Title: Men on Midlife: Straight talk about women, power, money, God, and the myth of the midlife crisis
Title: Men on Midlife: Straight talk about women, power, money, God,
and the myth of the midlife crisis
By Jerry Howard and Jeff Wagenheim
From Gail Sheehy's best-selling The Silent Passage to Germaine Greer's
The Change, from daytime television talk shows to nighttime soaps, the
dramatic life changes that women undergo during menopause have been the
subject of much discussion in recent years. But little is said or written
about men's experience of crossing the threshold into midlife. Is it a
crisis? A rebirth? A roller-coaster ride? A day in the life? The media
generally steer clear of the subject--except to occasionally dust off that
caricature of a regressing fifty-year-old breezing down the freeway in a
sports car with his undergrad girlfriend. Even Sheehy took a swipe below
the belt in a recent Vanity Fair article, fixating on that most dreaded
symptom of male decline--flagging libido--under the headline "The
Unspeakable Passage: Is There a Male Menopause?"
C'mon, Gail, let's be real. According to the men we talk to, midlife
delivers its most devastating blow not to the groin but to the soul. "Men
enter midlife in a landscape barren of useful landmarks, without traditions
or stories to guide us over this unfamiliar terrain," says Mark Gerzon,
author of Coming into Our Own: Understanding the Adult Metamorphosis. "We
find our well-crafted life scripts suddenly running out. Money and titles
and testosterone just don't do it for us anymore." For too many men,
midlife is dominated by thoughts of what they've lost. But others choose
to honor the questions that their souls are forcing them to face--and as a
result begin a quest that redefines their lives. "Their stories are the
milk and honey of the second half of life," says Gerzon. "They guide us
and sustain us."
We contacted nine men well known for their work in fields from
entertainment to business to medicine to sports, and asked them to share
with us their personal perspectives on the midlife passage.
Grammy Award-winning singer Kenny Loggins, forty-five, was a headliner
at April's Earth Say Concert in Los Angeles and hosted the television
special This Island Earth. His latest album is Leap of Faith.
Psychologists don't seem to give midlife the respect I think it
deserves. Instead of a crisis, I refer to it as "midlife clarity," because
it can be a time of spiritual awakening if the individual is willing to
look at and deal with everything that comes up in his life as honestly as
possible. For me, this happened a couple of years ago; it wasn't so much a
conscious decision as just something that came over me as a precursor to a
reevaluation of my business and eventually my marriage. This wasn't
temporary insanity, with everything going out the window. In my midlife
clarity it became easier for me to see (and feel) what was and wasn't
working, and I simply kept the things that were.
As a teacher I was working with at the time told me, "Nobody moves
who's not in enough pain." But in our generation, pain has not been an
acceptable state of mind. If you watch TV, you'll see commercial after
commercial for pain killers and sleeping pills. That's a symptom of where
our society is at--"just don't make me feel my life." Today's music is also
a great example of this. I think our generation is starving to death
musically, because all that most pop music can talk about is fucking and
dancing. If we focus on that, we don't have to feel anything else. But I
find that the songs of mine that most touch the hearts of listeners are the
ones that touch who I am and where my life is. They can be scary to write,
because they're so honest, but that's my duty to my art.
Once I had made a commitment to myself to try to see my life for what
it was, the rest was inevitable: I became committed to changing the things
that weren't working, no matter what. It's what Robert Bly and the others
are referring to when they say you have to be willing to move into your
shadow. For me, it meant more than just sitting in a therapist's office
for one hour a week. That visit to a therapist is an opportunity to have
someone help you learn to get in touch with how you really feel, but then
you've got to allow that teaching to permeate your daily life. In my case,
writing music is a big part of my life, so I'm lucky I have the kind of
relationship with my muse where she's always showing me where I am--even
with things I don't want to look at.
One song on Leap of Faith that has gotten a lot of attention is "The
Real Thing," in which a father explains his divorce to his child. I didn't
sit down and say, "Now I'm going to write a song about divorce and how it
affects the children." That song wrote me. And for someone who's in the
same position and is ready to hear it, the song is a gift that says,
"You're not alone; what you're feeling is valid, and there is a positive
way to hold those feelings; and you have an obligation to save your own
life, because in saving your life you save the lives of your children and
even the life of your partner. It serves no one to stay in a loveless
Until recently, like so many people in our society, I believed that
divorce was a failure, a death. We've conditioned ourselves to think that
a successful marriage is a long one and that a short one is a failure.
Saving a bad marriage is sort of like saving the ship while letting the
passengers drown. Well, that whole belief system is off base. I've
finally come to understand that there is no success or failure; it's about
feeling your relationship--and primarily your relationship to yourself.
My relationship to the planet works the same way. The more I have
allowed myself to feel my life, the stronger my connection to the Earth.
As you begin to feel your own pain, then what's happening to the
environment becomes less bearable. When I can't breathe the air, that
hurts. When I can't swim in the water, that's painful. And since the
purpose of pain is to move us into action, the message on Earth Day is
simple: Feel your life. As you feel your life, you'll have to do something
about the pain of the Earth--it'll be your pain. We've all got to look at
the scary places and commit ourselves to our own truths. That's the power
of midlife. That's what makes it life's greatest window of clarity. You
can either act on it or go back to sleep.
For a decade poet Robert Bly, now sixty-six, has led mythopoetic
workshops for men. In addition to numerous volumes of poetry, he is author
of Iron John: A Book About Men.
A few years ago I taught a poetry workshop at a school in the South,
talking mostly to young people. As it went on, I noticed toward the back a
man whose hair was turning gray, perhaps fifty years old, looking confused.
Toward the end of the afternoon, when the poets had left, he remained
standing at the back, so I went over to him and said, "What's happening?"
He said, "Never in my life have I been to a meeting like this. I'm a
historian. A few months ago the university gave me a year off to write a
book on some historical research I've done. A month or so ago I moved to
the sea, in a small house, to get my notes together. But all I've been
doing is writing poems and watching the sea birds. I don't know what's
happening to me."
I told him I thought what was happening to him was fine, and I
described Jung's ideas about the two halves of life--namely, that a man
usually spends the first half of his life triumphing over nature, competing
with other men, dominating women, controlling life. Compassion and wonder
are not in his field. But somewhere around age fifty the poles of the
battery begin to switch. His ascent is over. He begins to enter the
second arc and feels sympathy with living things instead of competition.
He becomes open to the beauty of creatures, and to the beauty of art and
grief. I said to the man, "This doesn't mean you're becoming old or
eccentric--it means you are becoming a human being." He understood what I
meant, and he was so touched that tears came to his eyes. I gather that
some similar switching of poles happens to women. They may find themselves
more competitive after midlife. Here's a scene. Suppose you visit a
couple who are about twenty-eight or so. You sit down and the wife asks,
"Would you like some coffee?" She's calm and thoughtful and asks you about
the children. The husband, meanwhile, rushes about the room; he has a lot
of projects going--he's constantly checking his answering machine. Suppose
you visit the same couple when they're sixty-two. This time the man, who
is now sitting in a rocking chair, says, "Would you like some coffee?" He
is calm and thoughtful and asks about the kids. The woman crackles with
energy; she is clearly involved with a number of projects: She's working
with Guatemalan refugees and with a new Head Start school and an
environmental committee. This scenario is not true of all couples, of
course, but some men and some women are developing in the second half of
their life what they didn't develop in the first half. So the second half
is a great blessing.
In my own life, I felt some change of direction when I was around
fifty to fifty-five. For example, I think I could have taught men while I
was in my thirties, but I don't think it would have worked. I don't feel
that young men trusted me then. They sensed the competitive mode. I've
never been a great Romeo, but I noticed that when I taught men and women
during my thirties and forties I would talk primarily to the women. They
smiled. I was just trying to get a response--you know, we did our first
talking with our mothers. But when a man sees another man talking like
that to the women, what does he feel? Does it look as if that man is
flirting with his wife or his girlfriend? In my fifties, I felt for the
first time that men trusted me.
I remember when I first met Joe Campbell. He was about sixty, I
guess. I began to work with him at conferences, and he would be very sweet
to me. His friends would say to me, "I'm amazed, because Joe has always
been very competitive with other men." I said, "What happened?" One of his
friends said, "I think it happened when he went to that ceremony in Hawaii
where they walk on red-hot coals at 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and walked on
them himself." I thought a lot about that. When you walk on coals that are
5,000 degrees, your will has nothing to do with your safety. In fact,
people who remain in ego may get burned up to their ankles. So to me this
story of Joe Campbell is an example of the blessing that comes when the
rational will releases some of its hold. I'm not saying that midlife is a
magical time that solves everything for men or women. What I'm saying is
that for a man, if he becomes aware that the heroic ego is releasing its
hold, and if he receives that information joyfully, then all sorts of
competitive behavior and waste of energy in his life may come to an end.
One great joy for me, after working so hard on Iron John and being so
involved with the men's teaching for many years, has been to take the last
year and a half off; my wife and I have been more quietly by ourselves.
When I walk around my home in Moose Lake, many old poems, not yet finished,
sit in notebooks up on top of bookcases in my study. Some go back to my
thirties and even my twenties. They call to me, saying, "Finish me, finish
me? I want to be in a book." It turns out that sometimes I can finish them
now. I know now more about what the second half of a poem should be.
A former Episcopal parish minister, Bolles, sixty-six, is author of
What Color Is Your Parachute?, the best-selling career-change book first
published in 1970.
One day in 1968, at age forty-three, I was fired. I had been serving
as canon pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and the budget for my
salary had run out. When I told my family, we all felt like it was the end
of the world. But then I went to an appointment with my dentist, told him
what has happened, and he shook his little mouth mirror at me and said,
"You won't believe a word I'm saying, but someday you'll say this is the
best thing that ever happened to you." As it turned out, he was right.
I took a church job overseeing college chaplains in nine western
states, and a lot of them were losing their jobs for the same reason I had.
So I did some research and put together a manual on how you can change
careers. Later I rewrote it for the general public, and it became a very
popular book. So, ultimately, I have developed a different kind of
ministry serving millions of people all over the world.
The energy in my life comes from three sources. First, I get an
immense amount from helping others. I don't know any greater joy than
reading the letters I get from people who tell me how they're creatively
reshaping their lives with the help of my book.
Second, I can't overstate the energy I draw from my marriage. I was
divorced, but now I'm in a marriage in which I feel tremendously
loved--such energy comes from having a partner who sees life the way you
see it, who takes a joy in your companionship, and you in hers. When I was
counseling, I noted a pattern among men in midlife who were having an
affair: They had put all their energy into their careers and had encouraged
their partners to be independent because they didn't have time for
them--what my wife calls a low-maintenance marriage. Suddenly they got to
an age at which their career success was insufficient for them, and they
wanted to have a wife who really valued them. But they'd spent years
training their wife not to do that. Instead of sitting down with their
wife and rethinking their marriage, they'd go have an affair--and often
criticize their wife!
Finally, I get a tremendous energy coming through me from what I call
the grace of God. I love it when I'm speaking and get that sense of "Just
get out of the way, and let God get through!" Again and again, I see people
in midlife who are worried that their well is drying up. If you perceive
energy and inspiration as coming from yourself, then as you get older
there's always the issue of, "Is my psychic and mental energy running down
the same way my physical energy is?" One of the real secrets of living a
victorious life is knowing that this energy is not just your energy; then
you don't worry as you get older. My goal is to stay as translucent to God
as possible, to learn how to get myself out of the way.
Onetime Merry Prankster and Woodstock MC (and now a Ben & Jerry's ice
cream flavor), clown Wavy Gravy, fifty-eight, is founder and director of
Camp Winnarainbow (a performing arts camp in California) and FUN-draiser
for the Seva Foundation.
I like to refer to myself as a temple of Accumulated Error. Ken Kesey
used to say that if you stick with something long enough, it'll occur for
you. What I've stuck with all through my life is that same feeling [LSD
discoverer] Albert Hofmann probably had when he fell off his Schwinn [after
first ingesting the drug]. It's been a journey of one thing leads to
another. I'm still on that journey, and would have it no other way.
I remember one time in the '70's after I had just undergone one of my
four major back operations, and I was lying in terrible agony in a body
cast when Ram Dass came to visit. He stood there looking down at me and
said, "I wish I could be where you are; with all this pain you're
experiencing, you're gaining so much wisdom." At the time, hearing this
made me wish that he'd bend toward me just a little so I could give him a
good pop on the chin. But today, in extreme hindsight, I see that he was
absolutely right on. I think suffering sucks, but as it's sucking it's
making a wiser being of you. For one thing, my spiritual practice has
become more succinct. I now allow myself to say, "OK, I've done enough
now, let's take a break," which is a great learning for me. I never used
to know when to stop. And to create any kind of art--especially life--you
have to know when to stop and when to go.
This directly relates to my activism around all the shit going on in
the world. The phone rings, someone tells me what the situation is, what
they're doing about it, and what they want from me, and I look down at my
arm to see if the hairs have leaped to attention. That's one of my little
clues that I'm traveling on the right path at the right time. I mean, I
don't know from one breath to the next where it will carry me, but I do
know that it's the only trail in town that makes any sense--although,
really, it makes no sense at all! Joe Campbell gave us a great road sign:
Follow you bliss. This idea of timing and balance is what I try to pass on
to the kids I work with at my camp.
When I'm with the kids, I also think about something I read in Rene'
Dumal's Mount Analogue about how whenever you mess up you've got to go back
and erase that trail because somebody else is going to follow it. So at
camp I try not to mask my faults--quite the opposite, in fact. At
orientation, I'll explain to the kids that as a teen-aged beatnik I used to
brush my teeth with a Snickers bar, and as they're laughing at that I'll
take the bridge out of my mouth and show them the five stumps that are
left. They all cry out "Ewwww!" and I simply say, "Brush 'em if you've got
'em." And weeks later I get letters from parents, saying, "What did you do
to my child? I've never been able to get him to brush." As we get older,
it's important that we not try to conceal our scars, because this is what
we learned in Hard Knocks University. Let's share these lessons with the
youth. There are two things we can give to kids: roots and wings.
Working with kids keeps me going. So does being a part of an extended
family called the Hog Farm. We've been together for twenty-eight years,
and I've been married to the same woman for all that time--a record for the
Aquarian Age, I think! I mean, my coffers do not exactly swell with
wealth, but I think I have as many friends as anyone on the planet. My
most recent back surgery really slowed me down, but so many people beamed
healing energy toward me that I really think they overdid it. Now I have
all this extra "juice" dripping off me that enables me to survive and
continue to look forward to the land of one breath after another. Lately
I've been using this wonderful teaching from Stephen Mitchell's Tao in
which a Zen woman says, "Thanks for everything; I have no complaint
whatsoever." I try to include this in my practices every day. It's
especially fun to try in difficult situations, like when you have a flat
tire or you've locked your keys in your car or worse. Just shou! t it
out. You'll get a good laugh out of it. It lightens your load. It's so
heavy it's light.
The National Basketball Association's all-time leader in scoring and
numerous other categories, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, forty-six, now heads a film
production company and is a commentator for ESPN and spokesperson for
Athletes and Entertainers for Children.
Someone once asked Jackie Robinson what it felt like when his baseball
career was ending, and he said something that has stuck with me: "Athletes
die twice." When the sports career is over, and the body doesn't do what it
used to, and the fans stop cheering, it's like a death. So as I went
through my basketball career--from high school to college to the pros--I
always kept in the back of my mind that I could get injured and, if that
happened, where would I be? If you can't make a transition into another
way of life, you're doomed. A lot of athletes don't prepare for the lives
they'll be left with after their careers are over. When they leave sports,
they find themselves facing things that they should have learned how to
deal with when they were fifteen or sixteen years old--things that you
don't have to do for yourself if you're a star athlete, because people are
exploiting you at the same time they're pampering you. If you go on to
make millions and millions of dollars playing pro sports, they'll be there
hanging on to you. But when your career comes to an end, the favors end as
well. And if you've gotten too used to special treatment, you're lost.
I'm lucky in that I built a solid foundation early in life. I had no
choice. I went to a Catholic high school, and the teachers made me do the
school work--and if they disciplined me, my dad would back them up. I knew
that if I got too big for myself, my dad would kick my butt. As I grew
older, having that work ethic really helped me--in the college classroom,
in managing money, even in my basketball game.
I attribute a lot of the success and longevity of my career to the
discipline and hard work of staying in shape. One thing that I always paid
special attention to was flexibility. I've been doing yoga since
1978--seriously since "84--and during my playing career it helped keep my
body flexible so I didn't pull muscles and injure joints the way so many
athletes do. I'm always amazed that more guys in sports don't approach
things this way. I always looked at conditioning as something I needed to
maintain in order to do my job well. When I got into my thirties, friends
started asking me if I had make a deal with the devil--I still looked and
moved like I was in my twenties. And now, with my playing career over,
it's been important to maintain a physical regimen; I do mostly yoga and
some cardiovascular exercise. I look at it as preventive medicine--and
something that enabled me to quit basketball when I wanted to quit.
I don't think of life after basketball as a whole new life; everything
I do now and everything I'll be doing in years to come is at least
partially a result of the things I did in the past--it's just a matter of
building on that foundation. I don't think any kind of preparation can get
you totally ready for a sudden career transition, but if you have something
of depth to fall back on, you'll start to see your athletic career in the
context of you life. You see that there's something beyond basketball. I
don't really think too much about what I'll be doing for the rest of my
life. Thinking about something is a lot more frightening than just doing
it. I've always been a doer, so I just go ahead and do it.
Former senior editor of Look magazine, George Leonard, now sixty-nine,
was a leading chronicler of the human potential movement of the '60's.
Author of The Ultimate Athlete and Mastery, among other books, he now
teaches aikido and Leonard Energy training.
When I was growing up, I thought someone who was forty was
unbelievably old. My father was a very strong man, and one day when I was
thirteen and he was thirty-eight, we had a race, about a forty-yard run.
We went full speed and finished about even. But afterward I noticed he was
still panting and puffing and turning green, so I concluded then that once
a person is thirty-five, they're through.
When I was a kid I loved to run and catch a ball, but I was a skinny
kid, and in those days skinny was considered worse than fat. I thought the
whole world of athletics was closed to me. It wasn't until my early
forties, when an old Air Force buddy introduced me to a very strenuous form
of Frisbee, that all that great desire for physical movement I'd had since
I was a kid came bursting out--running full speed, diving heedlessly into
the air, crashing into the ground. When I was forty-seven I became totally
hooked on aikido, and when I turned fifty I became a master's class
There's value in starting vigorous activity later in life: If you
start in your teens, you see a decline later; but I've seen mostly
progress. My eyesight's not as good as it was, I have wrinkles and white
hair, I can't run quite as fast as I used to, but today I play jazz piano
demonstrably better than I played ten years ago, and I can say the same
thing about my aikido, my teaching, my writing, my muscular strength--not
to say I'm all that strong, but I'm stronger than I've ever been in my
life. Why? because I practice. Practice is of the essence. People have
to be willing to go slowly, to learn to love the plateau--those times when
you don't feel you're progressing. The juiciest, most delicious moment in
my entire aikido career was when I realized that the plateau is where life
I remember a young friend who invited me to his thirtieth birthday
party, which he decorated with black crepe and coffins and symbols of
death. I said to him, "You've got it all backwards. It's time to
celebrate: Your twenties are over!" I'm sixty-nine, and I'm still waiting
for my midlife crisis.
I'm not denying that people have midlife crises, but I think that
tends to happen to people who struggle for that $100,000 salary, that
corner office. When they get it, they find it's empty. Instead of a
vision, they have a material goal, they want the quick fix. That's going
to lead inevitably to disillusionment, depression, crisis. And I wonder
about this male menopause thing--I can just see people around the country
plotting their workshops on it. It's like a field of bad dreams: Build it
and they will come. You miss one erection and say, "Uh-oh, it's all behind
me." I've seen studies that show testosterone doesn't go down that much,
but I think there's psychological testosterone. George Burns said people
think themselves into growing old. It seems to me this problem of midlife
and aging is vastly overstated. Don't believe all that stuff that you read
about the decline of men. It's based on expectations of the present
population--it's culture and demographics, not biology. The average
sedentary sixty-five-year-old has 38% body fat, and there isn't any excuse
I don't mean to sound like some puer aeternus. I'm very aware of my
mortality. Part of being a martial artist is to live your life so you're
ready to die any day. By being constantly aware of death, your life
becomes much more vivid. That awareness is an incredible gift. If you
take it, you won't worry about male menopause.
Endocrinologist Deepak Chopra, M.D., forty-six, is founder of the
Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and the
American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. His latest book is Ageless
Body, Timeless Mind.
I cannot speak personally about midlife because I'm not there yet.
Chronologically, I am forty-six years old, but psychologically I'm about
forty and biologically probably twenty-five. We have to break out of the
mindset that chronological age is real age--that's just what it says on
your birth certificate. More important is biological age, which relates to
how a physician or scientist would assess you if he measured your blood
pressure and checked your eyesight and hearing threshold, and psychological
age, which relates to how you feel. We all know people who are twenty-five
and behave like they're sixty, and people who are sixty and perform like
Even if chronological age were real age, I still wouldn't be at
midlife. According to the scientific data on aging, the biological
potential of every person in the United States--given the kind of medical
services and nutrition available, and given all we know about prevention of
disease--is about 120 years at the least. In that case, midlife shouldn't
begin until at least age sixty. But because of the hypnosis of social
conditioning, people in Western culture expect certain things to happen at
certain times--you have a midlife crisis at forty, go through menopause in
you forties, get osteoporosis when you're sixty, and at age sixty-five get
Social Security, move to Florida, and eventually end up in a nursing home.
We program our consciousness to a set span of aging, and then our biology
responds to that programming.
I feel healthier today than I was in my mid-twenties and just out of
medical school. Back then I didn't know how to grapple with the stress of
my residency and internship--I was smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol
and generally feeling stressed. Over the years I have developed the
ability to have active mastery over my life. I am replacing external
goals--salary, material possessions, climbing the ladder of professional
success, and other things based on approval from others--with internal
goals such as happiness, self-acceptance, creativity, peace, harmony,
laughter, and spiritual evolution. The paradox, of course, is that as
internal goals take precedence, the external goals begin to spontaneously
Naturally, this is a much more exciting way to live. Since I'm less
distracted by a self-image, my actions are more focused on the present
moment. I rely more on intuition and leaps of imagination rather than the
kinds of precise factual information that you need when you're outcome
oriented and have performance anxiety. I experience freedom from time
pressure, a sense that time is abundant and open-ended. I've discovered a
detachment from change and turmoil; I have no fear of death, because I've
found a sense of spiritual immortality. I look forward to the coming
years, when I can perfect the things that I'm beginning to learn: I can
become even more mentally alert and more vigorous physically, and have even
more enjoyment of life.
I see this whole matter as a process of growth. You may have heard
the expression: People don't grow old; when they stop growing, they become
old. And I think as long as you can look forward to growth--on a physical,
emotional, and spiritual level--then these are still the years of our
When Allen Grossman, now forty-nine, graduated from business school in
1965, he joined his brother in the family business, which the two grew to a
$100 million firm. At age forty Grossman decided he wanted to work in the
nonprofit sector, and seven years later he became CEO of Outward Bound.
The notion of midlife began for me at forty. You're no longer a kid. And
if you've been in a position of authority in your twenties and thirties,
you're no longer a wonder kid. Seeing younger people who have achieved
more is a bit sobering, and coming up against the stone wall of your own
mortality demands a level of responsibility and honesty that I hadn't
wanted or needed to deal with in the past. But it has also been very
positive and liberating.
One day, after spending hours doing volunteer work, I arrived at home
smiling. My son looked at me and, in the sagacity of youth, said, "Dad,
why don't you just do this as a profession?" A light went on in my head and
I thought, Isn't he a smart young man? I was enjoying this work more than
my business, and as I thought about it, I realized that my management
skills could be transferred into the not-for-profit world. And I knew that
I really could make a difference: that if enough of us got involved, we
could change the direction of society.
So I set about organizing an orderly exit from my family company,
which took about five years. I wanted to be sure that I was doing this for
the right reasons--that I wasn't fleeing the for-profit sector with an
idealized notion about just feeling good and helping people. I volunteered
to work with the executive directors of a couple of small not-for-profit
organizations, which was a wonderful opportunity to learn. It reinforced
my desire to change career paths and helped me decide that I wanted to run
a small organization that developed human potential.
A friend told me that Outward Bound was looking for a CEO.
Fortunately for me, their requirements didn't include significant outdoor
skills: What they wanted was a manager, a leader, a consensus and
organization builder, a strategic thinker--all the things I had done all my
Since coming on board, I've discovered that managing a nonprofit
organization is much tougher than running a successful business in the
for-profit world. I'm working much longer hours than I ever have and have
less time for leisure or friends or myself. Instead of flying first class
and staying at luxury hotels, now I take the subway and stay in budget
hotels or on sofas. Much as I used to enjoy the luxuries, I now see them
as icing on the cake. The real meal is our work--whether we love it,
whether we feel it's fulfilling our role in life. Now that I truly feel
this to my core, I don't ever miss the luxuries. I think age gives us a
sense of what really provides richness and meaning in life.
Over the years I have run into many likeminded peers who wanted to
make this transition, but they always put forth the reasons why they can't
change. I'm sure I had the same perception until my son said, "Dad, why
don't you change?" The real breakthrough comes when you accept ownership of
Son of folksinger Woody Guthrie, Arlo became a counterculture hero in
1968 after the release of his mock-epic ballad "Alice's Restaurant." Now
forty-six, he performs music, records on his own Rising Son Records, and
publishes a newsletter about his work called "Rolling Blunder Review."
My first real indication that there was a universe outside myself came
in 1962, after Alice's husband--the one in the song--gave me a copy of the
Tao Te Ching. At the time, I was singing all those euphoric songs about
how we're gonna save the world, and Lao-tse made me wonder: Will the world
be any different because of anything I do? He struck a chord that made me
sense that I was a little discordant with the cosmic universal tune. It
wasn't a major musical atrocity, but it forced me to pay attention to
myself--like when you know you have a cold coming on. You could say that
was the start of my midlife crisis. I was about fifteen.
For years I kept showing up at all the right demonstrations and
singing all the right songs, and one day I realized that the world still
sucked and my own life was out of control. I'd done all these things to
save the world, and I couldn't even save myself! I understood then that my
real work was me, not the world.
One day in the '70s I was out on my porch--I wasn't doing any
drugs--and Christ appeared. He took the form of a light that penetrated my
every atom. I knew who He was, and He knew who I was and everything about
me and loved me as I was. I felt such a love as I didn't know existed.
There was no shadow from that light. In a few minutes it went away, and I
was devastated. Years later, at a time when my marriage was in trouble and
I hit bottom, I said to God, "I want to go back into that moment and stay
there, because it hurts too much to be in this world." About three weeks
after that, I met my guru.
My guru [Jaya Sati Bhagavati Ma] began to strip away that part of me
that was frightened, like peeling away parts of an onion. I felt like a
kid again, and God was everywhere I played, asking me to focus only on what
was put in front of me. If that was a beggar, then I had to concern myself
with the beggar. If it was 70,000 people at Farm Aid or an antinuke
benefit, then I had to concern myself with that. Instead of paying only 25
percent of my attention to what was going on so I could keep the other 75
percent for the rest of the world, I had to learn to be 100 percent in each
One day my guru turned and said to me, "You're a very simple man." I
got it. In my inner eye I could see a mountain as big as any on Earth, and
I saw that mountain crumble into tiny stones that fell around my shoulders.
It was my mountain--all that information, ideology, duty, humor, that
everyone expected me to carry around. That's been a big mountain to carry;
it's been a long haul for me to stop worrying about what other people
think. I realized I'm still me without all that useless stuff.
I've also learned that I don't have to collect spiritual knowledge.
If it fits, it'll find a place in my heart, like music fits into your ear.
This was a painful thing for me to learn, because I had counted so much on
gaining wisdom. But you know what? When I need some of that knowledge,
it's there: I can pull it out of my heart. I open my mouth, and it speaks.
People hear me when I speak from my heart.
I have a two-year old grandson, and one thing he's taught me is that
I'm not going to be here forever. I think about how fun it would be to
teach him all the things I missed doing with my own kids. And what fun it
would be to see a kid grow up learning to speak from his heart.
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