I grew up in Seattle where gray is considered a primary color. In the Pacific Northwest, gray engulfs and obscures, but paradoxically also defines. It is both austere and emotional. It marks time without leaving a mark. It both inhibits and inspires. As a kid, I recall encountering sepia for the first time, which felt like sensory overload; like when the carnival came to town. The burst of color that finally arrived each mid-summer was as if Timothy Leary had traveled through on Jack Kerouac’s bus and dropped a gallon of LSD into our drinking water. But, by late September, our old friend gray would return to remind us we were as boring, and yet intriguing, as it was.
A life of low-and-slow stimulation that brings a sense of calm deliverance in the latter stages of life is equally disturbing in our younger years when energy and libido make you dance and spin like a feral cat with its tail on fire. In my senior year of high school, it rained 72 days straight. Trust me, I counted. When my acceptance came from a college in Southern California, I felt like an astronaut waiting on an Apollo launchpad. The allure was that “It never rains in Southern California,” sung by the one-hit wonder, Albert Hammond, (released in 1972). It became the theme song for every kid who lived north of Eugene, Oregon. After a year, I retreated from SoCal once I experienced their gray—from forest fires on Mt. Baldy—that not only blocked the sun, it rained ash! This was my first lesson in the realization that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.
Still, I moved. Business took me from Seattle to Dallas, then Washington D.C., back to Dallas, and finally (post-business) my escape in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where every border crossing bears the sign, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” (That color thing draws me in like a magnet.) The beauty of where I live today is nothing short of magnificent. I have lived in the left, right, and center of America and each place has its appeal—its own special beauty. I remember in 1982, when I first arrived in Dallas and I played flag football on Sunday in late October when it was 75 degrees and sunny. I didn’t even know it was possible to sweat in October. Then, the awe of power in Washington D.C. in the late Reagan/early Bush 41 years. Pillars of stone guarding halls of grandeur. A musk-like intoxicant of power that (I eventually learned) turns well-intentioned “representatives of the people” into common street walkers strutting in stiletto heels on K Street lusting for lobbyists’ dollars. (If you are Kevin McCarthy, add a Velcro-fastened French maid’s outfit; easy on, easy off.)
My memories are filled with the taste of things. A bowl of steaming clam chowder from Pike Place Market in Seattle; a flaming platter of fajita meat in Dallas; fresh-pressed cider on a crisp fall day in Northern Virginia; and a perfectly broiled rack of lamb in Colorado. I should add the overwhelming scent of fresh-cut alfalfa I found so comforting in my youth during summers in South Dakota working on my maternal homeland. I didn’t eat it, but I sure understood why the cattle gobbled it.
Yes, I have (mostly) enjoyed my life. To be clear, pain too, but that just acts to make the joy more enjoyable. Through my travels, my victories, and my tribulations, I have also come to understand what home is, or rather, where it is. Home is where you are, wherever you may be. In the modern era, we must learn to find solace in this concept. The Hallmark channel may beg to differ as it makes its living on the romanticized version of home as a permanent place where the paint never peels and there is always an apple pie in the oven. But if we are to find peace before our travels end, we must realize home is not a zip code, it is at the core of our being.
Considering home as inside of you, wherever you may be, is an acquired mindset. It replaces an attachment to place with the attachment to self; more broadly, the whole self: psyche and soul. The old saying, “Home is where the heart is” comes close, but my notion of home is deeper and broader. Moreover, it is transportable inasmuch as it travels with you. It is a place of comfort and stability; it is safe.
In several essays over the last year, I have written about the work I have done in seeking, maintaining, and securing a sense of “sweet peace” and being “whole as one.” This is my concept of home: not residing at home, rather feeling at home. Home as a state of being is supported by the following five practices.
- Be in the present at all times. There is nothing you can do about the past or the future; the only thing you can affect is the now; the only thing you can ever even experience is the now. Apply yourself accordingly.
- Conquer your monkey mind. Left to its own devices, our minds spin out of control several times each day. Rumination—the spiral staircase that descends into the abyss of despair—can be stopped by first being aware of what the mind is doing and, second, by interrupting the process allowing those instigating thoughts to pass by before rumination takes hold. And, if you develop the discipline to hit the pause button, those fatalistic thoughts will pass without further effect. The next trick is reversing the spiral into one of an ascension toward virtue (a topic for another day).
- Remain open, aware, and compassionate. Contemplate the world as a three hundred-sixty-degree visual field. Allow everything to rise and fall, come and go, with a sense of calm admiration and explicitly without a sense of judgment. In this mindset, the world is quite amazing.
- Live conflict-free, fear-free, and anger-free. Stay above the fray; rise above the rabble. Let others get mired in the mud. Keep your boots clean. Remember, the only true victory is tranquility.
- Honor your values. Maintain an uncompromising commitment to your fundamental beliefs that undergird your moral high ground. Your integrity and your virtue are the foundation of your home.
There is no escaping the fact that you have to live with yourself every moment of your life. You might as well make that relationship the strongest one that you have. To be whole as one. Make you your home. Once it is a place of comfort and safety, wherever you are you will be fine. Protect it accordingly. It is your fort. It is your port in the storm. Moreover, it is your special gift to the world. Treat it as the precious thing that it is, with no apologies.
Those of you in committed relationships might ask, but what about being whole as a couple? The prerequisite to this is, of course, that you each first be whole as one. If you aren’t, whole as two will never happen in an enduring manner. One or both of you will suffer and the relationship will likely fail. Balance and symbiosis are foundational virtues in companionship.
As a final sharing today, I offer a poem that is framed by a childhood memory and my current mindset. It was an interesting exercise made so by the requirement that one life be contained in one page. It may be a worthwhile exercise for you as well. Obviously, there are several thousand pages missing from this rendering of my life, but I found this bookend approach quite illuminating for me. A personal thought experiment. Perhaps you will, too.
That Boy Grown Gray
In my youth, I roamed.
The sea, then woods, mountains, the prairie
and back again.
My eyes transfixed on the telephone wires,
undulating from pole to pole,
as the Empire Builder sped eastward
through tunnels burrowed in granite.
A clackity-click, then a clickity-clack;
my train rumbled on
from Seattle, to White Fish, to Fargo.
It mattered who I was, mostly just to me.
Few thought I was worth an obligation,
fewer yet a worthy dependency.
Youth; penniless and pure.
Me just for me.
No one’s prospect, no one’s cure.
And now here I am, that boy grown gray.
Just one shadow to cast,
just one meal to make.
I carry my own fire again.
Slower in both breath and stride,
I pause more than hurry.
No cards held; none to be played.
Quiet mind, I now see with my soul.
Embraced by the wisdom of eternity.
Note to my politically-stressed readers: I realize I have been quiet about the mess in Washington D.C. recently, but I am not ignoring it, nor you. The fact is that the highest order issues facing Americans today are not political, they are mental health issues. Moreover, I view our current political situation as one of more entertainment than concern. Yes, much must be rectified in all three branches of our federal government. But for the moment, the proverbial car-chasing dog—the MAGA nutjobs in Congress—have caught the bumper of the car, and I expect they will soon find themselves pinned beneath the wheel of reason. (With apologies to car-chasing dogs who arguably have higher character than people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.) This detonation of idiocy must be allowed to fully discharge before any real progress can be made. We are on our way to a clumsy transition from the period of crisis that began in 2003 to the next period of objectivism, where reason prevails once again. So, breathe. And, maybe even snicker with me. Once we transition, I am certain George Santos will take full credit. Perhaps we can bestow a trophy upon him to go on the shelf next to his MVP volleyball award from Baruch College.
Note to my well-wishers: Today, I head to Houston to spend some time at MD Anderson Cancer Center to see if there is any better way to rid myself of these nasty adenocarcinoma cells. This consultation was facilitated by one of my readers; a good friend and better person than I will ever be. So, before they cut me up in Colorado, I will see what else might be possible. Thus far, I have filled out numerous pre-consultation questionnaires, none of which asked me, “What can we do for you?”, but maybe they are saving that question for the consultation. (If they did, they would be the first on this unwelcome and disturbingly empathy-free journey through our healthcare system.) If anyone knows of a better treatment, they should know at MD Anderson. Either way, I shall prevail. After all, I am home.