Two sides of Spruce Pine, NC

Audio of Majo reading this text intro:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0TEKmZEJG6Jg6TG3FziDxjqTg

Our Christmas day got off to a pretty rough start.

We were snowed in in the Walmart parking lot in Spruce Pine. We had just gotten there in time on Christmas Eve, before the rain turned to freezing rain. Over the course of the night, the temperatures kept dropping and several inches of snow fell.

By the morning, we were snowed in and frozen in: I couldn’t get the doors of my van open even by throwing my full weight against them.

We had 10 hours of propane left in our little heater and $.50 to our name.

We had a tentative plan to rent a wonderful apartment way in the country starting on January 1, but did not have the $200 earnest money that I had promised my new landlord for Friday.

By the end of the day, my dear friend Stef had rented us a room for the week at a sweet little motel down in Spruce Pine – and we had managed to make it there.

The next day, my very special friend Mary Ellen in Chicago told me that she was administering a Covid relief fund that would pay my first three months rent.

Two days after Christmas, I took a walk downtown in Spruce Pine to the fabulous pedestrian bridge suspended 100 feet over the Toe River.

I mused about my circumstances – and about the circumstances of Spruce Pine, a little town that time forgot. In this first video, we can clearly see the sweet side of Spruce Pine being left untouched by modern changes.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0Fu5xUZMFx0UiFw9vHCzcSuxQ

Later in the day I took another street – just one block away from where I had been walking earlier in the day – and videotaped the less sweet side of Spruce Pine having time pass by.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0QsXWKL9Nt3hPRua934ef_gBw

My favorite new mountain joke

I find that mountain humor is often a little rougher than city humor – though seldom as politically or actually inappropriate as some of the humor we let ourselves indulge in the city.

This joke – that an old guy working at the motel told me this morning – was especially ironic because, in the grandeur of the city park where we had been walking and videotaping earlier, I had said about little Pancho that eventually she’s going to “bring down some thing big“.

Watch – maybe your second time watching the video – at about mile point 1 minutes and 19 seconds – little Panchita (who for the first 24 hours had the hardest time jumping up on the bed, even with the cooler positioned as a first step) totally dominate that bed.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0bF6D5onFYbBU8IEXg46ahCtQ

Home

Hear Majo read this post:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/00DPnUGKrNNWmxmzmP-b5NAng

There’s a home loan outfit that these days is saying on their TV commercial that “home is everything”.

They don’t say that home can be a pretty rough place for a lot of people.

They don’t in anyway comment on all the people who are currently homeless in this country – or indicate that their company is making any efforts to help some of them get into homes.

They don’t say that some people are thrilled to lead a mobile lifestyle, not anchored in a stationary home. Pancho and I have sure been having a blast in our very old Ford Econoline camper van – deciding at the beginning of each day just where it is we want to live the next day.

This video captures some of how complicated home has been in my life – and how incredibly happy and grateful I am that it looks like we’re going to have an actual home indoors, out of the cold, for the winter months.

I hope that, for you, your home has been a good place to be while you have been sequestering. For some people, like my son and his family, the vibe in their family is really great – so this time with everybody being at home has really worked.

Certainly, if you are in an abusive relationship or a relationship that’s filled with conflict, this time of sequestering may not have been so great.

For poor people who do happen to have an inside home, they may have been forced to live with too many people in a small space.

And some of those people may have been required to go out to make some money, bringing back with them whatever germs they bring. It’s not a coincidence or a factor of heredity that black and Latino people have been dying at much greater rates from the virus.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0AWzHGyjRNL7Alk2KwJx5Xr7Q

Narwal the Whale outside our little motel room (door cracked open) at the lovely Spruce Pine Inn.

The Dr. Footloose top 100 songs of 2020

I find spirit through nature – and music and dance. I dance 24/7. People often assume I’m drunk, because my body is never still – I am moving all the time.

I have an aspiration to open a dance club in Burnsville and call it Dr. Footloose. For months this summer, I fantasized that we would have a “very soft opening” of the club on my birthday, September 26.

That sure didn’t happen. But I did toast the future of the club with a video on the back lot of the proposed future Dr. Footloose club on my birthday:

https://www.facebook.com/heymajo/videos/10222148061506482/

Spotify tells me that I listened to music on an average of three hours a day last year. Here are my top hundred picks from last year, according to how much time I spent with them on Spotify.

To listen to my playlist is to get some idea of who I am. To get up and dance to my playlist – to surrender your body to the music – is to know who I am.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/37i9dQZF1EMeh3cLHGvlOg?si=8ZC86CgrR3eK1vbDFZGqGQ

“Giving to the poor”

A friend of mine cooked dinner for a bunch of homeless people on Christmas day. She put up a post on Facebook about this and all kinds of people fell all over each other telling her how great she was.

This was my comment:

You are very smart and savvy, Delia. Serving others who are even more in need than you is maybe the best way to tune in to spirit.

When I am most broke, I try to give things away – even things I really want. It makes me feel prosperous.

I have been blessed with a couple of big opportunities to bring homeless people into my home.

When I had an apartment at Battery Park Apartments, I first brought in a friend who had had a cat bite and was very sick and homeless. He stayed with me for a couple of months, then got on his feet and got his own apartment – with rent assistance from Homeward Bound.

During those two months, he and I became quite close – it was a beautiful friendship. I had for years been lamenting “Why do I never make it to the mountains?” A silly part of me was waiting around for a girlfriend to share that experience with.

My houseguest was a big hiker and got me big-time out to the mountains. It was awesome. And we talked about everything while we hiked. He was the buddy I had been missing for a while.

Most recently, last February I brought my wonderful friend, brilliant bluesman Eric Freeman, into my home. That worked out extremely well.

We got so tight that I was thinking of him as my young black alter ego – and he was thinking of me as some kind of a cross between white father, drinking-and-getting-into-trouble buddy – and just generally the fool that I am.

Eric incites my badass self in a way that is really great for me. I had no idea back then how much I would be leaning into this badass side of myself in the coming year. This development has been extraordinarily liberating for me – and I credit Eric with opening up this area for me.

Last April, Pancho and I fled Battery Park Apartments to stay ahead of the Covid. For a week we lived in my old Suzuki – with Eric, who had already been living in it for a couple of weeks.

With me attempting to sleep in the driver’s seat, Eric sleeping soundly in the shotgun seat – and the backseat and wayback totally stuffed with my remaining worldly possessions, poor Pancho had no turf at all. Her only choices were to sleep in my lap or Eric’s.

On those occasions when she chose to sleep in Eric’s lap, that big softy who likes to play gruff tried to act irritated about this – but it was clear to me that it tickled him when she chose his lap to sleep on instead of mine.

Since then, Pancho and I have had an amazing journey, which has included glorious experiences out in the mountains – in dialectic tension with, at times, a lot of poverty…both out in the mountains and back here in Asheville.

Through Eric, who has been surviving on the streets since he left my place, we have gotten intimately connected with the Asheville homeless community.

We have upgraded to a camper van, which is way more comfortable than the old Suzuki – but because we live in our vehicle, in this state we are technically homeless.

And at times we have been dramatically poor.

I have come to truly love homeless people. Recently, when a middle-class friend gave me $16 to replace my drivers license, but would not give me $4 for cigarettes, I said to her,

“I’ll take a good homeless person with no pretenses any day over some middle-class person who thinks she has the right to judge what I need to do to get through the day. I need better friends than you.“

Poor people are way more generous than rich people – they will literally give you the shirt off their back.

If you are homeless, you lose things a lot – or have things stolen from you. It really helps you get non-attached to things.

A homeless guy told me one day that he wasn’t wearing a coat because he had lost it. I asked him “Do you find that when you’re homeless you lose things a lot?“

He said, “Everything – everything goes away.” Homelessness is a crash course in Buddhism.

Quite clearly, life has scripted me to really identify with homeless people and to find ways to make a contribution to them.

A few weeks ago, Pancho and I were in the middle of making a big getaway back up to the mountains – where we are super-happy even when we are poor.

Life apparently decided that there was a risk of me forgetting my roots. I was just getting too high on my new prosperity.

Amy Steinberg sings a haunting, brilliant song called Wide Sky Life – that has a lyric that goes “As easy as it comes, it can be taken from you.”

So I made a wrong turn trying to find a shortcut, my old van broke down on a back road, the police came around and very nicely said that they had to get the car towed because it was in a dangerous place.

Because I had no money to pay for the tow, the car was impounded.

A very kind police officer, rather than just leave Pancho and I stranded on the country road, gave me 20 minutes to put whatever I most needed in a backpack and then – against department protocol – actually gave us a ride back into Asheville.

At 12 PM, he deposited us at the top of Ann Street downtown, because A-Hope homeless services are just down the street from there.

I had about $5, a sleeping bag, a few clothes and my trusty dog.

It got down to the low 30s that night – and we slept in the grass behind Haywood Street Community church.

It was quite a miserable night – and somehow none of it touched me. I knew in my heart that life was right to teach me that lesson – that there was, in fact, a danger that I was gonna run off to the North country and forget my people in Asheville.

The next two days were pretty difficult. I shot this video walking down Louisiana Street two days later. I think it is a pretty good snapshot of a moment in the life of a homeless person.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0YEtx9McW3Z5-1S9ti1cgV62g

All fall, I dreaded the onset of winter for my homeless friends. Even though we have had the shelter of our camper van, we have gone through some very uncomfortable bitter cold nights.

When I decided not to go south for the winter, I decided to look for some kind of an apartment or a little house inside for the winter.

But we have had very little money and housing out in the North country is in extremely short supply. As recently as a week ago, I was really believing that we might have to ride out the winter in the camper van.

My best homeless friends, Diana Buchanan and Eric Freeman, both are very clear that if you are living in a vehicle you are not truly homeless. And I see that difference extremely clearly. But still I was honestly pretty scared of the prospect of spending the winter in our van.

Life has changed pretty dramatically for us in just the last couple of weeks.

When the really bad weather hit, my friend Stef got worried about us in the van. She had reason to be worried. My Christmas day Facebook post describes how that day went from potentially terrible to miraculous.

Stef, who is not a wealthy person, has paid for us to get inside in a little motel in Spruce Pine. It’s very sweet, very modest – and we are very happy here.

January 1, I start renting a totally adequate little 1-room apartment, with a very sweet landlord (and new friend) upstairs – on 350 spectacular acres, way out in the mountains north of Spruce Pine.

My landlord and I have both been kind of worried about whether I could stretch my Social Security check to cover the rent and my other expenses.

Yesterday I was simply updating a friend in Chicago of my worries about not having paid my new landlord the $200 earnest money I promised her for Friday. Mary Ellen astonished me by saying,

“That Covid relief fund I am administrator for will allow me to pay three months rent for you upfront. Ask your landlord how I can send her the money.” That made the prosperity turn-around I have experienced since Christmas morning almost unbelievable.

I have finally started to post some of my 200+ videos of all the many things I’ve been learning in the north country. You can find them at healingvalidations.com. (This blog where you are reading this.)

So you are right, Delia, to serve the poor. All of us who are blessed and cursed with being middle class owe it to ourselves to bust out of our shells and learn from those people.

It’s nice that so many people told you you’re great for doing it, but I think they may be missing the point.

You are getting way more than you’re giving. A middle-class person who doesn’t have a homeless friend is living an impoverished life. There’s almost no chance of them seeing through the blinders of being asleep in the middle class.

Haywood Street Community church invites the general public to come to their Wednesday lunch every week. It is about 80 to 90% homeless people, but there are some “straight people“ who also come.

I would encourage people to go.

Pancho and the German Shepherd

We started Christmas Eve day at the Roan Mountain state park in Tennessee. Our destination for the day was Spruce Pine, but we stopped at the wonderful little general store in Spear, North Carolina.

There we encountered this spectacular, huge German Shepherd. A year and a half ago, Pancho was afraid of all dogs. Now Pancho loves most dogs – except for a few who for some reason piss her off.

She especially adores big dogs. Check it out.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0BXTERNipB7KGoe9-REukZwZw

“Waking up” on June 26, 2019 – a milestone on a long, painful, joyous journey towards becoming a “real human being”.

(To hear Majo read this post (17″), click here:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0CYNo29Ystx6jzb0yv8QwRZwA)

I describe here a life-changing experience that happened for me a year-and-a-half ago. For quite a while after that experience, I was kind of wandering around asking myself “What the hell just happened to me? “

Did I just get in lightened? What the hell does that mean? I tried, awkwardly, can you describe what it happened to me to my men’s group. I came away thinking that they had not understood me at all.

But the next day? My friend Lee from the group Wrote me that he had read in the book the untethered soul this definition of “enlightenment: being “unreasonably happy”.

I like that definition and it helped the word “enlightenment” set a little easier for me for a while. But I still mostly didn’t like it. “Waking up” was the description that worked best for me.

I was genuinely confused about the spot what this experience meant in my life. At one point, for about 48 hours I got obsessed with questions like “am I meant to be a guru? Am I supposed to have disciples?”

(In my early 30s, I was for three years a very devoted “disciple” of a “guru” named Sri Chinmoy. There was no question for us disciples that Si Chinmoy was our guru. We even used that word as a term of affection for him.

(In by the same way that I was students of tick not hon much later called him tie Dash Vietnamese for a teacher. But took not hon was very clear that he was not a spiritual master to anybody. “Teacher” was the only title he would except.)

For about nine months after the “waking up” experience, It seems to me like I was no longer afraid of anybody or anything. I even said that to some key friends like Tom Kilby.

I may have even boldly written it on my “Waking up” blog (majowaking up.com – currently off-line until I can get the word press company $100 to renew it).

Waking up isn’t for everyone, but for those who have gotten a taste of becoming fully conscious, it is the only game in town.

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

For most people, the process of becoming fully yourself unfolds very gradually throughout our lives, through lots of hard work. This is how it worked for me for 73 years. Then – at 3 a.m., on Monday, June 26 2019 – many things fell in place at once and I made a 100% commitment to reclaiming my integrity. I was given a gift – and poof! In that moment I became a new person.

Learning to walk the walk and claim the voice of this new person is in itself a gradual process – but I am being unerringly guided by Spirit, and in a very real way it has all become easy.

I have become, in the words of Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul), “unreasonably happy” – and nothing can seem to dent this happiness. I endure the shocks of human life: my checking account is suddenly overdrawn; the chronic pain, sometimes pretty rough, that has been with me for 30 years – and still hasn’t been diagnosed – is still there; a friend is in the midst of great pain and I go there with them (actually more acutely than ever before). But happiness always sits in the background and is the baseline to which I always return.

I have for thirty years been diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder (see my blog Bipolar Integrity). My energy still cycles powerfully up and down, but words like “bipolar”, “manic” or “depressed” no longer apply to me and I will not use them to describe myself. I am returning to the comfortingly descriptive, non-psychiatric words I have used for years: “expanded” and “contracted”. These I can live with.

I have become convinced that I was always misdiagnosed, that I was actually having a “spiritual emergency” (Stanislav Grof, in his book The Stormy Search for Self.)

2-mluvci_500x380_grof
Stanislav Grof

which no one recognized or knew how to support or guide. This crisis, rather than being treated with reverence as the sacred process it was, was “treated” with psychotropic drugs that snowed me and kept this sacred process from ever resolving.

(I myself was trained as a Ph.D. clinical psychologist and worked in the field for 20 years; while I was in some ways an especially awake psychotherapist, all that psychology training finally made it harder for me to truly “wake up”.  I have been very supported lately by the Asheville Center for Spiritual Emergence.)

For a while, I was confused by the fact that my waking up process does not look like that of some of my role models: I do not consistently come from a place that looks like peace and love like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. My “new person” has a sharp edge – more like Byron Katie or Fritz Perls, two of the big influences of my life. (And truly, even Thich Nhat Hanh – my teacher for four years – also has a ferocious side, as I saw revealed when the U.S was preparing to go to war in Iraq.)

I readily tell people truths – or reflect them back to themselves – in ways that they seem unready to hear. I can be ferocious at times, will raise my voice – will look and sound very angry (even if, in at least some of these situations, I actually feel completely peaceful inside). This “new person” sometimes shocks my friends, who have always thought of me as a “nice person”. When someone around me (even my customer in the grocery store checkout line) is being harmed or threatened, I can suddenly become “an avenging angel – a sword of truth”.

The political situation in our country – with Donald Trump and the forces of reaction, separation and hate – remains profoundly disturbing and I feel committed (required) to finding the right ways (as Spirit guides me) to be involved and try to make a difference, to take our country back. Thich Nhat Hanh was a pioneer of “engaged Buddhism” during the war in Vietnam – where he and his order of monks worked heroically to put that war to an end – and remains in this area of my mission a role model.

220px-Thich_Nhat_Hanh_in_Vietnam
“Thay” (“Teacher”) with some of his students

And I am more loving than ever before – love that has integrity and truth and often great gentleness.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a book – as yet unpublished, but soon – called Radical Integrity: Reflective Stories for Reclaiming Your Self. There are some real gems in that book – I was already on the path, and some of those chapters will turn up here. There were times that I would show up with great integrity and even courage. But I had not yet undergone “the change” – I had not become integrity, I still basically had no clue who I really was.

Whether your process of claiming your integrity is very gradual or whether you, like me, have had – or soon do have – your own moment of “waking up” (and this moment is happening to more and more people), my wish is that the words and stories in the blog will give you encouragement, inspiration, maybe sometimes guidance, and maybe sometimes excitement.

For more information about what led up to my breakthrough and what followed it, you can read the Page “Waking up: a tale of depression, integrity, assertiveness and good boundaries”.

Become a part of this community of waking up. Subscribe to the blog. Add your voice in the Comments section after each blog post. Write me. I want to be here for you.

Update on Narwal the Whale

Narwal – our 1988 Ford Econoline camper van – has been our mobile home for the last six months now.

This old beast has been so inextricably woven into the story of our journey through Appalachia that I’m going to devote a whole tab of this blog to her and her exploits.

Just a little over a week ago, I had heard very discouraging words about her from two mechanics and it seemed like she might be headed to the junkyard – or to be donated to public radio or something.

But now she lives!

I am not very enthused about the idea of riding out the whole winter in this little, drafty, unreliable van – but it now looks like we’re going to get established in an apartment by January 1, and Narwal may continue to be our mobile residence long into the future.

In the video below, we have not yet left our campsite at the Orchard at Altapass, south of Spruce Pine North Carolina – so you will get to see more of the fabulous views of the Appalachian mountains.

The video ends abruptly when I turn to greet some workers who have arrived to prune the apple trees in the orchard.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0io7bTpRJPTr_VtjzbukOJssA

Happy winter solstice 2020 – in the year of the pandemic

The night before the winter solstice, I found myself in an extraordinary, remote Appalachian Mountain setting. I describe it in this 30-minute video:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0o7JISAiJdZfhX5MaxvXRhdsw

The next morning, as I sat in my van attempting to wake up, I saw – through the windshield of Narwal the van – a slight line of pink creep over the eastern horizon.

I was instantly awake: “Holy cow, I have got to capture this!” I threw on some clothes, grabbed my iPhone – and spent the next hour videotaping this historic sunrise.

I don’t know about you, but never before have I so much needed to know that the sun had turned its face to shine more strongly once again on me.

The following two videos capture the sunrise on Monday, December 21, 2020. They are slow and minimal. But, if you set all distractions aside and just focus on the experience of waking up to a new day in the Appalachian mountains, these videos can take you there.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0v0ElrhTPxF94JJMtFfY30mtA

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0c9_thQNCDcOTMa1J9A-cxKHQ

Brother Sun is offering us a brand new day, in the middle of all this devastation and despair. I encourage you to take an hour to go there with me.

(If you find that these videos have offered you some value, please consider dropping a tip in my PayPal tip jar. This will both let me know that my mission has been successful – and help me to finance my winter in Appalachia doing this work.)

Thanks.

PayPal.me/heymajo