On Sunday July 1, 2012 Rev. Tony Ponticello addressed the congregation at the Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. He had recently turned 60 years old. The birthday had been celebrated, joyously, in an abundant special service and pot-luck a few weeks earlier in June. What follows is a lightly edited transcription of this lecture.
I didn’t speak at all in June which was the month of my 60th birthday. I spoke just a little bit on my birthday Sunday celebration. I thought it would be interesting, for me, and a good thing for myself, to speak about some thoughts and reflections I have about turning 60 – what that means for me, a student of A Course In Miracles, and what it means for me, personally, Rev. Tony Ponticello. It’s still a question that I am in process with, so I assume that it will mean different things as this year goes along.
Sometimes, I hear it said now that, “60 is the new 40.” That always makes me laugh. I don’t know what that is actually supposed to mean. I guess it means that 60 isn’t as old as it used to be. I don’t know if I buy that, but I think it is a challenge, always, to stay young, optimistic, and positively focused regardless of bodily age.
We had a great event here on June 10. There’s a picture of some of us at the event on the program (and on the cover of this *Miracles Monthly*). Some of us had already left by that time. There we are. That was a very sweet event for me. I got to hear people say nice things about me. It was so great to see this room full. It was great to have an official birthday celebration like that, an acknowledgement like that. There were some people here who I hadn’t seen in a long time. That was great. Some of our ministers from years back were here. That was great.
The whole concept of time and aging also has a certain significance for me because of the lesson that falls on my birthday itself. I am an A Course In Miracles student who believes that the lesson that falls on our birthday is very significant. This is also one of the reason that I don’t like people who progress lessons on – it’s not that I don’t like those people – I don’t like the idea of progressing the lesson in a leap year when you come to February 29, because it throws your birthday lesson off, if your birthday is after February 29. When you do that, anyone born from March through December on a leap year – suddenly their birthday lesson isn’t the same lesson that it is every other year. There is a convention that was adopted about twenty years ago, for other reasons that I won’t get into. They are too boring in this context. The convention is on February 29 we would just repeat the lesson of February 28. We would not progress lessons until we actually got to March 1st. This makes March 1st lesson 60, which is what it always is every year. Birthday lessons would not get shifted. There are other reasons, and I think I am going to write something about why we should continue with this leap year lesson convention, and not progress lessons on leap year day, February 29, at a later time.
Birthday lessons are significant. My birthday lesson is certainly significant for me. There are many significant things in it. My birthday lesson is number 158, “Today I learn to give as I receive.” (OrEd.Wk.158) There is an interesting and important teaching on time in my birthday lesson. It’s a frequently quoted line. I’m sure many of you know it. “Time is a trick – a sleight of hand, a vast illusion in which figures come and go as if by magic.” (OrEd.WkBk.158.4) A Course In Miracles is teaching us to have a whole different perspective on the idea of time, on the passage of time, on the passage of our lives and the people who seem to come and go in our lives. We need to ask for a new and different perception about time.
I surely want to do that. I want to do that as time goes along. I want to do that as my body seems to age. At least my body seems to have been here longer, more revolutions around the sun. Those years seem to have become a higher number.
There is a frequent idea, of course as we age, certain things naturally happen to the body – none of which are very good. They are good up until the age of about 30, and then they start going downhill. I believe A Course In Miracles truly wants us to challenge these notions. I get that these are firmly held beliefs in the world and reinforced a lot, but ACIM has a different teaching. The Course says that these beliefs, which tell us that the body must age and somehow have to deal with negative things that it didn’t have to deal with before, are actually madness. The Course says, “Is it not madness to think of life as being born, aging, losing vitality, and dying in the end? ... This is regarded as ‘the way of nature’ not to be raised to question but to be accepted as the ‘natural’ law of life. The cyclical, the changing and unsure, the undependable and the unsteady, waxing and waning in a certain way upon a certain path – all this is taken as the Will of God. And no one asks if a benign Creator could will this.” (OrEd.Mn.27.1) We need to ask ourselves if this is really natural. If this whole aging thing was really natural, God wouldn’t be loving. The Course has said that no loving God would have created existence to be like this for His/Her creations that She/He loves. I have actively tried not to accept those beliefs. At least when I see them, encounter them, to offer them up and not to accept them.
I have a friend, a traditional person in the world. This person is steeped in those beliefs. This friend sent me a birthday card. The birthday card said on the front, “Ouch! My legs. Ouch, my arm, Ouch my back.” Then when you open it up it says, “Remember when birthdays were just a pain in the ass?” (laughter) Okay, it’s funny. I had a chuckle. But – there it is again, the belief that as we get older we are going to have bodily pain. It is just inevitable, natural. It’s exactly what the previous A Course In Miracles quotation said. This is the cyclic, changing, waxing and waning of the body, the aging, the losing of the vitality of the body. We just have to deal with these things. This is what being a body is all about. I think we have to confront that.
Now, the message I got from getting this card from my friend was that I have a friend who acknowledged my birthday. Wasn’t that terrific? There was love, friendship, and joining. The overall, loving message was the fact that I got a physical card from a friend, wasn’t lost to me. God bless people who still send real cards. Not many people still send cards. He actually sent it in the mail. It wasn’t an e-card. That was really terrific. And – I just don’t accept those aging messages. I don’t want to. A Course In Miracles says, “Are thoughts then dangerous? To bodies, yes! The thoughts that seem to kill are those which teach the thinker that he can be killed. And so he dies because of what he learned. He goes from life to death, the final proof he valued the inconstant more than constancy. Surely he thought he wanted happiness. Yet he did not desire it because it was the truth and therefore must be constant.” (OrEd.Tx.21.85) These thoughts about aging are not just neutral. They are actually dangerous. These thoughts that these things are going to happen because our bodies are getting older are dangerous thoughts. They are what, indeed, will cause those symptoms. We are being challenged in ACIM to confront that, to offer it up, to deny it, to choose something else, to ask for a different perception.
Now, at 60, I have more of this to be challenged with. That is one of my reflections on turning 60. I need to be vigilant against those types of thoughts. I can’t stop friends from sending me cards like this, or jokes that have similar messages. I get a constant stream of emails that contain similar thoughts – funny things, jokes that are supposed to be funny, about people who are aging. I’ve asked quite a few friends not to send me these things. I really don’t want them. Sometimes asking friends not to do this hurts their feelings. They think they are just trying to be friendly and to keep in contact with you. I have to weigh each of these requests I make.
What I always have to do, when I get these cards and emails, is offer them up. I must see the love behind the message. This person wanted to stay in contact, but still not accept the aging thoughts that they are using to contact me with. This it just going to happen with increasing frequency, the more times this body exists in these ever increasing revolutions around the sun. I see that.
Another reflection on turning 60 – when we were here at the June 10th celebration and people were saying all those nice, wonderful things about me, that were so great to hear, Al got up, he’s in the picture there, he talked about how he thought, many years ago, I had challenged him about his sexuality and his lifestyle. At the time, when he thought I had done that, he had the thought, “I’m a heterosexual man looking for a wife, and look who is challenging me on lifestyle issues!” I thought about what he said and thought, “Hmmm. That’s interesting. That’s sort of funny.” Most people who know me, who know me well – maybe some of you don’t – but most people know me well, and know I am a polyamorous, bisexual man. I’ve never hidden that. I talk about it. However, the truth is when Al made his statement, I realized I don’t talk about that as much as I used to. Many years ago when Al was more active with the CMC, I used to talk about that more. It is still an important part of my life. Since I used to talk about it more. I now asked myself why don’t I talk about it as much as I used to. The truthful statement is I haven’t been guided to, but another factor is when I did talk about it I got attacked a lot. I got a lot of negative criticism when I talked about being polyamorous and bisexual, and people wondered why I talked about it at all. I was frequently assigned certain motives, like I had hidden agendas about it. Do I really need to broadcast that? Actually, Rev. Larry was one of the chief persons who really didn’t like it, that I used to talk about being polyamorous. (Rev. Larry was a co-founder of the CMC and he made his transition in May of 2010.)
I guess with those feedbacks, and with my own guidance, I toned it down over the years. One of the advantages about turning 60 – one of the good things about turning 60 is, “Do I really give a *@#$&%! about what people think of me?” (laughter and applause) Honestly, I’m 60 years old! Did people think better of me because I didn’t talk about being polyamorous these past 6 or 8 years? “No! No, I don’t think so.” Attendance at Sunday Service hasn’t increased because I haven’t been talking about it. Rev. Larry used to insinuate that if I didn’t talk about my lifestyle, its issues, and projected more of a traditional morality, then we’d get more people attending Sunday Service. Well, that wasn’t true.
I’ve decided that I now have to look at all these things. The truth is being a polyamorous, bisexual person is an important part of my life, and if I feel guided in any particular moment to talk about it – I’ve never tried to hide it – I can now talk about it more freely. I understand that this isn’t the norm of society, and when you don’t share the norm of society, people somehow think you are attacking them. I don’t get why that is, but I know A Course In Miracles says that. If I don’t share their belief system, or their value system, people will believe that I am attacking their belief and value system. The Course says, “What you must understand is that when you do not share a thought system, you are weakening it. Those who believe in it therefore perceive this as an attack on them. This is because everyone identifies himself with his thought system, and every thought system centers on what you believe you are.” (OrEd.Tx.6.71)
So apparently Al, those many years ago, thought in some way that I was attacking him. I didn’t perceive that was what I was doing. I was just mentioning certain things that actually ended up being true. I think I told him that he would eventually find a wife and settle down somewhere, and we wouldn’t see him as much – which is, indeed, what did happen. I understand. When I talk about a different lifestyle choice, or the different belief system or value system I have, people who don’t have that value system will perceive that I am attacking them even though that is certainly not my intent. It is not my energetic feeling about the statements I am making.
There’s a lot of different forms of bisexuality. Some people are serially bisexual. This means that maybe they have a relationship with a woman, then that relationships ends. Then maybe they have a relationship with a man. Then that relationship ends and then maybe they have a relationship with a woman again. It’s a series of different partners with different genders. It’s serial. I am not serially bisexual. (laughter) That is not my lifestyle. I like to be concurrently bisexual. I like to have sexual, intimate relationships with men and women, both going on at the same time. That feels very sexually fulfilling to me. When that is going on, I feel that there is something right with the universe. That’s what feels right for me, so that’s what I work at. Actually, it’s just what seems to happen in my life. Given the fact that I am also polyamorous, which means that I can be loving and intimate, and sometimes sexual, with more than one person at a time – with multiple people at a particular given time – it all sort of works out. So, in my polyamory, I am not polyamorous with a number of women, or polyamorous with a number of men, at any particular given time. I’m polyamorous with women and men at the same time. I have decided that is indeed who I am. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I don’t care anymore, what people think. If I am going to put it out there, I’m going to put it out there, because why hide anything?
A lot of my relationship issues, struggles, and subsequent growth, focus on the relationships that I have, so these relationship issues are where my spiritual work is taking place. It’s hard, as a spiritual teacher, to avoid talking about them. I think I have tried to avoid talking about them over the past 6, 7, or 8 years. I’m going to challenge myself on this. This doesn’t mean that I have an agenda that I have to talk about being polyamorous a lot, but I am going to challenge myself when I have the thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t say that because it is going to offend people.” I’m going to challenge myself and ask myself, “Do I need to have this thought of being careful not to offend right now?” There might be times when it isn’t appropriate to talk about it, but a reflection on turning 60 is – I must challenge myself on avoiding discussions that would move into the area of my lifestyle.
Over the years I have used a lot of quotations to talk about why A Course In Miracles, for me, helps me feel good and helps me feel less guilt about choosing this non-traditional lifestyle. Certain thoughts in the Course have helped me. I don’t think I have ever quoted this particular one. I’m going to quote it today because it helps me feel good about myself. “The ego’s use of relationships is so fragmented that it frequently goes even further – one part of one aspect suits its purposes, while it prefers different parts of another aspect. Thus does it assemble reality to its own capricious liking, offering for your seeking a picture whose likeness does not exist. For there is nothing in Heaven or earth that it resembles, and so however much you seek for its reality, you cannot find it because it is not real.” (OrEd.Tx.15.51) This is what goes on in a lot of relationships. I like this aspect of this person. I like that aspect of that person, and I like that other aspect of that other person. If I could only just find one person who had all of these qualities in them, I would be so happy. I’d be so fulfilled. Read any personal ad. It’s the laundry list of what a person is looking for. There is nobody like what you are looking for. That is what that Course quotation just told us. There’s nobody like that. You are just setting yourself up for frustration.
One of the advantages, for me, of being polyamorous is I do that less. I do that less because I can appreciate an aspect in a particular person. I can be intimate with that person, if we both choose to be. I can have a loving relationship with that person, but I can find other aspects that I want and appreciate in a totally different person. I don’t need one person to have every single aspect be fulfilled in. I don’t get caught in that particular ego trap, as much as I would, if I wasn’t polyamorous. That is a true blessing for me. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about that particular benefit before. There are plenty of other quotations from A Course In Miracles that I use to help me feel good about having this alternative lifestyle, that isn’t the norm.
About 15 months ago, on the last day of March in 2011, I ended a long time, romantic, sexual partnership. I talked about this here when I did it. It was very difficult. I had been together with this person for eight and a half years. We had a very nice connection, and it was difficult to shift the relationship. Now, at the time, I obviously had an opening. I had spent a considerable amount of time with this person. I had an opening then. Maybe I could date. Maybe I would form a new intimate partnership. However, I was not guided to do that at the time. I think that was the right guidance for me at that time. I’m glad I followed that guidance, but there were attendant ego thoughts around that too. These ego thoughts got mixed up in the guidance. One of the ego thoughts was, “I’m older. The last time I was looking for a new relationship I was 50. Now I’m 58, and it’s different. I’m feeling different, and my life has changed.” I didn’t know how to put all these thoughts, and my new freedom, together.
A couple of months after the break up I turned 59. I was definitely getting older, dating .... “I don’t know. It’s not time to do that anymore. Maybe that is just something people do when they are younger.” I have been thinking these thoughts off and on all through out these 15 months.
Another interesting thing that has happened, and I looked it up last night, I’ve gained eighteen pounds since I broke up with that relationship – eighteen pounds in fifteen months! That’s more than a pound a month. That’s quite a bit of a weight gain. As the weight was going on over the past year I didn’t guilt myself over it. I tried not to. I had a lot of attendant ego thoughts. You get older and your metabolism changes. This must be one of those older metabolism things. A couple of months ago I had to buy all new pants because none of my pants fit anymore. Now the new ones I bought are getting kind of tight. They are not as comfortable as they were. Oh, my metabolism is changing. Has my metabolism really changed? The truth is I am eating too much, and I’m not going to the gym enough. That’s really much more the truth than changing metabolism and getting older. We try to rationalize and justify all of these things. One of the challenges that I now have, and that I am thinking about with my reflections on turning 60, is that I am not going to just accept that I am going to gain a pound, or more, every month for the rest of my life. That’s absurd. I am challenging myself to eat less, go to the gym more, and take this weight off. I’m announcing this here, publicly. I am putting some accountability behind my personal challenge. I want to do this. I do not want to be getting heavier and heavier as I get older.
I am also challenging myself that maybe it is okay to get into a new relationship. Maybe I can date. Maybe that is all right. Maybe I can establish a new friendship, and maybe I can talk about all these things while they are going on. Being polyamorous and bisexual is just who I am. If people don’t like it, well they don’t like it, but they don’t like it if I don’t talk about it either. All these limiting ideas really don’t matter. I can do what feels right to me, and I need to do those things to stay young. To challenge myself to stay young and to feel young is the same as challenging myself to lose weight and to date again. I need not associate all these limiting ideas on the beliefs of my age – being 60 and what that means.
One of the gifts I got for my birthday from Rev. Franz and his wife Marsha, was a beautiful, hand crafted, wooded jewelry box. On the box is an inscription by Emily Dickinson. It says, “We turn not older with years, but new every day.” A wonderful gift and thought to give somebody who is turning 60, to challenge them to keep every day new, to be new and young every day.
I’m trying to forget that Emily Dickinson herself died at 55, suffering in her later years with severe agoraphobia and not leaving her room for many years. It’s still a great thought. I am going to embrace it and I thank Emily Dickinson for giving that thought to me.
I am challenging myself at 60. Those are some of the thoughts that I have, now at turning 60. “No. I am not too old to have new friendships. I’m not too old to have a lifestyle that isn’t typical. No, I’m not too old to talk and feel okay about the choices I make in these regards. No, I am not too old to lose weight and get myself in better physical shape.” I can do all of these things. There is nothing that I need to hide about myself.
I have also been confronted with a current relationship that I have, where the person I am relating to is hiding a lot of things about his life from others. It is becoming more and more difficult for me to function within that hiding. It’s challenging to me that this is happening. I get it. This person is offering me a great gift of being able to look at this, and realize that I don’t like that quality, because I don’t like that in myself. I don’t like myself when I hide things. I don’t want to hide things. I don’t have to be upset with him, but I can see that it is a gift to me. It is teaching me not to hide things. This is something else that I am challenging myself with, to not hide things. That thought was in the reading for today. That idea seems so significant in relation to the reflections I am having with turning 60. A Course In Miracles says, “... it is only the hidden that can terrify, not for what it is, but for its hiddenness. The obscure is frightening because you do not understand its meaning. If you did, it would be clear, and you would be no longer in the dark. Nothing has hidden value.” (OrEd.Tx.14.16) Things that we hide do scare us, but it is not because these things are scary. They are scaring us because we are hiding them. That is why. Not hiding things is a great challenge for me to embrace at this new milestone of 60 revolutions around the sun. Here’s another quotation that relates to the same idea, “When you have become willing to hide nothing, you will not only be willing to enter into communion but will also understand peace and joy.” (OrEd.Tx.1.26) So I am hiding nothing now, from myself hopefully, from the Holy Spirit of course, and from you the congregation here at the CMC in San Francisco, and the larger congregation of ACIM students all over the world.
Yes, my body has turned 60 and there are certain challenges. Yes, I have gained more weight than I wanted to gain, and yes, I am challenging myself to lose it. Yes, I live an alternative lifestyle, and yes, I am not afraid to talk about it openly. Yes, I am challenging myself to be newly relational, and yes, I am challenging all those ideas about what it means to be 60. I feel the good thing about having existed for that many revolutions around the sun, is that I now have permission from the world to truly just be me, to be out there, to feel good about who I am regardless of the feedback I sometimes get.
Thank you for being here today and thank you for being a witness to my reflections on turning 60. (applause) ♥
c/o Community Miracles Center
2269 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
This article appeared in the July 2012 (Vol. 26 No. 5) issue of Miracles Monthly. Miracles Monthly is published by Community Miracles Center in San Francisco, CA. CMC is supported solely by people just like you who: become CMC Supporting Members, Give Donations and Purchase Books and Products through us.