and buy my ticket for my trip to California in the beginning of March. Where one plan dies, another takes root and grows in its place.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Refusal of the Call: Step 2 of The Hero's Journey

Often when the call is given, the future hero refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.

I'm good at refusing the call. This comes naturally to me. A part of my brain bent on perfection kicks into gear and doesn't stop until I've convinced myself that it is impractical or foolhardy to continue. I can tap into this voice at any time. Look, here's how easy it is. Here is what I've heard at different times over the past four years when I started seriously considering setting a date for this Hero's Journey:

1. You are in debt and can't leave your job.
2. This is a stupid idea in the first place.
3. What are you going to do for a job afterward even if you do finish?
4. You know you are going to tire of doing this walk after a couple of weeks and give up.
5. You haven't been able to see anything through to completion in a long time. What makes you think you can do it now?
6. People aren't going to want to put a stranger up in their house for the night.
7. You are going to be too shy to talk to people and ask for their hospitality.
8. Only my friends will be interested in reading about my adventures. No one will want to publish a book you write ... even you even manage to finish.

I was able to access all of those negative messages in roughly 10.2 seconds. They are there on the tip of my cerebral cortex at all times. They are like barbarians at the gate, always looking to poke their Trojan Horse of negativity through the doors of my mind and get me to say, "Forget about it. I better off not take the chance and just keep doing what I'm doing."

Up until now. Those are three great words. They are words that I learned from Claire and from Dr. Lane and from those who have encouraged me that the patterns that I have played out in my past do not have to be the patterns I engage in the present. I have choice. I can choose to accept the call and align myself with positivity. I am moving forward one day at a time, heeding the call of the my true self - that part of me that has been a neglected outpost for so many years, guarded by the ruthless overlords of Negativity always dressed up in the innocent garb of Practicality. Fuck them. They can't scare me now.

I've moved past Refusal of the Call. I'm answering baby.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Steelers 27, Cardinals 23

I walked from my apartment to Ray's to watch the Super Bowl. I learned a couple of lessons. One, I can almost cover 4 miles an hour when I walk briskly. Second, never, ev-ah, try to shop at Fairway on the UWS on Super Bowl Sunday.

I was rooting for the Cardinals but alas, for the second straight year my support was the kiss of death for a Super Bowl team. I shouldn't blame only myself. Kurt Warner must have fallen out of favor with the big man upstairs.

Distance: 4.12 miles

The Call to Adventure: Step 1 of the Hero's Journey

The call to adventure is the point in a person's life when they are first given notice that everything is going to change, whether they know it or not.

I can't remember the exact date I first thought about walking across the United States relying on the hospitality of friends and strangers. Maybe it has always been percolating just underneath the surface as I took my other travels: South Africa & Zimbabwe in '96, driving cross country in '98, Guatemala in '01, Greyhound bus across the US in '03. I have always been fascinated by the theme of hospitality shown to strangers. I love the passage in Les Miserables where Victor Hugo describes how the kindly bishop in a small French town offers Jean Valjean a place to stay and a beautiful meal despite the fact that he is wearing the yellow ticket of a former felon. Valjean takes advantage of the bishop's hospitality by stealing away in the middle of the night with his best silver. Yet, from that encounter comes the point of Valjean's redemption. After he is caught with the bishop's silver and hauled back to the house by the police, the bishop reports in front of the police and the baffled Valjean that it was a gift. Instead of going back to prison for life, he is free. What's more, he has the valuable silver with which to start a new life. Kindness and grace has a power to change people's life that recrimination and punishment don't possess.

I know that shortly after I moved from LA to Philadelphia I consciously hatched the idea of walking part way across America. Some years ago I had read "Walk Across America" by Peter Jenkins and it took hold in my mind that something like that could be done. More recently I read Bill Bryson's book "A Walk in the Woods" about his trek up the Appalachian Trail and I was struck by how he weaved humor and narrative together in such a readable fashion. All these influences worked their invisible magic and one day I knew on some level that this was an adventure I was destined to take.

At that time I didn't connect it with the reading I had done of Joseph Campbell and his mythical archetypes. But as I have thought about it more over the years - wrestling with Refusal of the Call (Step 2) - it has become obvious that for me this is a Hero's Journey. It is my opportunity to shed my former self and re-imagine and recreate my life as a work of art.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Man on Wire. And Men on either side of a Net.

I have had a very relaxing weekend. Claire let me stay at her place while she is in Atlanta and I have used the peace and quiet to do a lot of reading and reflection. I'm now well into my re-reading of East of Eden and even more in awe of the sublime ways John Steinbeck captures the truth of the human condition and all its various emotions. It truly is a myth for a more modern age (well, at least subjectively when compared to Genesis).

But my weekend hasn't all been Adam and Charles Trask. I was up very late last night watching the live broadcast of the Australian Open Men's Final. Rafa Nadal outlasted Roger Federer in five grueling sets, finishing just before 8am in the morning Eastern Time. I had watched all five sets of their previous meeting at the final of Wimbledon in July and once again I was mesmerized by the artistry they display on the court. They were truly born to be tennis players. It is an expression of who they are, and beauty comes of it.

I was reminded of this just a few minutes ago when watching a rerun of Tuesday's Colbert Report. He was interviewing Phillipe Petit, the famous tightrope walker who crossed from one Twin Tower to the other in 1974, and jokingly asked him why he did it. Petit looked at him and simply said, "I didn't have a choice." In other words, he felt an inner call so profound that he could not deny it. And sure enough, just like Rafa and Roger, beauty came of it.

That is what happens when we listen to the language of our souls. It tells us what beauty we have inside of us that needs to be shared with the world and then in following that call so often the universe opens up avenues for us to express that to the larger world.

I have been thinking about my walk for many years now. I guess in a way, when people ask me why I am doing it, I could answer the same as Phillipe. Because I have to.