Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Presence

A few nights ago, I interviewed my neighbor Ken, a burly, bald software contractor for the Colonial Pipeline who favors cargo pants, polo shirts and serious boots. He looks like he could be 55, but in fact will turn 70 in February, and is almost certainly the oldest student at Georgia State University.

Although he has math and computer science degrees from Georgia Tech, Ken is working toward bachelors and  masters degrees, and a second career as a researcher in criminal justice. His GPA is 4.0.

Ken is not a church-goer, and but  he mentioned taking a drug-counseling course and the 12-step program’s belief in a higher power. "As far as I can tell," he said, referring to  needing the help of a higher power "that’s true of everything, not just for addiction."

It was just about the last thing I expected to hear from a guy who once told me "I never feel safe," and whose passion is "the tactical self-defense culture" — the legal use of deadly force for self-defense. He has  also dedicated more than 20 years to becoming a marksman with pistols, particularly the GLOCK, which puts him in the "praise God and pass the ammunition" school of theology.

Thriving in a hostile world, he says, embraces everything from how you treat the wife and kids to "when you leave the house, do you have your knife, your gun, your cellphone…?"

It’s an interesting perspective, and there’s no denying that it can be a challenging world.

Personally, it has never been more so. Through a confluence of factors, what might be called an anti-harmonic convergence, I’ve experienced a litany of setbacks and expenses in the past six months that summon thoughts of Job. Fundamentally, they can be boiled down to a shortage of work and a shortage of income.

I have quite literally bet the ranch on a path that has proven to be more difficult and less lucrative than I ever imagined. It’s a ridiculous, almost surreal, experience, and reminds me of Kafka’s "Metamorphosis," where a guy discovers he’s turning into a fly.

Some factors were out of my control – a slow-down in the acting business, for example. But the real problem is that since leaving in ’01, I lost track of what it means to be productive. I’ve mistaken good intentions – the conviction that I’m on this planet for a reason and that I’ve found my purpose – and non-stop mental activity for fruitful work.

Were I to die tomorrow, my last thought would be, "I wish I’d spent more time in the office."

But that’s the past. The interview with Ken is just one of a half-dozen stories I’ve got lined up. I’m scrambling, and it feels good. Taking action always does. But I don’t know how it’s going to play out, and my prayer is that it’s not too late to make amends, that I still have a fighting chance.

And even more important than cashing checks is stopping negative thoughts. Because when I look at my circumstances as a whole, it looks like an avalanche waiting to bury me, poised not on "if," but "when."

But doubt is the flip side of faith. I’ve never doubted God, but I’ve often doubted my ability to connect with Him, which is an especially perverse form of egotism. What makes me so special that I should think I was exempt from God’s grace and mercy?

Meanwhile, what has kept me going, what has enabled me to go back to sleep when I’ve awakened, as I do almost every night and begun to fret in the dark, is calling "the presence." In the October issue of Science of Mind, Eckhart Tolle variously calls it "the vertical dimension…the I Am…true intelligence…our source" and "an undercurrent of awareness of presence operating in us." (Tolle doesn’t use "God," I think, because it triggers the people he’s trying to reach, but that’s where he’s coming from.)

I visualize this presence as a white-robed figure at my shoulder. Used to be I could only see the edge of the robe and a fold. Now I imagine it is the Jesus of Nazareth I discovered in the Urantia Book – a powerful and vigorous man of immense charm and humor, of stunning wisdom and intelligence, and with a boundless capacity for love and kindness.

I’m still far too often distracted by the mundane world, but when I shift my awareness to the presence, my shoulders relax, the tension in my lower back releases and the heaviness in my chest evaporates. I am serene and in the moment. 

"…Awakening to your life’s purpose is not to try to look to the future and expect fulfillment there," says Tolle, "but to stay in the moment, allowing the ego to dissolve. Your life’s inner purpose is primary, and your inner purpose is to awaken, to be conscious. In whatever you do, your state of consciousness is the primary factor."

So when I leave the house, it’s not with a knife and a gun, but with my cellphone, so my agents can reach me, and  the knowledge that I can call on the presence to reach God.  Like Ken says, I can’t do this on my own.  

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Family Men

Andre Agassi, you may have read, is retiring from tennis and plans to spend more time with Steffi and the kids. Steelers coach Bill Cowher, according to a recent ESPN report, may retire after this year so that he can spend more time with his family. And Roger Clemens left the Yankees two years ago so he could spend more time with his family in Texas.

The athlete who retires so he can — all together now — “spend more time with his family” has become a tedious and misleading cliche. I can’t be the only person who’s sick of reading about these delusional athletes and their Norman Rockwell fantasies and the sporting media that happily traffics in these fantasies.

And if anyone else is as disenchanted with the sporting media which, always a sucker for an illusion (see Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds), happily traffic in these fictions.

There’s another side to this story, the one that gets far less attention.

Clemens, for example, barely made it through the holidays after ditching the Yankees before he was re-discovering his love for the game and signed a contract worth $18 million with his hometown Houston Astros. Which, when you consider that the alternative was carting the kids around in the Suburban, was at the very least a very prudent business decision.

And then, after another winter and spring of quality family time, Clemens signed again this year, having successfully avoided the tedium of spring training.

This is not to say that they don’t care about their kids and don’t genuinely want to be good parents. What irks me is the mindless assumption that the suddenly domesticated athlete would happily ferry the kids to little league and ballet, grill steaks every night and then settle down on the couch with the long-suffering wife to watch Dancing with the Stars.

Finally, then, a reality check in the form of an interview in the September/October issue of AARP Magazine with Dennis Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness.”

Gilbert says that family time is not everything it’s cracked up to be. While many parents have “transcendent moments of happiness” with their children, he says, they don’t particularly enjoy dealing with them on a daily basis.

“…Children are hard work,” he says. “A recent study shows that women looking after their children are significantly less happy than when they’re watching TV.”

I know he’s old as tennis players go and he’s got a bad back, but after a few months of looking after the kids and watching daytime TV, Agassi might be up for another cortisone shot and a couple of sets of tennis.

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