All of Life is a Stage

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First of all, apologies to Shakespeare for rewriting his famous line from As You Like It, where the world is compared to a stage and people to actors. What follows in the play is a description of seven stages of life, from the mewling, puking infant to the aged person returned to childishness, a typically brilliant Shakespearian mish-mash of humor and truth.

You may be familiar with the Hindu teaching of the Four Stages of Life, which is less physically focussed than Shakespeare’s stages, and less psychologically-based than the the stages of human development famously proposed by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson*. The four stages in Hinduism are known as Ashrama and are roughly correlated with biological age:

  1. Brahmacharya (Ages birth – 24) – Student Life, focused on education, including the practice of self-discipline, learning to live a life of moral righteousness and duty, including celibacy (hmmm).
  2. Grihastha (Ages 24 – 48) – Householder Life, focused on relationships and earning a living, all undertaken virtuously.
  3. Vanaprastha (Ages 48-72) – Retired Life, a time of handing over duties, serving as an advisor, and transitioning to a more spiritual life.
  4. Sannyasa (Age 72-on, or any time after age 24) – Renounced Life, release of material desires and prejudices, represented by disinterest and detachment from material life, generally without any meaningful property or home, and focussed on peace, simplicity, and spiritual life.

No matter which phase you find yourself in the Ashram scale, one can benefit by keeping the main thing the main thing, and assessing where our priorities are off track or unhelpful. What I love is the priority given to ethical training and behavior, along with the deep significance of the final stage of life.

For many older people with their life’s work done, finding a continued sense of purpose can be a challenge. Hobbies and television can only take one so far before the deadly despair of loneliness and boredom take hold. While particularly the bane of the elderly, this can really happen at age. Many in their peak earning years are trapped in unfulfilling jobs, living from vacation to vacation, from purchase to purchase, or paycheck to paycheck.

I am in the process of marketing a novel entitled Borderland, in which the protagonist, Claire Blixt, undertakes a major transition to a simpler life, inwardly knowing what she needs without really knowing what she’s doing. In the midst of ennui and on the heels of several disasters, she tries and fails at suicide via bridge leap. Instead of suiciding her body, she suicides everything except her physical existence. An ill-considered move to a remote town where she had never been bring her to a connection with the natural world and to people whom she unexpectedly learns to love.

As the materialistic trappings and desires of her former life melt away, Claire finds meaning and purpose.

And isn’t that the goal for each of us?

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development

Summer Solstice

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Minnehaha Falls

Yesterday summer officially began. As usual, my dog and I started the day with an early morning walk through Minnehaha Park to the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek. Other than a couple of fisher-people, we usually have the place pretty much to ourselves. Armed with a plastic bag and gloves, each day I pick up garbage left by visitors since the previous morning’s cleaning. It is satisfying work.

Public parks are such a gift. Natural features are protected from development and harm, and everyone is welcome. Fees are minimal; many are free. Public parks allow access to beautiful places regardless of your ethnicity, race, income, age, or gender. Think of it! We all own riverfront, lakefront, and historically or environmentally significant areas that we can visit whenever we wish.

Along with parks as great institutions of equality, we need to place public libraries. As a small-town kid one of my greatest joys on summer days was riding my bike to the library and checking out a stack of books. Anyone can get a library card and educate themselves. They can use a computer to look for a job, do their homework, or research an interest. In my adult life, when I need a change of scenery, my public library offers a quiet, comfortable place to work on writing projects. Plus libraries smell great. Like books!

My kids attended a diverse public high school in St. Paul. There they had the opportunity to excel and grow as human beings. On a daily basis they interacted with students who were born in other countries and who were culturally diverse. A few students were well-to-do, some were mid-range, as we were, and many were truly poor. With all due respect to those who send their kids to elite private schools, I believe that a real education must take place in the real world.

Public institutions are created to be bastions of equality. Parks do this well, libraries, too. Public schools certainly have a way to go in terms of funding. Our legislature would well to consider how our schools are paid for, and how to distribute funds fairly across all school districts. There is no excuse for kids in Edina, for example, to get a better education than kids in North Minneapolis, for example.

In addition to supporting and improving parks, libraries and schools, we can extend the equalizing power of public institutions by working toward universal health care, free home internet access for all, and free community colleges. I had the good fortune to teach at a great community college in Chicago for a few years. Many students were newly arrived immigrants, as well as those who had ability but didn’t thrive in their high school environments, and those who were wise enough to see community college as an affordable option for their first two years. Every American of any age or circumstance should have the opportunity to attend community college free of charge. This should be extended in the future to 4-year state colleges and universities.

In this time of social upheaval and momentum for improvement, let’s look to the equalizing power of our great public institutions as agents for societal change.

 

 

 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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Former Post Office, corner of Minnehaha and Lake

I live in south Minneapolis. During the recent troubles, the police precinct that serves our area was destroyed, as was the post office and the public library. Our nearby Walgreens was looted, and across 46th Street from Walgreen’s, the Holiday gas station was torched. Lake Street, a mile away, is nearly destroyed. A few long nights were filled with the constant smell of smoke, the unnerving sound of loud booms (guns? smoke bombs? fire bombs?), whirring blades of helicopters passing low overhead, and endless sirens.

Protests continue, as they should, and peace has returned. Trucks haul loads of rubble away. At some point, rebuilding will commence. We hope, wait, and work for positive change in our community.

In the meantime, the universe conspired to bring back into my hands a copy of a book that I first read in 1993 and which had a great impact on me at the time. What follows is a true story. At some point, my copy of Respect for Nature disappeared. It’s importance was such that I wouldn’t have given it away, although it is possible that I loaned it out. Last week while walking through my neighborhood I stopped to check out a Little Library. Inside was a copy of Respect for Nature! My day was made and with a silent “thank you” I carried it home. The next day, I started paging through the heavily marked up book, and here’s the thing that I wouldn’t believe if it hadn’t happened. The book I found in the Little Library was MY COPY! Marginal notes in another hand had been added to mine, but there is no mistaking one’s own scrawl.

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The book that wanted to come home again

Respect for Nature by the late Paul W. Taylor, presents a well-expressed biocentric theory of environmental ethics. He places the well-being of all life forms on the same plane. There is no hierarchical system of value with humans on the top rung. He begins his book by discussing human ethics, before fully expounding his theory of biocentric ethics. Respect is the centerpiece of his theory. He refers to all humans as “persons”. Every person is a member of the human community, in which all others are members on equal terms. Further, Taylor proposes, the human community should be ordered so that each person has the ability to live self-directed lives, subject only to constraints required to give everyone the same opportunities. Other humans are seen as persons with no greater or lesser than value than oneself, and are all due respect.

Think of this. How would our world be different if we accorded equal value to every human being? And if we respected the right to life of non-human beings, making all our decisions on the basis of this value?

Place the obscene murder of George Floyd, along with so many others in the context of respect for and the equality of all persons. Place the destruction of businesses employing people and places offering essential services in the context of the right of all the pursue their own well-being.

There are those who are so blinded by fear and anger that they are incapable of seeing the value of others. There are the bullies, there are the greedy, there are the cruel. They must be stopped.

Every person of relatively sound mind can make the choice to live by higher values, reflected in compassion, generosity, and kindness. We can make the choice to toil tirelessly to make our community, our state, our nation, and our world better for all who live and breathe.

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Beauty in Minnehaha Park. Forget-Me-Nots by the thousands.

 

 

 

 

Ten Things . . . Part 2

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From post I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Time to fulfill the promise made in the last line.

Dear Reader, if you are so moved, pull out your journal or your legal pad. Don your thinking cap and begin writing the list of what you, unique human being that you are, know the most about. It’ll be fun. You have the time.

List of ten done? Good work. Now write a list of ten things you want to know more about.

Compare the lists. Do you have overlaps? I certainly did.

Do you see anything you would like to pursue in these strange at-home times?

Share your list if you want to. I’ll post mine in a couple of days.

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What I Know the Most About (I KNOW that I feel self-conscious admitting any specific areas of knowledge!)

In no particular order:

  1. Religion/Spirituality (they are different)
  2. Writing, especially for public speaking
  3. English words and etymology of same
  4. Cooking vegetarian food
  5. Baking
  6. Stain removal
  7. Trees, shrubs, and plants native to Minnesota
  8. Connecting with strangers
  9. Helping people through difficult times
  10. Spiritual healing

What I want to know more about:

All of the above.

That should keep me out of mischief :).

Sending you a warm virtual hug.

Solitude vs. Isolation

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This unique time of stay-at-home orders and six-foot distancing from other humans is taking a toll on relationships and mental health. Fractured couples and families are taken to a new level of brokenness during enforced togetherness. Calls to police for mental health issues are up. Calls to domestic abuse hotlines are up. With bars closed, drunken driving arrests are down, but liquor store sales have risen dramatically. 

While the situation of enforced isolation is a challenge whether or not one lives alone, those who live solo face unique physical and emotional dangers. Isolation comes from the Latin word insula, meaning island. Isolation, chosen or unchosen, is situational. Loneliness is an emotion, a feeling, an interpretation of a situation which is also an issue for those in the midst of a dysfunctional relationship.

A sense of loneliness comes from the perception that we are missing something that we need or are without that to which we had been accustomed. From general discontent to out-and-out despair, loneliness is no fun.

Back about a dozen years ago, I found myself living alone for the first time ever. The kids were grown and gone. My marriage was over. The first couple of years were really hard. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I missed having someone there, someone to process ideas with, someone just to ask, “So, how was your day?” I missed physical intimacy, I missed someone to do things with that didn’t involve scheduling time with a friend. Generally speaking, I spent my time and energy focussing on what I didn’t have and in doing so, made myself miserable.

Over time, isolation and loneliness fitfully evolved into a fruitful and generally welcome solitude, a capacity to enjoy going places alone, to enjoy the freedom of doing what I want when I wanted, of being grateful for what I have, rather that fretting over what I don’t.

But still, there are times. There are those hours and days when the serenity of solitude is replaced by a sense of lonely isolation. Aloneness becomes loneliness.

My antidote is physical activity. Lately, to stay in a place of serenity I have been taking long walks, saying “hi” to everyone who crosses my path, exploring my new neighborhood, observing the first signs of spring, and the wondering at the strange stuff which had lay hidden under snow drifts. And then there are the birds and squirrels and dogs. No end of entertainment. Most days are good.

How are you doing? What is your prescription for staying balanced as the world sways beneath our feet?