No Time for Rocking Chairs

A conversation yesterday with my friend Maryanne reminded what a pleasure it is to talk with a friend, and how important it is to sane, healthy thinking.

I’ve known Maryanne for more than 20 years, but we seldom see each other. When I first moved to Atlanta we attended the same church and saw each other often. In time I drifted into a different orbit, but we are still fond of each other and I think of her as an older sister.

Some of this flashed through my mind when I saw that she had called. It also occurred to me that years ago Joel and Maryanne had a construction business, and Joel was shocked to discover that at one point it was worth about $2.5 million.

He tells the story on himself, so I’m not giving anything away to say that in pretty quick order he managed to squander that fortune out of feelings of unworthiness. The good news is that although they had some very hard times, times that tested their marriage severely, they toughed it out and their relationship is better than ever.

Time for Adventure

How? At 57, Joel realized he wanted to be a minister. I’ll never forget being in the men’s group where he announced his decision, and he was grinning like a happy kid. He still has that happy grin, and a few years later, Maryanne, too, became a minister.

Before they retired a couple of years ago, they had been ministers at a couple of churches in the Atlanta area. What’s more, they consistently showed up as the happiest couple I know, and now they’re having the kind of adventures I hope I might have at any age.

Their travels have taken them to China, Egypt, Israel and Australia, and they have just returned from a 12-week trip out west. Driving a pickup and pulling a camper trailer, they visited Memphis, Arkansas, Oklahoma City, Taos, California, Banff and the Dakotas.

They hiked, kayaked, bicycled and visited with friends and family along the way. And, most remarkable of all, they’re still talking to each other. In fact, in two weeks they’re off again, this time to Virginia.

Thumbing Their Noses

I take their story to be hugely affirming. As a multiple offender when it comes to failed relationships, I especially admire their determination to save their relationship. In fact, in recent years they became relationship counselors.

The other thing is that they are in their 70s. Maryanne has lost a tremendous amount of weight in the past few years, and the hiking, kayaking and biking are new activities for them. In effect, they are thumbing their noses at conventional wisdom about aging and the notion that folks their age should confine their exercise to the rocking chairs at Cracker Barrel. 

Their lives are a gift to those of us who get mired in habitual thinking. They remind me that life can be — indeed, should be — an adventure, and that it’s never too late to get started. And as an expert at isolating I particularly need to hear the corollary, which is that it’s a blessing to pick up the phone and connect with a friend. 

It’s All About the Change

The next installment in “Magic in the Mundane” will be posted shortly. Meanwhile, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass.

Ali Hale wrote a piece on The Change Blog recently about the difference between growth and change. Which makes for an interesting discussion of semantic differences, but what it triggered for me was how far things have come in the past several decades.

The coolest thing about change is that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift that makes it possible for significant numbers of people to change. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.

In the past, change was a matter of “one-offs” – strong individuals who defied conventional wisdom and changed. St. Francis of Assisi and Henry David Thoreau come to mind, the former because I just read something about him. The latter because, like every other school kid, I had to read “Walden” and was surprised to find that once I got into it I liked it.

While folks like St. Francis and Thoreau have made contributions to the world, they didn’t generate a groundswell of change. There wasn’t sufficient critical mass to change mainstream thinking, which was — and still is — grounded in fear and negativity.

But now there are numerous modalities for change and highly visible leaders who have taken the mystery out of change and made it desirable, even when it doesn’t always seem safe.

Something’s Happening Here

It’s been going on since the 1960s, and the civil rights and peace movements are only the most obvious examples. Even the widespread use of drugs, though misguided and ultimately a dead-end (believe me, I’ve been there), was an attempt at what Carlos Castaneda called in his book of the same name, “A Separate Reality.”

Any list of change leaders would be incomplete, but examples range from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. Pope John Paul II and my fellow Tweeter, Thich Nhat Hanh, at the global level to the Chicago Seven, Rick Warren, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer and Eckhart Tolle at the parochial level.

In short, as the Buffalo Springfield put it in “For What It’s Worth,” “Something’s happening here….” And to contradict the next line of the song — “What it is ain’t exactly clear” – I would argue that it’s quite clear, indeed.

Embracing Uncertainty

People are changing, some of them willingly, some of them tossed out on the street by circumstances not entirely of their own doing. (I’ve been there, too.) The disruption of the global economy has nudged change front and center and generated demand for ways to respond and react. In that light, Ali Hale’s blog is just one example of the trickle-down effect of this inexorable shift.

Change is taking place and the challenge – the opportunity, really – is to welcome it and make the most of it. And that means embracing the uncertainty in which it is wrapped, something I’ll admit I struggle with often. The routine and predictable seem ever so much more comfortable, at least on the face of it. But closer examination reveals that self-imposed order is itself an illusion.

In truth, the sands beneath our feet are always shifting, and we are given countless opportunities to adjust. In the two preceding blogs — “Magic in the Mundane” – I write about how something that happened in a few seconds and changed my life. The key element in that scenario was not just recognizing the opportunity, but also acting on it.

Change It All

At the beginning of “Feelin’ Alright,” on his live “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” LP, Joe Cocker mutters “Change it all…change it all.” Maybe Joe was overstating the case, and maybe he wasn’t. Being brought to my knees in the past few years by finances and romances has been scarifying at the material level, but spiritually it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

As Rumi puts it in “Ayaz and the King’s Pearl,” “Whoever bows down like they are bowing down/will not rise up in his old self again.”

A more contemporary take comes from MercyMe‘s kick-ass song “No More, No Less,” which includes the line “It’s all about the change.” I liked it so much I appropriated it for the subtitle of this website.

The bottom line is this: change is not to be feared. It is an antidote to the “Life’s a bitch and then you die” mentality that dominated previous generations. Welcoming change means we are not victims to whom things happen, but adaptable and intelligent beings intent on finding the best and doing our best with the materials at hand. And being grateful in the process for the opportunity to grow into our authentic selves.

 

Magic in the Mundane, part 2

This is the second part of a blog that begins with the preceding post, titled ‘Magic in the Mundane.’

The vision of Thich Nhat Hanh came to me on a Monday morning, and it may have been a day or two later when I was talking with a friend that reality began to shift.

I told Claire Watson Garcia, an artist and high school classmate, about the vision. She had a friend who had a friend who was an attorney at Time Warner Cable.

Two phone calls later, I was in the office of a semi-retired attorney named Gabe Pearlman. The thrust of his advice was that I needed “a rabbi,” someone who could shepherd the project through the minefields of network television.

A few things are worth noting at this point, not the least of which is that less than week after having the vision I was already in touch with someone who knew the TV business well. Considering that I started at ground zero, that was a small miracle in and of itself.

Eager To Help

Mr. Pearlman refused to charge me for the hour we spent together — I took him some wine the next day – but his willingness to help, without pay and without self-interest, was just one in a series of instances that took place each time I put my energy into the idea.

All I had to do was mention the project, and people went out of their way to help.

Further, there seemed no end to the trail of sources and information. As long as I kept talking about what I was up to, I kept getting led to new people, new ideas, new possibilities.

‘Stick To Your Vision’

 A couple of examples:

• Claire Garcia found more help, this time at her health club where she met a woman named Diane Dowling who said she was one of the people who started HBO. Diane and her counsel was enormously helpful.

 “If you knew what it took to do what you want to do, you wouldn’t even try,” she told me at lunch. “But you don’t, and that’s where miracles happen.”

Later, on the phone, she offered some advice that had almost immediate application. “Stick to your vision,” she said. “Every time I’ve let someone change my vision, it never worked.”

Foot on My Throat

• A month later, I went to Seattle to collect an award from the Education Writers Association for a magazine piece I’d written. While out there, I met the emcee of the awards ceremony who was also the host of an educational show on cable TV in New York.

“You ought to do a talk show,” said. “What you want to do would cost $250,000 an episode. You can do 30 talks shows for that.”

But a talk show wasn’t what I saw in the vision, and as he continued speaking I had this weird feeling that someone’s foot was on my throat.

I knew he meant well, but thank God Diane had warned me, because here was someone unwittingly trying to compromise my vision.

Pilot in an Ashram

• I moved out of my house in early June. The plan was that I would housesit for a friend in my home town in southern Connecticut and move to Atlanta in the fall. 

In the meanwhile, I was going to spend the next two weeks at Kripalu, a yoga ashram in Lenox, Massachusetts.

While at Kripalu, I told one of the leaders about the TV project and he suggested I do a pilot about Kripalu. We met with the guru, who was known as Guru Dev, and he, too, liked the idea. There was even a cameraman from Boston sojourning at the ashram and he agreed to shoot the pilot for free.

Again, it seemed that the universe was lining up behind this project.

Unraveling

But ten days before the shoot date, the cameraman and I had an argument. I thought we needed a second camera, and the more we talked it seemed his objections were less about an extra camera than about being unnerved about shooting the pilot itself.

It reminded me of something Richard Bach wrote in “Illusions”: “Argue for your limitations, and they are yours.”

The issue was unresolved when we got off the phone, and for the first time since I had the vision it felt like things were unraveling.

A day later, the PR guy from the ashram called. Guru Dev was going to California to spend visit Deepak Chopra and wanted to postpone the shoot.

There was nothing I could do about that, and in mid-September I moved to Atlanta. Six weeks later, I got a call from my daughter in Connecticut telling me that she’d been to Kripalu herself and that Guru Dev had been cashiered.

In other words, even when things didn’t work out as I thought they should, they worked out for the best.

But now what?

To be continued.

Magic in the Mundane

I got a message the other day that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, author and peace activist, was following me on Twitter. A day later, two of his followers signed up to follow me, and a day after that a third.

This was just a week after I’d joined Twitter, and I was still skeptical of its value. Mainstream media limit access to keep fools and amateurs from cheapening the product, and I wasn’t persuaded that social media had much value beyond connecting with old classmates.

Eventually I signed up to follow Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz with whom I’d exchanged a few emails. But when Jeff started following me, I realized I could no longer get away with being a paperweight.

Whole Lotta Tweeting

A search to see what others write in their posts led to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter page, and I decided to follow him. When he (or, more likely, someone in his organization) reciprocated, I figured that whoever responded was just being polite. I mean, TNH had 4188 followers and was following 3901 people. Even at 140 characters a person, that’s a lot of tweeting.

But our interaction reminded me of something that happened 15 years ago, something that occurred in a matter of seconds and yet has shaped the trajectory of my life ever since. Something that speaks volumes about the magical possibilities in our everyday world.

Nowhere to Go

In March of 1994, I was living in northwestern Connecticut and had just gotten a message from my landlord that he wanted to put the house on the market. I was recently divorced, freelancing, and not doing well financially.

I was awaiting word from Florida where I’d been promised a job as a senior writer and writing coach. But when I called the editor, he’d been reassigned and the job wouldn’t be filled for another six months.

Suddenly I had no prospects, no place to go and no idea what I wanted to do. I called a friend, and she commented, “You need a niche!”

Vision in a Garden

Immediately a vision appeared in my mind’s eye: I was walking with a small Asian man in a garden littered with white blossoms. A lavaliere microphone was clipped to my shirt, and the interview was being fiilmed by a video crew.

There was no antecedent for this, nothing in my experience to suggest any such activity in real life. And yet I knew instantly what it was: a TV series that I would create and produce as well as appear in.

But how did I know that? And where did the vision come from?

I am host to thousands of visions and fantasies, but usually they are self-generated and address fears or desires. This was beyond anything I’d ever thought of or dreamed about. In fact, the very idea was absurd. Not only had I no experience on either side of the camera, I didn’t even LIKE television.

Deepak It’s Not

As for the other man, his face was blurred, and I thought at first it might be Deepak Chopra. Which, as things turned out, would have been a good guess. Five years later, I would speak with Chopra on three different occasions, and two of those conversations included discussion of that vision.

But it wasn’t Chopra, it was Thich Nhat Hanh. I’d heard of the man, but didn’t know much about him. Research took care of that, and revealed, among other things, that the blossoms that I thought were apple were plum blossoms. He has a retreatin southern France called Plum Village, reason enough to pay the man a visit.

Now all of this could add up to nothing more than a mildly interesting anecdote, and ordinarily I would have dismissed the vision out of hand or ruminated on it for days and weeks.

Instead, I did something so uncharacteristic that even now it surprises me. I took action.

More in my next post.

10 Reasons to Revive This Site

1.    Six months off is plenty: Writing is what I do — for a living and as a means of self-expression. One balances the other, and for the past six months, I’ve been out of balance.

2.    The project I’m working on is in good shape: I’m writing a book for a foundation in Washington. Not having done this before, I allowed myself an innocent but consuming obsession in the early going. Now that I’ve got the rhythm, I can relax a bit.

3.    It’s spring, a time of renewal: I mowed the lawn last weekend and put woodchips on the back path and in the garden. It’s either revive the website or clean out the attic. No contest.

4.    To redefine the experiment: The original idea was to write about my transformation from lifelong employee to independent contractor. But I’ve discovered this is about more than just a career change, it calls for a total makeover. More about that in future posts.  

5.    Quitting isn’t an option: A sabbatical is one thing; giving up is another. My father died with his music in him; I don’t intend to let the same thing happen to me.

6.    I’ve got something to say: I’ve met famous people and had some amazing experiences. I’ve also made more than my share of mistakes, survived drugs, divorces and financial hardships, and learned enough lessons for several lifetimes.

7.    It’s time to give back: I’ve been a taker most of my life. Now it’s time to give away what I know in the hope that it will help others. Might even help myself, too.


8.    Darren Rowse made me do it:
Rowse is running a series “31 Days to Better Blogging” on his website, “ProBlogger.com.” I signed up, which in itself is an indication of newfound humility. That right there is a cause for celebration.


9.    My inbox is full:
I’ve got several pages of things I want to write about. It’s in the writing that I discover things I didn’t know I knew.  

10.     It’s paid for: Web hosting for this site is paid into early August, so I might as well take advantage of the investment. I wouldn’t mind renovating the site, too, but that falls into the category of cleaning out the attic.

        To comment, click below on  ‘Post a Comment.’  To contact me directly, email jc@johnchristensenonline.com.

Resistance Is Fruitful

Anyone familiar with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” will recall the Borg, a race of cyborgs who roamed the universe in a brutish cube that looked like a nightmare that had been run through a trash compacter. The Borg overwhelmed and assimilated cultures after issuing their signature warning, “Resistance is futile.”

“Star Trek” and the importance of resisting came up the day after I posted my last blog, and in the most unlikely of places. Who’d have thought you might find answers to the financial crisis in the first century AD?

I was invited to participate in a workshop recently at Columbia Theological Seminary in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. One of the speakers was Stan Saunders, an associate professor of New Testament, and before I go any further, a caveat.

It’s not my intention to promote a particular religion. The password here is change — stories about those who have chosen positive change rather than settling for the ordinary and conventional. My experience is that the most powerful and lasting change is usually spiritually driven, and in this particular case, Saunders talks about Christianity. If he’d been discussing the Old Testament, you’d be reading about Judaism Several centuries later, Islam. And so forth.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming….

The Wrong Theory

Saunders is a big, balding, middle-aged guy about 6-foot-4 who wore brown Carhartt jeans – new, from the looks of them – a bright blue shirt and lightweight hiking boots.

Glowing with enthusiasm, he rolled up his sleeves as he began his lecture. Then he removed his wristwatch, and encouraged his listeners to do likewise. Until capitalist entrepreneurs needed factory workers, he said with an air of disapproval, humans told time by the quadrant of the sky the sun occupied, and by the noteworthy events of their era.

Saunders’ first scholarly reference, as it were, came not from the Bible, but from “Star Trek” and the frequent references on the show to the space-time continuum.

“We locate ourselves by what time it is and what kind of world we’re in,” Saunders said. “If you think bankers own the world, you’ve got some confusion in the space-time continuum. You’ve got your life ordered around the wrong theory.”

A Different Story

The right theory, as you might imagine at an institution that trains ministers, is an orientation to the Creator and things eternal. And Saunders explained how a group of spiritually-minded people challenged the prevailing reality of their times.

 Early Christians were members of a “counter-culture” who identified with “a different story” than their contemporaries. That story, of course, centered on Jesus of Nazareth.

They also believed that God was not far away, but with them in the everyday world. That notion, Saunders said, “…changes how you discern the world.” And because of their perspective, “Christians were contrarians.”

The apostle Paul espoused two ethical principles: love and renunciation of self. Neither allows much room for greed, self-righteousness or manipulation of others.

Early Christians were also known for giving aid to the sick during epidemics. Whether their frequent exposure to disease fortified their immune systems is not clear, but Saunders said that Christians typically lived longer than non-Christians.

Whose World Is It?

Saunders said the very act of worship itself was – and still is – “resistance to the world’s order. We are called to push back. Not through war, but in a form of resistance to the world. Empires don’t like the little people to gather; [worship] names another power in the world.”

The rampant wealth and profligate spending of our times has been so excessive it’s tempting to wonder if, perhaps, materialism might not be the Borg of our times. And, indeed, if we are witnessing the end-game of that dynamic.

If so, and if you’ve been assimilated into the dizzying excess of the past years or the recent near-panic, Saunders says, “You’ve lost control of time. You have to remember whose world it is and what kind of time it is. You need to be resistant to the modern capitalist society.”

The alternative, he suggests, is the spiritual life, and it looks something like this: renunciation (giving up self-righteousness), forgiveness (of others and yourself) and reconciliation (with enemies).

Personally, Saunders’ Rx is not very appealing; it’s the behavioral equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest. I’ve invested a lifetime in self-righteousness and resentment, and it’s not easy to give that up. But I must also acknowledge that he’s correct. There’s a wonderful saying in 12-step programs that sums it up: “Do you want to be right, or would you rather be happy?”

Post a comment below or send an email to jc@johnchristensenonline.com.

 

BMWs and the Black Swan

I’ve marveled occasionally over the past few years at the explosion of wealth in this country, and the totem for these reflections is the BMW.

I lived in Louisville during the ’70s, and BMWs were all but unknown. The only BMW dealer was a small garage well out of town in a hamlet on the Ohio River. People who drove Beemers were enthusiasts who prized them as high-performance machinery.

Now, I commented to my friend Saul the other night, BMWs are status symbols and as common as Hondas.  “There’s a lot of money in this town!” I said.

“It’s not money,” he said  solemnly.  “It’s credit. They’re doing it on credit.”

“And there’s nothing behind it?”

He nodded.

It’s a Fist-Fight

Saul’s a money guy, a passionate student of the markets and trends who worked for Merrill Lynch before starting a hedge fund with a couple of friends. He knows economic history the way the geeks on Sports Center know baseball statistics.

“This whole thing,” he said, referring to the financial world that is in such upheaval, “is a contest, and I’m a game-player in the contest. There are thousands of books about it and all these theories, but no one has the answer. They tell you it’s an intellectual pursuit, but that’s bunk. It’s a fist-fight, and the best advice I’ve ever seen is ‘cover your chin and jab on the run.'”

Meaning?

“Don’t lose money. Cut your losses as soon as you recognize them. Don’t let it be a long-term investment.”

That, he said, is an old money-management technique that has been ignored in this “new age” economy where “everyone thinks it’s riskless.” Federal guarantees, greed and foolishness, he said, led to easy credit for individuals and institutions, and a bloated economy.

A House of Cards

Saul was so baffled by what was going on that he moved all his fund’s assets into cash, certificates of deposit and gold a few months ago. Nevertheless, he is still rattled by the crisis.

“It was a house of cards,” Saul said, “there was nothing behind it. I feel sorry for people who  thought they had investments, and now the outlier (the extreme of a bell curve, a statistical form that measures probability) comes along to destroy their wealth.

‘It’s the rare event, the fifth standard deviation, the black swan. It’s the unanticipated event that comes along every 100 years.”

Saul was taking it so personally that it reminded me of the winter of 1992-3. I had just moved to a small town in northwestern Connecticut. My wife and I decided to divorce, and I was living alone in a big, cold house with baseboard electric heat that was scandalously expensive. I didn’t have a job, my savings were gone and my checking account was at an all-time low. Then I got a utilities bill for $575.

An Exploded Balloon

I spent an hour raging, cursing my fate, and entertaining vivid scenarios of my life as a homeless person. Finally, I sat down and started writing. Every thought that crossed my mind, no matter how foolish, I committed to a yellow legal pad.  I wrote for an hour or more, ten pages in all, emptying myself in blue ink.

When there was nothing left, I sat for a moment, incredulous. Then I laughed. The fears that were running me were not mine at all. They were my mother’s, who came by them honestly. She grew up during the Depression with an alcoholic father.

I glanced out the window at the garage. I had a nice car in that garage with gas in it. I had food in the kitchen, a roof over my head. I was warm and dry, and I had a comfortable place to sleep.  Whatever was going to happen, no one was going to come to the door and shoot me. I’d be OK.

A Baseball

I put on my coat, called the dog, and went for a walk. Up the road, I passed a spot where a car had been parked. Lying next to the snowbank was a scuffed, grass-stained baseball. Spring was coming; I’d be OK.

A few days later, I got a check for a magazine story I’d written. I expected $500; the check was for $3500.

I wish I could say the experienced changed me, but my first reaction to upsetting news still tends to be negative and fearful. I’ve had my own “rare event,” and it laid me low. But the truth is that even though I’ve been brought to my knees, the reality was never as bad as my fears portrayed them. I was — and still am — OK.

And if my experience has any value, what we’re going through now may get ugly, but we’ll be OK.

Post a comment below or email me at jc@johnchristensenonline.com

Tasmanian Devils and Moon Shots

It’s a Friday morning in early June and my girlfriend and I are on the front porch of her house in Atlanta sipping coffee. Spring is tapering into summer, but it’s not too hot to be outside, and the mosquitos don’t come around to the front of the house.
 
The year is 1997, and I work the 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at CNN.com. I write about elections in Nigeria, the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and, on one memorable night, about a woman in Australia who found a Tasmanian Devil under her car.

My girlfriend is a realtor, and she’s got a problem of her own. “I don’t have any business,” she said. “I’ve talked to all my clients, I’ve called people and I’ve been through my Rolodex, and I just don’t have any business.”

This, as any guy knows, is an invitation to fix something. It’s one of our specialties: we discover a problem and we think we’re supposed to fix it. And ordinarily I might have blundered right in, trying to do just that.

Operating Room

But perhaps because I’d just awakened, and the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet, I took a different approach. I told her I knew what a hard worker she was, and how I believed she’d done everything she could possibly do.

“But if I were you,” I said, “I wouldn’t say ‘I don’t have any business.’ There might be something out there, you just don’t see it yet. You’ve got to leave some room for God to operate.'”

It’s not often that I’ve said something that has such a visible effect, but she gave me a relieved smile and said, “Of course.”

The next morning at ten minutes to 7, the phone rang, an interruption that could not have been any less welcome had it been a Tasmanian Devil.
It was a guy in Houston who grew up down the street from my girlfriend.
He wanted her to sell his mother’s house in one of Atlanta’s most desirable neighborhoods.

Mental Health

That story came to mind the other evening as I was driving home from a meeting where the topic was trust. Those at the meeting had been bruised and scarred by the alcoholism of people close to them, and trust was not easy to come by.

It was a casualty in my life, too, but for some reason what came to mind was the round of golf I’d played a few days before with my friend Mike.

This is my fourth year at the game, and only my sixth outing of the year. In other words, I’m not real good. And after yet another of my drives disappeared into the woods, I told Scott, one of the guys we were playing with, “What I lack in accuracy I make up for in mental health. It feels so good just to knock the hell out of the ball.”

However therapeutic it may be, it’s not satisfying in the long run. I lost a lot of balls that day, and Scott used the same ball for the whole round. He’d put intersecting lines on the ball in red ink, and every time he teed it up, I saw those red lines and was reminded that the point is to keep the ball in play.

“Y’know, you’ve got a great swing when you relax,” Mike said. “It’s fluid and easy. You don’t need to kill it.”

Moon Shot

He was right, and not just about my golf. It’s also true about the way I live. When I obsess, think I’m in control and try too hard, it’s ugly.  When I relax and trust the way my girlfriend did, the results are better than I could imagine.

Just a few days before we played, I wrapped up a writing project and wondered if the well had gone dry, as I always fear it will. But I was calm, relaxed. It was too soon to conclude that God had let me down, and a few hours later, I got a call and another project.

So when we got to the 14th, a short, 182-yard hole about 100 feet lower than the elevated tee, I relaxed. I slowed down, trusted the swing and let the club do the work. I hit a moon shot, a towering 8-iron that floated down out of the sky as if guided by angels and landed pin-high, 18-feet from the hole.

I don’t’ know, this trust thing could catch on.


                                      Post a comment below or email me at jc@johnchristensenonline.com.

A Note to Voyeurs

I got an email the other night from a lady I used to run into often, but had lost touch with. Her note says, in part:

“I came across your website, and wanted to reach out and let you know that I enjoy reading your entries, and value your willingness to be vulnerable and publish your journey. I guess it gives those of us on a more secluded path an opportunity to be spiritual voyeurs. :-)”

Odd, the timing of it. I’ve wondered at times whether anyone beside myself was getting anything out of this. It started as a place to report my experiences as I reinvented myself. I knew others had been tossed over the side by corporate America, or left their jobs for some other reason and might need the encouragement of someone else’s experiences.

And I probably also hoped it would buck up my own spirits. I tend to get despondent over setbacks, a consequence of growing up with a mother whose father was an alcoholic.

Who Are You?

What I discovered is that reinventing myself isn’t just about branding, marketing and networking. It goes much deeper than that. When you get past the what, the when and the how of it, you come to the who.

And as The Who put it, “Who are you?”

Well, I’m a guy who grew up without the conviction that you need what I’ve got (see Trump, Donald). There was a shortage of self-esteem that I’ve spent my lifetime trying to fix. It’s an obsession dangerously close to narcissism, searching for the fix, but taking life on it’s terms is not an option.

Discovering Al-Anon’s 12-step program has given direction to my spiritual longings, and recently I got an opportunity to take it even deeper.

It’s a Put-On!

I’ve been invited to participate this month in a “spiritual formation” seminar at a theological seminary.

The assigned reading includes “Thirsty for God” by Bradley P. Holt in which Holt discusses “vocation” as something we are led to that expresses our core values. It came to me almost immediately that my “vocation” is encouraging others, reassuring them that it’s safe to come out from under the bed and play.

There’s a saying that one teaches what he most needs to learn, and that’s certainly true in this case. I’ve spent most of my life hiding behind a mask, and as The Who (where would I be without them?) put it so well in “Eminence Front” , “It’s a put-on!”

I Know! I Know!

Where is this leading? I wish I knew. But that’s the old me, the one who tried to control his environment and was always thinking, always trying to figure it out.

Now, as Scrooge puts it in the extraordinary ’51 version of “Scrooge” while dancing a jig on Christmas morning, “I know! I know! I know that I don’t know!” (If I’ve used that line before on the site, I owe you one….)

I know that I don’t know. And yet, because I keep turning my life over to the Creator, it seems like things keep getting better. I couldn’t have said that a year ago. 

The Abundance of the Moment

I was talking the other night to a friend about the gas shortage here in Atlanta, and admitted that I was embarrassed how it had unnerved me.

Hurricanes Gustav and Ike shut down the refineries on the gulf coast which produce the gasoline that is pumped through pipelines to the southeast. It has taken the refineries a long time to get back up and running, and the gasoline reaching our area is well below normal.

The result has been shortages, long lines and the barely muted panic of a population habituated, and unable to get, it’s substance of choice.

The first line I saw was a week ago when I went to get my car washed at a gas station. (Due to a drought, we’re also restricted from engaging in another American birthright: the domestic joy of washing the car in the driveway.)
There was a line half a block long at the station. The attendant said it was because they were selling lowest octane gas at $3.87 a gallon.

I got the car washed without waiting, but the experience was disturbing.

Wild Mind

The same thing happened when Katrina shut down the refineries. I sat one afternoon in a line for 30 minutes waiting to fill up. I had a job the next day, and I needed the money. My mind ran wild, beginning with “What happens if they run out? Where do I go next? What happens if I can’t find any gas?”

So here I was again, running through a well-stocked inventory of fear-driven scenarios, all of them built around scarcity and lack. And every time I’ve seen a station since with long lines, those fears are refreshed as if I’d hit the reload button on my Firefox browser.

And I ask everyone I speak with if they’ve bought gas, where, and what were the lines like.

“I’m glad you told me that,” my friend said the other night. “I was thinking it was just me who was so freaked out.” 

Combustible Emotions

Finally I decided to take a look at the obsession head-on. What I came up with was that the high level of uncertainty I’ve experienced over the past few years has made me unusually sensitive.

I’ve managed reasonably well, but a gas shortage threatens one of the freedoms I treasure most: mobility. If I can’t get around, I’m in deep trouble. And I live in a sprawling city with nearly 5.5 million inhabitants, most of whom are habituated to plentiful gasoline and long commutes.

Those lines teem with people whose unchecked anxieties are probably similar to mine, and their emotions are more combustible than fuel. I heard a story last week about a guy who cut in front of a woman. She  went into the station, bought a cup of coffee and dumped it on him.

Authorities say part of the problem is that people are panicking and topping off their tanks rather than waiting until they’re low to re-fuel. If I’d seen a short line, I’d have done it myself.

And I’ve given plenty of thought to options, too. The AT&T store is looking for help. Or maybe the library at the end of the street, or Borders, which is just a mile away. Those are places I could walk to. Lowe’s is a few miles the other way, and the MARTA station a few hundred yards from here puts other possibilities within reach.

Reclaiming the Day

But for all the nightmares I’ve conjured, none has come to pass. And as a passage in a book called “Courage to Change” points out, “My best hope is every bit as likely to occur as my worst fear….” It adds, “All I can do is make the most of this day.”

Come to think of it, this day isn’t half-bad. Temperature about 80, low humidity and I’ve got the double front doors open and am sitting in the doorway with a commanding view of a riot of greenery — trees, lawn, shrubs — the street, and the  ravine across the street. A young mother passes pushing a stroller and leading a dog on a leash. She sees me and we exchange waves.

What’s not to like? With this splendid working environment, I have wrapped up two jobs, written a blog, figured out how to put ads on my website and been offered an interesting assignment that will pay a lot of bills for the next few months.  And all of this without turning on the ignition.

The abundance of the moment reminds me that giving in to the panderings of the unchecked mind is stupid, weak and a failure of faith. Faith in the Creator, and faith in my ability not just to cope, but to make the best of a situation.

Online reports say gas supplies ought to be normal by mid-October. I trust that my reservoir of sanity will be topped off and flowing freely well before that.

                                Post a comment below or email me at jc@johnchristensenonline.com.