Back from the Desert

I went to Burning Man in August, as I am wont to do every year or so. But this time, I didn’t come all the way back. Some part of me stayed lost in the desert.⁣

If I’m honest, it was a somewhat disappointing Burn. Many of my heartmates weren’t able to make it. Certain walks and talks that I had been hungrily anticipating didn’t happen. ⁣

To be sure, there were magical moments and I was surrounded by the loveliest people; but most of them were new to me, and we were on different schedules and trajectories. I own that a lot of it is on my side of the line. I’m a slow burn. I take a while to warm up, and I didn’t find the opportunity to forge connections that open the door to Deep Sharing. ⁣

There are folks out there in the world that I can go a year or more without seeing, and we can land immediately in each other’s gaze and embrace, and be down for whatever.⁣

But I’ve realized, there are not as many as I’d like. In the days and weeks after the Burn, I found myself wondering just how many there really are. There are people that I connect with, and there are people that I talk about connecting with—i.e., we spend our time and words basking in the memory of that moment we did actually connect once. Or, as often happens, the transmission, while vulnerable, tends to be one-directional.⁣

My mood was akin to post-Christmas depression. You know how it goes—allegedly The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, peace and good will, yada yada, but underneath the hype, light-and-music show, frenetic activity, and veritable vomitus of well wishes, not a lot of real contact. ⁣

I found myself sleeping and staring out the window a lot more. My ongoing home renovation only added to the sense of self-alienation. Nothing was where it was supposed to be and everything was covered with dust, including me. I couldn’t get back into my usual rhythm. The silence between words and thoughts grew bigger and bigger, and it wasn’t a comforting silence. More like a void.⁣

And then I got the text. I was in a bar in a different state, by myself, close to midnight. Everyone else was asleep, or so I thought. It was a simple and unexpected message from a special soul, one both old and familiar, that I’m only just getting to know: Hey, we should get some alone time, soon. ⁣

How soon? I responded. Like, what are you doing right now?⁣

Fifteen minutes later we were huddled around a fire on a rooftop terrace, and by the light of those flames and our conversation, I began to find my way back. ⁣

We were up there for hours. And we talked and talked and shared. Even spoke of things that could have gotten us locked up (or at least strait-jacketed) in daytime hours. My companion reminded me of some things about myself, and I sat in appreciation of their openness and deep wisdom. Through the connection, I felt more Connected with Everything. ⁣

And then it started. The next day, out-of-the-blue texts from friends old and new—people that I crave a closer relationship with. “I had a dream about you.” “Owls flew across my path twice today and I thought of you.” Reminders of the untapped beauty and magic in my life, just waiting for me. A veritable embarrassment of riches.⁣

So, I’m back, in a manner of speaking. I’m curious about what’s coming. I’m also kinda digging the quiet. But if you want to talk—I mean, really talk—I am totally down for that.⁣

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Here Comes the Sun

I saw it the other night as I was walking to my gate in the St. Louis airport.⁣

⁣“Play me,” it said. Literally.⁣

Along the wall of the concourse, across from a large waiting area, was an old upright piano, painted in bright colors. The sign next to it invited passersby to plunk out a tune.⁣

"Shit,” I thought, knowing that it was talking to me. ⁣

A teacher/mentor of mine once encouraged us to stretch our concepts of ourselves. He gave us the homework to do “something that we would never do.” (For me, at the time, it was getting out of my seat on a plane when the seat belt sign was on. I’m SUCH a rule follower.)⁣

Playing piano in a public place, uninvited/unsanctioned by those around me, intruding on their personal space, unsure of their approval/permission, calling attention to myself, and not sure I could do it “right,” definitely fell into that category.⁣

Mind you, I can play the piano―some. I just don’t get much practice these days, and there aren’t too many songs that I can still make my way through without multiple mistakes. The last time I recall playing in public (besides at a bar at Burning Man in the middle of the night, to earn a drink) was at my parents’ respective funerals. And that took some practice. ⁣

Clearly, this was my moment. I headed toward the piano. ⁣

Aaaand I walked right on by. I have plenty of time, I thought. Best to go check the situation at the gate with my constantly-shifting delayed flight first. ⁣⁣

Turned out, it was still late. The earliest expected departure was in an hour. So I headed back.⁣

An older gentleman and his wife were parked in front of it now. I had seen them earlier. He was a big guy with longish unkempt white hair, and she was tiny, staring into space, lost in quiet reverie behind her thick glasses. He had been slowly pushing their carry-ons on a wheelchair with one hand as he held her hand tenderly with the other.⁣

Now, he was seated at the piano, playing with just one hand while his wife clasped the other. She was facing away from him, still straining after whatever unseen finger was beckoning her.⁣

I left them to it and went to find supper and a fortifying glass of cabernet. When I finished, it was nearly 10 PM. My plane was expected soon, but hadn’t yet arrived. I knew I had time and a special opportunity here. So, I steeled myself and headed back down the concourse. ⁣

It was waiting for me, patiently. Across the walkway, the quiet seating area was about a third full, people lost in their phones and books. It doesn’t matter what they think of me, I told myself. I’ll never see them again.⁣

Still standing, I leaned over the bench, and started picking out the tune to the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Not too intrusively. Just one hand playing the melody line, and, as it came back to me, gently adding chords with the other hand. I played a little louder.⁣

Now, here’s where, in my alternate (maybe future?) life, I would write about how I then dropped my backpack on the floor, sat down on the bench, and started playing with gusto. Some people behind me started humming along, quietly first, and then singing with full-throated joy. A few of the more adventurous ones gathered around the piano and we ended with a mighty crescendo and flourish. Hugs and smiles were exchanged, info was traded, new Facebook friends were made.⁣

But that’s in that other life. Tonight, I just hovered over the piano, gently picking out the notes until I was done. And, as I did, it occurred to me that maybe someone in that sitting area needed to hear it, needed a nudge, a whisper of hope carried on a remembered melody. So I played for them.⁣

Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter⁣⁣
Little darling, it feels like years since it's been here⁣⁣

Here comes the sun⁣⁣
Here comes the sun, and I say⁣⁣
It's all right⁣⁣

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces⁣⁣
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here⁣⁣

Here comes the sun⁣⁣
Here comes the sun, and I say⁣⁣
It's all right⁣⁣

Or maybe not. Perhaps no one out there was hungry for that reminder. Maybe the someone who needed to hear it was just me. And if that was indeed the case,

I say ⁣⁣
It’s all right.⁣

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Mastering Your So-Called Fate

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” - C.G. Jung⁣

I was listening to an audiobook on my walk last night, and that quote by Jung stopped me in my tracks. YES. Precisely.⁣

We are not transparent, clean slates. We have histories and memories and hurts and trauma and tribes and fears and beliefs and hopes and biases and patterns and conditioning and learned responses and responsibilities and anxieties and cosmologies and libidos and dreams and nightmares and projections and defenses and chips on our shoulders and stars in our eyes. ⁣

These codes are running in our operating systems all the time. They in part determine what we're going to see before we even open our eyes and how we're going to interpret it. They’ve set up the gameboard each day before we roll the dice or reach for our piece. ⁣

They operate in synch to create the milieu, the worldview in which we each exist. We fold ourselves to fit within their parameters and color within their lines. And they become the invisible walls of our worlds, of the mazes we move through. They become the unacknowledged building blocks of the fate that seems to direct so many of our actions and responses. ⁣

Until we wake up from the trance. Until we become students of ourselves and begin (however imperfectly) to question our own thoughts and perceptions and interpretations and reactions, with curiosity and compassion. (Pro tip: humor helps, too.)

In that process, we begin to get leverage. We see opportunities, not inevitabilities. And we become more at choice in how we live our lives and defy our so-called fates.⁣

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Three Short (but BIG) Questions

Three deceptively short but BIG questions recently showed up on HBO's Crashing, a series about an annoyingly earnest but lovable comedian (Pete Holmes) trying to make it in NYC. ⁣

He blows a big break at a coveted club. To be fair, his set—mostly about swimming pools and pee—got decent laughs. But the jaded booking manager wasn't having it. She looked at him tiredly over her glasses: "A strong bomb is better than a weak kill....I have plenty of white guys talking about nothing." ⁣

And then, right there in the cramped restaurant booth, she was transformed into an oracle. She asked three questions and, for just a moment, I felt time stop. Because she was asking me, too.

Who are you? Why are you? Why now?

Was she talking to you?

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You Are Not Your Missed Alarm

I couldn’t get to bed early enough the other night, so I decided to sleep in. Instead of waking up at 5:15 AM, I canceled my two normal alarms and instructed Alexa to rouse me at 7:00. ⁣

She dutifully complied. At the appointed time, I sighed contentedly, stretched, and luxuriated in my bed. I let my head sink back into the pillow for just a few minutes, feeling deliciously decadent.⁣

Okay, time to check in. “Alexa, what time is it?” ⁣

“The time is 8:05 AM.”⁣

I bolted upright. HOLY SHIT. I had a Focusmate session scheduled at 8:00 AM―an online coworking appointment. That meant that someone somewhere in the world had been waiting for me and was now working alone, instead of in solidarity with me.⁣

I crashed out of bed and mashed the power button on my computer. While it whirred and muttered about its own rude awakening, I threw on a t-shirt and gym shorts and splashed some water on my face.⁣

When I logged in, I was relieved to see that I’d been matched with Steve, a cheery avuncular fellow that I’ve already done a number of morning sessions with. We touched base and I apologized profusely. He laughed and went back to work and I excused myself to go fill a mug the size of a small hot tub with steaming coffee.⁣

While I was preparing it, I noticed something strange: ⁣I felt happy. Like, really happy.⁣ I was late, but I wasn’t beating myself up about it. I was a good guy, happy to be here, and I just happened to be late for this one session. It wasn’t a moral failing. It did not portend disaster and dissolution and moral decay. ⁣

I was just late this one time. I’m normally not (at least for Focusmate sessions. Date night, that’s another issue, as my longsuffering partner will attest.)⁣ If you had been witness to the inside of my unforgiving head over the years, you would know what a revolutionary shift this represents.⁣

Part of the recognition was spurred by a lovely podcast I had heard over the weekend by Rob Bell, one of my favorite observers of this life of ours. The episode was called “Is This Your First Accident?” (Link in the comments.) ⁣ In it, Rob describes being involved in a minor fender-bender after picking his young daughter up from school. He was TOTALLY at fault. But he didn’t make it any bigger than it was. A moment of distraction, some minor dented metal. ⁣

Because he wasn’t busy freaking out and beating himself up, he was able to be exquisitely attuned to his daughter’s experience and also to the driver of the other car. That is, by taking care of himself, he was able to take better care of everyone else.⁣

We are bigger than the things that happen to us. We are bigger than isolated moments of less-than-perfect action. It reminds me of meditation: one goal of the practice is to insert a pause so that you don’t over-identify with and get lost in the trance of what’s happening in your life. To cultivate The Witness behind the hubbub.⁣

So, listen up. You are not your missed alarms. Or your fender-benders. Or your broken china, or your cheat meals, or your rejected novel. Or that argument with your spouse or your impatience with your child this morning or the tear in your stocking or the wonky test result or your stood-up date or your ugly wallpaper or the weedy garden or your empty bank account or your conditional exam pass or your schedule blown-all-to-hell or your chipped tooth or your tyops I mean typos. ⁣

Don’t globalize them. Don’t make them metaphors for your life. Don’t surrender your precious value to them. You don’t have to judge them (and yourself) in order to take effective action to change them.⁣

Beating yourself up is an activity, a pattern, a habit. It’s not an “objective” assessment. It’s just a way to kill time―your time, the only time you’ve got.⁣

Don’t you have better things to do with it?⁣⁣

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