Thanks, Oprah Winfrey

For some, the mere mention of this word, "Oprah" will invoke a visceral response. For many others, it is a light in their closet of skeletons.

I fall in the latter category.

The phenomenon that is Oprah Winfrey has been an undercurrent in our society for the past fifteen years that is unimaginable in scope and in depth. Personally, I watched very little "Oprah"; perhaps ten shows in all. Truthfully, I was initially turned off by the outrageous tabloid stuff that the Oprah Winfrey Show did in the mid eighties- the stuff that Geraldo Rivera and Jerry Springer made truly a spectacle. Luckily for us all, Oprah wasn't good at that stuff- because it wasn't real for her. And the transition to the Oprah that we all know today happened "live" in our living rooms whether we watched it or not, and we all became better for it.

Today, Oprah did her last, last, last installment of the Oprah Winfrey Show. It was simply her, telling her story, and her experience over the last twenty-five years. And I was moved. She is, in part, responsible for making possible who I am today- even though I never followed her, did any assignments, or wrote any journals. Because of her reach into our genuine Selves, she made it all possible nonetheless.

The gentle breeze that blows toward the Truth, toward honesty and Reality in our society today, emanates through televisions across the continent from the Harpo Studios.

The power of Ms. Winfrey's influence is intangible but pervasive. Thanks to her fearless prodding, to her openness, through the presence of her television show in millions of living rooms, Oprah gave permission to those who had been silent, to talk. And for those who suffered alone in silence, she gave voice to those who could not speak. In so doing, she changed the dialogue- in North America at least- between people- and shone a light on the things that really matter.

Some say that the success of Oprah is one of a Cult of Personality. While I would not presume to speak for Ms. Winfrey in any way, I would suggest that to an extent, she would agree. Few others could do what she has done. As she pointed out on her final show today, a black girl, born in 1954 in the back woods of Mississippi had no real future except to be a maid or a teacher in a segregated school. Her life is a testament to what has become possible- what is possible. Her success is, in part, because of her starting point.

That she went into television- and has the strength of character and decisiveness of a multi-media conglomerate tycoon is the "Cult of Personality" part. Oprah Winfrey made the Oprah Winfrey we know- and has used every tool available to her to make us want to "worship" her, some might say. Yet, she points that out in her soliloque today, don't confuse personality with message. Just do, or more importantly, be what we have to, so we can be responsible for ourselves; to do the great things we were meant to do, to fulfill our destiny.

Oprah's destiny happens to be what we see before us on Channel 3 or 12 or 216 or wherever we see her. Ours, on the other hand, is most likely much less public and grandiose. But when we are 'in our groove', there is a cult of personality that surrounds us too. How can there not be? Our love radiates and multiplies and in that space, our energy is a uniting force. It is so precious, so fleeting among us, it stands out. Kudos to her for recognizing and actualizing her gift. This is not the time for critical studies, however, it is a time for simple observation.

"Guys" don't get it. At least that's what they want us all to believe. But the number of "Guys"- the tough ones out there who work hard to be impervious to the hurt they might feel if they 'let go' are considerably fewer now than when she took to the airwaves with her message.

I was one of those "Guys". And just knowing that it was safe enough for millions around me to look under the rug where all their secrets were hidden made it safe for me to do the same.

I have learned a lot from the Oprah Winfrey Show- even just the handful of shows that I have seen. And today was no exception. To the very end, Oprah Winfrey was a gentle teacher because she was a gentle student of Life. And although I have never thought of this as something to write down, because of how and from whom she learned this, I most certainly will.

Please take responsibility for the energy that you bring into this place.

Even though I was not a devoted follower, I know that I- and all who surround me- are beneficiaries of the miracle that is Oprah Winfrey.

Her show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, may have come to a conclusion- the plane has finally landed- in her words. But thankfully, she is certainly not gone.

But I thank you Oprah Winfrey, for a Quarter-Century of discovery. For a real Journey that lead millions to validation, to peace, to love, and to Truth.

That is my take. Would you agree?


A little Background

So where do I start when addressing a topic as immense and all-encompassing as 'spirituality'? I suppose I could start where I am. Here and Now. But that would be slightly unfair as then you wouldn't really have a context to understand what I might mean and why I make certain references the way I do.

So I'll start with some background.

I am, or more precisely was, a confirmed Christian in the Anglican / Episcopalian vein. Being Anglican, I followed a quasi-Roman Catholic regime in my approach to God. It was all very corporate to me. We looked up to Deacons, Priests, Bishops, Arch-Bishops, and so on who each spoke with more authority than the previous, all in a hierarchical structure until eventually, you could reach the doorstep of God the Father himself.

To me, it was all very external. We sang centuries-old hymns from books. We prayed from books. We stood up, knelt, sat, spoke in unison, listened silently, following the instructions written in books, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, with a mechanical precision found in armies. And these books were written by committees of 'experts' and sanctioned by other committees of 'experts' deigned to know what was best for us all even though they were far distant... or long dead.

I was more interested in being able to have a sip of wine at the alter like the adults as I was in wishing to understand what it 'all' really meant when I signed up for Confirmation Classes. I dutifully learned the Anglican version of the Nicene Creed by rote and served as an Altar Boy to the glory of a God that had chosen me to suffer more bullying at school than anybody else I knew. My Grandmother must have been proud. Actually, I know she was. This sort of devotion works for some. But it didn't work for me.

That was then. In my late teens, I "dropped out". Who needs a fearsome God, a sacrificing Son, and an ether-like holy ghost? I became a humanist and a fatalist. At least that gave me some understanding if not control over what happened to me. And what I couldn't control or understand, well, "Que sera, sera".

And of spirituality? That was crystals and tea leaves. It was airy-fairy stuff that meant nothing to me because I meant nothing to it. There was no connection between spirituality as I saw it to be then and the day-to-day responsibilities of, well, living.

I strove to be strong, to set my own path and never to deviate from it. I worked hard to create opportunities for growth in my career and personal development but they never came to fruition. I was frustrated by my inability to translate my education, my personality, my abilities into what I had wanted. I could see I was becoming boxed-in in my career and saw dead-ends all around me.

In retrospect, I was in serious trouble. What I thought was a path of Earthly humanism, a road to reality,was exactly the opposite. The world immediately around me, and my sense of that world, were way out of synch. I had secrets. I was running out of room in my closet for all the skeletons. I was as unconscious of myself and the enormity of my dark reality, as an innocent field-mouse looking straight up at the pretty falcon... diving talons-first towards the ground.

I was going through a bottle of scotch whiskey every ten days. It had started out as recreational drinking but it was becoming a serious habit. 'Not that I needed the drink, you understand, I merely desired it'. It had started as a persona- a mask of sophistication but it turned into a way to dull my nerves, a way to help me deny that my life was out of control. I may have desired it rather than needed it, but serious desire is a need, is it not? One thing I know now: I sure got upset with the world if I didn't get my drink....

I came to know the difference between Tanqueray and Absolut gins. I had a preference in my rums, my wines, my beers, my vodkas. I spoke with an air of authority when I voiced my taste for Lagavoulin-16 but not-so-secretly longed for Laphroaig, the peatiest, smokiest scotch I know to exist. My preference was the single-malt, my absolute favourite, the most expensive whiskey I could afford.

I saved my favourites for special occasions. For my everyday 'shot' I had The Balvenie or some such. It was this firey juice I'd down my gullet to calm my nerves and relax me enough to sleep through the night. Almost every night, the sophisticate that I thought I was.

I had other addictions too. I suffered from complete and total objectification of the male body. It's not that I needed sex, it's just that I desired it. Lots of it. Successful, sophisticated people have sex, don't they? So long as the guy was okay to look at, and didn't come across as desperate, I'd be up to just about anything.

And yet it still didn't twig that I had serious issues. I am so lucky something inside of me held me back from going completely over the edge. For if I had, I'm quite certain I wouldn't be here today to write this. But I came as close as you can get to the edge without it crumbling out from underneath me.

I longed for a long-term relationship too but any real attempt at a relationship ended in disaster because now I know, I loved the idea of being in "love". You know the kind of "love" I mean: singing birds, fireworks, and aged photographs of two lovers locked in an embrace with the edges all blurred.... I even travelled to distant continents to experience this sort of anxious, utopian, exhilarating "love".

And because of these romance failures, one piled upon another, I was convinced I'd never experience real love and that I was condemned to marrying the "State"- a self-loathing, self-betrothal to the world of politics. It's almost laughable now that I look back at it but it seemed as real and as inevitable to me then, as the next paragraph in this blog is to you now.

And I would share my experiences with anybody who would listen and I'd completely upend my heart and dump every emotion it contained onto their shoulders whether they wanted it or not. The more dramatic the better. The highs were ecstatically sky-high, the lows were depressingly low. I was so blind. I was so out of control.

I had no boundaries. You could read me like an open book. I gave my personal power away before I even knew I had any. I could never understand why I'd do someone a favour and then when I called it in, they were never available. I devalued myself so much that I became a martyr. My 'selfless' ego was completely out of control. I was giving so much of myself to such an unappreciative, undeserving world. And that made me angry.

And boy, was I angry. Some people are described as 'bottled-up'. But in hindsight that was not me at all. Rather I was more like a grenade with the pin half pulled. I seethed anger. It seeped from my pores no matter how hard I tried to put on a happy face. Although this is not how I saw myself it turns out: I wasn't angry because I was a martyr.

I was angry because I was so frustrated with everything. With everybody. And I was angry because I saw no possible resolution to that frustration. I had no control in my day-to-day business dealings, no success in my career, no success or control in my friendships, no success in my relationships, and no success in getting sex- even when I made myself out to be cheaper than dirt. Oh... and I was angry at myself for being so out of control and angry at myself for allowing myself to get there.

I read somewhere long ago that men often have anger issues. I knew that cognitively for years- decades even- but I didn't recognize that fact in myself. But after  years of emotionally abusing people and worst of all, abusing those closest to me including myself, I finally realized that I was angry when it started to get physical. I was so angry in fact, I was numb to all other feelings.

Even when my ribs were hurting from laughing so hard and for so long, I was angry. My "AQ" (anger quotient) might have been 'zero' in that moment but I felt nothing else. So by default, I appeared to be happy. But when my "AQ" was a ten out of ten- I was utterly, implacably, dramatically, and even dangerously, apoplectic.

But here's the thing: I recall making a conscious decision twenty years ago- without having a label for my state, or the act of deciding- that I was simply an angry person. I chose to be angry. Hey, if I exploded, I would apologize for it after-the-fact, I justified to myself, completely uncaring of the damage I was doing in the meantime to myself and those around me. Here too, I was out of control.

My life was complicated and compartmentalized. I had my family in this box over here, my work in that box over there, my sex-life bundled up at my feet and my other pursuits strewn about in between. I believed I was living like some pseudo-urbane aristocrat on a budget and thought this was the ideal way to go through life- even if I pulled it off in a mediocre fashion. All that meant was, I had a goal to work toward to better myself- to make myself even more sophisticated and urbane. No matter the cost.

And the cost was a vicious circle. I compartmentalized more. I tried harder. I failed again. I'd get frustrated. Then I'd try again only to fail again. Then I'd get angry. Then after lashing out I'd pick up the pieces, hide my dysfunctions deep in the closet and start again. I'd compartmentalize more, and so on. I was out of control.

I didn't realize then that I had a choice. I didn't realize I didn't have to be this way.

And then it happened. In the midst of all my addictions, all my dysfunctions, despite my aggressive-defensive stance, despite my all-consuming anger, I met someone who saw through my shells, my masks, my fantasies and my delusions; someone who stood up to my ego and held me accountable to my Self. I fell to the Earth faster yet more softly than I ever thought possible.  And I thank my lucky stars that happened because the beginning of my journey of self-discovery I have been on since, was but one of the many miracles I have encountered along the way.

As I proof-read this entry, I realize that this is a confessional of sorts. A recounting of my faults and an accounting for them. And so before I go any further, to all of you who have known me, who have suffered my abuses, my obnoxious ways, my arrogance, my intolerance, my perfectionism, my egotistical mania, and my wrath of one sort or another, I am deeply sorry and ask for your forgiveness.

There is nothing I can do to alleviate the pain and there is nothing I can say or do that will 'fix' the past. I hope that you have forgotten me or trust you have found the strength to overcome my dark shadow. I vow never to be this way again and although I know that I may fail from time to time, I strive to recover, to make amends and to learn from my mistakes each time I stumble.

Because I am an imperfect human, it will take the rest of my life to get it right and I am so thankful that I have the rest of my life to get it right. Because I will. Because I choose to.

And that, in part, is what this site is about. We all have a choice whether to choose for ourselves or to allow outside forces make those choices for us. This site is about sharing those moments and those choices- when we did good and when we erred.

We all have our journeys. The Dalai Lama has had his moments. Mahatma Ghandi and Mother Teresa weren't perfect and Nelson Mandela has his faults. Even the Buddha lived once in unconsciousness. How do I know this? Because they're all human. But they all made a choice one day in their lives to do things differently. They changed their ways, took another tack, turned themselves inside out and underwent a paradigm-shift. They chose to be different.

That is the condition of being human. We are imperfect, erring nomads each doing what we can to get by. But being human, we have a choice. In everything. Always. Some choose to live their lives unconsciously through their egos. Others follow their real selves- their spiritual core. They choose to express that quintessential element that resides in all of us that is unfailing, unflinching, and constant. It is complete honesty, complete awareness, complete self-truth, complete reality. They live their lives consciously.

The miracle of the Truth, really is each of us, stripped of all ego, and all pretensions. But nobody gets there without making choices. And everything- absolutely everything- we do, say, think, feel, emote, project, absorb, even believe.... is a choice. It's simply a matter of making the right choice, all the time. And when we make a mistake, it's then about acknowledging our error, honouring ourselves for noticing, and returning to where we deviated and continuing on down the right path from there.

And so this site is dedicated to the never-ending search for that Truth each of us has in our own way. Let us do this as a project together. Let us unleash ourselves from our self-imposed limitations to grow to be we can really be- to express the spirit that we really are, to rejoicing in ourselves, the Universe we share, and the miracles we can choose to embrace, so that we may simply find inner peace, love, and a timelessness that is as is the Universe itself.

So now you know a little bit about me, I hope that we can grow together on this journey. I want to hear what you have to say. Everyone is welcome.

Because this site is dedicated to every step we take on that journey... especially the very first one.


Your Body

So who are you, exactly? Take a look in the mirror. Literally. Get up and find one. Look at yourself in the mirror. Is this image that is reflected back at you, the entire you? Is there anything more to you than this?

If the answer is "No, there is nothing more to me than this image in the mirror, then read on!"

If the answer is, "Yes, there is more to me than this image in the mirror, then read on!"

Because there is much more to you than the image you see. What you see is your body. It is a remarkable, miraculous machine that you were born with. Look at your hand. Make a fist. Open your fist and spread your fingers wide. Close the fist. Open the fist. Turn your hand over. Look at your fingernails. Move your hand around but keep staring at it. Concentrate hard on your hand, at its shape and form. Notice the creases in your skin at the joints, how the fingers curve, how the skin goes taught and slack.

After a few moments (for some, it might take a couple of minutes), you will start to see your hand like an object apart from you. When this happens, probably for a brief moment, a full second if you're lucky, your will have had an out-of-body experience. You will have experienced your body as though you were on the outside, looking at it like you might see your car. It is an object that does amazing things.

You can do the same thing with your foot. Staring at your ear will accomplish the same result. After a couple of times, it will become obvious to you that your body is an object.... it is a machine, and a miraculous one at that.

Now stop again and realize this: by having this out-of-body experience, you have just stumbled on another discovery you must acknowledge: your thoughts are separate and distinct from your body.

This may seem like a small thing- too simple to care about but you must care about it. The significance of this distinction between your thoughts and your body is earth-shattering in its importance as you will see re-affirmed over and over in other posts.

Your body is something to be honoured. You sense this very physical carbon-based world using this body. You touch, see, hear, smell and feel everything this world has to offer, good and bad.

And it so machine-like. Blood courses through your arteries and veins. Bones make up your skeleton. Muscles contract to move your limbs. Your eyes, an optical miracle in themselves, allow you to see. Your skin, a self-healing shield, protects your sensitive inner workings from the harsh physical environment yet allows you to feel that same environment with remarkable precision in infinitely different ways.

Possibly with minor variations, if you touch a brick you will feel the roughness just as the next person will. If you look at it, you will sense the same colour and shape as the next person might. If you drop it on your foot, you will probably feel the same kind of pain as the next person too.

Isn't that amazing? Isn't that wondrous? Isn't that a miracle?

Recall in my previous post, You always have a choice, that instead of believing that you are a human being who might occasionally have a spiritual experience, we are really here as spiritual beings having a human experience". Can you see now how that is so?

As a human being, each of us are delivered in a body that is created on this earth, to stay on this earth. Our body is the product of thousands of years of evolution, hundreds of years of social conditioning and the combining of a single sperm and a single egg, both themselves miracles with a limited life-span. Bodies, like packages in the grocery store come in all shapes and colours but they all do the same thing. They allow us to live and interact in this time and space. They all have an expiry date.

You inhabit your body just as you inhabit your home. Always remember this distinction. The body you see in the mirror, miraculous yet imperfect as it is, is not the sum-total of who you are. It is your physical presence. It is your means to 'interfacing' with the physical world around you. It is a tool. It is a machine. It is a miracle. Dressed anyway you like, the body we see in the mirror, is just a part- the physical part- of who we are.