Tuesday, January 20, 2009


How I reviewed my life one year at a time

By Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges teaches classes in practical survival, is the editor of Wilderness Way magazine, and the author of "How to Survive Anywhere," and other books. He can be reached at www.ChristopherNyerges.com]

My new year came Sunday, January 11, my date of birth. So that’s my personal New Year. As has been my custom, I did a birthday run where I run one lap around a track for each year, and review that year as I run. In a sense, I run through my life, looking back at where I started, where I went, what’s happened in between, and seeking whatever lessons I can.

This year, I didn’t do laps around a track, but ran up and down a dirt driveway for each "lap," a distance of about a fifth of a mile.

For me, 2008 had been a year of pain – losing my dog of 17 years on Easter Sunday, and losing my wife of 22years in early December. Christmas and New Year’s burned by in the time warp I was in, not wanting another close person to be gone. I focused hard as I ran my birthday run, trying to re-live my life, trying to really feel, again, what I felt back then, and my pain came back.

My first awareness of being born was that something was very wrong, that I came from some very holy sacred place and now I was back in a human body on this Dark Age planet. I cried uncontrollaby as I ran, just as I did in my first few years of incoherence and confusion. Yet, I slowly learned what it was to be human, and though I never grew out of my feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and forever out of the loop, I learned the ways of man, of deceit, of double-talk, lies, beguilement.

I’d forgotten – until I did my life-review run – that I once knew that I came from some level of purity and Innocence, then descended to human-ness, and then I worked to learn how to "fit in" to the ways of the grown up world. As I ran each lap, I tried hard to just feel it, and to find the lessons that I still needed to learn.

I remember visiting my grandfather in Ohio, and how he yelled at my mother for some petty thing. I was only a child, but I never forgot that puzzling scene. I somehow thought that getting older meant that people grew wiser, more respectful, more controlled – but this was merely one experience that taught me that was not so.

I remembered as a teen stealing cigarettes and other things at local stores, and eventually getting involved in marijuana for a short while. Both my parents were working and there was no one watching. I looked up to the neighborhood "bad boys" who smoked and swore and stole things, and were it not for getting caught and exposed, I could have stayed on that pointless, nowhere path of crime.

Fortunately, I went through some sort of internal renaissance at age 14, and began taking martial arts classes, learning music, and studying Buddhism and philosophy. I saw that I knew next to nothing, and still I looked positively to the future. At age 54 as I ran, I could see that the past is very much alive in all I we do now, and the future is already written by what I think, and do, and feel as I live each moment.

I found I could do my birthday run with mental eyes wide open, facing all my fears, and perceptions of inadequacy.

In high school, I entered into the world of ideas, and the vast potential good that was available for the world if people – if I – lived ecological lives, though I was too naieve at that time to see the vast overwhelming influence of the pursuit of money in most of us.

I constantly felt the frustration of never really learning anything in school, but I learned to play the game, and learned how to play at journalism so that I could write and share ideas. I didn’t learn how to think, nor did I receive any moral rudder of any sort while in school. I simply learned about the tools I needed in order to go forward.

As I ran, I reviewed my travels, seeking something, rarely finding it. I reviewed my search for "real community," and my various successes in this regard. I felt so happy reviewing the time Dolores and I drove all the way to Oklahoma to take part in the 150th commemoration of the Trail of Tears, and Dolores spoke to the gathered audience with a Shining Bear reading. The whole trip was a magical dream.

Amazingly, I came to the realization that I wasted a vast portion of my life in the pointless pursuit of sex, or whatever I thought that meant. I was too dumb most of the time, too driven by my own animal nature, to cognize the difference between Love and Sex. Even studying Eric Fromm’s classic "Art of Loving" – though a step in the right direction – only began to reveal to me that "love" is not what we are shown on TV shows. True love fulfills, yet only sex is fleeting, and a terrible waste of time, and often a destroyer of families and neighborhoods. It was sobering as I ran to see that dark side of sex all throughout my life, something that I have only slowly been able to deal with.

In the last 10 years, I felt both uplifted by my work, and depressed by my own weaknesses and deficiencies. My separation from Dolores was a source of great sadness, but that sadness was later replaced by the inner enlightened joy of two people, respecting each other, freely coming together for certain goals. We worked together for some of the public gatherings we conducted at our WTI non-profit, and many writings, and other projects. So when Dolores made her final transition in December of last year, I felt both devastated, and forced to review all that was good, all that would take me into the future with the world we created.

So many lessons flowed from this run that it would take a book to record them all –most very personal lessons. I remember thinking that Dolores had created a wonderful life for herself, and that I wanted to do the same, and still want that. I also took faith in a quote from Michael Savage, that "Work is the only salvation."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What Happened on the Massage Table

Falling into inner space

It was already getting dark at the Highland Park farmers market, and my back was hurting me from all the running I’d done two days earlier. My birthday was two days earlier and I followed my two-decades long custom of doing a birthday run where I ran a lap for each year of my life, as I mentally reviewed that year. It had been an awesome run which took me two hours. Anyway, I told my assistant that I was going to get a massage at the shiatsu booth at the market. My back was killing me. Plus I was thinking about my wife Dolores – it had been over a month since she passed away, but I was still missing her very much.

Chiyoki had me lie down on her massage table, and I instantly felt some relief just by lying down. Then she went to work, first on my scalp and then working her way down my back. There’s something about pushing, squeezing, working the flesh and muscle – it was simultaneously painful and enlightening. Something about the pain I was experiencing, both mentally and physically, allowed me to enter into some other twilight-zonish space where time didn’t exist. Maybe the massaging released certain chemicals into my bloodstream and brain – I don’t know. But as Chiyoki continued to twist my arms and knead my back as if it were dough, my mind went into early childhood memories as vivid as yesterday’s breakfast.

I was sitting in the kitchen late at night with my mother, talking about all the things we used to talk about when everyone else was asleep. I would be trying to identify plants that I’d collected that day with my many books, while my mother would drink tea and read her newspapers and magazines. "How can God have had no beginning?" I would ask her. "How can the Pope be infallible?" I would ask her. We discussed these matters at length, and she would often say that I should ask the priest. But later, when word got back to her that I was debating the parish priest, she would yell at me and say "Who do you think you are, talking back to the priest?" It was a pleasant memory, whether we agreed or not, since we could sit there and talk, and she died about 10 years ago.

Time was non-existant as Chiyoki worked my back, and the incense from the next booth wafted over me, reminding me of being an altar boy at the Catholic church, and getting up early before school to practice and to help the priest say Mass. Why was I thinking of that? Was it merely the smell of incense triggering a memory? I thought long and hard about spiritual matters of that sort, and was once serious about going into the priesthood, but something along the way disillusioned me. The past was no less alive then as it was now, as the thoughts and ideas coursed through my consciousness, as the music of the Vera Cruz singers down the block rang out and reminded me of travels to Mexico.

Chiyoki began pulling each arm into the middle of my back and I was about to scream, but I just let her do it. I felt my body needed it. And as I relaxed into the pain, I was climbing the Pyramid of the Sun again, standing at the top as I did in 1974, wondering about the people who planned and built such majesty, and wondering what happened to it all. Past, present, future -- all aspects of the same reality. We think, we build, we live, we die. Our parents and families form our character, and then we make choices, and then we do whatever it is that we were genetically destined to do. What was I destined to do, I thought at the top of the pyramid? Does all life, and all culture, end? If so, what is the point of it all?

I was experiencing some sort of mental free-fall, an internal Fellini movie, highlights of memorable conversations, meetings, endings, as the incense flowed, and the singing rang through the street, while my muscles were being given a good beating.

"OK, all done," she finally told me. I got up, put on my hat, and walked back into the market, realizing once again the illusion of time, and the reality that nothing matters in and of itself, but only how we approach what we do, and whether or not we learn from life.

-- Christopher