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On India’s Republic Day, 2019

John Owens

On India’s Republic Day, 2019

Namaste. Distinguished guests, dear students, friends and relations, It is a pleasure and honor to address you again this year with a few remarks on this wonderful 70th Republic Day for our beloved India. I say our India, because though I was not born here, a part of my heart and soul live here. I consider United States as my fatherland. And India as my Motherland.

My personal story is not exactly typical. At the age of six, India called me to her, and at the age of 20, in 1972, I answered that call by buying a one-way ticket to Mumbai, and coming alone to Pune. I did not know anyone here, but ended up staying in India for an entire year through the great-heartedness, generosity and kindness of none other than our Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, who has truly been both elder brother and father to me for over 45 years. Through his, and my Indian family’s, help and blessings, I was married just a few steps from here 32 years ago in Symbiosis Hall to the love of my life, Sujata, in a Hindu ceremony.

Like India itself, Symbiosis has grown tremendously since I first arrived here in 1972. Back then, Symbiosis was a cultural organization devoted to helping foreign students, mostly from Afro-Asian and Middle Eastern countries, to adjust to this culture, find housing, medical care, and learn the English language. Now, as you know, Symbiosis is comprised of some 45 institutions, serving tens of thousands of students from all over India, as well as half the countries of the world. Symbiosis is a brand known and respected far and wide, and is an exemplar for what this great, country truly stands for: the values of diversity, inclusiveness, advancement by merit and fair play on a level field. Look around any of Symbiosis’ many campuses and you will see this summed up in two words, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the World is one Family.

From my experiences here, and particularly with my Indian family, the Mujumdars, the perspective and value of one world as one family is a part of me. I have pledged Vasudhaiva kutumbakam as my life mission, and in my own way I have worked to help realize that wherever I happen to be, and whatever I happen to be engaged in. One important way I do this is through my work as a life and executive coach, that respectfully calls people forth to embody their God-given greatness, and make a difference in their own and others’ lives.

Something I have become acutely aware of over the last two years of my time in India is a shared sense of National Purpose. I think this may be true of many other countries as well, this sense of Shared Purpose is calling forth all citizens to contribute to the growth, prosperity, and greatness of this nation. This may be expressed individually in relentless pursuit of getting ahead and excelling, or as a devotion to public service, volunteerism, entrepreneurism, or in the expectations that you have for your government and leaders. I don’t see this sort of shared National Purpose in the United States, not since the Space Program of the 1960’s that succeeded in putting human beings on the surface of the moon, and taking the first ever photo of Earthrise over the horizon of the moon, the first visual proof that we truly are One Family living together on One World. Today, those great aspirations and the belief in the enormous possibility of what a prosperous nation is able to achieve are largely absent in American society as a whole. I think America has much to learn and to be inspired by countries like India that believe in something greater than themselves and find their fulfillment in material goods and personal pleasures. I think you could say that in some important ways, America has lost its way and lost its purpose. It is certainly not the United States’ destiny to impose its brand of democracy on places like Iraq or Afghanistan, nor to be a beacon to the world by having 1% of the population owning 85% of the nation’s wealth. It is time for the US to lead by collaboration and partnering with equals in the world, and respecting the aspirations of each and every nation.

I’d like to share with you a dream I had just two nights ago. We were all at a great stage at a Symbiosis function. A famous and highly admired person dropped tools and supplies all around the campus: hammers, wrenches, construction components, fasteners and such. All this was done without a word being spoken. It was obvious that we in the audience were being called upon to build something. There were no instructions. So what was it to be? And why? For what purpose? I recall the scene was all very confusing, but everyone got up, picked up tools and supplies and were trying to put it all together. The scene was pretty chaotic.

I wanted the leader to tell us what to do with all these parts and pieces. I felt frustrated, a bit angry. And then suddenly I realized that we had to each understand not only our personal purpose, but had to find what was in common among all our individual purposes to build what was needed. We needed to understand first that together we were working as one family, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, and that our prosperity, even our survival, could only be realized when we understood our interdependence that comes from aligning our individual goals and purposes as one world family. Then a magnificent structure was built, one that held us all in a beautiful and sacred space, safe and nurturing.

I believe that this is the challenge we face today: to share our aspirations and blend them into a whole purpose, greater than any one person or family or community, but one that includes us all, like that picture of Earthrise. Our home today is in peril: from human-created global warming, from wasted resources, from enormous disparity of wealth and social justice and from the sort of nationalism that erects walls across borders or ignores the needs of the downtrodden.

Each of us is given some tools and materials, just as I imagined in that dream. What will you do with them? Do you sit and wait to be told? Do you build a wall or dig a hole to hide in? Or do you join hands with your brothers and sisters and build a home to hold all of us safely as one people, one tribe, one family, in peace, prosperity and in brotherhood and sisterhood? The choice is yours.

Happy Republic Day 2019. Jai Hind!

Namaste.

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On Chin Bobbing

John Owens

On Chin Bobbing

There is something interesting about human behavior that I have noticed since I’ve been a child, but have never heard it discussed, much less explained. I’d love to figure it out. I remember riding my bike as an eight-year-old, and on seeing another guy, both of us–though not necessarily simultaneously– would raise our chins slightly, a peaceful acknowledgment of the other’s existence. This is apparently a cross cultural phenomenon: the same thing happens here in India. A variant is a lowering of the chin slightly, a dip. It’s, in part, a silent hello, though I’ve never seen it in groups, just between (usually) two males, and usually at a distance of 3 to 10 meters apart.

I don’t frequently see this gesture with girls or women. It could be occurring more often, but I may not have noticed it, or unconsciously ignored it when it does happen. I don’t personally recall ever chin bobbing at a woman; it just doesn’t feel right for me to do so. But that’s just me. So correct me, please, if I’m mistaken on that. Still, what exactly is the use and the message of this gesture? When did it evolve? Do other primates exhibit this behavior for similar reasons?

As I take a moment now to indulge in practicing this gesture in the privacy of my apartment, I have a sense that the chin bob, as I’ll call it, is something that goes way back to prehistoric times, a signal to other hunters to awareness of the tribe moving together in connection. Maybe the slight and fleeting exposure of the neck is an implicit signal of one’s vulnerability and absence of threat to the other. Certainly, our reptilian brain is forever on the lookout for threats, and signals that assure the absence of such are required for us to get past the fight/flight/freeze response and use more highly evolved parts of our brains, like the neocortex.

But that’s all just my speculation, stuff I’m making up and should hold pretty lightly until I have some real evidence. What are your thoughts and experiences around this phenomenon? How about you try it out on a stranger you are passing by, just a brief chin bob while gazing at the person, and note what their response is? Do they return the gesture? Do both men and women do it?

Will this change the world, or promote peace? I doubt it, but if such a gesture lowers others’ threat response, it may be useful to signal—in this age of fear and hypersensitivity to the ‘alien other’—that we mean no harm and are approachable. It’s almost as good as that most intimate gesture of inclusion…the wink.

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Pune Journal 2018: What brought me here

John Owens

Pune Journal 2018: What brought me here

Today I had my first full day of formally working in an organization since 2011. What is notable is that this was a manifest beginning of my Quest, and it took place in Lavale, outside Pune, India. The journey here has been long in the making, and, I think, an interesting story.

The seeds of my arrival here in India in 2018 began back in 1958 when I was in Mrs. Judd’s first grade class. I clearly remember a woman came in for Show and Tell, a part of the day that I often lagged in attention for. This day, the lady shared dolls she had made of famous figures, and told their stories: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and others I have no memory of. I didn’t pay much attention (I distinctly did not care for dolls…girly stuff) until she lifted one doll, clothed in white with brown cloth for skin. She said, “And this doll is Mahatma Gandhi, and he is from India.” In that instant something clicked for me, and I knew with total certainty that India was a place I was going to.

A few years later, Americans and the British were having a romance with all things Indian. I remember “Genuine bleeding madras shirts,” the Nehru jackets, yoga classes and Ravi Shankar sitar concerts. In high school I would go with my friend to the Lower East Side in NYC to Arunachal Ashram to chant (and I still do) and study the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I did a lot of yoga, a little meditation, and experimented with fasting and vegetarianism, eventually, at age 18, having a spiritual revelation that I was no longer meant to eat animal flesh. I have kept my vow ever since.

In college in my Junior year, in 1972, I was accepted in a program to go to Pune, India for six months of study. I was excited at the prospect of finally, 14 years after I had my inspirational moment that I would go there, spending time and fulfilling what felt like my destiny. After a quarter of orientation classes at another school in a small, conservative Wisconsin town that I did not care for at all, we students were assembled on the last day of classes and informed that the program was cancelled. The program was unable to get student visas for us, due to politics between India and the USA. The Bangladesh war was raging, and Nixon had tilted American support toward (West) Pakistan and against India in the conflict. Also, American scholars were writing very negative things about India at the time (The Sleeping Giant, pointing out failure to modernize due to traditional family systems, taking measurements to prove that India would run out of food permanently and its population starve to death, etc.). So Indira Gandhi put the kibosh on American student visas. That was just a speed bump for me.

I was devastated…for a day or two. Then I decided in my youthful impetuousness that I was going to India, no matter what. I applied for, and got, a tourist visa. I bought a one-way student-fare airline ticket to Bombay with help from my parents. In August I boarded a plane at JFK airport and left for India. I knew no one, had no plan other than to eventually get to Pune and set up something there. I thought I was prepared by the 3 months of orientation. I knew a few dozen words of Marathi. What could go wrong?

Forty six years after the fact, I can still picture the descent into Bombay Sahar Airport on the Boeing 747 jet. Miles of hutments, colorful laundry strewn across tin rooftops, squalor everywhere. Concrete pipes lay above ground housing thousands of people. And the intense green of rice paddies, egrets wading, cattle grazing, and people everywhere. Before we landed, the sewage smell of Bombay hit me, tightening my stomach. The slum reached up to the very edge of the runway. This was not what I was prepared for.

The big jet landed, and did its long taxi to the airport. Finally coming to a stop, I descended the portable stairway rolled up to the plane and felt the hot, sticky stinky monsoon air cling to me like a soggy blanket. People were scurrying everywhere, chattering in a tongue that I could not recognize at all. I made it through immigration and customs and stepped out into the sunlight again and was immediately overwhelmed by a sea of people, some grabbing at my luggage, some insisting I get in their cab, beggars seeking alms, vendors pushing all manner of cheap goods in my face and shouting at me. I dashed for a taxi and got in, shutting the door to isolate myself from the intensity of the situation and the noise, smells, the desperate needs that appeared aimed at parting me from my money or my luggage, or both. I told the taxi driver the name of a cheap hotel my friend had once stayed at, and the cab roared away into the chaos that is the urban Indian roads. Jetlagged, exhausted, overwhelmed by this chaotic scene, overloaded with sensory input, I had only one desire: to get away, hide, sleep, and hopefully sort out what the hell I had just gotten myself into.

If I write my memoirs someday, perhaps I’ll detail all the things that happened in the next two weeks of my life, which is a whole chapter in itself. Instead, I’m skipping forward to moving from Bombay to Pune, and seeking out the Foreign Student Advisor for Poona (old British name for the city) University. This man, Dr. (Professor) S. B. Mujumdar was a faculty member at Ferguson College (FC). I found him at his home in a small bungalow on the FC campus, along with his joint family: his mother, brother, and his wife and three children, his own wife and two daughters, Vidya and Swati. Again, I’m cutting out a chapter of a remarkable story to get to the bottom line: I ended up living with this extended family for 9 of the 12 months I lived in India. There I experienced the unconditional love that my soul was searching for my entire life. I hold no doubts that this experience was what called me to India 14 years before my arrival. And a permanent bond was formed with this family, which has endured the years, the separations, and all other challenges of long-distance relationships. I am considered as one of the family.

I’ve lost count of the many times I have visited India since. And when I last came to India in 2015, and Dr. Mujumdar, now the Chancellor of his creation, Symbiosis International University (SIU), with 17,000 students, 31 institutions and 10 campuses around India, asked me to come and be a part of this organization and bring my coaching perspective here, I could not refuse and still be true to my heart. Before caution could slow me down or back me off, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it!” And so I have, working with his daughter, now Dr. Vidya (Yeravdekar), the Pro Chancellor for SIU, to make it all happen. With support from my wife, Sujata, who has remained in USA to manage her business, I’m here by myself for the next six months to explore this Quest. Even today, as I sit here in the Lavale campus and contemplate setting up my office tomorrow, and begin whatever it is I’m to do and be here, I’m not clear yet what my role is, other than I will work to bring coaching and coaching skills and perspective to this university, and thereby catalyze a transformation. For now, I stand in this place of not knowing, in a sea of possibility, with something calling me forth to be and do, yet it is my fate to allow it all to unfold and inspire me to action. The challenges ahead are big: unlearning some of the attitudes, beliefs and perspectives that are ingrained in Indian education and culture, and learning to break down some of the barriers between people to enhance the depth and intimacy of conversation and relationships. I think my task is to bring the best of American culture, and integrate it with that of India. And the secret sauce that will make that work is simply that which I found here 46 years ago: Love.

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On Renewal

John Owens

On Renewal

When I think of renewal, I first imagine Mother Earth, who, as part of her yearly circuit around Sun, nods in precession, creating our seasons. From where I stand now, in southeastern Minnesota, that means from November to April or May a sterilization and suspension of life. Insects and annual plants die or hibernate, trees draw their sap far below the frost line, many birds leave, animals hibernate or go into torpor, and we humans retreat to the warmer parts of our homes and virtually stop interacting with our neighbors except when removing snow or taking out the garbage.

In another part of the world, in India, with which I am familiar, from March to the beginning of June there is a different sort of sterilization: by heat. Temperatures rise from the 90’s into the 100’s and even much higher. Trees lose their leaves, the ground cracks open and dries, insects die and desiccate, and animals seek out shelter in burrows, and rely on the few remaining sources of water to survive. People retreat indoors from 11 AM to 4 PM to sleep, seek shade and air conditioning, and only venture out in midday with umbrellas to shield them from the scorching radiation of the Sun. In midday sun, you can seemingly feel the force of the photons of light streaming down on you, like an invisible weight of oppressing intensity.

Finally the clouds come and cover the sky. The winds pick up, and dust storms cover all surfaces with a veneer of red dirt. The sky is alive with lightning storms from horizon to horizon. Still no rain, but the whole world anticipates the relief that must come to assure the promise of survival. Without it, there will surely be starvation and death. Farmers hitch up oxen or tractors to the plows, and turn over soil that is more like concrete than growth medium, and sow their hope and faith and wealth in the hot, dry soil. If the rains are delayed too long, they may be ruined. Too soon, and the land is turned to mud.

At last, in the stifling heat and dusty wind, the ocean of air delivers its renewing gift to a desiccated Earth. Clouds, having been cooled by air returning from the Himalaya, condense their moisture. And down comes the rain in torrential glory. Adults and children alike stand on street corners, arms upstretched and unprotected, to soak in the cooling, delicious joy of life-giving rain. Many dance for joy, a whirl of colorful saris and dresses, umbrellas and shirts and songs of love express the relief of summer’s stress, and the belief that life is good.

Instantly, it seems, grasses magically appear overnight. Dusty, barren hills become covered with vibrant greens. Trees bud forth leaves and flowers bloom on every terrace and garden. Flies and mosquitos and butterflies become abundant. Washed clothes hang for days on sheltered lines, taking forever, seemingly, to dry. Moods lift, with popular songs hummed in the kitchens, and late afternoon happy family gatherings happening while the storms and winds pour forth in the early evening.

This is the time of the Goddess, when all things are nurtured, fed and held in gentleness and love. It is a time when traditionally war was virtually impossible to wage. This is a time to stay home while paths are flooded or washed out and impassible. A time to celebrate, and to receive and give promises and thanks at temples and home shrines to a benign and generous deity, who bestows upon us humans all the means and delights of joyful existence, and the promise of the continuance of our tribe.

Renewal has other forms, too. Some are dark and violent, like the cycle of war and peace. Here the dark elements of destruction, chaos and death, of a whole people grieving loss and deprivation and disease and despair, hopefully will come to an end and give way to peace and a rebuilding of society. Sometimes this process can, relatively speaking, go well, as the renewal of Europe and Japan after the ravages of WWII are examples. All too often in our contemporary times, the process of violent renewal by conflict has become stuck in permanent dysfunction. Think of Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Somalia, to name just a few such nations where conflict has become endemic, and renewal is a frail and distant hope. What ingredients are needed in such places, to catalyze movement out of war and aggression toward the knitting together of the social fabric and the renewal that peace can promise? What can our world’s institutions and leaders do differently that will help to cause what has always been and remains a natural movement from war to peaceful renewal?

I won’t leave you on this somber observation of the dark underbelly of renewal. There is so much more to explore, and I’d like to bring a piece of it home, and make it personal to me and to you. One can imagine renewal as a four-part cycle, starting, if you will, with a slight change or disturbance in a stable system, like that first snowfall. That’s Act I. Act II is the intensification of that disturbance, and the introduction of chaos or profound change, like the freezing of the ground (and water pipes), more snow, dead batteries, white-outs, respiratory diseases, and the rest. Act III is the beginnings of a new or returning order: the lengthening of the days, the arrival of migratory birds, melting snows and runoff and swollen rivers. It’s still in this place of chaos and tension and distress, and without certain knowledge one might imagine that it might go on forever like this. And finally Act IV arrives, replacing all with a new or renewed order, fresh, optimistic, and full of promise and potential.

How does the cycle of renewal play out in our individual lives? I’ll share an example from my own life, and perhaps you can recognize or resonate with this idea in your own story.

I became intensely aware in my early 20’s that, in my belief, I was alone in the world. Yes, people populated it, but from my perspective, my life was mine to live, my world was most real internally, and to a great extent, I did not much need people for my existence. I felt connection to a few individuals, and for them I was a good, loyal and reliable friend. I did not see any particular relationship to most of the rest of the world. Now for many of us, and in particular those, like me, whose worldview and self-view are skewed significantly from reality, somewhere near the magic age of 40, a disturbance happens. You can call it midlife crisis if you like. In short, my act, my collection of beliefs and behaviors, just did not work so well for me anymore. That was the curtain call for Act II for me. Stuff started happening that was disturbing. Reorganization at work, a shakeup that left me with the realization that maybe I need to think about the impacts of what I say and do have on others, particularly the managers. I got married, and ended up three years later divorced. My life seemed to be stuck, vaguely unfulfilled, and except for a few close friends, I was alone. Act III unfolded with my joining a group, one that helped me recover my repressed emotions. Until then, I was primarily able to feel anger and hunger. The rest was not even part of my awareness. Doing the hard, scary work of emotional recovery, I felt alive again.

Too much story to go into details here, but I found myself in community, and joined a group of men who likewise shared their emotional and spiritual lives. And one day, and this is my fourth Act in the cycle of renewal, it dawned on me that I contained a paradox: I am alone in the world and I am in community. Like breathing, as I inhale I am alone, and as I exhale I am in relation to all beings. Life made a new sense. I started talking with anyone I met as if they were my brother or sister or other relation, because I now see with renewed eyes my relatedness to everyone and everything.

So from this perspective of relatedness, I know that we are all unique, but we are all not that different, either. What’s your story of renewal? How may your past belief in one thing, rubbed up against what is real, has collapsed to give way to something new that has enlivened you? How do you form and share your story? How might sharing that renew both you, and those who hear you?

As always, I’d love to hear your comments!

Namaste,

John

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FIRE, FIRE!

John Owens

FIRE, FIRE!

Some annoying things can mask powerful and destructive forces. Only by opening them up to the light can we heal them and use these forces for good and constructive purposes. I know this from my own personal experience, but recently I was able to witness this in a new way.

Here’s the story: for many months we’d been having a problem with a circuit breaker tripping out for several outlets in our kitchen. It’s been mildly annoying, as we have had to move small appliances around to make use of the few remaining outlets that were still working in our kitchen. Every time I would reset that circuit (we got to the point of naming it “Old #12”), it might stay on for a week, or trip off before I could walk out the utility room door. Random, vexing, mysterious is how I would call the situation. We had need recently for an electrician for a small remodeling project we were doing elsewhere in the house, and hired our neighbor Gerry—who is also the Fire Chief for Northfield—to help us on the electrical work. Of course, I added in the task of fixing Old #12.

Our electrician opened the breaker box and tightened the connections to the circuit breaker #12. They weren’t particularly loose, but it was a good place to start, and the circuit stayed on after the workers left. Several days later it tripped again. Ugh! Now what?

I called the electrician back, and a week or so later he got back to me, and we started the search for the hidden cause in earnest. He replaced the breaker with a new one. He disconnected all the downstream boxes from the line. It still tripped, so we knew the problem had to be in the wiring from the breaker box to the first outlet. Out came the drywall saw, and he started opening up my kitchen wall above the box. I cringed at the thought of all the time it would take to repair and repaint, but like ripping a scab off an infected wound, it had to happen.

There was a moment of electric silence as he shined his flashlight into the opening he’d made, and we saw and smelled the charred wires and wood where there had been–at least– a smoldering fire. We experienced that moment with heavy silence and the unfolding realization that a bullet had been dodged. A wire staple holding the wires had been fastened directly into the Romex wire feeding the box. From time to time it made a dead short across the wires, which tripped to breaker when the amps got high enough. We were very uncomfortably close to having had our house burn.

Gerry, our electrician/fire chief said, “I don’t like to use the ‘f-word’, but in this case I will: you had a Fire. If you had put a bigger breaker in, there is no telling what could have happened with more heat.” Gerry got our problem permanently fixed (most of it: there’s a gaping hole in our kitchen wall now). There is a feeling of “there but for the grace of God, go I” that remains for me, evoked each time I look at the ripped opening exposing the black, toxic-smelling evidence beneath the glossy surface of painted wall.

What is it that attracts my attention to this particular point? Could this be a metaphor illuminating the dark workings of shadow that hide unseen deep in my psyche, that which creates danger and threat to life and well-being? Is it an essence that shows itself in a persistent and annoying outward behavior, like the random tripping of the breaker, that is the symptom of something fundamentally in need of healing? By revealing that which lies beneath the surface and exposing it to the light, permanent healing may take place. So it goes, too, with us humans: our annoying, dysfunctional behavior can be the IMG_20140405_123526_797symptom of a repressed, hidden source of power that lies within. Bringing it out into the light, owning it, can let us heal the wound and use that power for goodness. And for awhile, there remain some jagged and sensitive edges that time and caring will close and heal.

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Arrival in Bali

John Owens

Arrival in Bali

Monday, Dec. 16

This was a tough travel. After four hours flying to SF, then a 13 hour flight on China Airlines to Taipei, and another 5 hr. flight to Denpasar, Bali, it was just a short taxi ride to our place in Nusa Dua. There, feeling sick, jet lagged, and worse than I ever have in recent memory, I slept from 8 pm to 5 am today. My body is awakening to the warmth, humidity, gentleness of both the physical atmosphere and the vital energy of this special island. Sujata and I had an early breakfast, and headed for the beach just a hundred yards away from our room. The ocean was deliciously warm, calm and inviting. We played together, I following her lead in splashing and jumping for joy to be alive in this beauty and peace. In the distance, to the north looms the great volcano, Agung, who is the dominant feature of the landscape on the entire island. It is enormous. It is a reminder, like the wind turbines of Northfield, something I can see from miles away on my bike rides in the countryside. But this volcano orients me, not to a settled man-made place, but to an entire ecology of humans, land, sea, tropical air, and the stupendous forces that lay underneath us that from time to time make their presence known with smoke, ash, fire, and molten rock. We sit upon the Ring of Fire, that part of Mother Earth that loves, gives, and receives unconditionally, and in virtual silence. She provides our support on the earth we stand upon, our nurturance in the food and substance she offers our bodies. She just as unconditionally accepts our offerings of care and carelessness, of cultivation and pollution, and in the end accepts with the same unconditional acceptance, the remains of the body we leave behind us in death. And sometimes, Mother Earth lets loose her inner fiery core, discharging smoke, ash, lava and an anguished cry that are a warning to awaken us to not only her unlimited power, but our own. For a fire boils away in our core, giving life its passion and force and direction. Such a containment of our own life force must manifest itself in some purposeful and meaningful way, either to connect us to our reality as all-related, or in the opposite direction of the insanity of ego-inflation and isolation from Divine unity. Agung, this great presence, calls me today to a shared consciousness, to peace and gratitude for being, not toward any particular object, but to All.

Tuesday

Yesterday and today, Sujata and I have created a Stake for the day. The stake ties us to a purpose, awareness and commitment. We create it, and then say it in unison until it feels powerfully shared. Today our stake it “Joy, Beauty, and Presence create soulful writing.” We both have an urge to write today, and the joy, beauty and presence are what we want to bring as inspiration to that creation. She is downstairs in the garden, I in our room, but I feel the connection to Sujata as we are both writing, creating and relating what it is that is in us.

We awoke before dawn this morning, our sleep done, at least til afternoon nap time. We had our tea, and watched the sun breaking the horizon at low tide. We were amazed to see all that was exposed by the disappearance of the sea from the fringes of coastal beach. Here there were sand bars a hundred yards out, exposed and inviting to stand amidst the blue waters. All around are the boats, some high and dry, and others anchored in deeper waters, floating gently. The sounds of birds, pigeons and titwees (as they are called in India), and others unfamiliar, created the music that cheered on the dawn. As the sun arose amidst the cloudy horizon, we felt the warmth immediately. Down on the beach we walked among rocks of jettys, watching crabs scurry into their hiding places. Snails glided across the path toward their shady refuges as the sun caught fire and the temperature rose by the minute. I watched the tide for awhile, slowly and determinedly rising with the sun, covering up one feature in the wet sand after another, the ocean reclaiming what is rightfully her own.

We had breakfast today with the last of our oatmeal, and a huge helping of papaya bought at the local mini mart. With no reason to hurry and ‘get on with our day,’ every bite felt like a blessing of Mother Earth. This is the gift of beauty, joy and presence, and it creates more than soulful writing. I feel it creating love.

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What I See Is Me

John Owens

What I See Is Me

I have been turning this thought over for months now, never quite getting to the point of writing about it, because I’m not sure I know how to get this across clearly to my readers: What I see is Me. I am hoping that this blog will help me to be clearer about a growing awareness in me, and let me share some thoughts that point in a fascinating and resonant direction. It might be a bit messy. Please forgive me my struggle to put these words artfully and with clarity.

Eastern mysticism talks about Maya, the Veil of Illusion. The idea of maya is that the ego-attached mind creates an illusory world that we live in, believing all the time that what our mind has created is real, when it is not. We see a coiled rope, and think mistakenly that it is a snake. Our mind, great gift that it is, most of the time, is filtering and interpreting our reality, instead of being open and presencing reality.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud have written about the psychological phenomenon of projection. The parts of us that we have not been able to embrace (both ‘good’ and ‘bad’), are projected, or made real, in our view of others. “The pot calling the kettle black” is a classic turn of phrase that captures the essence of projection. Our intolerance of traits we see in others is all too often an intolerance of ones that we ourselves possess, but deny or repress their existence in ourselves. This is the Shadow part of ourselves, and I recommend Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers for further reading if you are interested in this rich subject.

Many other thinkers, both modern and ancient, have pointed toward the same or similar realization that our perception is what creates ‘reality’. For me, the five words of the title, which came to me as epiphany three months ago, have taken a high and abstract concept down to a visceral level for me, one that has ever-expanding repercussions and possibilities for my concept of self and creation.

I need to be personal here, though my life experience tells me that my story is by no means unique. Possibly, it is universal at some level. Anyway, here’s the point: from an early age I have sensed and felt, and eventually come to believe, in my separateness in the world. I viewed my life as if through glass: things happened around me, and occasionally through me and certainly to me, but I was like a dot painted on a balloon: there, but not really a connected part of the whole. Maybe I just made it all up. Could everything be made up, including myself? Is it possible that what happens in the world around me could be my own creation, or not a part of me at all? I remember messing with my friends’ minds in high school by asking them for proof that the world exists independently of them. What proof do we have that anything existed before we were born? What if everything we know and assume to be true is just a part of what we make up from the moment of our birth? People, things, everything we come in contact with…could it simply be something that our mind creates, and has no existence outside of us? Believe me, this really messed with my friends’ minds; no one had an answer for me. Neither did I; I hadn’t a clue. It bothered me, too. How do I know that we are not just dreaming our lives, and believing that the dream has a reality independent of ourselves?

My short answer is: I don’t really know if “life is but a dream.” All of our perceptions could be simply made up, a dream that we each believe in, like the world in the movie The Matrix, where we might wake up one day and find out that reality has nothing to do with what we have been experiencing. Our bodies could be simply a thing we believe exists and has experiences, but maybe it really isn’t ‘there’? When I think about this, I realize I simply have no absolute proof that this alternate explanation of Reality is not true. All I really know is that I do exist, as I am conscious of my existence. Not that “I think, therefore I am.” To me, it is that “I experience a world, and therefore I am.”

There’s more. If what I see is Me, my creation, then my experience tells me that there are at least two different universes. One exists when my consciousness is “below the line,” when I feel hurt, or small, disconnected from others. The universe appears to be cold and exclusive, life stacked against me or simply indifferent. If there is a web of life, from below the line I judge that I am not a part of it. From this perspective what I see is me: my inflated ego, pumped up with its victimhood, or, at times, my grandiosity, a sense that the universe was created to serve me personally (so chop chop, hop to it!).

When I am “above the line,” my state of being is in connection with others and Nature, and my heart is at peace, reality appears very differently to me. At times I have an awareness that what I perceive truly is Me, that the connection I feel with everything outside of my skin is as alive and a part of me as what is inside my skin. At such moments my body feels electrified, and my heart opens in a way that I feel a sense of joyful tears resting in my chest. I experience a sense of sacredness around me. Words I speak from this place have a very different impact on others, for what is spoken, what happens, comes from a place of authenticity. What I see is Me. Not the small ‘me’ of the inflated ego when I am below the line, but the real Me that is made from the same energy as all creation. Everything that happens here I can see happening within an ecosystem of interdependence. I feel the presence of the Divine.

I invite you to take a look from time to time, considering that ‘What I see is me’. Take in all that you see, feel, and sense as being a part of yourself. What changes? And if what you see on the outside is truly you, who are you being in this moment? What is there inside you?

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On Becoming Sixty

John Owens

On Becoming Sixty

I recently passed the landmark of sixty years of age. Forty was sort of a rite of passage into “middle age,” and at fifty years I stepped fully into being an elder in the world. This, the start of my seventh decade, is harder for me to define with a word or phrase. But I have promised to write about it, and put my thoughts together for both my own coherence, and for you, my reader, to reflect, wonder, disagree, or learn from. I welcome your comments.

There is sweetness in this part of my life. I can explain that sweetness through my Future Self, that is, the being who I am some 20 years in the future. He is a wise and powerful ally that helps me find my way in the world. My Future Self looks on people with adoration, compassion and love. The sweetness I feel is due to the extent that I have become that future self, and have let go of judging, comparing myself, or competing. As my close friends and clients know, I can love fiercely on behalf of what I see in them as living their lives on purpose. Sometimes that means not being permissive of their smallness and hiding. I feel the sweetness in that as well. Love is not about just accepting what shows up in people, but, for me, entails calling forth that Being of Light within them that creates a more peaceful, truthful and compassionate world.

Connection. For a great part of my life, I felt my essential aloneness in the world. Being responsible, being in competition, being emotionally distant from myself were all factors that had the effect on me of feeling alone amidst the sea of people in this world. It took a long journey for me to learn to contain the paradox that I am alone in the world, and I am in community with others; that I belong to a tribe, or circles of people, and that there is a space for me; that I don’t have to create that space, that I belong in community. I am, now at sixty, able to hold that paradox in all its fullness and mystery. That has enabled me to hold a celebration for myself with a good part of my circle of friends, relatives and allies last week. Hearing each person in turn speak to their connection with me, I got a delicious glimpse of how I show up in the world and in peoples’ lives. That is a rare and precious gift for me to get in such measure, even the parts that tweaked me a bit for my younger days’ arrogance and unconsciousness (and some of which I still carry, yet to be worked on, if life permits me).

Consciousness. Many boys have no concept of their mortality until age 25 or so. They dash through life, risking life and limb, and permanent brain or liver damage, heedless of the consequences. In my own way, I was one of those guys in my youth in the ‘60s and ‘70s, undisciplined, uncontrollable (even by myself), and unreasonable in living out my passions on the world. I was heedless, for the most part, of the effect of the wake my ship of life made upon the shores of the world. No wonder, then, that I often view maturity as a process of becoming self-aware, and acknowledging the impacts one has on others and self for our actions, words, and intentions, or lack of them. I am still self-indulgent in my passions. But the intentions have changed to be more purposeful in many cases, and more moderate in others. Creating through design, food, and music still moves me as much as ever. My desire for intimacy is no longer as much through physical expression as it is through heart-to-heart connection. I can enjoy the fine wine that life offers me in the autumn of my life for its taste, its beauty, and its essential mystery as the product of ingredient, process, and art. I no longer make beer, but I do make bread, and that is just a metaphor for an expression of that conjunction of mystery and art as it shows up in my life.

There is also a wistfulness to this age for me. I wasted a lot of opportunities, and out of fear did not even think of taking on other courses that could have altered the trajectory of my life for greater consciousness, fulfillment, karma, or at least more wealth. Coulda Woulda Shoulda, those three characters that sing the dirge of regret, sometimes shame, call me out from time to time. Perhaps I would not feel as passionate about my life purpose of being a bridge that leads toward wholeness, if I had not experienced the brokenness and lostness of those many years of (mostly) unconscious plodding along the culturally-chosen path that I felt I had to buy into to survive. Now I have made it to a point of powerful and conscious choice in my life, and for Life. I am not a wage slave, nor indentured to anyone, or any idea. I am free now to choose who and how I will be in the world.

I cannot end without mention of the deepening gratitude I feel for all that I have in my life, and the gifts of the experiences that I have been able to enjoy. First among them is my close family connections, the gift to me that is my wife, Sujata, who has taught me much about love, generosity and service to Purpose. My family members in USA and India have showered me with an enormous amount of love, generosity, truth, and deep concern for my becoming a person of value to the world. My friends have bestowed on me a litany of fond memories, love, affection, and creative discovery. My work at my former employer gave me a great many opportunities to lead ideas to fruition, and bring others along. My corporate career has been a in a place that humbled me in a good way: learning the brilliance of all minds, educated formally or not, and the value of disciplined work toward a common goal.

I enter my seventh decade now with some new commitments: to be young in spirit and body (to hell with expectations of being “old”), to devote myself to being that Being of Light that lives a purposeful life. I commit to shedding the inhibitions of embarrassment, shyness, inferiority, incompetence and insecurity in service to bringing my light into the world, and lighting up a few or many lives in the process. I vow to live my life in and from my heart, no matter where that may take me. I will grow old, and I will die, that is for sure. And I intend to do so with a measure of grace, humility, love, passion, and purpose.

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Coaching Journal

On Self-Love

John Owens

On Self-Love

I know well that I am not the only one in the world that has carried some elements of self-hatred or non-acceptance of parts of oneself. For a long, long time I felt a core distress that something was “wrong” with me, and that I’d be abandoned. This belief was like a curse that hung like an evil talisman on my neck through life. It was not visible every day of the week. Sometimes I’d go for weeks, or a month or more feeling pretty whole, without the reminder that I carried that cursed, self-limiting belief that something wrong / abandonment was my fate in life.

The curse followed me like a vulture on a battlefield of ‘life’. As I acted out my resentments and isolation, unconsciously pushing people from me with my woundedness, the vulture would remind me, “See? This is what you get for your life: loneliness and broken heartedness. This is your doom.” I did things that hurt myself and others. And then I felt sorry for myself that my life was so bad. I was not conscious of it in this way, but I was unknowingly committed to living the life of a victim.

Fast forward now through years of personal growth work, emotional recovery work, community building. I did many good things for myself and others. I got clear about what my curse was, and I became conscious of how it showed up in my life. I developed to the point that I was aware I had a choice to either act out my victim beliefs, or act from a place of power and possibility. Still, the belief, like that vulture, followed me faithfully, often silently, and would then appear whenever things got hard, or messy or lonely.

As a life coach, I do my best to model what I want for my clients. I keep stretching, deepening my learning, expanding my range. I have my own coach to help me as part of being consistent with what I want for both my clients (and potential clients) and for myself. It was my coach who asked me some probing (and uncomfortable) questions that helped me realize that my identification with brokenness and isolation were no longer hanging from my neck. Out of habit, and for an occasional excuse to play small, I was (figuratively) carrying my old curse in my pocket. Occasionally, I got taken in by it, buying into its suffocating belief. But the truth is I no longer have a need for that part of me that allows me to feel I am a victim and excuses me to play small with my life.

One rainy night, I was with some close friends. I retrieved a few shards of pottery that I use to line the bottom of planters from the garage. I went out into my back yard with my friends, avoiding the garden where I give loving attention and frequently dig things up. I dug a hole in the ground, and named the shards as my self-limiting beliefs one by one. I jiggled them in my hands, feeling the jagged edges and clatter they made against each other. It felt appropriate that these hard, sharp and toneless pieces find a permanent home in Mother Earth on this dark and rainy night. Mother Earth gives and receives unconditionally. I had carried these pieces with me long enough. I buried them, and they, the curse, is gone, broken.

A week later I received the gift of recovering parts of myself: my exuberance and my eccentricity. I welcomed that back into the fabric of all that I am and all that I do, including my leadership and coaching work. It has been liberating for me, and those who know me see a delightful difference. With that wonderful sense of wholeness that I feel each day, I wrote these words that I share with you now. Each time I read or think of them the gravitational pull to lose myself becomes ever weaker, and the celebration of my purpose for being in this time and place soars, paradoxically, a little higher and a little closer to Earth.

In celebration of my wholeness, I wrote these words that follow. It’s a powerful antidote to the old messages that held me down for so long.

I love who I am. I love my heart. I love my range, my voice, my humor. I love my brilliant mind. I love the music that plays boogie-woogie in my soul. I love the natural world that I attract, and that attracts me. I love the work I do in the world to lead toward wholeness, love, peace, Namaste.

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Hummingbird

John Owens

Hummingbird

In summer I put out hummingbird feeders with suction cups on my bay window. This year we were blessed with an abundance of these creatures’ visits. What a marvel to watch them, hovering motionlessly, with their glorious cloak of iridescent feathers shimmering in the afternoon sun.

Such courageous feats hummingbirds commit to! With a body weighing only a few grams, the hummingbird must eat high energy food constantly to survive. A day or two of fasting should spell certain death. Yet these critters fly across the Gulf of Mexico yearly to their wintering grounds without stopping for food or rest. Many birds must perish on the journey. Another courageous thing I have seen hummingbirds do is hover face to face with my two young (and astonished!) cats, bird eyeing cats curiously before buzzing away. I’ve witnessed this frequently, with predator and prey honoring one another from six inches away (through glass) in highly-charged silence.

My Mission is to create abundant compassion by honoring my connection with all beings. It was with compassion and concern this summer when I came home for lunch and found a hummingbird in my garage. She was flying around the ceiling looking fruitlessly for the exit. The sixteen-foot-wide door was open; still it just could not find the way out. Concerned, I left the garage door open, and hoped it would escape by evening.

Hummingbird still had not exited the garage by evening. I put out some jelly, hoping it could get nourishment. Each time I saw the poor creature, it was flying around randomly at ceiling height, oblivious to the open door beckoning it to freedom. I knew that if I tried catching it with a net, it would probably be injured and die, so its best chance lay in my trusting it could find an exit by itself.

Next morning, the hummingbird was still stuck. I determinedly opened the garage door and the windows, propped open the service door, and slightly shut the overhead door so the bird could see more opening for escape at the top of the door. Something worked: at noon I checked; Hummingbird was gone (and not laying dead on the floor!). I rejoiced my tiny friend had at last found freedom. It found its own way, perhaps with the invitation from me.

Later, I recounted the story with some friends. It was then it occurred to me: Hummingbird was no different than us. How many times have I searched exhaustively and fruitlessly for a solution? Then a coach or friend would give me a little nudge by pointing out a direction, and I’d find the door that had been gaping open in front of me all the while. Occasionally we all need a new perspective to show us the door. I was grateful to have been an ally to hummingbird. I am grateful to serve my clients similarly. And I am grateful that you, too, are there when I bumble about blindly.

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