Wednesday, April 22, 2015

7. Apply yourself to the basics and progress will follow.

You wake up if the necessary conditions of oxygen, water, nutrients, normal body temperature and atmospheric pressure have been met overnight and remain in place. You're already working - maintaining boundaries between inner and outer worlds; moving smooth and cardiac muscle; sensing and responding to stimuli; digesting; metabolizing; excreting; reproducing; and growing. You don't have to think about this work, and if you do, it only becomes more difficult.

You struggle immediately with the desire to go back to sleep and barely shake it off.

Next, the first negative thought dive-bombs in before you can open your eyes, and then more - hot summer horseflies - and the fight begins.

Inhale and exhale. Don't forget to breathe.

Push back on the voices - the critic, the heckler, the doubter.
Recite your affirmation.

You reach for something brave like whatever it takes but it rings hollow - doesn't pertain to you in this moment.

Now prop yourself up, swing the legs out, plant your feet on the floor. Breathe.

Remember to breathe.
Take control of the narrative.
Take responsibility for every aspect of your life -
every thought, every action, every moment.

Yeah? Get bent.

But you force your arms open wide, in greeting and acceptance,
hold them out toward the new rising day
while simultaneously tensing your abdomen,
not so much out of vanity
but as if to take a punch,
and then you stumble forward.

You meet her at the gym. It is very early. She is doing shoulders, biceps and triceps.
She is younger than you are. Fitter. She's positive. Her progress is visible and hard to believe.

You are warming up on a treadmill focusing on your ragged breathing wanting to stop.
Soon you are distracted by the men grunting, banging weights, their eyes creeping toward her.
They are younger than you too, and able.

You realize you are occupying time and space in advancing middle age, right now, right here,
fully engaged in a battle to stave off cardiac arrest. She is serious about her workout, earbuds in, seeming not to notice the men. You look away trying not to let your thoughts go sour.

Overhead the speakers play:
Finished with my woman cuz she couldn't help me with my mind.
People think I'm insane because I am frowning all the time...

You're a little bit paranoid she says, grinning, her eyes searching your face.

Despite feeling like you might collapse, you want to smile at the strangeness of it all.
The synchronicity. The ridiculous timing of events.
There is nothing to do here but go along. To continue.
Breathe. Inhale and let it go.

Step under the pads, assume the weight, raise your heels off the floor, lower them, raise them, lower them, raise them, lower them, raise them, lower them, raise them...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

6. The strangest, most generous, and proudest of all virtues is true courage.

1. The ability to do something that frightens one.
2. Strength in the face of pain or grief.

April is many things, but it is certainly a month of suicides. We don't speak of it. Only of the thaw, the showers that bring May flowers, the new sun and the returning birds, the first buds, forsythia. Tender green life is breaking through the hardened crust. We speak of promise and hope.

April is also a sudden harsh light that interrupts a long sleep. Some wake disoriented, lethargic, stiff, with weak limbs and a cold heavy dread at the prospect of how much it's going to take to rise and shine. With just enough energy to act.


What is courage in love?
The courage to accept you exactly as you are.
Work on that.
The courage to let go of the outcome and do what your heart says.
To fall...
Bahala Na!
Fuck it.

Let go.

Ready to fight, ready to kill, ready to die but never will. 

Eighteen years old. Seventy-two of us chanted this in our boxer shorts before retiring for the night for three months and a week. A courage maker. A horror buster. It wasn't one hundred percent effective. Some of us died later.

Then, courage manifested in visible spontaneous ways. The drill instructors frequently "thrashed" us individually and in groups of various sizes on the quarter deck. To be thrashed was to be engaged in intensively supervised, enthusiastically directed, vigorous physical exercise until one collapsed in a state of temporary muscle failure and a lake  of sweat. Make-a-lake was actually one of the short-hand commands they used. We made plenty of them.

Often, a recruit would be having a very bad time of it - maybe he vomited, or couldn't continue, but the drill instructors kept dogging him, maybe he was breaking down. Once in a while, another recruit would run up there uninvited and start getting down with him - doing the same exercises, suffering the same treatment - trying to transfuse his friend with motivation and energy.

Mountain climbers, push-ups (down, up, down, up, down-up, down-up, down-up, down-up), bends and thrusts, sit-ups, Oh! Oh! THAT'S RIGHT - TAKE YOUR TIME, KEEP TAKING YOUR DOGGONE TIME,  mountain climbers, bends and thrusts, FASTER, side straddle hops,  on your back, run in place, on your stomach, push-ups (down-up, down-up, down-up), HURRY UP!  mountain climbers (one-two, one-two, one-two) FASTER...

This phenomenon virtually never occurred in the beginning of recruit training, but by the end it was common place. That spark - both in the giving and in the receiving - was courage. It was clear and something you could feel in your body.

Courage seems now a lonely thing, a strange thing. It's practiced in solitude. Some continue on and some stop. Some open their hearts and some wall them off. Mostly, there's ambivalence. We are sometimes judged by others as cowards or heroes, but most of the time our struggle, our courage, goes unseen and unsung.

April is a hard and beautiful month. It gives gently, and it takes.

Friday, April 10, 2015

5. The time has come to allow your heart to guide you.

The people of the village know him as El Perro, Corazon. The dog is old, blind and scarred and is said to have been born with an exceptionally keen nose that the years, and his travails, have not diminished. Day by day he survives among the open sewers, steep slopes, craggy cliffs, armed and wanton adolescents with facial tattoos, insane automobile traffic, tar pits, poisoners, quicksand, corrupt officials, quagmires, starved coyotes, and the cruelty and indifference of both time and men. Constantly in motion, they say to watch him is to witness purpose in action, but exactly what purpose cannot be readily deciphered. The story of the dog is what brought me here.

I arrived in the village by bus after settling my affairs and erasing my outward existence in another country to the North. I have in my possession three sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, a jug of water, stiff new hiking boots, my entire net worth in American currency stored precariously in an inside pocket, a letter opener with its point ground dagger-sharp strapped to my arm, and a variety 12-pack of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy.

I ask numerous people, both humble and affluent, about El Perro and where I might find him. I ask the question again and again across weeks.  Perdoname Senor/Senora, pero adonde es El Perro, Corazon? I ask drunk and I ask sober, and the answer is silence, Spanish ridicule, dismissal.

Borrachco. Loco.

The air smells of burning tires, it is very hot and incredibly dry. I have completely transformed from pale gringo spectacle to invisible man. I have learned the words for food, bed and drink, and I am drinking more than regularly now. My net worth no longer fills my pocket. I am coming to accept the fact that I have made a fatal mistake - a backpack full of canned goods in place of a parachute at 10,000 feet.

This morning, dawn, leaving a cantina in no condition to stay or to go, I ran into a very small boy with a cleft palet selling chiclets. The boy of 5 or 6 helped me to my feet, and at a point in the process of trying to stand, we came eye to eye with each other. His brown eyes had a depth that shamed me, that made me ask him, mijo, adonde es El Perro, Corazon? 

The boy smiled and pointed to the East. My sore eye followed his arm and finger squinting into the painful rising sun. There on the ridgeline was the silhouette of an upright-sitting dog. He appeared to be facing us. He appeared to be waiting for me.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

4. It's all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.

In your mercy 
keep us free from sin and
protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our savior  
_________   _________

Last night, beloved, and today, cast out. Pierced by jagged snow in the biting wind, stomach-punched, the last days of March. Staggered.

I felt close to her.
Don't worry, you will feel that again.
I might feel close to her again.
Then again, you might not...
I will probably never feel close to her again.

It's over. You think this thought in another black moment, symptomatic of a common, ordinary madness. Nothing new under your new sun.

Stop the spinning. Look out at the horizon. Quiet your mind. Find the constant in your self, the part of you that doesn't waiver, the part unmoved by outside forces. You knew that place once, or was it just a story?

The bright Blood Moon sets as Easter begins it's ascent. My eyes want only to close - an act of mercy, large enough.