Day Nine: Optimism

 

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Photo taken from the window of my flight back to Louisville. The bridges over the Ohio River between Indiana and Louisville.

I flew back home from Phoenix last night, with a connecting flight at O’Hare in Chicago.

It seems I had the usual O’Hare experience everyone complains about.

  1. The plane from Phoenix was late.
  2. I had 15 minutes to go the one mile to my next gate to catch the connecting flight to Louisville.
  3. I ran like hell to get there.
  4. I didn’t really need to run, after all. The Louisville flight was delayed anyway.

I’ve spent most of today finishing my blog posts from notes made during my Phoenix trip. I wanted to experience my trip, rather than spend the whole trip blogging.

Daily Meditation

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Cameo appearance with The Earps at Chopper John’s in Phoenix. January 6, 2017.

Clearing blue sky,
A promise in bare branches.
In winter, there are sunny days.
In adulthood, childhood can return.
-Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations

Key points:

  • There is optimism in doing things in disagreeable weather to prepare for when the weather gets better.
  • Adults often see these responsibilities as obligations.
  • The gratification comes when these efforts bear fruits that can be enjoyed.

Self Mastery work this week:

After returning from vacation, I will now resume Week One of “Self Mastery: Personal Empowerment for Creating the Life You Desire” by Dr. Marcus Chacos.

Goal: Seven straight days of waking up at 5:00AM for breakfast, meditation, and blogging.

 

Working with The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday:

“Some things are in our control, while others are not.” – Epictetus, The Enchiridion

As I mentioned on Day One, I was taken by the sheriff’s department to a Crisis Stabilization Unit in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where I was absolutely crazy, freaking out, having all kinds of bizarre delusions, which eventually led to being sent to Hardin County Memorial Hospital for 72 hours, and later to the psych ward at Central State Hospital in Louisville.

While I was in the Crisis Stabilization Unit, we had a group exercise, asking the basic question while going through our the problems of our lives: What is in your control and what is not? Mind you, we all lived with some degree of dysfunction, substance abuse, any other problems which made us no longer functional adults.

Although the counselors base this work on The Serenity Prayer, made famous by 12 step programs, its roots are in Stoicism.

Epictetus says we control:

  • Our opinion
  • Choice
  • Desire
  • Aversion
  • Everything of our own doing

Epictetus says we don’t control:

  • Body
  • Property
  • Reputation
  • Position
  • Everything not of our own doing.

Lose your job?- You can’t control the loss of your job. You can control the choice to search for a new job.

Lose everything you own?- You can’t control your property. It can all be lost at any time, whether you like it or not. You can control your attachments and desire for ownership, and make a choice to take the steps to replace the things you once owned.

Someone close to you died and you are devastated?- It is okay to have emotions about the situation, but you cannot control your own body or someone else’s. You can’t control your own death.

Sounds too simple?

“What about when innocent victims such as children are beaten and murdered?” you might ask, for example.

Again, you could have only controlled that situation if you were present to save the child’s life, or least make the attempt. It doesn’t mean you can’t get angry about it happening, or help in some way to get justice.

The idea is very black and white, but it’s a good place to start working when you are suffering from a crisis. It doesn’t mean you will instantly get over everything in one moment after reading some Epictetus.

You only have so much control over the health of your body (You do have some control.) You don’t have control over thieves taking your property and getting away with it. You only have so much control over keeping your job. You have no control over what other people think of you. In fact, Epictetus might even argue that another person’s opinion of you isn’t your business- it’s their business!

Vacation over.

Tomorrow, I go back to work. Special thanks to Brian & Jan Sandwich, Frank & Sharon Labor, The Earps, and everyone who came out to Chopper John’s to visit me during the trip.

Peace.

B.G.

Day Eight: Work

On Thursday, Jessica was informed that she lost her job at a company that manufactures and sells dog toys to pet stores, retailers, and distributors all over the country. Over the last seven years of her employment there, the business has changed quite a bit and the owner made a decision to let all in-house sales reps go, and outsource some outside salespeople instead. Her boss was generous, giving each employee a $4,000 severance package, and offering to provide letters of recommendation to them.

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Photo from today’s hike at North Mountain Preserve in Phoenix

On Saturday, we watched “Choice Point: Align Your Purpose” on the Gaia channel, which was all about the cycles of changes in a person’s life after a crisis, which they call a “choice point”, an opportunity for personal growth and a chance to transform yourself into something in alignment with your Higher Self, or authentic self.

We are both roughly 40 years old, have chased our rock n roll dreams in bands, touring around in old vans and putting out DIY and indie label albums, while holding down day jobs.

What now?
She’s presently unemployed. I joined the ranks of Kentucky’s working poor a few years ago after leaving the land of opportunity in Phoenix 7 years ago to be closer to family after 15 years of being disconnected from them.

What’s it going to be now? Which path do you take from here? Which factory or warehouse will you make $12 an hour at? Can you escape somehow?

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Jessica and her blue heeler, Spike, on the trail at North Mountain Preserve in Phoenix.

 

 

I suggested to her that she should take a silent retreat at the Santa Rita Abbey, The Monastic Community of the Trappistine Branch of Cistercian Nuns, in southeastern Arizona. At least 5 days.

I have been wanting to take a 10 day Vipassana or Trappist retreat (or hell, even a cross country hike or bicycle trip!) for a while, but you really have to be at that place in life, between jobs with time off and no short term desperate need for income, and no one dependent on you, such as children.

 

Why a Catholic retreat???

The reasons for this:

  • They cost significantly less than other places that offer retreats, sometimes even for free. Santa Rita Abbey charges $40 per day. Private rooms, food and amenities included.
  • The Trappists are interfaith, mostly quiet, and do not proselytize.
  • Their communities are refuge from media, frenetic activities and stresses of urban life, advertising, electronic gadgets, and the temptation to distract yourself.
  • The Trappists will inspire you to appreciate solitude, as The Trappists at The Abbey of Gethsemani have taught me to be okay with being alone.
  • You get lots of quiet time to reflect, journal, and think about your life’s purpose, and so on.
  • Their singing and rituals are quite pleasant to experience.

 

A Daily Meditation on Work

Key points from today’s chapter of 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming Dao:

  • You must work to survive.
  • You labor in harmony with the seasons. (In his example, a woodcutter must work hard prior to the first cold to have the luxury of working less during the snowy winter.
  • You must work smarter not harder. (Let the blade of the ax do the work. You don’t have to swing hard if you strike the wood with the grain, not against the grain.)
  • “True labor is half initiative  and half knowing how to let things proceed on their own.”

I grew up in a workaholic culture. I had a conversation with my father where he remarked that in conversations, there really isn’t much to talk about except what you do for a living or talk about your family or kids.

“What????”

There is philosophy. Art. Music. Books. Ideas. Travel stories. Trivia.

I later learned from a conversation this week with my grandmother (his mother) that work is a family value, her father (my great grandfather) also put an emphasis on work and lamented that being unable to work as much as an elderly person bothered him much later in his life. This is true of most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on his side of the family.

I was involved in a lot of lazy activities growing up. Reading books. Writing. Playing guitar in bands. Listening to records. This created some conflict in my family when I was younger. I was a lazy person.

Even now, as I type this, I’m writing a blog on a vacation day off from work. Is writing “work”? Is this a good use of my time or is this lazy? Should I be loading trucks or remodeling a house instead?
I did notice in the last few years, my playing in bands was somewhat more respectable to my father when I was playing in a busy cover band, as it hadn’t been when I was playing punk bands that didn’t make so much money. The cover band wa loading and unloading trailers, which he could relate to. Putting in the hours and making money by providing a service that had a real market demand.

Today, I earn less money from working at an order fulfillment warehouse in Kentucky than I did 17 years ago in a call center in Tempe.

I actually enjoy the physical labor of loading trucks and shipping orders of shoes and apparel. Some of the work is repetitive and I can become bored during a 1o hour work day, but I am also blessed to be able to listen to headphones while I work, and I utilize my work day to learn from listening to audio books, lectures, and good podcasts while I am working.

I have a Thomas Merton quote handwritten in my pocket notebook that I refer to often:

“And so, for a contemplative, there is supreme value in the ordinary routine of work and poverty and hardship and monotony that characterize the lives of all the poor and uninteresting and forgotten people in the world.” 

-from New Seeds of Contemplation.

My lesson from Deng Ming-Dao today is that I should utilize the winter months to work overtime to pay off my debts and save money so that I may work less during the summer months so I can spend time in nature, enjoying the better weather with my children.

Day 8 of Daily Stoic: SEEING OUR ADDICTIONS

My addictions that I need to work on this year:

  1. Cigarettes.
  2. Caffeine, particularly expensive
    energy drinks” such as Rock Star, Red Bull, etc.
  3. Facebook addictiction.
  4. Complaining.
  5. Arguing.
  6. Shopping.

All I can think of, for now.

See you tomorrow.
B.G.

Aint’ got no cards, don’t pay no tax
For a score in me hand I’ll be breaking me back
I been working
And I been working all day for me mate
Call me a crook, call me bent
But I need more than food and rent
I been working
And I been working all day for me mate

Cocksparrer, “Working”, from the Shock Troops album

Day Seven: Forbearance

Last night, I arrived at “Chateau Fairmonte”, which is a nickname for the home of Kevin “Hotwheels” McGregor, given to the place by his wife.

While I was there I recorded an interview with him.

 

 

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The Earps pre-show rehearsal on January 6, 2017.

During the interview, McGregor mentioned that he had read the blog. He said that while he agreed with most of the content, he disagreed that there were every any competition between him and Aaron “Ump” McCollum for power in the band, and I may have misinterpreted the dynamic of their relationship.

As writer Harry Crews once said in an interview, “The only world I know is the one I see.”

Yesterday, I briefly entertained some remorse for posting about my assessment of our inter-band family dysfunction, but one must remember: Without tension, conflict, drama, and chaos, you don’t really have a story to tell. I have no desire to gloss over the issues, or forget that they ever happened.

“No man can walk out on his own story.”
-The Spirit of the West, in the movie Rango.


Vacation Diary:

  • Went hiking with Frank & Sharon Labor, the husband and wife bandmates in Labor Party and Battered Suitcases, at the Dreamy Draw Park hiking trail. 1.25 miles.
  • Brunch at Aunt Chilada’s in Phoenix. Mexican Eggs Benedict with Spicy Bloody Mary. It was okay. Not great.
  • Visit to Mike Bolenbach at Fullwell Studio near the Arizona State Fairgrounds. Mike was the recording studio engineer for all albums made by The Earps, and also mastered the EP released by my Kentucky country/rock band Moonshine Millionaires. His most famous client: Alice Cooper. Approximately 45 minutes of catching up on his newest equipment, took a guided tour of his living room, with its antique analog tape machines, and met his two assistant engineers.

Artic breath coils the mountain,
Rattling the forest’s bones.
Raindrops cling to branches:
Jewelled adornment flung to Earth.
-Deng Ming-Dao

A key message in Taoism is that one must live in harmony with nature, instead of fighting to have power over nature, which is an American thing. Today, Deng Ming-Dao discusses how trees lose their leaves in the winter, enduring storms, but standing through the winter to become adorned with the beauty that spring brings to them. Like the trees, we should stay true to our inner nature. As he says, “It is with this power that they withstand both the vicissitudes and adornment of life, for neither bad fortune nor good fortune will alter what they are.”

As a veteran of several consecutive volatile relationships with bad endings and one who has suffered losses in career and finances, like just about everyone else, the message I took away from the book today is that winter ends, things get good again, then winter comes back, and so on. Whether good things, or bad things are happening doesn’t change your inner nature.

“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying God. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to God’s creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.”
-Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

 
Some Exercises in Stoic Thinking:

Yesterday, I ended the blog post with a Ryan Holiday quote consisting of questions to ask yourself for the sake of self knowledge.

Have you taken the time to get clarity about who you are and what you stand for? Or are you too busy chasing unimportant things, mimicking the wrong influences, and following disappointing or unfulfilling or nonexistent paths?


Unimportant things I have chased:

  • The pursuit of pointless entertainment to escape from boredom.
  • Watching too much television.
  • Engaging in political debates on social media.

Mimicking the wrong influences:

  • Living the hard drinking lifestyle associated with rock n roll.
  • Getting involved in endeavors that are not a good fit for me just to get approval from someone else.
  • Taking and using bad advice.

Disappointing paths:

  • A few bands I’ve been really excited about being involved in have failed.
  • Most of my day jobs have been disappointing paths. Dead end. Low pay. Hostile work environments.

Unfulfilling paths:

  • Taking band gigs where I didn’t like the material, the band wasn’t good, or staying in bands long after it was pointless to continue and I should have started something new instead.
  • Call center jobs.

Nonexistent paths:

  • Didn’t pursue my writing aspirations like I feel I should have.
  • Should have kept journals and I didn’t.
  • Didn’t develop career skills and education.

Tomorrow, I fly home from Phoenix.

Today, I realized that while I live an isolated existence in rural Kentucky with few neighbors or friends, I was, or am, somebody in Phoenix. This is neither bad or good. You can choose your perspective of any situation. You can choose to call it “loneliness” or “solitude”.

I choose to call it solitude.

See ya tomorrow.
B.G.

Theirs is the forbearance of being true to their inner natures. It is with this power that they withstand both the vicissitudes and adornment of life, for neither bad fortune nor good fortune will alter what they are. We should be the same way . We may have great fortune or bad, but we should patiently bear both. No matter what , we must always be true to our inner selves.
-Deng Ming-Dao