Small Steps

I’ve dabbled with ideas; even practices. I was born a (non-religious) Jew, but even at a young age, I always felt that our capabilities as human beings should be miraculous. I just didn’t know where to begin my search. No one talked to me about God, or a higher power, or the limitless possibilities of the mind. I spent time as a student observer at a parapsychology lab trying to influence a computer with my mind, learned the rudiments of meditation, and noodled around with the Ouija board. I’d lay prone on my bed in the middle of a summer afternoon listening to Tangerine Dream or Jean Michel Jarre on the turntable, and try to induce out-of-body experiences.

But nothing ever took. As a young adult not even out of my teens, I joined the Navy, where I served with Christians of every denomination, many of whom felt that the only way for me to be a complete Jew was to be born again. I did think about it, and remember one night lying in my bunk, trying to conjure up a connection to Jesus, imagining a wave of love and compassion overwhelming me. But I just could not do it. I felt stupid, embarrassed, and a little bit disappointed.

In 1984 I was one of about 10 Americans and possibly the only Jew in a stadium filled with screaming Catholics about to be blessed by Pope John Paul II. There were helicopters overhead and His Holiness circled the stadium in the famous Popemobile. But what I most remember are the priests and others walking through the crowd, selling cheap icons and trinkets for a mass blessing. I held up my camera during the blessing, and it was stolen a couple of weeks later.

I have prayed to Buddha in Thailand and Vietnam, written a terrible poem about Swedenborg (Heaven is a bureaucracy of angels … blah, blah, blah), and chanted mantras to Ganesha and Krishna.

And after all of these experiences, all the searching, all the sleepless nights, small epiphanies, joy, grief, and love, I have finally earned my first true piece of wisdom.

I know very little, and must be content with small steps on a long journey.

The older I get, the more impatient I am, as if I am in a race to some nebulous nirvana. And impatience can cause me to miss subtleties, those ephemeral hints of deeper truths, vast but also knowable.

In Conversations With God, Neale Donald Walsch asks “How much time do we need to take? It’s already taken me five months to get from the first chapter to this. I know that people read this and think it’s all put down in one even, uninterrupted flow. They don’t realize that 20 weeks separated the 32nd and 33rd paragraph of this book. They don’t understand that sometimes the moments of inspiration are half a year apart. How much time do we have to take?”

To which I can now answer, as long as it takes.

SONY DSC

The Band!

I think certain words are so overused, it may be impossible to reclaim their true meaning.  For me, the word spirituality doesn’t really encompass my underlying intent, and the word that more precisely describes what I am searching for has been so misused I feel the urge to air-quote whenever I say it.

“(W)holistic”

That is how I understand a spiritual path.  It is attending with care to every facet of life, from brushing my teeth to making a living to following a path that encourages me to be the best person I can.  Everything is intertwined, and if I believe I am more than the sum of my biological parts, how can I separate that from any other part of my life?

I’ve always been content sitting on a metaphorical fence, a believer in something greater than me (and of which I am a part), yet an agnostic on choosing one particular way of approaching or working with that belief.  That’s why, at some point or another in my past, I’ve visited churches, synagogues, and temples (both Hindu and Buddhist).  And it’s why, when my son and I visit Half Price Books – pretty close to nirvana in my estimation – he drifts off to the science section and I to the spiritual/religious/metaphysical shelves.

In the future, I want to go to a Christian church where there’s a great, big, beautiful choir led by the Reverend Cleophus James singing and screaming the gospel and parishioners doing somersaults 20 feet off the ground (see the video below)!  I want to be in India for Diwali, in Bhutan to commemorate the Buddha’s birthday, and in my local Lubavitcher synagogue to dance the hora and have a nosh afterwards.  I’d like to visit the island of Iona and learn about the Celts, who believed that the feminine and the natural world were both holy and that god could be found within each of us, and I’d really like to walk the Way of St. James.

I really need some frequent flyer miles!

Anyway, I leave you with Jake, Elwood, and James making a joyful noise.

Good Grief!

From the first exuberant notes of Vince Guaraldi’s piano, I am immediately rocketed into my past, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on an old, fuzzy, jumpy color TV, wrapped up tightly in a blanket and lying on the floor of my Brooklyn apartment.  This was something that fit me so well … Charlie Brown’s frustration, depression, and occasional bouts of megalomania, the rhythmic warmth of the jazz score, those voices coming from the tinny speaker, and Snopy’s charming, infectious laugh.

What really stood out to me, even as a young child was how many friends Charlie Brown actually had.  If he’d just relaxed and counted his blessings, he could have been the happiest kid in the world!

I envied Charlie Brown.  He lived in a house with a backyard and the coolest dog ever.  Even though they were unseen and only spoke in trumpet-in-diving-bell-gibberish, he had two parents.  His father was a barber (as was Charles Schultz’s father), and his mother a homemaker.  Charlie Brown went to camp, played baseball (he was even the team manager!), had crushes, went to dances, trick-or-treated, and had a pen pal who lived in some mysterious, exotic and far-off land.

The genius of Charles Schultz was his ability to infuse these children with all of the frailties and foibles of the adult world — jealousy, depression, envy — and temper it with so much love and compassion. Unlike real life, no one ever called Pig Pen a dirt bag.  They just complained about the dirt and told him to clean up his act!

Several decades after first seeing a Charlie Brown television special, I had occasion to interview Charles Schultz about a colleague with whom he had collaborated.  Schultz was kind and patient, generous with his praise of others, and exceedingly humble.  And I had the opportunity to thank him for giving me a place of kindness and gentle adventure to escape to as a child.

With so many troubles in this world, we can learn a lot from the little round-headed kid and his friends.  They never talked at each other, but with each other.  And with every new day they would renew their friendship and connection, because, in the end, they were The Peanuts and they belonged together.