The Price of Magic

I was sitting, tucked into the corner of my room at my little desk, a wooden bookcase to my left. I was writing, I don’t recall what. As it moved in, my sight opened up. My heart beat so strongly and so deeply I had to lift my face, to give the blood more space to move through my head. That was when I saw it. I’ve never seen it before nor since but it changed everything. I understood that this was what the Zen Buddhists call satori. I was awake for a moment. The clear thing I retain is a sense of awe.

Turning, I put my hand out to the bookcase and as clear as the air on a snowy mountain side I could see it. I could see that my hand, the bookcase, the books, the wall, my desk, the air were all one. To touch one was to touch everything. I knew I couldn’t hold onto that vision long. I opened myself to the change it was making in me so that I could carry it with me. I dwelt in the awareness of how, just as every drop of water that has ever been still is, what I am has been a part of every other thing and holds its memories, its knowledge, its wisdom, its life. That I am, just adds to all of life. My job became honoring those ancient understandings.

Years later we were camping by the bay with our kayaks. It was a full moon night and we decided to go out and watch her from the water. We set a lantern on the shore in case we too got too far away to recognize our spot. We paddled out but didn’t stop for long. It was like being called to paddle out farther. The water was undulating silk, dark, soothe, and washed with the moonlight. It was like paddling in a trance. There was the moon in the water around each boat but I could see nothing of the water beyond that circle of light. If I looked up I could see the shadow of the distant shore ahead, lights dotting the black. The only sound was the lap of the water on the shore somewhere and the plink of water dripping from the paddle as the other blade slid into the water. It was another of those experiences I knew I couldn’t hold for long so I settled into the magic of the rhythm of the night, the full moon light, the pull of the paddling and shushing of water on the shore.

We paddled until we got into a nest of crab pots that required some attention so that we didn’t get tangled in the lines. Coming out the other side it had been lost. I knew looking for it was futile but did try for a bit. We where now just paddling in the dark towards the sleeping town we didn’t want to reach. The glow that had embraced us was lost, the water was slapping instead of caressing the shore. I tried to find it again but maybe it’s only to be found as the full moon first come to bloom over the horizon, or over the trees in this case. The world had returned to its usual cold water, sharp lines and intent. We had had no intent when we first set out, only allowing ourselves to be lured by the experience. Time returned. We paddled a bit farther then turned and headed back. We figured we had paddled about six miles in two hours. The only time I was really aware of was of the time after we lost the magic.

I had to pay a token price for that trip. I had been wearing earrings that were a gift, that I was particularly fond of. She took one and I had to just say thank you and let the sacrifice go. I’d gladly pay again but I suspect that is a once in a lifetime trip.

In my life I’ve been brush my magic and enchantment many time. Some are extraordinary and transforming experiences but most of the ones in my life have been transporting. I’ve been taken to a place of such pleasure and peace that I notice how amazing it is. They are moments of seeing the shine around something ordinary that demands that it isn’t ordinary. Most of these times have been out in the woods or on the water. Like the experience paddling the willingness to be taken by the unknown, be moved in places I’ve never been without fear is magical. Outside it’s easier to see because of the nature of our awareness and attention out of doors. Inside we assume our surroundings and will fail to notice even the most amazing thing that happen right under our noses. The very awareness of the extraordinary is transformative or enlightening, a thing that I call magic.

Sleeping or Getting There

Sleep has been a hard thing for me all my life. Like every other child who waits for Santa, Christmas eve was particularly hard. I must have been maybe 4 at the most. I couldn’t sleep. I’d been told he wouldn’t come if I didn’t sleep. I was one of those children who wouldn’t be able to sleep or I’d wake in the night and roam or play. It drove my parents nuts, especially my mother. At any rate, this particular Christmas eve when I couldn’t sleep I got up to pull the shade down so he couldn’t see I couldn’t sleep. I pulled so hard I pulled it down or broke it or something like that. I was so upset that he’d see me that I cried myself to sleep. I’ve hated pull-shades since that night even though I bought a pair of black-out shades for my room a few years ago. No light is more critical to my sleep than what kinds of window covers I have.

Mom made sleeping even harder for me. She wasn’t a patient person. She brooded. When she got to a boil you really weren’t sure what she’d do. My Dad worked evening shift, not getting home until after 11:00. I suspect he wasn’t home one night when she got mad about something. She stormed into my room as I was sleeping and started hitting me. I don’t recall anything except that explosion of fear I felt, not knowing what was happening. Many years later she said she regretted it. That night and until she threatened to punish me I slept on the floor on the other side of the bed from the door. She might even have apologized told me it would never happen again, I don’t recall. I wouldn’t have trusted anyway. The damage was done because she was so unpredictable. I don’t think I ever told her it was because of her I slept on the floor.  I was afraid to go to sleep for the longest time. She must have known but I think I was afraid to bring it up. To this day if someone suddenly opens my bedroom door I jump and my heart beats wildly. If I’m asleep and am startled I feel like I can’t breathe. Of all the things that have happened to me this one has stuck most tenaciously with me unlike things that sound more dramatic. What happens to small children really does count. Now I have trouble sleeping if my bed is next the door. The slightest noise outside will wake me. I always try to get the bed next to the window in hotels.

I recall waking up one morning, I was maybe 9 or so, with one leg under the covers and one leg over the covers. It was a revelation that you could do that. I’ve always slept hot so mostly slept without blankets and sometimes no sheet. I grew up before the age of home A/C so we sweated a lot during the summers. With this new idea I found I could get comfortable with my feet outside but cover over my body. I came to snuggling with my pillow and my feet waving outside the blankets even in the winter. As a hyperactive kid I was always moving, even in my sleep and the feet wiggling at 90 mph was why no one would sleep with me when we traveled. Another thing people complained about was I’d laugh in my sleep, which I’ll still do.

I’ve always been nocturnal. My mom said I was that way before I was born, sleeping all day and keeping her up all night. I suspect that is why night sleeping is still hard. I get my best sleep from about 4am to about noon. I worked swing shift in several jobs. In the  days of VCRs I programmed them to record the shows I liked and I ‘d be watching TV at 3:00-4:00 and going to bed when daylight appeared. I don’t like facing sun-up at the end of a day.

When I was in  my late 20s I went to a psychiatrist about tensions and sleep issues. He gave me pills saying I was missing some body chemical that kept me asleep. They worked wonders. I recall the first morning after taking it and saying to my sister how wonderful it was to get a good night’s sleep. I stayed on that medication for years. I don’t recall why I stopped. Maybe once I was on a regular pm shift I wasn’t as bothered by my odd sleep pattern.

I also made sleeping hard for myself. For years I drank iced tea by the gallon. It was cheap and sugar free but I never considered how much caffeine was in it. For at least 10 years I used Excedrin PM to go to sleep most nights. It got to the point where I was taking 3 a night instead of the 2 they recommended. I also had to recognize that any coffee in the evening didn’t help, that took several more years. In fact I’ve kind of gaven up all but my morning mug of coffee. Any night when I’d had more than a glass or two of wine I’d again have trouble. This is all quite normal but I had to learn it all the hard way, by losing sleep.

Another thing I had to change was that I had been sleeping with a radio on for years to block out outside sounds. This was before the age of digital and white noise machines. I now have one of those playing the sound of rain. What was happening was that the news voices woke me. When NPR classical radio came about in the 70s I played that and it didn’t bother me as much because they didn’t increase the volume for things like ads. I still found some of the voices intrusive so the white noise machines have been a blessing.

I’m fortunate because I’ve learned how to mostly keep worries from keeping me up. Once asleep they may surface in my dreams but I mostly know I’m sleeping and can push them away. Now that I’m retired I don’t have the stresses that really can make waking life, much less sleep a burden.

Every night I try to remember to count my blessings. You’d be amazed at how that changes your outlook. It sounds trite to say to count your blessing but it works because most of the time we gripe about the stuff that is hard. I go to sleep or at least bed with gratitude. I start with being thankful for my full size bed instead of a twin, or no bed. Then I snuggle under the puffy down comforter that is so warm and feels so luxurious. I go on to think about the privileges I’ve experienced that day like eating when I was hungry, being able to pay the bills that came in the mail that day, having a spouse whom I love and who loves me, having the cutest dogs and so on. I marvel at the internet and how much it has added to my life and knowledge.  If I’m still awake at this point I start to make up stories that are fun from plans to make something to plans to take a trip or even just thinking about the last good book I’m reading. From there more drastic measures are needed, like turning on the light and reading until I’m sleepy. I have to read something that isn’t the best or it just keeps me up. Rarely am I still awake by 4:00 am.


Insight: Magic

When I was a child I was unhappy or at least very confused and unsure of what was going on. I couldn’t figure it out. I understood that mom and I were not friends, I didn’t trust her or like being around her but I needed someone to get out of my inner insecurities.

I was thinking about how kids like magic. They believe in it. They believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and elves and faeries. I remember my delight in them. I wished we had a back porch so I could set milk out for them.

I recall going to Sunday School in Calf. I know I went to it back here. They taught us about this god we couldn’t see who would answer our prayers. They taught us about how to say the prayers. They taught us about Jesus who could do these magical things of healing people and feeding people and other stuff. What we had to do was to learn to say the right things and to go to Mass and perform the rituals just right and our prayers would be answered. So, to try to fix things, I worked very hard at learning all of this to make things in my life better. I got all As in religion. But being the curious, pushy person I was I started recognizing the inconsistencies of the beliefs of the church and in that questioning I moved out and beyond.

One of the goals of my life has to be not bound by rules and expectations as much as I could. That opened doors to incorporating ideas from everything from the RC dogma to fairy tales in my thinking about the inner life and the process of existence. I’m thinking “unbound” is one of my functional words.


I’ve been retired for a bit over 2 years. The first year I spent dealing with my own and my wife’s problems. The second year was better but fell apart after a June trip she took to Calf. to visit her family. She cobbled herself back together and the last 6 months have been quite smooth but my walking has deteriorated to the point that I can’t walk more than 100 yards at most and I’d need 2 or 3 breaks in that 100 yards.

I like to stay up late reading. In recent weeks it’s been about 4:00 so I don’t get up until noonish. That way days feel off kilter, running late. I kind of live with the feeling I’m running out of time. Maybe that is a function of age as well as circadian rhythms. I’m working on addressing this slightly uncomfortable feeling by establishing a pattern to my days. I have this “flow” list I’ve made. Flogging order into the way I do things is so hard. I’ve mostly gone with the flow so things got done or not. Now I don’t have that much that has to happen so I need to fill it with something other than pontificating on Facebook all day and night, which I’ve been doing now for over 3 years. I did it the whole 5 months I was off work because of my back. I am quite the addicted it seems. But with the election over there isn’t as much that I want to read or say. I’m very worried and saddened by what I see in Trump. It’s kind of easier to not be on FB because I don’t want to read or write about him particularly.

My pattern is to make these great lists or approaches to problems and promptly forget them. I have to have it in front of my face, not under a pile of papers and magazines and books and such. Right now on my list I’m only at “think about the day” and it’s 3:45! I have accomplished things like getting dressed and a bit of housework, but I have a meeting tonight so I had things connected with that and the printer wouldn’t work so I had to play with that and Mardi needed a few minutes. When I think about the day I recall what I needed to do and instead of just writing it down I ran and did it so the day planning never got completed <sigh>. Anyone cleaning house will recognize the pattern. You take dishes into the kitchen while dusting the living room, and instead of setting them down you start washing the few that are in the sink, then you recall you left some in the den, so you go in there but you recall you said you’d email someone some information, so you sit down and do that, then you check Facebook and recall you were going to donate to the ACLU, but you want to get your check book to make sure you can do it today, so you go to the desk in the living room to get it and realize 2 hours ago you were dusting. The dusting isn’t done, the dishes aren’t done, ACLU doesn’t have its money and you have to go back to the beginning.

What’s on my mind is how to keep some systematic way to organize my days so I don’t live feeling I’m running out of time.


Tin God

He can do it all
He’s so sure he can,
no matter what it is
or how awfully hard.
Just his words are enough
to make it real,
They do believe
When they cry
too many people
not like me
he yells, build a wall,
Mexico will even pay
…to make it so.
They scream on cue
a wall, a wall, a wall
They do believe
Your jobs got sent away
We’ll make them
bring them back
No minimum wage
No safe conditions
I know you’ll gladly
die for me because
I’ve got to make
a profit first.
They do believe
I know you love me
so I can do or say
most anything
even if I do my worst
you’ll follow me
to hell and back,
Truth isn’t such a friend
I love that you are mad as hell
I’ll even be your guide.
They do believe

Personal history

We can’t change our personal history, only the stories we tell of it. We can say something different about what happened and what we now feel about it but we can’t change what really happened that day or how we felt then, nor how we grew around the emotions of it. In a search to reconcile with out past we retell our stories changing this or that. Often we start by giving a benefit of the doubt to one character of the other. It is too great a burden to keep blaming. It hurts to much to be angry, to feel rejected, to take it all personally as a reflection of ourselves. We have to find a way to explain things that lightens the burden of responsibility we carry. Going around blaming your mother/yourself is just so tiring.

It’s a long journey around all that. You start feeling angry and unloved. She wasn’t nice, she was mean. For 40 years she did that shit and she even admitted it. But now you have to forgive her because it’s you who carries the weight of not laying it down. It has to be someone’s fault. After all it was choices people made, she and I, I think. She didn’t have a mother, she was impatient, she had unrealistic expectations of what children are, she didn’t really like being a mother, she expected children to wait on her, she expected girls to be dainty dolls she could dress up in frilly finery, they would never get dirty, or make a mess. She didn’t know that children fight for who they are, they aren’t as plastic as she thought. It’s not her fault she didn’t know, is it? Not to fight meant to lose, to lose cost even more. So, it’s my fault for fighting, hers? Maybe I could have changed things earlier or faster. Is that a question or statement? I wasn’t brave enough to ask the questions she seemed to be willing to explore.

I’ve noticed as I work this through that my sadness expands as possible pasts pop up. What if…, what if…? How much is lost? What would I have learned, what did I lose? What could she have said that would have made it worse? I think I was afraid that with the unlocked door, if I responded she’d get defensive and slam that crack back in my face. I didn’t want her to take it back and I was sure she would. I never gave her a chance so maybe. . . As long as I can recall and as long as I live I will never trust her not to take “it” back.

She said she tried with me. I believe her but she didn’t know you can’t just try once in a while. That’s almost worse. You are nice and then you are mean again. Trust  needs a foundation of more than shifting sand. You told me I was a liar so you’d never believe me. You didn’t, it didn’t matter even when mostly I told the truth. It’s the same thing, you asked me to believe you loved me then you proved to my little girl’s heart you didn’t. You didn’t even like me. You were mean. I have to remember that, not to whitewash the past. If I do I’m left believing I’m the only one to blame. I have to remind myself, she was the grown-up, not me. She was the mother, I was the child. It was her job to love me first, to show me how to love and live, not mine to prove my love first.

Could it have been different? Maybe, if we were different people. We were who we were with all the things we knew and felt those days. We didn’t know we could change it. We didn’t understand both of us had to go first to stop the cycle of blame and of pain. But then, I wouldn’t be who I am. I wouldn’t have learned I could fight so hard and win. I might be someone not as strong and as happy as I am today if we had done better. So I have to believe I had the best possible history if it lead me here today. But it isn’t perfect and I still mourn the child and the mother who went through so much. At least I’ve forgiven you and see you held in god’s arms with me. We both lay our heads on her breast in equal repose because we are so loved. Now I need to let go of the rest of the stuff that makes my heart so heavy. I see progress but it is as slow as losing weight.

I keep trying to tell the story to turn you into someone who I more than feel sorry for. I do feel sorry for you and for me. I want to instruct the mother and console the child. I can do neither from this end of the string. This is not the end that unravels, the bag opened at the other end. What is done is done, now what’s left is to tell the it and explain it so that it is a story I can live with. As I travel to the end of my life I see you in the mirror and wonder how close we will come.


Search For Wisdom

I wasn’t such a bad looking girl, just overweight so figured I’d never be beautiful. My sister was a lot prettier than I was but I was smart. That was what I had going for me. But I was harangued by my parents for my bad judgement. I they convinced me that this was something I could get better at. How do you make better decisions? I didn’t know. I needed to know.

I have alway had a deep, tender heart. I’ve had to exert control over what I showed outside. I was so easily manipulated by those who knew how much I cared. I had to make sure they didn’t know. But I knew. I had this feeling that good judgement came from wisdom. Since I saw myself as so smart, I figured what I needed was to become wise. How do you become wise?

Anything I’ve ever wanted to know about I read about. This was the 1960s and the rise of the self-actualization movement. There was the women’s lib movement, the rise of the use of drugs like LSD and mushrooms to get in touch with your inner being, the rise in groups that met to support each other in their journeys of self-discovery. I read Hugh Prather, Carlos Castinada, Heinlein, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and all those cool books of the 60s, 70s and 80s. I found them fascinating but wasn’t sure I was getting anywhere with this search for wisdom. It occurred to me that maybe my problem was a lack of clarity about what it was I was seeking. What is wisdom?

I can find definitions of wisdom in every dictionary. Wikipedia says: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise. OK, but something is missing. When I meet someone wise I know it. I hear it as they speak. I know lots of people with experience who are just plain crazy, not wise. I know people with what is called good judgement who are the most boring people in the world. They don’t make mistakes because they are so afraid of making them they are mummified by their constraints. I know plenty of people who know a ton of stuff but seem a bit out to lunch. So who is wise, how are they different from others with these qualities?

When I meet someone who seems wise they appear to know a lot, their understanding of the interplay of events and feelings is deep. Tell them a story and they can predict the outcome and more importantly, why. They have a special gift of syntheses. Their vision doesn’t make them afraid but curious.

I was about 50 years old when I finally recognized what I was looking for. I had wondered in passing for years and years about this idea but only in my late 40s did I actually make it a priority task, to identity wisdom. We talk about it like it was some fixed point that you could just hike to and it would be yours forever. The idea that I could achieve or capture wisdom was probably the thing most in my way of recognizing it.

What I’ve come to believe is that wisdom is a nexus that creates a synergy. With all the things that happen to us we come to an understanding what those experiences meant for us. I’ve come to believe that everything has some meaning, even the small things. Often that meaning is as simple as that I’ve found something that gives me joy or pleasure or disappointment but there is something to be recalled.

It took me 2 years of some consistent thought about it but I decided the definition that worked for me is, wisdom is the intersection of knowledge and understanding. That means everyone has some if they learn from their choices. Making good choices really isn’t wisdom but the result of wisdom and discipline. It is like the really great doctors who smoke or abuse drugs. They know better but can’t get a grip on themselves. Knowledge becomes wisdom with the addition of acceptance of meaning and consequences. That requires the heart.

Heart-wisdom demands deep listening, deep silence, and space between thoughts and words. It isn’t judgmental, doesn’t stretch too hard to make assumption outside of what it knows. Watching people closely over time is essential to being able to take true meaning of experiences, yours and others. We know from our experience that certain things hurt, certain things are frightening, certain things comfort us, and each of those feelings can manifest in a whole range of behaviors from running and screaming to deep stillness.

At this point I feel like I’ve reached the point of being closer to the heart wisdom I seek. With age one has to hope. No one can be totally wise because we can’t know enough. We can know some, extrapolate some, and guess at some but we never really have the whole picture, even of ourselves. Wisdom doesn’t assure good choices but it can help. It makes you more cautious about hurting others and hopefully yourself. Wisdom avoids martyrdom in most cases. Giving your all is a thing lovers and parents do but that isn’t called wise, only loving or dedicated. It doesn’t keep us from making financial mistakes when we believe the wrong things.

Perfect judgement can’t exist. If perfection is in safety too much is lost. In being perfectly safe perfection is lost because it is in taking risks that we grow and expand. Safe judgement would avoid the decision points, the opportunity to take a risk, situations requiring taking risks. No, taking risks is how we get rich. We take a risks by caring, by competing, we risk loss and pain. But avoiding life isn’t wise. Those who chose to quit taking risks are seen as smart in money, or plants, or some specialized thing. Smart and wise are two different traits. Smart isn’t always wise but wise is always smart. The heart-wise  are willing to take the risks, being open to pain and to joy.

Answering the question about what wisdom is has been helpful because I understand what I’ve done was actually exactly what I needed to do to get better at living. Chasing wisdom is useless, like trying to put light into a box to keep it. Being open to everything, taking it all in is the path. Being an active participant and observer is how we learn to use what we experience. The experience and the efforts to understand those experiences is the way.