Thursday, April 11, 2013

Paying Respects to Our Elders (Dedicated to Hari Lubin 1932-2013)

                                          Hari Lubin- Master of Savoring Life (1932-2013)

One very important strand in the fabric of any society is the way we experience and respond to the passing of our elders.

In traditional societies there are tried and true rites and rituals that guide people’s experience into a resolution and acceptance of the full cycle of life, death and life again.

As I’ve recently rediscovered, our modern society has its own rituals as well, some only vaguely regarded as such, but nonetheless important steps in bringing closure to a life, both in matters of the heart and practical business.

My friend and “father-in-love” Hari Edward Lubin died March 15 at age 80. Notice the new term father-in-love. Though I am married to his daughter Karin, I never felt that the bond and connection in our relationship had much to do with the law and a lot to do with love.

The practical business of dealing with the death of a loved one can be overwhelming, as anyone who has been there well knows. Especially if that person was going full tilt until the moment they were not.  The bureaucracies and businesses to deal with can amp you well up the stress index.
Fortunately for us, we had a village of friends to help with this part of the rite of passage, both in practical concerns as well as the emotional support so needed at the time of a sudden loss of this magnitude.

Being a writer in residence when we were gathered to clean out Hari’s apartment and distribute the accumulated artifacts of a long life, I offered to do my version of an obituary. As though prescient of what was to come, weeks prior I had been reading obituaries more frequently in our local newspaper. Sometimes much is revealed about a person, sometimes very little on those newsprint pages.

The following is not an obit but rather a kind of tribute. You may wonder why it’s in this blog for men, boys and the women who love them. It’s quite personal. My hope is that it will remind you of those you love and wish to honor, both living and passed on. It’s been an important part of my grieving process and I know that it helps soothe family members and friends to recount the pieces of a life they had a share in, some very large and others less so but still significant. 
And I’m sharing because we are seeing the rapid exit of a generation that wrote the script for the 20th century with some of them immortalized in biographies but most not.

Here then is one way I am paying respects to my elder.

What can I tell you about my friend Hari?

I believe we are beings, not doings, and that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Perhaps one of the best ways for me to describe Hari then is that he was a true and conscious seeker of experience. Experiences with people, nature, food, work and fun—not unlike the rest of us.

Something about Hari though is that he actively sought experiences that would deepen his awareness and understanding of himself, and what made him and others tick. He invested more of his time, energy and money in self-discovery than most members of his own generation, perhaps members of any generation I know of.

With that seeking came his pursuit of relationships of all kinds; from the women he had partnerships with, to his many friends and family members.
Over time he found many partners to work with and people to serve in one way or another. All the ways he served shared a common thread-- the removal of suffering and a return to freedom and joy for those ready to receive the help and hope Hari enthusiastically offered.

Hari loved to talk about his own and other’s learning and growing. Paradoxically (and aren’t we all paradoxical?) he could be forcefully opinionated about his view of what he considered The Truth and those who were “really screwing things up,” for both he and the world and at the same time listen to people, see where they were in their own experience. He would encourage them to follow their own path of the heart because that is what he wanted for himself.

Though a spiritual seeker, Hari was also in fact a very practical man. In several respects.
He managed his finances in such a way that he could decide what experiences he would have, then have them.

He learned to live simply as a working class guy, having forsaken the corporate ladder he’d climbed at L’Oreal Corporation in Manhattan in his 30’s after realizing the hollowness of climbing for climbing sake. A cabbie, a short order cook, a caretaker, these were vehicles or a means, not identities for Hari. Context was everything for Hari.

Did he like doing what he was doing, did he like and enjoy the people and were they treating him well and fairly, (a big bone of contention for Hari in the corporate world)? Was it good work, making what he considered a significant contribution to creating a better world?

Hari’s practicality showed up in the many ways he educated himself. Early on he attended the Wharton School of Business. In the latter half of life he could be found in countless workshops, courses and retreats that would provide him with awareness, understanding and techniques he could try out and use immediately. And he absolutely loved that! He’d eagerly try out his new awareness and techniques on those who were willing.

The late 70’s saw him cooking at the San Francisco Ecology Center’s little kitchen where people were urged to sign petitions to support constructive causes or halt destructive ones. Then moving to tiny Caspar, California he pursued organic gardening, recycling, digging pit privies, and guest hosting while living in a small cabin in the woods at the Jughandle Farm Nature and Education Center.

In that era, Hari became involved in the men’s movement in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had great fun with members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a performing group that used satire to ignite social change. He became involved with men’s groups using ritual and ceremony to drop old male role model scripts and performance standards that he strongly felt did not serve him or other men.
In Mendocino, he became involved with Men’s Alternatives to Violence, a women’s shelter-based men’s program helping men who had abused their partners to learn new ways to be respectful and loving in relationship. Hari and I first met at a workshop for multiple men’s groups advocating this work in their respective communities. We became friends soon afterward.

Hari participated in a progressive Jewish community’s ritual and ceremony following death and counseled with the local hospice as well as the Child Abuse Prevention Program. He learned mediation tools and techniques and became a certified hypnotherapist after intensive studies at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

Hari began a private practice and was immediately helping people to stop smoking though his real passion was helping people dive deeper into themselves for their own answers to life’s larger questions and issues. He learned to promote his business and was always tweaking his cards, flyers and presentations in an effort to reach more people.

Hari Lubin was a party animal. At one time a three pack a day smoker and martini drinker in his Manhattan days, he’d long since sought other sensual delights and indulgences, baking his Dad’s Apple Pie for his own and public consumption, obsessing a bit over his dear sister Corinne’s family famous coffee cake, entranced by the perfect bagel, lox and cream cheese creation.

He loved to cook, especially for others. And he loved to dance-- alone and with a partner-- moving            and shaking in his inimitable way with the crowd. He once rented the equivalent of a dance hall for his 60th birthday, an all community event on the Mendocino Coast. He was a master of relishing and savoring.

By the l990’s Hari’s spiritual quest led him to Gangaji, the wife of his former hypnotherapy teacher. Her simple straightforward teachings both challenged and made sense to Hari. He even traveled to India to be with Papaji, Gangaji’s teacher.

Hari moved to Marin County with the idea he could serve more people there. And he was right.
Eventually Hari was drawn into a leadership role with the Gangji Prison program. Gangaji not only gave Hari his new first name that means “love” but also a new vehicle for reaching men least likely to gain attention for recovery of their own mental health and sense of well being.

The words associated with the program, Change is Possible, Freedom in Prison began to represent something significant going on inside the walls and bars of San Quentin. Hari claimed a new territory before turning 70, keeping his practice on the outside while embodying these principles and practices for the veterans of wars and men with life sentences on the inside.

Hari had learned and immersed himself in Gary Craig’s Emotional Freedom Techniques or meridian “tapping” and brought that powerful tool to the prisoners suffering from post-traumatic stress. These men often regarded Hari as one of the few men they could trust and some began to open, to change, to heal and even transform their lives.

When Hari began sharing with us some of the words written by inmates about their experience in working with Hari, he was obviously glowing with a deep sense of satisfaction and a growing sense of awareness, I believe, that this was some of his most important life work, what he came here to do. With the sheer power of his presence in their lives and his proven techniques, he continued the work even after the state declared “religious” organizations could no longer have contact with prisoners. Prison program coordinators helped facilitate Hari’s ongoing contact with the men as they noticed the impact on those lives that had been restrained inwardly as much as they were now confined outwardly.

Have I mentioned the emphasis Hari placed on the importance of relationships in his life?
Hari was a family man above and beyond the conventional sense. A much loved uncle endearingly called “Unc” by his sister Corinne’s sons Brad, Jon and Peter, he also became an uncle figure for a friend’s baby girl, now grown Melissa, who is a top-rated national Ju Jitsu champion.  The three brothers had a strong emotional tie and loved talking with and being with their uncle as did Melissa in her formative years. Hari even extended himself to the wives of his nephews and was considered a trusted “big brother,” by some.
At one point there was a gathering of Hari’s sister and cousins, their husbands and their children’s families at Brad and wife Sal’s home in Rhode Island. Hari enthusiastically encouraged this to become a semi-annual event and in the years to follow all could share in the children growing up and acknowledge the elders passing on. As it was my only experience of extended family it has been a precious gift for me to experience these connections and sense of belonging.
The relationship Hari had with his daughter Karin was remarkable from the start. Often the only father showing up at parent conferences or PTA meetings, he loved being a father in every respect and was incredibly proud of his daughter. And it was not always easy with a divorce from Karin’s mom before Karin turned 10. Hari made choices to leave one stage of life behind yet never wavered in his love for his daughter. Later Karin and he would even share the same work and live together at Jughandle Farm, where they consciously went about clearing the accumulated emotional debris of those earlier years in order to achieve what I believe to have been a model adult relationship between a parent and a child.
Some of Karin’s closest friends became Hari’s. In values, spirit and temperament, he resonated with the sub-culture of my generation without disparaging his own. In our 27-year-old circle of family and friends, Hari occupied his unique role of being an elder simultaneous with that of co-equal friend. If he ever tried to “pull rank,” it was only in pure jest. Within that circle, his playfulness, earnestness, compassion and kindness will be hugely missed.
Hari loved to be “in love.” He expressed this in his relationships with women, sometimes waxing poetic about it. He understood that some feelings could be fleeting. He did what he could to fan the flames and enjoy the moment. In his last year of life he was blessed with being in relationship with Pat. They shared a similar spiritual outlook that deepened and enriched the close loving connection they developed after “recognizing” one another. Though the time seemed brief, we believe it was a very special kind of consummation of Hari’s lifelong love quest.
It’s difficult to encompass any one life in a few pages. I know I’ve certainly failed. That’s as it should be. We are so much more and so much bigger than any one person can know. And perhaps what we do share about someone is more a reflection of ourselves than a statement about them.
What I do know is that Hari Lubin’s life has sent ripples in many many directions and those ripples have touched so many in positive and wonderful ways that the gifts will continue to pop up here and there for a long time to come.
Within two days of beginning this writing I was on a phone call with a man who leads within the organization known as The Mankind Project, a 27 year old non-profit organization that is now worldwide. We were discussing a recent project designed to reach out to more men to help them discover their passions and sense of purpose.
I was still reeling from my sense of loss and had to share that my friend and father-in-love Hari Lubin had just passed away.
There was a pause on the other end of the line, then an exclamation.
Hari Lubin passed away? I know Hari. He’s a friend of mine.