RI book intro

(Feel free to skip this introduction or to let go of it and dive into the stories whenever the spirit moves you to do so. This overview provides some context for the rest of the book, but is on some level not important. The real meat is in the stories. You might even find this section more meaningful after reading some of the stories.)

What is Radical Integrity?

Integrity, as addressed in this book, is a much more far-reaching concept and ambitious enterprise than just “being honest” or “telling the truth”. It refers to a life-long endeavor to find out who we are and then to find ways to be that in the situations of our life.

Big enough for you? Well it’s even more challenging than that. There are all kinds of fears and limitations within us that can make this difficult and many, many forces all around us that can get in the way. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a heroic journey, which it definitely is.

The Payoff

In a way, there is none. The rewards of integrity are contained in the experience itself. There is no bottom line, no additional rewards we get from this process. How our world, society, the people in our lives – our family, lovers, bosses, colleagues, friends – will respond to us living this way is completely unpredictable, and typically will be kind of a mixed bag. Living with radical integrity will in many ways rock the boat, for ourselves and others. We can’t predict the influence this process will have on the circumstances of our lives. We just show up and (as a teacher of mine used to say) “let God handle the results”.

There are lots of ways that this world is not set up for us to become radically our selves. We get all kinds of messages, conditioning, reinforcements for doing otherwise. The people around us mostly want us to behave in ways that will meet their needs. Our religions want us to “be good”. Our parents want us to make them proud. Our bosses want us to work hard.

Faced with the limiting and confusing expectations placed on us from all sides, most people just get by, settle. We carve out the best little lives we can. We try to fit in. We may surrender to what Eric Fromm calls the “marketing orientation” – we try to measure up to what society values, to make ourselves attractive or desirable. Or we build our lives around “satisfying our needs” – lots of pop psychology is built around teaching us how to do this. Or we addictively pursue money, success, romance, sex, “love”, work, or comfort. Or we base our life around consumption – cars, houses, vacations, sexy cell phones, Ipods, etc., etc., etc. Or we just try to turn off the whole noisy, crazy mix of these competing expectations with food, alcohol, drugs, music or whatever.

But living from a place of integrity can provide rewards in the here and now that cannot be quantified, that are available in no other way, that go beyond our wildest dreams. We are who we are and life is what it is. Not being who we are and not facing and living into life as it is cause suffering. Discovering who we are and finding ways to express that, going deeply into life through our real selves provides satisfaction, real pleasure, joy.

Integrity means becoming who we truly are meant to be, who we in this moment genuinely are – and finding ways to express these realities. “Radical Integrity” refers to building our lives around this quest, valuing nothing else more. We become sensitive and open to all the many clues around us and in us to each new little thread of our selves. We open our sensors to what is cued up in us to be expressed next. And we open our voices, our spontaneity, our self-expressiveness to live out the many faces of that miracle that is us.

We can express who we really are through art, relationships, work, play – virtually any form of human expression. But what comes out of us when we are practicing radical integrity will not be determined by fashion, market forces or the expectations of others. To be genuine, we will in some way recognize and deal with these forces around us – not simply ignore or defy them. Certainly, if we want to have the richness and joy of human relationships, we need to pay attention to the people around us, to their wants and needs.

But coming from a place of integrity will mean that we do not simply react to any of these forces. We recognize them – in some ways we get superbly aware of them, we go deep into experiencing them, listening to them. They are, after all, part of the reality of our here and now. But we, progressively over the course of our lives, find genuinely creative ways to respond to them, ways that simultaneously express some of the many facets of the jewel that we are. We become “response-able” – not unconscious, insensitive or “out-of-it”, but rather extremely aware and then able to respond in ways that involve us showing up fully in these various situations. Some of these responses will “pay off” in the marketplace, will make the people around us happy and/or happy with us – but some will not. We are driven simply to tell our truths in the situations of our lives and then let the chips fall where they may. We trust the process

This Book

If all these words seem a bit abstract, they are. The more tangible expressions of these ideas are contained in this book. Almost every chapter is based around a story or stories of people like you and me (in some cases, the key figure literally is me – in some of them, you will absolutely see yourself in the stories), facing the situations of their lives, listening to the promptings of their inner voice, and finding ways to express who they are in this here-and-now reality.

Some of these forms of self-expression are not the final answer. Some of them are experiments, halting at best, as the protagonists listen and watch for what is their authentic response to the situations of their lives. They may go on to experiment some more, to try to get closer to their own truths in this moment of time. Sometimes they will say “Bingo! This is it – this is what I really mean to say or do, right now.” Other times they may experience the relative satisfaction of knowing they are getting closer, that this response expresses who they are a little better than their previous responses. And there really is no final answer, because we keep changing and the life around us keeps changing. Each successful experiment at being and expressing who we are sets up the next experiment, allows us the opportunity of becoming even more richly that person we are meant to be, who we essentially are.

How to read this book

So, if you want, ignore all this talk, all this introduction. If it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, don’t worry. Dive into the stories – they will. Some of them more than others. Some you will find interesting. Others will absolutely hit you where you live.

You may have a variety of responses to how the person in the story handles these situations. Some of their actions, experiments and insights may excite you – may even thrill you. Others may make you nervous. You may find yourself having a variety of mental judgments about what I or the other characters do in these stories. As much as possible, simply note these mental judgments and go back into the stories. Have an inner dialogue with that character or those characters. Put yourself into the story and see what you want to do.

Or have an outer dialogue. Share the book or a particular story with people in your lives. Tell them about what you have read or pass it along for them to read. Nothing can increase the power of this book to transform your own life more than letting others into your process of reading and responding to it – talking with them, wrestling with these situations out loud, creating a process for taking all this out of your head and putting it out there on the street.

Don’t read more than a chapter a day. Each of these chapters should give you plenty to chew on – let yourself chew. Take this particular story into your day and see what bubbles up in you from it. You may find that what you just read has direct relevance to the situations of your day. Or you may simply find that the overall message of this book around self-expression can feed you in what you actually encounter as you go out into your world. “If I were to live from a place of radical integrity in this day, in this situation, how might that influence my thoughts/feelings/behavior? What might I do/try/say next?”

Skip around. Open the book wherever your fingers take you and trust that this is the chapter you most need to read today. (There is no necessary logic or development to the order of these chapters. I actually had a hard time figuring out which chapter should go where.)

You may already have a practice of journaling. If not, this might be a great opportunity for trying it. Find yourself a notebook that feels good to you and a pen or pencil you really like. (I have a nice, not-too-large, hard-back notebook that I really like on busses, at work, etc. At home, I word-process at my computer.) Then don’t write for anybody else – I pretty much commit that I will never show my journaling to anybody else. And don’t write to produce. Don’t worry about how it sounds, does it make any sense, is there any point, is there a beginning-middle-end. Just let stuff come out on paper. You may start from responding to a particular chapter or character. You could tell them what you think of them or what they are doing – have a little conversation with them. Or you could respond to the whole concept of radical integrity, as you are getting it from the book so far – what it means to you, what you think of it or feel about it, how you are responding to it. You could have a little conversation with me about it. (If you want, after you have journaled or instead of it, you could actually send me an email at heymajo@earthlink.net – I promise to reply. I love hearing how this stuff is affecting people. We might even end up having a real conversation.)

Don’t march through. You don’t have to read a chapter a day. Grab it when it’s grabbing you and set it aside when it’s not. You may need more than one day to absorb what you have just read. (When I went through the Course in Miracles workbook, the structure held 365 lessons, which you could theoretically go through in one year. I routinely spend two, three or seven days on a lesson, carrying it around in my pocket, applying it to the situations of my life – squeezing the juice out of it before moving on. I spent four years working through that book – then turned around and spent three more years going through it again.) This book doesn’t have slow learners – we’re all on the remedial track.

When it’s over, it’s over. It’s not important that you ever finish this book. You may read a couple of chapters and get exactly what you were meant to get. Or you may set it aside while you immerse yourself in work, love or vacation. You may come back to it later and you may not. If you become serious about radical integrity – fully and kind of ruthlessly being that specific person you were meant to be – then your way of relating to this book is just right. (But please try a couple of chapters before you give up – they are way different than all these introductory words.)

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I’m not a nice person

To the people who have been telling me that I’m not a nice person:

Thank you for noticing – I really do appreciate it.  It’s such a drag to invest all this energy in not being a nice person and then to not have anybody notice it.

Many of my behaviors could still be described as “nice” (though I really mostly do hate that word) or “kind” – and many people do still think of me as “nice” or “kind”.  But most of the people who know me best would, these days, probably have trouble saying of me “He’s a very nice person” without choking on it.  They have seen me get in people’s faces when I think they are in my space, have heard me say “That’s bullshit”, have seen me cuss out old ladies (at Battery Park Apartments, there is no shortage of old ladies – or of old ladies who piss me off).

Being kind certainly has its place – but for me, it’s just a place, not an ultimate value or something I aspire to be all the time.  Much more important to me is to be real, genuine, authentic – to have integrity.  Thus the title of my as-yet-unpublished book: Radical Integrity – which I titled and began writing about 17 years ago. Integrity – realness, wholeness – actually is an ultimate quest for me.  That’s why I have, for 17 years, been writing a book about it.  (Hey, I’m a publishing whiz, huh?) And, when I am being real, genuine, authentic – am reclaiming my integrity – then it’s easier for me to be kind: kind or even loving behaviors just spill out of me effortlessly, without effort, without trying to be anything, including kind.

Friz Perls

Fritz Perls – the creator of Gestalt Therapy and genuine wild man – who unfortunately I never met, but who taught me to say “That’s bullshit”.  Sometimes these days I feel like I am channeling old Fritz.  When I think that thought I walk a little taller.

When you tell me I’m not nice, I may say “Thank you” – because it’s valuable to have feedback.  Often your statement will confirm for me that I am on the right track – it will reassure me.  Sometimes – though I do like the sound of “You’re not a nice person” – I may encourage you to speak in a more self-responsible way,  to use I-statements.  “I think you are not a nice person” or “That didn’t seem nice to me” or “I wish you wouldn’t use the word ‘Fuck’ or tell people to ‘Fuck off’ or ‘Get fucked’ or ‘Get the fuck out of my face'”.  This kind of self-responsible speech is overall easier for me to hear and is healthier for you to use.  Or I may encourage you to “Get the fuck away from me and don’t come back until you are ready to speak responsibly”.

And, if it’s really important to you that everybody treat you nicely and not tell you that you are full of shit, then please don’t get in my shit.

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This blog

The posts are chapters from a book-in-process called Radical Integrity: Reflective Stories for Recovering Your Self.  It’s a book of stories to help you discover, integrate and express more of who you genuinely are, including parts of yourself that are not yet familiar to you – and to do this radically, no stopping and no turning back, fully committed to following your own path in life, doing it ‘your way’.

Actually, life is always trying to move us in this direction of more fully being ourselves.  ‘Radical Integrity’ is simply the process of cooperating with life, going where it is trying to take us.

This book is not about self-help or self-improvement.  There is no advice, no program, no 7 Habits or 5 Principles.  These actual stories (or clusters of little stories), taken from my life and the lives of those around me, are each intended to give a glimpse of another person – with their warts, missteps and learning edge – attempting to be fully human.  You then get to respond to each story in your own unique way.

I’d welcome your comments on any of these chapters: just click on the “Leave a comment” link at the bottom of the chapter.  You might even enjoy reading each other’s comments.

(Some chapters that I judged as being too long or otherwise not appropriate for the book are on a separate blog: radicalintegrity1.wordpress.com.)

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Cafe Dunderfunk

So, I’m sitting in this relatively un-Cincinnati restaurant – an old Victorian house on the west side of the downtown, which serves food that would be more at home in California, like tofu. I’m there with my new boss of 4 months, Tom, and my new colleague of 2 months, Joan.

We are supposedly there to celebrate our biggest business triumph to date – the very successful presentation, that afternoon, of our strategic plan for the next two years, to the top 15 officers of our corporation. But, instead, we are have an extraordinarily painful conversation, releasing all the pent-up stress of the last two weeks of preparation, plus.

Actually, Tom and Joan are letting me have it for a remark I made in the middle of the presentation, which they both found alienating. For my part, while I was at first baffled and knocked off balance by their heavy upset at me as we debriefed the meeting that afternoon, I have since had time to think about it – as I went for an exhilarating power walk through my lovely, hilly university neighborhood on this glorious Spring day, and I’m ready. I know what I was intending with this remark that went so awry – at least with my two colleagues – and I am intent on presenting my side. I am also more than a little hurt that they were so quick to assume the worst of my intentions – although I also understand that we are very new to each other, and have had little time to develop trust.

So. right now, roughly two hours into this encounter in the restaurant, I have had it. It’s not that I’m losing my temper. I’m actually choosing to express my anger pretty much exactly as I am feeling it. This is not an absolutely new behavior, but relatively new for this historically way-too- nice a guy, and (to me, even as I’m doing it) kind of amazingly direct with these two people.

We are really quite new to each other and, in some real ways, they are about the most important people in my life. We have all moved here from other parts of the country to start this new organization development (or OD) department, focusing on the human side of the business (team development, culture change, etc.). I have only a couple of other friends in this city, and nobody who I see anywhere near as frequently as these two.

I know that they both, theoretically at least, believe in the direct expression of feelings – and Tom and I have even had a couple of conflicts before – but we have no precedent together for this strong an encounter. And this does not seem to be going well. My telling my side of the story is not going down – in fact, it seems to be angering my partners more and more.

So, specifically what I am saying right now, to my two new colleagues and possible friends, in really fairly loud tones, and facial expression and body posture to match, is “Just what the fuck do you want from me? We’ve been over this a lot of times now. I’ve acknowledged in X, Y, and Z ways that I didn’t handle this perfect. But we keep coming back to this. Do you want a fucking apology? Do you want me to throw myself on the fucking floor and beg for forgiveness? Why the hell do you keep coming back to hammering away at John?”

Tom, who is really not very much enjoying this part of the encounter, says, “I can’t talk to you when you are like this.” “Like what?” “This angry.” “I am this angry – and I’m actually pretty glad that I’m showing it instead of stuffing it.” (And, in fact, I knew even in the middle of this that something important was going on for me – that being as direct and real as I was being, even while it felt painful and scary and alone, was a very right thing to be doing.) Tom – “Yes, but not in public.”

The next moment was one of the most important in my so-far 44 years of life. Tom, my new boss, on whom a certain measure of my professional future rests – the only real authority figure I have locally – has just given his verdict, that what I am doing is inappropriate. I have eons of conditioning screaming from my unconscious that I have gone too far.

So I slowly, somewhat dramatically, turn to survey this restaurant, which has now been officially closed, door locked, for over a half an hour. The only other souls in this medium-sized room are our waiter and the cook, eating their own dinner on the far side of the room. And I yell to them, across        the expanse of empty restaurant, “Hey, does my being angry offend you guys?” They, somewhat sheepishly, yell back, “No”. “Thanks.”

I knew in the moment that that act of defiance and reality was very big for me. On some intuitive level I really knew that I had crossed a line – had taken a step, for myself, from which there was no turning back. This one time there would be, for me, no regretful post-mortem. I had not been “realistic” in being so confrontive with my boss – I was rather facing my own personal reality and expressing it as if there were no future to protect, only a present to be affirmed and lived.

I had no experience of risk, only clarity. No fear, in that moment, because it had all rolled over into determination and excitement. All my nerve endings were quivering, and I felt completely alive. On some level, I think I knew even then that all the little breakthroughs of my last many years, painful last year, and very painful last few months had just pushed me over the crest of some personal mountain. I was not consciously thinking these words, but I was absolutely living out the motto a good friend had given me years before, “If I die I die, but I will never again be less than who I really am.”

I had known, even during this recent trying period in our relationship, that Tom was a fine man and an excellent consultant – and that our relationship was quite painfully stuck, in ways that had lots of potential for me getting personally hurt. I also knew in my gut, even in the spontaneity of this moment, that this little encounter was not going to help our relationship, at least in the short term. But helping our relationship was not my main priority at that moment.

I needed, I realize looking back, to send a clear signal to my own· unconscious – if not to Tom – that this generally very “nice”, supportive guy would respond in other ways if pushed too far. Expressing anger, yelling at your boss, is not a primary characteristic of integrity work – for some people it would be completely irrelevant. But for me this was a crucial step in taking my own truth seriously.

I did not know at that moment that this personal breakthrough would lead, just four days later, to beginning this book, which had in various forms been bubbling on the back burner of my mind for at least eight years. But it began to write itself, as I completed another power walk on another magnificent spring evening – scribbling madly on the one scrap of paper I had with me, then just trusting that this gift my unconscious was giving me would not be retracted before I reached home and my computer. And so it was not.

You have had the little breakthroughs that lead to this kind of point of no return. You probably have had many of them, maybe almost every day. What you may not have had is a framework that allows you to appreciate and fully grow from them. You may not have known that the impulse to stand up for who you are in the moment, confused and imperfect as that moment may be, represents the song of your soul, calling you back to yourself, to a state of innocence.

Some would believe that innocence is not available to us fallen humans until some future reality. I believe our fall happens moment by moment – as well as the deep pain of losing ourselves – whenever we mistakenly choose to “settle for” security or fitting in or staying in our comfort zone when we have before us the possibility of aliveness, of courage, of exploring new frontiers in how to be ourselves.

This book will give you many windows into different aspects of that humanity we all share. Some chapters may refer to concrete life experiences you do not share, like moving alone to a new city for a new job. But each story will refer to an inner experience that will be familiar or at least possible to you.

If these stories give you some encouragement in the possibilities they portray, some comfort in the humanness we share, some chuckles over the mental predicaments we all tend to get in, ­then they have done their job. Welcome to my world. I think you will find we are neighbors.

 

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You Made Me Love You

A friend of mine (let’s call her Sarah) came to visit me for the weekend. We had dated in Chicago a ways back, and had had a lovely connection. She had been clearly still recovering from a romantic wound, and in some ways not emotionally available, but we did a great job of respecting each other’s limits and taking each other for who and where we were. Since then Sarah had gotten into a peer co-counseling class and was sorting out a lot of the previously stuck issues in her life. The difference in her when she came to visit was obvious: she had actually been building momentum the whole time I had known her, but now she was really on a roll, healing herself and liking herself more than ever.

We spent a long, delicious Saturday, sampling the delights of Cincinnati all up and down the river. We would sometimes sit on one park bench for a long time, deep in conversation, then just walk and play and be silly for a while. Towards the end of the afternoon, we were sitting in a relatively private spot, again by the river, and Sarah allowed herself to progress from talking about some anxieties in her life, to taking a good cry, sitting there with my arm around her.

I think Sarah had always known it would be all right with me for her to show her feelings this fully, but now she knew it was also ok with her. She let the tears flow freely, then mopped up and felt great – appreciative of me and of herself, her new level of openness and trust in her own emotions and inner strength. The rest of the weekend was even more enchanted. Sarah was more alive and playful than I had ever seen her. We felt very close to each other, and she was naturally affectionate in a charming way that was new in our experience together. We had a great time.

When I spoke with Sarah on the phone a few days later, I could tell that something was feeling tight for her. It took some exploring to figure out exactly what was going on, but then Sarah seized her courage and put it right out. She was having a lot of romantic thoughts and feelings about me. Her limits had always been so clear in the past, and we were now so GUD to each other (geographically undesirable), that it had not occurred to me that this sweet weekend together might take off in this direction. And truly it didn’t make sense to me as a direction for our particular relationship. But it was easy to see what had happened.

Sarah had released her potential for lovingness. She had been doing such good work on herself, learning to trust herself so much more. Then she had taken her new level of openness out on the road. I was a man who she felt pretty safe with, so she came and tried out her freer self with me, and it worked. And, when it worked, she experienced her own capacity to love in a wonderful way that had not been on the scene for quite a while.

But I knew that this love was not specifically about me. It was genuine love, so when it came my way, I felt loved. But it was not so limited as to be defined by me, and it certainly wasn’t caused by me. Sure, I’m a good guy and relatively easy to love (why fight it?) but Sarah was ready to love, and could have focused love on lots of people. In fact, while we were together, she radiated love – towards the people we encountered, toward my fair city, even to the thunderstorm we got caught in.

You may be familiar with the idea of projecting emotions: I’m scared, so think you are threatening me; I’m angry, so I see anger all around. But we can project positive emotions, also. Sarah thought she was falling in love with me, but really she was simply experiencing her own recently expanded capacity to love. I wasn’t the cause, she was. She needed to take responsibility for her own feelings of love.

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The Cropduster

I was driving to Chicago for my friend Eileen’s wedding, feeling quite enthused, in a very good mood – I had had a good day. I was also quite overtired. It had been a challenging week, with a lot of burning the midnight oil. As I was driving along, I was playing the same wonderful Eugene Friesen “Remembering You” song that has done good things for me on other occasions. I’m driving along, feeling good: feeling loved, loving myself, loving my life.

A car goes by and I notice that this young woman has a clothing bag hanging on the hook in her back seat, and I think, “Oh, that’s just like the one that I’ve got – oh, no, it’s like the one that I’ve got my clothes hanging in, still in my bedroom, to bring to Chicago.” And I have not brought them in the car. And what follows for me is a kind of an agonizing couple of minutes of worry, first – “what am I going to wear to the damn wedding?” Then shame and embarrassment at having been so untogether. And then, after I’ve gone through that, I start to do some problem solving. Actually I could go out that evening and get a shirt and tie, and my stepbrother in Chicago probably has a suit I could borrow.

And then I say, “Hey, why is it, Madden, that you have to respond with anxiety and self-criticism to this situation? Maybe there’s no need for that at all. Maybe that’s just a conditioned response. And especially given how challenging your week has been and how strung-out you were today, maybe you could just forgive yourself for this, and not get quite so uptight.”

Then truly, just as I have succeeded at unknotting this knot of anxiety and self-criticism, I see ahead of me, about two hundred yards down the highway, one of my absolute favorite sights – ­which I have seen really only once before in my life. I am fixated on flying, have big-time unfinished business around learning to fly. I find planes, especially small planes, such a wonderful image of freedom. And so, just as I have released some distress inside myself, I see a crop-duster spring up from the field to the right, just in time to climb above the tree line, do a little dance in mid-air, turn around, now just about a hundred yards ahead of me, and dive back down towards that same field.

This aerial ballet for me so perfectly expresses the way my spirit is feeling at that moment. My spirit, whi.ch had felt so sunk just a few minutes before, and now has the opportunity to fly free again. To me at that moment, there was no question of coincidence. That plane doing it’s dance in mid-air, and my spirit doing its dance of liberation from neurosis were interlocked. They were timed together perfectly, and not accidentally. In fact, I no longer have a concept of coincidence. I do not believe in them. I do not perceive the world through those filters. I don’t always observe the connections in the world, but I have no question about the fact that everything in the world is connected.

So, I don’t know how it happened that that plane leapt up in the air there, just as my spirit was leaping up. Did a benevolent personal God send it to me? I don’t know. Did I hallucinate it? I don’t think so.

C.G. Jung talked about synchronicity and I don’t think he ever explained it particularly well – I don’t think our human mind has the power to explain it. But he did talk about how things in this world seem to go together. Events in our inner world weave together with events in the outer world in ways that defy explanation, but that fit pretty good, in really quite uncanny ways at times.

This is really, to me, about as good a definition as I can up with for spirit. And it gets real close to what a lot of the physicists are saying: “Things are connected.” This world is interconnected in ways that have intelligence, that have heart. that have the possibility for a lot of encouragement for us about life and what it’s all about and who we are and where we fit in it. We are inextricably woven into the fabric of life. We belong here, totally.

Once, many years ago, I was at a co-counseling workshop out in the country. On a lovely fall afternoon I had a co-counseling session out in the woods I had a huge personal breakthrough, sorted out a lot of things, and felt extraordinarily liberated. And, in that moment, it felt to me that the birds in the woods were singing to me, that they were welcoming me out from the paralyzing self-criticism I had been feeling before that session. Was this an exaggeration? I don’t know. Would a tape-recording have shown any difference in the way the birds were singing before my session and after my session? Was this simply a matter of my attention getting free? Very likely, in that situation.

However, I think that to try to research and nail down all these situations really would only reflect the analytic, breaking-apart way of thinking that our linear brains imprison us in. On one level, it doesn’t make a difference. Many would say that there is no reality but psychological reality. We are creating how we perceive the world around us. And more and more, over the years, I am creating the world around me as connected.

Now, if I were perceiving it as all responding to me, if it really seemed to me that all the intelligence out there was for my benefit, personally – John, the big-shot, then we might well be talking about paranoid schizophrenia. And, in fact, I do believe that the difference between the religious mystic and the paranoid schizophrenic is not in what they perceive – because to a great extent, I think they perceive the same things – but, to what they attribute it. Whereas the mystic says, “Thanks, God, for creating a world in which we are all so interwoven, where I fit perfectly, because we all do”, the paranoid says, “This entire world circles around me. I must be God Himself.” Not “we are all divine, we are all a part of God”, but “I, personally, this ego, am God.”

I believe that the analytic way of looking at things is a particular set of filters. Mostly, we don’t have the capacity to perceive everything equally, all at once, so we are always using filters of one kind or another as we approach the world. The analytic mode of thinking is based on how our brains are set up and how our senses work – it says that we process individual separate bits of data – separate atoms bouncing around in that universe out there. And we think of ourselves that way. It is a filter, and it actively filters out other kinds of data. It actively filters out evidence of synchronicity, of connectedness.

So if, when I describe things like my plane jumping up in the field as my spirit is jumping up, if that sounds unusual or strange or like just a wild coincidence to you, it probably is because you have been using your logical analytic filter, to the exclusion of other ways of processing reality. I’m sure that each reader of that passage will have somewhat different response, and that those responses will fall, in terms of the credibility of the story, from one end that says “This guy is really cracked” to another end that says “Absolutely – that’s the way it works, that’s the way I experience the world, also – that my outer reality absolutely interlocks with and reflects my inner reality.”

It would not be helpful for anyone, regardless of where they fit on that continuum, to consciously try to force their perceptions to be different. What can be very helpful is to install some softness in our certainty that our perception is correct. Our perceptions are mostly conditioned. The willingness to consider that there might be something else going on out there than what we have been perceiving is often disturbing at first. It was for me. But it can be enormously liberating. It was for me. Otherwise for me that plane would have been just a plane.

 

 

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Saving Petey

About six years ago, I lived in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.  This is the last north side lakefront neighborhood before you get to Evanston, the first “North Shore” suburb, home to Northwestern University and lots more pricey.  The Rogers Park neighborhood had, just a few years before, actually been a little rough – and, among most white Chicagoland residents, still had that reputation.

Most of Chicago’s Lake Michigan shoreline is park, so Rogers Park is really the only neighborhood where you can live right on the lake, as I did.  Those of us who had moved in over the last few years carefully guarded the secret that this neighborhood was making a big comeback and was really a pretty safe, fun, diverse community.  If our secret got too widely known, none of us could have afforded to rent our lakefront apartments.

There actually is about a half-mile of park beachfront sandwiched in there.  Kind of hidden away as this little park is, it had some of its own norms.  Different from other Chicago beaches, no one ever really enforced the “Dogs on leash only” ordinance, except for high summer, when the beach got (relatively) crowded – and even then not before nine a.m., when the lifeguards came on duty.

There was a little posse of us who ran our dogs on that beach in the morning year-round.  Our dogs mostly all knew each other and had a fine old time.  (They were all medium-to-large sized critters – lap doggies got walked at different times and places.)  We dog owners mostly only knew each other by our dog’s names.  (I was “Bobbie’s dad”, after my adorable border collie pup.  Another woman was “Midnight’s mom”, after her lovable if not totally smart black lab.)

Those dogs not only loved running on the beach, but most were very enthused about swimming out into the lake to fetch their tennis balls and various doggie toys.  Most of them would do this all winter, except when the lake started to freeze over, which happened only during especially cold winters.

But this had been an extraordinarily cold winter.  Before the surface of the lake froze solid, it was covered with free-moving ice floes of various shapes and sizes.  Then we got an awesome snowstorm, with monster winds off the lake – driving all those ice floes up onto the shore, creating 10-foot hills of snow and ice right at the shoreline.  These hills dropped precipitously into the lake, which now had frozen over right near the shore, with more ice floes still bobbing around further out.

This flat layer of ice near the shore was new and clearly fragile – so walking on top of these hills was definitely risky.  But most of us people could not resist it, because it was so amazing – and now was the only way to actually see the lake.  And our dogs, always up for an adventure (not so much for the views, I don’t imagine), naturally followed us up.

Then one morning, the worst – which we should have known would eventually happen – finally did.  Actually the second-worst.  Worse still would have been for one of us humans to lose our footing, slide down the lake side of that hill, break through the ice and – because of the sheer face of that side of the ice hill – have no way to get back up.  This would have been worse still because none of us could swim like those dogs, much less tolerate the freezing water.  And worse because, much as we all loved our dogs, just because…

None of us actually knew just when it happened.  While most of us were capable of spoiling our dogs, we really did enjoy visiting with each other – regardless of whether we knew each other’s names.  And our dogs, running around and playing with each other, were pretty self-sufficient.  We sure didn’t dote on them as you might a child at a playground.

But at some point, Petey’s mom asked if any of us had seen him recently.  Petey was a big, floppy, older mutt (maybe some Lab and who knew what else) that got along with everybody – canine or human.  He truly was a sweetie.  But none of us had seen him for a while.  We looked up and down the ice hill we were walking on, then over into the park, then – really pretty reluctantly – out in the lake.  It took us a while to spot him, but there he was – maybe 50 yards from shore, his front paws up on an ice floe.  As we aimed our attention out there, we could hear him making pitiful little moans or cries.  He looked like he was already half-frozen.

His mom and others of us started calling to him, hoping he would swim towards shore.  If he did make it there, we really did not know how we were going to get him up out of the water without putting ourselves at risk.

Clay was a really nice, strong young guy who, with his girlfriend, had two dogs in our little pack.  He and I went up and back along the top of that ice hill, looking for a place where we could pull Petey out, if he did make it back to shore.  The best we could come up with was one spot where there were pretty good footholds for going down to the water’s edge, then a flat ice ledge extending maybe eight feet into the lake.  We conferred and were in total agreement that this ice ledge looked way too precarious.  If you didn’t slide into the lake, you would almost certainly break through it into the water – and then how was anybody going to pull you out?

This all seemed pretty moot, because Petey was showing no signs of swimming towards land.  He was almost immobile, hanging on to that ice floe.  He would make an occasional pitiful and totally hopeless attempt to pull himself up.  It was both way too slick and, the harder he leaned on it, the more his edge dipped down into the water, threatening to slide him off altogether.  And he continued to make those intermittent, way-too-mournful moans.  None of us said it, but I think all of us had the thought that we would end up standing there until he froze and drowned – think Leonard DiCaprio in that awful near-last scene of “Titanic”.

Then, out of nowhere, a miraculous thing happened.  Petey let go of the ice floe and started to swim towards shore.  He was not the most physically vital dog to begin with, and he was obviously weakened from floating in that water for what we guessed was probably over a half-hour.  But swim he did, looking part frantic and part very determined.

But there was still the issue of how to pull him out.  Clay and I retraced our steps up and down the shore, hoping there might be some workable spot we had missed.  But no, the only feasible spot was the one we had already agreed was too dangerous.  We had each announced out loud that we would not risk our own lives on that fragile-looking ice shelf.

Then, when Petey was almost to shore, Clay broke ranks – he laboriously searched for footholds as he worked his way down to that ice shelf.  I was standing right there – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing him do.  And, uttering (I’m sure – I really don’t remember) a litany of “Shit!”s and an occasional “Fuck!” (or maybe the other way around), I went down after him.

When he got to the bottom, Clay started calling to Petey and stretched himself out full- length to the water’s edge.  I stayed at the closer edge (still only a couple of inches of ice from the frigid water) and grabbed hold of his legs.  I remember sliding his socks down so I could get a firmer grip on his ankles.  And Petey – did he know this was his best chance or just respond to the urgency of Clay’s voice? – ignored all the other people on the ice hill screaming to him and swam towards Clay.

It was a good thing Clay and I had not reversed roles.  Number one, I don’t think I would have done what he did – I just went down there because I couldn’t let him do this alone.  In hindsight, my weight as I came down on that ledge may have increased the likelihood of us both crashing through.  But my thoughts were not particularly strategic or analytic – I just wasn’t letting him go down on that ice alone.  But what made it even more important that we were each playing the role we did, was that no way in hell could I – stretched out as Clay was – have pulled that big dog out of the water.  Young and strong as Clay was, I still don’t know how he did it.  He sure had no leverage from that position.

But, when Petey reached him, Clay grabbed him under the front legs and, with one massive pull – and I picture Clay making a karate kind of bellow, though again I really don’t remember – Petey came up out of the water.  Miraculously, that thin, flat layer of ice held. Then I pulled them both back towards the ice hill.  With me pushing Clay from behind, he was able to climb up with Petey in his arms.

Well, let me tell you, it was pure bedlam on that beach.  You have never seen a more jubilant bunch.  Petey’s mom and Clay carried that big, pitiful, half-frozen dog back to her apartment, where she put him in the tub and gradually raised the temperature of the water.  I don’t think she actually knew any better than any of the rest of us what really was the right first aid at that point – she just followed her instincts.

Clay and I got our well-deserved 15 minutes of fame.  By the next morning, all the members of our posse who had not been there knew the story.  I made it completely clear that my heroism was very reluctant.  I had always liked Clay a lot and this adventure had forged a very tight bond between us, but I made quite the point that I had only risked my life for a dog because “this crazy son of a bitch.…”  I think that everyone could hear the love under my feigned anger.

But this was not the end of the story.  For me, the juiciest part of the story came out that next morning.

Christina, maybe 30ish, was, among us who did not know her name, just Cleo’s mom.  Cleo was the sweetest pitbull you could ever want to meet – she totally blew away any stereotypes I had had about pitbulls.  And most of us knew that Christina was a hair stylist, at a cool salon a couple miles away on Western Avenue – we all drove by it regularly.  She did strike me, at least, as just maybe a little spacey – but cute, big-hearted and generally adorable.

That morning after the rescue, she had an amazing story to tell.  “When we were just watching Petey freeze to death out there, I finally just couldn’t deal with it anymore.  I really kind of freaked.  I took Cleo home, got out of my coat and sat in front of my meditation altar.  For a few minutes, I just cried and shook with cold and fear.  Then I started to meditate.  I actually called on all my angels and spirit guides, and all those attached to Petey and his mom, to get Petey to swim towards shore.  And then this real peace settled over me – I knew it had worked.  I went back out to the beach and it was all over but the shouting.  Petey had been saved – just as I knew for certain, all the way walking out there, that he had been.”

OK, call us a bunch of new-age junkies, aging hippies, stoned-out animal freaks – whatever.  But it did sound like Petey had – miraculously, unexpectedly, really quite out of the blue – started to swim like hell for shore, pretty much at the exact time that Christina was calling out the mystical National Guard.

For me, the story works just as well – is just as exciting – if I balk at the angels/spirit guide stuff and simply hypothesize that Christina, herself, sent the powerful psychic command that got Petey swimming.  But at that moment, listening to Christina’s story, I don’t think there was a one of us who doubted for a minute that it was Christina’s intervention that had gotten Petey to stop helplessly dying and to take action.

Christina sent her personal, spiritual cavalry out to get Petey – and they, by God, did it.

 

 

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