Third Time’s the Charm

(Photo: Remain seated, with your arms, hands, and legs on top of the cushion at all times. Enjoy your ride.)

This entry marks the (belated) third anniversary of CHICAGO CARLESS. As is obvious, year four is getting started with a lot of changes. The most obvious are the totally re-designed layout and features of the blog.

But they’re only reflections of the most important change of all: my renewed outlook on my life and the world around me. Something had to give. After 37 years, what ultimately gave was me.

God knows I’ve chronicled a lot of changes over the past year and a bit on the blog. Last spring, as I continued my second career as a communications consultant, many old, dear friends came back into my life from what has now become the Gay and Lesbian Youth of New York Almuni Group (GLYNY AGAIN).

That made me want to move back to New York City, and even after my tumultuous breakup with the now NYC-based urban photoblogger, Devyn, I nearly did. As last summer went on, I spent time back in Gotham, (at long last) figured out my codependent nature and started recovering in Codependents Anonymous (CoDA), came to believe in God, and ultimately decided not to trade Lake Michigan shores for Atlantic ones.

I stayed, met and quickly fell for the sugarific pastry-chef, Chris, jumped headfirst into the Chicago Children’s Museum controversy, and also at long last found out I had Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

And then the changes really began, so settle in.

Eight weeks ago, I had a spiritual awakening.

Buddhists say if you can practice while you are distracted, you are practicing well.  But in my experience, it’s when you feel things are going well that it is easiest to lose your way.  That’s a better explanation for why, after a dramatic six months of dating, Chris called it quits, laying bare the level to which I had fallen off the wagon with my codependence.  A year after Devyn, I had managed to bring myself right back around emotionally to the same forlorn place as before.

It was one hell of a shock, but looking back on my behavior, I now see it was also inevitable.  At the time, though, all I knew was that I was about to fall apart.  I thought about the above Buddhist saying.  I realized I had a choice: I could descend into yet another mournful summer; or I could follow the gist of almost every spiritual teaching I’ve ever read, Buddhist or otherwise, and for once face directly into my pain–and into myself–and take a leap of faith.

I cried for hours, sat down, and meditated. I opened my heart to the sorrow of keeping someone I loved in my life, but not in the way that I wanted. I just let it be and didn’t turn away from whatever welled up in side.  Then I went to sleep.

I woke up in a frenzy, consumed by a single suspicion.  I had to test it out.  Before breakfast, I got out an old flipchart, sat on the floor with a marker, and tried to write down the essence of every teaching and rotten experience I could remember having encountered in my journey through life.

I worked fast.  One sheet for Buddhism.  One sheet for CoDA.  One sheet for failed relationships and career hell.  One sheet for ADD.  One sheet for the years of advice from friends.  One sheet for what I already knew inside.

They say many paths lead to one truth.  There it was, inescapable, literally right in front of me.  Thirty-seven years, one message repeated across a slew of pages: let go.  Let go of yourself, your crutches, your fears, and, simply, be here now.

It was an obvious message.  It always had been.  My life was not parted out into discrete areas that were to be dealt with one by one, in isolation, as I had long thought.  No.  My life and everything in it spoke with one voice.  As I realized that, I wept.

And like a trickle of water through a faulty dam finally becoming a flood, all at once it hit me that what for my entire life I had considered love, and compassion, and even joy were nothing more than limited echoes of their true, boundless natures.  And, more to the point, that they all came from inside. After three years of CHICAGO CARLESS, I also finally knew why I came to Chicago in the first place.

To wake up.

Much as you may have just done, trust me, I rolled my eyes, too.  Years of denigrating concepts like love, joy, and compassion in a society that recognizes little intrinsic value in them will do that to you.  That’s a choice of course.  The trick is realizing you even have a choice.  It took me 37 years to realize I had one.

Eight weeks ago I chose to re-examine the basis of my beliefs about myself and the world.  They came up lacking and I decided that from here on out a more loving, joyful, and compassionate basis is in order. After rolling my eyes, I rolled myself back to CoDA and into therapy for ADD, and decided to reopen my spiritual quest as wide as my surprised heart and agape friends could manage.  I feel more free now than I have ever felt in my life.

This all begs the question, what does a snarky ex-New Yorker do with himself once he realizes all that?  Well…he lets it in and changes.  But I know this isn’t an endpoint. This spiritual awakening has been simmering away inside of me for years.  Neither has it ever required me to lose my essential nature in order to wake up.  It only ever required me to lose my fear of the journey.

From the beginning, I have intended for CHICAGO CARLESS to chronicle that journey and put out there for all to see the questions that I struggle with in my life.  I’ve almost always found that the deeper I explore my life’s questions, the more resonant this blog becomes for those who care to read it.

So beginning on the Fourth of July, I took the blog down for a week, spent 50 hours migrating from Moveable Type to WordPress, and renovated CHICAGO CARLESS.  Moving forward, the tone of the blog will be informed by my new perspective on things.  But have no fear, I intend to remain as frank as ever.  Spiritual awakenings aside, there are no sacred cows here.

Among the new blog features, commenting that finally works, the ability to edit your own comments, a list of recent entries and commenters in the sidebar, an “Around This Date” look at posts from previous years, a Twitter widget so you can follow me around in my madness throughout my day, a much-updated blogroll that more adequately reflects where I browse, and potentially coming soon, an IM Online widget to chat with me when I’m connected, and the very first CHICAGO CARLESS forum.

I invite you to take the new site out for a test walk and let me know what you think. You can also read more about the Journey that led me to my renewed Worldview and find out the full answer to Why the Overhaul? of the blog on the respective new pages.

In the end, the only person responsible for me not getting to this point sooner is me.  I’m reminded of a poem by Edwin Markham that’s often quoted by Unitarian Universalists (a free faith I much admire).  You can Google the original version, but I’ll paraphrase it here:

I had drawn a circle that shut me out;
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love alone had the wit to win…
It drew a circle that took me in.

Sign me happily outwitted, for once.  I’ll spare you the secret oral teachings of Tibetan Buddhism until next year.

Thanks for reading.

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