Do we plan our lives?

BeachMy approach to metaphysics in a nutshell is this: if an idea intrigues me, I like to play with it as if it were true. I like to try the idea on for size, see how it feels, and put it through its paces.

Many people don’t go there unless something of a woo-woo nature has been scientifically proven to be true. They immediately shut down and refuse to even consider the idea, focusing instead on lack of proof. “The afterlife does not exist because it cannot be proven.”

What I do is not much different from when you are buying a house or searching for a new apartment. You go visit the place, and then you visualize yourself living there. You think of how your furniture would fit in the space. You think of how it would feel to wake up in this place each morning. You think of what opportunities await you in this locale along with what hazards may be present.

Not much different for me when I think of concepts like afterlife, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, extra-terrestrials, and my latest one, pre-birth or between-incarnation life planning.

ROBERT SCHWARTZ

I encountered a couple of books written by Robert Schwartz: Your Soul’s Plan and Your Soul’s Gift. I also watched several interviews with Robert on YouTube.

I’d heard variations on this concept for years, particularly through the work of hypnotherapist and past-life regressionist Michel Newton. It was not an entirely new concept that we as souls plan life relationships and events based on what we want to learn in our future incarnations.

I think of it as recreation or mental adventuring to look at my life and consider this: if certain events were planned like exercises in a lifelong workshop I am taking, what was I supposed to learn? The answers can be surprising.

AN EARLY COLLISION WITH PAIN

I was raging hormones in love with a girl  when I was a junior in high school. From the first time I laid eyes on her, I wanted her. She was smart, funny, and sexy. During our first few dates, she also taught me much about the art of sensual lovemaking, raising the bar on a world of experience that I, still a virgin, was just discovering.

One evening she invited me over for a chat. When I arrived, she said, “I don’t love you anymore.” We were done. That was it. The most helpless feeling I had encountered in my young love life swept through me. I had no clue what had happened to her love.

When my senior year of high school began, she was nowhere to be found. Several months later I learned that she had been at a home for unwed mothers. It turns out that she had apparently gotten pregnant while we were dating. It was biologically impossible for me to have been the father.

It is fascinating for me some half-century later to consider this event from a cosmic perspective. It means one thing if it was just a matter of happenstance. An oh, too bad, girl dumps boy. Just another episode of teen-age angst to chew on. She was the one that got away.

It means something else entirely if it was a planned gotcha. According to the premise that Robert Schwartz lays out in his books, the soul of which I am a part — which would commonly be referred to as “my soul” — got together with her soul before we were born. We planned this event for reasons that were very clear to us then and way under the radar to us once we incarnated.

HOW GOOD IS THAT?

I find it somewhat comforting to think of it as a planned event, hurtful as it had been. Why? It helps me channel energy in a more positive direction to think of it as a learning experience in Earth School than tough luck in young love. It gives some purpose to my pain, which is essentially to learn from it. I find it helpful to look for the gift in my perceived losses. Sometimes they turn into major wins, even if at first they had disaster written all over them.

So what did I learn from having my heart stomped on? Well, I did not see this at first. It was one of the early lessons of when one door slams on your nuts, another door will open. I had to be beaten up a few more times before I realized that life always had a funny way of delivering new situations (in this case lovers) after my personal disasters.

Getting whacked like that also made me much more sensitized to being hurt. In time I learned how to empathize with others in their personal disasters because I had known my own. Empathy for pain usually does not occur without first having suffered pain to know what it feels like.

As it turned out, the agony of this abandonment led me to expressing myself much more in writing. The creative muse frequently happens as one tries to dig out of a pit of suffering. At this point in my life, I was just beginning to connect with my writing ability, and having some great angst material to write about amped me up.

I had to do most of the healing from this episode by myself. I did not have much outside help. As a life experience, this one taught me how to take better care of myself emotionally, and I am thankful that I chose I positive route over something like revenge-consciousness.

Years later when the concept of karma came to my attention, I decided that maybe some of my current-life destiny was to learn about relationships. I don’t normally think of karma as a formula for punishment or even justice. Rather, I see it as creating opportunities for do-overs of past-life mistakes or lessons that our higher self wants to explore in a physical body. I think of my soul as the entity who makes pre-incarnation decisions about karma.

It is possible that in previous lives, “I” (actually an incarnation of my soul) was not the most wonderful of mates. Maybe “I” dumped and ran, breaking someone’s heart in the process. Over the years I would experience several other instances of what to me felt like being abandoned, and I wondered more than once why this seemed to be a trend. Chance or karmic design?

DO WE PLAN THIS SHIT?

Shit happens. Do we plan it?

Of course we need to grasp who “we” refers to. Our current brains did not have previous lifetimes. The “we” as I see it is the soul portion of us that designs from its cosmic perspective what it wants to experience for growth.

Many people resist the idea that our loving higher selves would plan tragedies, cruelties, and disasters for us to endure for the sake of our spiritual growth. I would probably be included among them had it not been for a friend of mine who had a near-death experience when she was in her twenties.

During that experience, she went back to her pre-life planning session where she witnessed how her father agreed to be an abusive parent to her. It was part of the plan. When she returned to physical life, she was able to forgive him for the pain he had caused her. Of course, forgiving him was less about him than it was about her finding peace in her own mind. Forgiveness meant that she could let it go and stay in the now.

So ultimately my friend accepted that yes, “we” plan this shit.

And this is what Your Soul’s Plan and Your Soul’s Gift by Robert Schwartz are about, too. With copious input from spirits via mediums, Robert guides us through a menu of challenging life situations (rape, incest, a loved one’s suicide, abusive relationships, miscarriages and abortions, and so on) to show how those tough situations led to positive outcomes.

Planning a life with the possibility/probability of a few painful episodes to encounter has an interesting relationship, I think, with such beliefs as the law of attraction. Woven through the narrative of Your Soul’s Gift is plenty of material on climbing out of painful circumstances through consciousness techniques. That’s really what the book is about—healing.

So if our souls plan lessons for us that we as physical beings would see as sadistic, they also know that lifelines and healing support are available. Physical incarnation is a boot camp for learning spiritual lessons, and according to Schwartz’s research, we always agree to these events beforehand.

MY BOTTOM LINE

I do not know whether it’s true or not that our souls plan yucky stuff for us. In some ways it seems very Twilight Zonian, and in other ways it makes sense.

Either way, I find it most useful to ask myself if I planned this experience before I was born, why would I have done that? What did I learn from going through it? Just asking the question will yield fascinating and often healing insights that help me on my journey.

FOR FUTURE CONSIDERATION

An impression I have is that if more people accepted the reality of the life plan — in other words, if it were somehow proven — we would have much more compassion for people’s woes. We would understand the cosmic dynamics of this system. We would be more willing to assist people if we got it that shit happens by design.

What is beauty?

Beauty as nature

I have run into several videos and articles lately involving women and aging, women and body image, and male-born transgenders transitioning into females. All of this leads to me answering a favorite question of mine: “What is beauty? What does beautiful mean?”

In one article, Rebecca Shaw writes about actress Maggie Gyllenhaal “being told that at the ripe old age of 37, she was too old (and I assume decrepit) to be cast as the love interest of a 55-year-old man. Let’s consider this: Gyllenhaal, who is already 18 years younger than the actor in question, cannot be cast as his love interest because she is too old. I really don’t believe that we stop often enough to consider how absolutely warped the world of Hollywood (and our world) must be for this to occur.”

As a man reading this story, and an old man at that, I frequently find Hollywood’s mind set hideous. It supports the cliché that female attractiveness is all about — and just about — physical youth and beauty. It entirely ignores a facet that I find at the core of human beauty: consciousness.

Beauty is not just how we look. It is how we think.

I saw another video on Facebook where signs placed over two doors in a city high-rise gave women a choice of which door to enter through. One said AVERAGE and one said BEAUTIFUL. Women were shown pondering which door to claim as theirs. The video also included some interviews with women sharing their thoughts about the choice they made. Several wanted a redo so they could enter through the door marked BEAUTIFUL.

While the video apparently intended to show people, especially women, that it was OK to claim that they are beautiful, it still left the definitions of average and beautiful up in the air. It  passively hinted that beauty was a mental state.

Then there’s the much yakked-about public transformation of Bruce into Caitlyn. Much of the focus has been about the high cost of surgeries. She could easily afford it. Some have complained that with all the resources ultimately poured into the Vanity Fair photo shoot, anybody could look smashing. The focus seems to have been on the outer Caitlyn, the packaging, not the inner being. It again poses the question, albeit slightly under the radar, what makes for beauty? What makes a person beautiful?

There are countless articles now related to ranking beautiful women with headlines like “The Most Beautiful Women of All Time.” It’s immediately obvious that this is all about looks, and it doesn’t supply the criteria for the judging someone a great beauty, as if it is too obvious for consideration.

SO WHAT IS BEAUTY?

I want to say that having been raised in the American culture as a white guy, I have certain conditioned responses to beauty. As a young kid my heart throbs included Doris Day, Ann-Margret, Patty Duke (especially when she played the British twin), and after discovering my dad’s magazine stash, countless Playboy Playmates.

Yet over the years, as I discovered that physical beauty is not enough, my personal conception of beauty embraced a more wholistic approach. I noticed that some qualities that made women beautiful to me were usually not traits I saw featured in the personalities of women heralded as great beauties.

For one, I prized humor. Humor is a bonding force for me. I have little orgasms of joy when someone gets my humor. I find bliss when someone in my personal universe makes me laugh. Unfortunately, woman glorified as beautiful (in media terms) often act like Stepford wives-in-waiting. They lack the cutting edge perspective of someone who can see the human comedy in action, who can drill through pretension with laser-like precision.

I also prized empathy and compassion. I have no particular fantasy desire to melt ice queens and give my soul in love to narcissists. I am much more attracted to one who cares about the feelings and welfare of others than I am to someone who looks gorgeous yet flaunts snarky insensitivity. Beauty is the capacity to feel what I feel. Empathy makes for much better conversations.

I  found curiosity and the urge to explore ideas as very attractive. Conformity addicts are not my cup of tease. People willing to step outside the box and let their imaginations run wild (especially with humor and empathy) are beautiful to me.

I find affectionate people beautiful. Smilers, cuddlers, huggers, toucher-feelers, and flirters give me joy. Often they inspire me, especially when it seems as if the world is filled with people hardened into hostility and competition. People who are generous with affection remind me of the world I would prefer to live in where people care for people.

BEAUTY IN THE MEDIA

For much of my life, I have noticed that while watching movies or TV shows (when I used to watch TV) that I was often attracted to the “character actors.” I found that they indeed had more character than the leads. They were just more fun.

In Hollywood formulas, character actors are usually not supposed to be perceived as “good looking” as the leads. They are quirkier in their appearance. In Hollywood, however, this is often less than obvious. The dialogue uttered in the show often has to inform us that we are supposed to see the person as second fiddle, not up to par.

The sidekick friend often launches more interesting lines into the story than the glamorpuss does. She often has a better sense of humor, more freedom of speech, and just plain more substance. Since she is often depicted as single, she often seems more appreciative of the love she does not have. If I were in the movie in some sort of Pleasantville fashion, I would seek her out over the star beauty.

This principle carried over into my physical life. I found myself more intrigued by women who had spicy personalities over good media looks. Yet here is the irony that lucky people discover: love literally shapes perception of how someone looks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder because emotions shape our experience. When someone delivers an emotionally fulfilling time, it literally shapes how they appear to the perceiver.

SEX MYTH I CAN DO WITHOUT

There is an elitist cliche that when someone says that a friend has a great “personality,” It means that the person rates anywhere from homely to downright ugly.  The mockery implies that personality is less important than physical beauty; that physical beauty ranks people as to how sexually desirable they are.

Too often the assumption is made that the better you look physically, the better sex you’ll have, as if physical beauty is the magic ingredient for ultimate sexual satisfaction. People who do not feel that they rank high in the beauty standings often feel as if they lack some mystery power. Meanwhile, social media is filled with complaints that men in particular are so shallow they cannot appreciate anything but the right, tight beauty dressed in whore clothes.

God bless physical beauty, but in my world, lovemaking is a juicy journey filled with mental and emotional intercourse. The richness of that experience comes in the consciousness people share, which is yawning bland if the meeting of minds is just about looks.

THE COMPLIMENT

Over the years, the world has gotten much more complicated. Now it’s not safe to say
“You’re so beautiful” without fully defining your terms. Is it just a line used by a womanizer or a con for some nefarious end? Is it just physical, physical? Is it chauvinistic ballyhoo? Is it patronizing pabulum? Is it a nonspecific, catch-all compliment that the receiver installs the desired meaning to — you think I’m beautiful?

Some women have told me they become quite perturbed when some stranger called them beautiful. They heard the line more as a substitute for “I want something from you,” like when a stranger approaches you and calls you Friend. Uh-oh.

The beauty that I am struck by is a complex amalgam of personality traits and physical qualities. The feeling that motivates the desire to share it in words is not something easily packaged into a pithy sentence or two, especially in the passion of the moment. Unless I feel safe or confident in the person’s ability to empathize with my intent, I’ll likely keep my compliment to myself.

AMAZING GRACE

I doubt if I am the only man in America to think this way, but here goes: A woman who is my age does not need to look like anything but a woman who is my age. I am not riding on the youth and beauty bandwagon. I do not appreciate the cultural obsessions that cause  middle-aged and older woman to feel bad about the state of their bodies.

I doubt that society is going to turn this around. There are too many economic interests that depend on keeping people in a state of anxiety over their appearance. Those promoters of superficial beauty succeed because we don’t just say no.

But I would like to bring attention to the idea that beauty encompasses intelligence, humor, sensitivity, creativity — in short a lot of nonphysical qualities that do not wither with age. There are people who prefer savoring those qualities more than worshiping plastic surgery and cosmetic attempts to appear untouched by aging.

Want to read more on the topic? Here is an earlier post on this topic.

 

Shame on shame

Shame

While listening to Monica Lewinsky’s moving presentation on shame and cyber-bullying on a recent TED Talk, I wondered if our culture will ever transcend being so shame-based. Can we turn the corner on this situation that has plagued and sometimes ruined thousands if not millions of lives?

I am actually more hopeful than not. While the Internet gives anonymous attackers the freedom to do their dirty work, it also opens up a delivery system for the spread of healthy consciousness. The carrier for cyber-bullying can also be used to create solutions!

With more attention paid to helping people, the Internet could provide a major tool for lending emotional support to victims of cyber-bullying.

The forces of shame have been in control. Shaming is very popular. As Lewinsky suggested, shaming is the backbone of an industry. People make money off it. Media shame people and attract viewers or clicks, which in turn generates cash from advertisers. Media manipulators have learned that controversy and humiliation into a winning formula for luring the masses to view things, so they artificially inject shaming into gobs of content.

THE POPULARITY OF SHAMING

Many news stories and documentaries are designed around the agenda of shaming someone. It is often promoted that this storytelling is for the common good. Exposing scandalous behavior, corruption, fraud, and so on is intended to shed light on a situation that needs fixing. It’s supposed to rile people up enough to cause some positive solutions.

At some level, this is a good thing. Exposing evil as a means to improve the situation probably helps. However, sometimes evil is exposed only because it is show business.—shaming as a spectator sport or freak show. That is not such a good thing, especially when the real purpose is to entertain for profit.

People are often shamed and ridiculed for simply being different. This depends on the context of the shaming, but every minority group experiences it. Common ones are being obese, gay, transgendered, the “wrong” race, the “wrong” religion, the “wrong” political affiliation, deformed, non-conformist, non-monogamous, mentally challenged, mentally advantaged, emotionally vulnerable, and so on.

SHAME IN ACTION

I became more interested in the impact of  public shaming after watching a few poignant documentaries about a few high-profile cases of people being humiliated.

In Lady Valor: The Kristen Beck Story, we meet a guy who was a Navy SEAL for 20 years, regarded as one of the bravest of the brave in combat situations. Shortly after retiring from the Navy, he revealed to the world that he was transgender. He proceeded to become Kristin Beck, living 24/7 as a woman. The shaming she endured was relentless. (We also now have former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner coming out transgender.)

Jay Reinke was a pastor featured in the documentary The Overnighters about Williston, North Dakota, currently a boom town in the fracking oil industry. The film showed how Reinke opened up his church to homeless job-seekers to provide them with shelter overnight in a town with a huge shortage of vacant rooms. His Christian-based generosity came under fire from congregants and townspeople who felt threatened by this practice. Shaming ramped up when he allowed a sex offender to stay at his home, and later when the pastor made a startling revelation about his own personal life.

Fall to Grace was for me a fascinating look at former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey who resigned from office in disgrace. He admitted to having had an extramarital affair with a man, an admission that led to a bitter divorce and massive shaming and ridicule. He ended up following his passion, which led him to becoming a teacher for female prison inmates. At the same time be began studying to become an Episcopal priest

Ted Haggard was a popular fundamentalist evangelical preacher who kept it a secret that he was gay (bisexual is probably a closer term) while also being married to a woman. The Trials of Ted Haggard showed him in crisis mode dealing with having been banished from his church and the state of Colorado.

All of these documentaries gave intimate portrayals of how these people were forced to deal with massive humiliation. One could argue that some of them brought shame upon themselves by their actions. Maybe so. However, documentaries like this take the viewer behind the headlines and show the struggle of pursuing redemption or social acceptance. How people recover from shame is usually is not part of the public narrative.

I believe that the recovery process is a much more worthwhile story to tell, and I wish it was told much more. The vast majority of us have skeletons in the closet that could be converted into humiliating stories, especially given how shame-driven stories are designed, written, and edited.

SHAMING AND CREATIVITY

I would like to add something else to the story about shaming—how it affects creativity. Being creative means looking at the same thing other people look at and seeing something different. Often it’s seeing where an improvement can be made. However, in our shame-based society, different ideas or different ways of doing things often meet ridicule and derision.

How many people are not exercising their creativity because they were once (or still are) too severely shamed for their non-conformity? How many great innovations large and small have been aborted when people gave up after suffering mental and emotional injuries through shaming?

This is not just about breakthrough inventions that never happen. It’s also about all those people so shamed that they drop out and tune in to deep despair. They feel no compulsion to help save the planet because they already feel excluded and unappreciated. How many conversations were not started, laughs not shared, and hugs not given as a ripple effect from  attacks that knocked the joy out of these people?

As a society, meanwhile, I think we should ask how many acts of violence were sown from the seeds of someone being tormented with shame, especially during childhood? I am not talking about just violent murders and rapes. How often does shame lead to the creation of narcissistic selfishness and obsessive revenge? How often do people once ridiculed and unappreciated turn into shaming zealots and cruel neighbors? How many others become swallowed up in addictions and anti-social activities?

WHAT CAN WE DO?

In her speech, Lewinsky said, “The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy: We need to return to a long-held value of compassion.”

And how do we get to compassion? That usually requires empathy. And empathy often involves education.

Perhaps it would be useful to use an analogy that is currently being applied to porn, which some people (including Russel Brand) are calling “the new drug.” The idea is that modern porn affects brain chemistry as some psychoactive drugs do. Shaming or watching shaming as a blood sport might also fall into this category. We might be addicted to shame.

Watch someone in the heat of shaming, like on a cable TV show or YouTube video! That person is awash in excitement. It’s a rush, a big woo-hoo blast of adrenaline. As with much combat, the victim is often not seen as a multidimensional human being; the victim is seen as a punching bag.

Our media culture’s example often teaches us that shaming behavior is acceptable, all part of healthy debate and competition. It often gets into white hats versus black hats, the Patriots (fans) versus the Seahawks (fans), the Left versus the Right.

But our media culture now includes social media, and more people than ever before can weigh in on topics of their choice. Some people like Monica Lewinsky are weighing in on shaming and cyber-bullying.

In my vision of a better world, I see a place where it is easier for mentally and emotionally injured people to find help. There would be more readily available content for people to turn to when they needed it. Help is already available for those who seek it, but I would like to see much more of it, easier for victims of it to find.

The majority of shaming probably does not produce unrecoverable wounding. People can and do bounce back. However, I would like to see more helpful material easier to access for those who are slipping fast into the dark side.

My nemesis the phone

Phone PhobiaIn my quest to deal in a positive way with my current state of loneliness, the writing is on the wall. I need to deal with my nemesis — the phone.

By not being phone friendly, especially with people I do not know from personal encounters, I am cutting off a major source of social interaction. On more than one occasion I have been told variations on, “Well, duh, if you’re going to hide from talking on the phone, you cannot expect to make and maintain quality friendships.”

I do take some comfort in knowing that my sister dislikes the phone, too. Perhaps it is genetic, although it did not come from my late father’s genes. He liked to gab. He was the extrovert of the family. He would even talk to telemarketers, despite the fact that due to his poor 95 year-old hearing he could not understand half of what they were saying. “What? What? Would you repeat that? Please talk slower.”

UNRAVELING THE MYSTERY

It is not perfectly clear to me why I dislike talking on the phone so much. Here are some guesses:

If the connection is bad, and even if only one word in ten gets dropped, especially on cell phones, it takes extra concentration just to listen and comprehend the other person. Such concentration takes energy away from what could otherwise be used in actually conversing.

This is especially annoying when people start laughing after just saying something, and I have no clue what the punchline was. Even worse is when I am conversing with someone in the midst of an emotional crisis, and I cannot hear what’s going on.

While phones give wonderful feedback in the form of tone of voice, they do not provide visual body language. As someone who is sensitive to nonverbal cues, not having them is frustrating. The other person is equally handicapped, but they don’t have my programming

So yeah, there’s Skype or Facetime or whatever else. It’s not the same as being in person, but it’s better than the visual void.

Then I have to deal with another obstacle: sitting still. When I talk on the phone, I like to move. I can’t stay still any more than Robin Williams or Richard Pryor could deliver a passionate monologue sitting in a chair.

THE INTROVERT CARD

I am a card-carrying introvert. One common characteristic of many introverts is a difficulty dealing with small talk. Just not encoded in my DNA. Small talk is like having to sit through a hundred back-to-back TV commercials for prescription drugs. The 16th time in a row that I hear “Ask your doctor,” my brain becomes unhinged and I fire off sarcastic retorts about profiteering and mass hypnosis.

Small talk too often arms my brain’s detonator. I attempt to be polite and cordial, but my inner voice sometimes goes nuts. Then I have to deal with my inner critic who pokes its stick at me for being a judgmental bastard. You don’t want to mess with my inner critic!

I suspect that years of writer’s training shaped my inner guidance systems to go for the essence of life. I like to play with the big questions. Does life have a purpose? What happens after we die? How is your emotional life going? What makes you ecstatic? What do you struggle with in life? Big questions.

I used to sit down and watch DVD extras where actors, writers, and directors talked about the movie I just saw. Often these conversations would get my creative juices flowing. They often pondered big questions. They got into the guts of their emotions. This is what I wanted my normal life to look like.

I often ruminate on a cultural phenomenon of ours: you often have to pay huge sums of money to have deep, insightful conversations. You have to pay a therapist, an expert, a medium, a counselor, or a coach to go deeper than the thin veneer normal chit-chat allows. In these wired times, that conversation could be via the phone, creating a problem for this guy.

THE WRITER CARD

Being a writer probably has something else to do with it. I have been trained not to be boring. This doesn’t mean that I don’t bore the crap out of some people anyway, but it does mean that I nevertheless stress out when someone is waiting for me to say something brilliant.

When an introvert has nothing to say, it often means that s/he is thinking of too much to say. There are too many reply options. We’re the kind of people who are agog at cable TV shows that are rhetorical gunfights at the Not OK Corral. We see this display as more about grandstanding and showmanship than well-considered discourse or helpful problem-solving.

Ask an extrovert how they are, and many will quickly respond. “Great!”

If you are already questioning that last sentence, then you may be an introvert. You may think, “Why would an extrovert say ‘Great’ if s/he’s feeling shitty?” Over-thinking.

When a person asks me how I am, I first wonder how deep do they want my answer to go. Superficial, non-threatening politeness or deep end of the pool? Any unsafe topics I should avoid in my response? Any secrets I need to keep?

Extroverts are more accustomed to external processing — bouncing ideas off others and thinking out loud. Introverts like to issue fully processed thoughts as if they were press releases. We don’t like to have someone come back later and challenge us with “but you said…” So we like to make sure that we mean what we say, and that takes time and energy.

VOICES FROM THE PAST

At one point in my life, I had achieved some success as a national magazine writer, and that opened the doors for correspondence relationships in the pre-Internet days. One time I got a phone call from someone I had been writing to. After about five minutes, she sad, “I didn’t expect you to be so quiet.”

Which I heard as, “Man, you’re a loser at giving good phone.”

My writing personality is much stronger than my up close and personal personality with strangers. In writing I can organize my thoughts and shape each sentence. There is pacing and flow and the opportunity for precision. On the phone it’s all raw and unorganized. Sometimes when I listen to myself talk, I become majorly embarrassed at how inefficient I can be with words.

I become human. Gasp.

TURNING THE CORNER

I accept that beliefs shape my reality and that much of my phone resistance is due to the narrative I created for myself. Despite what I have written here, I do enjoy chatting with good friends on the phone. I just enjoy more getting out with them and having a full face-to-face experience.

I am not sure yet how I am going to change my mind so that I welcome phone conversations as much as I love something like hugging. Time will tell.

UM … HOLD THE PHONE

Just as I was about to push “publish,” I decided to google people who don’t like talking on the phone. I got some fascinating responses. For instance, there is this one. I’d neglected to mention the invasion factor of the telephone. The ring is an interruption. Stimulus, response. Often I am in the middle of writing when the ringing triggers an instant dilemma of answer or not.

And this one. Ha-ha.

And this one. It brings up another astute point: presence. Often today people in phone conversations are multi-tasking, such as becoming distracted on a website while they are talking and not talking on the phone. It’s also popular today for people to call during their drives or their walks, often not paying attention to key points of the conversation because their brain is otherwise occupied.

I was excited to know that I am in good company on this. Unfortunately. they wouldn’t want to talk about it on the phone.

Lonely or alone?

Lonely or Alone?If you have any experience in personal growth circles, you’ve probably encountered the idea that there is a difference between being lonely and being alone. It boils down to something close to this: loneliness is painful; aloneness is about solitude and is frequently quite desirable.

Both of these conditions fill up my life right now. I seem to be running in pretty equal measure between loneliness and aloneness.

I am living alone now. I do not have a romantic relationship. I have very few close friends. I have no established friendship community. This leads to some frightful periods of loneliness.

On the other hand, I also relish my alone time. The artistic side of me savors the freedom to explore without restrictions, explanations, interruptions, and compromises. It sometimes feels liberating to be so free.

THREE YEARS

I spent the better part of the last three years taking care of family business in another state. For much of that time I resided with and cared for my elderly father during the last years of his life.

When I was 650 miles away from home, I lost frequent contact with all but a few people in town.

Meanwhile, relationships change. Needs and wants change. Careers change. Three years turns out to be a long time.

When I returned home there was very little of my old life left to resume. It is time to rebuild.

A GREAT IRONY

As I thought about it, I became aware that nearly any situation I could find myself in would have pros and cons. This is the great irony. It’s a variation on greener pastures. We move toward one set of goals or circumstances to fulfill our hungers, and then another set of needs clamors for our attention.

For example, right now I have an over-abundance of lonely days. I can go several days without talking to anybody. I have a difficult time even thinking of places to go to find social stimulation or connection.

The loneliness I speak of — the loneliness I feel — is not just about companionship. It is missing out on sharing at depth with someone. I call these deep pool friendships. They can be platonic friendships or romantic pairings, and they involve deep feelings of trust, kinship, and affection.

I could go off the deep end with this and suffer in a full-fledged pity party. Yet I don’t. Why? I also know this to be true:

Socializing and especially romantic love take massive amounts of time and energy to sustain. If I were in a relationship or had a very active social life, I would most likely be craving my alone time. I would feel suffocated and possibly annoyed at all the compromises I felt obligated to make. While it may be a happily fulfilling relationship, I would nonetheless be missing creative alone time.

EVERYTHING COMES WITH A COST

This is my main point: It helps me greatly to be conscious of this principle, especially when I am feeling sorry for myself.

There are at least two sides to everything. To take one route means choosing not to take another route, at least for the time being. So rather than feeling devastated or abandoned or any of the other stories I could concoct about my loneliness, I should be mindful of the big picture.

I may still feel lonely, but knowing that it is a choice I make helps me get through the rough spots.

BIRTHDAY WISHES

On the occasion of my 66th birthday — sh-sh-sh, don’t tell anyone — I have decided that this following year will feature my quest to change this lonely state of affairs. Stay tuned as I explore this.

Real conversations

SONY DSCHave you ever had a break-up conversation? Most of us have at one time or another.

They can come at different times. Sometimes it’s the announcement that this new relationship is not going to fly. One of you wants it but one of you doesn’t.

Sometimes it’s after a substantial trial period. Again, one of you wants to keep on trucking but one of you is ready to take the next off-ramp.

It could come years later after a relationship or a marriage has been pursued. It runs out of gas or one of you loses control and drives off the road.

So you have the break-up conversation. Sometimes it comes as a relief that a decision is being made to cut the losses and change course. Sometimes it is the talk from hell where accusations and torrents of anger fly like stinging yellow jackets.

And yet I am curious: how true and intimate are those conversations? How much inner truth do we offer at the end, and is it better or worse than what we offered at the beginning? Or do we instead work on damage control and political expediency and say something phony? Or do we retreat and plot revenge and punishment?

DEATH AND DYING

Another conversational abyss for many people is the topic of death and dying.

I have been around so many people, including my parents, who did not want to share their views about the end of life. They did not openly philosophize about what happens after they flatline. Is there still juice at the end or are we completely dried out and crumbly?

When people keep their feelings and opinions locked up tight inside themselves, it creates some real issues during the end-game. For one thing, it makes it hard for the caregivers and survivors to know exactly how to please those who are dying. If you gave no special requests, you get what you ask for.

For the people dying it means that they suddenly have to confront their fears or beliefs unassisted. Maybe they can no longer communicate. If it was too scary to discuss during the healthy days, when things were normal and death was not imminent, imagine it now.

People are afraid to talk about death, as if openly discussing it might bring it on faster or freak the dying person out.

When there are conversations with a dying person, how truthful are they? Is there any reality to it or is it fluff and show? I know that if I was on my deathbed, I would want to discuss my future and not pretend that I was going to get well soon. I’d like to talk about the death that will happen when my ride from heaven comes.

Death is a taboo topic. Hospice chaplain and author Terri Daniel called it the new sex. “Launching a public dialog about death in today’s world is similar to how my generation — the Baby Boomers — broke through the taboo about discussing sex prior to the sexual revolution in the 1960s.”

SEX

And so yeah, then there is sex.

A lot of people are under the illusion that we’ve outgrown our culture of secrets, shame, and lies about sex. I don’t think so. I think a lot of conversations that could be intimate aren’t because they never occur.

Sex has often become things we do to each other, not so much things we feel. We often make love to people’s bodies, overlooking making love to their minds. We jump into erotic habits and rituals because we have been conditioned to do it that way, but it’s often taken for granted or conducted on auto-pilot.

Often people do not share their feelings about what they like and don’t like sexually, much less converse about their deepest feelings of what this dance means to them. Yet as someone who has written about sexual relationships, both in fiction and nonfiction, I am frequently aware of hidden motives, conflicts, and passions that are not communicated to partners for a variety of reasons.

Can you communicate that you feel alone during a sexual experience? Do you share with your spouse or primary partner the fantasies, hopes, or desires that are most meaningful or exciting to you? Can you share your erotic personality without censoring or playing it safe?

WRITER LESSONS

As a creative writer, I have often written scenes about how relationships form and sometimes how they end. I’ve written about death (and afterlife) and I have written about sex.

Fiction may be pretend, but fiction also allows authors to explore deep insights. You don’t have to worry about libel or slander or credibility of your sources. So as I mastermind scenes in creative writing, I bear witness to each character, their motivations, their aspirations, their fears. I sometimes know them better than they know themselves.

I watch characters lie. I watch them dodge from expressing their true selves. I watch them invent cover stories to hide and protect their most vulnerable parts. I watch them injure people and in turn I watch them get injured.

In the meantime, I have my own well of experience to draw from. I have real-life exit scenes, some horrible, some amicable. I have my own relationship with death and dying and sex, which are frequently not held as sacred by the mainstream.

Through it all what fascinates me the most is all the stuff that people do not communicate. It’s what we don’t say. And, yes, I am guilty of it, too.

JUST LIKE GOVERNMENT

We learn from so many of our government and social institutions that people inform us of decisions, developments, and policies without telling us the real truth. They focus instead on their politically correct, organization-sanctioned stories.

When government or corporations announce anything, they have been overwritten by PR professionals and often lawyer-vetted.

The logic often gets all convoluted. They announce a price increase and claim it is a benefit for us “so we may serve you better.” They don’t say, “We’re just greedy bastards.”

And just think of how various companies handle disasters like plane and train crashes and industrial explosions and recalls and financial collapses.

And we learn through countless repetitions of this process that fudging is how the game is played. We learn to lie. We also learn that being secretive is somehow better for us than frolicking in an orgy of truth-telling.

Government often explains and excuses manipulation of data and the truth as being in the public interest. They are protecting us, they say. Aren’t they great?

EARTH SCHOOL

If we all believed we were in Earth School — that there was a purpose to life on Earth and that it was to continually learn lessons about love — we might realize that speaking our unvarnished, unapologetic truth leads to personal growth and social improvements. I wonder what people would say to each other under those circumstances.

How could we make breaking up, dying, and sharing sexually more intimate and meaningful? How could we make them more profound learning experiences through open and honest communication? How could we heal each other even when facing difficult challenges and decisions?

Maybe, someday, we can figure this out. I am working on my own solution for me.

Dreamy bodies

Physical attractionA stereotype we’ve all heard says that men are obsessed with women’s bodies. It’s so solidified in mass consciousness that it’s often considered an indisputable fact of life.

In conversations about sex, a major complaint is that heterosexual men become preoccupied with how a female body looks. They focus their rapt attention only on physical ideals. Nothing else seems to matter to them. Eventually this cultural indoctrination renders a man incapable of appreciating “real” women with “real” bodies.

I am a man. Hard as I try not to take this allegation personally, I usually take it personally. The allegation does not describe my consciousness, but I still think women believe that it does—because I am a man, and that’s the way men are.

It’s something like hearing people in other countries say that Americans are all ugly, ruthless, violent, mercenary, uncaring. What? Huh? Me? No!

Men’s lust is often portrayed as robotic, as part of the program that controls human males. There’s the visual cliche of the pretty woman walking down the street and men train their eyes on her like automatons. There’s even a pithy film out there to show how obnoxious this can be for a woman having to endure stares, catcalls, and annoying propositions.

So I wonder: what’s good for men (or more specifically for me) about being attracted to women? (I’ve thought of lobbying God on this issue I would love to see a new on/off switch for this attract-o-meter feature. It would be great to turn it off and be apathetic to attraction.)

WHAT IS HUMAN NATURE?

We have culturally dumbed down the portrayal of sexual attraction to a cartoon level stereotype — eyes rolling, tongue wagging, steam pouring out of ears. Basic carnal stupidity in the face of feminine beauty (often the feminine parts are stretched to new and even more ridiculous dimensions.)

But in the world of my night dreams, sexual attraction is often quite different than in physical life. It does not follow the same social conventions. Furthermore, the whole erotic dance in my dreams can be so different than anything on the earth plane.

In a dream I met a beautiful woman in her thirties or so who was very affectionate. We met in the parking lot of a supermarket and then met again inside the store. Without any special fanfare we began quite naturally kissing and rolling around on the floor of the market. I became fascinated with her body, particularly the tanned and intricately freckled skin of her arms.

In my dream my instant lover’s body fascinated me — yet it was intriguingly different than the cliches of sexual attraction in physical life.

She did not act seductively. She did not make ooh faces or display her breasts with come-hither stares. My attraction to her was force-of-nature natural. Being intrigued with her freckles was like being awestruck by a waterfall or sunset or seascape.  The fascination seemed more like the powerful urge to discover and explore uncharted wilderness.

IN MY DREAMS

Erotica in my dreams is not so much “What does this woman’s body look like?” It’s not “How does her body measure up to my ideals?” It’s not “What can this body do for me?”

It’s more like being attracted to the beauty of nature. It’s like coming to a creek in the middle of the woods. An inner and possibly outer smile blooms. I get excited and want to take it all in. I pay rapt appreciation to the sounds of the flowing water, the reflections in the pools, the patterns of the light shining through the trees, the variety of plants that grow nearby. Ultimately it’s not just each component part but the entirety of the experience.

My dreams sometimes include a pseudo-flesh presence. Certain acts are accompanied with flesh-like sensations. Sometimes in dreams I can feel a kiss and even taste it. Sometimes I can smell things. But I often also do things impossible to do in physical life, like float airborne in a scene.

The scenes are usually devoid of the sexual politicking so common in relationship sex. There’s no bargaining, no calculated seducing. Love scenes seem so much more like true love even when meeting strangers or instant intimates. We seem to know each other even before introducing ourselves. I’ve never felt such instant love rapport as I do with the women in my dreams.

ENERGIZE ME!

The attraction I feel in dreams seems so much more clearly about energy than flesh. I’m drawn to a woman’s vibration, not to her matter.

The rewards are different than in physical sex. Even during sex dreams where I experience something like an orgasm, the reward is primarily emotional. It is a full-blown love rush even with strangers. It expresses a feeling of universal harmony that I so cherish, a hunger for inclusion so often denied in our everyday competitive society.

Of course in night dreams there is no actual flesh to distract from the emotional rapport. There is only pretend flesh, like an imaginary friend. But dream sex is reminds me of all that goes on at the deeper feeling levels of physical sex. We’re often lulled into thinking that what we want out of sex is physical stimulation, but my dreams show me there is so much more to it.

Dreams show me that an emotional payoff dwells behind every physical desire. That payoff can be far-removed from the physical activity.

SYMBOLIC INTERACTION

Dreams shrink time and space. Instant love happens because who wants to hang out through the long and winding road of romantic negotiation? Dreams are like fast forwarding to the good (or the bad) parts. Go for the gusto. In so doing they expose symbolic meanings more clearly.

Is hand-holding (or a kiss or a boob fondle or a tight squeeze) meaningful all by itself? No! It has a symbolic meaning that we each assign to it. This is most clearly shown in dreams where the environment is much more flexible that material reality. It’s that symbolic meaning that makes it compelling. That meaning varies from person to person and from situation to situation.

For one person it could be a sign of love. For another it could be sexual desire talking. For another it could be an invasion of privacy. And on and on.

In dreams, where there is no actual physical stimulation going on, the symbolic meaning becomes more clear since you can’t be sensually sated in the dream state.

In this way, physical bodies hold metaphysical symbolism. Dream sex is often more interesting to me than physical sex because these symbolic meanings take center-stage. (Granted that in my current circumstance, there isn’t much for dream sex to compete with.)

MAKING ATTRACTION ATTRACTIVE

I often think about how attraction plays out in the physical world. If it is reduced to a robotic response, just a “you look marvelous” kind of thing, I can see how women would feel as if they were commodities on display and for sale at Costco. I think that’s where the dumbed down version of sexuality we so often get is harmful to both men and women. It does not include the richness of meaning.

The pain out there from this paradigm is enormous. Some hate being regarded as “beautiful” or “sexy” when they’d much rather be regarded for their minds and souls — or just left alone. Others are deeply scarred from a history of being told they don’t have what it takes to be beautiful.

In my own personal universe, attraction is becoming much more like my dream state, which is to say it’s more of an emotional experience. When my attraction is welcome and appreciated, it’s a phenomenon that energizes me. My attraction for someone inspires an inner calling to join that being in a co-creation in whatever way is appropriate. It’s like seeing any other form of beauty and wanting to harmonize with it, often to become one with it.

The attraction that I feel in my dreams conveys to me that much is missing from the normal portrayal of attraction we’re taught to emulate in our cultural storytelling. We’re conditioned to objectify the physical and ignore the deeper meanings of this enchanting energy field.

I dream of changing that paradigm.