Apr 16, 2021 • 15M

Eras of Change

The Adventures of Life in Motion

5
4
 
1.0×
0:00
-15:23
Open in playerListen on);
A Creative Magazine on Awe Mystery Meaning and Spirit
Episode details
4 comments

Welcome to This Present Moment.

What follows is the first in a series of semimonthly writings. In the coming weeks I will share emails on life, philosophy, consciousness and whatever else electrifies me. What this will blossom into, I do not know. It is an experiment in connection, and I invite you to meet me here. If you'd like to be kept abreast, subscribe below for new volumes at least twice a month.

To move into This Present Moment, let's first look backward. 


It's almost cute how we compartmentalize our life into eras. We see our history as little chapters that comprise the Story of Our Life.It's portioned out into sub-narratives, like "My Summer Abroad," or "Middle School: The Weird Years," or "Grandma's Final Days." 

We also have collective eras, culturally agreed upon and enshrined in history books. "The Victorian Era." "Pre-9/11." And now, "COVID." 

In the centuries to come, those early months of 2020 will be the pivot in which the 21st century turns. And as with many of us, it is also a fulcrum in which my life turned.

In February 2020 I snuffed out the last remnants of my bachelor life and said goodbye to the East Village. I whittled down my belongings to three boxes, moved into my girlfriend's uptown apartment, and she immediately got me hooked on La Croix. I am now a convert.

But moments after I moved in, the world moved away. 

New York drifted into silence

The nation held its breath.

And we all became friendly with the unknown.

The Observer In Me found this curiously engrossing. Tragic, absolutely, but it was also a time bursting with novelty. If you recall, this domestic drama premiered in New York City. It was quite the production. There was the now-mired press briefings by Andrew Cuomo, the banging of pots for healthcare workers, and, of course, a deus-ex-machina: The USNS Comfort. That Navy darling sat emptily one block from my apartment, greeting me during mornings runs. "May you live in interesting times." Well, what's more interesting than jogging through a totally empty Times Square like Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky?

And as if reality wasn't shifting fast enough, we decided to get a puppy. Rooh surged into our life with boundless vigor. At once a firecracker and a love-bug, she's tested me where I'm weak and softened me where I'm hard. And in turn, she has become one of my greatest teachers. As rascalous as she is, I marvel at how I've come to love her. 

Animals are bizarre beings. On one hand, they're in some foreign world that shirks any resemblance to the mind of man. And yet, we draw our eyes to theirs and we connect. In that instant we know each other, and we see them as if they were us. That collective space—the union of mind—is what this present moment is really about. Somewhere behind the clatter of our daily thoughts we have a deeper seat of awareness, a point of stillness.

Our minds have been affected by this virus more than our bodies. In the fog of lockdown, one was left with an inescapably close-up look at their life. It slowed our motion, held up a mirror, and asked Do you like what you see? 

In the mornings I would sit on a thin, grassy parkway on the Hudson River. This slice of "nature" became my center of gravity, my tether to the natural world. Lying in Shavasana, I would listen to the birds sing. They didn't seem worried about anything—just another day in the steady spin of time. The dawn sun would bathe my body, and I felt clean. What nourishment even the briefest ray of light offers us in otherwise dark times. "So shines a good deed in a weary world."

My years in New York were buoyed by these daily trips to the park. Mini-eras marked by mini-plots of grass. Astoria Park. Central Park. Washington Square. With every new apartment came a new spot to commune with the Sun. Tompkins. East River. Riverside. Prospect. They were lifelines carrying me through the different islands of my 20's.

But through the looking-glass of lockdown, these meager patches of Earth suddenly seemed insufficient. Where was there room for growth?

And thus the closing words were written for "The Most Exciting Decade of My Life." Nothing will match the youthful jubilance of those New York years—a kinetic voyage of self-discovery that will forever be lodged in my heart. What a gift it was to come of age in the Greatest City in the World, to ride its waves to the shores of who I am. 

But it was time to traverse new lands. Molly and I condensed our few belongings into storage, bought a car, and with little Rooh took to America to find a home. 

The first stop was Molly's hometown of Carlisle, Ohio, a bastion of middle America, and a counterpoint to the high pitch of New York. Molly's folks inhabit an old haunted house where I spent my free time writing what amounted to a garage-philosophy theory of everything. Our month-long stopover was a gentle respite of relaxation, contemplation, and, as always, work.

For the prior two years I had been a filmmaker at Google's Creative Lab. Gripes abound at Big Tech these days, and I could levy plenty of grievances over the perils of modern technology—corporate and otherwise. But my experience there was fantastic, and the Creative Lab is good people trying to do good things with a good company. Plus, the work was stimulating—crescendoing, for instance, in a Super Bowl spot of which I am proud.

I was at the end of my contract—and at the end of my willpower to gaze into a Macbook all day. I bid Google adieu and, for the first time in my life, began turning down work. I was simply going to live.

Thus began one of the most glorious chapters of my life.

First we dropped by Chicago to see my folks, and then sojourned at Molly's sister's in Oklahoma City (a surprisingly hip place). Then we drove west to Colorado and nabbed an AirBNB in the mountains, nestled between Boulder and a crusty, hippie town named Nederland. The mammoth beauty of it all lifted me up, and I was Rocky Mountain High. The vastness of the mountains. The totemic serenity of the trees. The notes of pine in the morning air. It felt magical, and my spirit was ignited. 

We descended Colorado by way of a small mountain town named Crestone, population 86. Crestone is a bracingly unique spot in the San Luis Valley, flanked by dozens of Zen retreat centers, the Sand Dunes National Park, and my favorite: a UFO watchtower. (My visit offered no sightings ... But aliens are real. More on that some other time.😉 )

We drove down through Taos and Santa Fe, catching their vibes, going on hikes, and learning the rhythms of this more transient lifestyle. I finally began to free of the workaday constraints which plagued those deeper intuitions—some of which gave birth to this very essay you read.

Navajo Nation. Flagstaff. The Grand Canyon

I read. I wrote. I ran. 

It was era, after era, after era. Each location unfurled into its own riveting narrative. Each week felt like a mini-lifetime of mysteries and discoveries. I was captured one particular week by the mystique of a border town named Bisbee, a quirky and colorful jewel hidden in the deserts of Arizona. 

Thereafter, Molly, Rooh and myself tracked north. Palm Springs. Joshua Tree. Los Angeles. And San Francisco, where my sister was to be wed.

Against the backdrop of a sprawling Sonoma vineyard, I had the privilege of officiating what was, against all odds, the perfect ceremony. After postponing her wedding and then thinning it down to only immediate family, Jenny and Brian translated what was originally a bombastic jubilee into an intimate, gorgeous weekend shared between two families. To be with parents and siblings during these times, in celebration of Love, eclipsed the if-onlys of whatever that wedding was "supposed" to be.  

In October we started heading back East and spent an amazing week in Park City. Like Colorado, I just was taken by the magnificence. "America the Beautiful." Whether it be those autumnal mosaics that blanketed Utah, the roving cliffs of Big Sur, or the humble cornfields of Ohio, I was constantly under the spell of Mother Earth. Our nation spent much of last year inflaming its other side. But outside the radioactive reaches of that noise, this land was silently shining its glory upon us. 

As the days turned colder, we pit-stopped back in Oklahoma City. Our Subaru had clocked 10,000 miles. Rooh was now full grown (and still in training). Molly and I were closer than ever (and also still in training). I played guitar. Molly did yoga. Life was just, kinda, normal for a second. And then shortly before Christmas we embarked upon what was the most peculiar adventure of it all.

In most cities, we stayed at either a friend's or an AirBNB. However, on a whim I found a work-trade program at a farm in Virginia (via WOOF, the Worldwide Organization of Organic Farmers). It was an herbal tea farm run by a swami, or a Hindu priest. And it was unusual.

Upon arrival, the mood was thick. The old farm was in grave disrepair. The fields had long been barren. And the priest was a mantra-chanting ascetic who—despite plotting his life by the strictest doctrines of Hinduism—chain-smoked cigarettes and was seeking an open-carry permit. A priest with a handgun. Paradoxes galore!

There was a darkness there. Strange devotees would eat up the "guru"'s words, even as his mutterings distorted into negativity and fear. This was a white Hindu in the heart of Trumpland helming a defunct spiritual center teetering on the edge of foreclosure. But of course, these curiosities tantalized The Observer In Me. What a ripe scene.

It would be easy to just write it all off, but this was not a bad man. He was earnestly trying to figure out his way just like the rest of us. And he was kind. The intersection of spirituality and ego is a murky crossroads, out of which the direction is not always visible. 

I also learned a lot there. I swung an axe all day. I came to love spicy food (the Swami was also an Ayurvedic chef, and his cooking was fantastic). And I met an 18 year-old girl from Philadelphia—also staying at the farm—whose self-awareness and maturity gave me hope for future generations.

By necessity we cast off that farm and—seeking a nearby substitute—found a different place just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. This new spot, a farm at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was the mirror image of where we had just come. Eerily similar in layout, but totally opposite in energy. Run by two hearty lesbians, this majestic property was pulsing with love. Horses and chickens and goats rambled around the premises. The evening we arrived we were welcomed by a bonfire, and as the night unfolded, the aura just felt perfect. It was as if I was touched by the Hidden Hand: This is where you are supposed to be.

Upon arriving back at our cabin, Molly and I shared a joyous hug. My journal from that evening read:

"I just had the most beautiful experience.

I found home.

What riches, what joy."

There it was! So unexpected and yet so organic. Such is the trickery of life.

The farm sat at the bottom of Mount Mitchell, and daily I would walk its trails. The roving rivers, the mushy moss, and the pink-brushed sunsets were out of a Taoist dream. I was enchanted. At night the moon would shine down like a floodlight from the heavens, and I'd look up and think I just spent a decade where I couldn't see the stars

We also got to know the city of Asheville itself, which resonated with the same allure as the outskirts in which we were living. Three weeks ago we rented our own place in the city, furnished it, and are now laying the roots for a new life.

Which brings us to This Present Moment. 

It is through the unknown in which life unfolds. "The only way to make sense out of change," as Alan Watts said, "is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." I feel such wonder towards that unknown,  and such excitement for wherever it carries me next. After the many mini-eras of this last year, I now stand at the frontier of another. The future is always an era waiting to be written—and what a joy it is that we get to dance in the cosmic mystery of it all.

What a time to be alive.

Joe


This Present Moment is an experiment in connection. I want to hear from you and I welcome your thoughts. Feel free to reply to this email. And if you haven’t yet: