“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope…”  


In pethaps the greatest run on sentence in literary history, Dickens painted the picture of the modern epoch. This is a precariously magnificant time, a time of unfiltered hatred and burgeoning compassion. Humanity is waking up slowly, but the raging hangover of past indulgences is nonetheless clashing awkwardly with the beauty of a bright new day.


But, are we awake or asleep?


Buddhist texts refer to these times as the dark age; a time when good and bad rise to a head. It is not dark as in ‘dark obscuring the light’, but, dark illuminated by light. If we are able to leap into believing in the inherent goodness of humankind we can see this as a time when our resistsnce and neurosis become more apparent.  And, hence a time when healing and resolution are most accessible. Rather than leaving darkness sequestered in the night, we have an opportunity to bring this to the light and work with the defensive urges that have been motivating human behavior for so long.


Unlike Christian stories of Armageddon where good and evil square off in a movie directed by Michael Bay, the Buddhist version has more to do with a knitting of fabrics, a coming together of elements into a new compound. Maybe more like a film by Daron Aaronovsky. Which means a psychic blending of tendencies that never resolve into easy answers – or a simple movie.  On one hand, we have good and evil becoming more opposed until one – presumably good – wins out. Perhaps the modern definition of good is that which wins out. On the other hand, we have good and evil – light and dark – entwined in a dance fantastique that will spin until the pieces blend, the bubble pops, and a new agency is formed.


Tantric master Trungpa Rinpoche likened these times to a cosmic pimple popping – a heightening of neurosis and wisdom that leads to an opening from which new possibilities are formed. One doesn’t defeat the other so much as their clashing brings about greater awareness of pain and the suffering caused by an inapropriate relationship to pain.


It is my belief that we can navigate this confluence and take agency in the coming singularity. By training the mind in mindful awareness we gain control of impulses, by slowing down the point of impact and creating a buffer that allows us the time to RESPOND consciously rather than REACT reflexively. By learning to learning to guide ourselves from one trigger to the next without fistraction or reaction we can possibly learn to help  humanity through the turmoil into its next phase. Whether that phase is a greater sense of space and understanding leading to a flowering or its much predicted demise, may be in our hands. And the time to gain MANUAL control of the micro steps of our destiny may be right now.


In order to navigate this grand confluence we might have to slow down and begin to unpack the presumptive reasoning of being right. How do we see beyond our framed thinking into an acceptance of all that is coming toward us without losing ourselves? Well, maybe we can stand to loose some of ourselves. Or even a lot of ourselves. Maybe we can begin by recognizing all that keeps us from assimilation, and simply relax into the convergence, turn off our aggression and float into change WITH OUR EYES OPEN.


Working with synchronicity is a process of letting go and yet navigating the flow. Unlike other traditions that imply we can either resist or comply with a script, the Buddhist point of view  is that once we awaken – that is when we become conscious – we can navigate rather than aquiece or resist and in effect co-create the script of exustence with the universe. The universe, in this case, is the karmic web created by past actions moving in various vectors into future space. It is like an ocean of currents, each with thier own momentum. Navigating these currents means accepting thier existence and sitting up above the water line, being able to see where we are heading, and having the resolve to move away from the momentum of self interest into the undefined waters of discovery.


Navigating the white water confluence of past actions into future possibility takes letting go of our aggression, self-interest and resistance and allowing the natural change of things to take place. By keeping our eyes open during the change we can move into the open space of possibility, discovery and communication. Looking into the fear, darkness and aggression of our ancient pain, we can see our suffering in others. Understanding how misunderstanding our pain has caused us to act blindly, hurting ourselves and others, we can see how others have done the same to us. We are all fighting ancient demons snd blaming each other for our pain. We are all human and we are all suffering by our own hand. If we see this, pethaps the possibility of repairing that cycle of aggression is possible.


With our eyes open into the turmoil we can keep our balance and begin to pull each other from the roil. Or, with eyes and fists clenched against the current we will drown ourselves and each other. Maybe the duality isnt between good and evil, left and right or right and wrong. Its about seeing or ignoring. Either we wake up communicate and learn to stabilize the world of compassion, or shut down and solidify a world of hate, pain and aggression.


So, is this the best of worlds ir the worst?


Yes. It is both and because of that it is a magnificant time to be awake.




Stress is considered a detriment to health. Lowering stress is a commonly stated  motivator bringing people to meditation. There we escape into interior landscapes of calm. We have apps that guide us into internal relaxation free of stress. This is all well and good until we get out in the street and someone buried in their smart phone slams into us, spilling our chill all over our shirt.


While these various  forms of escapist meditation bring relief from stress, they dont address the actual problem: tension caused by stress.  We can go to a yoga retreat in Kuai, a medicinal a salt bath in Utah or a deep chakra cleansing in Oregon. Still, three days later that tenacious stress is there. Maybe we should move, get a new job or softer shoes. But, all of that is so stressful. So there’s Xanax. Xanax works, but pills are cheating. And we know they’re cheating so they’re not really working. There’s Zen. And thats better than pills, but soon that all that Zen makes us so bored we start getting stressed thinking of how to bring more stress into our life.


So, maybe stress gets a bad rap.  Its clear that some stress is important for us to learn and grow. And each of us respond differently to different stress points. One person is paralyzed at the thought of public speaking, while another may thrive on the opportunity. Some may love physical thrills and extreme sports while others freeze on the way up a diving board. So, maybe stress gets a harsh rap. I mean, if you didn’t value stress, even a little bit, what are you doing in New York City? Or, Baltimore? Or, anyplace in the current United States, for that matter?


I believe its not stress that does the harm, as much as the tension we create in relation to it. Tension is a refexive / reactive physical gripping within the body. Its like putting on imaginary breaks while sitting in the passenger seat. Things are not going as we want them to, and mistaking this as a threat, we clamp down and avoid the opportunity to work WITH the situation. Its this gripping in the body that creates discomfort and injury.


On the other hand when we thrive on stress its because we have learned not to fear the opportunity and we meet stress with relaxation instead of tension. Serena Williams or Aaron Rodgers navigate stress for a living. They do it through relaxation born of mind and body training. Its about training. Training the mind to see how the body feels and training the body to open to the experience. In this way, we navigate past stress by turning tension into attention by actually leaning in to the stress points.


This is so counter to our conditioning, which has programmed us to avoid suffering by a process of aquisitional bandaidery. We apply one “healing” modality atop the other until we are fitter, happier and healthier, pigs in a cage on antidepressants. (Appologies Mr. Yorke.) Societally, We are driven to buy, buy, buy until we are spinning so quickly, we no longer see how our life is robbed. This is stressful. So we clamp down on ourselves, stomping in a frenzied river dance trying to stop that wheel so we can breath.


But breath happens as we relax. And relaxation happns as we become aware. Awareness happens as we alliw ourselves the space and time to relax and tension, and pay attention to the life unfolding before us. Our life. What kind of blessing is that? Not only is stress instructional, it is elemental in creating enough tension in the body for us to wake up, release the tension, and relax into attention.


So, not only is stress not the problem, but even tension is not a problem if we use it as a reminder to release ourselves from its psycho/somatic imprisonment and open back into our life. It may not be as selfie-potent as that chakra cleansing in Kauai, but mindfulness training is a sustainable way to teach the body to bring itself back to balance in pressured times.


Waking in Depression: The Way In

Our beautiful minds are vast and embued with great power. As such, they are a reservoir of great potential. However, we generally ignore this potential in lieu of problems we feel need to be fixed.  The problem is these problems tend to birth more problems until our identity is fixed with fixing things. Our attention becomes focused in tighter and tighter loops and our life reduces into simple iterations of routine.


We are caught between the great human potential inherent in all of us and an existential sleepwalk that holds us in lock step. Imagine the power of the universe locked in our laundry closet. At some point something either breaks out or breaks down. But who has time to break down these days? So we soldier on, ignoring the gnawing until we collapse.

Depression is a common and even reasonable reaction to living a life on  everyone elses terms. The root of depression may not actually be fear, but the anger we feel from shortchanging our lives because of that fear. Trying to get away from pain, we actually cause more pain. By trying so hard to be good, we end up living a false life. We have been duped by a cosmic shell game bartering reality for an anxiety dream. We cling to external things to help us fix the mess and in so doing forget the one person who can actually help us. The only person who can help.  The one who has been there all along.  We forget ourselves. When we shunt part of us away out of embarrassment, we become cut off from our inherent power. We begin to believe there is something wrong with us, and that we should be disappointed with ourselves and embarrassed about our depression.

In this way, our depression becomes solid. Our confidence erodes as we feel we are losing a battle.  We fall inward and becoming so small the day itself  feels too big. From this point of view, the potential of the mind must appear dark and forboding. In reaction to this fear, we shrink our awareness in an ostrich like effort to avoid pain. But, as we are occluding awareness, our fearfulness actually begets more fear. This denial of life not only robs us of joy, it also leaves us very vulnerable to manipulation.


Ancient humans fought for survival, hunted and gathered food. They died easily and lived short lives. Yet those lives may have had more contentment, community and connection than ours. Perhaps being disconnected from pain we are disconnected from an essential part of ourselves. We relagate pain into the darkness and take refuge in the light. We take solace in being right, even as a part of us suspects the opposite.


Our lives move more and more quickly these days. However, the nature we come from, is very slow.  The earth moves at its own pace, in its own way. The same with the heart. The faster we move the less we are able to feel the earth beneath us. And this has to threaten a more ancient part of ourselves, a deeper and intuitive part of ourselves. Whether we are aware or not, this spiritual dissonance causes an internal friction. On one hand, we feel we should be doing so much more. On the other, we’re already working too hard. Caught in this zero-sum vice, our heart, art, compassion and the life part of living have become lost. Placing our hearts on hold, we barter creativity for security causing ourseves and others great pain.


This reduction of our life dampens something inside. We can choose to be mute only so long before we forget how to sing. We can stay hobbled only so long before we forget how to dance. We can shut down life only so often, before we lose our will to live. We have told ourselves no so often, we simply shut down in response. So we retreat in fear, collapse inward and, wrapped in the fabric of time and space, hide ourselves from ourselves by becoming consumed in ourselves.


Man, it’s actually quite brilliant.


Crushed beneath the weight of “me” our mind begins to compile a ledger of all the things left wanting, undone and unfulfilled in our life. Our life force turns inward and the mind turns vicious. The power and potential of our mind is turned against the only foe it feels it can defeat: itself.


But, there is a way out. And the way out begins with the way in. By sitting IN our pain, we can become comfortable enough with suffering to find the space within. There is always space. But, in our fear we cling to the familiar and play the same song with such volume we drown all alternatives. However, by training the mind to stay, simply stay, and hold space for our experience, we find we can sit with greater and greater challenges. Eventually, we find a profound stillness. It is within that stillness that we begin to see in the dark. In fact, we become so familiar with the terrain of turmoil, that we learn to walk in the dark. At some point, we may even learn to dance in the darkness finding grace in our simple tenacity.


You see, it will eventually occur to our wounded mind, that we are sill here. One we’ve abandoned hope and surrendered to the great despair, we see that being with ourselves is all we have. Ground zero. Right here, right now, just so.


Meditation practice will not cure depression. Nor should it. But, a consistent daily practice will strengthen the mind, giving us the bravery to enter the dark, the resilience to remain with ourselves and the wisdom to find the love we need.


The love we need.


The love we have been looking for all along. The love that no one else can give. The love we learn to give ourselves by simply being here. There is something supremely powerful about beginning to feel lovingkindness for our incomplete life, bruised heart and tattered mind.  We can do this without turning the lights on, forcing a smile or turning the volume down. We can do this simply by being here, and not changing a thing. We can forgo trying to be good and simply be human. And humans suffer. When we connect to our suffering, we are connected to all of life, for all of life experiences suffering.


When we find love in the depths of despair, we find an Unconditional Love that compares nothing and accepts everything. Then we have a gift forged in the flames that no one can take from us. Our gift of unconditional love.


In the Shambhala teachings we say that practicing lovingkindness is to “place the mind of fearfullness in the cradle of loving kindness.” Learning to open the heart to the sadness of our spirit and finding the strength to hold space for our pain is a profound statement. And that profound statement is an acknowledgement of life itself.


Learning to hold ourselves with open arms, reduce the harm and find a connection to all beings is the way of the Bodhisattva.  In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition a Bodhisattva is one who has vowed to forstall their own salvation until all beings are free of suffering. They have vowed to venture into hell to liberate all beings.  We can find strength in this. There have been such people. And there are such people. Those willing to face the darkness and stay there until they get it. And then, be willing to look outward and bring that strength to the world. That is the way out. Benefit for the world. And, if not the whole world, then our world, 0r community. Someone else. Benefit to others is the best way to value yourself.


And, it is the way out that comes from finding the way in.


America Awake

2015-08-27 17.42.31There was another mass killing. Which one was that? The terrorist? The Muslim who sympathized? The Syrian who was left out? The Kid in the night club? The white kid in the theater, or the best friends at school?  Its getting so hard to keep count. Kids killing kids, cops killing kids, cops being killed, improvised explosives and suicide vests changing the face of public gathering. The world is erupting.  And with it, the cry to have more guns, and more war and more punishment. As though adding to the problem will somehow solve the problem.


But with all the pain, there feels like hope in the cracks of our chaos. With more pain there is, perhaps, more awareness.  There is more here, in front of us, to see and to understand.


This is a great time to be alive. Yes.  Not instead of the pain or despite the pain, but entirely because of the pain. Its a blessing that we are here to help and to repair and to work to bring this world back into harmony with the earth that has nurtured us. Its a blessing here in New York City to be among the fortunate, the privileged, the few who have the honor to make a difference. It is our great honor to serve. And it is great to give back. You see, we become weakened as we grab for more. We falter as we turn away.  We fail as we try to win, and win at all cost. There is no wining that does not win for all of us. There is no sanctity except in the grace of living in a world that we support, and are supported by.  And because of this, it is a great time to be awake.


The destination is now, and the time is here. We can make a difference, slowly and surely in our lives and now – more than ever in history – even small differences will be heard around the world.


America Awake is a call to (open) arms. Awake is a revolution whose symbol is not a raised fist, but an open hand. It is a philosophy of understanding. And, rather than re-knowing what we already know, reiterating what we’ve been told, retelling the obvious and restating that which was written in stone, in an age of stone, we can emerge into a new dawn, and simply have the courage to say . . .  heck if I know. Lets start fresh.


How can I help?


What is happening now? And, how can I better understand the needs of my sisters, and the truth of my brothers, and the pain of a rainbow of every shade in between?


I pledge allegiance to the moment. And equipped with the immense power of wakefulness, vow to listen to the differences and to heal all damage. I pledge to cause harm to no one and bring the world together in a time of darkness.  I pledge to never outrun my fear, but to open my heart to the transformative possibility of my pain.


Is that utterly ridiculous?  I suppose so. Its certainly naive and simplistic. And, how cool is that?





The Right 2 Bare Arms

– More bombing. More killing. More terror.


So many of us want to do something / anything in reaction to the horror of the Orlando killings. Some are calling to institute a ban on “Muslim” immigration. Others for outright attack upon other nations, their people or spiritual beliefs. There are 2 ministers quoted as saying the LGBT community got what it deserved. That’s the one that got me. So, yeah, now I’m blaming as well. Anyway you turn there is another convenient object of aggression. Its an age-worn ruse to blame an “other” in order to rouse our own confidence. But that confidence is no confidence at all. It is cheap and lazy ego pacification. We feel uncomfortable, because we are frightened. But, its easier to rush to anger than feel fear. Its a way of not staying with the discomfort long enough to learn what should be done.


People are concerned about their safety. And, while there are certainly threats abroad, we are vulnerable at home due to the proliferation of weaponry in our own closets. Most domestic acts of terror in our schools, homes, churches and clinics have been committed by American citizens, each fighting their own subjective wars. The LGBT community has been the target of much domestic aggression. In this most recent instance, by a troubled young man, born and living in America, who had frequented the club as a customer. He was described as suffering from mental illness, but somehow was able to buy 2 assault rifles as well as hand guns.  He was influenced and inspired by radical Islamic Jihadism, yes. But, he lived here. He armed himself – legally – here.  So, why not look to ourselves here? What culture has the kind of SELF-INFLICTED rampant violence now common to the home of the brave? If we are so brave why do we cow to the Gun lobby, the NRA and other agents of self interest? Why not be brave enough to clean our own home first? BAN ASSAULT RIFLES. Loosen the gun lobby’s political hegemony. Reassess the 2nd amendment in order to reaffirm its original intent: to protect – not destroy – the populace.



It was well into the 19th century, when the USA became one of the last countries of the first world to abolish slavery.  While this was partly due to ingrained racism against these newly forced migrants, it had more to do with economic – and hence political – necessity. It took censure and sanctions from world leaders, and finally military strength from its own government, to pry America lose from reliance on slavery.


And, Americans killed Americans then. And, when the dust settled, the world had not conquered us. We had not succumbed to adventitious aggression from abroad. We  actually became stronger, as we loosened our reliance on unfair, unethical and vicious economic practices and moved into accordance with civilized views.


Presently, we are held hostage by the economic strength and powerful political lobbies of the gun industry and its political allies. We are afraid to rock a boat that is nonetheless  becoming  obsolete.  From the inception of our nation, elected officials have inspired the populace with great vision, while having to navigate power brokers that influenced currents below. This is no conspiracy theory. Its part of the power dynamic that has made this country very strong. But, it is the nature of power to protect itself.  At some point, people being protected are in danger of that which protects them. The entrenched influence of the nation’s pillar institutions, while not generally the theme of political speeches, cannot be discounted. We can ignore this power, as we debate “issues”, we can work around the power, or we can try and expose the power, and weaken it. But in the end, we will always render unto Caesar, what is Caesar’s. We will pay for allegiances to past beliefs with our own health and our children’s future.


Until things change.  As they always do.


As in the time of slavery, the sadly drudging movement of change has pitted us against the moral development of the modern world. Few, if any, of the 1st -or even 2nd – world nations live in the amount of fear from their own citizens as we do, in the land of the free. As a populace, we are so strangely ensconced within ourselves, that we do not see the incredulity with which most of the world has to the murders, violence and self-destruction within our society.


Practitioners of Buddhism, meditation or pacifism are accused of taking an unrealistically “peaceful” approach. But, peace is not unrealistic. Violence is unrealistic and unsustainable. Violence keeps things locked in tight circles of self-affliction. Love and release bring us closer to the truth. So, I don’t want to demonize the gun lobby, or create another enemy. There are many fine people who oppose gun restrictions for various reasons. What is essential, is that Americans begin to see the world as other’s see it. I hope for my clan is that we don’t buy in to the easy answers and find strength in hatred but, that we open our minds to working with what is.


But, to be honest, we cannot expect the nation to follow dictates which we ourselves ignore. Where are we creating wars simply because we don’t see a way to peace? Where have we become hostages to our own defenses? Where have we silently acquiesced to the succession of aggression handed down from mother to son to father to daughter? Where are afraid to stand up and actually see the situations that bind us, and in an inviolable act of love, release ourselves from that suffering? We do this by seeing. By standing up and seeing that perhaps we have become our own enemy.


Maybe its not what our country is doing to us, but what we have done to our country. And, without shame, or further aggression, maybe we can ask what can we change in ourselves to create peace in our world.  Maybe our rights are less important than our safety, and the respect of our society.  Maybe rather than bear arms we can promote our right to bare arms. To live freely in a feee society without guns, weaponry or defensive posture. Perhaps our bare arms can hold each other in the strength of love. Standing naked in truth, rather than draped in an ideology that lies on the surface of, and ultimately in the service of, big  money and political influence.

Wake Up and Relax

Meditation is a practice that allows us gain agency in our lives. We are training to settle our mind in order to wake up into our life. As the mind is more attentive when relaxed, training to cultivate a relaxed attention allows us to more fully contact our life. We sit in a singular connection to the moment, grounded in the security of earth. From that base, the spine can rise to heaven, allowing the mind to open into the vast sky of awake.


We rise up to settle down. We wake up in order to rest in the moment. These seeming polarities describe what are actually complementary components of the practice. The Taoist Tradition refers to the “Yin” of relaxing into the receptive earth and the “Yang” of rising to heaven in attention.  It is stated in the iChing that the alignment of the spine to the center of the earth allows us to reconnect to a universal sense of humanity. The Tao Te Ching posits that disconnection from the earth leaves us wandering as ghosts, blown by the vicissitudes of desire and past actions.  At the center of the earth, humanity is connected, clear and complete. On the surface, we perceive difference, distance and disparity.


In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition meditation is considered a yogic practice. The posture is an asana with the main stretch being the upright spine. Imagine the tailbone as an ancient arrowhead pointed directly down, weighted deep into the earth. Its alignment is plum, neither sticking back nor curling forward. Then feel the spine resting on that base and reaching straight through the body, through the top of the head, describing a line infinitely into the heavens above.  Relax upward into that stretch, as though a string was pulling you up, stretching the spine. This is the “Yang” alignment, a vertical stretch joining heaven with earth. It is awake, and tells the lower mind it may relax now, because someone is in charge. Our higher power is engaged and we are awake at the wheel of life. In just two minutes, it is said, our brain chemistry begins to change. We are, in effect, exchanging cortisol for confidence.


With that vertical stretch, the body’s organs and systems gently fall to the pull of gravity and relax into their anonymous work. Contrary to our conditioned thinking, it is actually more restful for the body to to sit upright allowing interior room, than to slump downward, constricting space and creating stress on the internal organs.


Now, without compromising the vertical stretch, allow the body to relax down and open. The “Ying” alignment is a continued opening and relaxing of the body. While the upright Yang posture aids wakeful attention, its attendant downward relaxation allows the mind to fall into the body and synchronize with the moment to moment beating of life. This horizontal opening awakens the mind’s receptive potential, as it opens out into a community of awareness.


In the practice of mindfulness awareness – or, as I call it, Mindful Awareness we develop a synchronicity to the parts. We combine the solar and lunar experience into a fluid synchronized dance of resting in the moment as we open to the experience. The Yang alignment develops mindfulness by rising to a specific detail of our living experience. It’s counterpoint, the Ying alignment, relaxes into acceptance and expands into an awareness of the environment. Yang establishes form and definition, while Yin accesses space and context.


The breathing binds these two components. With the breath we rise up and relax down. We gather in, and expand out. We take in nutrients and release toxins. We gather in the world, and then let go back into it. We bring the mind back to the breath again and again until the mind settles into a peaceful and stable connection to the present, joining heaven and earth.


As with any meditation practice the primary point is the effect on our life. With the posture alone, we are learning to wake up into relaxation, and to relax down into attention. We reduce stress and gain greater ability to rest in the present. SO, counter to our conditioning, we actually gain more focus in life not by focusing, or learning to tighten the mind in concentration, but by opening to our experience we can relax into resting in that experience for longer and longer periods of time. And, we always have the body, and its proper alignments – up and down – to bring us back to wholeness and balance.


And, as a tool the breath is perfect for balancing the yang and yin. For one thing, it is always there. It is reliably in the present. For another, it is lifting us up and relaxing us down into synchronicity with the moments of life. So, we can use this tool, anywhere as long as we remain alive. We can simply breath and with Mindful Awareness training, come to bring the mind and body back into balance by breathing into the tension, relaxing the breath into the body. The alignments will occur naturally releasing tension, and the stress of the stored tension, and breathe in nutrients to lift our mood and relax our mind.


In this way, we bring meditation to life. Training in body and mind awareness, so that we remain in balance with life.


The Courage To Come Screaming In

The bombs rattled through the week.

John Lennon as a childThe worst bombing of the war. German hate rained from the sky. Slamming, explosive, percussive. This once proud port city, now battered in ruin. Mortar and brick reduced to gravel and dust And blood.  And, more pounding. More than sanity could endure.

And then, one night, abruptly a gap.

On October 9th, 1940, an uneasy calm fell over the night, and soon Mimi got a call.  Julia had given birth to a son. She came as soon as she could to meet her sister, and the boy who would change their lives forever.

I was writing in my girlfriend’s kitchen.  She and her children were visiting her parents in Shrewsbury and I had the place alone to finish a presentation for a class on “Myths and Legends”. It wasn’t a theater or radio class, and so held little interest to me. But, there’d be no passing without the project so, never one to easily relent to pressure not of my own making, I was stuck. The Pats were on tv in the other room. Game to the wire. I was writing at the kitchen table. Words cane out they landed nowhere, stubbornly refusing sentence structure. I would write, and then pace. Write and then Grab a beer, check the game on TV, then back sporadically to write words that meant nothing to any of the others on the page.

I heard Howard talking from the TV in the other room.  It sounded like something had happened. I walked in to find the score tied and John Smith lining up to kick with seconds left on the clock. Then the phone rang. I dont remember how it fell. There were shards everywhere. My girlfriend on the phine. “Did you hear?” The game was coming down to the wire, but the world was only hearing one thing. “John Lennon … shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival.” My girlfriend telling me he was wounded. More calls. Rumores, conspiracies, bargaining, denial, rage.  The game in overtime.  Howard reiterating “dead … on … arrival.”

I read my paper aloud in class that next morning, still drunk, with no sleep. I said there were no heroes left. No myths or johnlegends left.  Everything we believed had been shattered, slammed, broken and discarded. Did we have a God? Did we have soldiers to admire? Police to trust? Laws to believe? Reasons to be, other than to simply breath through another day of pollution in the stench of a dying world? Were we here to move through a rote existence as fodder for the grind? What was left for those with imagination? What was left for those who longed to believe? What was left for those whose spirit yearned toward a greater cause? Dr. King, John and Bobby, Malcomb X. Any ray of hope, condemned for the sin of shining.

The pounding relentless, percussive existence, the wars, the traffic, the hatred. People living on the streets of the most powerful societies on earth. People with so much, feeding off those who could not feed their children. All of us huddled together under the savage canopy of an unjust heaven. I looked up from my presentation and saw tears in my friend Keira’s eyes. Her over-mascaraed face streaming. Tears in a few others. Embarrassment and shuffling in some. The usual sleepy college drift in most. But, tears welled in me. And anger. Alive with the death of anger, I rained hatred and spoke more lucidly than I ever had in that class, the words having finally joined in a chorus of disappointment and rage.

I got a D on the assignment. It bore no relation to the class, they said. Nor were the teachers, both two generations older, particularly moved. Another of the punk generation, railing against the supposed ills of a society from which they nonetheless fed. The world was shattered that day. But they had grades to keep, and a reputation to uphold in this fucking school that taught the worst conformity in the guise of artistic creative expression. I walked broken through hallways unslept and unkempt hugging, crying, raging. There was a vigil that night. All of us packed into a cold wet night holding candles, singing his songs, which were our songs. There were punks, hippies, business folk, students and workers. I saw a man in a suit with his arm around a pink haired girl. It was a strange mix and spoke to the universality of love that comes from music, and came from this man.  There was a commotion behind me. I turned and someone’s dog was excitedly wanting to play, trying to pull his family away, unsure why he was at the park if not to play.  No one was upset, and we all took turns playing with the dog. It was incongruous to the mood and a perfect counterpoint to our feelings.

At some point I had sung myself out, was freezing and hadn’t found the solace I wanted. I just gave up and made my way to Alan and Donny’s and sat and stared at the television for a week.

b48e5a87fd31c4e0f2e32b1718b88d53It It seems strangely fitting that many of the progenitors of the rock generation were born in the rattle and rubble of  war. The worst bombing anyone had ever known. The relentless pounding of the cities, buildings shaking, the streets rattling beneath. Mick and Keith, Ray, Pete and Jimmy all born amidst the rubble and sludge of war. The rocks of war.  Kids who grew up in broken fields, playing in the rocks, eating rations.

England had nothing then. Well, nothing except a bumper crop of babies. Babies no one knew what to do with. So, they sent them to school. The good students were packed away to what was left of good schools, keeping the upper crust flaky. The lesser were sent to technical schools trained to support the rebuilding. And the rest, those whose minds worked in less linear ways, who were battered inside, were poor or sickly, or could actually draw were sent to art school. Sure. There’s no economy. Give em some quills and call it a day.

Rattled loose from the moorings the Rock generation came of age hiding transistor radios under tattered covers in bed, listening to transmissions from pirate stations that played music from America. Black music from America. The same music Bobby Zimmerman listened to under thicker covers in iron belt Minnesota. The same music stolen from the slaves, stolen from Africa, that Keith was hearing in Dartford, and Ray on Muswell Hill and John up north in the forgotten hash of Liverpool in a house called Mendips on Menlove Avenue. All lost in the trance of ancient drummers calling from the dark continents of the heart. Songs of pain and misery that rose up in the glory of God and love and sex and sex and sex. And, just as the boys were old enough to begin to stroke their own night rhythm, came a king from Memphis. And, that just shook their world open. And soon those boys would burst from their covers and reenact the percussive pounding of their birth. They’d steal and plead and cry to have some uncle, mother or friend fork up for a mail-order guitar. And out they rode into the night to bang their choruses of rage and love and hormones through garages, back lots and empty rooms across the country.

beatles_2240307b Rock was forged from the rubble of war, and would, in turn, unleash its pounding fury on the world. A music born of anger and fueled by the rebellion inherent in the self-hatred of a race born into an exploding world. And John was the heart of that rhythm. His Irish sea captain’s ferocious drive, the incessant strumming of his guitar. His ability to lead by the brute force of a will to survive. John butted his way through schools, and created bands around him to play skiffle, and a new music mash up of rhythm and blues, soul, jive, folk, skiffle, country, rock-a-billy, rock n roll and pop. His Beatles became the first and ultimate punk band. Leather clad, slicked hair, amphetamine fueled adrenaline, hammered into shape in strip clubs on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, where they learned to “mach show”, pete best hitting the bass drum on every beat in order to pound the rhythm into the hearts and minds and night. Coming back home after these excursions, they were welcomed and tempered by the girls who adored them and nurtured by their mothers – Pete best’s mom who had the club that they played their first domestic residency, george’s mom who would make them food and offer a place to rehearse.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that women, or Dakinis which represent the feminine principle, call forth the teachings, nurture them and bring them into corporeal form. When it comes to magic, women always lead. Men follow, grudgingly, to church, or war, to work and to the dance floor. The Dakinis loved John. They adopted him, and fed him and adored him and his band until the men had to join in, and the world around them could no longer ignore the din. Most of their contemporaries at the time regarded this period as their greatest. They hadn’t had a hit yet, but their reputation resounded before them.

When that fist hit came, the entire country opened to them. Three hits later, and it was the world. And, again it was the girls who screamingly heralded the arrival of a new wave of human thinking.

young-John-Lennon-BWBut, world dominance comes at a price. And the leather clad punk band gave way to cheeky lads in Edwardian suits. The tightly honed fusion of beat, and rhythm and audience, gave way to a screaming spectacle. “The fans gave their money”, George Harrison was said to quip, “but the Beatles gave their nervous systems.”

Other than delivering milk for his uncle, John had never really had another job.  He was a millionaire at 21. He was the oldest and first of his generation to open the doors of the heart of the world. Soon, the Rolling Stones, Kinks, and Yardbirds followed bringing American music to America and re-establishing British honor, financially and culturally. You cannot overstate the role the British invasion played in reestablishing Britain’s self-respect, economic stability and cultural integrity on the world stage. The Beatles were controversially awarded the MBE in recognition. They were invited to play for the queen, at which point Lennon famously quipped “would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands and the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.” The world was in love and hate with his arrogance and brilliance. Though he did what he could to squeeze his enormous passions into a commercially suitable box, John continued to head butt his way through life accruing the adulation of fans, the respect of peers but also enemies, great controversy and death threats.

The band ended touring, and went on retreat in India with Maharishi Marahesh Yogi. That relationship was eye opening, and I think had karmic effects for the band, who were to begin disintegration into the separate facets of genius from which it was comprised. Lennon wrote some of his most wonderful songs there, and shortly after: “Happiness is a Warm Gun”, “Dear Prudence”, “Across The Universe” and most notably “Sexy Sadie” which was initially entitled “Maharishi” (“what have you done? You’ve made a fool of everyone”) and the line “you came along to turn on everyone” was perfect double entendre, and a beautiful example of his acerbic wit.  But, the band fell apart.

beatles-yoko-windowAnd, then came Yoko. And then came the most public courtship, relationship artistic statement, which became a life screaming out loud in public. At one point in the sessions for the movie “Let it Be” (then titled “Get Back”), Lennon sits with Yoko at his side, and asks Ringo to crash the cymbal to “give me the courage to come screamin’ in.” And then they began “Don’t let Me Down” a song which is a perfect example of the harsh, rugged savage grace of the man, still frightened, still honest, and despite being one half of the most successful songwriting partnership in history, willing to ask his partner for a cymbal to give him courage. I hear the Irish shanty troubadour in him. His relentless drive, imploring the world to listen.

And Yoko Ono, avant guard Japanese underground New York art celebrity either pursued, or ignored him; manipulated or liberated him; enslaved or nurtured him, became his port in the storm. They bonded with a fierceness that consumed both of them, and eclipsed his all boy world. He said, being with Yoko was like being with my mates, except we can go to bed together. In interviews with the two of them he is at one admiring, in love, amazed and also rudely dominant. He interrupts, criticizes, cuts her off, as well as agrees and supports her, sometimes in the same sentence.

07124_121440_lennonetonyhanley_05.article_x4He begins a life in public, in bed with her, in bags with her, merging art, pop, communication and activism. He is narcissistic, self-involved millionaire whose genius was to be as he was, and turn it all to promote the good in society. He had a political sloganeer’s knack for a great line, and some of them – “All You Need Is Love”; “Give Peace a Chance”; “Imagine”; “War is Over (If You Want It)” changed things at the time, and have lived with us for a long time. Lennon felt a responsibility to himself to live honestly. But, he also had a genuine love of the world, and the need to use his good fortune and high visibility to help that world.

john-lennon-yoko-onoIn 1975, that came to rest, as John settled in to New York City, a regular fixture on the Upper West Side. He turned his business over to his wife, who employed an astrologer to help turn his earnings into millions. Lennon believed in astrology, studied Tibetan Buddhism and UFO’s. They were passions of his, along with wife and child, his box of incredible weed and a television he would surf through endlessly in his Dakota mancave. Some say he remained a junkie. Others claim that those days ended with marriage. Some claim he was bisexual, or even gay, that he used people, that he squandered fortunes even as he pretended to care for the downtrodden. He was violent, chauvinistic, boorish and, at least when Paul met him at Woolton Fete in ’57, had bad breath.  What is clear is that he suffered from depression, and a need to isolate. The man never had a job, except to have every word he uttered become a significant statement. He never had a childhood, except the one he was never released from. He never had a life, except that of the biggest rock star of his generation. Whisked away into the bowels of the machine, he never knew normalcy. He was never able to process wounds and heal the hurt that remained so alive within him. So, was he a junkie? Or, was he scared of the world he had helped create, and lived in a cave of his own sequestering, only to emerge butterfly forth at 40 to begin starting over. And then 5 shots rang out and ended that.

The shooter crouched in military stance, about 6 feet behind him, and fired 5 shots into his back and, and as he turned, into his side. Any 4 of those shots would have been fatal. John was killed on his doorstep after he’s returned home from an interview to promote his newly released album. Killed just as he came out of hiding. As soon as he was free again. As soon as he could speak free of the shrouds of heroin, depression and secrecy.  As soon as he began “Starting Over”, it was gone for all of us.

I believed then it was an assassination. And, I believe that now.  I’m not a flake. I’m a triple Taurus, have a capricorn moon double-fantasy-3and practicality runs engrained in my DNA. But, I believe he was assassinated. Call me a stooge. I believe John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered. Sounds like I’m nuts right? But, whether or not its true in fact, it says something very true about our view of society. We don’t trust it. We don’t trust ourselves. You can’t trust something you don’t believe.

What is it we believe?

In one of his last interviews, he discussed his violent days, and the few times he took it out on the women he knew. This was an intense admission. Naked, as he was. Imperfect and embarrassing. How did this stand with his pleas for peace and love? “Its the violent ones that know how important peace is”, he said. During the inevitable backlashes that seem to rise against his legacy, like mother waves every 8 years, when people then look for arcane scenarios to defrock him, they will claim that his pleas for world peace and invocations of a very practical common kitchen sink version of sanity, were fraudulent. He is routinely discredited because he was violent, rude, hurt people and smelled badly. Well, you know what? I believe that those are exactly the reasons his statements are valid. He understood the hurt the world suffered. He experienced it from both ends. He was imperfect, flawed, and had a heart only an Irishmen could bear. And bear it he did. In public, learning as he went. Learning as we all went. We grew up together. We hurt and loved and laughed together.  The pain that made him flawed, made him human, made him genius and made many of us love him. 

During one of his last interviews in 1980, Lennon was asked if, in light of the drastic political swing to the right under Reagan and Thatcher, and the gross commercialization of music, art and life, if he looked back on his days espousing peace and love with any regret or embarrassment.

Lennon replied, “If you smile and someone punches you in the face, it was still a smile. You can’t take that away. The smile has always been there.”

And the smile will always be there for those with the courage to come screaming in without embarrassment, with their full heart. And, for those of us who need it most, the idea of imagining peace is most important and real.