What I learned in 2022.

I will preface what I’m about to write by saying that I try not to view life in increments of 365 days. I do try to take one day at a time, regardless of where that day falls in a calendar.

That said, as a person living in society, its virtually impossible not to think of events as encapsulated in a units of time as society marks. So…on this last day of the year 2022, I’m reflecting on an event of this past year and how it affected me.

I had a negative experience last February that shook me deeply. I will not go into specifics but feelings of betrayal and disillusionment resulted from the experience. I became very angry and filled with self-pity. I was hurt. I became very resentful which is something I’ve spent most of my adult life working to avoid. I’ve had resentments to deal with throughout my life but I have spent time and effort to address them and felt progress was made. Then…POW….another big ole’ resentment to address.

What I have learned from dealing with resentments is to discern what I can address and what I can’t address. I can’t address events that have happened but I can address my impulsive need to obsess on those events, which take me away from the present. I can’t address how another person thinks and behaves but I can address my own mind and behavior. It isn’t easy to break obsessive and impulsive behavior which is how I’d describe the fostering of a resentment. It is very easy to be angry, stay angry, wallow in self-pity, etc. It is also inevitable that anger and self-pity will affect all areas of life, creating great discomfort. I tend to look for distraction from discomfort which isn’t healthy. It takes effort and honesty to address anger. We have to honestly assess why we are angry and go deep. I have to go beyond “So and So did this and pissed me off!”. I have to look at why “their” actions caused such agitation. I have to assess my feelings and address them, even if the anger is justifiable. Anger, in and of itself, is not an invalid emotion. However, how I respond to anger can be non-productive (at best) and destructive which is not justifiable.

One thing I do regularly that has helped greatly is to keep a journal. The journal allows me to see my feelings on paper and to look back on how I was in days past. I don’t edit myself when I write. I just get it down….bad penmanship and all. This allows me the opportunity to look back on past days with a different perspective than I may have had when I wrote the journal entry. Reading the journal entries from immediately after the aforementioned negative events, now several months removed, gives me better perspective. I can see more objectively through the raw emotion. I can more clearly see areas in which I can address in myself. I can also more easily come to acceptance of the things I can’t address or control. In a nutshell: Live and Learn.

What I have learned (or been reminded of) is that resentments cause tremendous damage and if left unaddressed, will lead to catastrophic results. I’ve also learned that I’m a long way from being beyond having resentments. But I’ve also been reminded that when addressed by way of reflection, meditation, and prayer, they can be a fruitful opportunity to learn and grow. I can’t say I’m 100% done working on this most recent resentment. But I’m in a better place now, at the end of 2022, than I was nearer the beginning of the year.

What I Read in 2022

As the year wraps up, here are the recommendable books I read this past year (I’ll spare you the few that I regretted reading):

Thoughts of Peace, Love, and Politics

As we near another “most important election in our lifetime” cycle in the U.S., I’m left wondering where we are heading as a country. So much vitriol, anger, and fear. I refuse to believe that we are as divided as a country as so many pundits and politicians make us out to be. I base this on my own personal experience.

I’m non-partisan and have lived long enough to be disappointed by both major parties and even some of the non-majors (i.e., Libertarians, Greens). I’m suspicious of people who seek power and the cults of personality that arise all too often in national politics.

To be blunt, I’m not a fan of Trump and I’m equally leery of the majority of the Republican party that is following his lead. But that does not make me a Democrat or Biden fan. And therein lies my point: I try very hard not to view things (politics or otherwise) through an either/or, dualistic lens. Life is more nuanced than that. I believe most people, deep down, think this as well. There is just so much bullshit from the halls of power and the media that fosters division and some people tend to follow the bullshit without thinking critically. But my own experience, having travelled millions of miles around the world and meeting people from all over, tells me that people have way more in common than not. And whatever differences are largely superficial.

I have some friends that are staunch Republicans and have views on politics that I don’t agree with. But they remain my friends because what bonds us is more substantial. There is love and respect that has been fostered over time. The same holds true with me and my radically liberal friends. I don’t necessarily agree with them on many matters but not so much as to disqualify them as friends because of our commonality. This may sound like I’m a “centrist” (i.e. wishy washy or luke warm). I am not. If I’m to label myself, I’m a “non-dualist”. I choose to try to look at the whole of life, not the convenient “compartments” we get placed in, I believe this is what Jesus was getting at when he suggested “love your neighbor”.

The Inspiration behind my “A Morning Prayers” pieces

1st, a preface. I am most certainly NOT a mystical, spiritually elevated, 100% serene person who has achieved any great level of sustained peace of mind. At best, I’m a “wannabe”, in that I want to be those things. But I’m acutely aware of some embarrassing flaws of my character….and I am likely blind to others. All that is to say I realize how pretentious it may appear when titling music pieces “A Morning Prayer”. Here is some background…

Each Lenten season for the past several years, I have attempted to focus on a spiritual practice. This past Lent (2022), I focused on enhancing my daily morning prayer and meditation period with a more structured approach inspired by the Muslim prayer practice. I adopted some of the physical elements of the Muslim prayer practice (as I read in the “Islam for Dummies” book), inputting Christian elements (e.g. The Lords Prayer in place of Surat al-Fatiha). That is not a slight towards Islam. It is just that I am not a Muslim, though I do find much to admire about the Islamic faith and practices.

Meditation has always been a challenge for me. If I set aside 10 minutes for meditation, no matter the technique or focus, about 9 of those minutes will be dealing with random thoughts and mental noise. I believe the Buddhist term for this is “Monkey Mind”. About the only time I have any sustained quieting of the mind is when I’m playing guitar. I always try to have my music output aligned with my spiritual practice so it made sense, beginning in Lent, to dedicate whatever music I created to this focused prayer and meditation practice.

To keep the pieces focused, I established some limits to keep my musical “Monkey Mind” in check:

  • Limit the length to around 3 minutes.
  • Have a repetitive (i.e. loop) element as the basis to represent a “chant-like” item.
  • Keep the amounts of elements (instruments, tracks) in check to not create overly-dense pieces.

It is by coincidence that acoustic guitar is also a common factor. I had been going through a period of re-acquainting myself to my Martin acoustic guitar after going down a John Fahey/Leo Kottke rabbit hole. The acoustic guitar lent a more melodic and sparse (by my standards) element to the process.

Each piece has a sub-title that reflects where my head was at the time I was working on the piece.

….for Dad

“A Morning Prayer (for Dad)” is basically self explanatory. Since my fathers passing in 2019, my understanding of the effects of his absence continues to evolve. The particular morning I started working on this piece, I was thinking of the cumulative weight of loss we inevitably experience as we grow older. In recent years, I have experienced the loss of my sister, my father, some friends, and all my pets (never belittle the emotional loss of pets). I came to an understanding of the weight my father bore as he aged. He never complained or let any burden be known but, in hindsight, I could see how a lifetime of loss and letting go manifested in his demeaner as I begin to feel the weight and its affects on me. In a manner, I’m grateful for that weight as it highlights the importance of those no longer physically here and is an inevitable lesson in dealing with loss and letting go. This piece of music was inspired by such lessons and the gratitude I have for my Dad’s influence.

…in a time of doubt

“A Morning Prayer (in a Time of Doubt)” reflects a frequent struggle I’ve had in the past few years…a shared struggle I’m sure. With the hyper-contentious politics, the societal after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and disillusionment with certain relationships in my life, I have found my faith (especially my faith in mankind) to be wavering. There have been frequent moments where I want to isolate and/or lash out. I have struggled to keep preconceived perceptions in check. The anger and fear so prevalent in the world (it always is prevalent but, of late, its been nakedly so) makes my own anger and fear difficult to control. I’m usually a pretty optimistic and hopeful person but I’ve been struggling with cynicism and fear a lot in recent years. The day I started working on this particular piece, news of the Russia-Ukraine conflict was ubiquitous and coincided with a personal issue that caused me great pain. My prayer that particular morning was more desperate and angrier than normal.

…with Frequent Sighs

“A Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs)” The title was inspired by the recording process. I was recording the acoustic guitar using a condenser microphone which is quite sensitive. Upon playback, I noticed I had captured an audible sigh. It was slightly annoying but it reminded me that I had been catching myself sighing more often recently. It would usually be in the quiet moments of my morning when I was reflecting on the absence of my Dad or sister. I suppose you can say that the inspiration theme of this piece is related to the previous two but the literal inspiration was my lack of technical protocol when recording acoustic guitar with a mic that will pick up a hamster’s fart.

The common thread of all these pieces is grief and loss, be it loved ones or a sense of security that was always an illusion. My intent to make my prayers and meditation more structured and formal this past Lenten season was an attempt to address the feelings of grief and loss, which can be so nebulous, omnipresent and disruptive. I suppose it was a way to inject structure in a season of life where I was made very aware of how little control I have. The only real control I have is the choices in my behavior which requires reflection, honesty, and willingness to make the next right decision based on a faith that something greater than I will take care of the things I can not control.

I do have faith (wavering as it may be at times) in a Higher Power. I choose to call that power God with no assumptions that I know much of anything about God other than I’m not He/She/It and love is the animating force of this life that is God’s creation. It is a lesson being learned that loss is incredibly disruptive and yet entirely inevitable. I have struggled with the disruption and realize that I have much work to do to overcome fear. I know that prayer and meditation are key and patience is indeed a necessary virtue if I am, if nothing else, to avoid bitterness and the hardening of my heart. And so I pray….and for a brief time in 2022, put that prayer to music.

I hope you enjoy the music. I did find some peace in making them. This trilogy will be it for the “Morning Prayer” theme…unless inspiration dictates otherwise.

Cheers, Alan

Coming in October: New music, the final installment of my “Morning Prayer” series of singles

Coming in October, the 3rd and final piece of my semi-planned series of music themed as “Morning Prayers”. This will is titled “Morning Prayer (with Frequent Sighs). I will be providing some background on all three of the “Morning Prayer” pieces…the inspirations, that motivation, some techie stuff, etc.

As always, I thank you for your support. 300+ new listeners in August and some wonderful feedback. I’m most grateful.

More to come…cheers, Alan