Friday, August 23, 2019

Dharma, Karma, Reincarnation, and One Student's Doubts



[Excerpt from "Searching for the Meaning of Life in the City of Angels," available from Kindle]

During an ongoing weekly study on the Mahabharata, led by Shining Bear, we delved into the meanings of karma, dharma, justice, and reincarnation.



Shining Bear attempted to clarify one of the major points of the Mahabharata, specifically the conversation with Arjuna and Krishna, the part of the major work which is generally called the Bhagavad-Gita. In that conversation, Arjuna is looking for a way to avoid an impending war.  Arjuna was told that the only real choice is to do your dharma.  That is, do what you must in your station in life, and do what you must based on your past choices, that is, your karma.  There was a distinction made between the two types of dharma: spiritual-dharma, and karma-dharma. 



“So,” said Shining Bear, “when we speak of the karma-dharma, it refers to those actions that you are have no choice but to do in order to rectify or balance your past choices.  Yes, you can try to avoid this balancing, but some day, in some way, Justice will demand balance.  You can do it willingly, or you can let Justice carve it out of your life, at a time that is not convenient to you, usually very painful.”



Shining Bear then attempted to delineate again that our real work in life should be to do our spiritual-dharma, the work that moves us ahead.  Our karma-dharma work is necessary, but it is catchup.  “Still, you cannot avoid your karma-dharma.  If you try to avoid it, you will eventually still have to find that balance, in this lifetime or in a future embodiment.”



 A student, Joe, who was present spoke up and said, “This is all pretty interesting. But I don’t believe in the reincarnation part.  You can’t prove any of that.”



“For starters, are you aware that close to 80% of the world’s population believes in reincarnation, in some form?” responded a different student.



Joe quickly retorted, “That’s not proof.”

A long discussion ensued about what much of the world believes, and why.

For example, why are some people born with incredible talents, like being able to play piano at age 4.  Conversely, why are some people born into such dreadful conditions?    “IF we live multiple lives, and if Justice does operate in the world, doesn’t this explain a lot?” asked another student.



Joe was silent.

             

“Keep in mind,” added Shining Bear, “your opinion of how the universe operates in no way affects the universe’s operation.”



After much more discussion – it would take too long to share it all in this format --  Shining Bear looked at me and said,  “We only have a little more time for today, but are you willing to share your own past life glimpses?”  I felt “on the spot.”   I proceeded to share two stories..



“About 20 years ago,” I began, “I was experiencing great conflict in my life.  I was overwhelmed with what I should do, and what choices I should make.  In fact, the conflict had to do with whether or not I wanted to stay close to Shining Bear. I was very challenged by his demands, and I seriously considered moving somewhere else and dropping any further involvement.  At the time, my life seemed to be in chaos, and my involvement with Shining Bear seemed very valuable, but seemed to eat up every single second of my time, and I had very little to show for it in a material sense.  Anyway, I sat outside one day on the hill, staring towards the setting sun, wondering what to do.  While fully conscious, with eyes open, I saw this clearing in the forest.  There was this large tipi there, which I believed to be the medicine lodge where the elders gathered.  I had my back to the tipi, and I was walking away.  I felt shamed in some way.  The feeling was that I had been tested, and did not do well. I would have to work horrendously hard to keep up, and though I wanted to be a part of the lodge more than anything, I just didn’t think I could do it.  The setting seemed like a few hundred years ago.  It felt like it was up in the Northeastern U.S.  At the time, I felt that I had been in this emotional state before, this state of uncertainty, and this state of possibly leaving and going somewhere else.  The scene that opened-up to me was a glimpse of that very same moment in a past life, when I had a difficult choice to make.”  I stopped, and everyone was silent. 



“And the other experience?” asked Shining Bear.



I continued.  “OK,   the other one took place while I was seated in the cave, and it was around the same time.  There were several people present for a meeting to discuss the various ramifications when Mariana (a close student of Shining Bear) choosing to suddenly depart, and sever her connections to Shining Bear.  Some of her family members were there, as were several of the close associates of Shining Bear.  Mariana had been very instrumental in unifying everyone, and providing the cohesiveness to move forward many of our projects.  Now she was gone.  One woman was crying openly. Others were upset, sad, confused. 



“We were all wondering what fate would befall her, and how we all should best carry on.  Shining Bear asked someone to play Pachebel’s Canon in D Major on the record player.  He turned it on loud, and we were all taken on a most dynamic musical journey. It was my first time hearing it and it was an incredible experience to listen to that classic song.  And while I sat there, looking upward at the ceiling, fully awake, a scene opened up to me.   At first I saw only the sands of the desert.  I knew I was somewhere in Egypt, a very long time ago.  I was standing by the side of a road in a very dry and barren place. There were stone or clay buildings of a town in the southern distance.  A man rode by on an elephant, and I knew he was departing to another place.   There was a small caravan of followers and supplies.  As he rode by, he paused and looked at me, but said nothing.  I looked into the deepness of his eyes and I knew it was the Shining Bear persona.  I felt overwhelmed with inner conflict.  He was departing and it would have been my best choice to leave with him and study with him.  But whatever for forces were in my life, they kept me unable to move.  I stood there, sullen, frozen, and then he turned away and they rode off into the desert.  I was with a friend, and I sensed that we traveled south to that city, and lived a short life.”



Again, everyone was silent, and I said, “That’s it.”



“Interesting,” said Joe.  As he looked at me, though, his face said that he believed I was just making it all up.



“Very interesting,” said Joe, “and it really makes me think about it.  I’m not exactly saying I disagree with you.  I’m just saying, there’s still no proof.  Even with all these stories.  I’ll think about it all, but I still see no reason to believe in reincarnation.”



Laughing Bear asked, “What exactly would you accept as proof?”



Joe quickly said, “Well, no one really knows what happens after you die.  No one has ever come back to tell us about what happens after death.”



This caused instant laughter among half the participants.



When the ruckus died down, Big Bear (no relation to Shining Bear) said, “How do you know that?  Lots of people have talked about past lives, and having died and come back to life, and having interacted with ghosts.  But what happens? Our biased, body-mind driven media labels them all as hoaxes, quacks, liars.  Why would a sincere person expose themselves to such indignity?”  After a pause, Big Bear added, “What you’re really saying – and this is really OK – is that you, personally, have no knowledge of the afterlife.  That is OK.  We’re trying our best to open your eyes.”



No one had anything more to add, and Shining Bear began putting away his papers that he carried to our gathering spot under the huge arching tree.  We never did get to the lesson about the Brahman Chronology and the description of the vast periods of time in a Maha Yuga.



As there was nothing to be gained by trying to convince anyone about anything, especially if they clearly assert their opinion or belief in something else. Shining Bear continued to pack up as others did likewise.



“Remember,” said Shining Bear, “that our opinion of how the universe operates does not affect the universe continuing to so operate.”



Joe retorted with an air of authority, saying  “Truth is never established by proclaiming it.”



“Ahhh,” said Shining Bear, as he got up and walked away.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Be Here Now


Be Here Now

Christopher Nyerges


[Nyerges is the author of such books as “Extreme Simplicity,” “Enter the Forest,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and others.  He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]


“Be here now.”  Remember that mantra from one of the 60’s gurus?  Though the slogan was widely used and spouted by weekend philosophers, Ram Dass’ simple quote was perhaps the most profound thing anyone could have said.


It can also be said as “Now is now,” or “Now is the only reality.”


I recall waking up early one Saturday morning. I was still in my early teens, and though I woke up in the early morning, it was also a time of simply waking up to my own awareness, waking up to the larger reality all around me, still largely not understood. 


In my earliest years of childhood, I was always living in the moment. There was no other option. I think, based on my own experiences, the perspective of reality of the child is probably very much like a dog, a cat, a wild animal, in the sense that the animal has no choice but to be very intensely in the moment. Survival requires that. The animal does not think about things like getting older, planning for the future, what will I wear tomorrow, how I look to my friends, how can I get more people to like me, what costume I will wear for Halloween, how can I make money during summer vacation, why 
does time go so slow, what will I be when I grow up, etc.


In other words, once I became aware of how the “adult world” operates, I lost my innocence of my own self as an autonomous and pure being in the universe.


Somehow, I was no longer like the dogs and cats and deer and wild animals, focusing solely and intently on the moment.  I was no longer focusing on “being here now.” I learned though my osmotic study of adults that it was important to think about the future, even the distant future, even the unlikely future.


And slowly but surely, like the grown-up adults of the “real world,” I found that I was more and more thinking about, and worrying about, and planning for, the distant future. I was not in the moment.


This is not to imply that adults in the adult world should not plan and prepare for the future. That would be silly to suggest. However, somehow, we need to do both. We need to think about the future, while living and being in the moment.  We need balance because we have become obsessively and dangerously imbalanced. Why else would so many people have found meaning in Ram Dass’ quote?


Part of the process of “being here now,” I have slowly discovered, is the idea that the journey is more important than the destination.  How often have you driven on a long car ride, or been on a backpacking trek, and someone is constantly asking, “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?”  Since that mindset has not found a way to enjoy and learn from the journey, once it reaches the destination, it will begin to ask, “When are we going home?” 


It took me a long time and concerted effort to enjoy the journey.  I remember one mentor, Linda Sheer, who grew up in rural Appalachia, who used to tell me that I needed to quit focusing on getting somewhere in the woods.  She slowly explained the process of being in the moment, little by little, and after awhile, it no longer mattered where I was, or where I thought I was going.


My childhood growing up in Pasadena was all about trying to do something “exciting” and “not boring.”  I believed that other people, elsewhere, lived exciting lives and somehow I should find them and try to be like them.  Gradually, as I actually met and interacted with some of the most “exciting” people in my orbit, I found their lives empty, hollow, mostly window-dressing.  Not only did I further my efforts to “be here now,” but also to just “be myself,” and learn to be OK to be alone, or to be comfortable with anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances.


In “The Education of Little Tree,” this idea is described in a slightly different way.  Little Tree’s grandmother explains that there is the body-mind and the spirit-mind. The body-mind deals with all the things of the world and the body (money, security, jobs, that sort of thing). The spirit-mind deals with trust, honesty, treating others as you would like to be treated, concern for others, and all the things we tend to think of as spiritually and morally-focused.  Grandmother said that both minds should be developed in life, but some people only develop the body-mind. Then, when they die, since they can only take the spirit-mind with them, they don’t have much at all to carry them through in the hereafter.  


A conversation with my friend Monica made me think back on these topics of childhood. We were discussing the concepts of “heaven” and “hell.”  Sometimes, we have everything possible that we need and yet we are not happy, and want more, and want what our neighbors have. Such a person should be in a state of heaven, but their desire for more physical things keeps them in a state of hell. I know that’s not what religions mean when they speak of heaven or hell, but my point is that when we are always thinking about what happens after we die, we lose sight of the fact that our countless everyday decisions are actually forming our very destiny.   We do better when we focus on each moment, what is right to do, what should be avoided, how we should treat people that minute. 


That is how I understood “be here now.”  It may not be how Ram Dass meant it, but the idea that I should never lose sight of the fact that now is the only reality has stayed with me life-long.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Zen of Painting....


30 Years Later and the House Demolished, Did It Matter if We Used Glossy or Flat?



[Nyerges is the author of Enter the Forest, Guide to Wild Foods, and co-author of Extreme Simplicity.   He has led wilderness trips since 1974.  He can be reached at the School of Self-Reliance (Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041); or on-line at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]

 It was the summer of 1973 when my brother and I lived on my grandfather’s farm in Chardon, Ohio.  One day, we decided to paint the kitchen a beautiful shade of light turquoise.  

We turned on the radio, and began our task.  We opened the windows, and I did the trim while my brother rolled.  We listened to the radio as we busied ourselves with our individual tasks.  We worked the corners, the edges, the front surfaces.

There’s something about painting -- perhaps it’s the fumes, perhaps it is the long quiet times of many little tasks.  Painting requires no moral decisions, no great choices, no necessary pontifications about the meaning and purpose of life.  And yet...

And yet, there you are, with your self, and the task before you.  For me, painting time has often been a time to re-enter the inner I, to think, to remember.  In many ways, it is the ideal task for self-enlightenment.

When we were done, we felt we’d accomplished something, and felt we’d given something back to the old farmhouse.  

When the weekend came, another uncle came to visit us .  He strode into the kitchen, looked around at the paint, and simply said “you didn’t use glossy!”  

Glossy?  We were teenagers from California, visiting the home where our mother grew up.  Though it may be second-nature to us today, back then we had no sense that a kitchen should be painted glossy.  
Glossy vs. flat were not issues that we thought much about.  We didn’t think it mattered all that much?

But Uncle Joe seemed to think it was a big deal, and just one more bit of evidence that teenagers from “the big city” were a bunch of  dimwits who wouldn’t know a cow from a goat.  Uncle Joe shared it around to family and friends that we’d painted the kitchen in “wrong” paint, so we heard about in the weeks that followed.  Some relatives didn’t care, but others would comment as they came in, “Oh, so there’s the flat paint job,” instead of, “Hey, hello, long time no see!”   

Dumb city boys who don’t know the difference between flat and glossy paint, who actually had the stupidity to paint a kitchen in flat paint.

Of course, our intent was to make the family happy that we’d improved the old farmhouse.  We wanted the relatives to comment that we were industrious nephews who proved that all city boys were not idiots.

Today, while I was painting my own bathroom -- glossy paint, white -- memories of the summer of 1973 in Chardon began to play again in my mind.  Perhaps it was the paint. Perhaps it was the cool breeze blowing fresh oxygen through the room. I heard the chickens out back and it reminded me of my brief period of farm-living.

I began to think about how Uncle Joe responded, and how he could have responded.  I realized then the great truth in the phrase that WHAT we do is of  little or no importance, but HOW we do it is everything. 

Uncle Joe died over 10 years ago, and when I visited the old farm site in 1999, the entire farm house and barn had been torn down and were now just a field.  None of it mattered anymore in the world of physical reality.  Joe was gone, and the entire farmhouse was simply a memory, glossy or flat.

Joe could have congratulated us on taking the initiative to paint, and could have explained why kitchens are always painted glossy.  He could have told us that it was a great  primer coat, and enthusiastically offered to drive us right then to the hardware store to get glossy paint, and we’d all do the final coat together.  That would have been something.  Our memory would have been profoundly different had Uncle Joe taken that route of inclusiveness, familyness, and helpfulness. 

 I do not fault him for what he did do -- he probably knew no other way.  In fact, from what I knew about his father (my grandfather), his father probably would have beaten him had Joe painted the kitchen with flat paint.   So to Joe, that was just one of millions of automatic reactions to things in his world.  He probably forgot about in a few years, after the novelty of talking about Marie’s silly nephews wore off.

I realized then how important such “little things” can be, and I wondered how well I would do when my next opportunity arose.  It is especially important with impressionable youth to do the very best we can to be a good example.

It seemed like an important insight, that the “how” is more important than the “what,” and that flat or glossy really doesn’t matter.  Perhaps it was the paint.  Perhaps it was the cool breeze blowing fresh oxygen through the room....



             

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Death Seminars




[from “Til Death Do Us Part?” which is available from Kindle, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]



Dolores and I were active students of metaphysics, mostly through our association with WTI’s Spiritual Studies classes.  We spent a lot of time studying Harold Percival’s “Thinking and Destiny,” and other books such as Fromme’s “Art of Loving” and Hayakawa’s “Language in Thought and Action.” 



By the early 1990s, we began to conduct weekly study sessions and classes in our home, mostly readings from “Thinking and Destiny” on Sunday afternoons.  Then we started doing regular evening classes on weekdays also.  Some weeks, we’d have up to five classes, though usually we’d have two to three a week.  These would be classes based upon the metaphysical studies we were doing in association with WTI, or they were survival and self-reliance classes based upon how we lived our lives.  We called our enterprise Gateway (short for Gateway Research, Education, and Training, or GREAT – my, how modest we were!), and we published a monthly schedule of our classes and lectures.


One night, we offered a class called “What Happens After Death.”  About 10 people showed up for this one, which was a large gathering for our small meeting room. 



We began by telling everyone that this was not some sort of religious exercise, nor was anyone required to “agree with” or “believe” anything we were telling them. Rather, we simply asked that they consider the scenario that we’d be sharing as a possibility, and that we would not consider “arguments” or “debates” about it.  In other words, something does “happen” to us after our body dies.  This “something” can range from “nothing” to reincarnation to “going to hell” and many other possibilities. 



We were students of Harold Percival’s “Thinking and Destiny” book, and we explained that for this class, we’d be sharing his version of what happens after we die.  Obviously, Dolores and I considered this version to be not only acceptable, but possible and plausible. 



A brief explanation about Percival is required.  He claimed in the preface to his monumental “Thinking and Destiny” book that he “came to” the information that he shares by means of what he calls “Real Thinking.”  He further defines “Real Thinking” as a four-part process. The first step is the selection of a topic and turning the Conscious Light on it.  (The Nature of Conscious Light is addressed repeatedly in his book).  Next comes the fixing and cleansing of the subject, which is done by training the Light upon it.  Then, the third step is to reduce the subject to a point, which is done by focusing Light upon it.  This is what we would call "concentrating.”  Lastly, by following this procedure, with the Light focused on the point, the result of this Thinking is a “Knowing” about the subject.



He provides no bibliography, no references, no “proofs” for anything he proffers except that the reader can do his or her own Real Thinking for verification.  In general, Percival describes the evolutionary path that each of us should be on to awaken our minds of which we are composed.  In fact, he says we really have no choice in the matter, that the purpose of life is to evolve, sooner or later.



Upon body death, according to Percival, we “automatically” go through a series of steps, which he initially describes as a brief overview on pages 240 to 253.  He describes a specific order of 12 events, which includes a life-review, a judgement, a heaven-state, etc.  



So, the purpose of our “What Happens After Death” class was to emphasize that all of us WILL die, and that “something” WILL then occur or begin, even if that something is “nothingness.”



After our brief explanation, we asked each participant to lie on our floor. 



“Now you have just died,” we announced, and we covered each person with a sheet to further simulate the death experience.  We then read through the after-death stages, one by one, slowly, in the darkened room, asked each participant to work hard to fully feel the experience.



Talking through this process took about 45 minutes.



Then, we got through the entire cycle, and explained that these steps could actually take several hundred years of earth time.  Then it would be time for being reborn into a suitable and appropriate family, in the place on earth that we’ve earned for ourselves.



We turned on the lights, and removed the sheets, and let everyone take a few minutes to get their eyes adjusted to the light.  Slowly, each person opened their eyes and slowly got up, and sat down in a chair.



We began to share significant experiences that each person had.  A few folks were very quiet and would not talk at all, but others were very talkative.  Some were even in tears.



We closed the class by telling everyone that they had not died tonight, and that everyone now has a “new opportunity” to still “do the right things” since they were still alive in a body.



We shared some freshly-made coffee-elixir and healthful cookies, and we discussed a few of the upcoming classes and poetry readings that we’d be having in the coming weeks.  But no one seemed interested in our announcements.  Most everyone was strongly affected by the experience, and they wanted to ask more questions, which we tried to answer.  As usual, we didn’t feel like the most perfect examples in the world, but we knew that “the future” is all the result of each and every choice that we make, second by second, and the consequences of those choices.  To make the wisest possible choices every second of one’s entire life required a unique sort of sobriety and focus which itself required a unique lifestyle regimen to maintain – and, of course, those details were the subjects of our on-going classes.


Monday, June 03, 2019

Review of "Squatter in Los Angeles"


REVIEW


 “SQUATTER IN LOS ANGELES: Living on the Edge”



A true story of living as a squatter for a year and a half, by Christopher Nyerges.



According to Dude McLean, author of  "The Songwriters Survival Guide to Success,”

“Your story is filled with a lot of truth -- some might even be uncomfortable with it.  All that means is you have touched them in a manner they never thought of in the past.  Few authors make you think. They are writing to please others rather than being truthful to themselves.  I think this is a very interesting and unique book.  The book has a great lack of desperation.  I feel it is a very positive outlook. Good job!”

“Squatter in Los Angeles: Life on the Edge” is the true story of my year and a half as a squatter in the city of Los Angeles.  This book is not intended as a how-to guide, nor is it meant to encourage anyone to break any laws. This happens to be the true story of what I did during a very influential time in my life.  I learned how to get more for less, and I realized – just like Thoreau at his pond in the woods – that we can live quite well and fulfilled if we attempt to differentiate our true needs from mere wants.


I share how I came to be a squatter, and some of the details of moving into an empty house.  I describes the concern of never knowing when someone would come up the driveway and tell me to get out (which never quite happened), and how I took the time to learn about gardening, permaculture, recycling of resources, and water recycling.


It’s true I had no rent to pay so I was able to devote more time to learning things.  But I also had hardly any income, which made it clear to me why most people get regular jobs.  Squatting was not what I’d call a “fun” experience, but it taught me first-hand that I can get by on far less than most of us assume is necessary. 


 “Squatter in Los Angeles” is about 100 pages on Kindle, and it’s a fast moving story of the mixed experiences during this short period in my life: dealing with a ghost, a near-death experience, learning how to recycle everything, learning how to dowse, insights into sustainable gardening, an emergency toilet test, and also a rain dance in August with rain the next day.  The book also includes a period of homelessness and how I dealt with it, and what I learned from it.


“Squatting in Los Angeles” is available as a Kindle download, and can also be purchased as a Word document from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.



Friday, May 31, 2019

The Winds Erase Your Footprints, by Shiyowin Miller


THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS 


A book by Shiyowin Miller



[Nyerges is the author of several books, and he conducts field trips in ethnobotany.  He can be contacted at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]



One of the books that came out of my family was “The Winds Erase Your Footprints,” written by my (deceased) wife Dolores’ mother, Shiyowin Miller.  Shiyowin, who was part Osage, was immersed in Native American culture. I remember visiting her home in Temple City, which seemed like an Indian museum with a full library, drums, pots, and artifacts from all over the country.  Shiyowin had been a music and dance teacher, and was a professional dancer. She knew Iron Eyes Cody, and worked with Luther Standing Bear, a Lakota Sioux who wrote “My People the Sioux” and other books. Luther Standing Bear adopted Shiyowin, and let Shiyowin act as his agent for his various books and other legal matters. It brought the past alive to me when I was able to see and feel the pipes, sandals, robe, and other materials that Standing Bear had given to Shiyowin.  (There is a special exhibit of Standing Bear’s robe and other items at the Crazy Horse Museum in South Dakota.)


Shiyowin also had many friends from the Navajo lands. In the 1930’s, Shiyowin’s best friend, Juanita, fell in love with a Navajo man, Luciano, who’d been working as an extra in Hollywood.  Juanita and Luciano got married, and moved back to Luciano’s Navajo lands in New Mexico.


Shiyowin kept in touch with Juanita, and wrote about the experiences that Luciano and Juanita underwent on the reservation, during the Depression when there was so little work.


Shiyowin edited and revised and rewrote her book many times over the next 30 years, and she died in 1983 before it was ever published.  I married Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores in 1986, and when I saw the box with hundreds of pages of manuscript, I asked Dolores if I could read it.  In fact, Shiyowin had hired Dolores to type many of the revisions over the years, and so Dolores was familiar with the content.


Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I was amazed at the quality and depth of the story, and could barely believe that it had never been published. Shiyowin had actually received an offer from a publisher some 20 years earlier, but since she kept rewriting and revising, it never got published.  To me, it was like reading a Tony Hillerman novel, except it was true!


Everyone said that the book accurately depicted life on the Rez during that time, mixed in with some accounts of Navajo witchcraft.  With some editing, Dolores and I got the book published in 2002 by Naturegraph Press, which features many Native American titles.  If you do an internet search with the book's title, you'll see some of the reviews that have been published about this book. 



The story was descriptive, compelling, and you feel as if you are re-experiencing the harsh winds, the life in the Hogan making coffee, the search for work, and all the ceremonies and gatherings that were a part of the Navajo way of life.  The books, which was 335 pages when published, also contained hints and clues in the backdrop about Navajo witchcraft, and the ma-itso, the wolf clan which was feared by most.



The freak death of Luciano was generally attributed to the work of the ma-itso, and Shiyowin gives the clues in bits and pieces, in the way that Tony Hillerman so masterfully slowly revealed his mysteries.



The line drawings for the book were drawn by Navajo artist Chester Kahn. Shiyowin’s daughter Dolores stated that the drawings seemed the ideal artistic representation of Shiyowin’s work, capturing the feeling and quality of the historical account. 



The books is available from Amazon, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.





The following excerpts from THE WINDS ERASE YOUR FOOTPRINTS are Copyright  and may not be re-printed without permission of the publisher.



Fom chapter 7: The Sing

"Before we came here," her husband began, "when I tried to tell you about everything which might seem strange to you, I didn't tell you about ma-itso--the wolf clan. One reason, it no longer seemed as believable to me as it once had; perhaps all the years in school did that; anyhow, in Hollywood I seldom thought of it. When we came here, my mother told me the wolf clan was still strong in CaƱoncito. I didn't tell you then because I could see no reason why they would try to harm us. But to be sure you were safe, my mother and sisters watched you every minute.



"There were times when I almost told you, those times when you were upset about things you didn't understand. And yet I hated to frighten you needlessly. Already there was so much for you to worry about. It seemed better to wait until I had a job, until we were living in town and then tell you. "But now two things have happened which make me sure the ma-itso is for some reason after us. I found yellow pollen in an X mark on my hat brim, and today my mother found pollen on our clothes. That is their warning. Lorencito thinks you will be safer if you know about this evil thing."    A hundred questions sprang to Juanita's lips, but her husband went on talking, interrupted now and then by Lorencito or his mother.



"The wolf clan is as old as the Navajo tribe. From the beginning some men turned certain powers, which should have been used for good, toward evil things. Corn pollen, used for blessing, is used by the ma-itso as a warning to a person marked for death. And death does not come in a usual manner; it comes in a round-about way which cannot be easily traced. The victim sickens suddenly; sometimes his mind leaves him. No Medicine Man can cure him. Sometimes the victim meets with a mysterious and fatal accident.       



Fom chapter 13: Wolf Tracks

Juanita had hung up two diapers when she became suddenly aware of something across the arroyo. When she looked carefully nothing seemed unusual; in the dim light she could see the sharp banks of the arroyo, the clumps of juniper in dark patches on the other side. Then gradually, two of the dark juniper patches began to take on the indistinct forms of dogs sitting on their haunches.



That was what imagination would do for you. She even thought now that she could see the large

pointed ears. Juanita smiled to herself. This must be what Lu had seen, the queer-shaped juniper

bushes. They looked surprisingly like coyotes, only larger. The likeness had even startled her for a

moment and her mind had certainly not been on wolves or wolf tracks. She pulled her eyes away and began resolutely to hang up more diapers.



A sudden movement, one dark figure detaching itself from the other and moving farther down the arroyo, a third form appearing almost directly across from her on the opposite bank. Juanita stood absolutely still. There was no sound except the flapping of the clothes on the line.



When Juanita reached the kitchen door, she called to her husband to bring the shotgun. "Those

figures that you saw are out there again." This couldn't be her voice, tight and choked.



Two of the dark forms were loping off down the arroyo when Luciano reached the bank, but the

third sat directly across from him like a very large coyote on its haunches. Luciano raised his gun and fired directly at it. The animal seemed to gather itself into a ball and plunge down the bank of the arroyo--across the wide, sandy bed.



"Lu! Watch out! It's coming for you."

He raised the gun to fire again ...      


Sunday, May 26, 2019

American Idol: Commentary on this Season's Winner




Number Two is still a “Winner”



[Nyerges is the author of numerous books such as “Extreme Simplicity,” “How to Survive Anywhere,” and “Self-Sufficient Home.”  He regularly Blogs at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.]



If you’re not a TV watcher, you might not find any value in what I have to say today.  But perhaps you will.


I know that Game of Thrones has a lot of followers and people have been deeply moved by the twists and turns of the plot.  This, despite the fact that I have never seen a single episode and actually have no idea what it’s all about!


But I do enjoy the various talent and singing competitions on TV.  I’ve enjoyed observing amateur contestants working their way through the levels of elimination until supposedly only the best remain.  So this is not a world-shaking issue, and this doesn’t rise to the level of bringing civilization to the edge.  It’s all about entertainment and show-casing the up-and-coming singers who we presume will be starting a dynamic career.


I watched the remarkable talent on the recent series of American Idol and developed my favorites, singer-musicians who I knew were the best of the crop, who I presumed would win.  If you watched this show, you should realize that although there is just one “winner,” each of the highly-talented final contestants is going to have a great career because the show gave them unparalleled publicity.


As the most recent season came to a close, I rooted for Pomona’s Alejandro Aranda, whose occupation was listed as “dishwasher.”  As I expected, he rose to the top and was one of the final two.  His music was unique, compelling, and he performed mostly his own original songs. And then, there was the final vote.  He lost to an Elvis lookalike, who garnered more votes from the adoring public.  The Elvis lookalike was certainly good – good-looking, slick, commanding the stage, and I’m sure he would do well in Las Vegas.


But I still could not figure how he could win over the highly original, uniquely creative Alejandro, my top choice.


Then I realized, duh, this is a TV show, and the “winner” is not determined by any sort of objective criteria by which one judges the totality of musical greatness.  The winner is simply determined by whoever manages to get the most votes.  And I didn’t vote.  After all, it’s a TV show – why would I bother to vote?  And I noted that people could vote up to 10 times!   So that meant that whatever contestant could muster up the popup fan club to get out and vote, and vote often, would win.  

Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean the best musician, sadly.  Nevertheless, I cannot see how Alejandro will not have a remarkable career now that his talent is plain to see.  The show will ultimately have produced several “winners.”


While pondering this state of affairs, I recalled Andy Rooney on an old episode of “60 Minutes” when he talked about how we decide who won the Presidential debates, and thus, how we decide who will be president.  Rooney divulged all the superficial elements that determine who “won” the debate, such as, good looks, color of hair, lack of hair, color of tie, height or shortness, sweat on the forehead, voice quality, and many other highly irrelevant factors for deciding something as momentous as who will be the leader of our country. 


And then, well, after considering that our political elections have because more elaborate versions of American Idol or the Voice, I became a  bit forlorn to realize that this is – sort of, more or less – the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into by “electing” the combination class clown-class bully to be our President.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now we pay the price for an unqualified, nepotistic, sybaritic individual in the office of President who would likely flunk a course in American Government 101.   But now I’m developing indigestion thinking about this – presidential commentary will have to wait for another day. 


My point is to congratulate Pomona’s Alejandro Aranda, Mr. Segundo, on a job well done, and wishing him the best on his new career!

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Day Martin Kruse Died at Hahamongna Watershed Park


MEMORIAL DAY 1998



[This account is extracted from Nyerges’ book, “Til Death Do Us Part?”, available from Kindle, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]



It was Memorial Day, and I had scheduled to conduct a wild food outing at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park.  Since it was Memorial Day, my topic for a short discussion at the end of the outing was “death.”  Hahamongna Park is the site of one of the Gabrielino Indian villages along the Arroyo Seco.  I have found many handstones under the oak groves, used by people millennia ago to crack and grind their acorns and perform other tasks. Down in the bottom of the wash, on the far side of the canyon, I have read that archaeologists had found Indian bodies and believed the site was an old Gabrielino cemetery.



I have always liked the grandeur and openness of this park.  When I grew up, this was a short bicycle ride away, and I regarded it as my extended back yard.



It was a cool and overcast day as participants for the wild food outing gathered in the parking area of the park.  Among the half-dozen participants who showed up for the outing was Martin Kruse, a bearded, burly bear of a man who looked like he’d be more at home in the 19th century.  He introduced himself and told me that he’d long wanted to meet me, that we both wrote for many of the same publications and had many friends in common, such as Ron Hood.  Martin and I chatted as the other outing participants listened, and he told me about his work with archery and primitive bow-making. 



I was struggling with almost-a-cold and with a stiff back, and so I felt almost not there.  I wanted to just keep walking and to breathe deeply of the fresh air of the overcast day, but we walked slowly as everyone asked me countless questions about wild flowers, weeds, flowers, mushrooms, ground squirrels, and poisonous plants. 



We walked down in the flat area of the large expanse of the park, where the wet mud had hardened, capturing countless animal tracks.  Martin told us how to differentiate between coyote and dog tracks.  He identified crow and other birds, showed us how to recognize the tracks of squirrel and rabbit.  He’d obviously done a lot of tracking during his time hunting with a bow. 



I later learned from Martin’s father that this was a favorite place of Martin’s when he was much younger.  He’d come here and spend a week or two and study nature and tracks and practice with his bow.  When we saw the deer tracks, Martin showed us how the deer’s hind foot had stepped into its own track just laid by its front foot.  Martin said that only the female walks this way, that the male’s gait is different.  He told us that the size of the hoof print meant it was a female deer about a year and a half old.  I could tell that Martin enjoyed telling us all about the track. 



We walked out to the middle of the flat area to see some old shelters I’d built with one of my classes a few years earlier.  When we got there, there was absolutely no evidence of them. The heavy rains of the previous season had completely changed and altered the landscape, and a tributary of the Arroyo Seco now flowed where our shelters once stood.  We headed back to the picnic area with the plan to continue identifying wild greens, and collecting enough for our wild food meal that is customary on all these walks.  Then I’d share my brief Memorial Day commentary that I described on the printed schedule as “Considering Death.” 



I led the way back to the oak trees.  Within seconds, someone in the rear called out.  Martin had fallen.   I first thought it was a joke, and ran to him.  It was no joke.  His face already looked purple.  The man who had been walking with him said he’d not tripped -- he just fell.  You could tell by his hand position that he didn’t trip.  I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.” 



Several of us moved Martin into what we assumed would be a more comfortable position, and that wasn’t easy!  Martin was a big guy.  And then -- since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911.  This was before the days of ubiquitous cell phones.  Within 10 minutes,  before I even got back to the group and Martin’s flat body -- paramedics from the City of Pasadena were on the scene, attempting to revive him. They all worked like a highly-coordinated team, speaking among themselves only briefly and in terms we didn’t understand.  They were what we call a “well-oiled machine.”  They carried him into the ambulance and took him away. 



I could tell that the remainder of the outing participants were in varying degrees of shock.  It had all been like a dream, and now Martin was gone.  We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics had been  fairly tight-lipped. When one was asked what he thought about Martin’s chances of recovery, he only said “I can’t do that.”  Still, we all knew it was serious. 



So there we stood in the cool afternoon breeze, contemplating death in the most sobering manner possible.  I explained to everyone my death lesson -- which hardly seemed appropriate now.  I didn’t talk everyone through the intended exercise -- I just explained a process that I’d done many times on Memorial Day.



Write a list of all those close people in your life.  Then, close your eyes, and imagine getting a phone call telling you that they have just died.  For most people, there are tears and a feeling of regret that they never told that person something.  You write down all those things you wanted to say to that person.  Then, since these folks are still alive, you then go and call them or write them or see them in person and tell them.  This is a very profound exercise, and in many ways can be called “healing.” 



But we didn’t actually go through this exercise.  We were in no mood for an “exercise.”  Someone had just died in our midst.  We had to deal with it.   We talked about how important it is to live each moment with intent, with joy, with soberness.  We talked about how Martin may have wanted to say things to those he loved, but no longer could.  After all, it isn’t necessarily others who might die.  We talked about the stages that one passes through in the after death state, and how Martin will experience peace, but will also experience a life-review, a state of purgation, a state of heaven, and eventually another embodiment. One guy muttered, “I don’t believe in reincarnation.”  I knew with this last point that I was treading on ground that some categorize as “religious beliefs,” so I didn’t push the matter.  I just suggested that anyone interested read about it in Harold Percival’s Thinking and Destiny and decide for themselves. 



Each person commented how “coincidental” it was that the lecture topic that I’d chosen for the day, and listed on the schedule, was “Death.”  We kept reflecting on Martin.  At that moment, none of us knew yet that Martin would not recover, that he had in fact died, and that he died in a place he loved.  Nor had we known that Martin had a heart pacer, and an artery to his heart that was narrow.  We were aware that he’d had surgery -- probably to the heart -- because we opened his shirt and saw the scar.  I noted that Martin had been smoking his pipe during most of the outing.  That couldn’t have been good for his health.  What had really brought Martin there on that day?  I felt goose bumps at first, thinking that on some level he wanted to be with me, enjoying the natural world, meeting as two souls in the place he loved, near the old Indian burial ground, on his final day. 



A German woman who’d been on the outing, Walti, told me that we should not feel sad. 

“It was quick,” she told me later. “What better place to die.”  I could not help but agree with her.  Martin’s death was apparently sudden, and his last memory would have been looking at the willows and the rushing stream and the cloudy sky and the sand flats of the Hahamongna Watershed Park.  In his final moments, he was surrounded with friends that he’d only met that day, trail compadres who shared a common love of the outdoors, all brought together at this time and this place to witness his passing. Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.



Of course, I told Dolores about this when I got home.  I was a bit shaken by the experience.  In fact, it was not until late that night that I learned the name of who had died on my outing.  Yes, he’d told me his name when he arrived, but so did a dozen other people who’d I’d just met that day.  By calling around to the fire department and to the hospital, I learned Martin’s identity, and I managed to figure out his phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.  Of course, I was partly worried about legal ramifications.  It was Martin’s wife who told me that Martin died doing what he loved doing, and that it was probably the best of all possible outcomes that he died in that manner.  She also said that the family felt Martin was living on “borrowed time,” that they felt he should have died (according to what the doctors said) five years earlier. 



A few days later, Dolores and I and a few others were discussing this incident, and wondering about the series of choices that brought Martin to me on his last day.  Dolores seemed very thoughtful about all this, and said that possibly Martin’s Doer (his spiritual Self) knew that his body was going to die.  Coming to my outdoor outing brought him into contact with my Doer, my spiritual Self, which could have been a final uplifting act, whether or not each of us realized it. 



In the days that followed, I would often see Martin’s face in my mind.  I eventually learned that he taught archery and other primitive skills to children.  How lucky those children must have been to have learned with such a man.  His teaching will live on through those children, and through those who knew him. 



A few days after Martin’s death, I wrote to one of his close friends, Ron Hood, to tell him what happened.  Here is Ron’s response:



“Hi Christopher.

“I hope things went well for you today and that you found some peace.  I can feel the pain and helplessness of your letter.  I think that what you experienced must be the most common nightmare for all of us who take folks into the wilderness.  For all those years I took my students into the mountains, each and every time we left for the experience, I worried.  When we returned, I rejoiced.  No injuries, and thank God, no deaths.  I never lost the fear.


RON HOOD AND NYERGES



“One thing I knew for certain, there is no way to stop fate.  All I could ever do was attempt to reduce the potential for accidents and hope that fate would leave me alone. I was lucky.



“You have been at this business for so long, with so many people, that the chances of encountering fate increased to the point where an encounter was unavoidable.



“I’m certain that you know you were not responsible for Martin’s death.  It was due.  I’ve known Martin for many years.  During that time, Martin abused his body in many ways.  Martin breathed fumes from his forge, from his cigarettes, and other things.  He had a few of this and some of that and I was with him for part of that time.  Martin always lived life in the fullest way he knew how.  It was only later, after the damage was done, that he began to slow down.  His heart operation, his physical condition, and his legendary consumption of things that gave him pleasure finally conspired to release him for the greatest experience of all.  You just happened to be there when it happened.  That was good for Martin, and bad for you.  I am sorry.  I wish I could exchange places with you.  Martin was my friend and I would have understood his journey because I understood him.



“I can say one unalterable thing about Martin:  He was a good man and a good friend.  Everything else is part of the legend.



 “A friend. Dr. Ron Hood.”



 

Memorial Day Commentary


ABOUT DEATH

Memorial Day, 1983



[An excerpt from the book, "Til Death Do Us Part?", available from Kindle, or from the Store at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com]


            It was a sunny and brisk day as Dolores and I walked up the steep stony driveway to the WTI headquarters.  We were going to the annual Memorial Day gathering, which would be held outdoors.  Neither of us had been involved in the preparation of this event (as we had with other events), so we were coming as “guests” with no idea what the agenda would be.

Though we hadn’t been there for over a week, it seemed like we’d both been away for a very long time.  Dolores and I talked about how brilliant the plants looked as we walked up the dirt driveway, and we noted a distinct “magical” quality in the air.

            When we reached the top, we could see that several others had already arrived.  A table with various books for sale had been set up near the entrance, and I began scanning some of  the unfamiliar titles.  I picked up a copy of a book I’d never seen: Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet. It seemed like a fascinating book, though the subject matter had nothing to do with the Memorial Day theme.  Later, I purchased and read the book.

            Prudence approached us as I was scanning the book, and she handed each of us a hot cup of elixir.

            “Thanks,” I said, taking a long sip.  “That sure hits the spot.”

            “You can put your dish over there on the table,” she said, pointing to a wooden table across the yard where there were many other aromatic dishes and pots.  Dolores had made a dessert item, and I made some potato salad.  We set down our dishes next to the other items that were there for our potluck lunch.

            Dolores and I said hello to the dozen other guests who were sitting on chairs, or reading from a pink paper.  Timothy approached Dolores and I and handed each of us a copy of something printed on pink paper.

            “Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said, smiling broadly with his charismatic smile.  “Once those instructions are clear, you should go to a private spot with your notebook.   We’ll all meet back here in 30 minutes.”

            “OK,” I said. We both studied the paper as Timothy stood there.

            I quickly read the instructions.  We were to select three living “loved-ones” and write their names in our notebook. We were then to go sit under a bush, or sit in some private spot somewhere on the hilltop.  Next, we were  to mentally imagine that we get a phone call, and someone tells us that one of the people on our list have died.  Each of us  was to feel and experience the grief as if that person really died, and attempt to make it real.  With the full feeling of grief, we were to write down all those things that we wished we’d told that person before they died.  We were to do this exercise with all three of the people on our list.

            “Any questions?” asked Timothy, still standing in front of us, but now he was  beginning to look around as other guests arrived.  

            “It seems pretty clear,” I said, thinking to myself that this was an unusual exercise. 

            “Seems clear enough,” added Dolores.

            “Oh, one more thing,” said Timothy.  “It doesn’t say this on your paper, but it would be good if at least one person on your list of three is someone who is here today.” 

            “OK,” I responded.  I knew that my father would be on my list, and so would Dolores. 

            By now, several new guests had arrived, several of whom I did not know.  Nathaniel  was walking around saying hello to everyone. Dolores went over and began talking  with a guest, and William Breen arrived with a guest.  Even Prudence’s son had come to this event.

            Todd  was walking from person to person, pouring a bit of fresh cream into their coffee mugs.  I watched him, admiring his style. He moved gracefully from person to person, with his genuine boyish smile and his reserved courteousness that you only expect to see by the best waiters in the most expensive restaurants. 

            Dolores was just finishing talking with the guest, as I walked up the rough steps which led to the upper portion of the property, and I sat myself under an old citrus tree.  It was one of my favorite spots on the property because I always felt very “invisible” there, yet I had a terrific view of the surrounding neighborhood.


              I began my list.  I wrote down Dolores, Prudence, and my father.  I then closed my eyes, and imagined that I just received a call from my brother telling me that my father had died.  I let it hit me that he was gone, dead, out of my life.  I began to cry involuntarily.  My mind automatically thought back to the earliest childhood memories of my father cutting the lawn, and taking me with him in the station wagon to the supermarket.  I remembered the things I did wrong, and was punished for, and my mind went through a non-chronological review of various events. I attempted to mentally do a chronological review, but found it easier to just let the memories flow.  I began to laugh at some memories, such as the way he and my mother would argue whenever the family was getting ready to go to the local beach for the day.  My mother seemingly wanted to pack everything from the kitchen into the station wagon, and my father – with great pantomime -- would express his desire to do it as simply as possible. I remembered how upset my father would get when my mother called him a gypsy, an insult to a Hungarian.


I cried at other memories. I realized my father was by no means perfect, and yet I could see he tried to do what was right, despite his many weaknesses or deficiencies.  I found myself missing him terribly, in spite of the fact that he was still alive and  I had not called him for over a month.

            When someone dies, there is often the regret of having wanted to tell them certain things, things we typically do not do for fear of rejection or embarrassment.  I wrote down all the things I wanted to tell my father. Memories, goals, dreams, regrets, apologies.

            I began to do the same with Dolores and Prudence.  Dolores and I hadn’t yet married, though we were both very interested in one another and enjoyed each other’s friendship and company.  Still, we had already experienced several “rough spots” together.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had already been there over 30 minutes, so I quickly finished writing my notes and then headed back down to the gathering.

            Most everyone was already back down at the gathering site, and were serving themselves from the delicious dishes that everyone provided.  I began to serve myself a smaller than usual dish.  Though I was hungry, I wanted to try some of the home-made tamales that one of the guests brought.  I still felt very “shaken up” by my brief but intensive experience of  “hearing that my father had died.”

            Once everyone had returned and served themselves a dish and a mug, Timothy  shared a few prepared readings about Memorial Day and the nature of death.  I remember thinking that his presentation was so professional, well-qualified to be in a large auditorium as people sat around in rapt attention, or, for that matter, on the radio or television.

The presentation was  mostly writings by Shining Bear, as well as some passages from Alexander Solszynitzn’s classic book where he told the story of his time in the Soviet Union’s prison camps, Gulag Archipelago.



            Then we got to the part where Timothy asked each person to briefly share their experiences with their list of three people.  A few people said they had experienced nothing worthy of sharing, which I found remarkable. Perhaps they simply sat under a tree for 30 minutes doing nothing. Perhaps they were embarrassed in the unfamiliar setting and did not want to share a deeply personal experience.  I could understand not wanting to share deeply personal things in an unfamiliar public setting. But I could not believe that anyone who actually performed the prescribed exercise would have had no worthwhile experience.

Prudence’s son spoke of the experience of someone telling him his father had passed away and how sad he felt.  He shared a few of the things he would tell his father.

            “I’m going to tell him that I love him, and I’m going to pay him back that money I borrowed from him last year,” he said with great enthusiasm. Everyone laughed.



            Once each person briefly shared their varied experiences, Timothy then got back in front and, with his charismatic smile, announced that everyone now would have a rare opportunity. 

            “You’ve all just done what most people do when they learn that someone they love has died.  However, all these people are still here.  Now you need to tell them today those things that you’d regret not telling them if they died.  We have two phones here, so whomever wants to use them may do so now.”  [Note: this was before the days of universal cell phones.]

            A few people got up and went inside to call someone.

            “Or, you can write a short note or letter right now,” Timothy declared.  “If you don’t have any stationery, we have lots of paper and envelopes that you can use.”  He pointed to the wooden table behind him where there was a can full of pens and pencils, a small stack of envelopes, and an assortment of stationery paper.

“Now, if the person is here now,” Timothy continued, “I want the two of you to go to a private place and you can tell that person whatever it is that you want them to hear.  Don’t be embarrassed.  We’ll all meet back here together in about 30 minutes and share that experience.”

            I was a bit hesitant to do this next step.  It would be risky. It’s always risky to be completely honest and  open.   It could be embarrassing.  Nevertheless, I first went with Prudence to a private spot.  It turns out that she also chose me, so we were able to “kill two birds with one stone,” so to speak.

            My private-talk with Prudence went well, and both of us shared a few past unresolved issues that bothered us, and tried to make amends for some old hard feelings. We were both fairly open and blunt in both our criticism and praise of the other, and we were able to agree on a few simple steps we could do to bring things to a state of balance.  I was satisfied with this experience.



            Next I looked for Dolores, who was just getting done with another person.  This was a bit tougher.  We walked up the hill and sat under the towering eucalyptus tree.  I began by making apologies to Dolores having hurt her feelings by a few things I had done.  I knew that she felt I was very rude and calloused at the time, and so I wanted to at least tell her I was sincerely sorry, and really hadn’t done what I’d done as some sort of deliberate attempt to hurt her or embarrass her.  But she had a very hardened look on her face as I talked, and would not accept my apology, saying that an apology was not good enough. I was a bit non-plussed.  I was attempting to do a very real exercise as a unique way to commemorate Memorial Day.  I was giving her my sincere apology in that context, as if this was something I know I would have wanted to tell her “before she died.”  It seemed inconceivable that she would refuse my apology. 

            “I think you did do those things intentionally, and you did know better.”

            What could I say?  We talked about it a bit more, and it was clear that you cannot argue with what someone feels.  Despite what I believed were my intentions, Dolores felt  something else.  So we talked about what I should have done, what I could have done differently, and a few ways to improve our friendship from that day forward.  That seemed about the best that was possible under the circumstances.  We hugged, and went back to join the others.

            I felt hungry and went to the food table where several people were filling their dishes with some delicious-smelling home-cooked foods.  It was all vegetarian, and all beautifully prepared.  It seemed like a Thanksgiving feast.  I served myself a little potato salad and green salad, and took a seat.

After a few minutes, Prudence read a few passages from a book about death.  I took a few notes as I listened, and also looked around at the expressions of those gathered there that day.  I felt very much “startled awake,” and I could tell that most everyone had had some sort of eye-opening epiphany about life and death and how quickly it all passes. 

I was experiencing an inner turmoil, a bit apprehensive about my plan to talk to my father later in the day.  I was also very reflective about all the choices I make day in and out, and how everyone else affects me, and how I affect everyone else. Especially Dolores.  How to do it all “just right,” all the time, I wondered?  How can I live my life without regrets?  I wondered, was everyone else feeling such inner turmoil, and inner challenge? 

            Finally, Timothy made a few closing remarks, shared a few upcoming events, and thanked everyone for coming.  It had been several hours but it flowed so quickly. 

            After I finished my salad, I spent the next hour helping to clean things up and put away all the chairs.  I said my goodbyes and we all departed.



LATER IN THE DAY

            That evening, I called my father, and asked him if he had a minute.
            “Sure,” he said, “what’s up?”

            “I just wanted you to know that I really have appreciated all the things you’ve done for me all my life.  I know that at times I have seemed very disrespectful, but I….

            “Is something wrong?” he asked.  “Do you need money?”

            “No, no, no. I don’t need money. No, nothing’s wrong. I was just thinking about you today, and how we never talk, and I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate you and really love you.”

            I think that was the first time I ever told my father that I loved him.

            “What’s wrong,” he asked more firmly, “are you in some sort of trouble?”

            “No, I’m not in any trouble at all, I just…”

            “This doesn’t sound like you, something must be wrong…”

            “No, nothing’s wrong.  I just realized that we rarely talk. Today seemed like as good a day as any to tell you that I appreciate you.”  I had momentarily thought that I would explain to him that I’d attended the event earlier in the day, and let him know that he was part of my exercise.  But somehow, if I did that, I felt it would diminish what I was saying to my father, that it was some sort of school assignment or exercise.  Rather than regard it as something genuine coming from me, he would think that I was in the clutches of a controlling cult and was just acting out their dictates.  This had to be real. This had to be from me, because I wanted to communicate these things to him.

            “Well, OK,” he responded.  He paused, and said, “Are you coming over for dinner?”

            “No, not tonight, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            It was the beginning of a thaw in our relationship.  There was not an instant turnaround in the way we related to each other, but slowly, slowly, I began to view him as a distinct individual, and slowly, I could tell that he did the same with me.

             The following day, I told Dolores how my father reacted.

            “That sounds just like your father,” she laughed.   We both found the exchange hillarious, and we could not stop laughing about it. 

            We went to dinner that night and we continued to talk about my father’s suspicious nature, and we laughed like children.  It felt very good to laugh with Dolores.  It was a light time, and somehow, laughing together made us closer.  It also shifted the focus from problems in our relationship to my father’s character, and in that moment, it was a good thing.