Saturday, December 4, 2010

Coming Home

After we moved to Arizona in 1980,  the idea of "home" became a powerful force in my life.   I missed everything about upstate New York.  Birds, trees, flowers, views, the Hudson, rain, family, customs, hills, fishing,  seasons....everything.  I had no idea how connected I was to this part of our planet. I remember watching ET in a Phoenix theater and bawling like a baby when he was trying to call home.

When we would make periodic trips back there was always excitement and satisfaction.  We would arrive at the airport and drive east on Route 7 from Latham towards Troy.   When we crested the hill where the Hudson valley comes into view and you're able to see most of Troy, Watervliet, Cohoes and Green Island I would feel transformed.  The longing for home finally resolved. Very powerful.  This view still moves me when I drive that road.

After ten years of in the desert Dorothy and I decided that we would do whatever was needed so that we could return to the Northeast.  We were finally able to make the move after spending ten more years in Arizona.  Our daughters were fairly well launched,  I was able to find a work as an addiction counselor in Troy, and Dorothy's boss had made arrangements for her to keep her job in Arizona by telecommuting.

Coming back felt completely right.  It did not feel like a retreat but a victory.  We were able to have this great twenty year adventure where our separation from the familiar and predictable gave us the opportunity,  to change, grow and experience well beyond what would have been possible in New York.  We separated ourselves from all the normal pinnings of support and had to survive.  We did survive and in many ways lived a very fulfilling life but the pull of home was always there.

 We've been back nearly twelve years and the thrill of being home isn't gone.  When I tell people we moved back from Arizona they inevitably ask me why the hell I would do that.  This is especially true mid-winter.   I feel it is a great gift to be so grateful to be living here.

I think I'm writing about this because as I approach retirement I feel my life is about to change at a level comparable to the way it was changed when I moved to Arizona.  This move is more about the geography of the heart.

Last night's dream....

Dorothy and I are driving a rural road I take a side dirt road that is wet from an ongoing rain. After awhile we go down a fairly steep hill and when I get to the bottom I become worried that the car might not be able to get back up the muddy hill.  I turned the car around and hit the gas trying to get momentum to help the climb.  I almost made it to the top but the wheels started spinning in the mud and I had to back down.  At the bottom there was a  river that was rising above its banks and coming close to the road.   We found a seedy looking bed and breakfast/boarding house that stood by itself along the road.  We got a room and I went out for a walk in the rain.  I noticed that the river was higher and worried about Dorothy being in a house that might get washed away.  I walked into a village where all the buildings were very ramshackle and built so that there was no space between them.  Most were one story high and looked deserted, almost like the set of an old western movie.  I heard the crack of pool balls and noticed a building with it's front open to the air and people inside playing pool.  I went in and people ignored me. I went up to one person and tried to ask him if there was any other way out of town than the hill.  He raised his hand as if to signal me that that topic was off limits. Most of the people looked dim witted and had bad teeth.  I was more than an outsider, I felt mostly like a transparent observer.  There was a young man who sat at a table playing the card game Hearts with a few of the locals.  He was well dressed, had good teeth and looked completely comfortable and at peace. I envied him.  I somehow was able to get some information about an old woman who helped people find a way out that didn't involve going up the hill but it was all very vague.  I looked out from the pool hall and noticed a beat up old car, obviously full of locals, speeding up the hill.  It lurched and looked like it was going to get stuck but finally made it to the top and I could hear people in the car cheering.   Someone then told me there was a very narrow part of the road where you could get traction to make it to the top but it was hard to find.   Then I woke up.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hobbit or Hermit?

All of this soul searching is about pending retirement.  My life is about to change big time.  I'm trying to find a bridge across the chasm.  An avenue to the next stage.  The feelings I have are conflictive.  Hope and fear mainly.  I feel like I'm on a hobbit like quest with goblins ready to jump out at me. I'm energized by the beauty and magic of Rivendell (my spiritual life) and the memory of the Shire (gratitude for the blessings of my life, especially family) but Mt. Doom  is always visible in the distance. The role of family, friends, and fellow travelers is yet to be revealed.

Hindu tradition speaks of the four stages of life. 

 I appear to be entering the third stage which is described as

Vanaprastha - The Hermit in Retreat
This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end; He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own. At this age, he should renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and  go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers.  He is allowed to take his wife along, but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family.

Hermit or Hobbit? Not sure.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Acting "as if" and getting physical

I'm reading Going the Distance - one man's journey to the end of his life by George Sheehan M.D.  George Sheehan was the "philosopher king" of runner's and I read many of his columns and books when I was deeply involved in running during the 1980's.  In this book he documents his struggle to find peace after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.  He died in 1993.   I'm about two thirds through the book and can't resist sharing some of his writing with you.  The following is an extended passage from pages 96 and 97 of the book.  

 "William James pointed out in the Varieties of Religious Experience that these spiritual experiences have little to do with dogma or theology.  The individual in the private reaches of the soul discovers a means to contact an all-good and all-powerful force and is thereby "saved."

This salvation (which comes from the Latin root salvus, meaning "safe,healthy") is accompanied by an "assurance state" --the feeling that you are now whole and healed.

At first such epiphanies would appear to be gifts.  They seem spontaneous and not willed. James would have none of that. Man is incurably religious, he said, and religion is our most important function.  We can improve our spiritual health in much the way we improve our physical health -- we must develop the dedication and discipline to do our spiritual exercises and enhance our spiritual strength.

In seeking relatively simple ways to enhance spiritual health we can turn again to James for an answer. For him, action and feeling went together; and by regulating action, which is under the direct control of the will, we can indirectly control feeling, which is not. Therefore to be cheerful, we must act and speak cheerfully. To feel brave, act as if we were brave."

Besides "acting as if" Sheehan cites another James suggestion.

"William James in the Gospel of Relaxation writes of 'that blessed internal peace and confidence that wells up from every part of the body of the muscularly well-trained beings and soaks the indwelling soul of him with satisfaction.'  James said that this was an element of spiritual hygiene that should not be underestimated." ( The link for Gospel of Relaxation provides the full text of the essay and is interesting reading)

I've clearly been doing some backsliding on my commitment to keep this the Gospel according to Ferd. There is no link for this....yet.  :)

By the way, while I'm off the reservation, I'd like to recommend 

Is Religion 'Built Upon Lies'? Best-selling atheist Sam Harris and pro-religion blogger Andrew Sullivan debate God, faith, and fundamentalism.

Interesting reading from BeliefNet  with themes that intersect some of the ideas the have been surfacing in this blog.   I just read that it's not kosher to delete sections from previously posted blog entries.  That it's better to use the strike through tool.  I guess I understand the reasoning here but I'm still working on it.  In any case after revisiting the Harris/Sullivan debate I'm disinclined to recommend it.   I now find their very long, sometimes brilliant, give-and-take too intellectual, defensive and, perhaps, self-serving.  And it's just not where I'm at.