THE FLYING BOY LETTERS: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later

These are excerpts from my forthcoming book. They encapsulate my work with clients, workshop participants and key-notes. Hope you find them helpful.

Letter #7

Dear John,

Sitting in the audience listening to you on that Saturday night at the International Men’s Conference in Austin, I was struck by your voiced desire to simultaneously honor what you are doing/have done and your need to move on into what awaits you. The depth of my response to your seeming paradox was to want to write a letter to you. This is it in your hand.

In my first 10 years in the program I understood recovery to be a process of seeing and owning what had happened and how I contributed to it, making amends and cleaning the house as necessary, and then leaving it all behind to begin life in a new, “recovered” way. Sometime after my 10th AA birthday, which coincided with being in my mid-40s (a cataclysmic combination if there ever was one), I came to understand Recovery completely differently. In the process I began to feel somehow estranged from many of the people to whom I had been the closest. I came to understand Recovery as the realization that the experiences of my life, although I might not wish them upon my sons, were actually the building blocks which had made me who I am. Without them I couldn’t be me. Therefore, the question became not, “What are the traumas of my life and how do I recover from them?” but rather, “What were the experiences/building blocks of my life? What did I learn? What I have I done with the knowledge? We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it” took on new meaning. Recovery became owning my own building blocks and who I am becoming.

You probably have very little time and receive lots of letters saying, “Yes! I relate to you and your experience!” While it’s true, and I do, that isn’t the point of my being inspired to write to you. I heard you say a version of what I described in the paragraph above. I haven’t heard many people say it cleanly. I also haven’t heard many people say, in effect, “I am tired of being a guru. It can be nice but it can also be isolating, and I want to change something. It’s time for me to take some more steps.” I quit my job earlier this year for those very reasons. Where does the guru go for release and spiritual and temporal nutrition? Laying down the robes can be tricky.

As presumptuous as it may seem, I am reaching my hand out to you. If you would like to break real or metaphoric bread in person or over the phone with someone with life experience, no axe to grind, and no particular needs for you to meet, I would like the opportunity to exchange value, which is my definition of an adult relationship.

Peace.

Sincerely,

George H S

 

Dear Laying Down the Guru’s Robes,

You say you haven’t heard many people say, in effect, “I am tired of being a guru.”

That, my friend, was nearly 30 years ago. “Guru” is an Eastern Indian term for “teacher.”

I’ve been a teacher now for 45 years, but haven’t been a guru in 39 years, or at least, not thought of myself in terms of “guru.”

I must say that when I wrote my first book, The Flying Boy, I was a struggling, poor graduate student at the University of Texas and a card-carrying New Ager right down to the bone, equipped with long beard, kinky hair, and only wore tee-shirts, jeans, and the official shoes – Birkenstocks way before they became a fashion statement you now see elders wearing to Walmart. I had a leather “medicine bag” with crystals, hawk feathers, and some other stuff I can’t recall. And oh, wait; I had some I-Ching coins in there in case I needed to consult the oracle. I used to be Mr. New Age; now I’m Mr. Old Age. 

I finished that book instead of my dissertation, went on the road giving lectures and workshops thinking I’d be a one-book author and head back to graduate school, finish, get tenure and die on some small campus in Anywhere, USA.

I didn’t go back, and yes, I might have thought of myself as a guru for about 15 minutes only to realize, like a lot of people, I was constantly worried that audiences would see I was an example of the Imposter Syndrome, where any moment, someone in authority would tap me on the shoulder and tell this recovering redneck from Alabama that the jig was up.

You ask, “Where does the guru go for spiritual and temporal nutrition?” Your question suggests that you were a robe-wearing rascal who was ready to look for a new vocation. I trust now, 30 years later, these robes have been given to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. I know that is what I did with my imaginary saffron duds.

Yes, 30 years later, I’m still on the road teaching, but I don’t for a minute, after all the mistakes I’ve made, think of myself as a guru.

Shanti, Shanti, Namaste (just kidding),

JOHN

 

2016 Minnesota Men’s Conference

The Minnesota Men’s Conference is near and dear to my heart, and this link will take you to an exciting and worthwhile opportunity to help others. I hope you will consider giving back to this cause. Please click here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/2016-minnesota-men-s-conference-poetry#/

Announcement – I will be offering 2-Day Intensive Sessions in Austin, Texas beginning September 1, 2016

I’m pleased to announce that after a break from offering my 2-day Intensives in Austin, Texas, I am now making those available again starting September 1, 2016 at the Austin Men’s Center, thanks to Director Bill Bruzy.

As most of you know Austin is not only charming and beautiful, it is a convenient location for clients especially from the Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast.

I will continue to offer the Intensives at my Mentone Cottage in the mountains of Northeast Alabama.

I hope you will pass the word along to clients or friends who would like to engage in my nontraditional approach to coaching, counseling, and teaching.

Unbecoming: From Despair to Love-Part 1

“Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away.

Despair is a haven with its own temporary form of beauty…Despair is a last protection. To disappear through despair, is to seek a temporary but necessary illusion; a place where we hope nothing can ever find us in the same way again. Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair…”

David Whyte from Consolations

This is the house of my adult despair, not my childhood, adolescence or young adult depression. This is where I lived as a late mid-life man for a year in semi-seclusion. This is where I separated from my former wife and life as I had known it. This is where I separated decades of depression from an adult despair. It is in this house where I stared out windows and into some distant pastures, past ponds and pine trees and saw the distinction between happiness and joy.

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It was here in these small, simple rooms I signed a contract with myself to sit with, stand up to and sleep with the gaps in my life and the chasm between fear and anxiety. I have searched for a secret self that has played underneath the debris of years of false selves and explored the hidden paths that produced a way into and out of this forest that finally brought me to a clearing, a way of thinking differently about depression as opposed to despair, anxiety and fear, hope and faith and finally some realizations and direct experiences regarding adult love that I have never been able to show or feel.

Here are, then, the fruits of this process that words will barely do justice to, if they will do it justice at all. Here in this house I will write what I know deep in the marrow of my bones what I believe today after a lifetime of searching, teaching, learning and more searching.

I’ve come here to this sweet, Alabama home. It is here that my heart hurts every day. It is here that my heart heals every day. It is on this mountain of tears and longing that has been a sanctuary made of silence, pine trees, crickets, cicadas, and pastures. It is here I sit and look at and feel the gifts of grief and the balm of solitude. It is here that I have time to think in ways I’ve never had the courage or desire to think and feel feelings that have been foreign, frozen or simply forgotten in all the rush to become and it is here that I have entered a stage of existence I am calling, “Unbecoming.”

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The poet Rumi says:

I said, “What about my eyes?”

God said, “Keep them on the road.”

I said, “What about my passion?”

God said, “Keep it burning.”

I said, “What about my heart?”

God said, “Tell me what you hold inside it.”

I said, “Pain and sorrow.”

He said, “Stay with it. The wound is the place where the light comes in.”

Here is a spark of light about the differences between depression and despair. First depression is a situational, circumstantial, or biochemical imbalance or a combination of all three. Change the situation, the circumstances for the better the depression should diminish, dissipate or disappear. If it is due to biochemical difficulties then change the biochemistry and the depression should lessen. What we know is that only two out of ten people who are diagnosed with depression get little or no relief from pharmacology or psychotherapy or both. What is the other eight or millions really suffering from? Could it be despair that pills, nor PhDs or psychiatrists cannot cure?

The philosopher Sartre says, “Life begins on the other side of despair.” It is in this house of aloneness that I can sit and listen to you, “tell me about your despair, and I’ll tell you about mine,” says the poet Mary Oliver and this is where I have come and “I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned, if you can know despair or see it in others,” to quote David Whyte again.

Despair is rooted in an existential loneliness that almost everyone is afraid to admit for fear they have done something wrong. Despair is a house we eventually have to sit in until we are ready to reassess our deepest self and our interior world. It is in this house where we must unabashedly and without embarrassment or shame strip away all our false selves. Despair is the first stage of freedom and an entrance into a more genuine and real existence. Despair is the bridge that takes us from “here to there.” Despair is that lonesome valley that we all fear but must be walked through. It is the dissonance or the distance between what we thought we would do with this life and what we have actually done, who we thought we’d be and who we became.

Despair is caused by self-betrayal and giving up on our deepest desires; it is the result of the risks not taken, the love not received or spoken. As John Burnside said, “Nothing I know matters more than what never happened.” Despair is the continual frustration and even anger over the feeling that some unspoken or spoken contract or agreement with our self, each other or the divine has been broken or dishonored. It is very different and from depression and must be treated differently.