Monday, August 28, 2017

Living at the edge of civilization

Photo Credit: Tony White/Flickr

I was on my honeymoon in 1992, on the island of Santorini, Greece. One night we took our rented moped to the town of Finikia on the island’s north end for dinner. After, we walked the town, strolling in and out of shops. The island is magical and its culture – life on the sidewalk, music on the corner – is so different than our American way. It was after eleven o’clock by the time we made it back to the moped.

Heading back to our hotel, we crested a hill as we left the lights of Finikia and descended into darkness. With nothing but a dark hillside to our right, a cliff and the lightless ocean to our left (and not another vehicle on the road), I stopped our moped at a pullout and turned off the engine. My new wife asked what I was doing. 

“Look how dark it is,” I answered. There was no moon in the sky and we both marveled. I had never seen it so dark. We stood silently as the Mediterranean crashed onto the rocks far below. Not one ship’s lights were to be seen, and there were more stars in the sky than I could ever remembered seeing.

We stayed for a while; sitting at the edge of the pullout, safely back from the drop-off. Though we both were in awe, I was changed. I felt a part of myself I hadn’t known before. In the dark and the quiet of the night, I sensed the dark, quiet, and serene parts of my inner-self. I sought more of this feeling in my life.

Now single, I have lived off the beaten path and away from much of the stimuli of Western civilization for 18 years. I have a sweetly renovated log cabin near the end of the road that was originally built in 1880. The nearest stop light is more than thirty minutes away; the only sounds I hear are the chirps of birds, the wind rustling through the trees and the school bus driving by at 7:15am and 3:50pm. Over the years the peace and tranquility of my surroundings have changed me.

Everyday I walk, hike, ride, run or ski my dogs at least 3-4 miles into the wilderness from my front door. In the summer I backpack to treeline most every week where I’ll set up camp, watch the sun go down, get lost in the Milky Way until I fall asleep, to then awake in the morning to alpenglow. In the winter I walk my cross country skis a couple hundred yards to ungroomed trails and disappear for hours, often not returning until the stars are out. Over the years I have developed a mystical connection to nature most modern day humans have never known.

Being on the outskirts of mainstream life has been one of the most rewarding choices I have ever made. Though I miss some aspects of city life I love having mountains outside my front door more.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

American Pride

Photo Credit: NBCNews

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that’s what I felt. The local auto industry was the envy of the world, our country’s president and first lady were young, bright and photogenic, and America was racing to become the first nation to put a man on the moon.

Then JFK was assassinated and the mood began to erode. 

Although I was in grade school when the president was shot, I knew that something had gone terribly wrong and I promised myself to one day better understand what had happened and why. 

My questioning only intensified when, two years later, my father also died suddenly. My loss caused me to grapple and search for meaning in life when, at the same time, my classmates were simply searching for answers to their homework questions.  

The next years would see America’s collective psyche nosedive as the Vietnam conflict grew in scale, and both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were gunned down ... it was as if any leader who stood up for humanity also stood no chance of succeeding. 

When I was a teen, President Nixon took our nation off of the gold standard. My grandfather, Sam Hamburger, a wealthy and successful businessman, often spoke at length about the Federal Reserve Bank—a monetary arrangement that our nation’s founders warned us against, and a system that my grandfather cautioned would eventually devalue the dollar and bankrupt our country. 

Separately, I learned that during World War II my grandfather secretly imported shipments of Japanese steel on the black market on behalf of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the precursor to the CIA. The industrial engines of our country were running at full tilt but the war effort required even more, so Sam Hamburger became a go-between. 

Hearing my grandfather’s stories only made me question further—in particular, how our country could do business with the enemy in a time of war—and laid the framework for the political and philosophical ideologies that would shape my adult life. 

After college, I worked for two of the premier real estate developers in the U.S. and, by my late twenties, I was in business for myself as a spec home builder. I achieved success designing and constructing luxury homes, especially after my first three projects were featured in Architectural Record, Newsweek, and The New York Times.. 

Yet success didn’t nourish me the way I thought it would. Instead, I continued to question, grapple and search for a deeper level of contentment and purpose. 

My quest led me back to school. 

I enrolled in the Spiritual Psychology program at the University of Santa Monica and pursued my Master’s degree. I began to comprehend how all wellness starts from within. I learned self-acceptance. I became more appreciative, and made a habit of practicing gratitude. And I began to assist others with their own individual challenges.

I have always followed both world and national events with a keen eye, deciphering the deeper meaning of what is taking place and how it affects us all.

Now—and especially with the current regime in Washington D.C.—is why I am making my stand.