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Lionel Fisher

A Silent Watcher
Across the Great Divide
by Lionel Fisher

George Carlin believes our life cycle should be reversed. "You should die and get it over with," claims the stand-up comedian.

You know, get the yucky stuff out of the way first.

"Then you live in an old-age home," Carlin continues his retrograde scenario. "You get kicked out when you're too young. You get a gold watch. You go to work. You work 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol and party. You get ready for high school. You go to grade school and become a kid. You play. You have no responsibility. You become a baby and go back into the womb. You spend your last nine months floating."

Celebrating Time Alone by Lionel Fisher

Sounds good to me, George.

How glorious to wake up each morning a bit younger instead of older, the physical aches and pains diminishing instead of increasing -- provided, of course, I got to keep my 70-year-old brain. Would I do it all over again, knowing what I know now? In an L.A. second. (Lordy, what a trip that would be.)

Would I do it, though, if I had to live every moment exactly as before, experience the identical heartache, struggle, pain, loneliness, regret; reenact the same clueless, corrosive acts of selfishness, anger, arrogance, conceit and pride; repeat all my wrong choices? Thanks, but I think I'll pass.

Maturity in the Young Is Wisdom

Emotional maturity is welcome, of course, at any age. Yet it’s no great accomplishment, for maturity comes to everyone who lives long enough, simply part and parcel of our brief tenure, an eventual milestone in the fleeting journey. Trouble is, maturity comes for most of us near the end of our journeys. But maturity in the young -- in those not too old to enjoy it -- I call that wisdom.

Looking back across the great divide of time and life and space that separates the old and young -- you’re either one or the other; middle-age, you’ll discover, is a myth -- I find I've pivoted a full 180 degrees in virtually everything I once believed, everything I held sacred, valuable, important and true, beginning with my concepts of God, religion, heaven, hell, love, joy, wholeness and compassion. But it's been a slow turning, for when you're young, you live the life you were given, as Donald Rumsfeld might put it, not the life you could have had if you’d just known better.

The young man, for instance, believed that ownership and exclusivity are critical to gratification and a sense of well-being -- that if he wooed and wed the ideal spouse (traded in later for the trophy bride), raised three perfect children, landed the perfect job, bought the dream house and salted away enough for a trouble-free retirement, he would live happily ever after or at least to an obscenely ripe age. The old man knows that the bright bird of happiness, that euphoric state of contentment and well-being we avidly seek, lights only when least expected. And briefly, at best.

Botox Not Needed

Ownership of the sublime, John Ogilvy points out, in whatever form we pursue it, is service rather than mastery -- stewardship, not dominion. Instead, he says, there must be a "letting go" that replaces the compulsive grasping for permanency devoid of all pain that is the source of our greatest misery – samsara, the Buddhists call it, grounded in our fear and denial of death. “We would be so much less sad,” says Ogilvy, "if we learned to let go the things we love. Then they might become truly ours for the first time, in this non-possessive mode that the sublime demands of us.”

And once the letting go begins, as the old man has found and discovers anew each day, everything false falls away, like the thawing of ice and snow after a winter freeze, leaving only what is green and radiant.

The young man always wanted more: money, love, creativity, gratification, recognition, achievement, adulation, trust, luck, affirmation, serenity -- and that’s just the short list. All of these things came to the old man the instant he realized their irrelevance to real joy. For all that counts, the only thing that matters, points out Eckhart Tolle, is our full, focused, non-judgmental attention to the here and now -- that we allow ourselves always “to be nailed to the present moment,” whatever it brings, in Pema Chodron’s words.

“As soon as you honor the present moment,” promises Tolle, “all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love – even the most simple action,” he assures us.

Pick Your Own God

Tolle cautions, too, against giving God a defining form, a recognizable face, which is what the young man did for most of his Roman Catholic youth, picturing God the way artists have portrayed him through the centuries: harsh and austere with wild white hair, an angry white beard, countenance stern and unremitting, the stark reminder of our tenuous suspension over the eternal abyss. Back then, he believed, he could go to hell for just about anything: eating meat on Friday, missing mass on Sunday, receiving communion in the state of mortal sin, masturbating – you name it, you could jeopardize your immortal soul doing it.

And so the old man began painting a benign, amiable, even comical face on the creator he once dreaded, making Him more approachable and user-friendly, a God who would laugh uproariously at the mere suggestion of casting people into Hell for masturbating. And he came to believe we all hold in our hearts our own special impression of the Supreme Being. Because there are no rules, no limits on how we perceive and experience the divine, that no one way is better than another, and all that matters is we feel God’s presence as keenly and often as possible.

And the old man whittled down the Commandments from his Catholic catechism -- all those Shalts and Shalt Nots engraved on the two stone tablets carted down Mount Sinai by Moses – from ten to three:

I. To thine own real self be true, always.

II. Try never again to hurt anyone.

III. When necessary, break Commandment II to achieve Commandment I.

In later years, he added more rules for graceful and grace-full living:

IV. It’s not your job to figure anyone out. (But yourself, of course.)

V. You no longer have to fix everything. (Make damn sure it’s your job to fix everything before you try.)

VI. Be grateful, to the point of obsequiousness. To God, to others, to yourself, for without gratitude, nothing you ever receive will be enough.

VII. Co-dependent tennis is not a good game. (When you serve the ball, someone should hit it back to you. If not, the match is over as far as you’re concerned. Stop returning your own serves, lobs and volleys. Stop playing off your own energy, needs and desires. Quit kidding yourself. Meet everyone half-way, but no further, because leading a horse to water may be kind, but forcing it to drink is not only cruel, it's co-dependent.)

VIII. Never do anything that makes someone else feel good but makes you feel bad about yourself. (Anyone who expects you to is not a true friend.)

IX.. Don’t own anything you can’t bear to lose or give away. (Next time you desperately want something, try not caring if you get it. There’s a minor god, I’m convinced (who also makes sure that whatever goes around, comes around), who's in charge of denying us what we desperately want, because the more we get what we wish for, the needier and more unappreciative we become. The secret of joy, peace and serenity, Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, lies simply in being awake and alert and alive to the moment. Right now is the only treasure we need to own, he counsels, for it’s the only thing we truly own.)

X. Laugh. As often as humanly possible. With others, at others, but above all, at ourselves. (Be wary of people who can’t laugh at themselves; they simply can't to be trusted. How can you live for any length of time in this self-important world with its marauding egos ripped on psychic steroids and not laugh out loud at the outrageous antics of our human comedy? Next time you feel sad, grim or angry, walk to a mirror and take a long, hard look at yourself. You should burst out laughing. Always works for me.)

The Four Horsemen of the Now

And so Eckhart, Chodron, Ogilvy and Hanh, those glorious apostles of Mindfulness, have replaced Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on the old man’s path to enlightenment, and they have been his salvation.

The best thing he ever did, he told his daughter recently, was to become a hermit. The second-best thing was to get old, for these landmark events have led him finally to a wondrous place he never dreamed possible, free (almost) of ego, expectations, judgments, negativity, resistance and struggle.

Finally. The old man loves that simple, prolific word. Defined by Webster’s as the ultimate point…the eventual moment…arriving at long last...after much hardship and delay. Taken to heart as a guiding perspective, an essential attitude of living, it brims with hope and promise, becoming critical to every achievement, indispensable to all happiness. Finally, as in “Nine-tenths of wisdom is being wise in time.” That profound observation by Teddy Roosevelt stayed with him a lifetime before blossoming into the Now.

Now the old man bequeaths it to you, as he contemplates life across the great divide, a silent watcher of his thoughts and emotions, whose only commandment is Tolle’s magnificent exhortation: Be present. Let what is be. Surrendering to the moment robs the past of its power, strips the future of its fears, hopes and promises. The old man knew this the instant he realized he had no need of these false beacons anymore. That knowledge is enough for him. More than that, it is everything. And it will be until that final portal of understanding opens.

© Copyright 2005 Lionel Fisher.  All Rights Reserved.

Lionel Fisher
Lionel Fisher
writes a self-syndicated lifestyle column for readers he describes as past meridian on their journey of life. Spiritual in nature, often humorous, though with a practical edge to them, his entertaining essays have as their central theme the universal need to find our happiness and fulfillment, life’s answers, in ourselves instead of steadfastly seeking it in others. He would welcome a few good clients for whom he would happily tailor his contributions to their individual publications. He can be reached at: beachauthor@lycos.com.

A former newspaper correspondent, freelance writer, corporate communicator and advertising-PR copy chief and creative director, he is the author of three self-help books: Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001), On Your Own: A Guide to Working Happily, Productively and Successfully from Home (Prentice Hall, 1995) and The Craft of Corporate Journalism (Nelson Hall, 1992). 

To research his latest book, Celebrating Time Alone, which records the emotional and spiritual triumphs of men and women who have found amazing grace alone, Fisher embarked on a cross-country journey in search of those he calls the new hermits: modern solitaires who have stretched their aloneness to Waldenesque proportions, achieving great emotional clarity in the process. He also spoke with their urban counterparts who, through necessity or choice, prefer to savor their individuality in smaller servings.


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