A Religion Of 1…

Below is a tease for Part I of my upcoming, 3-part series on building my own personal religion.  Please check by Friday, August 5th for the completed Part I.  In the mean time, here is an excerpt:

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A Douche Bag Looks At 50

I don’t like myself too much these days.  I dislike many of my behaviors, a lot of my choices, a great deal of my history, way too many of my thoughts, and most of my probabilities – but I own it.  On reflection it seems I have wasted most of my upside, and my upside was what I always liked best about me.  Aside from being a one-man wrecking crew of female souls, apparently I’m also a wrecking crew of my own potential – for I now see that I have not fulfilled it.  I know, I know, it’s not too late to fix that, but uhm… I have serious doubts.

I live alone once again, and in a peaceful place.  Away from town and with a view to die for, I’m surrounded by fruit trees, coyotes, possums, raccoons, and even some friendly rats.  I don’t care for the scorpions.  The aesthetic is grounding, if not spiritual.  I’m in a good place to heal from my many external and self-inflicted wounds through this last decade, and to do some growing.  Perhaps I will even begin to fulfill some of that untapped potential of me – we shall see if I rise to the opportunity.  The ideal of personal growth is like witchcraft in the hands of Congress.

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Please check back Friday for the completed column.  Oh, and there is this from Mike Scott and The Waterboys — the video is of the home-made variety, but the song is, well, it’s a Mike Scott song.  ‘Nuff said.  Enjoy…

Roots, Branches, Leaves, Weeds, And Pests…

I recently blogged about my one-month disconnect from information media, and information technology.  While I was on this self-imposed excommunication from communications, I read a book recommended to me by my daughter.  The Search For God At Harvard, by Ari Goldman, helped reconnect me with my Jewish heritage, and offered me some food for thought about how I might choose to live my life going forward — or perhaps not, we shall see.

I will be writing soon about some decisions I have made with regard to my faith, my lifestyle, my fitness, and my distaste for most things modern.  More on that in two weeks.  

After reading his book, I established an email discussion with Ari Goldman, a former religious editor for The New York Times, now a Graduate Professor of Journalism at Columbia University.  We exchanged several emails, and he used the discourse the write the following article for The New York Jewish Week.   I’ll suggest he lowered his standards just a smidge to write about me, but I am grateful just the same.  Below is the article — republished with the author’s permission.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 Ari L. Goldman

Special To The Jewish Week

Writing a book, I recently told a friend, is like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You never know who might find it, read it and think of it.

 It’s been 20 years since I wrote my first book, “The Search for God at Harvard,” and I still occasionally get notes about it from unexpected places. Sometimes I learn more from my correspondents than I ever put in that original bottle.

 The most recent note came from a man named Roy Cohen, not the infamous lawyer who died in 1986 (and spelled his last name Cohn), but the Roy Cohen who is a fitness trainer and the proprietor of a small gym in Fallbrook, Calif., just north of San Diego.

 He writes: “In an age where I have felt overwhelmed by humanity itself — modernity and all that goes with it — I recently took a 30-day sabbatical from all information media, information technology, and all social media. In short, I lived completely unplugged for 30 days.”

 Definitely my kind of guy, I thought. That may be a strange admission for a media columnist, but I have to confess that I approach all information technology with considerable skepticism. Don’t try to find me on Facebook, and I don’t do Twitter.

 Roy went on about his technology fast: “In this process, I took to reading again, rather than listening to books on i-Tunes, as I have done for nearly a decade. Among the first books I chose to read was ‘The Search For God at Harvard.’

 “My daughter, a student at De Paul University suggested your book, and assured me it was right up my alley. You see, I earn my keep as a fitness trainer, but all of my non-working time is spent contemplating religion — for all its beauty, all its liability, and all its embarrassment. I love religion — ritual in particular.

 “I was raised Jewish — Reform, bar mitzvahed and moved on. Despite this — that my background is Jewish, my family is Jewish, and that I have read countless books on Judaism — I have never truly known what it is like to be Jewish — it has always been an afterthought. I have never even tried. Perhaps that’s because Judaism was thrust upon me as a child rather than cultivated.

 “Having read your book, though, for the first time in my life, I can see what it means for someone to be Jewish — to love it enough that it becomes prioritized in such beautiful and creative ways. As I read your book, I marveled with envy at the love affair you have with your faith — complete envy.”

 All this was nice to hear, of course, especially because my book, about a year that I spent at Harvard Divinity School, was pilloried by many observant Jews for bending halacha a bit too eagerly. Among other things, I wrote about reporting with a pencil (rather than a pen) on Shabbat and about “tefillin dates,” an activity that suggests both sex and prayer. I wrote back to Roy that it was I, in fact, who envied him. I wished I could take a 30-day media fast, and I could certainly use a gym — and a personal trainer.

 I asked Roy for more details of his technology fast and suggested that he try a weekly one, namely Shabbos. He wrote back that “in hindsight” he realizes that his technology fast was “making up for decades of unobserved Sabbaths.”

 “With regard to life without technology for 30 days,” he added, “it was peaceful, empowering, and probably formative to some degree — but those transformations might have more to do with what I did during those 30 days than what I did not do: reading, gardening, cleaning — ritual. I have a great passion for ritual, especially when there is a physical component to ritual.”

 So what did he learn? I wondered. “If there are lessons learned from a month unplugged,” Roy wrote back, “they are as follows:

 * “Television holds little value to me anymore.

* 80+ percent of my e-mail use is unnecessary.

* Books on i-Tunes have no soul.

* Facebook is a fair distraction in situations not well suited to substance; waiting for a late client, waiting room at a doctor’s office, etc.

* Texting holds a great deal of utility in the scope of my life — more so than I had imagined.

* Writing essays (a hobby of mine) is much easier with modern word processing than on legal pads. I am grateful for MS Word.”

 In short, technology is not bad. It just has to be used intelligently.

 And there is one other value to it, I realize. These days you can throw your note in a bottle into the ocean and do not have to wait for a message to come back to you in a bottle. Just open your e-mail. You will surely find some silliness there, but also some wisdom.

 Ari L. Goldman is a professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. His “Mixed Media” column will run regularly.

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Please check back in two weeks to find out how bench presses, lunges, blintzes, mezuzahs, and Shabbat have influenced my own private religion.  Thank you.

Oh, and there is this by World Party, enjoy…

 

Day After Day, I Keep Waking Up….

I will be on vacation in Colorado and the wilds of Northern Nebraska until the end of the month, so this is my last column until mid-August. 

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“Humans are just a stage in the emergence of amazing complexity in the universe.” Martin Rees

Destiny, And The Big Picture

I’ve become obsessed with contemplating the increasing complexity and interdependency, in Darwinian terms, of societies and biology, and of how well intermingled they are – yet not necessarily parallel.   That’s a big-picture obsession.  To a lesser degree, I obsess on my own increasing complexity – because it’s a story which could have ended long ago.

And as I see myself grow more complex and increasingly interdependent with others, I still don’t know what I am destined to be within the expanse of my life, but I can say with great clarity at this moment, I am destined to be, and that’s a very little-picture statement.

A Letter To A Friend

I don’t wear a helmet when I ride my bike.  I love the wind through my hair when I ride at high speeds – it’s the rush of pure physical freedom.  Last month a concerned friend saw me riding in Fallbrook without a helmet and sent me an email to call me out on it.   She explained that her husband fell off his bike recently and his helmet probably saved his life.  I told my friend, based on that story, that I would begin wearing a helmet immediately – though I truly did not want to.  A couple of days later I bought a helmet, but never put it on.  Who was she, to tell me how to live my life…?

Below is a letter I sent to my friend this morning:

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Hi Danielle –

A while back I pledged to you I would begin wearing a bike helmet ASAP, and that I would prove it to you by sending you a picture of the helmet. And then, my life went very dark for a while.  “Fuck-it” was my attitude.  Things weren’t going well for me at all, and seemed to get worse every day.  One thing I could depend on each day though, was the wind through my hair as I rode to and from work – as exhilarating to me as any sensation I have known, and yes, I said ANY.  And deep down Danielle, there is a part of me that would be perfectly ok with being taken out by a truck.

Two nights ago I was riding down Green Canyon Road after work, and riding as fast I have ever been on that road.  On a straight section of the road, a truck passed me then suddenly crossed in front of me, and went off the road and into a tree.  It took less than 3 seconds for me to pass those tire tracks –3 seconds.

Before I left my studio that night, I bobbled my key in my hand for about 3 seconds. Now I know that if I had not bobbled that key, and had left 3 seconds earlier and been between that truck and that tree, I would have been killed, helmet or not.  But if the truck had hit my tire, front or back, and knocked me off my bike, who knows – vegetable soup..?

I’m sorry I did not keep my promise to you, but if you ever see me ride without a helmet again, call me out on it, please.

roy

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I have some bad hair days ahead of me...

Destiny, And The Little Picture

The driver of that truck was ok, called a tow truck, and did not want me to stick around.  I was trembling so much I could barely keep my feet on the pedals of my bike as I rode the final miles to my house.  All that evening I kept thinking about bobbling that key.  What, I thought, would have happened if I had left my studio 2, or 3, or 4 seconds earlier…? I would have been right were that truck was. 

One could play a futile head game of destiny that, if I had been in that spot 3 seconds ahead, perhaps the driver would have seen me there, steered away from me, and I would have actually saved him from swerving and hitting the tree.  But a more likely scenario exists where I could have been tenderized, pureed, or both.  There’s just no tellin’…

I don’t know what destiny is anymore.  I have survived a parachute malfunction, a lightning strike, the foolish act of jumping into a class IV rapid after a beer-based breakfast, driving a truck with an unknown rattlesnake under the driver’s seat, being thrown into a jetty by a wave that refused to close out, and a few other self-induced brushes…  Still, I carry on.

Biology expands.  Societies expand.  Time and the universe expand.  And at the end of the day, for some reason, the story of me continues to expand.  It’s not just me who’s lucky to be alive though, it’s you too.   I’m curious, please use the comments section and share your “lucky to still be here” stories.  They may be used in a future essay or series of essays.  Be well.  rc

Oh, and there is this, from Dog Trumpet, the modern day decedants of Mental As Anything.  Enjoy…

The BEST Best Friend I’ve Ever Had…

I suppose this is kind of a “supplemental” post, with no particular purpose but to put a smile on my own face.  Mission accomplished.

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“It is medicine to me, the best part of my day and the foundation of all the good within.”  me

I arrive early as sunlight breaches the dark, the overnight cool bends back and gives way to the impending warmth.  Stepping from my bike as I enter my studio I see, in the periphery, a world which blindly scurries about like flies; on their way to work, unfocussed, unaware, and yet uncleansed by movement – guided by a simple trance as they lower their shoulders to the day ahead. 

Drivers in sparkling cars talk on phones and drink coffee while steering with their knees.  Dim people perched on bus benches look to the ground; hands in pockets, talking to nobody as they wait.  Some have more purpose than others, but  none have the purpose I feel entering my gym each morning.  

Yes, I too will scurry later on, and lower my shoulder to the day, but I will do so with a greater exuberance for having first spent time in my sanctuary, challenging gravity, testing my limits, forging my body, waking my mind, thus sanctifying my day.

I am nervous, as I have been each day for 30+ years entering the gym.  I pass through the doors apprehensive, but ready.  As I gather my senses and collect my breath, I place two powder blue sticks of gum in my mouth and begin to work them; they initiate the rhythm which will dictate my pace for the next hour or so. 

Scanning the mirrored walls of my studio, I seek a bare place on the floor where I can set down the gym bag which as accompanied me for decades.   I pull a towel, my training journal and a pen from the belly of the bag and turn to assume my place in the workings.  I am less nervous than anxious now as I begin to visualize how I will spend my time in this place of mental and physical purification.

My fingers wrap themselves around a cold steel bar and I begin the process, not of lifting the weights, but of stretching my muscles, with weights in my hand.  Through a full range of motion, and with complete control of the weights, I raise and lower the bar focusing on the stretch rather than the lift, on the flexion rather than momentum. 

Each set is a dance, each repetition a step within the dance, and after each dance I will write in my journal just how good the dance was, or how it could be improved on.  And then I will choose another movement, and dance on until my body says stop.

My daily workout is the best best-friend I have ever had, and get to dance with it daily.  Be well.  rc

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Oh, and there is this by Paul Weller.  Enjoy…