Monthly Archives: September 2005

Act your age

K got hit by a car 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until last week that he needed a chiropractor. He’ll be seeing him for the next few months.

D got the results of his MRI this week: he’ll probably need surgery.

W visited his sister-in-law in North Carolina, who’s dying of a rare disease that causes the skin and tissues to harden. "Of course," said W, "the truth is we’re all dying, anyway."

B said his body aches after working in the yard and wonders, "If it’s this bad at 50, what’s it gonna be like in 10 years?"

This was not a meeting of convalescents, it was the weekly gathering of my men’s group. The topic arose, as it so often does, out of the the check-ins that begin the meetings. We’ve discussed everything at these sessions from mothers and fathers to death and taxes (money, actually), but aging hasn’t come up that often. Yet it is of surpassing interest to everyone.

In the "Redefining Aging" (LINK) section of this website, I quote Picasso, who said, "I think you are however old you think you are, and I decided to be 28 all my life."

Picasso died at the age of 91, and I probably should have made that point the other night. But I’d been pretty windy about a related issue, and the conventional wisdom around aging was, for some reason, not something I felt like taking on.

My punishment was to awaken later that night with all kinds of thoughts clattering about in my mind. Chief among them was how even a group as progressive as ours is prone to the occasional lapse. We meet at a Unity church. The Unity movement was created by people whose foundational dictum was "Thoughts held in mind repeat after their kind."

Even those of us (your servant included) who don’t often attend the services agree that our thoughts create our reality. And yet when it comes to aches and pains, we blame them on an outside agency.

In fact, D said that he’d read that up to the age of 40, the body’s cells follow a particular process of regeneration, but thereafter they begin to scatter, and the body begins an inevitable decline.

That may very well be true about the mechanics and chemistry of this remarkable instrument we call the body. (My older daughter, a gifted chiropractor and healer, says, "Once you’ve studied the human body, you have to believe in God.")

But D’s explanation does not account for the input of the owner/operator. My own study leads me to conclude that my ailments and how I age depend on what’s going on between my ears. If I think, "Well, I’m getting older, I’ve got to expect stiffness and soreness," then so it will be. But I consider such symptoms as indications of a unease in my mind, and try to discover what it is.

Thomas Hanna is of the same opinion. In his book "Somatics," he writes, "Fear of aging is a product of ignorance, and this ignorance is no longer defensible, any more than the myth of aging is defensible." What’s needed, he says, are "new ‘soft’ technologies … that teach us internal control of our physiological and psychological selves." That, he says, will result in "a new myth of aging…that life is a continuous process of growth and expansion."

Jesus of Nazareth put it this way: "As a man thinketh, so shall he be."

This is not to dismiss or diminish my friends’ pain. These are my spiritual brothers. In some ways they know me better than my family does. But that conversation brought something to the surface I think we can improve on.

Yes, we’re getting older. And, barring epiphany or spontaneous transmission (transcendence is greatly underrated, I think), we are all dying. The operative question, then, is something we’ll have to answer on our deathbed: "How was the trip?"

The most encouraging words I heard that night came from the oldest man there. S is retired from a Fortune 500 company and so busy he wonders how he ever had time for work.

After listening to the others, he said, "I’m, what 65, 66?" he stopped, genuinely puzzled. "Whatever, I don’t even think about how old I am. I’m just really excited about being alive and about the possibilities, about the things I want to do."

That’s the kind of thinking Hanna is talking about, and it’s where I want to be. It’s thinking that turns aging from a death sentence into a lifelong adventure.

If you’d like to respond, please click below on "Post a Comment." To reach me directly, send an email to

Too much control

I spent the last full week of summer with my daughters and their families on Fripp Island, 20 miles from the antebellum charms of Beaufort. We were just in time for the emergence of the deer flies, an annual scourge which explains why the island was virtually deserted.

But even there Life went on, ever mysterious in its service to the truth.

We were at a swimming pool one afternoon, and I saw a man exhibit behavior with his son that had me raging for days. The son was a toddler, barely walking, unsteady out of water and in, and uncomfortable the pool, which was perhaps 18 inches deep.

After slipping inflatable sleeves on the toddler’s arms, the father tried to force the child to lay back in the water and test the flotation. The child resisted, struggling to stay vertical, and began to cry.

"It’s OK, big boy," the father said, still holding him backward. "I’ve got you."

Still the child struggled, and wailed. The father let him up slightly. "It’s OK!" he said, his voice forceful, verging on impatience. "I’ve GOT you!"

He tilted the child back again, and the cries grew louder. Finally the father stopped, his face red with anger and frustration.

Moments later, he picked the child up and put him in a yellow toy inner tube. Again the child wailed. The father tried to get him to walk, but even with the tube around him he floundered and cried.

Then an older man, the grandfather, caught the inner tube and pulled the child to him. He put his arms around the child, congratulated him with a "good boy!" and nudged him back towards the father. The father turned him and sent him back to the grandfather, who praised the child again and towed him gently over to his mother who was watching pensively from the side of the pool.

"Not bad for his first time," the grandfather said to the father. The father’s face brightened. "Yeah, not bad at all!"

It seemed to end well enough, but the scenario came back to me often over the next few days, and it enraged me.

The father’s behavior was a compendium of undesirable male traits: insensitivity, inflexibility, childishness and an almost willful  determination to do the wrong thing. But what I detested most was the use of force, the imperial might that generations of fathers have wielded over their children in lieu of awareness, kindness and reason.

I’d been at the blunt end of that kind of treatment myself, and I’m sorry to say I’ve also employed it. So I’ve got no call to criticize anyone. But I did a lot of work to purge myself of that sort of thing, and thought I was in the clear.

But the anger let me know otherwise: There was something in that father’s behavior that was still alive and ticking in my own life. And with a little thought, I knew what it was.

Control. The father was trying to force things, demanding a level of courage in his child that was unreasonable and absurd. His behavior stamped him as a card-carrying member of the old paradigm, a tribe to which most men belong.

But what about me? I’ve been on the path of spirituality and personal growth for years. I’ve stopped periodically along the way to peel away another layer of persona that no longer served me. And yet still there is something holding me back, something that isn’t quite right, and it took that father’s behavior for me to see it in myself.

A few years ago at a men’s retreat led by author Dan Millman, we broke boards with our hands after writing on them what we wanted to break through. I wrote: "Holding back."

Holding back what? Controlling what? Let me count the ways: I’ve got a book I want to write, but haven’t started. I have two TV projects that await my attention. I’ve got friends who seem to enjoy my company and would like to see me, and friends trying to introduce me to women, but I stay home and watch football or the Braves. Even going out on a job feels like an interruption in my carefully controlled existence.

But once you’ve committed to the path, change is like the Eagles’ "Hotel California": you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave. The capper came yesterday during a golf lesson. The pro watched me hit balls for awhile, and said I was hitting at the ball rather than executing a true golf swing. His advice: "You’re gonna have to quit trying to control it."

There it is: I ask for help with my golf swing, and a guy who knows nothing about me tells me exactly what I need to know to fix the hitch in my life.

A busload of faith

You need a busload of faith to get by…
                                   "Busload of Faith" by Lou Reed

Last blog I talked about being calm even as my money drew down to the point where I had promised myself that I would shelve my principles and look for a job. That calm was the result of faith. Faith not so much in myself, but in my connection to the Creator. And that sense of connection and the idea that things would work out was the direct result of my difficulties.

I’d lost my job, spent my 401 (k) and refinanced my house. I’d split with my agent, put down two dying cats and broke up with the woman I’d been dating.

"Freedom," sang Janis Joplin in "Me and Bobby McGee," "is just another word for nothin’ left to lose."

What I found was that losing so much and feeling that what little I had left was threatened sharpened my appetite for what was safe, secure and enduring. And having run the table of possibilites – denial, escapism, drugs, alcohol, women, etc. – the only thing left was God.

But not just any God. Not the white-robed God with the flowing white beard of Michealangelo. Not the wrathful God of the Old Testament, nor a puppeteer God.

But rather a being of unimaginable form who created this free-will zone where we have the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them with the idea of becoming genuine adults rather than children in oversized clothing.

I found help in this regard in the Urantia Book (see Tools) which has not only a detailed (and very challenging) explanation of God, but also an exceptional account of the life and teachings of Jesus.

The Jesus of the Bible is too vague and insubstantial for my taste. The Jesus of the Urantia Book is beyond remarkable, not because of what he did, but also because of what he did not do.

I cannot do him justice here, but one of the great pleasures was learning that he was a man’s man. A man who was cheerful as well as devout. Who loved people, and turned no one away. Who was so robust and wise and admirable, as the book notes, that "the rugged fishermen of Galilee called him Master."

This was a man I could relate to. Not because he was divine and magical, atlhough there’s no denying its appeal, but because he lived as a man and made the best of his circumstances without asking for special consideration.

It was this Jesus I spoke to several months after being laid off. I had two issues percolating at the time. One, what was going to become of me? And, two, where would the money come from?

I was exceedingly anxious, given to sudden spasms of fear that would cause me to slam my fist against my thigh and exclaim, "God! I’ve got to make money!"

I could see no way out of my circumstances. I could not go back and do the kind of work I’d been doing without killing my spirit, and yet I lacked the power to bring my dreams to reality. The lingering suspicion was that I really was as screwed up and useless as I felt.

That fear came boiling to the surface one night as I slept. I awoke suddenly, sat bolt upright and said, "Jesus, I’m scared."

This was not an exclamation, as in "Damn, I burned the Pop Tart!" I was talking to that personalized Jesus, who in my mind was every bit as real and available as he was 2000 years ago.

In seconds I was enveloped in what felt like a cloud of warmth and love and reassurance. My fears vanished. I sank back onto the pillow and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Since then I’ve talked often to Jesus – more talking than listening, I’m afraid – and I’ve felt that warmth often during meditation. My state of mind is calmer now, but my faith is fragile.

Just two weeks ago, I got caught in a line at a gas station when the ripples from Hurricane Katrina reached Atlanta. I could feel the anger of the other motorists, as well as their fear and frustration, and a barely suppressed violence.

I knew exactly what was happening, and still I let that panic leak into my bloodstream. It was time came for a busload of faith (a cool song, by the way, pessimism notwithstanding) and I couldn’t even muster a carload.

So I’m grateful I’ve made it this far, but it’s also clear there’s more work to be done

If you’d like to respond to this entry, please click below on "Post a Comment." To reach me directly, send an email to