A Ten-Year Reunion

Mid-month, July 2015, I attended my ten-year reunion for my master’s program in Spiritual Psychology. Around the first of the year when it began to be planned, I already had been musing over my time there, especially the second year when we prepared our master’s project; many psychology graduate schools no longer have their students write a thesis, but do a project that reflects their studies.

In mid January, we were traveling from our home north of Houston to Colorado Springs to share in the birth of my granddaughter and our route took us through the Texas panhandle to Raton. From there, as we took I-25 north to the Springs, several things came to me while driving.

First, it was a bit snowy, luckily only slowing us down on certain stretches. However, although I had been in New Mexico since moving away, it has not been in the winter nor entailed driving through snow; the combination brought back memories of ten years ago, driving from Taos to Denver each month for a project support meeting. I could travel two different ways the winter of 2004-05, depending on the forecast. The quickest was north through Alamosa, to Walsenburg and I-25 or, if that pass was closed, east through Cimarron to south of Raton and then north. So coming into Raton mimicked a portion of that latter drive and brought back many memories.

Since the University of Santa Monica is a one weekend a month on-campus graduate school, they had the second year students form project support teams; this allowed for both encouragement between classes and to insure a student didn’t fall too far behind with their project while completing all the other coursework. Being the only student in New Mexico, I needed to join a group in an adjoining state; I cannot remember why I ended up choosing the Colorado group, we called ourselves the Rocky Mountain High team. Looking back, I was being watched over.

There was also an Arizona group, with the travel time being approximately the same, and, although I have kept in contact with one person from that team and, back then, was great friends with another, I am grateful for joining the RMH group for several reasons, the biggest having to do with relationship.

The great friend in the other group did her best to get us to become more than friends and, with my divorce all but final by that March, another member would have been very tempting for me to date. I know, because even not being in their team, it was all I could do to remain just friends with the one and, although we did a few excursions together, I specifically named them as non-dates with the other.

The former was too much of an “A,” like my mother, sister, and ex and, even though that relationship would have been easy, it would not have lasted. Easy because she was a known quantity, so I knew what would have pleased her, but I was becoming too knowledgeable to have ever allowed myself to get trapped again. I’m thankful because I would not have wanted to hurt my friend, but in being true to my needs, an end to the relationship would have come at some point.

As it turned out, a relationship with the letter would have been great for me/us, but I was just too confused about relationships at that point. I was mistaking the fireworks of a challenge relationship (“A” personality types) with happy relationships and dismissing no fireworks as meaning a dull relationship. In truth, what I thought dull turned out to be peaceful, gentle, and loving! This second friend may have resulted in a wonderful relationship, but then I would have never married my wife, who I met through another USM classmate’s project, and we are an absolutely perfect match!

My team just didn’t present those same temptations, but not because my female teammates were not beautiful, sexy, and brilliant. One was married, another seemingly was looking for someone other than me, the third was too young, and the fourth probably fell into the “dull relationship” scenario, but without all the shared experienced the AZ team member and I had, both being from Texas. So I was able to enjoy my CO team member as wonderful friends, without additional entanglements; hopefully I was a good friend back.

Driving up to Denver, I remember the anguish over the team name, Rocky Mountain High, due to the drug reference, but it seemingly worked as we were high on achievement. I remember one blizzard I drove through, the weather report was very wrong! I also remember the loving support I received on my master’s project and the love I gave back. I remember time spent both working at the Denver team member’s home and then working and playing at another’s out west of Denver.

I remember being called out by one member on sighing while she presented and I remember not being aware enough to use my emotions to look inside, but dropped into a defense. Luckily, I was just aware enough to listen to myself and did acknowledge to this friend later that she was right, I did sigh a lot! I remember encouragements, challenges, skepticisms, and love flowing to me and from me. I also remember thinking we’d never drift apart.

Wow, what a difference ten years makes. As our ten-year reunion illustrated, the journey we all began in October 2003 is still continuing. The person I had become at graduation that July a decade ago, while ten times the person I was when I started USM, had not even reached the “adolescence stage,” as compared to the more authentic person I am now. Thanks to the Colorado group for not only being a part of that journey, but for including this outlier, both geographically and by gender, into their group.

I figured I might only see only one of my team members this weekend, and I was correct; I also hoped I was wrong (although I heard back from all of them!). But I carried each of them in my heart and missed them deeply while enjoying my other USM classmates. I am also mindful of my classmate and friend Chuck, whose birthday was the day before the reunion, I miss him terribly. Susan and two other classmates have also transitioned, Love and Light to you all. I also miss being with all my teammates twice a month. Thinking back on all the fun times and sorrows, tears of gratitude and sorrow abound.

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Another Milestone

Wow, out of the blue, another sucker punch. My daughter called me couple of weeks ago to tell me my cousin Ken had died; he was a year older and my closest relative both chronologically and relationally. Totally unexpected, what a shock, and it is still reverberating. I went to his funeral the next week and, while I was so grateful to be able to attend, being there was really tough. First, a little background, as mentioned, Ken was a first cousin and I’ve read that our cousins are our first friends; Ken was and I will miss him deeply.

Ken and I were together fairly often as youngsters because of my first father’s illness and then death when I was six. My sister and I spent a lot of time at their house, about an hour for our home and despite why we were there, along with his middle brother (just his younger brother back then) had great fun. Ken was interesting, a big type “A” growing up, the oldest in our four cousin cabal. His dad, like my mother, was an 800-pound gorilla and his mom, living the dutiful 50’s wife was subservient, but strong in her own way. We were typical 1950 kids, living in our imagination; enacting elaborate play situations that involved fighting Indians (Davy Crockett), going on adventures (Tarzan), saving the world (Superman), and also reenacting every day life playing bankers or Post Office.

Beginning with college, we began a slow drift apart, devolving to seeing each other quarterly after we both got married and had children, and then when I moved west, maybe yearly. Even though we didn’t see each other as often, when we did I felt the relationship pick back up immediately, as though we had last gotten together no more than a month before. Interestingly, as I am writing this, my adult brain was thinking relationship, however it came out we were still playing together! Thinking back on my time spent with Ken through college he was always the leader whether it was the four of us playing or just the two of us. Then, Ken left the small pond of his hometown and went to Texas A&M University, a really BIG pond, and I never saw him take command between us again, for me it was like maturing from friendship into a brother. Since he had two brothers of his own, he may not have seen it this way; funny how something like a death gets us reflecting and now I can’t ask.

And then in college, my closeness to another best friend morphed over about eight years. Michael and I met as a freshman in college and, while we did things together, did not become friends until after graduation. He and I were two of the earliest in our group to get married and have children; interesting that marriage and children began a growing apart with Ken and coalesced a friendship with Michael. While the frequency that Michael and were able to see each other diminished when I moved away to Taos, unlike with Ken we remained very close. You could say that these two gentlemen were brothers that I never had; one up through college and beyond, the other after college.

In my adult life I have lost two grandmothers, a grandfather, several aunts and uncles, a few acquaintances, and two good friends. It has been interesting to think back on my feelings and emotions surrounding all these funerals. My grandparents passed away when I was still in my former life as an engineer and business owner. Basically I had no emotions; oh that’s quite not true, I cried, and was down, remorseful that I hadn’t spent as much time as I could with them, but didn’t really feel it with the depth that I have felt the more recent losses. Since changing professions to psychology my awareness of my emotions and how they land in my body is off the charts from back then, as is the introspection of memories, they are so much more vivid and present than when I lost my grandparents. However, since grandparents and aunts and uncles are from a different generation, the hole they left in my heart, while deep, wasn’t quite as big as losing Michael and Ken.

When Michael died eight years ago, even though it was the culmination of a long battle with cancer, I was extremely devastated. Having spent 50 years of my life suppressing emotions and choosing to sit in the middle of the emotional road, call it neutral, call it denial; I made a vowel to bring awareness to all my emotions. I wanted to get out of the middle the road, and to experience life’s highs and lows to the fullest extent possible, Michael then died, seemingly to test my resolve. This was probably the lowest of lows I could possibly have experienced, so low that I ended up getting physically sick.

The low was so new and so deep that, while I experienced all my emotions, they were almost on the periphery due to numbness. That said, as the numbness wore off and as I got physically well, I was able to truly sit with my experience and feel all the emotions. I also learned how large my heart was because I quite simply could not imagine it was so large as to enclose the hole left by Michael’s passing. Life does go on, and while I only think of him a couple of times a week, every few months one of those remembrances can still reduce me to tears, as is happening now. Luckily that commitment to really experience the highs and lows of life’s emotional roller coaster ride has also resulted in not only experiencing numerous highs but to raise the mean level of happiness and joy in my life!

Conversely, with Ken’s passing, I don’t know if it’s due to our having grown apart slightly, my emotional maturity, or the experience that I had with Michael, but the hole is not quite as large and the depth not quite as deep; however my presence or awareness surrounding his death was much greater. His was the first funeral that I have been to in a while, as I was unable to make a couple of funerals and the last two to die, interestingly Ken’s parents, only had life celebrations several weeks after the their death.

The one thing that I did notice at the funeral, being able to sit with my emotions to a much greater degree, was my wanting to truly experience all that came up. This is not a judgment on others that needed to vent their anger over Ken’s lifestyle habits that may have contributed to his early passing or to the laughter that accompanied memories of happier times with Ken. I remember doing this around Michael’s funeral, mainly feeling so angry that he died when there was so many, that I judged as not being worthy, still living. This time I found myself not really joining with others in experiencing any other emotion besides sadness. In some ways it’s like being in the desert and appreciating it, really being one with it, and not remembering majestic mountains or other scenery that would take away from the seemingly monotonous desert, which is full of life and variety within its own outwardly monotonous landscape.

Truly experiencing my life in the present moment, it was really interesting these last few weeks to see how much further I have actually come since Michael’s death. I explored being comfortable enough with my emotions to simply experience them, as they are with no cognitive, meaning making narrative. Memories of Ken’s and my childhood together, family parties, the crappy mandate from my former in-laws that kept Ken from being my best man, our children playing together, the dinners and parties we experienced as adults, especially the wonderful fireworks parties they had on the 4th of July, and now his passing. One difference between writing on paper and typing, typing doesn’t show tear stains.

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