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  • “I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day, so satisfied, I’m on my way”

    - Jon Anderson, Yes
    “Only you have the power within you. Just believe in yourself -
    The sea will part before you, stop the rain, turn the tide.
    If only you use the power within you, you needn't beg the world
    To turn around and help you, if you draw on what you have within you”

    - From “I am the Starlight”, Starlight Express, lyrics by Richard Stilgoe, Don Black, David Yazbek
    It all began with Mary Anne’s memorial service at the Unity Church. It was the most “intentional” service I had ever attended. It truly felt like Mary Anne had brought us all together, for a reason, and it went exactly as she had planned it. It just felt that way. Mary Anne had been a dear friend, and part of that N.A. Group where I’d finally found recovery, after years and years of searching for it, after nearly 4 years clean and sober but still living a life of quiet desperation, I’d finally found my freedom from addiction there.

    That group was an amazing thing to be a part of. That summer of ’84, it had grown and thrived and hundreds of addicts were finding recovery there, and a whole community was building up around it. It was truly a summer of miracles. But then, things had fractured, and the group had split, as these things seem to do, late that Fall. Some stayed with N.A., some formed a group that would eventually call themselves Addicts Anonymous, while others just went on with their lives. Some went back to addiction, those who hadn’t quite picked up recovery yet, and had gotten lost in the confusion of the split. We’d never again experience anything quite like that summer, though. Not until her Memorial Service, some six years later, where, for that one afternoon, we were reminded of what that summer had been like.

    There we all were, all back together again, just like we’d been years before. It was like she had planned it this way. That would have been just like Mary Anne. She lived her life very intentionally. Of all the people we saw there, and the whole wonderful experience of being back together, the ones who really stood out for us were Breen and Sherri. Something about them just shined, that day. There was a natural joy, and a light that seemed to emanate from them - we both saw it and felt it, later commenting to each other about it. They were onto something. We reignited our friendship with them that day, and it would eventually lead us to a life of intention, ourselves.
  • They were both now members of the Unity Church, and the more we hung out with them, and heard what they were into there, the more it intrigued us, so we decided to attend a service. The service was interesting enough - not preachy, not too Bible-y for our tastes, and there was a kid program for Jonathon, the people seemed really nice and approachable, so we went back. We heard about the workshop – “Abundance” it was called – and Sherri got really excited when we asked her about it. She highly recommended it to us. She and Breen had both taken it, and she said that it changed her life. Breen offered to watch Jonathon while we attended the workshop, quite a commitment, as the workshop spanned six days, beginning with a Wednesday evening, from 6 to 11, the same on Thursday and Friday, all day Saturday, half the day Sunday, then the following Thursday evening. Sherri was doing some work to support the workshop, behind the scenes stuff. The $300 cost for each of us was a huge stretch at the time, as we barely had two pennies to rub together to keep food on the table and gas in our cars, which we were both dependant on for our long commutes to work. But, we sold off our savings bonds, and did what we needed to do to take the workshop, based on the recommendation, and it was surely the wisest investment we had ever made.

    We learned about setting intentions each morning. We learned about setting denials. What do you want in your life? Write it down. Break it down. What do you need to do today to bring it into your life. Make an intention to do whatever it is you can do, today, to make that happen. Write it down. Commit to it. What do you want to eliminate from your life, and why? Write it down. Break it down. What do you need to do, today, to eliminate that item? Write it down. That’s a denial. Intentions and denials. That was the first lesson, of many, we would learn, between that workshop, and the follow-on one, “More”.

    John had special gifts and talents, and these workshops were the perfect vehicle for him to utilize them to help others. He had trained a team of facilitators, over the years, who acted in perfect concert with him in running the workshops, and we were among the lucky ones who got to experience these life-changing events, before he moved away from doing them, on to bigger and better things, things that never seemed to quite work out as well as those workshops did. We were so lucky to be there, just in time for them to change our lives, from that point forward.

    I had been trying to quit smoking cigarettes for years. It was a bad habit, an addiction that I just couldn’t shake. I’d tried the 12 Steps on them, but they just didn’t seem to work for my cigarette addiction like they’d worked for the rest of my addiction. Every time I’d tried to quit, people around me would eventually beg me to go back to smoking, because I was so miserable and on edge without the cigarettes, I became impossible to live with. On the fifth day of the workshop, we were told to bring in an item that we were willing to give up, let go of, a tangible item of denial – I brought my carton of Marlboros, and threw it on the pile, along with my book of collected poems. I had hung onto them for so long, hoping to one day get back to writing, but they had just seemed to haunt me, like ghosts, and I had grown weary of that haunting – I just needed to let them go. It worked, on both accounts. I never smoked again, save two unfinished cigarettes a month later that convinced me I no longer needed them. I gave up the ghosts of my past writing, and they never haunted me again, until 25 years later, when some of the old poems just floated back into my consciousness. As they did, I began to wonder about that old book of poetry. I wondered if they took all that stuff we brought in and just threw it away, or if they stored it all somewhere, recycled it, gave it away to charity – I just wondered about that book.
  • Within a couple of weeks of those thoughts, didn’t that damn book show up in the mail, with a note from John – “Peter – there is much good stuff in here and it should be reread, rethought, and shared. God’s richest blessings, and thanks for the gift of yourself – John”.

    It was in the subsequent workshop, “More”, that I reconnected with my inner “dancer”. “More” followed the same format as Abundance, 6 days of workshops, only the Saturday portion was even more intense. In Abundance, Saturday was reall yspecial in that we learned how to have a “closer walk with God”. That is a practice that I have followed ever since that workshop. In More, we had to do some crazy scavenger hunts all over center city Philadelphia and South Philly, and then that night, we each were given assignments, ridiculous-seeming things that we had to go down to the bustling South Street on a Saturday night to complete. My assignment was to spend the evening going up to complete strangers along the busy thorofare, asking for a moment of their time, then launching into the singing of, and dancing to, the song, “Mr. Bojangles”. To this day, that song has a very special meaning to me, and it taught me that, no matter what anyone else thinks of me, dancing is my way of expressing my profound joy of life, and it is one thing that I can just completely give myself over to, and lose myself in.

    Needless to say, after these two workshops, our lives began to change, dramatically. Today, 20 + years later, we still apply lessons learned from these life-changing events, and they still work for us, and continue to change our lives. When Kathy got laid off, unexpectedly, three months ago – what could have been a devestaing life event - I told her that night that it would wind up being the best thing that ever happened to her. Her job, which she loved what she did, had become a very toxic environment for her. I became willing to give it all up, if that’s what had to happen - retire, sell it all off, and move to South Carolina, live simply – and we both took a good look at what we had in our lives, and went back to intentions and denials.

    We had too much debt, at that point, so we eliminated it – took the steps we needed to take to deny that from our lives. Kathy began looking for the perfect job, in earnest. She set intentions, wrote them down. I mentioned to a girl at work, Sonya, that I was confident that she was going to find her perfect place, and she just looked at me, smiled shyly and said, “She already has, Pete.”

    Little did we know then that, she actually had. It just took a few months to realize it. In all, she sent her resume out to 87 different places over those 3 months. But, the very first job ad that she responded to, and the second place she sent her resume out to, is where she wound up getting a job. Sonya was right – at that point, she already had found her right place. It just took them a few months to get around to hiring her – a few months that gave her time to decompress from the stress of the last job, and be fully ready to move into her new position, which appears to be a perfect fit, for both her and her new employer.

    These things just seem to become the norm, when you live a life of intention. Sometimes we forget, and get away from the knowing that we create what we want, and don’t want, in our lives. But, it always seems to come around to remembering what works, and what doesn’t. Intentional living works for us.

    (Note: While I was writing this, I went to look for the story I eventually sprouted this from, “Thanks, but Keep the Smokes”, to lift the quote from John in his note to me, when he sent the book of poetry back after 25 years. I wrote that story in April of 2012, when I was new to Cowbird. Annie K. had just Retold the story, while I was writing this piece. While they absolutely delight me each time they happen, these things no longer surprise me. Thanks for the Retell, Annie!)
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