…and go do this thing you have to do.

Not intentionally, but you’re back here on the fifth anniversary of her arrival to this place. You’d taken one of the last available volunteering slots with the company’s volunteering day. All the pet places were taken.

It’s a nice place. They have a goldfish or koi pond, and some pleasant plants and flowers. The fountain is calming. A fake tropical bird squawks at you every fifteen minutes or so. To think that you were just down the road from this place for three years, but never came by. You wanted to come back and volunteer, to hold the hands of people dying who didn’t have a hand to hold the way your mom did.

You’d seen on the volunteer sign-up sheet that the hale-hearty software engineer named Simon was among the group. Last year, you’d volunteered with him at the zoo, and the next day at work he’d stonewalled your attempt to say hi, like you were completely unrecognizable or non-existent outside of the context where he was required to interact with you.

A bunch of software engineers are showing up to work on the project. The middle eastern guy is okay, he isn’t loud and full of some ongoing need to prove his manhood. The two of you set about quietly digging holes for trees. Other men arrive, and they insist on mucking about in the fish pond, or scooping up gravel to dump it on everything in site. The women in the group quietly settle in to planting flowers.

Then Al Gaston arrives with his new wife. He slowly maneuvers his Hummer down the back street to make sure everyone takes note of his arrival. His young bride, romanced from the accounting department and apparently quite a catch for Al, is skinny, blonde, petite, and fashionably sporting a baby bump through her volunteering day t-shirt. She will be taking lots of pictures, and attentively admiring the vigorous spectacle that is Al.

Al is no bigger than you, and has a high-pitched, nasally Yankee voice. But, he’s clearly a man of action. And, you and Massoud, the Middle Eastern software engineer, are just not cutting it at digging these holes. You are in the middle of helping Massoud hack away at an especially fat root, carefully chipping off bits of root using a dull pick-axe. Al charges in and insists on taking the pick-axe from you, and begins swinging it from high over his head. This is impressive to the other men standing around, clearly here is a man bent on getting things done. After ten of these manly whacks, the root has yet to give.

Simon arrives, and it appears that you are going to have to let Simon help you dig your hole. Simon has been outmachoed this year by Al, and he’s not nearly as hale and blustery and confident as he was last year. The engineers begin an intense discussion about how to measure the width and depth of the holes to make sure they are sufficient for holding the potted, medium-sized trees, without a measuring device available. You quietly grab an unused implement, and mark the distance of the diameter and depth of the pots with your hand on the handle of the implement, then demonstrate what is needed to finish creating the holes.

And so it goes the rest of the morning. Al is not unfriendly, and a slightly younger version of you would have bristled at all of this manly vigor being swung about. But, you have made peace with who you are–an observer, a careful recorder of the words and deeds of those more active and vocal than you. Al is generous with his manliness, not overbearing. He has a deftness, as he storms through an area of recently planted flowers with a wheelbarrow full of gravel, you expect his foot to crush one of the flowers, but he misses the flower each time by centimeters.

While most of the men continue to demonstrate their virility to their female colleagues and Al’s wife, a resident of the hospice steps out of the room to chat with you.

“I was doing this last week until I got sick,” he says. You talk quietly with him about landscaping, and the pleasant beauty of the hospice courtyard. He isn’t clingy or full of victimhood. He talks as if he’ll get better, and be out in a week or so. He doesn’t take up too much of your time, and thanks you for your efforts before returning to his room.

You begin a conversation with a joyous salesman. He speaks of all the years he’s volunteered at this place, and all the good they do. You tell him that the lady that plays the harp is especially comforting to the residents’ families, and he agrees, but you don’t mention that you were here five years ago being comforted by the harp while you held your mother’s hand. But, something about the way he speaks admiringly of the work they do here makes you very sad. You just want to be alone, and so you go and pull weeds.

You can’t seem to get back whatever courage you had to come here today, and when they invite the team in for lunch and a tour of the place, you have to leave. You miss your mom so damn much. You don’t want to throw a pity party with people, certainly don’t want anyone to see you crying and comfort you. You hate that shit. You simply miss your mom, and wish she was here on this plane of existence, being that much-needed rock.

…wanting to practice right-minded love.

In order to practice right-minded love, the kind that is connected to the pure pipeline feeding the heart, you have to learn to forgive others for good. You have to learn to stop reacting to situations, because chances are good that any knee-jerk reaction stems from a learned pattern of behavior that seeks to defend the ego and obtain more resources for it from mother and father figures.

No memory should contain emotions, except the memories where you truly possessed only the pure heart love for the other person.

In order to change your entire life, you have to start by changing your identity. You remove all of the negative things you identify with, that you unquestioningly state “that is just the way I am, deal with it,” and offer yourself positive alternatives–ways of being that would make more sense for someone you aspire to be. For example, when you make the acquaintance of a new coworker who may or may not be seeking to compete with you, you can pause ever-so-briefly and ask yourself if you are simply acting on autopilot, or if you’ve thought about what you are saying and how it might impact your ability to work successfully with that person in the future.

Chances are good that much of your negative habits were developed from a false impression of success and sense of security that was obtained at an early age from behaving that way. Perhaps a parent obliged you just to shut you up, and your mind became certain that the way to successfully obtain new resources on this earth is to behave negatively. It is likely that you’ve had very little success at all in life, and if you were more mindfully directing your responses in social situations, you would slowly start to dig yourself out of the hole you’re in.

Maybe you’ve successfully gotten yourself a promotion, or won an important sales deal in the now-distant past, and you often wonder how/why you were unable to repeat it. Chances are very good that you were able to ever-so-briefly pull yourself out of your comfort zone for a few months, and not identify yourself with the usual negative patterns of behavior. Upon obtaining the desired additional resources, you probably lapsed back into your usual habits, assuming that you could continue to operate in many of the old ways of being off of an unfounded notion that those around you found this behavior acceptable and even welcomed it.

The core flaw in your personal ecosystem and how it interfaces with this world is the notion that identity = ownership.

When you review the memories that have come to shape who you are, you want to hang on to the terrible things that have happened to you as much as you want to forget the terrible things you’ve done. By continuing to “own” some slight that you feel you never received justice for, you can justify present and future nasty behavior toward others as a kind of karmic, paying-it-forward of mistreatment.

Of course, retaining your sense of ownership of every time you were mistreated doesn’t make you a bigger and better person. You continue to view the world through a lens of “what can I do to get my fair share for something that was unfairly done to me years ago?” and so you spend less time thinking about how you can obtain great resources and almost all of your time thinking about how to obtain “just enough” resources to “show them”–”them” being whoever might have hurt you–like old classmates you hope to show up at a future reunion.

With this never-ceasing mindset, you continue to pass up opportunity after opportunity that might have been chances to gain access to truly great resources in favor of mediocre opportunities to satisfy mediocre, immediate wants.

…with all of your blinders removed.

and, all you see is a naked room. nobody is secretly admiring you behind that two way mirror you just smashed. it was just you admiring you all this time, taking your face and making it more sublime than it ever was. you took care to squint and stand 30 feet away, and make sure no harsh direct overhead fluorescent lighting bespoke the truth about you. you kept your eyes averted in restaurants that had crystal clear mirrors on the walls and ceilings. you stayed out of public view when you knew you’d be picking up on all the people walking by, scowling at you.

but, today you removed all these blinders, and you are naked and grey and grim. your skin is a battlefield, and you lost each battle to every mushrooming pustule and each deepening furrow.

you were always invisible. nobody was ever really looking at you, unless you took the time to stare at them long and hard enough. you were always as invisible as any fiftysomething man long past the appropriate age of smiling at college co-eds when they jogged by.

with all the blinders gone, you turned your focus inward, and all you saw was chaos. there was no roadmap to sanity waiting for you after you stopped building nightly fantasies where you deified yourself before passing into a drunken slumber. nobody in here or out there is waiting to congratulate you on a job well done. in fact, the world appears to be even more hostile than ever–who wants to know a man who never bothered to know himself before today?

…learning just a little more about surfing these cycles.

Being in control is not a requirement at all times. Fighting for control of things that don’t matter means a lost opportunity to pause, reflect, and rebuild your inner resources.

Then, of course, there were times that were very much the opposite: you dreamed and wished and yearned for the opportunity, they handed you the script and said, “this is your scene, get out there and perform,” and you hemmed, hawed, balked, made excuses, muttering under your breath to go find a place to weather their scorn and suffer through your shame.

Such is life.

Most of the latter times were in your younger days, when as a muscled youth with hairless chest and clear blue eyes, you were terrified of everyone, women especially. Many of the former times come swiftly and suddenly these days–all of a sudden, the workplace grows silent, nobody returns your calls, and decisions get made by people much more powerful than you, dictating what you’ll be doing next with your life.

But being in control is not a requirement at all times, as you’ve already discovered. However, finding little areas that the world can’t touch is mandatory. The first day of your second time working at McDonald’s, when you’d forfeited your license and your truck, and had to don the grease trap hat and pants to pay off the lawyer–this was the first day you checked out books on astral travel, raising the Kundalini serpent, and practicing the Kabbalah. Why not? you thought, if I’ve lost complete control of my idyllic college future, I might as well see if my mind truly is full of infinite potential for exploration.

Learning to master new areas of yourself without becoming just another escapist voyeur, peering into other people’s lives in books and online, being a tourist of reality (or your own past)–that is a challenge. Working with the objects in your head as if they were representative of an artist’s palette–no, working with them as if they were tools, little machines, and building blocks to construct something much more powerful.

You’ve found yourself too many times getting caught up in intense self loathing for having spent too much time paying attention to the past. Observing events as they occurred some twenty years ago, sometimes astounded at how much detail you can build in your head when they happened inside rooms you inhabited day in and day out–classes, bedrooms, dorm rooms, cafeterias, libraries, etc. What is the past, anyway? Having had the brains of corpses at their disposal to study for centuries, scientists have only very recently come up with utterly crude representations of what we saw a few minutes ago, when they strap wires to certain areas of the brain. But, none of them seem to be anywhere near being able to scan the brain of a deceased individual, and extract an entire lifetime of memories from it–all crisp and clear with images, sounds, words, ideas, feelings, etc.

Of course, you know that they never will.

It’s like trying to recreate a web page from viewing the source code in the browser, when the page was generated by dozens of software applications on a backend server, and hundreds of database tables. Sure, you might recreate the page itself, but you’d be not the least bit closer to determining how it was generated–what sort of entity or entities made that web page what it uniquely was at the moment you loaded it into your browser.

Scientists, unable to find the “server-side” of our “client-side” reality, have taken to doing their best to spider everything and make mathematical guesses about how complex systems are formed from simple data.

You woke up this morning deciding to embrace this downturn in the cycles, and you are feeling very much the need to train yourself to practice more forgiveness of others. Getting emotionally distraught over every last little sleight that happens around you is the quickest way to run yourself into a stroke or heart attack, and also the most natural way to avoid ever facing the ways in which you likely are just as busy committing sleights that infuriate others.

One thing that stuns you on a regular basis is the strange paradox of your life story: how since about the age of twelve, you have been so painfully self conscious of your face and feelings and body, but almost totally blind to who others around you are actually seeing and storing in their memory banks.

…from three horrific dreams.

In the first dream, you saw yourself willingly and gladly committing atrocities, breaking every last commandment, and only letting your head coolly assess the situation after it was all over and the deeds were done. In the second dream, you tried to travel back in time to undo the terrible things you’d done, but the number of alternate universes were endless, and you kept getting stuck in worlds that were only kind of like your own. In the third dream, you tried to take your own life, but instead of jumping out of a window into an endless black night, you jumped into a hell where every nerve was tweaked with pain, and sleep was not permitted.

Some days, just the act of waking up itself is enough of a gift.

…into a world that you don’t know and don’t want to know.

There is this newspaper that your wife subscribed you to as a Christmas gift. You’d go read it online to obtain reporting and analysis that was intelligent–at least intelligent relative to the local online parade of crack moms and puppy photo contests. You had some fond memories of reading the newspaper in college on a break between classes, stopping at the library to grab the Sunday edition neatly woven into the dowel and nestled between the local depressing trash.

But lately, you’ve noticed that over a third of a paper is devoted to delivering a high-brow take on pop culture, and letting you know what smutty shows and art installations are currently available for consumption in the big city. And, everyone seems to think that what is important, what’s relEt, what matters are an endless stream of so-called artists and performers wallowing in sexual pathology and scatology. Drug addictions and recovery from them were of interest for a long time, but now they are a bit cliched.

You noticed this on your last trip to the big city: the arc of modern art, from sensible explorations of color and form theory to so-called artists throwing up fetal residue, formaldehyde immersed animals, mundane objects, or next to nothing–performance artists making film and video of hours of uninspired activity.

The fashion section unleashes a display of women wearing glammed up rags.

The bands that are adored know less musically than the seventies rock groups they imitate, and are praised for breaking new ground.

The popular restaurants offer a teaspoon dollop of pureed fruit and spice over meat for the price of two porterhouse steak dinners.

And everyone, above all, seem to be in the business of congratulating themselves for how clever they are. There seems to be this prevailing attitude that if you lack a soul (because almost all of them don’t believe in this sort of thing) and you lack substance, then the only thing to do is seek and give attention for dressed up smut and trash. The smuttier and trashier your past was, the more authentic you are.

In the arc of the evolution of Western culture, something incredible appears to have happened. The amazing advances of science and technology that took place in eras of incredible repression and intolerance are no longer marveled at, but everyone has a romanticized affinity for the geek, the nerd, and adores Richard Dawkins. Yet, most of these people probably couldn’t do basic high school algebra when pressed. The characters on a show like The Big Bang Theory are cartoons–one-dimensional freaks who apparently gobble up every item of pop culture that is associated with being geeky and nerdy, yet have time to actively pursue post-doctoral research in nuclear physics. You’ve known a few of these types, but they are all liberal arts school graduates–people with English and History degrees who would give you a blank stare if you asked them to draw a sine curve.

You aren’t exactly sure what the root cause of this trend, since you’ve been caught up in it for years, adoring so much of the ways of the “relEt world” without questioning any of it. Sure, you’ve had your moments of slipping off into the land of 9-11 trutherism and loving Ron Paul, but that just seems like more of the same bread and circuses being fed to an audience that demands an alternative, but seeks nonetheless to adore and follow someone or something.