21 April

Running To The Mountain. Balance And Responsibility.

by Jon Katz
Balancing Life
Balancing Life

I can’t recall precisely what caused me to run to my mountain, and then to my farm. I believed then, and believe more strongly now, in pursuing dreams and considering life. Every day I ask myself how I wish to spend the rest of my life, how eager I am not to waste my life, or live in the fears and expectations of others. I understand now that I was running away from things as well as towards them, yet our self-awareness is bounded sometimes by our own narrow visions of ourselves. I set out to learn more and this particular journey has brought me closer to an understanding of my life.

As I have aged, of course, and experienced great and powerful things, I am learning, and  I have moved towards a balanced view of life. Understanding what I can and cannot have, worked to be authentic and also more responsible. For me, living responsibly has changed my view of money, love and choice. It has not altered my determination to free the inner spirits that are sometimes trapped within us. I will no longer lead a loveless life, or diminish my expectations for it in response to the fear, greed and submission to corporatism and new technology. I look for balance in all of these things.

Responsibility for me has involved balance with money. I buy what I can afford.  Nothing is free. I do not ask other people to live my life or to pay for it. It has taught me that my life is not an argument, but a choice.  This has involved drama, it is not in my world, and the people who feed off it are not in my world either. It involves animals, not exploiting them, emotionalizing them or using them as a shield or hiding place or substitute for human contact and community. It involves aging, and balancing growing older with the denigration of aging by the health care system and a world that has no respect for death. It involves love, and the rejection of society’s view of aging only through the prism of entitlement,  diminishment and health.

I have learned that we all struggle, and I am leaving behind the struggle stories and laments that are the currency of our times. We all suffer, we all despair. My troubles are no worse than yours, and I do not need to burden you with them, or wallow on them, nor trade them for yours. Every day, the world creates new victims, new love, new opportunity for life. That is the nature of our lives. We live where we choose to live.

I am forming my own ideas of health and health care and they are serving me well.

I have pursued a spiritual life as long as I can remember, from the day I wandered into a Quaker Meeting House when I was 14. I am getting there.  Thomas Merton was correct when he wrote that one cannot live a meaningful life without faith of some sort. My spiritual practice has helped put to rest decades of panic and anger, depression and resentment, although all of these will be elements in my life, I suspect to the end. My spiritual work  has calmed me, grounded me, opened my mind to peace and joyous reflection. To love, too, I think. I am grateful I pursued a spiritual life as much as a loving relationship.

I am learning to respect death, to accept it, prepare for it in a world where it is denied, despised and hidden away. It is life’s partner, for me, for the people I know, for the animals I love. My hospice work has taught me so much about it.

Much of this involves being a man, and what that means. A desire for change and a more meaningful life is not a mid-life crisis, but an awakening It involves help, asking for it and listening to it. Real men listen to women and learn from them.  A real man is a loving and supportive man, generous and wise. He helps where he can, when he is asked.  And he is an open man. Therapists, analysts, doctors, pastors, rabbis,  spiritual counselors, shamans and hypno-therapists have been telling me things I do not wish to hear for years now, but I have listened, and am listening, and will continue to listen. My wife Maria has become a great teacher for me, she is showing me how to open up and love. It is hard, challenging. It is wonderful.

All of my spiritual teachers have helped me, each in their own way, as has my deepening community on the Internet. I am moving forward into another year of change, hope, crisis and mystery. Working on my first podcast, preparing my new e-books, changing my notions of what a writer is.

I dedicate myself to the next chapter, seeking meaning, and living a life of balance and responsibility.


30 August

Running To The Mountain. The importance of distance

by Jon Katz
Running To The Mountain

The cabin we hiked to is several miles into the deep woods. I has no electricity, no lights or running water. My feet told me I have grown a bit older since I hiked in Merck several times a week when I had the cabin in Cambridge from which I wrote “Running To The Mountain.” This impulse is still in me, but so much has changed, in my life, in the world. I have a full and busy life and I don’t much care to run away from Maria or the farm or my life and work there.

Still, it was so wonderful to sit in the quiet. No computer, cell phone, no Ipad, but I had to bring my camera, had to record it. Tomorrow I hope to meditate for hours there, and think about where I want to go the rest of my life. Or if I want to go anywhere.

My very restless soul understands that crisis and mystery are just around the corner, always. But also love, peace, happiness. Create, create, create, is what the voice inside of me says every morning. Until you can’t create anymore.

8 November

Running to the Mountain, cont. The rest of my life, a spiritual journal

by Jon Katz
Ice drop, ice storm

In the rain, Maria and I took a walk, out into the woods, and I saw raindrops freezing in front of me, and catching the light reflecting off the leaves and the trees. A spiritual moment, it gave me a shiver.

More than a decade ago, I bought a cabin in Jackson, N.Y., and spent a year there with my dogs Julius and Stanley and wrote a book about the experience called “Running To The Mountain.” The late Trappist Monk was my spiritual guide. In many ways he still is. Merton never quite found what he was looking for, and never stopped looking.

I was alone in the cabin for most of the time, reading Merton’s journals and walking the dogs in the woods. I have been journaling ever since. My time with Julius and Stanley led me to begin writing about dogs, and about my search for a spiritual life, two themes that have been woven through my writing.

I am still looking. This year, I’ve taken thousands of photos, written two adult books, one children’s book, journaled almost every day in the blog, gotten married. When I bought the cabin on Kenyon Hill, I could not have imagined how much my life would change. I lost my mind, broke down, lost perspective, fell apart, gave birth to myself again in so many ways. I was led to writing about nature and our complex relationship with animals. I got divorced. I bought Bedlam Farm. I lost myself in the experience, getting cows, goats, chickens, four donkeys, dogs. Dogs came, dogs went. It was wonderful. It was awful. I never stopped seeking a spiritual life, a center, a grounding. Along the way, I got Rise, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda. I made and lost friends. I found guides, healers, prophets and mystics. I came slowly and painfully back to my life.

In many ways, I lost much of my life, and am coming to it now.

My life is settling. I have written books through 2011, and am negotiating to write some more. I have established myself in fiction as well as non-fiction. My photographic notecards are selling all over the country, photography now woven into my life. I became an artist. I had given up on love, and am now awash in it. I put the farm on the market, then took it off.

My friend Mary Kellogg said Maria would be good for me. “She will keep you in line, settle you down.” My friend Mary is wise.

So I am  taking some weeks off – roughly from now until the end of December. And I am resuming the spiritual search I began so intensely on the mountain. I am running to the mountain again, only now I don’t have to go anywhere, don’t have to leave my family. They are here. I am re-structuring my days for the next weeks to include meditation, to strike a new balance with technology, to manage the input of information from the outside world, to think about creativity, words and images,  consider the rest of my life and where I want it to, just as I did a decade ago. I hope I am more accurate than last time.

I’ve always believed that you have to step out of your life sometimes to see it, and that is what I will do. I won’t write a book about it this time, but I will journal here, on bedlamfarm.com, my living memoir. And I’m starting now, at 5 p.m., turning off the cell phone, the computer, putting away the Ipad. I will sit for an hour or so, center myself. I will be reading Walden. Perhaps Thoreau will be my guide.

I’ll be writing about this every day, and sharing what I am thinking, reading,  seeing, feeling and learning in the hopes it may encouraged or reflect not only my own search for spirituality, but that of others, a precious thing these days, one almost in danger of getting drowned out by all of the noise. Some hours a week, I will be in silence, other than shouting at my dogs to stay off the road. I’m excited.

As it always does, writing on the blog will give me a structure, a focus for this search. And this time, I am not alone.

9 November

Running To The Mountain

by Jon Katz

  About a decade ago, I left my life in urban America – where I was helping raise a daughter, and writing non-fiction and media criticism – and bought a cabin near Cambridge, N.Y. I was supposed to be writing a book about technology, but instead wrote about my rebirth at mid-life, a book called “Running To The Mountain.” The book was an account of a personal breakout, external and internal, the search for a meaningful and spiritual life. It changed a lot of lives, I was to learn, especially mine. On every book tour, I meet a number of people who say it changed theirs as well.
 I did not imagine when I bought that cabin, about 10 miles from where I now live, just how much change I was opening the door too. Everything changes. How I lived. Where I lived. Who I lived with. What I wrote, and some years later, the seeds of that experience – photography, Maria, fiction – were still growing.
  The experience led to enormous growth, and staggering pain. A nervous breakdown of sorts, a re-examination of life, the search for love and help, the purchase of Bedlam Farm, a successful series of books written there, a life with animals. That process is still very much underway. I am still searching for a lot of things, and I have found some of them and not others. I doubt the process will ever end. I don’t really want it to. Buying that cabin was the best thing I did, and the worst.
 So was buying the farm. Both metaphors for life, and the duality between stasis and change, loss and gain, pain and growth. I know unimaginable joy, and have experienced great sorrow and loss.
  I am  richer, wiser, growing still, changing always. When I ran to the mountain, I had no idea, really, how extraordinary a trip I was understaking. It’s a process, a good friend always says. And I’m in it.

13 June

Running To the Mountain. The Cabin

by Jon Katz

My cabin in Jackson, N.Y, where I came to the country and wrote “Running To The Mountain,” the beginning of my journey into life.

June 13, 2009 — Gabriel Garcia Marquez is my favorite writer, and my favorite piece of his writing is his observation that a man can allow himself to be swayed by the conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.
  I believe this, very strongly. It is perhaps my most deeply held conviction. People who don’t see this suffer greatly with change and people who do understand the notion of adaptation.
   Today, I took Maria to Jackson, N.Y. to see the cabin where I wrote “Running To The Mountain,” and where my life began to change, in both awful and wonderful ways.
  Life has obliged me to give birth to myself, over and over again and nowhere is this more evident and emotional than on this hill, in the cabin now owned and much changed by a couple from New Jersey, who bought it because they read the book and came here looking for much the same thing I did. Mid-way through looking at my cabin, which was for sale, they realized it was the one I had written about, and they bought it. It was a rattling experience to go there with Maria and think of all that has happened to me and my life since I bought that then ramshackle little cottage, begin fixing it up, and had the strongest spiritual experience of my life.
  I was most often alone there, but never lonely. I read, walked, wrote and began the arduous and disturbing process of getting to know myself and the truth of my life. I fell into some dark places after I left the cabin, and some glorious ones as well, the nature of life.
 The cabin has changed. It is hardly recognizable, as is much of my life, but I still love the place, its sense of quiet isolation, it’s wondrous view.
  And the simplicity of being there, mostly with my two Labs, Julius and Stanley, who began my writing about dogs and animals, and thus led me to my farm.
  Standing there, on the mountain, walking through the house and the addition, I thought of friends made and lost, of a life changed forever, of pain and sorrow and joy and love. Of the threads of live that we weave and weave and weave. And here I am, some books and years later,  obliged once more to give birth to myself, today, tomorrow and forever.
  I’m not good at crying but I was close to it there. I am grateful to that cabin, and for the way in which it opened up my life.

Bedlam Farm