Facing Codependence and Finding Happiness

Though adult life my relationships have often been troubled.  That difficulty has been most easily notable in romantic relationships.  For years I simply thought I was unique, had special needs and was just frequently misunderstood.  What I discovered in the last 5+ years is there was definitely something not right and the vast majority of it had to do with me and not other people.     

Through the failure of my 2nd marriage to a woman I deeply loved I finally arrived at a point where I knew I could not go on as I had been.  While there was responsibility for both of us in the breakdown of the marriage, my behavior was by far the greatest cause.  I became a classic example of:  “When the pain to stay the same exceeds the pain to change, we change”.   I changed because I could see no other way.

My discovery has been that the root of my issues is called Codependency that stems from neglect, emotional abuse and trauma from my childhood. Codependency is a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively controlling ways that negatively impact relationships and quality of life.  Co-dependence is said to be the most common of all addictions: the addiction to looking elsewhere. It is based in a belief that something outside of self can give us happiness and fulfillment. The ‘elsewhere’ may be people, places, things, behaviors or experiences and usually we neglect our own self for it. 

Codependency is at its core, a dysfunctional relationship with self. With out learning different, people such as me do not know how to love the self in healthy ways because our parents did not know how to love themselves. We were raised in shame-based families that taught us that there is something wrong with being human. The messages we got often included that there is something wrong:  with making mistakes; with not being perfect; with being sexual; with being emotional; with being too fat or too thin or too tall or too short or too whatever. As children we were taught to determine our worth in comparison with others. If we were smarter than, prettier than, better grades than, faster than, etc. – then we were validated and got the message that we had worth. 

Through work with a caring and high capable psychologist, work at a wonderful facility called “The Meadows”, the help and love of an ex-wife, the support of “peers” and most of all dedication and determination on my part, today I understand the foundation of my relationship issues.  Gladly I can say for I have learned to live life beyond them most of the time.  I am happy, TRULY HAPPY, for the first time in my life.  Life is far from perfect and a great distance from what I once imagined it might be.  Nor does living contain  now contain all that I hope it will, but today I remain open to the possibilities instead of being obsessed about what might happen.  My demons have been faced and discovered they mostly have only the power over me that I give them.  I am very grateful for all who helped me get to where I am now.

A notable portion of my discovery/recovery has been coming to realize that what I remember about my past is a mostly a delusion and what I feel about the future is largely a delusion.  What I recall is just my version of history which is as inaccurate as it is accurate.  How the future turns out will be as it unfolds and not exactly how I try to make it develop.  That viewpoint has allowed me to live a much more contented life which I enjoy more so than I ever have. 

Several years ago I wanted to attend a self help group called “Codependents Anonymous” or “CoDA” but there was no local chapter.  There is much gratitude within for my counselor who urged me to organize a local group.  For the first six months almost no one came to the Wednesday night meetings and I sat in the meeting room alone reading for an hour.  But over time “peers”, people much like me, began to come.  One meeting grew into two and then into three and four meetings each week.  Those attending expanded from none into hundreds over time with about 60 regulars attending at any given point.  My continued growth today is based almost solely within these meetings and my others self directed efforts.  My counselor told me 2 years ago I don’t need to come back (although I still go check in with her every 6 months to a year). 

I know today the best of my life is still ahead and the CoDA meetings are in no small part responsible.  I am so very grateful to all who have attended in the past and most especially for those who continue to show up each week.  THANK YOU! 

Things do not change; we change.  Henry David Thoreau

 If you are interested in knowing more: 

Self-quiz to find out if you are Codependent:     http://spiritofhopecc.com/CodependentTest.en.html

 Codependence Patterns & Characteristics:  http://www.coda.org/tools4recovery/patterns-new.htm 

Local Tulsa CoDA website:  http://coda-tulsa.org/

National CoDA website:  http://www.coda.org/ 

youtube.com Pia Mellody video “What is Codependence”

Part 1:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrLaaar02e4

Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQyqkwWrBAs&feature=related

101 Things I’m Grateful for

This morning I begin the 87th edition of Good Morning Gratitude and am thankful for the motivation to have begun this blog.  It is somewhat difficult to grasp that I have been able to write here every day for almost three months.  I do know doing so has profoundly changed my life.  

I woke in a bit of a funk today not the least of which is still feeling the effects of oral surgery on Monday.  One of the discoveries I have made is I can change my mood always for the better by concentrating on what I have gratitude for.  Without stopping I am going to quickly type a list of 101 things I am grateful for that come to mind at this moment. 

101 things I am grateful for this morning…
Bed I slept in last night
Computer I am typing on
Coffee and the cup on my desk
Hands that work without encumbrance
Good health
Radio playing in the background
Television I hear in another room
A little sports car
Old camera collection
Good clothing and varied wardrobe
Food in my fridge and pantry
Running water
A good job
Male friends Mel, Roger, Sam, Dave, Tom, Jim, Cy and Bill
My Son Nick
Female friends Cindy,Katie,Virginia, Patrice, Muriah and Sandy
Women I have loved and who loved me
My Brother
Ability to speak
Ability to read
Eyes that see
Ears that hear
Mouth that tastes
Nose that smells
Hands that feel touch
My sisters
Two ex-wives
People I work with
A home
Nice furniture
An alarm clock
My Dutch wrist watch
I live in a free country
Record collection
Movie theatres
My digital music collection
A beautiful back yard
The wisteria vine on my patio
Tools in the garage
Money in the bank
Good credit
Ability to walk and run
Wisdom I have gained
Difficulties that have taught me
Wonderful vacations with my son
Ability to travel and see the world
Ability to write and express myself
Pots, Pans, silverware and dishes in the kitchen
Toilet paper
The variety of shoes I have
Intelligence and ability to learn
A washer and dryer
Favorite coffee shop
Thai food
Big pine and oak trees in front of my home
The church I attend
The Dalai Lama
People who smile back at me
A profession that I enjoy and benefits me
Mechanical ability to fix things
A big, loud stereo system
Nag Champa soap
Pain killers after surgery
A good doctor and good medical care
Good dental care and a good dentist
My Nikon and Canon digital cameras
My large format cameras
Ability to love
A soft and tender heart
Codependents Anonymous
The Meadows
My therapist
The dental hygienist who cleans my teeth
A Timex Indiglo watch
My Buddhist altar
A collection of pre-Columbian art
Favorite Grocery store
Favorite restaurants
Travel in Europe
South and Central American trips
Living on a Caribbean Island
Safety through a cat 5 hurricane
An old Volvo that saved my life
Those who encourage me to write this blog
Having owned a pool and not owning one any more
Air Travel
Heat in the winter
High speed internet
Paved streets and good roads
Doug who cuts my grass
The spirit within me

I am not going to review the list for content and over think this exercise.  If this morning my gratitude was a bit too much for material things or lacking of others, it does not matter.  If I made this list tomorrow much of it would be the same, but many things would be replaced.  I don’t believe it is of much importance at any given point exactly what I feel gratefulness for.  What matters is that I maintain a grateful attitude where thankfulness is on the tip of my tongue and on the top of my mind. 

I feel so much better now than I did a little while ago!  Gratefulness multiplies blessings and lightens burdens.  Of that I am absolutely certain!   

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.  Meister Eckhardt

The Dalai Lama, Buddha, Surya Das and Tolle

In 2000 I visited Hawaii.  The island of Oahu was beautiful, especially once out into the countryside.  The drive all the way around the island and a helicopter sight-seeing flight the next day are highlights I recall clearly.  Another clear memory was finding a Buddhist book in my hotel room along side Gideon’s Bible.  The former was called “The Teaching of Buddha” and is provided to hotels by the Society for the Promotion of Buddhism, a nonprofit group started by a Japanese business man in the mid 1960’s. 

The Buddhist book caught my curiosity and I began reading it each morning on the balcony of my room overlooking the ocean.  The 11th floor view just after sunrise was inspirational to begin with, but combined with a first cup of coffee and reading about the teachings of Buddha made those mornings memorable in a unique way.  It was then through pure chance that my interest in Buddhist teachings began and later grew into a morning meditation practice.  Admittedly that habit has waxed and waned in the last decade, but remains something I either do or intend to do regularly.

Never have I seen Buddhism as a religion as one might view Christianity, Islam, Judaism or other such religious followings.  The term “practice” is the best fit for what Buddhism means to my life.  Within that context a Buddhist Practice simply means I am dedicated to doing my best to follow the principles I have learned about and believe in.  

Within my copy of “The Teachings of Buddha” a Post-It note marks a half page containing:  

To worry in anticipation or to cherish regret for the past is (to make one) like the reeds that are cut and wither away.   

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live wisely and earnestly for the present. 

Do not dwell in the past; do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. 

It is worthy to perform the present duty well and without failure; do not seek to avoid it or postpone it till tomorrow.  By acting now, one can live a good day. 

That half page in “The Teaching of Buddha” allowed me to begin to see things very differently.  Within a few months an accidental discovery in a hotel room lead me to “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle which broke me open to a whole new way of seeing.  In turn that lead to finding the book “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das which, combined with what I had learned already, put me firmly on a path of a new way of being.  

The essence for me of Buddhist teachings that I try hard to follow in my daily life is called the “Eightfold Noble Path”.  In my daily practice it is my intention to live within these tenants.  I am not always successful, but striving to such a standard has brought a slow but continuous improvement to my life. 

Eightfold Noble Path
Right View – We are owners of our actions and what we do, good or bad, shapes our life
Right Intention – Do good and cultivate love for others within
Right View – Speak kindly and gently.  Say what I mean and mean what I say
Right Action – Think before acting.  Rely on wisdom within to do what is appropriate
Right Livelihood – Make a living helping others or at least not hurting others
Right effort – To do one’s very best and apply one’s self fully to what is undertaken
Right Mindfulness – Keep most active in thought helpful and positive things
Right Concentration – Focus the mind as much as possible to things that matter most 

I am grateful that our President chose to meet with the Dalai Lama a few days ago in spite of the objections of the Chinese government.  It has continued to be outside my full grasp to understand why those in power in China see a nonviolent spiritual leader as such a threat.  It seems they fear most what they do no understand.   

For all the goodness and growth discovering the teachings of Buddha has brought to my life I am deeply grateful.  Finding this path has opened me, taught me and helped me to become a better person. The difference is not so much that I am not what I used to be.  Rather it is I am so much more than I was before. 

All major religious traditions carry basically the same message:  love, compassion and forgiveness.  The important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.  Dalai Lama

Mother Nature Gone Crazy?

Dear Mother Nature,

I am writing this letter only to express my thoughts and ask a few questions.  In no way do I intend to express disrespect in any way.  I love you as the Mother of Earth you are to all of us here.  My trust for your wisdom is deep.  I try my very best to keep my belief strong that you always have in mind what is best for the long-term.  However……  

When a few years ago one of your winter’s storms brought so much ice that the city shut down for over a week, it was not a pleasing adventure.  Yet, I accepted that time with an open mind and drew upon my Boy Scout training in my youth to cope.  I did get through it OK, but Mother Nature I ask you to please not bring another of those for a while.  Surely one of those lessons per lifetime is enough, Right?   

The drought you sent us a few years ago is fresh in my mind.  I will never forget all the brown lawns and the burned places from fire on the side of the road.  Waking in the morning and seeing what I thought was fog only to find out it is smoke from a fire 50 miles away is still a fresh memory.  Were you mad as us for any particular reason then? 

The time spent inside a closet timidly hiding from the tornadoes that you spun this past spring is a fresh memory.  Until recent years I was never afraid of your tornadoes, but now seeing the damage done in cities less than a hundred miles away I am pointedly aware of the harm possible by some of your creations.  Mother Nature we are well aware and are in awe of your spectacular power.  You’re scaring us.  Can you stop showing off now? 

The rain is something I love, especially one of your steady downpours with a bit of lightning and thunder.  I think these are some of your best “fireworks” and enjoy them very much.  However, this Spring it rained and stormed for weeks without let up.  We were drowning.  Why could you not have saved some of that rain to bring to us now when we need it so much? 

Only once while living somewhere else do I recall experiencing a large, rare hail storm.  It was one for the history books that took snow removal equipment to clear the roads.  I was impressed as I believe most people were and understand your need to remind us of your power and strength once in a while.  I accept that.  However, what is with the numerous reminders this year with the frequent golf ball, even softball, sized hail?  Mother Nature, are you pissed off at us?  

When I moved to this more southerly location over a decade ago, I was told it only snowed a little bit each winter.  One person here described it as “getting dusted with snow a few times each winter”.   So I sold my snow blower to a neighbor back in the Midwest thinking I would not need it again.  Of course, now I wish I still had it.  I think you are just showing off with all the record snows you have been gifting us with the last few winters.  This last one caused me more than once to think about moving to a more temperate climate.  What’s with all the snow Mam?  

Until the last few years, I could not have even spelled the word “tsunami” but have now read it to the point it is common in my mind.   I know we human beings have made a mess of things here on Earth, but some of us are trying to do better.  So, Mother Nature, are the twenty and thirty foot walls of water and all the destruction something you have to send so often now to try and teach us?    

Oh, yes!  Then there are the massively strong earthquakes that are happening more and more frequently.  I can’t comprehend the reason for the destruction and death that has come with them.  Are you remodeling, experimenting or just plain angry? 

Crystal clear in my memory is my ride through one of your awesome category five hurricanes.  I did not realize how afraid I should have been until afterwards I saw the wreckage and destruction.  I suppose there is logic I don’t full grasp in clearing out the old to make way for the new that such storms cause.  But, Mother Nature, is it really necessary to be redecorating so often now? 

There is no doubt you are a record setter and are always looking to better a previous achievement of the past.  All know that from time to time you will achieve a new benchmark as your way of reminding us all of just how complete your control is.  So what is going on with all the frequent records of the last few years?  Are you showing off?  

Do you know how grateful I am for each sunrise and every time the moon climbs into the sky?  Are you aware of my thanks for each raindrop, snowflake and breeze that blows by?  Can you understand that I appreciate the artfulness in each of your clouds above, in each sound your sky makes and the momentary painting your lightning gives to nighttime?  Mother Nature, what I have written here is done with gratitude and with questions like those a child might ask.  I hope they are received with the intent they are sent.  And oh, by the way.  Lots of us need some rain right now.  Can you wrap up some in a bunch of big, ole white clouds and send that to us soon?  We’d sure appreciate it!   Thank you.

She moves in a mysterious way,
Her wonders to perform.
She plants her footsteps in the sea,
and rides upon the storm.
adapted from a poem by William Cowper

Discovering The Beatles and the World

The cheap red portable radio sat near the cash register on top of a display case at my stepfather’s grocery store.  From start to finish each work day the six “C” cell batteries inside powered the transistors to bring music into my world.  My Mother always had music going and lucky for me she liked the Top 40 music of the mid-60’s.  During the school year I worked in the store every day after school and all day Saturday plus six days a week in summer.  That red radio was a constant good friend. 

The time was 1963 to 1968, a time of great transition in music and in the country.  WVOK was a 50,000 watt ‘daytime’ AM radio station 70 miles away in Birmingham that broadcast from sunup to sundown.  The red radio brought the station in loud and clear all during the daytime. 

Through a $1 speaker came my first hearing of The Beatles at a time when Louie Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” and Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime” fit right in on the same radio station.  During that year I wished “my feet were fireproof” with the Drifters and wondered “where did our love go” with the Supremes.  My world was invaded by songs from Brittan by Chad and Jeremy, The Animals, The Dave Clark Five soon followed by the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks and Tom Jones.  From radio broadcasts I learned about the “Mods” and the “Rockers” fighting in the streets in England and heard the first ads for a new car called the “Mustang”. 

As time passed the cheap radio’s volume knob became scratchy when the setting was changed, but was OK otherwise.  With a regular feeding of fresh “C” cells my red friend continued to create a soundtrack for my young teen life.  The Beatles were still going strong, but American acts started to strike back against the British Invasion.  Leading that charge were The Righteous Brothers, Four Tops, Lovin’ Spoonful, Tommy James, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Johnny Rivers, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Wilson Pickett.  It was about this time I heard about the riots in LA with entire blocks being burned.  Tmuch here were riots closer to home in Selma.  In contrast Walt Disney announced plans to build in Orlando. 

In 1966 I turned 13 and heard about the WVOK “Winter Shower of Stars” at the Birmingham Auditorium.  I went with Mike Sparks and his sister to see my first concert:  Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Buckingham’s, Tommy James, Lou Christie, Neil Diamond, The Music Explosion, Jon & Robin and a few more I can’t remember.  That was quite a line-up for a first concert experience and for me a magical time.   

The following March news of a “Spring Shower of Stars” came out of the speaker of that old radio.  Once I heard the list of the artists appearing I just had to go:  The Young Rascals, the Union Gap, Lemon Pipers, Billy Joe Royal, Gene and Debbie, Roy Head and more.  The Rascals were the first band I ever saw “jam” and two of the guys were outfitted in full hippe regalia.  I liked what I saw and in the time came to adopt that mode of being first witnessed in person at the show. 

From the innards of that cheap radio I heard about the Gemini space flights, Freedom Marches, draft cards being burned, a war in a place called Viet Nam and the protests against it.  The red radio told me about the assignations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and when Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.  I heard about the first warnings on the cigarette packs and listened to Coke teach the world to sing.  I also knew when Elvis married Priscilla.  How did I know?  My radio told me.  

Clearly I can in memory see that red music box of my youth which gave me a vision into the world with just the sound it produced.   I even ordered the first records I ever had from Rumore’s Record Rack who advertised on the radio and gave free records with every order!  

I have no idea what happened to that old radio that looked just like the one pictured at the top of this page.  Through lots of odd and difficult times what came through the transistors and out the speaker shaped a good portion of my musical tastes.  At a time when “made in China” was not a positive designation that red plastic radio with the handle on top made an impact on me to a greater degree than most people I knew then or have known since.  With just two controls, volume and tuning, it was my portal to the whole world.  I am wildly grateful for all I gained from that box of wires and stuff.  Just writing about it moved my age back at least a year or two! 

Last night I sent to see “1964:  The Tribute” which is a musical tribute to the early Beatles.  I appreciate that show for kicking off this trip down memory lane.  Thanks for the great show guys!

We do not remember days; we remember moments.  Cesare Pavese

Heather, Jackie, Bianca and Sung-Bong

Once in a while I am touched by something that comes to me completely unexpected.  Out of the blue I hear something, see something or experience something that permeates me with positive emotion.  The reaction travels through my body like a slow domino maze falling down until the unforeseen sensations sparkle within from head to toe.  During such a time I can be moved to near tears and afterwards feel a glow of appreciation and gratitude heightened by the unexpected arrival of the feelings.  Such moments are better explained with examples.  It is my sincere hope something below stirs you as it did me.

First, there is the news I discovered yesterday in a story online about a young Korean man.  He was abandoned at age three at an orphanage were he was mistreated and ran away from when he was five.  He then lived “on the streets” by himself for ten years, selling chewing gum and energy drinks in the daytime to raise money for food and at night sleeping in rest rooms and stairwells.  A guardian took him in during his late teen years and he was able to get the Korean equivalent of a GED since he did not attend elementary school or junior high school.  He then was able to attend school for the first time and graduated from a high school for the arts.  Having no money to continue his education, at the time this video was made he worked as a common laborer.  See Choi Sung-Bong perform here:

While her story is not the sad tale just above, her level of singing talent at such a young age is impressive.  It is my earnest hope that her life unfolds in a happy manner where the world will get to enjoy the full magnitude of her gift to sing.  Let ten-year old Heather Russell touch you here:

Then there is Bianca Ryan who in the summer of 2006 proved to America and the entire world that she had talent by being the first ever Grand Prize winner of the NBC show “America’s Got Talent”.  She was just 11 years old at the time.  Now 16 years old, videos of her performances on the Internet have received tens of millions of views to date.  If you have not witnessed her talent, PLEASE take the time to let her touch you.  Her wonderful performance when she was only 11 can be found here:

There is one more I must also include that comes from just last year.  I know little (OK, nothing) about opera, but it does not take knowledge to appreciate Jackie Evancho’s talent.  She is an opera singer who also plays violin and piano that at the age of ten finished second on America’s Got Talent.  Since then she gone on to release an EP that made her the best selling debut artist of 2010.  Listen to her incredible performance at age ten here:

I have no specific way to explain why watching these young people perform does me so much good.  From the very core of my being I appreciate their talent and am very grateful to get to experience it.  I feel joy when I take in what they have to give the world.  I hope watching what you find here brings much goodness into your life as well.

Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.  Henry Van Dyke

A Friend On His Way Home

At the end of March I moved to a newly purchased home and have taken my time since unpacking.  The necessary things were out of boxes and organized soon after arriving.  The kitchen, bedroom, den and my office are organized and fully functional.  For the rest I have been slow to unpack as I am intentionally taking my time sorting and lightening my load. 

Often after work on weekday evenings I unpack a single box.  Last night the box I cut the tape on was one filled with assorted and unrelated stuff that collected in a cabinet over time.  There were record covers I need to find the mates for.  Several small containers of photography accessories were the only organized items in the big box.  There were photos from a trip to England and Poland, of my father and some old publicity photos of me.  In a manila folder were several unrelated things:  certificates from training I completed, a few random photos, a small newspaper article about an old achievement of mine and three folded white pieces of paper.  When I unfolded them I saw at the bottom of each “Dayton, WS, August ‘90” that had been typed on a typewriter. 

I smiled as I thought of a man who had not entered my mind in a long while.  He was an odd duck, but a kind and interesting man about 20+ years older than me.  We were friends once upon a time.  WS was for Wayne Shockley or Wayne Shayne.  Both names were for the same person with the former being his legal name and the latter his stage name. Wayne had been a successful radio announcer “in his day” but was nearing the bottom of the curve of a downhill slide when I knew him.   He had “lived the life” when younger that many in the entertainment industry do and enjoyed himself fully to the extent of his ability.  Having never saved, nor realized that down the road age would catch up with him he lived a hundred yards from destitution by the time I met him.  He had a family once and talked about two children  in California he felt guilty about not having been a better father for.  I know they had reconciled and he was very happy about that. 

Wayne and I worked together in Dayton, Ohio.  Saying I was his boss feels odd because he never needed a supervisor.  He was a competent and dependable employee, but due to age was looked upon by most as “over the hill”.  Yes, his style was old-fashioned, but for what he lacked in current “hipness” he made up for with dedication and the quality of his humanness.  Everyone liked him, but due to his uniqueness most did not take the time to get to know him labeling him “weird” instead of becoming more acquainted with him.  

My friend suffered from very bad juvenile diabetes and more than once I got a call from a police officer saying they had picked him up disoriented and lost.  Thinking he was driving and acting goofy due to alcohol, they’d test him and find no booze on his breath.  Then they’d start to believe his story about his out of whack blood sugar being the cause and would call me for confirmation as he suggested (my number was on a note he carried in his wallet that explained his condition to anyone who took the time to look).

After a few years of us working together, an old buddy of Wayne’s became the manager of an oldies station several hundred miles.  The friend invited him to come join as a drive time DJ.    Wayne saw it as a last chance to be on top again and play those oldies he loved so much.  I know he disliked leaving the security of the job he had working overnights, but felt he had to try to make it just one more time. 

After he moved on, he called here and there.  Over time the calls came less and less.  Then after a year they did not come at all except the last time I talked to him.  We made small talk for a while and then in a quite tone he began to explain.  The radio station had failed and the job was long gone.  He’d been staying with a friend in Atlanta.  Wayne said he was very sick and just wanted to make it home to California to see his kids, but had no money.  He apologized for asking, but said he was asking a few friends to help him with gas money so he could head home to the west coast.  I feel sad even today just recalling that conversation of over 20 years ago.  I sent him $200 and the next I heard about Wayne was from St. Louisa few weeks later. 

The call came in from a mutual friend who Wayne had stopped to stay with for a couple of nights on his way to California.  What I heard from the other end of the phone was St. Louis was as far as Wayne had made it.  He had died the evening before.  The diabetes finally got him. 

In my heart and mind Wayne was more unique and memorable than any character you might see in a movie.  He was real, distinctively and completely himself.  As a tear rolls down my face there is certainty my life is richer for having had Wayne play this stage I call my life.  I am grateful to be one of the few he trusted to let read his poetry and thankful the copies of three of them he gave me.  Thank you, Wayne,  for being my friend and for the spot of color you painted into my life. 

Conversation in the Afternoon by Wayne Shockley aka Wayne Shayne
On a snowy windy afternoon
I fell into conversation
A pretty librarian at the check out desk
Who regaled me with the inner workings of minds
Such as Dickens and Steinbeck

We spent our late afternoon before dusk
Two travelers locked away from our homes
Held in the wheels of the storm
Lying on smooth white sheets
Eating melted ice cream from the pint carton
Drinking warm beer
Warm and cuddly down at the old downtown Windsor

When our play concluded
She sat up with her back against the oaken headboard
Fished into her plastic purse for a bent Camel light
Lit up and smiled
She began to talk about the new set of clothes
She had put away on layaway
Just yesterday. 

Life without a friend is death without a witness.  Eugene Benge

Macchu Pichu and Other Grand Adventures

Some might call it wander-lust but I have always though of my desire to experience new places as no more than heightened curiosity.  It began in childhood although I was never more a few hundred miles from home until I was 19.  Previous to that age my visits to interesting and exotic places were only mental excursions while reading about them.   Finding adventure in books was and still is a favorite diversion.  As a boy my dreams and fantasies rescued me from the turmoil around me.  In my adult life I am very grateful to have been able to take the child within to visit many of exciting and fascinating places once only dreamed about.    

As resources would allow I began in my 20’s to branch out and experience the world.  First time out of the country was to Cancun, Mexico when all area roads there were still dirt.  As far as the eye could see there was one resort to stay at.  Meeting people from all over the world at that Club Med was an eye opener, not the least of which was the clothes optional beach.   Seeing the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza was an incredible experience at a time when few visited the site.  Much that was open to visitors then is not longer accessible to the public. 

Jamaica was the next experience.  One of my first memories after arriving was being asked “do you want to buy some ganja mon?” just outside the airport.  Being the summer/off season we were two of only four vacationing guests at our little hotel.  However, this journey turned out to be a magical experience for my young wife and me.   The establishment was owned by the American Consular whose daughter was getting married the week we were visitors.  Outside of us tourists the remainder of the hotel was occupied by guests for the daughter’s wedding that we ended up getting invited to.  Upon arrival we discovered the Saturday wedding was a big deal.  The ceremony and reception was held at a large and beautiful mansion and attended by the Jamaican Governor along with a who’s who of island dignitaries.  What an experience!  

Over time my life was blessed with more visits to Mexico on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Nassau was a vacation destination at least three times and Canada many more times than that.  In the 90’s there were business trips to Western and Eastern Europe and between then and now I have visited Europe for vacation nine or ten times.  

In the good ole USA, I have been in all but two states (Utah and Alaska) and have lived in nine states. My travels have included visits to just about all major cities in our country.  From New York and Chicago to LA and San Francisco; from Dallas and Miami to Minneapolis and Seattle; from Phoenix and Philadelphia to Boston and Baltimore and many more, I have been there.  Just making that partial list causes me to pointedly see how lucky I have been.  I am grateful!  

In more recent years I have visited Costa Rica several times and at one point thought it was going to be home.  Life took other turns, but who knows… maybe someday.  

I have enjoyed no travel more than the trips with my son that we call our “grand adventures”.  The year after his Mother and I separated it began with a two week trip to Peru.  That is when the photo at the top of this page was taken.  We could not see all the major Incan sites in one visit and ended going back.  Our visits to South America included several countries with time spent in everywhere from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon Jungle and many places in between.  

My son and I have since branched out to experience grand adventures in Europe, Canada, all around the United States and more.  I am so grateful that even at the age of 28, my son still enjoys traveling with his “Pop”.  We have great fun and there is no one I enjoy being with more than my boy!  He’s cool, smart, well educated, very funny and entertaining (plus five years of Spanish has made the journeys to places with Spanish as a native language even more enjoyable).   There is vast thankfulness within for my son. 

Now as I am writing this day’s episode of the GoodMorningGratitude.com and focus my thoughts on my travels, I am immensely touched by gratefulness for all my good fortune.  I am VERY lucky!  Not only have I gotten to see and experience many wonderful and diverse places, I have also done so safely and without incident.  While I am an experienced and seasoned traveler, it is multiple strokes of luck that no bad experience cast a shadow on any of my travels. 

The trip I am most grateful for is the one when the photo at the start of this blog as taken.  My then 17 year old son and I stayed a couple of days at Macchu Pichu.  There is something mystical about that lofty place which I can’t explain in specifics.  Many others I’ve talked to who have visited there say they too came away changed by the experience.  The longer I take stock of things in my life to be grateful for the more of them I find.  What a good life I am having! 

      The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.          Saint Augustine

Learning About Perfection from Steely Dan

Bedtime last night was about half past midnight.  It is rare I am up that late for no reason, but with regularity I attend shows and performances that shorten a night’s quantity of sleep.  Last evening I gave up a few hours of sleep to see Steely Dan in concert, the first time I have ever seen Becker and Fagen perform.  The show was well worth the price of admission and the hours of sleep given up I paid to see the concert.  Further, time with friends at dinner and at the show enriched the night’s experience. 

Steely Dan has always been known for their near-obsessive perfectionism in the studio and similar attention to detail paid to their live performances.  Last night was no exception.  The band was tight, well rehearsed and seemingly near perfect in their execution of the greatest hits journey they took us on.  Somewhere during the 4th or 5th song, a slow to become clear epiphany began to manifest it’s self within.  The focus of my thoughts became clear just after Donald Fagen inadvertently began playing the wrong song on their set list.  After a few bars he stopped, a little embarrassed laughed off the error and jumped right into playing the correct song in sequence.   He seemed to just let it go and there appeared to be no impact what so ever on the rest of the concert.   

My realization was that even an incredible and proficient band that performs with near perfection makes mistakes.  This was a reminder to me that perfection doesn’t exist on Earth and a substantial reminder that as a person I am far from flawless or faultless.  Of course, in a general sense I know that well, yet often hold myself to a standard of near perfection.  This is certainly true when looking in the rear view mirror at my past.  Here and there I find myself thinking about what I should have done and then scolding myself lightly for not having chosen the perfect choice or behavior.  For some reason I sometimes hold myself to a standard that is beyond reach.  Moved a step forward that can easily become a reason not to try or else procrastinate on even trying because I know my actions will be imperfect. 

I found myself wondering why it is usually so easy to find fault with my self.   I settled on the reason being the conniptions and gyrations of my ego.   Coming from the Latin word meaning “I”, the “ego” decides how I see myself distinctly as compared to others and the world in general.  It is the judge and jury that prescribe the self set expectations I have for my self.  It’s not that my self imposed standards are all too high (some are though) that causes unease.  Instead, I realized I sometimes use them as an excuse to not even start things.     

A good example is to lose the 25 pounds I gained since stopping smoking a few years ago.  That is not a simple task.  Yet, it is not the difficulty of weight loss that is the issue.  I have accomplished far tougher things.  It is the getting started and the needed consistency for just a beginning week or so that is elusive.  Why?  My ego has a challenge letting me begin something it is not convinced I can achieve.  The ego’s desire for perfection blocks my beginning.  Same is true for regular exercise.  

Even down to getting some dental work done, my ego plays games with me.  It mumbles to me “you’re middle aged.  You shouldn’t expect your teeth to look great.  Accept your age” and so on.  Why?  The ego does not want me to even begin unless it is certain fairly certain near-perfection is achievable.  To illustrate my point further, there is really nothing wrong with my teeth now.  I have a good pearly white smile without gaps or discoloring.  Rather, I need two implants for back teeth and implants are not always successful.  I avoid being one of those it does not work for by simply putting off even trying.  Yet, the probability an implant will be successful is in the 80-90% range.  Darn good odds, yet my ego wants perfection.  

The clear thought that gathered last night at the concert was simply accomplishing anything is a series of starts and stops, tiny steps of small successes and little failures that when strung together consistently lead to achievement.  In regards to matters outside myself like work, I don’t seem to have an issue getting things done; even knowing they will not be perfect.  Professionally I know accomplishment comes from sorting out what needs to be done, creating a plan to achieve it, implementing the plan and amending is as needed until the achievement is made.  And if the plan becomes unworkable:  stop, reassess, find new direction and begin again. 

The little beam of thought last evening readied me teach my ego this morning.  On line I found the word “perfection” derives from “perficio” and means “to finish or to bring to an end”.  So “perfect” literally means “finished”.  Aristotle wrote “perfect” meant “complete” or “nothing to add or subtract”.  How interesting that a random thought at a great concert would cause me to see perfection as simply finishing what is begun and NOT about completion without flaws.  

No excuses, its time to lose weight and get in shape.  I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to finish what I start regardless of the precise outcome.  I can do that.  

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never achieve it.  Salvador Dali

Modern Love: Learning to Love the Self

“If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I had a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” Or the scenario may be that we find fault with others. We might say, “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d have a perfect marriage.” “If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get on, my job would be just great.” (From Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings by Pema Chodron)

For much of my life I played life roulette loading my “gun” with “bullets” like the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph.  Over and over I “shot” myself and those around me with similar thinking.  It took a long time to discover trying to find self-worth outside of me was an absolute waste of time.

Growing up poor, I thought money was the answer to a fulfilling life.  I believed it to the point that my drive to have financial success exceeded my desire for most anything else for a long while.  It was not easy, but I achieved the monetary status I sought.  What I found was life was not better and had actually gotten worse in some ways.  Not only did I now have to manage what I had created, I injured myself and those I cared about with my relentless pursuit of money.  It is clear to me now that in some ways I simply forgot to live my life.  I gave it up for a buck instead.

In my relationships with women, I was always searching and questioning.  My mind was rarely still and spun with quizzical ideas.   “Is this the one?”  “Is there someone better for me?”  “Would I be better off single?”  “Am I happiest being married?”  “What about her?”  Always looking for someone to fill the emptiness I felt inside.  My analytical mind crunched and munched “what if’s” looking for that one key person who could bring me happiness.  I was unable to see the barriers to my happiness were inside me.

My external life was good.  I had money.  I was loved.  I was healthy.  I had a loving family.  I had a great job.  I had friends.  But I was unhappy because I had yet to take a good, long and steady look in the mirror.

The Face in the Glass by Dale Wimbrow

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to a mirror and look at yourself
And see what THAT face has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or spouse
Whose judgment upon you must pass;
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

Some people might think you are a straight-shootin’ chum
And call you a wonderful guy or gal,
But the face in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look it straight in the eye.
That’s the one you must please, never mind all the rest,
For that’s the one with you clear up to the end.
And you know you have passed your most dangerous test
If the face in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of life
And get pats on your back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the face in the glass.

Once I began to look inward it took a long while to find my balance and footing.  There were many fitful starts and stops with little progress made.  In my ignorance I hurt people I cared about.  Daily meditation offered some solace from what was raging inside me, but only in the sense that “holding one’s breath prevents inhaling something bad”.  That’s only effective for very short periods of time. Reading brought me intellectual understanding of my psychology but not how to be a “physician who could heal thyself”.  I searched.  I pondered.  I sought.  I explored.  I examined.  I investigated.  I hunted.  I pursued.  Yet my quest did little to sate the restlessness and lack of contentment within.

In time I discovered through trial, error and painful mistakes, I had been chasing “other-esteem”.  What I was lacking was sufficient “self-esteem”.  My discovery had to come the hard way.  There was no other method for one who was so adept at outwardly projecting a far different person from the true one on the inside.  The awful years of agonizing with this discovery and finding new direction were difficult to bear, but necessary.  Today I am much improved at letting what is inside match what is apparent on the outside.  No longer do I fear the deep emotions that reside within, nor do I worry much about expressing them.   I hope my openness here shows that.

No, I did not suddenly “get it” and become well-practiced at being who I really am.  Rather, step by step, day by day my skill at being me improves.  So does my level of contentment and happiness.  In order to be grateful for my sense of well-being today, I have to give thanks for the troubles and heartaches that were the catalysts to awaken me.  For so long I did not understand when spiritual practices of all sorts proclaimed troubles and burdens are the greatest teachers.  I “get it” now and today have much gratefulness for every misstep and trial that helped bring me here.

The most terrifying thing is
to accept one’s self completely. 
Carl Gustav Jung