Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part IV

Things got started again at 2pm. From time to time, Neale's wife would share some of the poetry she'd written. One of my favorites starts with the line, "Nothing needs fixing". Those three words have brought me much peace this year. Things are fine just as they are.

We did a meditative exercise in which for a minute, we looked at the things we'd experienced starting with birth on through to the present day. Another minute was spent looking at the things we'll most likely be experiencing over the course of the rest of our lives (pun intended). I saw a lot of joy in the future, but also the passing of loved ones and pets. Neale said that the things we were visualizing had nothing at all to do with what is going on at this very minute, with what is happening now.

At the end, as we opened our eyes, we were instructed to look at something we agreed with. I looked at a light on the ceiling. When he asked us to look at something else we agreed with, I stared at a balloon and then at my pen.

When our time was about up for the day, Neale looked upon me, there in the front row, pointed at me and then asked that I stand up. He mentioned that I'd been to his retreats before. I nodded and said that last summer was the most recent time. He directed me to stand about six inches away from him. We were about to perform an experiment in which we stare into each other's eyes for 60 seconds straight. I was familiar with this exercise, but had never done it with another (I did it once in the mirror and fell in love with myself).

What a person to do it with and in front of dozens of others! Though it would be difficult, I resolved not to laugh or flinch. It wasn't easy, but I was able to do so. I stared directly into the eyes of the man whose book had changed my life almost 15 years ago for a full minute. He looked into my eyes and didn't even blink; I did once or twice. When the minute was up, he drew me close to him and then embraced me. This was certainly not something I expected when I woke up that morning.

The purpose of the exercise was to show that it's virtually impossible to dislike someone after staring deeply into their eyes, which many say are the windows to the soul. Many times when people argue, they don't look closely into the eyes of the other, preferring to get their point across over seeing their common humanity.

As the room was being broken down for that evening's keynote address, I got in line to have my pic taken with Neale; I've done this three times before. I asked the guy behind me to do the honors and here's what I got:

On a nice little high, I walked two blocks to the local mall which had a Subway that I'd visited before. While in line, a girl of about 18, upon seeing a pie, said to the cashier, "You have pizza?!" The man said, "Yes" to which the girl said, "I didn't know that".

There was a nice little surprise in the dispenser where change is given to people after they've paid for their order. I dug out three quarters before my own change was put there. I'll leave dimes, nickels, and pennies in there when I get em, but not quarters. Speaking of which, I had 18 cents I wanted to get rid of as I left the food court. I wound up dropping it as I passed three teenagers. I didn't look back to see if they picked it up or not. It's always a laugh wondering what their reaction was.

As I left JCPenney and headed back to the hotel, I saw three women from Neale's all-day, two of whom were smoking. The eldest pointed at me and said, "There's that guy" to her friends. I smiled and waved.

I spent a short amount of time in my room before getting ready to go to the first keynote lecture. More than a thousand souls would be present for it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part III

I woke up shortly before 7 and headed to the bathroom where a double-headed shower awaited me. Though still achy, the hot water brought me some peace. I had a warm low-sodium V8 and shaved before brushing my teeth. My desire to come across as good as possible translated to me brushing 4 times that day, a great deal more than is typical. But after lunch, I wanted to do it. Before the evening session and so on.

I was in the lobby at around 7:45. Not many attendees had congregated yet and there was no wait time at all to get my badge for the weekend. Strike that, there was a wait as the lady who searched for my badge was looking under Dickson, not Dixon.

I next went to the gift shop where I bought some cough drops. Priced 33% more that what they'd cost at the supermarket, I had no choice but to purchase them if I wanted to keep my mouth moist. I then staked out my spot near the door to the conference room as I waited to be seated. Three women were in front of me, which would mean I'd most likely get to sit in the front row.

The weekend was going to be kicked off with an all-day workshop with my favorite author, Neale Donald Walsch (he wrote the late 90's classic "Conversations With God"). This would be the fifth event that I'd be seeing him at.

A woman of Hispanic descent came in line behind me. I asked how she'd come to know Neale's work. She said she was very new to it and like me, had signed up to see him every day that weekend. A couple of older ladies, twins, came up to the redhead who was first in line and hugged her. They'd obviously met at previous events. I didn't think it fair when they both took spots up front with her, but didn't think it was worth saying anything.

We were led into the room relatively late as Neale likes to greet people before they come in. When his wife arrived, she recognized me, smiled, and extended her hand to me. I wound up sitting in front, on one side by a lady who attended the all-day last year and on the other by a woman who'd attended the year before. I was embraced by the one from 2009; not surprisingly, she told me a short time later that giving hugs to people regularly had become a part of her spiritual practice. As I left to go to the bathroom, Neale spotted me and said with a smile on his face, "You again?" I said, "Great to see you, good to see you" as I touched his shoulder.

He was scheduled to talk about soul contracts which are arrangements made before we are born in which we decide what souls we'll be working with in life and in what ways. It took him a while to get to this topic, however, as he wanted to give those present some background on his life.

Like the previous year, he didn't want to give a morning break as that chews up 20 minutes that we could be learning or as he would say, remembering. I knew I wouldn't make it to lunch without hitting the head, so just like a movie, timed my departure to when a boring part came up. I chose to go when he started talking about the parable of The Little Soul and the Sun.

You can read it in full here. I'd heard it a number of times before, so knew I wasn't missing much by leaving at that time. As I exited the room, I heard him say, "He's heard this one before!"

Throughout the morning, I took a number of cough drops and my throat gradually got better. I wasn't out of the woods, however, as my neck had started hurting. I chalked it up to driving more than six hours the day before. If I kept my neck positioned a certain way, I was alright, but decided that I'd sign up to get a 10-minute massage that afternoon with the organization that was relieving physical pain for those that needed it that weekend.

One of the nuggets that Neale shared with us was to smile five times a day for no good reason. I'm doing that very thing as I'm writing this. Would you do the same as you read this sentence, dear reader?

Since it's been two years since his last book, I was glad to hear that his new one comes out this fall, cleverly titled "The Storm Before the Calm".

We broke for lunch at 12:30. I dined with the Latino lady as we discussed each other's lives. Lunch consisted of a salad that one put together while in a buffet line. To make sure I wouldn't get hungry that afternoon, I ate something I'd not had in many, many months: a dinner roll. After she cleaned her plate, she said that she wanted to do some shopping; they have a number of vendors there, not to mention books by all the authors speaking that weekend.

I went to where the massages were given out and was pleased that I only had to wait a couple minutes. I'd never had a chair massage before; I always have ones in which I lay down. Beggars can't be choosy, however, so I sat in the chair as I told the young woman that my neck was bothering me.

It may be apparent by now that I wasn't really encountering any males at the conference. This is a happy by-product of being on a spiritual path. Only about one out of every ten attendees is male and we are frequently complimented on having the balls to do so.

The massage didn't completely alleviate the discomfort, but I was so pleased at getting some relief that I gave the masseuse five dollars as a "donation".

As I returned to the conference room, I had no idea that Neale would wind up calling me to the front of the room before the day was out to give a real-life example of a powerful spiritual truth.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part II

My original plan was to check in at the hotel and then go eat supper at Popeye's. I realized, however, that it would be much more convenient to just go eat and then head to the hotel where I would be staying for the remainder of the night. I looked forward to watching some of the NBA Finals on TV if not in my room, then at the bar downstairs.

As I drew closer to Lombard, the city where the conference was taking place, I started coughing every now and then. Dori had noticed this a bit earlier and hoped I wasn't coming down with anything. I said, "Not a chance" and continued to drive merrily along. Now that it was becoming more acute, the thought entered my mind that I might not be at full speed for the weekend. Something similar happened last year on the drive down; my neck was so achy that I had to put a pillow behind my head.

In some ways, I was looking forward to Popeye's almost as much as the conference. I'd first tried it the summer before and went there twice in four days. Going back for more was an absolute necessity as there are no locations within 100 miles of where we live. I walked in and ordered a 2-piece with a corn of cob. I went to the fountain and got Hawaiian Punch for a drink, but it was totally bland. Not wanting to mess with caffeine or carbonation, I put the Crystal Light I'd brought along into the Popeye's cup and went from there.

The food was as delicious as 12 months before, but I noticed I wasn't eating as mindully, as slowly as I had the last time I was there. It may have been anxiety at getting checked in at the hotel. You see, I had a bit of a concern that since my name wasn't on the credit card that was used to bill the hotel, I might have problems when I got there. Dori was supposed to have accompanied me there, but her sister was feeling ill and requested that I drop her off first. I took things a bit more easy as I had my last few bites.

Next, it was off to the hotel where wonder of wonders, the check-in clerk, the one who had so sincerely said "Welcome" a minute before, said that they usually don't let people check in who aren't listed on the reservation, but since I had copies of the confirmation and there was a Mr. listed in there somewhere, she would "let it slide". Here's a pic of the check-in area:

Happy that I had a place to sleep, I parked the car in the ramp and brought my luggage inside. This included my two favorite pillows and a small fan. From the 7th floor, I had a great view of Target. I was feeling great at this point, though the cough was still a bit of a concern.

After spending so much time on the road, I felt now was a great time to take a hot bath and just relax. This is what the bathroom looks like:

In some ways, the trip had come up a bit too fast. I was secretly hoping that it would still be a few weeks away. Staying in a hotel by myself and being away from our home and pets isn't something I'm a big fan of. Plus, I wondered if I'd really even get anything out of this year's workshops. But I was here now and like it or not, magic time was approaching.

It was about 7pm as I put my robe on and just then, a wave of exhaustion overcame me. All thoughts of going downstairs to watch the game passed as I realized that it would be best to just get plenty of sleep that night and be as fresh as possible for the next morning.

I headed to the bathroom where I sat on the floor and had some snacks before turning in: a package of Oreo Cakesters, a small bag of Cheetos, and a Cherry Nutri-Grain bar. I read a 5-year old Entertainment Weekly magazine while doing so. One great thing about hotels is that you can really make the room dark. It's well known that having sex in a hotel is so exhilarating in large part because the male loves having sex in different places. I pulled down the shade and shut the curtains.

My mind raced as I tried to sleep. Hoping I wasn't coming down with anything, I knew I'd have to head to the hotel gift shop the next morning and get plenty of cough drops so that I wouldn't be a nuisance to others when a cough came on. I was able to finally get to sleep an hour later, but woke up what felt like 15 minutes after. In fact, I woke up at least five times that night. Not being roused by the cough, I had no explanation for why this was happening: Being in a different bed? Spending a lot of money on an experience that might not pay off? Worried that I'd be well under 100% through it all?

It wasn't looking good at this point, but damn if I wasn't going to give it my best shot when it came time to rise for the day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part I

Last Thursday, for the fourth summer in a row, my beloved and I headed to the Chicagoland area; me to go to the Celebrate Your Life convention, her to visit with her only sibling. We left at about 10:30am expecting plenty of road construction along the way. I made sure I hadn't forgotten anything as I locked the front door and stepped into the car.

As usual, I'd brought about 20 CD's to listen to during the trip. As we got underway, Dori said, "We're not gonna listen to a lot of country, are we?" Though I'd brought some Vince Gill and George Strait, most of the rest were of the pop genre. We got underway with Genesis' greatest hits album. An hour later, I put on a CD that consisted of 70's and 80's TV show theme songs. My love had a good time trying to guess what some of them were. A few of her favorites were: "M*A*S*H", "St. Elsewhere", and "Little House on the Prairie".

By this point, we were well into Wisconsin. The temperature that afternoon was around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Two days before, we'd experienced an incredible warmup. The high had been 98 degrees. I thought it was bad when I mowed the back yard a couple of days before when it was 93, but five degrees higher is even worse.

About halfway through 'Sconnie, we stopped at Subway for lunch. It turned out to be the same Subway we'd been to once before when driving to the Land of Lincoln. I chuckled while ordering my sub as the cashier looked awfully familiar. When he was ringing us up, I said, "Do you know who you look like? McLovin from "Superbad."

He neither laughed nor frowned, just said that he's been told that numerous times before. Poor guy. He should look into getting contacts.

I have this thing that I've done for years when I see roadkill on the highway. I look at the body as we go by and then lift my eyes quickly to heaven as if to say, "I know you died there, little fella, but am confident that your consciousness continues to exist". I do this not once, but three times for each animal I encounter. This doesn't happen much in the city limits, but on our ride last Thursday, occurred at least a dozen times. Damn if I didn't get a bit tired of doing it, but some habits are hard to break. Besides, after I pass one, I don't want some raccoon saying, "Hey, thanks for not acknowledging me, prick!"

A curious thing happened as we continued. There'd be signs that would say "Road Construction 3 Miles Ahead". My response would be, "I expected this and am ready for it". Five minutes later, I'd see orange barrels on the shoulder of the road, but none blocking any of the lanes. There would be a slightly reduced speed posted, but certainly not the kind of backups I'd been expecting.

The next disc I listened to was Maroon 5's new one "Hands All Over". A gift from my woman for my birthday, it had sat unopened for more than six months. I opened it up and listened to it as we drove through Madison and was impressed with the groovy sounds it offered. It was their first production with Mutt Lange, a man who'd worked on albums with Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, and Shania Twain.

We stopped at a truck stop shortly before passing over into Illinois. A man was giving what appeared to be his son a hard time saying things to him like, "You broke my fuckin' credit card" and "Let's go, boy". Just then, I thanked my old man for rarely exhibiting such theatrics.

We'd brought ten dollars worth of quarters for the tolls we would be encountering in the state that Obama was a senator of before making it to the big time. All was well as I turned off to the exit that would lead to my girl's sister's apartment. One problem, though: as I went through the toll area, there wasn't any place to put the 30 cents. Just a number of cameras. The person behind us honked and I lifted the money into the air as if to say, "Where the fook do I put this?" Not getting a reply, I continued on. Dori talked about possibly being fined a hundred dollars and said she'd talk to her sister about how to proceed.

Once we arrived at her loved one's, I helped bring her luggage in and asked if I could check my email. I did so while Dori gave her sister some late birthday presents. I was asked if I wished to stay a bit longer, but wanting to get checked in and have a bite before winding down was uppermost on my mind now that it was after 4pm. I said goodbye to the girls and got in my car, eager for the next step in my 4-day journey.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Thirty Years Ago

In the late spring of 1981, I started seeing ads on TV for a movie coming out which starred Harrison Ford (he was in my favorite movie of the previous year, "The Empire Strikes Back"). It was produced by George Lucas, who was also behind the second "Star Wars" film.

I began asking my parents about seeing it. They weren't too convinced. The movie was only PG, but back then, that rating was much more strong than it is now. Lots of swear words could be contained in such a movie not to mention plenty of violence. I was 10 years old at the time and my parents were studious Jehovah's Witnesses.

My parents threw me a bone and said they'd go to the movie on their own and from there, decide if it was appropriate for me. You can imagine how eager I was that evening to hear if they were going to give me the green light. I can remember standing in the living room as my mother said that it wasn't too bad, that the main issue she had was near the end of the film when some of the villians' heads began melting. I smiled and said, "But I can still see it, right?" My mom said I could.

A few days later, I was treated to what turned out to be my favorite movie of the year. I loved the non-stop action, the search for an ancient artifact, and the music of John Williams (who had also scored the "Star Wars" films).

One of my favorite moments was in the second half of the film when Indiana sees a bunch of Nazis on a ship and says, "Holy shit". I'd never heard the word before and thought it was one of the coolest phrases ever.

Our town of 25,000 had a 4-screen theatre at the time and "Raiders" played for 10 straight weeks (held over!), then came back for 5 weeks, then returned later on for a few more. I went to it several times that year. One evening, I went to it on my own while my parents went to the Paul Newman - Sally Field courtroom drama "Absence of Malice".

That summer, I bought all the movie tie-ins that I could from it. I purchased the movie's soundtrack on record; my favorite track was probably "Desert Chase". I carried the novelization while we visited my great grandmother at the nursing home. I read the "Making Of" book at my desk in elementary school when I had free time.

One hot day, I walked from my grandma's house to JCPenney and saw that they had the first issue of the comic book adapted from the movie. I had no money, so hurried back and pleaded with my grandma to give me 50 cents so I could buy it.

On another afternoon, my mother dropped me off at Kwik Trip so that I could pick up packs of the Topps trading cards I'd heard were available there. I bought about a dozen packs and walked the seven blocks to where one of our friends lived.

Below is my favorite scene from "Raiders" and probably one of the best scenes I've ever witnessed in a movie (it's not complete for copyright reasons):