Begin Again

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” – T.S. Eliot (Four Quartets)

What I write here today is not a story of my Lyme disease struggle nor account of spiraling autoimmunity (that all deserves its own space and thought). But rather, this is a philosophical reflection at the end of my year – a musing on what is real, what is true, for me and for all of us, when you remove everything that is external. A perspective on what existence means when you let go of loss, when you accept the impermanence of it all, and when you have been thrown out of your life, in order to begin again.

I was born in February 1978, in the midst of a fierce blizzard, in a Bronx NY hospital…to a prominent “Mad Man” father, and a beautiful, loving mother who labored 24-hours to give me life. As the story goes – confounding doctors even then – it appeared that I stubbornly and simply did not want to be born into this world, refusing to comply with standard birthing procedures.    

Ultimately born via emergency c-section, with my mom hospitalized for 10 days thereafter… the subsequent movement through my 37 years of this life has been one of blindingly stark awareness, debilitating inner turmoils, and chronic physical illness – all entwined in mind, body, and spirit. All connected in pain of disconnection, fear of a power higher than myself moving me through this universe, and crippling anxiety that ultimately, this journey begins and ends alone. Petrified that my soul was meant to be tested in this life, unsure how to become the hero, when I positioned myself the tragic heroine instead.

As such – do we give credence and weight to past lives and reincarnation? Do we intrinsically know when it’s safer to stay in the womb? Are we aware of our karmic debt as we enter into a new life? And if we’re energetically hypersensitive, can we feel this within our soul before we even greet the world with a wailing cry?

In memory and narrative, I have defined my life as one of immense and inexplicable loss. Loss of father at the age of 11. Loss of childhood innocence. Loss of classmates (some at their own hands; some at the whim of fate’s). Loss of father figures, maternal figures. Loss of security and illusions thereof. Loss of romantic partners. Loss of friends. Loss of good health and normal function. Loss of foods I loved to eat. Loss of financial comfort. Loss of connection to a digital world. Loss of professional development. Loss of travel. Loss of my Manhattan. Loss of possibilities. Loss of what could have been, would have been, should have been. And loss of home – both literal and conceptual.

I first learned the word “ephemeral” in French – “éphémère.” Sitting in high school French class reading “The Little Prince” in its original language. I thought: what a beautifully tragic word. Éphémère. Ephemeral. Fleeting, transient, or as Saint-Exupéry explains: “It means ‘which is in danger of speedy disappearance.’”  Echoes of this word have followed me in the 20 years since that French class. The melody of it. The tone. The meaning. The saddest word that ever existed. The latent anxiety of everything and anything rapidly disappearing. The pain of a single word encapsulating my life. Yet, I gave such weight to its tragedy, without heeding the lesson from Le Petit Prince’s philosophical treatise. That the pain of separation only comes from the pleasure of meeting someone or the experience you have. That if you accept that some day, the “loved one” or the “object” will disappear, then your journey through presence and absence will not be painful. But it will be one of love, enlightenment and meaning. There is no significance without the ultimate risk of inevitable loss.

Exactly one year ago to this day, I sat in my well-decorated studio apartment in a doorman building on Manhattan’s West 57th Street… stressed to the limit, juggling design deadlines for six clients at once… packing up my possessions for an upcoming move to a fabulously posh and pretentious FiDi luxury building that evoked status and success just by its address… rushing from shop to shop in the twilight hours to purchase glittering gifts for the sparkling friends…. hopping from holiday happy hours in crowded Midtown bars to cozy West Side coffee chats… pissed at Obamacare for kicking my doctors out of my coverage network…. bemoaning my single status while reflecting on the growing list of married friends and colleagues….mourning the loss of a gentleman friend who chose earlier that calendar year to abruptly exit my life… perpetually on edge, nervous, tired, exhausted, and lonely. Always palpably, paradoxically lonely in the middle of everything, surrounded by all of that light, noise, and energy of the metropolis.

Winter must karmically try to protect me from myself, as my apartment move occurred during yet another blizzard – so foreboding that I had to reschedule the move date the night before, as the city shut down its highways and transit systems. But, I relocated to my downtown address nonetheless on an arctic January morning. And I got debilitatingly and dangerously ill within 24 hours of occupying the new space. A wireless technology innate to the building’s energy management system was the catalyst (details of which also deserve their own tale). But the perfect storm of Chronic Lyme + Environmental Illness + this incessant pulsing of the digital frequency landed me in my very own epic journey not so different from Dorothy’s adventure through Oz. What came after was a whirlwind. Spinning. Disorientation. A lawyer’s office. Lease termination. Financial penalties. Sickness. Weakness. New doctors. Deteriorating neurological and vascular conditions. An aggressive and unforgiving relapse of Lyme (from which I have yet to recover). Inexplicable circumstances to anyone in my orbit. No home of my own. No physical nor cognitive ability to work. A resulting syndrome of electromagnetic hypersensitivity that evicted me from my city, my life, and society itself. And a cascade of loss onward from there…

Just for a moment. Imagine you were forced by the unrelenting powers of the universe and your own oppressively dire physical symptoms to:

Stop.

Everything.

Think about what that means. Shut the TV. Take the earbuds out of your ears. Power down your laptop and tablet. Disconnect your WiFi. Disappear from social media. Put your phone on Airplane mode. Disable your iTunes, your cable, your Netflix. Stop the retail therapy. Avoid stores, cafes, bars and restaurants. Pour the bottles of vodka and tequila and wine down the drain. Ditch all the processed, sugary, carb-laden comfort foods. Detach yourself from clothing labels and brand idols. Move out of your beloved city filled with lively comrades, captivating lights and endless distractions. Quit your job. Give away your business to your colleagues. Forget traveling. Don’t step foot on trains and planes. Become a car passenger instead of a driver. Abandon everything you’ve built for yourself. Leave your home. Then leave your mother’s home. Sleep on a couch. Sleep on another couch. Sleep in a car. Put half your possessions in storage and sell the rest. Witness your bank account approaching zero. Bid a quiet farewell to a shocking assortment of friends, family and romantic partners who have every right not to comprehend nor participate in your altered reality.

And then. Dwell there. By yourself. In the silence. In the solitude. In the darkness. And fall. Allow yourself to keep falling. Surrender to how far down you can go. Because, as much as you endure sheer torture and panic, in the thoughtful words of my meditation guide, “This is where you meet yourself.” And you do. And it’s terrifying. To look inward for the first time, instead of outward. To see yourself as yourself, without the reflective mirrors of distraction around us all. And when you find yourself there, alone, unable to breathe or speak, traumatized by a tornado of loss and displacement – wanting someone (a doctor, a healer, a boyfriend, a parent) to save you – then cry until you can quell the tears yourself, and be still with what is left within you. And then, you save yourself instead.

Because what emerges when absolutely everything is relinquished – and what the universe finally grants you – is the space to begin again. But it’s not a time warp. It’s not an opportunity to “return and re-do everything.” You don’t get a tricked-out DeLorian ride transporting you back to your own personal 1955 with Marty McFly. Rather, you move forward – more authentically, with less fear, more open to what is planned for your soul in this life, more capable of experiencing suffering and loss not as punishment but as wisdom. You walk without fear of being noticed. You interact with insight and intuition, instead of calculation and distortion. You forgive yourself and in doing so, forgive your past. You accept that maybe you really did energetically know you were placed here for a karmic quest. You stop petulantly asking “why do I have to be Buddha?” and you learn what you can through it all. You finally get to change your archetype from victim to hero.

And that is how you begin again.

A candid conversation between Fred Flintstone and George Jetson

Two of Hanna-Barbera’s famous leading men sit down for an informal interview to discuss primal vs modern living, utopia vs dystopia, and human relationships in an age of connection and disconnection.

Fred Flintstone: Pleased to make your acquaintance, George!

George Jetson: Awesome to e-meet you, Fred!

Fred: So, we’ve been asked by some pretty talented animators to interview each other.

George: Yep! I’m psyched to see this on my news feed in a few hours…

Fred: Oh, it’ll probably take our stone carver a few months to get this out for distribution.

George: So, Fred. Where to begin this conversation? I think for me, I’m most fascinated by your primal lifestyle, and yet how many modern conveniences you still have at your fingertips. It seems you aren’t lacking any need or want, even though you live completely without our advanced technologies. How does that all work for you?

Fred: It works without a hitch, George. Our concept of “energy supply” is simply different than yours. I guess you could call our lifestyle “pre-industrial,” but we do have our own power and industry – everything is propelled by the strength and movement of animals and humans. We get around easily – our cars are made of stone, wood, and animal skins, and powered by passengers’ feet. We listen to tunes on a bird beak record player. We take showers with the aid of a friendly mastodon. Our city’s traffic grid features monkey lights at key intersections. I even have a new electric razor – compliments of a buzzing honey bee. Wilma takes care of our dishes with an octopus dishwasher, and so on. It’s a fully functioning metropolis.

George: But isn’t this challenging for you –  To rely on animals and other humans to get everything done? Wouldn’t it be easier and faster to use robots and automated machines like we do?

Fred: Not at all. It’s really a matter of going back to the land — using what it provides to us organically, instead of making something synthetic and unnatural. Truly getting in touch with our ancestral roots and immersing ourselves in a culture of sustainability. We use every part of the animal and plant, so there’s no waste. It makes us feel good about our consumption, while keeping our economy strong, our unemployment rate low, and our society thriving.

George: Isn’t it a tremendous amount of physical labor? Just take your job as a bronto-crane operator.

Fred: We enjoy the physicality of it. Keeps us in shape and balanced. Cardio and weight-training is so important to keep the body functioning in harmony — helps to stave off disease, and prevent muscle atrophy. Barefoot running is also essential. It keeps us grounded, literally. Have you tried earthing? It’s vital to have a direct connection with the land every day. Plus, my job allows me an amazing workout built into my day, so I can come home and enjoy a hearty steak dinner without any guilt.

George: Oh, excellent. I’m glad you brought that up. I’d love you to talk about your Paleo diet. Are you doing this just because it’s trendy?

Fred: Being Paleo is most definitively not a trend for me or my family. It’s a lifestyle, a philosophy – a way of living, thinking, and interacting with the body, with the world, and with other people. It’s hard to separate “diet” from “life” for us, but in general yes, we do follow a “Paleo diet.” We eat real food that comes from real plants & animals, that we grow, source, and prepare ourselves. Nothing processed, just all natural, locally-sourced ingredients. There’s no “junk food” or “convenience food”  — that’s not even in our vocabulary because that’s not how the body is meant to process nutrients. We have more energy and feel better for it.

George: No “convenience food!?” That’s impressive. So, I guess that means no processed sugars, chemical additives or artificial colors?

Fred: That’s correct. There’s no fake sweeteners, refined sugars, trans fats, nor modern oils. We eat plenty of high quality meat without any antibiotics or hormones injected. We also nourish ourselves with organ meats and bone marrow to keep our immune system strong. We really take care to minimize chemicals and toxins, particularly in our food supply, but also in our dwelling space and our environment. We live as pure and organic a lifestyle as possible, to support our individual health, and also the health of the planet.

George: Well, it seems like things are really good is Bedrock. Although I’m not sure how your lifestyle would fly here in Orbit City!

Fred: Yeah. I was thinking the same thing. Maybe this is a good point for me to turn the table and delve into YOUR world.

George: Go for it.

Fred: So, George, on the surface, your society appears to be a sort of futuristic utopia. What are some of the benefits of this smart tech era?

George: Interesting question.  So, the upside is that we have a very fast-paced, productive, and entertaining lifestyle due to all our labor-saving technologies — moving sidewalks, smart cars, computerized tools and devices, robotic help at home and in the workplace. It’s definitely a time-saver and ultra convenient. All we need to do is push a couple of buttons, and dinner is on the table, clothes are washed, the car is folded up, the shopping is done, etc.

Fred: But, with all these push-button conveniences, intuitive software, and integrated communication devices, doesn’t something vital get lost in this visionary “tomorrowland?” I can’t help but sense an Orwellian dystopia lurking underneath your illustrious space age promises.  I’m really talking about the “tech-ifcation” of your society.Where’s the authenticity? Where’s the connection in a world where digital screens and data-sharing devices stand between each and every human?

George: It’s something we don’t consciously think about, otherwise we’d all desperately want to relocate to Bedrock. But when you shine such a light on our society, I see what you mean. Most of my waking hours are spent video conferencing, or attempting to operate some sort of computer device that inevitably goes awry. My teenage daughter Judy is practically surgically attached to her video phone …. she lives on that thing! I can’t imagine she’s paying attention to anything happening around her. My young son Elroy is really into computerized gaming and drones — he’s never known a sandbox or a jungle gym. Plus, we live so high up, our feet never touch the earth anymore. Talk about disconnection and a lack of grounding!

Fred: I was going to mention that in particular. Your houses are sky-high, and you’re surrounded by digital signals wherever you go — your home, your work, your restaurants, your stores, your transport systems, your sidewalks — you’ve even got wearable technology now! Aren’t you at least moderately concerned about what this unrelenting barrage of wireless signals and radiation is doing to your body? It’s got to take a toll on your nervous system, hormone regulation, brain development, and cell reproduction.

George: Yes, actually, I am concerned about that. Particularly for my kids who are growing up with glowing screens, 3D printed food, and virtual communities. They’ve never known anything other than that. I wonder how this is affecting our ability to think, analyze, concentrate and process information. We certainly have become a fully automated society. And now as technology becomes a literal extension of who we are, how we move, how we function, etc, we can do more things, faster and better. But at what cost to our bodies, our ecosystem, and our human relationships?

Fred: Well, maybe you should consider incorporating some Bedrockian principles into your Orbit City lifestyle?

George: I was just thinking that.

William Hanna: Hey guys, time to wrap up! We’ve got all the info and content we need for our article.

Joseph Barbera: And I think our viewers get the take-away message now.

Fred: Happy to help, guys! George, it was a pleasure.

George: Likewise, Fred. Ok, I am powering down now.