Day 14. Fusing requires unmasking (somewhere, anywhere, need not be public)
The first thing you notice about Ushi Okushima is her laugh. It begins in her belly, rumbles up to her shoulders and then erupts with a hee-haw that fills the room with pure joy. I first met Ushi five years ago at her home in Okinawa, and now it's that same laugh that draws me back to her small wooden house in the seaside village of Ogimi. This rainy afternoon she sits snugly wrapped in a blue kimino. A heroic shock of hair is combed back from her bronzed forehead revealing alert, green eyes. Her smooth hands lie sereney folded in her lap. At her feet sit her friends, Setsuko and Matsu Taira, cross-legged on a tatami mat, sipping tea. Since I last visited Ushi, she's taken a new job, tried to run away from home, and started wearing perfume. Predictable behavior for a young woman, perhaps, but Ushi is 103. When I ask about the perfume, she jokes that she has a new boyfriend, then claps a hand over her mouth before unleashing one of her blessed laughs.
With an average life expectancy of 78 years for men and 86 years for women, Okinawans are among the world's longest lived people. More important, elders living in this lush subtropical archipelago tend to enjoy years free from disabilities. Okinawans have a fifth the heart disease, a fourth the breast cancer, and a third less dementia than Americans, says Craig Wilcox of the Okinawa Centenarian Study.
What's key to their success? "Ikagai certainly helps," Wilcox offers. The word translates roughly to "that which makes one's life worth living." Older Okinawans, he says, possess a strong sense of purpose that may act as a buffer against stress and diseases such as hypertension. Many also belong to a Okinawan-style moai, a mutual support network that provides financial, emotional, and social help throughout life. - "Secrets of Long Life," National Geographic, November 2005
On a crisp fall evening that's often celebrated by wearing masks, I'm contemplating the health benefits of being real and open:
In a study of HIV-seropositive men, HIV infection advanced more rapidly in men who concealed their homosexual identity than in men who were more open about their identity.
and the joyful longetivity witnessed by Ushi tied with having a small tribe where you can set your weighty mask down. At the end of the National Geo article, Ushi says: "My ikigai is right here," she says with a slow sweep of her hand that takes in Setsuko and Matsu [her moai friends]. "If they die, I will wonder why I am still living." In addition to Okinawan centenarians, the article profiles happily long-living Sardinians and a Seventh Day Adventists in Southern California - all socially embedded communities.
A friend is one who knows us, but loves us anyway. - Father Jerome Cummings.
When the Internet company I was running (and in which I'd invested my life's savings) finally went belly-up in 2001, and I lost my shirt, I found myself in the unenviable position of living in this country without health insurance. This was difficult for a prideful man, especially one who is getting up there in age and needs health care.
Terry Heaton goes on to share his pending surgery sans health insurance. I can relate. I don't have health insurance either which isn't soothing news whether you're facing the removal of a cancerous lump, or a tsunami. And wow! I went belly-up with the dot-com crash in 2002 (20/20 hindsight words of wisdom: Think twice before jumping headlong into risky ventures in a downturn while in the middle of a separation-heading-into-divorce.) I was stunned how much Terry's spiritual crisis echoes my own.
Mostly though I was touched by how unabashedly open and open-hearted Terry Heaton is. No pretenses. No persona. He's not trying to couch this to make himself come across better (whatever better means).
And in no time people rallied together to chip in for Terry's surgery. For every lynch mob Mr. Lyons, there are at least a hundred moais among 20 plus million blogs today. While most of our moais don't have this financial buoy, many are reciprocally supportive in ways that money can't buy. But you'll be hard pressed to find moais among the Technorati 100 as intimacy and mass popularity don't often reconcile in social dynamics.
This is another deeply personal post, and I don't really know where to begin. I have experienced an outpouring of love so profound that it cannot be fairly articulated...
One thing I've learned about the concept of tribes since I began studying a postmodern culture is that we all have our own tribes, consisting of those we choose to invite in. I know my own tribes, but one never really knows the tribes to which one belongs, because they are choices of others, not our own. The experience this week leads me to believe that I'm a part of many more tribes than I've ever expected, and that is a very humbling proposition.
I've learned that facing surgery without insurance is nothing compared to facing surgery with friends. - "Facing Surgery with Friends", Terry Heaton
Thanks for sharing Terry and I'm glad you're doing fine. (A blog gem added to my daily reading.)
Moais as digital, social media metaphor. A few snippets from "Taking the Church into the Digital Age", Charisma Magazine, August 2005 (This is an excellent must-read article. No matter how unconventional, peruse newstands to broaden your view of world rather than solely reinforce it.)
My parents, who were born and raised closer to the beginning of the 20th century, see the world through print. As a baby boomer, my first “language” was broadcast (TV and radio). My children, born on the cusp of a new millennium, are completely at home with digital communication. Each of us sees the world and experiences it in such different ways that it's a miracle we can communicate at all!
Digital interactive technology has distinctly new capabilities that individuals and organizations increasingly are taking advantage of and adapting to their use. Those who persist in following the protocols of print or broadcast will be left behind. Those who understand not only the protocols but also the mind-sets and metaphors of digital technology will emerge as the leaders and premier organizations...
Enormous screens and great acoustics [at mega-churches] make us think we're sharing in the real thing. Yet we aren't the concert format provides a mirage of connection when no connection is happening at all...
The digital revolution seeks collective rituals, too, but it wants smaller venues that are more interactive, intense and tailored. Children of the digital culture want to be able to see, touch and dialogue with one another, as well as explore new avenues for body ministry.
A more personal ministry approach. The new generation is cynical toward celebrity and hyped events. It wants to interact and influence through group encounters. Today's music, for example, is extremely personal, graphic and pointed. Young people are looking for a personal connection.
An increasing hunger for reality. People are starved for real-life stories rather than manufactured ones. The rise in popularity of documentaries, docudramas and reality TV over the last several years attests to this. Television's ethos has taken over, and the boundaries between real and contrived have blurred-even in the church! The emerging digital culture is increasing our awareness of this vapid pursuit, while creating a new sense of authentic connection and expression through interaction.
Create Your Own Meatspace Moai. I have two meatspace moais I go to every week. (I'll be honest, I can't be that honest publicly and I need that kind of space.) One I started with my housemates. It's advertised at church and via Craigslist called Daring to Live An Authentic Life (email if you'd like our guidelines; or if you want to join us in San Jose. Group size averages 5-8 every Sunday). I have a temporary third spiritual practice (prayer & meditation & personal sharing) group meeting over a twelve-week course period too.
This year, my writing group at Taos was a temporary moai as was my eight-week meditation course group because of the intimate depth of sharing. Many writing groups have existed for eons (personal essay, travel writing, creative nonfiction and memoir topics lend themselves to moai characteristics). While beneficial in other respects, mastermind groups and juntos rarely are (boasting about our latest coup while skipping over mention of the mother you took to a nursing home this week isn't a moai).
Feeling seen and loved by just one person can change our lives completely, but when we associate with more than one wise man or woman, we multiply the likelihood of getting that feeling. For this reason, many people meet in small groups with the conscious intent of telling the truth about themselves and loving each other. It's not therapy, it doesn't cost anything, and no formal membership is required. These are just "regular people," and the results of their conversations are life-changing. - Greg Baer, Real Love, on forming a Real Love group
Solo practice: To help you unmask in your moai. Who peers through the mask? My teacher Adyashanti says that the root meaning of the word persona is "to peer through the mask."
Right now you and I wear a mask, the clown costume. That is our persona, our personality structures, and all the rest. And the real question, spiritually speaking, is "What is peering through?"
If you can suspend judgment of yourself for a moment, you may be able to sense that not only behind, but within the very structure of our familiar persona, there is something very quiet. This is something within the structure of the persona that is awake, that is not at war with the persona - not trying to change it, not trying to get thought to stop thinking or feeling. It is a sense of silence and presence that is not manipulating the interior experience or the exterior environment. This is the part of you that has always been here; it is the same now as when you were five years old. You should be willing not to hold, suspend, or name that awakeness - but to allow yourself to just experience what is underneath the persona, inside of the persona - and feel who it is that responds as this inner presence becomes more conscious. - Adyashanti, recorded 2004 Inner Directions Gathering
Parallel to UBER PREMIUM, GENERATION C continues to grow. And for members of GENERATION C, status not only comes from what they consume or experience, but also from what they create. So will creativity become an alternative source of status? That could actually make UBER PREMIUM one of the last gasps of the consumer society as we know it in industrialized nations.
Or how about the notion of luxury shifting towards something less influenced by the aspiration to consume like those richer than you; and instead find value and satisfaction (hell, even status!) in having more time to oneself, or spending more time with one's family and friends, or in new forms of spirituality?
[And Terry speaking to 300 student-amateurs:] In a world where the playing field is level and anybody can "publish," why are we waiting for some existing publisher to come along and validate what we know intuitively we can do? "Go forth and make media," was my closing statement. "Blossom where you're planted. DO, don't wait."
p.s. Check out Julie Leung's The Masks We Make: Blogging as a Social Tool. And Jory Des Jardin's essay "The Inevitability of Authenticity" in the More Space: Nine Antidotes to Complacency in Business book. Plus my posts: Niching Authenticity and What is Real?
p.p.s. More interested in the micro financial support aspect of Okinawan moais? Hmmm, check out Zopa for regular folks lending to others like themselves:
Zopa has 26,000 members, 35% of whom are lenders. They have about £3 million to lend. So far most loans are for between £2000 and £5000 and the average rate of return for the lenders has been 7.6%. Trendwatching.com's researchers are impressed with Zopa. "Consumers turning into bankers," they say. "How's that for minipreneurism?" - "Micros, Mums and Mini-traders", Trendwatching.com