On Turning 72: 7 Important Life Lessons Learned

I turned 72 on December 21st and I’ve been reflecting on this time of life, what’s in store for our future, and some of the important life-lessons I’ve learned over the years. This is a picture of Carlin and me at our local Willits, Kinetic Carnivale.  It’s nice to be with the woman I love as we move into this next quarter of our lives.

After spending 25 years living on Shimmins Ridge, above Bloody Run Creek, off the grid, ten miles north of Willits, we sold our house and land this year to a nice young couple who are ready to take over where we left off. We bought a house in town and have enjoyed settling into the life of our community. As I reflect back on these years I’d like to offer a few of the life-lessons learned.

  1. Being with a loving partner is a gift, a joy, and requires the willingness to go way deep.

Carlin and I are approaching our 36th anniversary together. When we first met, the odds were against us. We each had been married twice before. But we had vowed to work on ourselves to better understand what it took to have a successful marriage. We had learned a lot by the time we met, but we’ve learned a whole lot more since we’ve been together.

We’ve had to go ever deeper into our own past, deal with our emotional wounds and be willing to care for ourselves and each other even when the times were tough. Sometimes the tough times can last for years and there were times we wondered whether we would make it. We’re still going deeper and learning more about life, love, and pursuit of the great mystery.

  1. Incompatibility is grounds for a real marriage, not a divorce.

In both our previous marriages we hit a point where it seemed we were with wrong person. We’re just incompatible, we had thought. Now we realize that incompatibility can be the basis for real love. When we get together we inevitably project our hopes, dreams, and needs on our partner. We can’t really see “them” because we’re blinded by the projections of our own needs. When they don’t live up to who we thought they were, we get upset and want out.

We’ve come to see that incompatibility is actually the third stage of a great marriage. I write about this in my forthcoming book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come. Incompatibility offers an additional opportunity to heal old wounds from our childhood. We were wounded in our most intimate relationships and we can be healed in love with a loving partner.

  1. Learning to love yourself means being alone with the one you love.

Being in a loving relationship is a great gift of joy, but all of us must spend time alone. The times when we’re not in a relationship with someone else can be spent in an obsessive search for a partner or in an equally obsessive protective mode to keep us safe from being hurt again. We must realize that we are never alone. There is a loving presence that holds us and cares for us. We can call that loving presence, God, Goddess, the Spirit That Moves Through All Things, or our own Loving Soul Presence.

Learn to glory in the life-enhancing time of being with yourself learning to love ever more grandly.

  1. Deal with your mental illnesses or they will kill you.

You can often judge the importance of an issue by how afraid the society is to talk about it. We can talk about heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes, but we shy away from talking about depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and alcoholism. In our minds we think that physical illnesses are “real” and worthy of help and treatment, but mental illnesses are a matter of will power and we should be able to handle them on our own.

Even though there is a lot more attention focused on mental illness these days, there is still a great deal of stigma attached. We still have an emotional resistance to dealing with “mental” problems than with “physical” problems. But the physical and mental are not separate worlds. I’ve had to deal with depression throughout my life. Carlin has had to deal with mental rumination and with her family history of alcoholism. We all know people who haven’t dealt with their mental problems. Truly, I’ve learned that we’d best deal with them, or we may be killed by them.

  1. We are facing the end of civilization as we know it and that’s a good thing.

Our human ancestors have lived on planet earth for at least 2 million years. With the advent of dominator cultures with an attitude that the earth’s resource were there for humans to exploit, we embarked on a journey that can only end in our own destruction. In 1995 I had a vision in a sweat lodge ceremony that showed the sinking of the Ship of Civilization and the forming of lifeboat communities embarking on a journey towards a more sustainable world.

Rob Watson, CEO and Chief Scientist of the EcoTech International Group, who Pulitzer-Prize winning author Tom Friedman calls one of the best environmental minds in America, captured what I saw in the vision. “People don’t seem to realize it that it is not like we’re on the Titanic and we have to avoid the iceberg. We’ve already hit the iceberg.  The water is rushing in down below.  But some people just don’t want to leave the dance floor; others don’t want to give up on the buffet.  But if we don’t make the hard choices, nature will make them for us.”

There is a better way to be in balance with the community of life and we will find it or we will die.

  1. We have an opportunity now to create Civilization 2.

In his book, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure, Daniel Quinn says there is life beyond what we know as civilization. If we look at the mainstream media we see two visions of the future. One says that things are wonderful and getting better. The other shows a world of pain, violence, hunger, and great economic imbalances that support the excesses of the 1% (or increasingly the 1/10 of 1%) and the expense of the 99.9%.

But that is beginning to change. Millions of people all over the world have decided it’s useless to fight against the excesses of Civilization 1. A better choice is to simply and quietly create Civilization 2. If you’re reading this I hope you’ll consider joining us.

  1. Terrorism is a term Civ 1 uses to frighten us. The truth is we are all in this together and will survive together, or not at all.

People who know me either see me as the supreme pessimist or a crazy optimist. My men’s group will tell you I talk a lot about the coming crash and the demise of civilization. Others will tell you that I seem unusually upbeat and happy most of the time. I would tell you that I’m really a pessimistic optimist. I do see the end of an old civilization. I see evidence of its demise all around me: Global climate instability, loss of fresh water and soil to grow food, and increased rage and violence in the world.

I also see people joining together to create a different way of life that is based on true respect for all creation. Humans are a relatively new species on planet earth. We are going through significant growing pains. It isn’t clear whether we will be one of the species that survives for a long period of time or will be one that comes in blaze of glory and leaves in a flash.

I do know that there is a lot of fear in the world, which is understandable given the enormity of the changes we are experiencing. We can no longer afford to see other humans as “other” and to want to kill “them” in order to save “us.” We must learn that it is a great privilege to be alive and be able to live on this unique and wonderful planet. I hope we learn to deeply appreciate what we’ve been given and to learn to transform our fear to love and understanding, especially with those that drive us crazy (I’m working hard not to hate Donald Trump, to see him as a fellow human trying to do the best he can with the wounds he was dealt). Who are you working hard not to hate?

Join me on Twitter for an ongoing conversation: @MenAliveNow

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