When The Wall Fell

This weekend marks the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and as someone who lived in “West Germany” during the Cold War, and who sat on the border of “East Germany” as a young soldier in the U.S. Army, I felt compelled to post this reminder of just how significant that single event was in modern human history. It doesn’t happen very often these days that conversations take place about this subject, and it is an indication of progress in a way, since there are no such barriers in Eastern Europe these days, but it should also serve as a warning to anyone who cherishes Liberty and Freedom that we cannot forget just how terrible it was to live as the East Germans did after Soviets built the wall in 1961. The repressive East German regime, backed by Soviet tanks and soldiers, were responsible for the deaths of some 140 individuals while they attempted to escape; some were killed, some died accidentally in the process, and some committed suicide trying to cross over the border between 1961 and 1989. The last person to die attempting to escape was in “an improvised balloon aircraft,” died on March 8, 1989, just eight months before the wall fell for good.

My own assignment to the East German border occurred 44 years ago, and the photo above was taken by me in one of the many little border towns along that line, and as a young intelligence analyst it was my job to monitor the network of military assets of both East Germany and the Soviet Union at the time. In those days, our specific strengths and capabilities as an intelligence gathering presence in these regions was a closely guarded secret, and our awareness of the existential threat posed by Soviet tanks and troops along this border was keen. I was able to spend several months at a time, living amongst the citizens of border villages, who knew all too well the dangers that lurked just on the other side of that wall. My own presence there was documented secretly by a German friend who brought me to the sight.

As a young schoolboy, I was educated about the border wall in history class, and I remember well my father talking about President Kennedy’s famous speech there, explaining how fortunate we were to live in America, where such things did not occur. As a soldier in language training in California, the native German speakers who taught me were adamant about the urgency of our mission, and knew well about the suppression of the East German citizens, the separation of families, and the desire for reunification, even then. As American soldiers actively engaged in this mission, we were held in high esteem, especially by the West German people who lived close enough to see the wall everyday. I was well aware of the history and the legacy of the wall when I was there, and proudly served my country as a guardian of freedom in the American tradition, and grew to love and admire the German people. I made friends wherever I served, and lived with a German family for months in the early days of my assignment, honing my skills with the language, and learned great respect for those who served as West German border guards, many of whom wanted me to tell them all about life in America. In those days, America was a staunch ally of NATO, and the circumstances were mutually beneficial.

Much to my surprise, I saw this advertisement in the Wall Street Journal this morning, and it gave me a real lift to know that in spite of the circumstances in international relations these days, this ad reaffirms the genuine friendship shared by America and a United Germany, and makes all of my struggles and many difficult deployments in the winter months in Germany feel more than worth the effort. If you would like to read a little more about my experiences along the border, you can visit this link:

East Germany Post

Thank you, Germany, for giving attention to this celebration and sharing with our American citizens and soldiers a much deserved expression of gratitude.

A Teachable Travel Moment

Recently, I have been reviewing the collections of photographs and other memories from my journey of discovery which began more than forty years ago now, and several pieces of the puzzle have started to be filled in with particular memories, which have sparked new levels of awareness about just how important some of the events which occurred along the way were, leading me inexorably to this moment in time. The image above is one of my most important memories from 1975 when I was living in Augsburg, Germany, and first visited the Ancient Roman Museum there as a young soldier. The photograph depicts one of my very first adult encounters with ancient artifacts, and I will be posting an entry in the coming weeks about those heady days in Europe when so much came together for me.

I’ve also been reading posts by my friend Anthony at zenothestoic.com these days, and his recent posting about travels prompted me to dig through the archive to locate this one special travel memory that now looms much larger in the big picture, which I have been constructing all these years. I am grateful to Anthony for a number of teachable moments of late, and recommend his blog to anyone who has an interest in straightforward, no-nonsense stories that often get right to the core of whatever matter he takes on.

His travelogue in the English landscape stirred my memories of travels through the many small villages and remote country towns when I was a young man exploring the outer world in Europe, and just beginning to awaken to my expansive inner world. This recent stirring reminded me of a more modern memory, and I will tell you about that now, and how it all fits in to the larger story about my focus on consciousness.

It was a dream I had one night long ago. I met a woman on the steps of a university somewhere, and upon the very first glance at her face, I immediately felt a connection and a degree of intimacy that could not be explained by the temporal circumstances. I seemed to accept that it was so—that it was completely normal to encounter someone and to have this response.

I remember as the dream progressed, being close—face—to—face. I distinctly remember the look in her eyes as I spoke. Somehow, I knew that whatever I said had better be the truth, because she would know—she would know whether whatever I said was true or not—and I remember hesitating, only briefly, but deliberately pausing, as I was about to say something non-threatening—something neutral, and when I looked at her directly in the face, I was compelled to tell the truth…and the truth was…that I was absolutely, completely crazy about her.

It’s not like there wasn’t any precedence in my life experience with this phenomenon, but I have to say throughout my lifetime of experience, when attempting to interact with another person with whom I sensed an intimate connection, I almost always knew right away, instinctively, yes or no, and when it was yes, I was frequently met with responses like…”how is it even possible to say these words…it’s only been this amount of time;” the connection for me was always immediate and intimate, and once in a while, it would remain strong and involve a depth of caring for some time.

Most often, though, I remember the response being incredulity or astonishment or confusion, but for me, none of those words applied to my response; I was completely accepting of my own response to the individual. For them, it was always some abrupt expression like, “Wow,” or “really?” For me, it was something like, “Of course,” or “yes, really,” or “I know.” I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t so.

Looking back over the years, it happened so many times, and just as often the other person had a very difficult time accepting that I could feel the way I truly did feel. For me, it was impossible to deny what I absolutely felt without a doubt. I kept getting the sense that none of them were prepared to accept the truth that I was able to accept easily. Thankfully, it was just at this time when I started to take a serious interest in photography, bought some quality equipment, and began to record more than just images on film. I was also documenting my life at a critical time, and expanding my range of skills.

For a time, it became an issue when I shared these ideas, prompting blank stares or disbelief. One particular example occurred as a young man in the U.S. military living overseas in Europe. One day after work, I met a beautiful young woman, and at the very moment we met on a street corner, waiting for a bus into town, she turned to look at me in a most peculiar way, and I noticed my heart rate accelerated rapidly, without judgement on my part, but the suddenness of it gave me pause. We struck up a lively conversation about local attractions and initiated a polite exchange of information about our shared military duties, and when she asked me where I was headed in town, I reported that I was going home to my off-base apartment downtown. Her eyes suddenly lit up with surprise, her face immediately softened, and she smiled in a way that grabbed me right in the solar plexus. At that very instant, I felt a surge within me that was unmistakably of the same sort as before, only now it hit me like a cresting ocean wave.

The conversation took on a whole new level of urgency at that point, and by the time the bus arrived, we had made an arrangement to meet the next day to visit with me there. The rest of that evening I was unable to settle down or think clearly at all. I found myself oddly unable to go to sleep that night; so instead, I decided to clean out and rearrange the cabinets. I was an emotional wreck, and exhausted from anticipating her arrival the next day, but when she finally arrived, all the anxiety I felt just melted away.

We chatted briefly about locating the ingredients for a recipe she wanted to try for something called, “Hungarian Chicken.” Without having any idea exactly why I felt so compelled to rearrange the kitchen, it now seemed as though my mind had been operating on some level outside of conscious awareness, because it turned out to be the exact task I should have done, even though I couldn’t figure out what was making me act that way the night before.

We ended up spending a great deal of time together in the days following that first meeting, and all the while, outwardly I behaved with courtesy and as one would when first nurturing a friendship, but on the inside, I was a bubbling cauldron of intimate emotions, swirling like a tornado in my head and heart. I was in love. I immediately wanted to be close to her, but it seemed that it was impossible to express it without endangering the whole enterprise. The challenge for me was to avoid giving any overt indication of the inner turmoil, while still behaving in a rational and explicable manner. We laughed often and she seemed completely open to listening to the stories of my adventures over the years, and all I could do was remain totally open to her bright spirit, encouraging her to share time with me on her terms. I just wanted to be where she was.

One night, after a lovely day spent enjoying a warm spring afternoon walking around together in town, we were sitting on the sofa in the living room and I couldn’t hold back any longer. I had to try to express what was going on inside me before I exploded. The beginning of the conversation went well as I recapped all the wonderful parts of our friendship and the time we spent together, and without getting overly emotional or suggesting what might happen next, I simply allowed my heart to gently speak its truth. Her immediate response was a blank stare for about a minute, followed by an expression of agreement with the clear advantages of our friendship, but also noting her astonishment at how it would even be possible to have such a strong sense of connection, adding “It would take me a year to say those things to someone.” My time in Augsburg held some of the most important events of my young life, and when the time came to leave that city, I climbed to the top of the city hall there to take one last look before moving on to Central Germany and a brand new assignment.

Similar circumstances happened to me all the time, even with important friendships with others of every variety. For me, there was no doubt at all. It became clear eventually, after numerous repetitions of this scenario, where I was absolutely certain of what was happening, that the cause had something to do with ME. It was about ME. I was different, but I couldn’t explain it. This and several other pivotal events during this time brought all of the mystery to the forefront of my experience and pressed me to dig deeper. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to see a connection between these events when they occurred, and while some were more intense than others, certain ones were so profound, so in-depth of a connection that it completely enveloped all of my senses and occasionally saturated my entire experiential awareness.

Hopefully, after all this time, and years of paying attention to the particulars in these situations, writing about my experience in the Roman Museum and reflecting on everything that happened to me during that time will assist me now as a mature person, to not only understand myself better, but to have some improved grasp of the phenomenon of the human spirit, which I still see and experience in the same way sometimes.

My subjective experience of my own self continues to force me to confront these connections, and while I continue to see and feel these sensations at particular times and establish similar connections with certain individuals more intensely than others, I recognize it as the same phenomenon of an ineffable nature no matter how it occurs. Consciousness is much more than a result of brain physiology. That much, for me, is certain.

Necessary and Urgent: Where The Heart Goes

“If your everyday practice is to open to all of your emotions, to all of the people you meet, to all of the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that—then that will take you as far as you can go. And you’ll understand the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”

–Pema Chodron, American author and Tibetan Buddhist. ordained nun and a disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (Buddhist meditation master).

I can see myself, standing on a hillside, gazing out across an ocean of trees, the mist drifting slowly between the spaces where no tree stood. The sun had not fully revealed its brilliance; the sky was the deepest blue I ever seen, and I knew where I was going—to that place I had discovered all on my own years ago. When I saw it for the first time, I knew it would not be the last time. I somehow knew that there would be many more visits to come.

I know something about the role emotions play in our view of the world. As someone who had experienced a pretty full range of emotional traumas, emotional deficits, and emotional highs, it became necessary to investigate the psychology of emotional extremes, along with pursuing a better understanding of my subjective experiences, with an urgency matching the potency of those events.

After many years of effort in this regard, approaching the subject from a variety of angles, I have come to understand better that circumstances which seem inexplicable at first often do actually have explanations; choices can be made based on statistical analysis or on a hunch. Occasionally, some combination of empirical data and speculative ideas can yield surprising conclusions. All of the expected and unexpected urgencies in our lives, often tend to be less so once engaged, and we sometimes find that aspects which we did not consider to be especially urgent, ultimately rise in importance, and in ways we did not anticipate. At this time in my life, all of the experiences with feelings, and in making the necessary efforts that felt so urgent, including the creation and expression of these writings and ideas, while they have been at least instructional for me personally, still seem to be leading somewhere that I have not yet arrived.

Where The Heart Goes by JJHIII24

We must follow where the heart goes;
We must follow the path to where the heart goes;
We must embrace the path to where the heart goes,
And join with the others on that path.

I must follow those who came before me,
And travel with those alongside of me;
Anticipate the arrival of those who are to come,
Bringing together past, present, and future—
What we describe as what came before us,
Where we are now, and what is to come.

My place is the present moment now;
Synchronous events brought me here;
Contemplation led me to embrace the
Feelings and thoughts which embody the now.
My truest feelings, my genuine thoughts
Prepare me for the eventual moment when
I am apart from the temporal world,
Still somehow within it, but not bound by it.

I still feel strongly that I have a greater distance to go in this life, and anticipate the days to come with a fair degree of hope that I can hold myself together long enough to share what I have learned by being who I am, not giving everything away, yet not withholding anything deliberately. One day, all of us, regardless of what side of the fence we are on, will be confronted by circumstances which require our best, life-affirming response, and the world will be better for it. We cannot know for certain if our efforts in life will ultimately yield a path to the goals we seek; it’s an evolution—an Inner Evolution.