Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Madness [The Myth of Freedom]



Hola Everybody,
I have a few job interviews set for this week, one being a second interview. I don’t pray, but you should pray for me. LOL

The Myth of Freedom

Falling Water, house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

A man is either free or he is not. There cannot be any apprenticeship for freedom.
 -- Imamu Amiri Baraka (1934 - 2014)

Many years ago I once became lost in a national park in Connecticut. I was in my late teens-early 20s and a busload of us city kids planned a trip, and we all trekked up to some park in Armpit, USA. I am a dyed-in-the-wool city boy. And when I say city, I mean city. Please, I’ve traveled around this country and some places that use the term are laughable. Yes, I am a NYC snob: for a long time I considered anything above 14th street Hicksville. Anyway, I grew up in the city and the first time I saw a pig live, I thought it was a cow! When I thought of pigs, what came to mind was that pig Arnold from the 1960s TV sitcom, Green Acres.

Whatever… 

Anyway, as soon as we reached our camp site, always the adventurous one, I convinced another poor soul to go exploring with me. Long story short: we became lost for close to 48 hours. What happened was that we kept walking in circles. There was this lake not too far from the camp, you see, and I (being the Brainiac of the two) decided if we followed the lakeshore, we would eventually end up where we started. 

The thing was we kept walking in circles, not around the lake, but within a confined space. We realized this after hours of walking because we kept seeing a rock formation that looked eerily familiar. The reason for that was that it was the same rock formation! By this time, it had gotten dark and there was a pronounced early October chill. To compound matters, my poor friend had inadvertently fallen into a cascade that hid a cave and he was freezing. After a little deliberation, we came to the conclusion that the cave was the best place to stay for the night.

We had nothing -- no matches, flashlight, compass, food, nothing. Even if we had a compass I doubt we would know how to use it. Eventually, we had to stop because of that annoying country tendency towards complete darkness. I mean, you can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. Fuck! To make matters worse, I swore I heard a wolf’s howl. I’m serious! Now, I don’t know if wolves actually exist in some Connecticut state park, but to this day, I swear I heard a howl. In addition, I didn’t make things better by voicing my conviction that the cave we had taken refuge in was very likely some Grizzly bear’s home.

So, there were, hungry, cold, fearful, and lost.

the next day we somehow found our way to a road, and by then our people had a whole posse looking for us, which ruined the trip for everyone else. We walked down the road until we came upon some ranger in a car who then proceeded to ask us if we had seen two Puerto Rican kids walking around lost… DUH?!?! Hellloooo?! Fuckin’ hicks… 

Of course, being philosophically inclined, I found all sorts of metaphors and meaning behind our little adventure, while my companion, who was freezing to death, cursed me the whole time. Still, it fascinated me that left to our own devices, we kept walking around in circles. Shit, we tried to walk differently, making lefts, where we had previously made rights, and still we walked in circles. What does that say about our own habitual patterns, I asked my friend, as he conjured new swear words for my edification.

For the next fifteen years of my life, that incident was to become a metaphor for how I lived: doing what I wanted, how I wanted, when I wanted, and mistaking that for freedom. I think many people mistake “following their bliss” for freedom when in actuality walking around in circles without a compass is the ultimate prison. It’s the ultimate prison because though we can’t see the bars, they exist as surely as real prison bars. In a very real sense, we’re all “doing time,” in some way or another.

True freedom, for me anyway, takes practice. Actually, it takes a set of practices that serve as a guideline and map to freedom. Walk around rudderless without direction long enough and you’ll find you’re creating the same mess repeatedly.

Habitual Patterns

I like to say that I became free while I was incarcerated and this is very true. Many years after that incident in the woods, I was incarcerated at a maximum-security facility. I’m not proud of that, but I have to admit there’s some irony in this story -- at least for me there is -- so I find some humor in all this now. It was early spring, my favorite time of the year, and I was in a prison yard looking at some mountains and feeling really depressed about being locked up.

Then it hit me... I was actually free. Just like that! I realized that though the state could control and confine my body, only I could give the permission to imprison my mind. It may not sound like a lot to you, but for me it was transformative experience. The fact that I could choose to be free no matter where I found myself blew me away.

Looking back, I understand now that it didn’t happen all at once, that my epiphany that day wasn’t something spontaneous. I understand now, my realization came about because of the work I had put in, but it hit me that day like a bolt of lightning in the middle of a completely dark country night: I was free. Free, right then, at that very moment.

It was amazing. I could choose to be free! This couldn’t be true. Nevertheless, I felt it in the very fiber of my being, this freedom was real, alive, a part of me, a part of my heritage as a human being. When I went back to my cell later that day, I shared my revelation with my neighbors and they all started laughing at me. They were, like, “Eddie, you in prison, bro.”

And they were correct, of course, at the gross (vs. subtle) level of reality, I was incarcerated. However, my realization was that while I could be coerced into prison physically, only I could give another permission to incarcerate my heart and mind. What I saw clearly for the first time that day was that I was giving the prison authorities this permission to take my mind, to imprison my heart. From that day on, I became free and my life, even within the prison walls, changed dramatically. I no longer felt at the mercy of sadistic prison guards or all the other insanity that goes on in prison. From that day on, I was free -- really free -- and all my interactions reflected this realized freedom. What happened was that people began responding to me differently: guards, who previously were able to press my buttons, didn’t know how to deal with the newer, free me, for example, leaving them confused and anxious.

Other people incarcerated with me would ask why I looked different: was I exercising more, did I gain weight? Eventually, my freedom permeated my immediate surroundings and those in contact with me began doing their own inner work, in the process transforming our collective prison experience. The effect was so palpable that I was eventually transferred from that location because I was deemed too dangerous. But by then it was too late, even in solitary confinement, they couldn’t take my freedom away.

I became free that early spring day and though there are times I choose to give up my freedom -- especially when I come into contact with people with hate in their hearts -- I have chosen freedom more often than not these past 25 years. My personal liberation, I have found, is not individual, dedicated solely to me, but instead it comes with a responsibility and an awareness that it affects everything around me. That other prison we all share, the myth that we are separate from others, has also dissolved and as a result your personal liberation is also important to me.

Ultimately, I have learned that my freedom demands I choose happiness. I never even knew I had that choice. It is my responsibility as a human being, actually, this choice. This is why I always say that everything we ever need for our happiness exists right here, right now, this very moment… this very life. This is true whether your prison is made of concrete and bars or psychic defilements.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Sermon [House Rules]



Hola Everybody,
Before I was “exiled” from Rikers Island (more on this at a later date) resulting in the loss of my position at a criminal justice reform organization, I was attempting to create a way to integrate the following into my workshops. I culled these “rules” from Dan Millman’s book, Living On Purpose.

The House Rules


According to Dan Millman, The House Rules are the universal laws or guiding principles that will help us live a life of purpose and meaning.


1. Earth is a school and daily life is a classroom

We are here to learn by expanding our awareness about the world and about ourselves. Learning about the world helps us to realize our potential. Learning about ourselves helps us to evolve. The challenges we are confronted with in the arena of relationship, health and finances are all part of the curriculum. Daily life teaches us all we need to know for the next step on our journey. Each and every day, if we open our eyes, we find new lessons to learn.

2. Our teachers appear in many forms

Master teachers are found not only during intensive meditation retreats or in a cave atop a mountain. Our teachers may take the form of friends and adversaries -- of clouds, animals, wind, and water. Moment to moment, our teachers reveal what we need to know. The question is, are we paying attention? To paraphrase a well-worn cliché, when the student is ready, the teacher appears everywhere.

3. We learn best through direct experience

We learn more effectively through experience rather than through conceptualization. The classroom teaches through concepts; real-world lessons teach through experience. Concepts are important, for they may provide a map; experience involves the journey. The map is not the territory! No experience is ever wasted because every experience contains a lesson. The lessons of experience are always positive, even if the experience is not.

4. Failures are the stepping stones to success

The road to success is paved with little failures. If you doubt this, try to learn to juggle (or sustain yourself in the nonprofit sector LOL). Infants are masters of learning; their method is trial and error. In this technique they lead us all; no one fails as much or learns as quickly. Why fear failure? Every mistake imparts gifts and lessons, each lesson leads to wisdom, and every failure to new achievement. Failures and mistakes are the rungs on the ladder to your potential. If you never fail, you haven t picked challenging goals.

5. Lessons reappear until we learn them

Yup… some of us do the same thing over and over expecting different results. Intelligence allows for making new mistakes and learning from them, instead of repeating the old ones. The more we learn, the more adaptable we become and the fewer mistakes we repeat. Learning requires getting out of our comfort zones , also known as change. Change often means losing face; losing face means sloughing off the old skin and giving birth to the new. Change happens even when you fight it. The trick is taking control of the process so that we can guide how we grow.

6. If we don’t learn easy lessons, they get harder

If we miss life’s teachings, they return as wake-up calls, and when life calls, we had better pick up the phone. Adversity is one way the universe gets our attention. Physical pain calls us to balance our body. Emotional suffering reveals to us our illusions and resistance. Mental suffering reveals the healing power of the present. Some pain is inevitable, but as we learn to listen to life’s lessons, suffering become optional.

7. Consequences teach better than concepts

Moral concepts are personal; consequences are universal. What one culture, religion, or nation prohibits, another accepts as moral behavior. What may be wrong in one situation maybe be right in another. Unchanging, unquestioned rules of right and wrong act to keep us from thinking. But life is not so simple. Prisons are full of people who understood the moral concepts, but didn’t grasp the consequences.

8. Only action brings ideas to life

Thoughts are the seeds of possibility. However, in order to reap a harvest, we have to sow seeds in the field of action. Doing is understanding and wisdom grows from practice. Do not act without thinking, or think without acting. By applying bold action at the right time, we apply a simple secret.

9. We can control efforts, not outcomes

This is a hard one to grasp, but it is a truth. Serenity, patience, and wisdom spring from this basic understanding: We cannot directly control people, events, or results. We cannot control whether we sink a putt, win a game, find love, or create world peace. But by making the effort we vastly improve the odds of achieving what we desire. No matter what we think or feel, doubt or fear, despite our past or parents, our efforts still shape our lives. Doing your best is a job well done. So make the effort and then accept the outcomes. Let go of what you can’t control.

10. Timing is everything

Right action at the wrong time serves no useful purpose. In some instances, stillness can be the most powerful action of all. Just as action can reflect courage, waiting can reflect wisdom. But if we wait until we have permission, until we feel more motivated, until it gets easier, until fear vanishes, or hell freezes over, we may miss the chance to act at all. If we wait for the perfect moment to come alive, we may discover that we never lived at all.

11. What goes around comes around

What we sow in kindness returns as a harvest of surprises. What gifts we send out return in different wrappings. Shadows of negativity, scattered into the world, return to the sender, often in ways we cannot see. Good works and virtues are like seeds that multiply. We plant a sprout and reap a forest of gratitude. The simplest generous act blesses the giver. On the other hand, if we give in order to receive, our efforts are wasted on the shores of attachment. But even then, karma is an unfathomable construct. We will never fully know the ripple effects of our actions (i.e., the roads of hell are paved with good intentions). Still, you put out healing energy regardless of the outcome.

12. Little things can make a big difference

Some big accomplishments signify little in the long run. On the other hand, small acts can be great. Life is not made only of magnificent gestures, heroic feats, and historic deeds. Life is made of little things. The smallest actions can make the biggest difference. There’s no need to wait for a big break or breakthrough. Just do the little things. To make huge strides, take small steps. In sports, relationships, art, or business, success may be waiting for one more day, or making one last try. A single word can make or break us. A last straw can break a camel’s back, a smile or loving touch can heal our world. As Margaret Mead observed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

13. Play to your strengths

Everyone who has ever lived has had weaknesses. Even great historical figures had flaws that killed them in the end. But while they lived they inspired hope, created great works, moved nations, and even changed the course of history. So work on your weaknesses, shore up your foundations, and strengthen your weak links. But if you would truly make a difference in the world, concentrate not on your shortcomings, but on your strengths. Discover your talent, your passion, your bliss, and follow that path wherever it leads. A jet plane cannot mow lawns, but it can fly to distant destinations. Don’t worry so much about what you can’t do, just do what you can as only you can do it.

14. To transform your life, change your expectations

Life is a mystery. Moments unfold and things happen. Our mind then creates meanings about what happens. We often don’t see things not as they are, but as we wish they were. Viewing the world through windows of interpretation and expectation, our mind habitually creates a drama, a comedy, a tragedy, a romance, or a soap opera out of what simply arises. Therefore, our mind creates our dreams and dramas and stress arises as the mind resists what is. To attain freedom, make peace with reality. To reinvent your world, shift your expectations. Reality is not what we think.

15. Judge with compassion

We constantly judge ourselves and our world. Those quick to judge are slow to compassion. Those slow to compassion have forgotten that hurtful people don’t go to hell, they are already living a hell. That is why they behave as they do. Resenting people only allows others to live in our head rent-free. And despite our judgments, reality happens anyway. So if we judge, let us judge with compassion, until we finally discover that our primary business is not forgiving others but asking forgiveness.

16. Simplicity has power

A little bit of something beats a lot of nothing. Break the largest task into small steps and it can be done. There is a Chinese parable of an old man who moved a mountain with patience and a spoon. Just so, we can build a palace brick by brick and step by step, we can cover any distance. Without simple patience, courageous efforts quickly fade. With small, steady, simple actions over time, we achieve dreams.

18. Every choice leads to wisdom

Life is a series of choices. Whether we choose for the short run or for the long haul, every choice has benefits and costs. Our past choices made us who we are today. Our present choices will shape our future. Sometimes, when asked to choose between one thing and another, the wisest choice may be both -- but not necessarily at the same time. From a conservative viewpoint, we make “bad choices.” But from a transformative perspective, there are no wrong decisions, only different lessons.

20. We each have inner guidance

Others may be experts in their specialty, but you are the expert on your body and your life. Teachers can at best offer keys to your own treasure house. You know far more than you’ve been taught, have heard, or have read, because you are connected to it all. To contact your inner wisdom, be still, look within, ask, listen, and trust. Instinct and intuition lend their guidance long before your head comprehends. To attain knowledge, add to what you know. To access your intuitive wisdom, let go of what you think you know and you will finally understand.

21. Balancing the body is the first spiritual practice

Spiritual life begins and ends with the body. It is our only possession guaranteed to last a lifetime. We may meditate, visualize, and dream, but we cannot travel out of the body until we first get into it. In a balanced body, flesh and spirit join to create energy and abundance in our lives. We achieve balance through the Holy Trinity of Health: daily exercise, nutritious food, sufficient rest. Balance the body and trust its wisdom. From this foundation all else follows.

22. Life moves in cycles; all things change

Cycles are the natural order of life, like the four seasons that follow one another in endless rounds. Hardship and pleasure alike will pass in time, for whatever rises will fall, and whatever falls will rise again in one or another form. This is the nature of the world. We cannot control the cycles of life, but we can ride them like flowing waves. By accepting our own inner changing seasons, we move in harmony with the cycles of our world.

23. Life is a series of moments

When we think about it -- which is most of the problem -- life appears complex and busy. This is an illusion. Life is utterly simple and serene, because we can only live one moment at a time. There are no neurotic or intelligent people, only neurotic or intelligent moments. And we are responsible only for this moment. The rest is memory and imagination. We are each enlightened, ignorant, kind, or cruel in moments. By paying attention to the present moment, and the next, and the next, we determine the quality of our lives.

24. Be gentle with yourself; trust the process of your life

We are all peaceful warriors in training. Perfection is not a prerequisite for skillful living. While we live, we continue to make mistakes and learn from them. We were born not to be ideal, but to be real. Our purpose is not to become someone else, but to become ourselves. We have all made a mess of things, but nothing is less important than the score at halftime. By accepting our humanity, we awaken our spirituality. Acknowledging our failures may be the greatest triumph of all.

25. Kindness completes our lives. We are in this together

For most of us, sharing a meal or a movie magnifies the pleasure. So does sharing our lives. Humans are designed to interact, to connect, to serve and be served, to work and play together. We all need privacy at times, but the habitual lone wolf, the separate self staring in the mirror, needs to break out of solitary confinement. No one is smarter than all of us, and no one truly accomplishes anything on their own. All we have done rests on the shoulders of those who came before. Offer and accept a helping hand. We are in this together.

* * *

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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