SOME WORDS I GREW UP WITH

Vietnam, establishment, protest, revolution, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., assassination, J. Edgar Hoover, Twiggy,

Woodstock, Buffalo Springfield, Richie Havens, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Crosby, stills, Nash, and Young, Janis Joplin, Cream, Ravi Shankar, Jefferson Airplane, Melanie, Ten Years After, Mountain, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

mind expansion, weed, LSD, hash, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau

The Man, tear gas, mod, freaks, hippies, bikers, jocks, counter-culture, mini-skirt, long hair, crew-cut, bell-bottoms, Spock, freedom, riots, tie-dye, Motown

peace, Nature, love

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While the Eternal Clock Ticks

There’s that song by REM, an ’80’s band, that tells us to “Think about Direction.”  I think for a lot of us, our aims–our direction–are rather short-term.  When I was younger, I had an aim to get into a good school.  That was a goal of several years.  Then, when I got in, it was to get a good grade.  That was a goal of several months.  Then it was get a Ph.D., which was a goal of several years.  Some people, mostly business-oriented people, talk about having a five-year plan.  “Where do you want to be in 5-years?”  I think mostly this is about material things–being an executive, having a 3-bedroom house, making a 6-figure income, a family (which isn’t a material goal), etc.

But all the while I was pursuing my academic goals, I recall having an overarching goal, which I still have today.  Wisdom and virtue.  In my schoolwork, I took interdisciplinary programs to broaden my knowing.  I didn’t specialize in one discipline in order to fit into a job mold.  And as I was going about my life, I continued personal inventory to measure my life against what I understood to be good.  My conception of what the good is grew and developed as I learned more through my education and my life experiences.

On one end of the spectrum of goals are people who intentionally choose a lifestyle.  There aren’t many of these, I think.  Henry David Thoreau was maybe the classic example.  He intentionally set about a life in harmony with nature, moved out of the city, left capitalism behind, and communed with nature at Walden Pond.  On the other side of the spectrum are people whose main goal is to get through the day, get paid, pay their bills, hit the bar, and do the same thing tomorrow.

There are short-range aims and long-range goals.  Everyone needs to get up and go to work and get through the day.  But while we are doing this, there is room for farther-reaching goals.  Why are we going to work?  What are we intending to do with our money?  Who are we as we go about our quotidian lives?  Midway among these are like people who hit the gym before they hit the bar, having an intentional goal of being fit.  Some longer-ranged goals are creative accomplishments such as my interest in music–learning to play and writing songs.  This avocation is almost as important to me as is my career.  In school, one of my roommates was a body-builder.  Another roommate told me that bodybuilding was as important to him as was my music to me.  I had trouble thinking of bodybuilding as an equal kind of avocation as music.  But he was a dedicated bodybuilder.

Work, pastimes, longer-range goals, and the ultimate goal are all part of the virtuous life, I think.  I want to make beautiful and heartfelt music.  I like having an appreciative audience.  I have enough money and a small, comfortable condo.  But those two aims I had when I was younger are still with me.  Wisdom and virtue.

I know that I’m only a pilgrim on this material plane.  What really matters to me is the kind of soul I am cultivating.  In my thinking, that is what is of eternal value.  Money comes and goes.  Children grow up and live their own lives.  Our bodies deteriorate.  Fame passes, over time.  (Where is Jethro Tull, now?)  But what I’ve made of myself, with the One who has all power, lasts.  Rather, the process of spiritual growth lasts forever.  Because the One who has all power is infinite, and I am finite.  Because this is true, I have all eternity to approach nearer and nearer to the Perfect All Powerful One.  And all the wisdom, virtue, and joy that that means.  That’s the ultimate direction in my life.  And everything else either contributes to it, or keeps time while the eternal clock ticks.

The Decay of a Dream

It wasn’t just sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  It was more importantly do your own thing, peace, and love.  We read Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau who taught us to be our own person regardless of status, style, or what other people said we should be or do.  We weren’t concerned much with making money.  Jethro Tull, “I didn’t care if they groomed me for success, or if they said that I was just a fool.”  So with a love for music, with an ethic of doing your own thing, and little concern for money, the late ’60’s and early ’70’s generated a bewildering diversity of music.  Who ever heard the kind of music that Led Zeppelin came up with.  Their music is now engraved on our brains by repetition, but when it came out it was original.  “Stairway to Heaven” struck a nerve with everyone which is why we make jokes about it now–everyone was enthralled with it when it first came out.  Who would have thought that a man standing on one foot playing rock and roll flute would fill stadiums, as did Jethro Tull?

I still do my own thing.  For my birthday I had an artist make me an earring with a lapis Lazuli stone and a feather dangling on short chains.  People always comment on it–for good or ill.  I have Tibetan pants that I wear with a Nepalese shirt on the streets of the city.  At home I have statuettes of the Buddha, Guru Rimpoche, a Mayan god, Saint Francis, and Egyptian falcon deity, and Eastern Orthodox icons.  I self-identify as Christian.  I majored in Religion and Literature because I like poetry and religion.  It wasn’t a wise career choice if I was after money.

In the late ’60’s, early ’70’s, we bought good stereo systems because we wanted to hear our music clearly.  Then people started bragging about their systems.  What started out as technology for good quality music reproduction became a status symbol.  Then people started bragging about which concerts they had been to.  What started out as a live version of music we loved to listen to became status symbols.  We used drugs to give us alternative states of mind and raise consciousness.  Drugs degenerated into amusement alone, and bragging about using drugs became a status symbol.  Witness Cheech and Chong’s “Up in Smoke.”

The final blow came in the ’80’s.  Then, earning a 6-digit income became people’s ideal.  The Yuppies were born.  People made excuses for Nixon, saying that he only did what everyone else was doing–he just got caught.  Cocaine became the drug of choice, and something to brag about.  David Byrne said that being a musician was, “A good job.”   The dream of the late ’60’s early ’70’s was successfully, and I think deliberately, ruined.