Life Shifts 2021

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.

Albert Einstein

I want to take a moment and focus of my personal challenges and blessings in 2021. As the end of 2021 slams shut and 2022 comes roaring in, I am thankful for my family, friends, blessings, health, and that I still have a sense of adventure–and the ability and resources to do something about them. In short, 2021 has been a year of life shifts for me, two which have taken place in the last week. Following on Einstein’s quote above, I have been able to keep moving forward and thereby, maintain my balance. That said, 2021 was a year of significant changes for me.

The first six months of 2021 for me while sitting at home in hermit isolation from THE COVID pandemic, I poured a lot of effort into going deeper into my Zen spiritual practice. In this regard, even though I was very isolated, the pandemic had a blessing: via Zoom I was able to participate in several intense meditation “retreats,” called sesshins, from home, including meetings with my Roshi, during those first six months. I had not done a sesshin for about seven years. If the pandemic had not come along, my Zen Windhorse Center would have never (probably) started offering remote services, sesshins, and meetings with the Roshis via Zoom. Zen is an “in person” type of practice. Offerings via Zoom and Internet was almost unheard of prior to the pandemic. Since those first days, and with vaccinations and precautions, the Center has backed off somewhat, but still offers Sunday services, weekly sittings, and the first three days of sesshins via Zoom.

Did I make any progress with my efforts to go deeper? Yes. I found out how to reach a point of great stillness, which I’ve blogged about earlier (see, “Stepping into the Stillness“) and started working on my first koan, the famous Mu koan. As I have moved away now from those intense days, tapping back into that stillness is often elusive or short lived. In these holiday season, I have slipped out of being consistent in my practice. I’ve paid a price for that negligence. I can only briefly touch that stillness but not hold onto it. To “hold” it, that is, to be able to stay in it, requires more practice. The stillness helps me maintain my equanimity to cope with the ups and downs of my life. Consequently, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get back deeper into my practice.

That first six months of 2021, I also closed down my counseling practice. I had been a professor of Clemson University for 23 years, so I thought it only fitting to step out of counseling at 23 years too. I like symmetry. No counseling practice, no need for the office space upstairs. I could downsize and move a reduced office to the multipurpose room downstairs. It occurred to me after a couple of months of being away from the counseling that, Ah ha! I could renovate my upstairs office suite into a studio apartment for rental and replace some of my counseling income.

Still in the first half of 2021, I sold my truck…


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The Secular Hermit

Serenity, Simplicity, Self-Sufficiency, and Eco-Centricity

I have decided at this late stage of my life to live an eredite lifestyle. Actually, maybe this is more like where I find myself at this time in my life, and I quite like it.

I have been pulling further and further away from the culture and society in which I grew up and lived all these 73 years. This process actually has been ongoing for several decades, but has accelerated the last few years. For the first time in my adult life I find myself living alone and single. This process has been further augmented by my closing down my counseling practice. I am now in “retired” status mode with regards to my LPC (licenced professional counselor). I guess I am “emeritus” here as I am an Emeritus Professor of Zoology from Clemson University?

Classically hermits were religiously oriented, e.g. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of fourth century Egypt, Thomas Merton, John the Baptist, etc. They went to the deserts, forrests, mountains, etc., to be away from society and people and to get closer to God. But then there was Henry David Thoreau his two years on Walden Pond (Walden) Thoreau was not exactly religious but talked a lot about God and nature. Walden was mainly his relating his life experiment in individualism, a classic protest against government interference, and a life of simplicity and being close to nature. I’m not going that far but in that direction.Thought a lot about it. Daydreamed for over a couple of decades off and on about building a Tiny House and living in the Chihuahuan Desert area in Big Bend area in Texas. Hence my two books, WindWalker and Guru, that took place in or in part in that area.*

I am not “religious.” I am, however, spiritual. Spirituality, I define as cultivating serenity and personal growth–a very secular definition. No religion per se involved. In my Guru book, I write about secular spirituality (pp 138-139). Of how you can be spiritual without being religious.

The second title above is a subtitle. The whole of the first two together represents the working title of my current book project. I started out with a working title of, Buddha on a Bike. This will probably become the introductory chapter now. Many of my blog posts will become components of this project. As I surveyed the hermit literature, it is replete with all kinds of God/religious stuff but sorely lacking in a secular perspective. This deficit is where my book is directed. It will not be directed per se at hermits, but rather to folks that wish to cultivate serenity, simplicity, self-reliance, and eco-centricity in their lives. Eco-centricity, coming from an ecological frame of reference in our perspectives and actions, I discuss in more detail in an earlier post.

As hermits go, they can take all kinds of forms. I am located in a small South Carolina town, close to my family: adult children (3), grandchildren (5), and one great grandchild. I interact and communicate with them daily usually. We have family dinners and celebrations. I can pick up the phone, email, or text, any one of them, sometimes just to chat. I take daily walks down the street to my daughters and visit with my two-year old granddaughter. She has her Granddaddy wrapped around her finger. So, I’m not all that isolated.

Part of this process has been my selling my truck, switching to a bicycle-only lifestyle (at least as a trial), downsizing, simplifying, and decluttering. The last three are in progress. I am going through my house, office, and shops taking a Maria Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) approach MOL. Not quite that OCD, but trying to really evaluate stuff. I plan on having a big yard sell with much of it. Some, I’m selling on Craig’s List or FB Market. The rest I’ll donate to one of the area thrift shops.


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Buddha Bike Update: Vulnerability

I’ve been biking it entirely now for two weeks as of Tuesday. How is that going?

The biking part per se is going fine. It is one thing to do the planning in your head, finding solutions on how to get places, what to do when this or that happens, etc. Reality hits when you are actually doing it! The two things that are really troublesome are my increased feelings of anxiety-driven vulnerability and the challenging reality of trying to do this in rural, small town South Carolina when you don’t have a backup car or truck. The latter is also an aspect of vulnerability. On the positive side, I am doing it, which is commendable.

Early Sunday morning I took an exploratory ride into Easley, only some seven miles northeast of here down SC Hwy 93. Thanks to Google Maps’ bicycle app I discovered a back road way into Easley that starts just down the street from me. I had never been down the street, as in my truck I usually turned off before I got to it or shot right past it to pick up Hwy 93 to go into Easley in my truck. The back country road was a wonderful winding, scenic country road that ends just where Hwy 93 comes into Easely. It was Sunday morning and so the traffic on Hwy 93 once I got to Easley was minimal. There no good way to get around getting on 93 once you’re in Easley unless you go over to Hwy 123, which is four lane but heavy traffic. Hwy 123 is the main thoroughfare between Clemson and Greenville. Not to be attempted on a bike except as a suicide mission. It’s 65 mph, heavy traffic, and no shoulders.

Early that morning I had had a strange dream that was in part in anticipation of this planned bike ride. In the dream I was standing atop a high dam over a lake below. I was much younger, a kid, say junior high. There was several kids my own age on the dam with me. I watched as several of them jumped off the high dam into the crystal clear lake water below. The water looked very peaceful and calm. It was like being in the clear waters of the tropics or Florida Keys. I watched as the boys who jumped came back up to the surface and excitedly begin clambering back up to the top of the dam. I wanted to make the jump and was trying to gather my courage to do so when I awoke. I love dreams. Dreams can tell you so much about what’s going on in your subconscious.


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“If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.”

I was reminded of this saying once again the other day. It comes from my old Harley motorcycle days. In my journey through life and all the “strange” things I’ve done and do, I have often been asked, “Why do you do that?” Or its variation, “Why would anyone want to do something like that?” Been here before. Done that. So, here’s the story…

An old biker getting off his Harley and dressed in full black leather riding gear was approached by a little old lady, obliviously mainstream and well to do. She asked, “Why do you ride those things? They’re noisy and just look at the type of people who ride them.” He looked at her and politely said, “Mam, if I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand,” and he walked off, leaving her standing there.

Now, this is not a post about Harleys, although I sometimes miss them. It is a post about my current life and a course I’m just finishing teaching. I have been teaching an OLLIE course through Clemson University. OLLIE for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute presents short courses for retired folks, usually taught by retired faculty from Clemson, that be me in this case. Twenty-five plus years ago I had taught one on recombinant DNA for what was then OLLIE and while I was still a faculty at Clemson. It had been fun. Retired folks signup and take these courses because they’re interested in the topics and enjoy learning new stuff. They are lifelong learners. It is a great program.

The topic of my course, based on my new Guru book, was ” Medicine Wheels, Vision Quests, and Jungian Archetypes.” It was three lectures and one experiential where I will give participants an opportunity to meet one of their own personal archetypes, face-to-face, so to speak. All lectures are done via Zoom.

The course was one of my forays to see if there was interest out there for some of the stuff in which I am interested and to potentially give myself an avenue for a new path as I walk away from my current job from burnout and into the unknown at this point. Not sure where I’m going, but I’ll know when I get there.

In the first lecture, at the end of it, one of the participants asked me, “Why would you want to do something like that?” I smiled, and told her and the very small class, first the old Harley riders response, and then a story of a physician I had been working with many years ago. However, this being a class and all, I took a deep breath and gave her a partial explanation, on which I went much more into detail at the beginning of the next lecture. Then, in the spirit of learning, weaved in my answer over the next two lectures for good measure.

As for the physician story, I had just come back from the vision quest that I wrote about in Guru. Several of the staff had gathered round me when I came back, curious about where I had been and what I had been doing, and all sorts of questions about my experience. Somewhere toward the end of that telling, the physician had walked up and was listening. When I had finished he asked me,

“Why would you want to do anything like that?” Although he had done work with medical intuitive, Carolyn Myss, and was himself pretty good at it, as well as certified in acupuncture. he was pretty arrogant and cocky, and I had bit my tongue with him more than once in our pas in one of his smart ass remarks. It was Payback” time: I looked at him and said, “Well, Bobby, if I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand,” and like the old biker, just left him standing there as I walked off to see my first patient. He never asked me again. Okay, back to my story.


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