Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Peace and Loving Connection

The lunar new year will be here in mid February. This will be the year of the metal tiger. I've had this photo on my desktop for two weeks, ever since my niece Heather told me about her yoga classes and gave me the link to the website of the yoga institute where she studies. Her teachers are students of Swami Satchidananda. I love this image and the quote. I love seeing Swami Satchidandanda with his hand gently resting on the tiger's paw.

That image of Swami Satchidananda and the tiger takes me back to a particular time when I was in my late 20s. I was living in New York and working as an assistant to moviemaker Conrad Rooks. A tall, slender blond man in his 30s, Rooks was reputed to be heir to a fortune. His wife, a beautiful dark-haired woman, was said to be a Russian princess. I never questioned this from a historical perspective at the time, but now I wonder, could she have been a Russian princess? Rooks had just produced a film called Chappaqua, which still has a small cult following.

In Chappaqua, a psychedelic foray into the world of consciousness expansion and spirituality, Rooks rounded up everyone whose presence might add to the artistic and spiritual flavor-- William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg, some Tibetan lamas, Indian sadhus and various avant garde artists, and a bevy of Andy Warhol cohorts, who were much sought after in those days.

Rooks' office was on the ground floor of his townhouse. It was, from my perspective, an elegant place. There while I sat typing letters and answering the phone, as keenly aware of my menial status as any clerk in a Dickens novel, Rooks entertained some of the brightest stars in the art world with the casual familiarity that wealthy people command so easily. Occasionally the beautiful dark-haired princess appeared to talk something over with him. The two of them, for all their beauty and wealth, had an edgy, dissatisfied quality. I noticed it but never thought too much about it, because I didn't know anyone who was happy or satisfied in those days. From my vantage point, Rooks' life was terribly glamorous.

When Chappaqua was released, Rooks hosted a huge party at an uptown club. Hundreds of people, costumed with great attention to their overall artistic effect, pulsed like a colony of anemones on the dance floor while the band produced a mighty sea of sound. There was plenty of food and drink. People were happy to be there. And Rooks and his Russian princess, at the center of attention, seemed happy, too.

I was just a hired hand. The thought made me glum. If only I had money and connections like Rooks, who knows what great things I could do as an artist? While I was engrossed in these habitual reveries, a man dressed in a long saffron robe walked into the room, moving slowly and gracefully. His long silver-gray hair spread out over his shoulders, and his long gray beard flowed down over the front of his saffron colored robe.

I don't think he looked directly at me as he passed, but I remember his dark peaceful eyes. I had never seen any eyes like those eyes on a living person. The most remarkable thing about him was a golden light that seemed to radiate from his entire body. When I saw it, I wondered if I had perhaps smoked too much marijuana. The room seemed curiously still to me, even with the band playing. Everything was moving very slowly. Finally I managed to pull myself from timelessness to ask a nearby acquaintance, "Who is that?"

"That's Swami Satchidananda," the person replied. It seemed surreal to see such a being in the midst of that celebratory and world-weary gathering. When Swami Satchidananda finished his slow, luminous passage through the room and disappeared from sight, the party seemed very dark and smoky indeed. But the memory of the golden light he shed remained.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “Some things lead us into a realm beyond words . . . to revelations unattainable by reason. It is like that small mirror in fairy tales -- you glance in it and what you see is not yourself; for an instant you glimpse the Inaccessible, where no magic carpet can take you. And the soul cries out for it."

It was like when I saw Swami Satchidananda. The difference between Swami Satchidananda and the rest of the people at the party was palpable. Seeing him walk through the frenetic smoky nightclub with his saffron robes, silver hair, beatific, aware expression and golden light brought up so much in me. He was without a doubt someone who could be described as a holy person, something outside of the categories I was accustomed to. His appearance made me see how tawdry the party was. But in my mind, he seemed too far above me, too rarified; he came from another universe than the one I inhabited. I felt uncouth, too rude and rough to relate to a being like him. So his appearance scathed me, reminding me of how embroiled and confused I was.

That's what I am reminded of when I look at this image of Swami Satchidananda and the tiger sitting together so peacefully. And I realize in looking back this way that the years have been kind to me. I have had the fortune to have some of my roughness smoothed in the presence of spiritual teachers. Not Swami Satchidandanda, whom I never saw again. But other deeply developed beings. I have been blessed to breathe the rarified air of their presence. I mean it. It has been through their example that I have experienced something of the ineffable.

(Some of this writing is excerpted from my book-in-progress, Songs of the Inner Life)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

George Leonard and Mary Daly

Two remarkable people passed away recently. George Leonard at 86, Mary Daly at 81. Both were cultural provocateurs and social change artists. Both could qualify for The Elder Hall of Fame.

Mary Daly, widely known as a radical feminist theologian or philosopher, wrote books heralded as groundbreaking in feminist and spiritual thought. One work, Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language, presented a lexicon of non-sexist language and reclaimed scorned words like crone and hag as emblems of pride.

George Leonard was one of the pioneers of the human potential moment at Esalen Institute in California. His book Education and Ecstasy was considered one of the first manifestos of that movement.

Here is what the New York Times said about the lives of each of these elders.

George Leonard

Mary Daly

Friday, January 22, 2010

In the Midst of the Music

When I saw this image I couldn't resist it. Just look at those two, transported through their music into such visible pleasure, right there on the street. I wish I knew what they were playing at that moment. Are they in Italy or France? I can't decide. The photographer is from Italy, so probably they are Italian, too. I don't know about that, but what I do know is that they are in the midst of the music. And that is a good place to be.

We are quite literally made of music. From the music of the spheres, the celestial unstruck music, the primordial Sound, our physical world precipitates from resonance into more solid form. No wonder music transports us, releasing and refreshing us.

Well not all music you may be thinking. Not heavy metal, or whatever it is for you. But for those who love heavy metal, it invigorates and opens new vistas.

I love so many kinds of music--Indian ragas, native American flute, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, Brahms Requiem, that marvelous Bulgarian womens' choir, the lambent flames and flowering of some gypsy songs. BB King, Etta James.

The liturgical music of Tibetan Buddhism brings me to great openness. What music transports you, and where/how does it send you?

Today, I am celebrating because I have finished writing my musical play A New Wrinkle! How am I celebrating? No formal feast has come to mind as yet, but I am sure it will. For now, right now, this is my celebration, to breathe in and out, feeling the fingers moving quickly on the keyboard, transmitting thoughts from my mind into words, in the stillness of early morning. In the midst of the music--as if we had a thousand years, as if we were to die tomorrow.

The image of street musicians is by Italian photographer Fabio Gismondi via Flickr

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Really Old

A night of high winds lightens into morning and after a week of contemplating the sorrow of Haiti's earthquake, I find myself looking at some images of what's really old--galaxies, planets, nebula spiraling, exploding, creating in vast space mysterious shapes that seem like fleeting dream images that made their way from the inner world to the sky.

It provides an expansive respite to gaze at these marvelous images and to rest in studying the vastness of universes, constellations of light and color that are really old, immense, and by our ordinary human standards timeless.

Now the sky lightens into early morning and the wind is buffeting the nearby trees. Another day of being here on Earth in a body. On the Earth, so in need of healing. In a body, growing old. Not really old, not with the broad vision of aeons, like the Ancient of Days, not yet. But old enough to know the transitory nature of this life, its unpredictability and its profound essential beauty.

I dreamed last night of beginning a voyage on a sailing ship. Then I woke to the journey of today, a particular Tuesday. Now it's time for my morning meditation practice, and then the work that's set out for today-- writing the final choral piece for my play, finding a musician with a synthesizer, finding a sound technician. Such finite details.

Moving these finite gestures within the embrace of the infinite. Remembering what's really old. I start the day with a prayer which includes all humans and all creatures and Nature. May all beings be happy.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Elder Hall of Fame

We have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Baseball Hall of Fame, and seems to me we could use an Elder Hall of Fame. Now this is not a complete list in any way, in terms of my own nominations. But here are a few elders I put forth for your consideration.

Three of them are known as spiritual leaders.
Mahatma Gandhi
Mother Theresa
The Dalai Lama

There are the 2 Alberts, Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer, faves of mine since childhood.

And here are some others. I admire the political activist Granny D., who at 89 walked across the country to draw attention to campaign reform. Of course I should mention Jack La Lanne, embodying and teaching physical fitness far into the later years, and B.B. King, a great blues singer who continues to perform in his 80s. And I want to include Clarissa Pinkola Estes, mythologist, storyteller, and author of Women Who Run with the Wolves.

Robert Butler M.D. who created the word ageist and is credited with creating the field of aging has my vote as does the recently deceased Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D. author of The Mature Mind and The Creative Age. And Rabbi Zalman Schachter, who coined the phrase spiritual eldering and wrote the wonderful book From Aging to Saging.

Here's a few others whose lives and work I contemplate:
Anne Halprin, innovative dancer and choreographer
James Hillman author of Force of Character and the Lasting Life
Maya Angelou, poet, civil rights activist, best selling author
Artist Louise Bourgeois, pushing 100 and still producing amazing art
Barbara Marx Hubbard, at 80 working for positive futures for humanity
Irene Pappas, the marvelous Greek actress and singer

Oh, how about Ram Dass and Wavy Gravy? They are great examples of humor, service and heartful living.

And I must include some of my townspeople here. Like John and Dot Fisher-Smith, both in their early 80s, riding their bikes all over town. And the painters Charu Colorado, Harriet Rex Smith and Betty La Duke. The dancer/choreographer Robin Bryant. The poet Lawson Inada. Just a few of the vivid elders I am fortunate to live among.

That's just for starters, a mere amuse-bouche so to speak. There are so many more. I wonder who you would choose to nominate for the Elder Hall of Fame? What elders inspire you?

The photos are of Albert Einstein, Barbara Marx Hubbard and Maya Angelou

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sage's Play Website is Live!

I am happy to share the news that Sage's Play now has a website describing its perspective and programs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to its development, especially those whose photos and art are part of the masthead. These include Alice Matzkin, who painted the beautiful painting of Beatrix Potter, Myrna Jacobs, who took the great photo of blues singer Freddie Cunningham, artist Charu Colorado and dancer/choreographer Robin Bryant.

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” --Plato

And that's the truth.

I invite you to visit my new website at
Sage's Play

Let's play!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Making of an Elder Culture

In 1969, Theodore Roszak published a book that became a classic--The Making of a Counter Culture. Roszak's new book The Making of an Elder Culture takes another look at the boomer generation, 40 years later. Yes, the author tells us, the youthful boomers were idealistic, audacious agents of social change. And now in their maturity they have the opportunity to become an even more powerful force for change. "The final stage of life is uniquely suited to the creation of new social forms and cultural possibilities," Roszak notes. And he continues a couple of pages later, "If boomers can change the self-serving entrepreneurial and neo-conservative values that now dominate our lives,they will have made a historic contribution not only to their own society, but to the modern world at large."

Now this is a possibility I myself earnestly support. Of course, Roszak is not the first author to discuss the unique responsibility and opportunity that elders have to care for and nourish culture. Rabbi Zalman Schachter published From Aging to Saging in 1995. Reb Zalman said in that book, "Elders are not 'senior citizens' who get gold watches at retirement, move to Sunbelt States, and play cards, shuffleboard, and bingo ad nauseum. They are wisdom keepers who have an ongoing responsibility for maintaining society's well-being and safeguarding the health of our ailing planet Earth."

So at least in that instance, Roszak and Schachter are talking about the same thing--the job elders have to nourish, lead and harmonize. But the two of them are coming at it in such different ways. The Rabbi's focus is on spiritual eldering, encouraging elders to embody wisdom. Roszak is much more in his head. Of course, the world is large and there is room for both Schacter's spiritual eldering and Roszak's proposed elder insurgency.

I will not attempt to cover the cornucopia of Roszak's spirited intellectual examinations on the future of government entitlements, sex and intimacy in later life, the imminent revolt of female caregivers, the predicament of aging alpha males, visions of great elder housing, and a nod to ecology. He is a cultural historian. Your head will be filled with many thoughts, and you will wonder about some of what he has to say, if you are anything like me. I mean, he rejoices over the declining birth rate and growing elder population as an expression of population leveling. Maybe so, and what about the other dimensions of it? What does it say about how we feel about the future of humankind, what does it say about our collective heart?

I guess I prefer the Rabbi's style. But I would love to hear from any reader who wants to elaborate on Roszak's book's high points, bogs and wild surmises. Did you read it and love it? Or maybe you're a fan of the Rabbi, too. Do tell.

Yes, yes yes, I want the boomers to enact positive social change via counter culture part 2. Yes, yes yes, I want to see elders define themselves as wisdom keepers and embody that. Yes, I imagine how much can change for the better when elders become spiritual leaders, creative lights and pragmatic activists. Yes, most affirmatively so.

At right: Photo of Rabbi Zalman Schachter

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sexual Freedom in the 60s, Part 2

In doing some research this morning on San Francisco theater companies, I discovered that Z Space at Theater Artaud is presenting A Round Heeled Woman The play, which runs from January 5-February 7th is based upon the book by Jane Juska, a woman in her 60s who decided she had not yet had very satisfying sex and wanted to have some before she died. Juska put an ad in the New York Review of Books, as follows:

"Before I turn 67 - next March - I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me ..."

Obviously a woman of some wit, originality and humor. Well apparently she had such overwhelming response that she decided to take a sabatical from teaching to clear the way for some serious late life romantic adventures.

As the book's jacket notes, "Round-heeled is an old-fashioned epithet for a woman of easy virtue. It's a surprising way for a respectable English teacher with a passion for the novels of Anthony Trollope to describe herself, but then that's just one of the many surprises to be found in this poignant, funny, unique memoir. Juska is a totally engaging, perceptive writer, funny and frank about her exploits. It's high time someone revealed the fact that older single people are as eager for sex and intimacy as their older counterparts. Jane Juska's brave, honest memoir will probably raise eyebrows and blood pressure, but it will undoubtedly appeal to the very large audience of grown-up readers who will be fascinated and inspired by her daring adventure."

It is high time that someone revealed the fact that many older adults like sex quite a lot. Hooray! And for those who are glad that they no longer have to deal with sex, another hooray! No judgement either way.

Bravo to Z Space for picking up on this sexual liberation part 2 theme.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

May the Muse Be with You

I first watched this marvelous talk by Elizabeth Gilbert some months ago, and just rediscovered it recently, thanks to one of the women on ElderWomanSpace, an internet community I participate in. Gilbert is the author of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. Her talk here on creativity and inspiration is downright wonderful. Enjoy. Sending you warm wishes for a beautiful 2010 full of health, joy and deeper understanding.

Photo of painting by Frederick Hodler courtesy