On June 5th, The New York Times ran a piece called “A Group Portrait of New York’s Oldest, Old,” Instantly, Jonas Mekas, the last person profiled in this piece on elder-hood, became my hero.
At 92, Mr. Mekas lives entirely in the present, taking each day as it comes..He says he doesn’t know what he’ll be dong when he gets up in the morning. He doesnt worry. He doesn’t believe in it. Yet, he’s no slouch. Indeed, he’s a producer and writer of films, who makes time each day to thoroughly enjoy his life.
He sees this as “Normal.” He claims that anything else is not. His doctor says he’ll live to be a hundred! I’m counting on it. For like Woody Allen in Annie Hall,”.I’m in “lerve”
As for “happiness,” Mekas believes it’s a sense of inner peace and balance where he isn’t anxious about what’s coming, but involved in what’s going on right here, right now. The title of his most recent film Out-Takes From the Life of A Happy Man. bears testament to the success of his philosophy.
For what could be more healing, more empowering, more youth-ifying than elder-hood as a proving ground for the salutory effect of being here now? In truth, Where Else Is There For Us To Be?
Here’s an image you can use to experience life without grasping. To live with no agenda. To be part of the wonder of Now..
The Bridge of Now**
Close your eyes, breathe out, and see yourself on a rope-bridge, made of separate pieces of wood tied together, stretching out ahead of you and behind you.
Know and live, that behind you lies the past.
Before you lies the future.
As you stand here, look toward the direction of past and see the pieces of wood falling away until there is nothing there.
Now look toward the direction of the future and see the same thing happening.
See yourself standing here, knowing there is no past. There is no future. There is only this moment.
Stand in this moment and give thanks. Then open your eyes.
* Imagery from Dr. Fritz Jean-Noel
*Credit to Dr. Melissa Abrams for tweaking me back into action
At 88 years old, Seymour Bernstein looks more than a decade younger. He lives on the upper West Side of Manhattan in a prewar studio that he shares with his grand piano and momentos of his life in music. He is nothing less than extraordinary As a pianist. A musician. A composer. A teacher. And as a man.
The film “Seymour,” created by Ethan Hawke, is a work of wonder. Far more than a film about music, or the biography of a brilliant pianist, it’s a film about life. How to live it. How to look at it. How to survive it. And how to feel it in your bones.
It begins as Seymour speaks with Michael Kimmelman, award winning author, chief art critic of the New York Times, and a concert pianist himself, who has been Seymour’s student since the age of five. He questions Seymour about his life, and delicately, yet powerfully, this life unfolds before us like a worn, yet gorgeous, silken quilt.
His childhood: “There was no music in my house.”
His father: “I have three daughters and a pianist.”
His time in Korea: “I hiked 20 miles in zero degree weather. Others didn’t make it. I kept going. It was the musical mindset that did it.”
When I think of Seymour, and I’ve been thinking of him a lot, since I saw the film last week, he’s a place as well as a person. He’s the Seymour place, where the irritations and difficulties fall away. A place of solitude, grace, and beauty, where life’s detritus is forbidden to make the slightest appearance.
Along with hearing him speak, we see Seymour teach. We see the meticulous practice of a phrase played again and again, until the notes flow, until the slightest failed nuance is addressed.
Despite his success and stunning reviews, Seymour stopped playing in public when he was fifty. He was at the height of his celebrity, but had terrible stage fright — an experience he shares with Ethan Hawke. It took too much from him. It got in his way when he wanted to give the world and himself something else. Something not so self-obsessed. Something beyond the conceit of a brilliant performance.
Toward the end of the film, there’s a small private concert where we hear him play. He admits that he’s nervous. Yet, once he begins he’s calm. Transparent. He plays like an angel. No drama. No ego. Pure art. Even I could hear it, and I’m no musician.
Life is many things. Love, beauty, connection, happiness, joy, pain, failure and triumph. At this juncture, I can add Seymour. Yes. Life, if you’re lucky, is Seymour. You might enjoy seeing this film. And you might choose to invite Seymour into your own life as well. You could hardly do better.
Note: A friend pointed out that Ethan Hawke was “the shy boy,” in Dead Poets Society.” In a way, he remains that boy. Wondering what it’s all about; how to relate to life in a more genuine way. Here, he looks to Seymour, as his character did with Robin Williams in that long ago film. But Seymour is a better bet. He’s real. And he chooses life at every turn
“Each time we don’t say what we wanna say, we’re dying.”― Yoko Ono
The Beatles never liked Yoko much. She went her own way and John followed. She spoke her truth, not caring if the group.agreed. Mostly, they didn’t.
Speaking one’s truth isn’t easy. Being nice, accepted, respected, well thought of, and safe, gets in the way. Many avoid saying what they believe, think, even know: it’s too risky, too dicey, too great a leap.
Playing for High Stakes
They have good reason. It gets us into the down and dirty. We saw it play out this week, when, in the name of religion, of God, of twisted beliefs and sacred tradition, people were murdered for being willing to speak out..
My platform is small, and my risk barely measurable, but these brave souls put themselves out there and lost their lives doing it, knowing full well it might happen, yet refusing to fold.
In the past I was more tolerant. Sure, build a mosque a few blocks from the smoldering World Trade Center. Come speak in my temple. Who does it hurt? Not now. Done that, been there.Look what it got us?
Feeling Dissed and Excluded
Yes, they feel dissed, excluded, . At one time or another, who doesn’t? I recall when I graduated high school, going with my friend Cathy Powers, a beautiful Wasp princess, to seek a summer job at Metropolitan Life. They hired her and turned me down. So what. It happens. I’ve had people convert my last name from Greenfield to Winfield or Grenville, so many times I’ve given up correcting them.
I killed Who?
When I was eight, the children from the Sacred Heart School, across the street, wouldn’t allow me or my friends to walk on what they labeled their side. They pushed us into the gutter and told us we had killed Jesus. I was amazed. How could I have done that? I wasn’t even born yet, and my parents were refined, peace loving people who hardly ever spanked me. Besides, he was one of us, way before they claimed him as their own.
Je Suis Charlie
Time to wise up. People’s tolerance has hit bottom. We all have our troubles. Blaming others gets boring. it gets on my nerves..
Yoko left the popularity thing behind and lived out her blueprint (i.e. the meaning and purpose of her life). That place of dreams and visions where possibility remains unlimited, mysterious, open, and luminous.
This comes easier for some than others. The more uncomfortable it makes you feel, the more you need to do it. No reason why it works this way. It just does.
Yoko’s 81 now, but she still has her moxie. She didn’t care who liked her then.. And she cares even less today. She’s one of a kind. To her own self she’s true.
May it be so for all of us in this New Year of 2015. Not easy, but deeply worthwhile. And sorely needed. Meanwhile “Je suis Charlie!” How about we keep it going? How about we never stop!
Early this morning I got the answer to a question I’ve avoided most of my life: What would you do if there was a fire (or any emergency/disaster) in your building? Actually, the question is two-fold. What would you do and what would you take if you awoke to what might be a life threatening event at the uncommon hour of 4 a.m.?
My first reaction was to think it was the the alarm in my apartment. That it had worn out its battery, and with nine foot ceilings I had no way of turning it off. How would I deal with this ugly ear splitting sound for the next three hours until the maintenance staff arrived? It took me barely more than a minute to realize this was not just me, but a building wide alert. When I opened my door I saw people leaving their apartments — No one knowing if the alarm was false or real.
I put on my coat and shoes and I left. I took nothing with me. Once I knew I was not to blame, I walked away unencumbered and relatively calm. Every person I saw,those on their way out, and those gathered in front of the building, held a cell phone, and the women carried purses, which of course, made sense. What I had done did not. But “making sense,” is not always my number one intention.
So I had my answer. What would I do? Get out fast. What would I take? Nothing. How did I feel? A bit discombobulated but fine.
For years I’ve studied,and shared the concept of detachment. At this particular moment, I had lived it out. And it felt amazing. All I needed was me. No wallet, no pictures, no phone seemed important. Kind of like the contestants on those TV reality shows, finding their way through foreign lands without backup.
People’s reaction to my choice reflects, of course, where each one stands, detachment- wise, as well as his or her nature. I used to think I would scurry to get my photo albums. That I chose not to was unsurprising. But the fact that I left without a phone, wallet, bag, or I.D., was.
I am glad I did what I did. It shows me where I stand on the “spectrum.” But next time, having already proven my point to both myself and the universe (Were you listening universe?), I would bow to the basics, and take my purse and my phone. Should the emergency turn out to be real, I see no reason not to be prepared.
Here’s an imagery exercise to experiment with in this regard:
Intention: To become awake, and aware; and to let go of what you no longer need so you can lighten your load, and move on.
Close your eyes and exhale one time. See and sense how you are awakening from a long, deep sleep. Find before you a bridge that you are now ready to cross. Notice what it is made of, how it’s positioned, and what it connects. Cross this bridge now, bringing along to the other side, only what you want and need.
When you arrive, say goodbye to whatever you have left behind, and release it with forgiveness and compassion.
Once you have done this continue to move on in a new direction.
Then breathe out and open your eyes, knowing all is well..