Is lonely a result of being alone?

I rode past a community pool today. The children were having fun. It took me back to a time where I could be happy despite my environment..

When I was young my family had enough money to live well. We had a family business that provided a good income for my father. We lived in a nice house and in the summer we went to a country club where I played in the pool. I loved the pool and had fun despite the fact that I went to sleep at night fantasizing killing my father because he beat me regularly.

What does family of origin have to do with the adult quality of life. No one knows for sure. No one knows what makes relationships work. (Does not prevent “experts” from saying they do).

But I was damaged. I knew hate better than love. I knew anger better than compassion. I lived like a caged animal, looking for an opportunity to escape. My psyche was damaged. Probably no more so than most kids but more than some. I made early decisions intended to survive. Then as I became a teen I made decisions intended to thrive in dysfunctional arenas, like the criminal subculture.

I did not have the ability to see that my behavior was driven by this very damaged psyche and soul. I was dangerous to myself and others the same way an injured animal can be dangerous. I could not fill the hole in my soul and I had no idea how loneliness played a part in all of it. I am a very social animal. But my social circle even now finds me most comfortable amongst the denizens of the night.

 

Now, I frequently sit quietly in meditation , carefully watching this thing that I have which generates thoughts. I treat it like a circus performance. I am amused that I once performed in all 3 rings, simultaneously and mindlessly. The most prominent performance I give is that of Victim. It is a place from which no healing or growth can be had. I would blame everything but my own thoughts for my misfortune. In truth, I suffer because I think and I suffer because I do not get the outcome I desired. Who stood in the way of my success which I have so clearly defined? The answer is, it is always me and it is always about my defining success.

I mention love and relationships a lot in my writings because in my travels as a counselor and human being, it seems that people identify loneliness as the most significant source of emotional and psychological pain. And like everyone else, it has plagued me greatly at times.

Everybody has their path. Some smoother, some rougher. I am, like you are, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. You can never really know me and I can never really know you. But I will keep showing up to try to know you better and I will work hard to let you see me better. This will stimulate a community which has spiritual underpinnings and can help me to not feel so lonely and help me to feel lonely.

May you be blessed and know that all things, including loneliness are impermanent.  May all that you miss, you not need. May all that you need, you will have.

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How it was I came to self-destruct.

I write a lot about relationships without writing about my relationships. It is my most significant challenge emotionally to navigate my love of others without resort to excessive joy and affection, shame, recriminations, anxiety, and the gamut of emotions I experience. It is just a complete list of why I drank and drugged myself half to death.
Every time I slipped underwater and drowned myself in drugs, it was because I did not having coping skills when hurt or angered in a romantic relationship. Every time.
The very things that made me regress then, make me grow now. I have a new skill set. I have learned to examine my participation in every interaction I have with people, especially lovers. Sadness leads to knowledge about myself. Anger leads to knowledge about myself. Joy and affection lead me to knowledge about myself. It is not only the bad that I must be wary of. The good times inevitably create the attachment which leads to suffering as I chase after more good times.
What a blessing to find that I am fully capable of participating in my life during good times and bad times without resorting to drugs to enhance or diminish my feelings. This is a gift derived from sobriety followed by mindfulness. These are two practices which put me on the path that leads to wisdom.
These things I deserve but did not earn. I got lucky. So many people destroy their lives and the lives of loved ones because they have no skill and no capacity to recognize their thoughts and emotions are self-inflicted wounds. I myself have always been and surely will always be a wounded healer.
Thank you to those of you that keep me close. You surround me and remind me to stay in the middle of the herd, where the predators can not pick me off when I feel weak. Good friends are much cheaper than drugs and alcohol.
I acknowledge I am the recipient of these blessings and wish they be shared with all living beings. May the merit I accrue through good acts be acquired for the benefit of all who know anger, hurt and suffering. May all beings be free from all harm and know peace and comfort. I wish these things because I believe what The Buddha taught, that we must accompany wisdom with four qualities of love: Friendliness, Compassion, Appreciative Joy for others and Serenity.
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Am I on the path less traveled?

In Buddhist practice we study the Dhamma or as it is pronounced in some lineages, Dharma. The teachings of the Buddha are said to lead to enlightenment, which  is liberation from suffering/happiness.

The Buddha asserted what we call, the 4 noble truths.

Buddhism’s four truths are called noble because they liberate us from suffering. They are the Buddha’s basic teaching.

1. Suffering

Life always involves suffering, in obvious and subtle forms. Even when things seem good.

2. The Cause of Suffering

The cause of suffering is craving and fundamental ignorance. We attach to things and all things that exist are impermanent.

3. The End of Suffering

Suffering can end because our awakened mind is always available to us.

4. The Path

By living ethically, practicing meditation, and developing wisdom, we can take the same journey to enlightenment and freedom from suffering that the buddhas (awakened ones) do. We too can wake up. This path is the 8 Fold Path.

THE NOBLE EIGHTFOLD PATH

  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

Having put that out there, I want to make a point. My nature causes me to suffer. Human nature leads me to suffering. We will suffer. We will hurt. We will fall ill, lose loved ones, fail at love, harm others unintentionally, etc. If we practice an ethical and compassionate life we can often mitigate our suffering but if you are participating in this thing called life, things will happen.

Our untrained, unmindful thoughts are usually leading to disaster. But mindfulness does not end suffering. The 8 Fold Path is not the end of suffering.

Monks train constantly to think, speak and act mindfully. They practice mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. Monks eliminate most of the distractions and attachments which cause suffering or limit happiness. These same attachments for a lay person lead to great joy at times, great suffering at others.

I do not chase enlightenment but instead simply try to live in the moment. I can do many things Buddhist monks can do. I can chant in the Pali language, recite the blessings, study the scriptures and teachings, go without jewelry, and more. But I live in the world, seeking companionship, friendship, financial security and love. I enjoy pleasure, accept pain. I try to not resist a change of circumstances or fortune, especially one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Rather, I have a dedication to the development mindfulness and skill, wisdom and compassion. I do not expect the elimination of difficulties or attachments. I have learned to moderate and mitigate suffering and to navigate the type of difficulties that can rob a person of peace.

The past few years have been littered with difficulties and blessings. I would have been crushed under the weight of my own insecurities, fears and low self-esteem. But now I recognize that I am not my thoughts and feelings. They are the story I generally tell myself but which I can alter and improve upon by acting in a skillful, wholesome and kind manner.

Monastic life has advantages and disadvantages. The biggest advantage is that it is a simpler life generally without the complications and the challenge of paying rent, buying food and clothing and raising daughters. I would if I could but I cannot I know. I can live more simply but I will always be encumbered by the responsibilities and distractions of a non-monastic life. It beats the old way though by a significant margin. It is a life of service, free from intoxicants and a recognition that I can be in the moment when all my fears and insecurities are pulling me back to the pain of the past or anxiety of the future.

“If you just walk with me
And let me walk with you
I’m on a journey
I don’t wanna walk alone”    Pearl Jam.

 

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Mindful contemplation of feelings.

I study my mind constantly (via Buddhist insight meditation) to see what it will bring up. Of particular interest to me is the presence of sadness. Sadness can hit the accelerator on emotions like nothing else except anger. Anger is easy to spot and relatively easy to manage now. Sadness is more insidious and does not have as strong of a physical component as anger.
I feel sadness but it vibrates at such a low-frequency it can get entrenched before I spot it. And while I see anger in many people, I see a semblance of sadness in almost all people. There are many ways I have to combat the sensation of overwhelming melancholy, the most effective is to stay in the present moment. But I am amazed at the resilience and power of sadness even when it is pushed back on by the most effective tools I know.
So much of living triggers various manifestations of sad. No matter what I have loved, who I have loved or how I loved, impermanence visits every time in one way or another. All the feels good is impermanent. But so is all that is unpleasant.
I discovered years ago that the path out of pain and sadness was through it. No over, under, around. Just through. And on the other side of the discomfort is the recognition of the blessings contained therein.
May all persons be liberated from suffering and free from discomfort, fear, sadness, anger and harm. May all beings be at ease, tranquil and peaceful. This is the blessing I send to all sentient beings and is my path out of my own pain and suffering.
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I poison my own well with doubt.

This has been a rough run. I have all the tools to navigate hard times but I get sad, hurt, angry. You too? I thought so. So none of us is alone in our moments of despair and pain. I can easily forget how hard others have it. I can easily obsess on self.

My dear friend Gary Coursey was THE BEST example of someone who struggled to make ends meet and yet never let me forget that we need to share, help, and give voice to those less fortunate.

My friend Chuck Horn would show generosity of spirit to all despite his desperate struggle with his own very active addiction. He and I would talk daily and a day never went by without Chuck referencing his concern for someone else’s suffering.

My friend Jerry Cichon had more than most. But again, he made frequent references of concern about people who were caught in spiritual, financial or emotional pain.

The irony is these great teachers who passed through my life but then passed beyond are often the very reason I feel lost. Without their counsel and friendship, I forget how good I have it and get lost in losing them. Just like when you lost someone close to you. Remember how much it hurts. Hell yea! I find myself humming the song from Les Miserables

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,
There’s a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables,
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
That I live and you are gone
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken,
And there’s a pain goes on and on

Tomorrow may bring a new friend, lover, teacher. It may bring blessings unimagined today. It may just as likely bring more pain, loss and depression. But if I stay in the moment, breathe, accept and give to others, and cease and desist my propensity to drink poison, grasp hot coals or wear a hair shirt (a shirt made of rough animal hair worn next to the skin as a penance) it will be okay. I wish it felt okay now but that would be unrealistic.

I am a lucky person to have and had so many good friends. And I know, really know, that you have your moments of despair also. I hope reading this caused you to nod your head in understanding, because after all, No one is getting out of this life alive.

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Why is being a jerk is so easy.

I have to work at be empathic. It does not come that naturally or easy. But I am making an effort to push myself to look beyond my little world which is relatively free from suffering. So the damage to all in the path of hurricanes demands my attention. If Puerto Rico is harmed, I am harmed. If refugees from war zones find no comfort and safety, I am harmed. If young Hispanics came to this country at a young age and now have no sense of security and stability, then I am harmed.
 
If I am willing to pray for the well-being of others then my prayers are the health, safety and welfare of millions I have never met who are in the midst of war, storms and famines.
 
If I am one who prays then I express gratitude that my family and friends are all relatively safe, have plenty of food and water and sleep in comfortable beds at night. It has come so easy to have my needs met that it is often hard to empathize with those who have not. I do not worry about where my next meal will come from. I worry about where I want to go for my next meal.
 
May God open my eyes and heart to the plight of my global neighbors. May all living beings, human and non-human who lack safety find safety and all who are hungry find food and all who suffer be free from suffering and harm.
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Epilogue or Sowing the Seeds of Discontent

This is slightly redundant but necessary to the story. I offer a this story that originates in Hyde Park. When I was 15, I was expelled from a New Hampshire boarding school. I was from South Shore but my family had just relocated to Hyde Park. Upon my return to Chicago, I never stayed at home for long. I hated where I lived which was the Powhatan, which was nice but not home. So each day I would go to Kenwood High School and then walk a to 57th street and see who was around the coffeehouses, Medici and Ahmads. If I didn’t stay there, off I went to the Blue Gargoyle, a coffee house located in a church. When I first started going to the BG, it was the cheapest, warmest place to go without getting thrown out. (I was eventually banned from both Ahmad and the Medici)
I met a young Black guy named Tony at the BG. We were both runaways. He was running from the Stones around his house at 66th and Blackstone. I was fleeing my dad. We found different places to crash every night. Fraternity houses and the Quaker House basements, UC students’ apartments, wherever. At some point Tony introduced me to the “art” of burglarizing. Eventually we would rent our own place and survive burglarizing and selling drugs. The BG remained our main hangout.

I previously told the story of Loel Callahan but for filler, Loel Callahan was a divinity student and lived next door to the BG. He and Dwight Caswell founded the BG. They were good guys. Shortly thereafter they were joined by a staff member, Vic Bernstein. A square dude if ever there was one. Tall, Jewish, naive and a UC student, Vic was Loel’s backup. That meant lots of craziness all around.

A year or so later, when Loel secured a grant from the Robert Woods Foundation we started the youth program at the Gargoyle that I wrote about.

Like I said before in my previous blog, I was wanted by the police for some 50 burglaries and they were hot on my trail. (Ken Love knows more than most about that.) I had fled to San Francisco but had recently returned to help my pal Tony get out of jail, for burglary.

So, for whatever reason I decided to help Loel. Mostly because he described a program where we would do for ourselves with him as a kind of adviser. It seemed right. Shortly thereafter when we formed the Hyde Park People’s Organization (HYPPO) under the auspices of the University Church, Loel made sure we were autonomous from the rest of the Gargoyle. He convinced the church to let us take over the Blue Gargoyle 2 nights a week, running the coffeehouse and providing activities for youths. All youth related activities were run past us.

Now for the new part. Several years later while living on the North Side, I tried to start a youth program. I was 23 and wanted to help kids like Loel had helped me. I applied but couldn’t get hired by existing youth agencies because I had never completed high school. I decided to rent a store front on the north side with my savings and open a drop in center for teens.

But Hyde Parker, Tony Roberts insisted I meet him at the House of Tiki to meet another Hyde Parker named Kaye Hill. Kaye was a grant monitor for the Illinois Dangerous Drug Commission. She wanted to start a program for young at-risk girls. We talked that night and decided to work together.

Kaye convinced me that my plan was doomed to fail for a variety of reasons. Instead she taught me how to structure and organize an organization which would be capable of securing charitable donations. She taught me how to do research, write grants and more. We chose the Lakeview community to operate in. We named our new baby, Local Motion Inc. Kaye helped me write the bylaws, secure our 501(c)(3) and recruit the board of directors. I tracked down Vic Bernstein, formerly of the Blue Gargoyle staff, and now a PhD in Psychology and he became one of the first board members. He did not have the fond memories that I had for the Gargoyle but he came on board. (I just looked him up and he is shown as an Associate professor at the UofC)

Kaye and I modeled Local Motion, after the HYPPO youth program. I spent every day on the streets, seeking out the kids that were most alienated. I made contact with every street gang. About 15 of the kids I worked in and around died of gang violence in three years. Kids designed every program and activity we sponsored. We joined the Chicago Youth Network Council a coalition of independent youth service programs which was started years earlier by a group of youth service providers including Loel Callahan.

Our board of directors grew and became inhabited by community leaders/clergy, businessmen,  and neighborhood kids and their parents.

I resigned 3 years later and took a job as the Youth Service Bureau Director with the YMCA Southwest Youth Outreach Program at Morgan Park/Mt Greenwood. Once again I set out to prove that kids just needed a facilitator and they could blossom and be productive. It was also when I attended the Chicago State University, University Without Walls program and got a BS in Social Services.

After a stint in the business world followed by drug treatment, I became a drug counselor for Tapestry Youth Services, operating out of the University of Chicago Social Services building at 61st and Ellis. My area of operation was Woodlawn, reaching out to kids and their families. Doing house visits could be unsettling just parking my car back then.
I was recruited a year later to open the Hyde Park Hospital’s Drug Detox Center at 58th and Stony Island. (Now closed) The year I served as a drug therapist at Hyde Park Hospital I had a daily routine of walking ambulatory patients to Wooded Island behind the Museum. http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2011/04/25/old-hospital-in-hyde-park-is-now-a-memory/

One year later I left to attend law school at the John Marshall Law School. Upon graduation, I solo practiced for 13 years specializing in adult criminal cases and juvenile court abuse and neglect and delinquency cases.

The Blue Gargoyle went through many permutations over the years. Loel left to work overseas. The BG tried in vain to find staff who could control the youth like Loel had done. Myself and Sam D’Orlaque and friends along with the help of some other tough kids, physically and psychologically intimidated everyone who followed for the next few years. The Church brought in a social worker, then a hippie commune and then an ex-con to manage the Gargoyle and us. But no one ever engendered the loyalty of the original BG staff. HYPPO fell apart under adult interference.

This Blue Gargoyle story has a million other stories which spring from it. Some of you worked there or volunteered there in later years.

Footnote. The Hyde Park YMCA contracted around 1972 with the BG to start a youth program at the 53rd St. Y. Their programs had been destroyed by gangs. The BG had developed a reputation for its gang neutrality and excellent work with teens. The Gargoyle sent me to the Y to start a program. Among other things, I approached the Chicago Police Department Youth Division at 29th Prairie for help. They had some resources like mobile health care units and other services for youth at their disposal. They liked my presentation and their help seemed imminent. But they notified me that they were canceling their planned participation in any effort because they found out I was with the BG. The officer said that it was a known left-wing organization which housed radicals with a sketchy reputation.

This is my story and I am sticking to it.

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