Tag Archives: Spirituality

The Dream by Don Miguel Ruiz

I have read two books by Don Miguel Ruiz.  The first was “Beyond Fear: A Toltec Guide to Freedom and Joy” and the second was “The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book.”  In both books he included the passage below.

In Beyond Fear, he presented it as an exercise for us to dream.  In The Four Agreements, he included it as a passage titled: “Prayer for Love.”  The version in Beyond Fear was slightly different, I think better written, so I’m posting that one.

The author uses the word “Christ” near the end of the passage.  But as I have said before, I believe you could substitute whatever entity or title you wished, your own belief in what constitutes the “Source,” and the message still rings true.  Enjoy.

***

In this dream I find myself in the most beautiful forest at mid-day.  I am completely comfortable surrounded by beauty.  I see the sunbeams lighting the trees and the flowers.  I see butterflies, and I hear the sound of a river.  I walk to that river where an old man sits beneath a big tree. With his white beard and his strong, kind eyes, the man emits a radiant aura of beautiful colors.  I sit in front of him and wait until he feels my presence and looks at me.

I ask, “How can you send out these beautiful colors and can you teach me how to do it?”

He smiles at me.  “Your request brings back memories for me because one day I saw my own teacher doing the same thing and I asked him the same question.  As an answer, he opened his chest and he reached in and pulled out his own heart.  From within it he took a radiant flame.  He opened my chest and put that flame inside my heart.  From that moment on, everything changed inside me because that flame was unconditional love.  I felt the flame of that love and it became a consuming fire.”

“I shared that love with, and gave unconditional love to, every cell in my body.  That day I became one with my own body.”

“I decided to love my mind.  I loved every emotion, every thought, every feeling and every dream.  That fire transformed my mind completely and my mind loved me back so much that the fire grew even more and I had the need to share my love even more.”

“I decided to put my love in every tree, in every flower, in every blade of grass and all the plants in the whole forest.  They reacted to my love and they loved me also and we became one.”

“But still my love grew more and more so I had an even greater need to share my love.  I decided to put a little piece of love in every rock, in the dirt, in every metal on the earth, and they loved me back.  We became one.”

“My love still grew.  I decided to put a little love in every animal that exists, in the birds, the cats and the dogs.  They loved me back and they protected me.  We became one.”

“My love still grew and I decided to love the water.  I loved the rain, the snow, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans, and I became one with the water.”

“When my love continued to grow, I decide to love the atmosphere, the breeze, the hurricane, the tornado, and we became one and they loved me back.”

“My love did not end there.  It grew even more and I turned my face to the sky where I saw the sun, the moon and the stars.  I decided to put a piece of my love in them and they loved me back and we became one.”

“Again, my love expanded and I decided to share it with every human, with the elders, with every man, woman and child, and we became one.”

“Now wherever I go, I am there waiting for myself.”

Then the old man opened his chest with his hands and took his heart out before my eyes.  He took a flame from his heart and he opened my chest and my heart, and he put that flame in my heart.  When I awoke and opened my eyes, I felt that flame become a fire.  Now I share my love with you.

At this moment, I open my chest and in front of your eyes I open my heart.  I take a small flame and I open your chest and your heart.  I put that flame in your heart.  That flame of my love is the flame of Christ.

And that is the dream.

***

Photo: This is a great shot of my woodstove with a particularly expressive fire.  I can see a swan in the flames to the left.  Others have seen the devil in the middle and a woman in the flames to the right.  What do you see?  The flame of unconditional love?

 

 

It’s Really About Outnumbering

Disclaimer: This piece is not intended as an attack on any religion.  What it tries to point out is how groups try to control and manipulate power.  I’m all for anyone who seeks spiritual awareness in any context.

***

There has been a lot of controversy swirling about the new administration’s policies on immigration. And while the words “terrorism” and “extremism” have been thrown about as justifications for issuing unconstitutional, blanket bans on specific target groups, I do not believe this is the real reason behind such actions. And guess what, there has been no dramatic influx of radical terrorists without the unconstitutional ban.

It’s really all about “outnumbering.” Backtracking to an earlier time in this country, we can look at the history of abortion laws. How is this related? Well, it’s like this. Over a hundred years ago abortion was legal in this country and you didn’t need a doctor to perform it. Salons sprouted up offering these services. Two opposition groups developed. One was doctors, they were upset that they were not getting a piece of the pie. The protestants, the second group, were upset because white, middle and upper class, protestant woman were now getting frequent abortions. The original outlawing of abortion had to do with doctors wanting money, under the guise of controlling anything they would deem to be medical, and the fear the protestants had about being outnumbered by the Catholics. The Catholics weren’t as worried, abortion was strongly against their religious tenants and the obedient posed no threat, they were out there being fruitful and multiplying, even where the children could not be fed.

You see, religious leaders longed for the days when religion dominated government. In Republics, like ours, this was eliminated, but the easy solution was to outnumber other religions – control the populous. That way, the majority of elected officials would share your belief system and the laws would be shaped to reflect and enforce that singular religious set of values and morals over any other set. Americans, and their elected officials have, for a few centuries now, been dominated by white, European Christians. This has now changed because of immigration. And in another 30 to 50 years, for the first time in this country, white, European Christians will be in the minority. Not surprisingly, we see an increase in white, nationalist Christians wanting to solidify their powerbase, and the only way to maintain control for the long-term is to limit immigration. And what better way to package and sell this idea than FEAR. After-all, those in power don’t want to admit they are really opposed to other religious beliefs.

I don’t think the real fear is rooted in Islamic Extremism. I think the fear is that Muslims are growing in number world-wide, and growing in populous in the US. And those in control don’t approve of Muslim values and teachings – they are still fighting the battle of proving their God is the best and superior God – instead of actually acquiring any spiritual awareness. Terrorism provides a convenient excuse for other agendas, like “othering” an entire group of people on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion to purposely discriminate and eliminate if possible. For example, terrorism has been an excuse used by the Russians to invade in the Ukraine and involve itself in Syria. And “fake news,” just like the label of “terrorism,” will now be used to discredit any source in opposition to any agenda being propagated by those in control. Almost all of the terrorism that has occurred in this country has been from home-grown terrorists – good white Christians. They all had their justifications.

People can choose not to act from the basis of fear and make intelligent and lawful choices, but will they? People are easily led by fear-mongering.  A couple of quotes come to mind:

“Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear–kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor-with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it …” — General Douglas MacArthur.

“Of course, the people don’t want war…that is understood. But voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” — Hermann Goering.

Next year, will there be too many Germans, Italians, or Chinese in this country? That’s why our forefathers designed the Constitution the way they did – to prevent all forms of discrimination and one of the primary means for preserving this country’s freedom has been to keep religion separated from politics.

Good luck playing the discrimination game, two generations from now this country will look a lot different than it does now. In another 500 years we may only have one race – what will the racists and bigots discriminate against then – oh yeah, there is still religion : – )

 ***

Photo:  This photo was found on the Internet in the public domain.  I’ve been unable to find any other attribution for its source.

Gray Days

In November, long before the Winter Solstice, we will experience the first of many “gray days.”  The trees now bare, having shed their leaves, draw charcoal lines across an infinite sky of nothingness.

Gray is considered to lie exactly between white and black and is actually called “achromatic,” which is a contradiction in terms – to have a colorless color?  It has also been described as refracting light without spectral color separation, or as having zero saturation and no hue.  And while we might struggle to find words to convey the absence of something, there are certainly plenty to describe the feelings that are aroused by these gray days.

As if they may be called “days,” residing, instead, somewhere between the light of day and darkness of night, a sort of twilight time.  An extended boundary between the birth and death of a day.

Simply stated, these gray days are depressing.  But that word is far too vague to instill a true sensory perception.  Drab, ashen, somber, leaden, stone cold, cineritious, favillous, worn, anemic, pasty, melancholic, sallow, blah, sullied, faded, dreary, muted, gloomy, caliginous, tenebrous, bleak, washed out, dismal, and uninspired.

These are the days that suck the spirit right out of you.  Drab, as in lacking brightness; somber, as in humorless; leaden, as in a weight too heavy to bear; ashen, as in the color of death.  And they come, one after the other, after the other . . . trampling the psyche.

Uninspired. Cold. Despairing.  Why would one bother exiting a warm, soft bed on such a day?  The coffee will taste burnt.  Cream putrid. The muffin, singed.  Butter rancid.  Life pales when Grandfather Sun fades, when he retreats to the southern hemisphere.

The winter months are described symbolically as representing death before the season of rebirth – spring.  But there is surely beauty lying within the bleak, even if buried or hibernating in the heart.

It can be unveiled in the snow. Crystalline water sparkling like diamonds.

It’s exhibited in the cedars.  Their healing ever-green luminescence.  Their balsamic, terpenic perfume.

It’s manifest with the birds.  Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Chickadees, and Finches, even in their winter cloaks, radiate brilliant color and warmth.  They hang in the branches like dazzling ornaments on a Christmas Tree.

It’s uncovered when a doe emerges from her winter bed with her fawns.  Shy and diminutive, alluring brown eyes, graceful as they glide over the snow-covered terrain.

Even the cold, biting wind on these days has balmy stories to tell.  If we listen.  It whispers the legends of wolves on the hunt, devouring their prey to feed the fire burning in their bones.   It speaks of the silent flight of the Owl through the forest.  Their yellow eyes of the night, penetrating the hidden aspects of the soul.  Their tufted ears, hearing with clairvoyance.  They see and hear all.  You cannot hide.

The gray is really a dreamscape.  A blank canvass upon which our minds may paint surrealistic animations.  Silhouettes of structures.  Wild beasts and sensuous lovers.  Warm glows emanating from woodstoves and candle light.  Reflections as old as time.

This artistry, this imagery, burns brightly in our consciousness.  A fire in our hearts that can never be extinguished.  We are the keepers of this eternal flame.

As Thoreau observed:

“There is a slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out, and which no cold can chill…. This subterranean fire has its altar in each [person’s] breast, for in the coldest day, and on the bleakest hill, the traveler cherishes a warmer fire within the folds of [their] cloak than is kindled on any hearth. A healthy [person], indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in [their] heart.”

Yes, why would someone roust themselves from their slumbers on such a bleak, gray day?  To write about it, of course . . .

***

Photo:  I caught this scene early one December morning.  The humidity and cold created “ice fog.”  This fog lifts, having painted the trees with a coating of ice.  The ice lasted about fifteen minutes before the air had become warm enough to melt it.  The world of images, ever transient.

** If you are wondering about the bracketed words in the quote, I replaced all of the male oriented pronouns with gender neutral ones.  The writers of old, while quite eloquent, often wrote as though women didn’t exist.  I don’t particularly care for that.

 

 

 

 

Paint Me a Masterpiece by Gordon MacKenzie

This is an excerpt (the last chapter) from the book called: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace” that was written by Gordon MacKenzie.  While MacKenzie uses the word “God,” I believe you could substitute whatever entity or title you wished, your own belief in what constitutes the “Source,” and the message still rings true.  Enjoy.

Paint Me a Masterpiece

In your mind, conjure an image of the Mona Lisa.  Visualize that masterpiece’s subtleties of hue and tone as clearly as you can.

Next, shift to the image of a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa.  Envision the flat, raw, colors meeting hard-edged, one against the other.

Now let me relate a fantasy about masterpieces, paint-by-numbers and you. It goes like this:

Before you were born, God came to you and said:

“Hi there!  I just dropped by to wish you luck. And to assure you that you and I will be meeting again.  Soon.  Before you know it.

You’re heading out on an adventure that will be filled with fascinating experiences.  You’ll start out as a tiny speck floating in an infinite dark ocean, quite saturated with nutrients.  So you won’t have to go looking for food or a job or anything like that. All you’ll have to do is float in the darkness.  And grow incredibly.

And change miraculously.

You’ll sprout arms and legs.  And hands and feet.  And fingers and toes.

As if from nothing, your head will take form.  Your nose.  Your mouth.  Your eyes and ears will emerge.

As you continue to grow bigger and bigger, You will become aware that this dark, oceanic environment of yours – which, when you were tiny, seemed so vast is now actually cramped and confining.  That will lead you to the unavoidable conclusion that you’re going to have to move to a bigger place.

After much groping about in the dark, you will find an exit.  The mouth of a tunnel.

“Too small,” you’ll decide.  “Couldn’t possibly squeeze through there.”

But there will be no other apparent way out.  So, with primal spunk, you will take on your first “impossible” challenge and enter the tunnel.

In doing so, you will be embarking on a brutal no-turning-back, physically exhausting, claustrophobic passage that will introduce you to pain and fear and hard physical labor.  It will seem to take forever.  But mysterious undulations of the tunnel itself will help squirm you through. A nd finally, after what will seem like interminable striving, you will break through to a blinding light.

Giant hands will pull you gently, but firmly, into an enormous room.  There will be several huge people, called adults, huddling around you, as if to greet you. If it is an old-fashioned place, one of these humongous people may hold you upside down by the legs and give you a swat on the backside to get you going.

All this will be what the big people on the other side call being born.  For you, it will be only the first of your new life’s many exploits.”

God continues:

“I was wondering.  While you’re over there on the other side, would you do me a favor?”

“Sure!” you chirp.

“Would you take this artist’s canvas with you and paint a masterpiece for me? I’d really appreciate that.”

Beaming, God hands you a pristine canvas.  You roll it up, tuck it under your arm and head off on your journey.

Your birth is just as God had predicted, and when you come out of the tunnel into the bright room, some doctor or nurse looks down at you in amazement and gasps:

“Look!  The little kid’s carrying a rolled-up artist’s canvas!”

Knowing that you do not yet have the skills to do anything meaningful with your canvas, the big people take it away from you and give it to society for safekeeping until you have acquired the prescribed skills requisite to the canvas’s return.  While society is holding this property of yours, it cannot resist the temptation to unroll the canvas and draw pale blue lines and little blue numbers all over its virgin surface.  Eventually, the canvas is returned to you, its rightful owner.  However, it now carries the implied message that if you will paint inside the blue lines and follow the instructions of the little blue numbers your life will be a masterpiece.

And that is a lie.

For more than fifty years I worked on my paint-by-numbers creation.  With uneven but persistent diligence, I dipped an emaciated paint-by-numbers brush into color No. 1 and painstakingly painted inside each little blue-bordered area marked 1.  Then on to 2 and 3 and 4 and so on.  Sometimes, during restive periods of my life, I would paint, say, the 12 spaces before the 10 spaces (a token rebellion against overdoses of linearity).  More than once, I painted beyond a line and, feeling embarrassed, would either try to wipe off the errant color or cover it over with another before anyone might notice my lack of perfection.  From time to time, although not often, someone would compliment me, unconvincingly, on the progress of my “masterpiece.”  I would gaze at the richness of others’ canvases.  Doubt about my own talent for painting gnawed at me.  Still, I continued to fill in the little numbered spaces, unaware of, or afraid to look at, any real alternative.

Then there came a time, after half a century of daubing more or less inside the lines, that my days were visited by traumatic events.  The dividends of my noxious past came home to roost, and the myth of my life began horrifically to come unglued.  I pulled back from my masterpiece-in-the-works and saw it with an emerging clarity.

It looked awful.

The stifled strokes of paint had nothing to do with me.  They did not illustrate who I am or speak of whom I could become. I felt duped, cheated, ashamed – anguished that I had wasted so much canvas, so much paint.  I was angry that I had been conned into doing so.

But that is the past.  Passed.

Today I wield a wider brush – pure ox-bristle.  And I’m swooping it through the sensuous goo of Cadmium Yellow, Alizarin Crimson or Ultramarine Blue (not Nos. 4, 13 or 8) to create the biggest, brightest, funniest, fiercest damn dragon that I can.  Because that has more to do with what’s inside of me than some prescribed plagirism of somebody else’s tour de force.

You have a masterpiece inside you, too, you know.  One unlike any that has ever been created, or ever will be.

And remember:

If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece,

it will not get painted.

No one else can paint it.

Only you.

***

Photo: This masterpiece was painted by Claude Monet and is called “The Japanese Footbridge.”  Oil on canvass – 1899.  I took this pic when the portrait was on display in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Balance

I’ve noticed on social media that the hosts are doing things to try to keep their participants engaged.  It makes sense, there is so much going on and we all can’t be tweeting, linkingin, facebooking, instagraming, blogging, emailing, texting, etc., all at the same time. There simply isn’t enough time in the day; at east not if you expect to take a deep breath once and a while, or keep your life in balance.

When I lapsed in making posts on Twitter they began sending me summaries of my followers’ tweets.  I guess to try to pull me back into interacting on their forum.  “Come back, come back,” they cried.  They probably have advertising dollars at interest – more viewers, more money for them.  Sorry, that’s the cynic in me.

On LinkedIn, I suddenly began receiving notifications called “Daily Rundown.”  Now these I actually like, because they give brief synopses of trending news stories in the business world.  You can skim them fast and be on your way.  And, two of these posts caught my attention in the past couple of days.

First, I learned that: “The world got a new billionaire every two days last year — a new record, according to a report from Oxfam International. Wealth is “increasingly concentrated” at the top, the charity says, with 82% of money generated last year going to the richest 1%. The world’s 2,043 billionaires saw wealth surge $762 billion in 2017, and billionaire wealth has grown an average 13% per year between 2006 and 2015.”

Second, in America: “We don’t have a shortage of jobs, but we might have a shortage of employers — and that could explain why wages aren’t rising. Hourly pay, adjusted for inflation, has grown by a meager 0.2% a year since the early 1970s. A group of economists argue in a working paper that limited competition between employers — due to mergers and other forms of industry consolidation — may be a prime culprit, reports Slate. The economists found that, between 2010 and 2013, local job markets were dominated by a disconcertingly small number of employers. It’s called a monopsony: A situation where a company is pretty much the only game in town, giving them major sway over suppliers, business partners, and employees.”

So it seems that 1% of the people world-wide control 82% of the world’s entire wealth, and their wealth grows at the current rate of 13% every year.  And I’m not sure what wages look like in other countries, but in America, wages have only been growing at the rate of 0.2% a year for the past almost 50 years – that’s 10% growth over 50 years.  Wow!  What a disparity.  Things certainly seem out of balance, especially from a socioeconomic humanitarian point of view.

It seems, at least in some circles, there is more concern for consolidating individual wealth and power than there is for helping our fellow humans or contributing to the growth of community.

I remember back to my senior year of nursing school.  I was in a professional development course and the topic was centered on socioeconomics and health.  I don’t remember how the conversation started but I remember adding that I would be willing to lower my standard of living to help improve the standard of living of others.  The instructor asked the class if anyone else agreed with me.  Not a single student raised their hand.  And perhaps there is an illustration of the problem.  I don’t blame the individuals, it is the way people are socialized and the values they are taught.

We can all do things, even small things, to help achieve balance.  Balance in ourselves, balance between work and home, balance between taking and giving.  While certainly not in all sectors, the scales seem to have tipped away from humanitarianism.

Thoughts?

***

Photo:  From a Japanese Garden in Idaho.

Update: Some new numbers to mull over, but I wouldn’t let the numbers get you down.  I put a premium on happiness and peace of mind.  They aren’t measuring these when they take these surveys.

From LinkedIn this morning (Jan. 27th, 2018) – a success survey to show what Americans think defines “Making It.” “For the average American, the picture of success is about $150,000 in annual income, marriage, a couple kids, a 10-minute commute, and a generous amount of vacation time, reports MarketWatch, citing survey data from ThermaSoft.”

Last time I checked the average income for a family of four was around $50K, but that number included benefits. And over half of Americans had only $1000 or less in savings. It looks like the materialistic brainwashing is way out of step with reality, or basically, very few people are “Making It.”

From the article: “This is what success looks like to the average American” in MarketWatch.

Making It Graph

Another Update – March 11, 2018: We now have a dollar amount of what equates to “happiness.” It apparently takes earnings of $60 to $75k a year to be “happy.” But you have to earn $95K to achieve “fulfillment.”  See the full article: “How Much Money Do You Need To Be Happy? More Than Most People Are Making.” Again, I don’t believe happiness is measured in terms of material wealth, but we do live in a society that does.

Another Update – March 15, 2018: I try to keep updating this post with relevant material and another piece of the puzzle came along today.  This one is about health care and what happens to our income if we need to be hospitalized.  I’m quoting from the article “Getting Sick Can Really be Expensive, Even for the Insured.”  “On average, people in their 50s who are admitted to the hospital will experience a 20 percent drop in income that persists for years. Over all, income losses dwarfed the direct costs of medical care.”  Also:  “A 2015 survey conducted by The Upshot and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, among people struggling to pay medical bills, 29 percent said their illness or injury had led to a drop in household income.” It seems, the US is behind other advanced countries that offer some form wage insurance.  Since the leading causes of bankruptcy in this country are divorce and a single serious illness, medical treatment represents a huge factor in individual wealth and security.  A healthy lifestyle and insurance goes along way to help maintain economic “balance.”  These are strong arguments for a universal health care program.

Update – March 26, 2018: The average Wall Street bonus in 2017 was $184,220, according to the Washington Post.  This represents a 17% increase from the previous year.  It is also the closest the industry has come to its pre-2008-crisis high of $191,360 in 2006, according to data from the New York State comptroller. The financial industry’s revenue increased 4.5% last year to $153 billion. Wall Street accounts for less than 5 percent of local jobs but 20 percent of private sector wages in the city.

Update – May 17, 2018: I think this study sums up something I’ve been saying for a very long time.  The stock market is not an actual measure of the wealth of the average American.  Historic stock market highs only mean a few selective people are getting wealthy.  The study found that 34.7 million working U.S. households live above the official poverty line, but below the cost of paying ordinary expenses.  That is double the 16.1 million that are in actual poverty.  “These are households with adults who are working but earning too little — 66% of Americans earn less than $20 an hour, or about $40,000 a year if they are working full time.”

You can find the summary of the results of the study here: 40% in U.S. can’t afford middle-class basics, and the full report here: Do You Know Alice?  As with all web links, they are subject to “link rot” and the article may not be there forever.  “Alice,” by the way, stands for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.”

Update – May 23, 2018: Well the economic data just keeps coming.  This time it is from the Federal Reserve’s Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017.  I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, but it looks as though few Americans are going to be able to afford retirement.

Economic Well-Being

A large majority of individuals report that financially they are doing okay or living comfortably, and overall economic well-being has improved over the past five years. Even so, notable differences remain across various subpopulations, including those of race, ethnicity, and educational attainment.

• When asked about their finances, 74 percent of adults said they were either doing okay or living comfortably in 2017—over 10 percentage points more than in the first survey in 2013.

• Individuals of all education levels have shared in the improvement over the past five years, though the more educated still report greater well-being than those less educated.

• Over three-fourths of whites were at least doing okay financially in 2017 versus less than two-thirds of blacks and Hispanics.

• Three in five urban residents describe the economy in their local community as good or excellent versus two in five rural residents who offer this positive of an assessment of local conditions.

The latest SHED interviewed a sample of over 12,000 individuals—roughly twice the number in prior years—with an online survey in November and December 2017. The anonymized data, as well as a supplement containing the complete SHED questionnaire and responses to responses to all questions in the order asked, are also available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/ consumerscommunities/shed.htm.

In an effort to understand how the opioid crisis may relate to economic well-being, the survey asked questions related to opioids for the first time. About one-fifth of adults (and one-quarter of white adults) personally know someone who has been addicted to opioids. Exposure to opioid addiction was much more common among whites—at all education levels—than minorities. Those who have been exposed to addiction have somewhat less favorable assessments of economic conditions than those who have not been exposed.

Income

Changes in family income from month to month remain a source of financial strain for some individuals. Financial support from family or friends is also common, particularly among young adults.

• Three in 10 adults have family income that varies from month to month, and 1 in 10 adults experienced hardship because of monthly changes in income.

• Nearly 25 percent of young adults under age 30, and 10 percent of all adults, receive some form of financial support from someone living outside their home.

Employment

Most workers are satisfied with the wages and benefits from their current job and are optimistic about their future job opportunities. Even so, challenges, such as irregular job scheduling, remain for some. Three in 10 adults work in the “gig economy,” though generally as a supplemental source of income.

• Less than one-fifth of non-retired adults are pessimistic about their future employment opportunities, although pessimism is greater among those looking for work or working part time for economic reasons.

• One-sixth of workers have irregular work schedules imposed by their employer, and one-tenth of workers receive their work schedule less than a week in advance.

• For many, stability of income is valued highly. Three-fifths of workers would prefer a hypothetical job with stable pay over one with varying but somewhat higher pay. Those who work an irregular schedule in their actual job are somewhat more likely to prefer varying pay in the hypothetical choice than those who work a set schedule.

• Three in 10 adults participated in the gig economy in 2017. This is up slightly from 2016 due to an increase in gig activities that are not computer or internet-based, such as child care or house cleaning.

Dealing with Unexpected Expenses

While self-reported financial preparedness has improved substantially over the past five years, a sizeable share of adults nonetheless say that they would struggle with a modest unexpected expense.

• Four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. This is an improvement from half of adults in 2013 being ill-prepared for such an expense.

• Over one-fifth of adults are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full.

• Over one-fourth of adults skipped necessary medical care in 2017 due to being unable to afford the cost.

Banking and Credit

Access to bank accounts expanded further in 2017. However, substantial gaps in banking and credit services exist among minorities and those with low incomes.

• Nearly 95 percent of all adults have a bank or credit union account. However, this varies by race and ethnicity. One in 10 blacks and Hispanics lack a bank account, and an additional 3 in 10 have an account but also utilize alternative financial services, such as money orders and check cashing services.

• One-fourth of blacks are not confident that a new credit card application for them would be approved—twice the rate among whites.

Housing and Neighborhoods

Satisfaction with one’s housing and neighborhood is generally high, although notably less so in lower income communities. Renters face varying degrees of housing strain, including some who report difficulty getting repairs done or being forced to move due to a threat of eviction.

• While 8 in 10 adults living in middle- and upper income neighborhoods are satisfied with the overall quality of their community, only 6 in 10 living in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods are satisfied.

• Nearly half of adults age 22 and older currently live within 10 miles of where they lived in high school, but those who have moved farther from home are more likely to be satisfied with the overall quality of their neighborhood.

• Three percent of renters were evicted or moved because of the threat of eviction in the past two years.

Higher Education

Economic well-being rises with education, and most of those holding a postsecondary degree think that attending college paid off. The net benefits of education are less evident among those who started college but did not complete their degree; the same is true among those who attended for-profit institutions.

• Two-thirds of graduates from bachelor’s degree programs feel that their educational investment paid off, but less than one-third of those who started but did not complete a degree share this view.

• Just over half of those who attended a for-profit institution say that they would attend a different school if they had a chance to go back and make their college choices again. By comparison, less than one-quarter of those who attended not-for-profit institutions would want to attend a different school.

Student Loans

Over half of college attendees under age 30 took on some debt to pay for their education. Most borrowers are current on their payments or have successfully paid off their loans, although those who failed to complete a degree and those who attended for-profit institutions are more likely to have fallen behind on their payments.

• Among those making payments on their student loans, the typical monthly payment is between $200 and $300 per month.

• Nearly one-fourth of borrowers who went to for-profit schools are behind on their loan payments, versus less than one-tenth of borrowers who went to public or private not-for-profit institutions.

Retirement

Many adults feel behind in their savings for retirement. Even among those who have some savings, people commonly lack financial knowledge and are uncomfortable making investment decisions.

• Less than two-fifths of non-retired adults think that their retirement savings are on track, and one-fourth have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

• Three-fifths of non-retirees with self-directed retirement savings accounts, such as a 401(k) or IRA, have little or no comfort in managing their investments.

• On average, people answer fewer than three out of five basic financial literacy questions correctly, with lower scores among those who are less comfortable managing their retirement savings.

Update – May 28, 2018: A new survey by the Pew research center that examined issues facing rural and urban households found many similarities.  A couple of the interesting responses are that some 60% of the respondents say they cannot afford the life they want, and that workers across all areas in the US have seen their wages drop by 1 to 3%.  You could compare that with the wage stagnation cited above when I made the original post.  The Pew report is here:

Five charts prove urban and rural Americans have the same problems

Update – June 24, 2018:  Home prices and mortgage rates have outpaced wages so fast that now 75% of US wage earners cannot afford the median price of a home, which has risen to a record $264,800.

U.S. Homes Prices Least Affordable in Almost a Decade

Update – August 12, 2018: The 2018 World Inequity Report

So here are some of the take-aways from this report with respect to the U.S.

2.4 Income inequality in the United States

Information in this chapter is based on the article “Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States,” by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, forthcoming in the Quarterly Journal of Economics (2018).

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of all rich countries. The share of national income earned by the top 1% of adults in 2014 (20.2%) is much larger than the share earned by the bottom 50% of the adult population (12.5%).

Average pre-tax real national income per adult has increased 60% since 1980, but it has stagnated for the bottom 50% at around $16 500. While post-tax cash incomes of the bottom 50% have also stagnated, a large part of the modest post-tax income growth of this group has been eaten up by increased health spending.

Income has boomed at the top. While the upsurge of top incomes was first a labor-income phenomenon in 1980s and 1990s, it has mostly been a capital-income phenomenon since 2000.

The combination of an increasingly less progressive tax regime and a transfer system that favors the middle class implies that, even after taxes and all transfers, bottom 50% income growth has lagged behind average income growth since 1980.

Increased female participation in the labor market has been a counterforce to rising inequality, but the glass ceiling remains firmly in place. Men make up 85% of the top 1% of the labor income distribution.

Income inequality in the United States is among the highest of rich countries
In 2014, the distribution of US national income exhibited extremely high inequalities. The average income of an adult in the United States before accounting for taxes and transfers was $66 100, but this figure masks huge differences in the distribution of incomes. The approximately 117 million adults that make up the bottom 50% in the United States earned $16 600 on average per year, representing just one-fourth of the average US income. As illustrated by table 2.4.1, their collective incomes amounted to a 13% share of pre-tax national income. The average pre-tax income of the middle 40%—the group of adults with incomes above the median and below the richest 10%, which can be loosely described as the “middle class”—was roughly similar to the national average, at $66 900, so that their income share (41%) broadly reflected their relative size in the population. The remaining income share for the top 10% was therefore 47%, with average pre-tax earnings of $311 000. This average annual income of the top 10% is almost five times the national average, and nineteen times larger than the average for the bottom 50%. Furthermore, the 1:19 ratio between the incomes of the bottom 50% and the top 10% indicates that pre-tax income inequality between the “lower class” and the “upper class” is more than twice the (1:8 ratio) difference between the average national incomes in the United States and China, using market exchange rates.

Income is very concentrated, even among the top 10%. For example, the share of national income going to the top 1%, a group of approximately 2.3 million adults who earn $1.3 million on average per annum, is over 20%—that is, 1.6 times larger than the share of the entire bottom 50%, a group fifty times more populous. The incomes of those in the top 0.1%, top 0.01%, and top 0.001% average $6 million, $29 million, and $125 million per year, respectively, before personal taxes and transfers.

As shown by Table 2.4.1, the distribution of national income in the United States in 2014 was generally made slightly more equitable by the country’s taxes and transfer system. Taxes and transfers reduce the share of national income for the top 10% from 47% to 39%, which is split between a one percentage point rise in the post-tax income share of the middle 40% (from 40.5% to 41.6%) and a seven percentage point increase in the post-tax income share of the bottom 50% (from 12.5% to 19.4%). The trend is also of relatively large proportionate losses in income shares as one looks further up the income distribution, indicating that government taxes are slightly progressive for the United States’ richest adults.

Update – August 19, 2018: This one is on CEO compensation, and it comes to us from Pacific Standard and their article titled: “CEOs Got a Big Raise in 2017.”  We can sum this one up with a few quotes from the article.

“In 2017, the ‘average CEO of the 350 largest firms in the United States received $18.9 million in compensation, a 17.6 percent increase over 2016,’ the report states. (By another measure, which includes stock options granted, average CEO compensation rose from $13.0 million in 2016, to $13.3 million in 2017.)”

“Between 1978 and 2017, CEO compensation (including stock options realized) increased by 1,070 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute report. During this same time period, compensation for the typical American worker increased by 11.2 percent.”

“Today, as a result of this surge, the average CEO’s compensation (including stock options realized) is 312 times that of the typical worker, a ratio that’s dramatically higher than the 1980s (although still not quite as high as in 2000).”

“The Trump administration maintains that wage growth for average Americans will come, although even fans of the tax reform legislation suggest it may not be ‘immediate.’ In a report released yesterday, the Tax Foundation, a center-right think tank whose modeling of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s effects has typically been more optimistic than most other models, projected that long-term wages will increase by 1.5 percent. Nicole Kaeding, the Tax Foundation’s director of federal projects, told the Washington Post that they ‘definitely think it’s going to take a few years for this to obviously manifest.'”

So there you have it.  The CEOs win the lottery every year while the average wage earner’s income can’t even match inflation.

Update – December 18, 2018: Even rent is becoming unaffordable and contributing to the growing housing crisis. “Since 2001, gross rent has increased 3 percent a year, on average, while income has declined by an average of 0.1 percent annually, falling from $56,531 in 2001 to $56,516 in 2015.  This widening gap between rent and income means that after paying rent, many Americans have less money available for other needs than they did 20 years ago.” See the PEW research article American Families Face a Growing Rent Burden for more.

Update – January 27, 2019: I came across two articles of interest today.  One discusses how the super-rich are becoming younger, not by working and earning wealth but through inheritance.  The big take-away from this study is not about the wealthy, the big news is that typical Americans saw their net worth plunge 41% between 2007 and 2016.  From the article:

Even as more young people entered the top 0.1 percent, most of their Millennial and Generation X compatriots were struggling. Americans 75 and older are the only age group whose median net worth rose from 2007 to 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer of Finances released in July 2018. Typical Americans age 35 to 54 saw their wealth—heavily concentrated in housing—plunge by more than 41 percent in that time frame.

Source is Bloomberg News:  Super Rich Americans Are Getting Younger and Multiplying

The next article addresses the issue of how older Americans can no longer afford to retire.  The factors contributing were: (1) the financial crisis in 2008 that wiped out many nest eggs; (2) the inability to save for retirement, i.e., low wages and wage stagnation; (3) children no longer earn enough to help support their parents; (4) the shrinking birth rate resulting in less paying into Social Security and Medicare; and (5) the decrease in immigration due to current White House policy.  The lack of low-wage earning immigrants means child care costs are higher, which discourages population growth.  And less immigration also means there are less immigrants that pay into our safety net systems because they pay more in to it than they receive in benefits.

Source is Bloomberg News: Too Many Americans Will Never Be Able to Retire

Update – December 19, 2019:  “Almost half of all American workers are stuck in low-wage jobs that often don’t pay enough to support their lives, lack benefits and sit squarely inside the automation bullseye.” *

Source: An Unsettling Future for Millions of American Jobs

Update – January 7, 2020:

“In the United States, a legion of administrative healthcare workers and health insurance employees who play no direct role in providing patient care costs every American man, woman and child an average of $2,497 per year.

Across the border in Canada, where a single-payer system has been in place since 1962, the cost of administering healthcare is just $551 per person — less than a quarter as much.

That spending mismatch, tallied in a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine, could challenge some assumptions about the relative efficiency of public and private healthcare programs.”

Sources: US Health System Costs Four Times More to Run Than Canada’s Single-Payer System

and

Health Care Administrative Costs in the United States and Canada, 2017/

Update – January 8, 2020:  The only way fro workers to get a meaningful raise is to quit their jobs and take new ones.
“Companies are willing to pay about 15% more for new employees, but they’re only willing to give their current employees about a 2% or 3% annual raise,” he explains, citing Gartner’s research. “So to get ahead financially, what a lot of employees have realized is that in today’s tight labor market, the best thing to do is to go to another company to get more money rather than trying to get more money by staying at your current company.”

Update – January 22, 2020: “Nearly 10 million American kids live in low-opportunity neighborhoods, with limited access to good schools, parks and healthy food.”

Source: America’s Hardest Places to Grow Up

Update – February 10, 2020:

“Over the last 40 years, wage growth for typical American workers has been extraordinarily weak,” researchers from the Brookings Institution noted in a recent paper.

Their data shows many Americans have not seen a significant raise in that time, with hourly wages at the middle of the income distribution having grown only 12% between 1979 and 2018 when adjusted for inflation.

Economic growth has slowed since 2018 and is expected to continue to do so, with the Congressional Budget Office predicting an average of 1.7% annual growth over the next 10 years.

When GDP growth slows, wages generally slow as well.

Source: Historically Weak Wage Growth May be the Best We Get

Update – February 11, 2020: “American households added $193 billion of debt in the fourth quarter, driven by a surge in mortgage loans, and overall debt levels rose to a new record at $14.15 trillion.

Mortgage balances rose by $120 billion in the fourth quarter to $9.56 trillion, the New York Fed said in its quarterly report on household debt. Mortgage originations – pushed up by an increase in refinancing – also rose to $752 billion in the fourth quarter, reaching the highest volume since the fourth quarter of 2005, the report found.

Student loan balances grew by $10 billion in the fourth quarter, a slower pace when compared to five years ago. However, the total $1.51 trillion outstanding in student loan debt could be holding back young consumers trying to build up credit, the researchers found.

Credit card debt, which typically rises in the fourth quarter when consumers are doing their holiday shopping, rose by $46 billion last quarter, an amount economists said was larger than usual.”

Source: US Household Debt Tops $14 Trillion and Reaches New Record

Update – February 12, 2020:  This marks the first time the Fed has intervened in repo markets since the Great Recession, and the central bank currently has $229 billion in outstanding repos on its balance sheet.

Since September, the Federal Reserve has pumped $500 billion into the overnight money market, directly financing repurchasing agreements meant to help banks meet reserve requirements at the end of each business day.

The overnight money market is “a short-term lending market where banks borrow cash from each other,” which becomes necessary due to regulations with strict cash reserve requirements and banks’ tendency to push the limits on leveraging their assets.

In September, the interest rate for such short-term loans soared to 10 percent, as banks became less willing to lend out their own capital to hit the Fed’s target interest rate of two percent.

So the Fed stepped in — and has yet to step back out.

Source: Banking Crisis:  The Fed Has Spent $500 Billion Bailing Out the Overnight Lending Market

Update – February 19, 2020: In a recent analysis, we found that 53 million workers ages 18 to 64—or 44% of all workers—earn barely enough to live on. Their median earnings are $10.22 per hour, and about $18,000 per year. 

  • Two-thirds (64%) of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25 to 54.
  • More than half (57%) work full-time year-round, the customary schedule for employment intended to provide financial security.
  • About half (51%) are primary earners or contribute substantially to family living expenses.
  • Thirty-seven percent have children. Of this group, 23% live below the federal poverty line.
  • Less than half (45%) of low-wage workers ages 18 to 24 are in school or already have a college degree.

These statistics tell an important story: Millions of hardworking American adults struggle to eke out a living and support their families on very low wages.

Source: Low Unemployment Isn’t Worth Much if the Jobs Barely Pay

Measured by poverty status: 30% of low-wage workers (16 million people) live in families earning below 150% of the poverty line. These workers get by on very low incomes: about $30,000 for a family of three and $36,000 for a family of four.

Measured by the presence or absence of other earners: 26% of low-wage workers (14 million people) are the only earners in their families, getting by on median annual earnings of about $20,000. Another 25% (13 million people) live in families in which all workers earn low wages, with median family earnings of about $42,000. These 27 million low-wage workers rely on their earnings to provide for themselves and their families, as they are either the family’s primary earner or a substantial contributor to total earnings. Their earnings are unlikely to represent “nice to have” supplemental income.

Source: Low Wage Work is More Pervasive than You Think and there Aren’t Enough “Good Jobs” to Go Around

Update – March 2, 2020: The majority of US workers can no longer afford to pay for the four major annual living costs (housing, healthcare, transportation, and education) on their annual salaries.

“The median male US worker now has to earn more than a year’s salary to afford the annual expenses for a family of four, according to “The Cost of Thriving Index” published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, and previously reported by The Washington Post.

In 1985, the typical male worker needed 30 weeks’ pay to cover the $13,227 required for a family of four’s major living costs: housing, healthcare, transportation, and education. As of 2018, those expenditures had risen to $54,441, and the typical male worker has to work 53 weeks to get there (shown in the chart below). “This is a problem, as there are only 52 weeks in a year,” Oren Cass, the report’s lead author, wrote.”

Source (Business Insider): The Typical US Worker Can No Longer Afford a Family on a Year’s Salary, Showing the Dire State of America’s Middle Class

78% of Workers Live Paycheck to Paycheck.  While this is old news from January 2019, it popped up today in another article.  It certainly makes one wonder what this statistic would be today.

According to the 2017 survey, CareerBuilder, a leading job site, found some startling statistics related to debt, budgeting and making ends meet.

For example, here are some findings from the survey:

  • Nearly one in 10 workers making $100,000+ live paycheck to paycheck
  • More than 1 in 4 workers do not set aside any savings each month
  • Nearly 3 in 4 workers say they are in debt – and more than half think they always will be
  • More than half of minimum wage workers say they have to work more than one job to make ends meet
  • 28% of workers making $50,000-$99,999 usually or always live paycheck to paycheck, and 70% are in debt
  • The survey also found that 32% of the nearly 3,500 full-time workers surveyed use a budget and only 56% save $100 or less a month.

Source (Forbes): 78% of Workers Live Paycheck to Paycheck

 

***

Note: All web links are subject to link rot and I cannot guarantee the links will take you to those sites forever.

The Mythical Arrowhead

This piece was published under the title of “Found Your Arrowhead? Seek This Counsel In The Natural World,” in The Urban Howl on November 8, 2017.   I highly recommend you check out this wonderful online publication at http://theurbanhowl.com/.  I have since completed a more expansive version of this article.  If you would like to read it, let me know in a comment.

“Found Your Arrowhead? Seek This Counsel In The Natural World”

by Harold Stearley

Knowing, or believing, something exists doesn’t mean that you will find It, or that you should search for It.

As with many people I know, the past couple of years have been a time of great change, of searching, a call to become whole again. We have searched and found before, but we’ve lost pieces of our soul going through the grinder of daily existence in a world that values the material over the spiritual, that places labels over substance, illusion over reality.

My current search began with the “dissolving” of a marriage and the loss of a career by forces seemingly outside the realm of personal control. Or did I somehow manifest this destruction to force myself to rediscover my true nature? The answer to that question is now irrelevant to the path I walk.

The marriage hit a melting point when my wife evolved into an end-stage alcoholic and nothing could persuade her to seek treatment.

The career flame was extinguished as the result of internal office politics – I would not succumb to playing their corrupt games – outsiders and misfits are usually left outside, perhaps with a note begging for adoption.

So now what, where do I go from here?

Where do all of us go from a starting point of what we perceive is darkness and despair – a contraction of space and time? Do you start believing the crowd of voices in your head entrenched there from years of social “domestication,” the “mitote” as the Toltecs call it, telling you that you are not good enough, not beautiful enough, not smart enough, don’t make enough – the ever-gnawing feelings of inadequacy – the ever-present need to acquire more? More what?

Will all of the “shoulds” injected into your mind from the moment of your first breath predominate every step you take – fill every “rational” conscious thought? Will the search for a definition and identity of your ego be satiated by finding a new label?

Will another hollow paycheck somehow provide “meaning” to the fabricated definition of who you are? Will the ever-turning wheels in your mind condemn you to the prison of living in the past and in future projections, instead of experiencing the here and now?

Perhaps it’s time to awaken to the fact that the true journey is inward. Answers, awareness, enlightenment, and true happiness do not come from external sources.

My search began externally with looking for a new job, a new living location, perhaps a new partner. After a year of re-learning to live alone, of constant rejection of job applications, and upon finding defects with every possible living location I explored, I woke from my slumbers. I awakened to realize that I was enjoying, in the present moment, the things that had come to fill my time.

The daily ventures into nature, the meditation of motion and stillness, the re-connection with “reality.” The “real world” that surrounds us is filled with infinite riches and beauty, which most overlook. Like the caterpillar, I was transforming. I was repossessing what I had lost.

Upon achieving some balance, real magick begins to happen. New connections materialize. Some of these connections are there to show you that you’re on the right path, others to show you what to avoid. Your intuition is developed. Just like the mole who has sacrificed vision in return for all its other senses becoming heightened, you sacrifice illusion, a life style, possessions, sometimes even rationality, in exchange to feel and experience truth, to know in your heart what nourishes your soul.

False messages still come and can gain intensity; beckoning you to return to the land of illusion.

The bait to step back into that world of darkness and confusion can take many forms. In my case, I am presented with a job opportunity, which has now acquired a sense of oddness since the beginning of this walk when I spent hours seeking some job that was seemingly always beyond grasp. And, as I mechanically prepare for an interview, I ask, why now?

To contemplate this change in direction, a possible new path that could really be a return to an old one that no longer serves, I seek out counsel with the natural world.

It has never misled me or given me false promises. I hike. I find myself standing in a creek bed, surrounded by the sound and essence of moving water and by hundreds of thousands of pieces of limestone and chert. Chert is a very hard silicate-based, sedimentary stone that when struck forcefully enough and at the right angle produces conchoidal fractures with extremely sharp edges.

Most people know the variety of chert called flint that can give rise to fire – a powerful nature indeed – that of transformation, illumination, or destruction. Because of its fracturing qualities, chert was also the perfect stone for the Natives to craft arrow and spearheads and other cutting tools – sharp as a razor and stronger than steel.

I know as I stand here, contemplating and seeking guidance, that there is an Arrowhead among these stones.

Missouri Creek - Rocks

It is a given that rivers, streams and creeks are the best places to find them, where the earth has been eroded by the waters – the feminine universal womb, the source of all potentialities. Many treasures are revealed by the waters’ power to purify. And a natural curiosity, plus a desire to acquire such a power object, sparks the urge to hunt for it, to search it out, to discover its mystery. Being more intuitive now, however, I ask, what is the real message I’m receiving? And why did this imagery suddenly pop into my mind from nowhere? Time to consult the symbolism and ancient wisdom of the Earth.

The Arrowhead is said to represent the hunter and adventurer in each of us, as well as alertness, for it takes a good eye and strong arm to use a bow and arrow. It is also believed to indicate protection and courage and to signify direction, force, movement, and power.

Arrows pointed in opposite directions meant war, while a broken arrow meant peace, and crossed arrows meant friendship. Arrows are piecing, representing the masculine. The flight of arrows can symbolize the accent to the celestial. And an arrow, once let loose from the bow, results in consequences that cannot be undone, whether the arrow hits or misses its intended target.

As I stood there in that creek bed reflecting, I couldn’t help but notice the obvious. I was not moving in any direction. I was static. To stare and search for this Mythical Arrowhead amongst a million other stones, is not advancement down any path. The Arrowhead is not mythical in the sense of being a falsehood, it does exist. And, it is not some traditional story involving supernatural beings that somehow speaks to the psychology, or customs, or ideals of a society either. Rather, it serves as an allegory – not a cold definition but full of warmth in its meaning.

I could spend many hours being static in a search that produces no results, that hits no target, that creates little more than frustration. This speaks a little to the past years’ events. Or one might find the Arrowhead, secure it to the shaft and let it fly, it’s effects being unchangeable.

It may miss the intended mark and not fall on the path of enlightenment and happiness. But even if it hits the target aimed for, if that target is based on illusion and false “shoulds” that bring no spiritual advancement, then you’ve hit no target at all. You have to have both, a proper path or target, and you must lodge that arrow squarely in that target with a clean shot. So, if you’ve found the target, then, perhaps, it is truly worth the search to find the arrow to strike it.

But, the real message I believe I’m receiving is not to seek out something mythical with a false believe of attaining Bodhi in a place external to your soul. And once one realizes that, and takes the inward journey instead, then perhaps there is no reason to seek out the Arrowhead and all its power at all, perhaps we’ve already found it.

***

Arrowhead

Writing’s a Bitch, So is Soul Searching

By Harold Stearley

This article appeared in The Urban Howl on January 10, 2018

http://theurbanhowl.com/

Warning: This might get heavy. If you don’t like reading more than 140 characters stop now. If you don’t like introspection and self-examination, turn around. If you don’t like thinking about the writing life, expansion of consciousness, freedom or soul searching, well you know…

We all know it, writing is a bitch.

Some days, while standing in the line at the grocery store, the words just flow, like we are channeling from the Universe, and we’re scrambling for a piece of paper before they’re gone. We know that they can never be recalled in the exact fashion we first held them.

Other days, we sit staring at the screen and nothing comes, the mind is numb. And some days, you just need to jump in the car and drive 1400 miles to that cabin in the middle of nowhere to kill off all of the distractions, to force yourself inward, to open the gate, to find the words, your true voice and, similarly, to find your soul.

I just completed the drive.

I do a lot of driving in the early morning hours. Up at 1:00, out the door by 2:00. You can cover a lot of distance before the rest of the world is stirring. But there’s an eerie quality to driving at that time of day, depending on where you’re at. Good highways, good lighting, good signage, city lights, and especially the moon can all be warming — they add definition to that dark and empty landscape.

But then the navigator wants to save you some time and you’re off on that two-lane, undivided highway, with no shoulders, no lights, few reflectors, and sometimes no center lines, and you wonder what the hell are you going to run up on as you fly down that gray ribbon at 70 miles per hour, give or take.

So, I latched onto a truck, a single, box-like entity sharing this 100-mile radius. I know that guy will light the road ahead of me, and he’s going in my direction. I can tell he is following his navigator too — headed straight for the left-hand turn we are both supposed to take down that next stretch of lonely highway.

He comes to a stop, no turn is there; a concrete barrier instead. We both sit in silence, then slowly head down the road a mile, execute a U-turn and come back to where the mysterious road is supposed to be, but this time from the other direction. A right turn appears and we are headed south.

I guess navigators don’t see all of the barriers — neither do we, especially the ones we create for ourselves.

As we speed away, I suddenly see a blast of dust kick up on the roadway. The trucker’s trailer, blowing sideways in the high winds, dipped off the edge of the road into the dirt. The trailer heaves up to the right as the dirt grabs hold of the tires, left-sided tires leave the pavement, skyward bound. I thought it might flip, but it doesn’t roll. He somehow pulls it back on the road. I’m glad for him.

Time to back off a bit, back into the darkness. Sometimes we spend time there figuratively as well, avoiding our own light.

Our minds are jealous beasts. They want to control the environment, to tell you what it is you are seeing and experiencing, but there is little you can see in this time and place. The mind wants to fill the darkness, fill that void with something familiar — give it shape, give it form. And so it does.

Outlines of mountains that aren’t really there. Cloud formations. The moon, three-quarters full, slowly becomes round and full — the circle complete, but then it sets. You realize these things aren’t there and you still can’t really tell where you are going. Nothing but headlights punching a momentary hole in the darkness and tail lights glowing red behind.

Nothing in front of you and nothing behind you beyond where those lights can reach, where their rays dissipate, swallowed by the night. You hold on for dawn and pray for it. And when it finally comes, when those first slivers of light pierce the darkness, you’ve traveled some 300 miles and you awake in a different landscape. No longer the flat Texas panhandle.

Instead, there are mountains and cacti and desert chaparral. A freight train appears to the east momentarily dissecting the plain and the road, from the mountains. You instinctively count cars, register if they’re carrying grain or coal. It’s hard to shut that brain off.

But the new world floods your senses and it is pleasingly disorienting. It stops the mind, the internal dialog. All you can do is experience, take it all in. Time and space have expanded from the simple act of driving out of your boundaries. You see, people’s worlds seem to be in a constant state of contraction.

When we were children we experienced those endless days of summer because we lived freely in the here and now. Our imaginations raced, we played, we observed, we wondered, we were always wowed. Nothing was taken for granted. We weren’t reined in by fabricated definitions or borders. The sky could be red if we wanted it to be. We played in foreign lands. The thickets and woods were a jungle. A cat, a mountain lion. We weren’t bound by math or history or science, only the limits of our senses and what we could dream up. Our worlds expanded. Time stood still.

The essence changed slightly in our teens. Still free of societal responsibilities, we became invincible. Play took different forms, sometimes more dangerous, stretching the limits, but there was always laughter. We swung the world by its tail. We owned the here and now.

But as we age, the boundaries and borders come. We have been force-fed society’s definitions and bound by its rules. We are assigned roles to play. Told dreams aren’t real, and never can be. We are given work. Our identities narrow. Time and space begin to contract. Our worlds shrink. At first to a community sphere, family and friends, a home and job, and eventually a smaller home when the kids have grown, then a room as we become feeble, and then gone.

We fill our shrinking world with distractions and we’ve created massive amounts of media to do just that. Television, movies, computers, social media, smartphones — these all make us feel like we are interacting with a larger universe. No longer confined to that commute to and from work in a box on wheels, in a ten-by-twelve living room, in that eight-by-eight office space. These prisons without bars.

If we’re lucky, and perhaps diligent, we can maintain some of that childlike view of the world. We might even travel while our bodies are able, and we should. Travel expands space and time. Travel, breaking out of our self-imposed boxes, is freedom. Freedom to experience anew.

One thing we seem to want to avoid, that is always available to us, is that inward journey. We are always filling our voids with outside experiences, seeking solutions outside of ourselves, searching for another person to be with, anything to keep from looking inside. Not all of the external is bad, and it should still be pursued.

We are social animals, and the unfamiliar internal world can be frightening. And so, we often do anything we can to avoid truly engaging in introspection and self-examination, figuring out who you are, and exploring the soul.

It can be painful work.

Some even lose themselves to a communal identity. They speak in clichés and platitudes, and they exercise as little independent thought as possible. They meld in. They try not to think or reason, punch the time clock and become a job, wrap their identity up in an external definition.

“I am a mother, a father, a teacher, a wife, a husband, a homeowner, a gardener, a doctor, a forklift driver.”

They don’t mention that they’re a spirit soul. Or that they’re here to find a soul purpose. Or that they’re preparing for a spiritual life after the body is gone.

People will do anything to avoid their true self. And if you start down that road of soul-seeking, you won’t come back to the mundane world of clichés, you won’t be “right as rain,” or “roll with the punches,” or “go with the flow”.

What you will be is authentic. You’ll see with a clarity that you’ve never had before. You’ll be true to your word. You will feel the world’s vibrations, sense its moments.

Your intuition will magnify, you’ll know people before you meet them. You’ll know your own heart. You’ll feel it when another beats in synch with yours.

So I drove. Travel, motion through the external world, tears down walls, eliminates those borders, returns us to the world of no boundaries, frees our imagination, takes back our minds, and recharges our spirits.

It’s back to that endless summer, clouds that form faces and animals, feeling the grass between my toes, living in the here and now, no distractions from the expansive world around me. I can look into my soul here, for when the world expands, it expands in all directions, including inward.

Funny thing, I was stopped by the Border Patrol — literally this time instead of figuratively — and I had to declare where I was coming from and where I was going. I could just imagine that officer’s reaction if I had told him I was coming from the world of illusion and going to the real world, the place where the spirit roams free.

Our bodies will eventually fail, our worlds will contract, and freedom of movement will be gone. We’ll be trapped inside with only ourselves for a while. We might want to get to know our real selves, make that spiritual journey inward, and free the spirit before that happens. Why wait to be dancing in the light?

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* Photo:  This was one of my one-handed, over-the-shoulder, while driving pics 🙂