Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Making Peace with the Past

I had been apprehensive about going to lunch with my two old friends from high school, but William was coming in from the Bay area, and we'd had a wonderful reunion two years earlier, and I looked forward to seeing him again.

Robert had live in L.A. for a long time and we had gotten together over the years a number of times, and he was always generous, warm and cordial. But through no fault of his own, he had had the career that I thought I always wanted. While I floundered as a screenwriter he went from one success to another and is now very successful in the entertainment industry. On a personal level too, he has a family, a house in a wonderful location, and seemingly everything anyone could want.

By many standards I have also done well for myself in high tech, but I couldn't help comparing myself to Robert.

And as Robert retraced his career for William and me, I realized that he had actually been well-connected in Hollywood when I was writing screenplays. He'd been bi-coastal, but if I'd been a bit more aware, I might have reconnected with him at that time, and things might have turned out differently for me.

We had worked together closely on the high school newspaper, almost as partners; surely if we had been in touch when I was first in L.A., other doors might have opened.

At one point Robert said that he had realized at the time that the movie business was not about writing or creativity so much as it was about deal-making, and that had been what he was doing.

I couldn't help but wonder, if we'd connected at that time, if one of those deals would not have been mine. But I was 35 at the time—I knew it all—I lived in my own world and was not open to many of the opportunities that the greater world afforded me.

As the lunch continued, instead of enjoying the vibe, questions churned inside me along with feelings of jealousy and regret.

And I did not like myself for these feelings either, so I castigated myself for having them, and after the lunch I told William about my feelings and how I wondered whether I had really missed the boat almost 30 years earlier when I didn't realize that an old friend was in a position to possibly help me with my career.

William was empathetic and said that one never knows what might have happened. Indeed, I have written in the past about my own demons and how if I had found great success early on, I might very well have succumbed to forces that would have damaged me badly or even killed me.

And there were many other reasons why I probably didn't connect with Robert sooner. For one thing I never felt comfortable with the entertainment crowd and made my feelings known in ways that often pushed them away – not a very good networking strategy.

I had also assiduously avoided the rat race of "making it", settling into a comfortable existence that allowed me to play tennis and enjoy my life in many other ways while others were climbing corporate ladders.

It didn't make a lot of sense for me now to try to reconstruct my choices and come up with alternative scenarios that simply did not come to pass, and wallow in regret, and yet that was what I was in jeopardy of doing.

And worse, I was watching myself doing it and knowing it was unhealthy.

Later when I reflected on this with other people, I remembered how warm and friendly both guys had been, and how much we still have in common.

William is also the child of Holocaust survivors and an immigrant, and he had shared with me at one point how much therapy had helped him understand and come to terms with his own unique background and challenges, and face many of the same demons that have plagued me.

For example, I realized sitting there that in many ways the success I envied in Robert is not something I wanted so much for myself, but for my father, who had struggled so hard for my benefit.

Now that I've been working on myself, it was so great to be reunited with William and feel his compassion as I revealed some of my feelings of regret. I also met his son who is graduating from college this year, and William said at one point how wonderful it would be if I moved to the Bay area so we could spend time together—and that we would be like brothers and his son could be my nephew.

I realized how incredibly loving that connection was and still is, and how fortunate I am to have found it now. Somehow I need to shift my focus from what might have happened 30 years ago, and didn't, to what actually happened just yesterday, and its great promise for the future.

And even my renewed connection with Robert, with all of its negative subtext—and again none of that is Robert's doing—can be a source of support and enjoyment if I just let it be what it is—an old friend who now lives in Malibu.

So much of the work I've been doing concerns a shift from the left brain and analysis and judgment-- to the heart and acceptance of love.

Perhaps this experience is a crucible---literally a necessary test for me to witness the folly of my attachment to dreams that never happened, and an ego that was outsized and out of control.

In many ways, thanks to the work I've been doing, I have come out of the isolation that kept me from connecting with Robert all those years ago, and now have some deep connections with people that love and accept me.

I know that I need to join those people in my own love and acceptance of myself, and have compassion for a young man that made many mistakes so long ago—and be grateful for the man that he can still be today. I need to finally let all of those burdens and expectations go, and accept the many blessings I currently have and the ways things are right now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Can You Handle a (Cosmic) Truth?

Two events that happened over the weekend impacted me on a deep level – the earthquake in Chile and the death of the trainer by the Orca at Sea World in Florida.

The troubling nature of both has everything to do with that word – "nature."

In my day to day life I am often content to concentrate on my important tasks – work, social connections, and maintaining the status quo.

Both these events made me realize that no matter how much I try to ignore it, my life is part of a much greater reality.

The earthquake, coming so soon after the one in Haiti, makes me realize that I live on a dynamic planet that is constantly shifting and changing, and transferring energy between its various parts and its inhabitants, along with other energy which we can only begin to suspect with the solar system and galaxy.

Given our own physical scale, and the length of time we spend on the planet, we may be spared these influences and blissfully remain oblivious to them. Because of the lights of our cities, we can ignore the fact that we live in an immense universe of unfathomable scale and power—until an event like an earthquake makes us confront, until the next political scandal takes over CNN, that we inhabit a physical universe of incredible power and with forces way beyond our control.

Nature has ways of getting our attention, and reminding us that we exist, physically here and now, and that our existence is in many ways precarious.

The Orca issue made me also cognizant of the fact that we humans are a species of animal exercising dominion over other species – for the time being – which has moral consequences.

While I felt good that a sizable number of commentators pointed out that an Orca should not be kept in confinement and made to entertain with dumb tricks for a living, the fact that this is not obvious to every human on a deep soulful level is troubling.

Our inability to hold other life, particularly intelligent life, in the its proper reverence has been evident for a long time, and it's nice that some folks are waking up and science for example has realized just how remarkable these sea mammals are—but one look at the depressed dorsal fin of the animal that killed that trainer would indicate to any sensitive soul that that animal was deeply troubled and if it was filled with rage, who could blame it.

My mother, who unfortunately would have known, once called Sea World a concentration camp for penguins.

But to sense all of this deeply and profoundly, you would need to no longer take your human-ness for granted – you would need to acknowledge that you're part of a natural order that has consequences, even if you are the "dominant species".

Both of those issues bring me back to the matter of scale. If the universe is truly 14 billion years old, life on this planet is quite a recent development, we (as a species) have only been here for the tiniest fraction of that time, and as individuals of course we live here for a split second of cosmic time.

Within that period of our lives, many of us think we are in control of circumstances – until an event like Chile or Haiti imposes the reality of the higher scale upon us.

But can we be conscious of our lack of control without such an event, or simply by taking it in?

And what if anything of consequence do we really control?

Some teachings suggest that the only thing we can really influence is our own attention.

If that is the case, then remaining oblivious to the matters of scale that could crush us at any instant is probably part of our survival mechanism – because otherwise we'd be terrified all of the time.

So how to balance the reality that may come into our senses, however briefly and frighteningly, when we watch CNN, with our day to day need to survive mentally and emotionally and yet try to be conscious and sensitive?

It's interesting to consider that other societies may have used various drugs to let these feelings in on a limited and traditional basis—with the guidance of shamans and priests—while we have science to provide us with frightening "facts" of scale to which we have little relation, and media to scare the crap out of us.

Lately there has been quite a bit of speculation about the Mayan calendar, and its ability to connect with a 26,000 year planetary cycle that some see as ending in 2012.

Not surprisingly books and movies have focused on cataclysmic events that may transpire.

But it would be interesting to know how the Maya really experienced this planet with their combination of science, art and religion—although it seems that if you were a slave in that culture interesting might not be the right word. Or exactly why the Egyptians (or someone) apparently decided to use a million blocks of stone to construct an almost indestructible scale replica of the earth and connect it to the Sun and perhaps even other stars.

But certainly our day to day existence totally denies the reality of the cosmos in a way the Maya and Egyptians apparently did not. Millions of us go through life hypnotized by media and with a certainty that we know what is going on and what our lives mean: a paycheck, a relationship, raising kids, and so on.

Then suddenly for a brief instant we are connected to realities of a much higher scale. Do we ignore them, and simply move on to the next event in our own lives, or can we take them in, connect to their power, and let them influence us in ways that are not merely terrifying, but speak to the potential for our own spiritual or higher purpose and evolution?