Mystery

Coming home the other day, I discovered what looked to me like a pile of sticks on our cottage front door, about eye level, not moving.  Hmmm…  I walked closer, quietly, and discovered to my deep and abiding surprise a praying mantis!  I know that nature talks to us just like the Shimmering in the written word, so after supper, I pulled open my animal discernment books.  What is the message?

The power of stillness.  Meditation. Chi Kung, using life force energy to strengthen and heal, directing it through the body’s organs and systems, empowering.  

One new friend here at Rose Villa heard about this, and sent me a link for more divination:

Praying Mantis animal spirit will often appear when calmness and contemplation are needed, not to sit still, but to reach a conclusion to a situation so decisive action may proceed. Even though Mantis is the symbol of meditation and contemplation she is also the symbol of action and decision-making.”

Praying Mantis animal spirit is often seen when major internal and external life changes are taking place.

Meaning of praying mantis on front door: “Praying Mantis at the front door of your home is a strong spiritual message, asking you to look within and approach your inner feelings for contemplation. Soon you will be asked to do something you are not comfortable with. Bringing about the need to change in this area, to give yourself a better life, by doing so you will expand and grow your higher consciousness.”

So, that’s quite a set of messages, all of which are pertinent and relevant.  Amazing.  Mouth open type amazing.

A few weeks ago I learned some new things about my cancer:

  1. “Nothing has changed since your diagnosis in February of 2015. No CT scan followup needed for a year, instead of 6 months.”  From my oncologist. Who reminded me, as always, that kidney cancer is slow growing, not to expect much.
  2. I am no longer eligible for hospice, whether I want them or not.  No one will state that I only have 6 months to live.  This shifted just a month ago.
  3. Two of the five lesions in my lungs have disappeared.  To me, that’s change, but hey, I am not an MD.  (Thank you Dr. Tenzin, I attribute this HUGE change to you and your magic Tibetan bowls on my chest! Hope to do some more.)
  4. No one is worried about my fatigue, as it’s not considered life threatening.  I do.  Hence the praying mantis, as my question has been: Now what?  Can I live like this much longer? How?
  5. I am no longer thinking of myself as living with a terminal diagnosis, but rather living with a chronic illness, at least until or if it shifts back.  No pain, just prone to sudden collapse  with extreme weakness, so I can’t plan, and need to rely on other people for nearly everything now.  A new realm, but it feels the same.
  6. I need help learning how to live with this, long term.  Help!

And then, an old friend of mine contacted me a few days ago, out of Facebook land.  She is an  acupuncturist, teaches medical chi gung, is a practicing Buddhist, and was a hospice nurse at one time.  Much to my everlasting astonishment and gratitude, she is coming next week and we’ll figure out a chi gung practice for me to blend in with the practices that I am already doing.  I am open to whatever she might want to share.

Another dear friend is excited to provide soul collage here at Rose Villa; all I have to do is set it up.  That is a wonderful discernment process and has helped me for years and years.

Eric and I are planning a short vacation up on Mt. Hood towards the end of the month; a time away with great sweetness.  I need to be in wilderness where I can think clearly.

Help is on the way!  (Wasn’t that John Kerry’s campaign slogan?  How did he get in here? Egads. )

May all of you find a way into your own next breath, your own path to joy. We stand with each other, we do.

 

 

 

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Calling in More Support

Tuesday I met with my oncologist who revealed that my recent CT scan shows no change from 6 months ago. Actually, no change from 1 1/2 years ago, when I was first diagnosed. She agreed that I could go another year before the next CT scan, and warned me that kidney cancer is slow growing, something that she always does. In other words, don’t get your hopes up, you are fucking going to die of this thing, and don’t you forget it. Not quite that bad, but that is her essential message. She’s a nice woman and means well. She is limited in her imagination. That happens to some doctors, I’ve found.

Today I decided to enroll in hospice. Hang in there with me. No one, including me, (except maybe my oncologist, come to think of it) thinks that I will be dead in 6 months. However, I need more medical support. Hospice will send a nurse out to my cottage every two weeks, and I can talk about how the cancer is affecting my life, and get access to their extensive experience and resources. Medicare provides this for as long as I want it, given my diagnosis. So even if I live another 5-6 years, I can still be enrolled and not kicked out, as long as I am “not gaming the system”.

Eric really cannot do this for me; we neither know what the hell is going on at this point, or what to do about any of it. And my oncologist can only do surgery, chemo and radiation: the only 3 tools in her tool box. I can’t do any of that, for various reasons, and she agrees with me. So, this is my solution for now.

I am so tired it’s shocking and that hasn’t changed much. This is not the tiredness of being old, or run down. It’s very hard to describe. On some levels, I feel like I’m actually getting better, but the fatigue never shifts. It is crushing me slowly.

When dying is on the table, there is suddenly work to be done. Wills updated, various forms to fill out, powers of attorney and so on. I want to choose a cemetery with Eric, which naturally he doesn’t want to do. I look forward and have no idea how much time I have left. He looks forward and assumes I will be around for at least 5 years. Maybe, but maybe not. So the work is on multiple levels, and seems endless and overwhelming and I am desperate for help.

So, I’m going to try Hospice and see how it goes. They are open to alternative medicine, and support that, work with it all the time. This feels like a huge relief to me, even though it’s also disconcerting, a little scary. Reality check.

Am I still aware of the shimmering grace thing? Yes, I am. Am I grateful every day for small joys? You bet. Do I love all of you? Yes, I do. But I need some help in the medical realm. Even if it’s just for a few months until things even out again.

So, here goes.

PS: Remember “no change” report? I ordered the details from the CT scan, and one whole lesion (out of 5)in my lungs has disappeared. As did the cancer in the lymph nodes 6 months ago. Note to other cancer patients: try to always ask for the detailed reports. This is incredible news, and my doctor didn’t even mention it. I attribute this change in my lungs to the tremendous skill of my Tibetan doctor, Dr. Tenzin. And the Medicine Buddha and Green Tara, and all the prayers coming my way.

Grace, take 2.

The Shimmering Grace thing seems to be still working. I ordered a book quite awhile ago with nothing but the tittle to go on: The Power of Grace: Recognizing Unexpected Gifts on our Path.  (By David Richo)  Just shimmered at me while I was ordering another book on the Shambhala website.  It has been quietly living on our coffee table for months.

Meanwhile, I decided to have cataract surgery as a vote for even having a future in which to see anything, shimmering or not.  And now my next CT scan is on the immediate horizon, this Friday.  We’ll know next Tuesday what’s what.  The surgery went well a week ago but was stressful for a number of reasons, none of it too extreme. Nothing miraculous yet, but after my second eye is done, I am told I may be able to read without glasses.  We’ll see.  I haven’t been able to read without glasses since the 4th grade, so that would be fun.

My life is extremely limited now.  I have about 4 hours of energy a day.  Mostly I do laundry, make the bed, clean up the kitchen, water the gardens, comb out more loose fur from Tara’s heavy coat, walk to the village to pick up our mail, and I’m done – down for a 3 hour nap.  Talking on the phone is okay if it’s only one or two people, but in person visits wear me out after about one hour or so.  Usually in the evening I have another 2 hours or so of energy left.  Meeting with any groups over 4 people are a challenge.  Fun, and I love it, but still, a challenge energetically speaking.  So, living in a life the size of a postage stamp!  It’s still all good because it is, well, living.

So many people want to visit me now, it’s both daunting and also amazing to me.  I have no idea how to triage this, and often I actually just forget who wants to see me.  I need a list!  I can only realistically visit with one or two people a week, or less.  For people coming from out of town, we make room somehow.  Some of these journeys are perilous in nature so we honor them as best we can, floored by so much love.

What I’ve noticed is that people who do visit tell me, with some degree of surprise I guess, that I “look so well”.   Even the Tibetan doctor Dr. Nida said that my life force pulse is strong.  Good to hear.  More on that encounter another time.

My new, internally guided map making ground to a halt, though. I stopped the intense efforting I was doing, that was so successful, and then shut down, started eating chocolate chip cookies and reading novels.  And yes, resting deeply.

And that’s where the book, The Power of Grace, comes in.  I picked it up, finally.

Here’s the quote that caught my attention:  “Too much reliance on effort is one danger (a whole section on that, much to my surprise.  This book is exactly addressing where I am right now.)  but another is too little trust in the need for it.  Grace loses its meaning when it does not stir and spur us.  We then believe we lead a charmed life instead of being required to lead a responsible life.  When grace and effort work in an integrated way, we see that grace is a cue to us to exert ourselves.  We can be so pleased with grace, however, that we become overconfident.  We imagine that grace will keep coming our way with no follow-up needed on our part.  This is quietism. ”

Which is the opposite of activism, excess focus on effort.  Some have an idea that their effort will result in merit, which this author discounts pretty easily, both historically and throughout various spiritual paths.  Grace is pure gift, it’s not a reward for effort.  You don’t earn it.

The way out of this is to cultivate universal love, beyond merit or demerit, beyond too much effort or too little effort –  give myself utterly to loving -kindness, and let my heart lead the way, one step at a time.

Well, okay then.  I wish I would remember this, and not keep forgetting.  But I do.

About the upcoming CT scan?  I am completely freaked out.  Last time, in February, I went from a Stage IV to a Stage III.  This time?  Who knows.  I have some reason to believe that it will not be good news.  And also some reason to believe that it might be a fucking miracle.  I don’t think there’s much room for it being both/and but again, who knows.

Sending all of you oodles of love, and deep respect for your journeys, whatever they are.  Stay well.  Follow your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burn the maps

No maps for the realm I live in now.  I no longer know if I am living or dying, there is literally no way to tell.  I feel better in the past few days, and even went swimming a day or so ago with a new friend who is fearless, and also has a Stage IV cancer.  We celebrated our day of feeling well!  Two old gals having a great time!

But I remember all too well my recent “episode” as my primary doctor called my collapse a month ago. And the sense of my death there, waiting.  One new possibility to explain it: maybe I had a TIA, or small stroke.  No way to know, but it does kind of fit.  Bizarrely, this actually sounds like good news.  Maybe it’s not the cancer, coming back with a vengeance.  But I really don’t know.

This evening I walked over to the Rose Villa prayer group and while there, not my intention in going, I asked for help in discerning how to proceed in my life.  Showered with prayers!  I’ve never been a good praying out loud type person.  We didn’t pray in my childhood, no one I knew did that.  As an adult, I have all sorts of practices that I use in a skillful and reverent way, but praying out loud isn’t one of them.  It’s a great comfort to hear, and my heart is full of gratitude. An easing up of the feeling that I’m in this all by myself.

Here’s the thing:  how do I proceed in a sustainable way?  Without too much efforting, but with enough that I do get stronger over time.  Without being so careful that I no longer know my actual boundaries, but without stepping into another episode, either.

There are no maps here, no one to look to for advice, no tried and true resource.  No one knows.  What’s interesting is the shimmering, the shimmering grace I named this blog for.  That shimmering is saying “you need to turn inwards and seek your own deepest wisdom.”  That keeps coming up over and over again, in a wide variety of ways.

In Buddhism, guru yoga is a practice I’ve tried off and on for decades.  In it, you imagine the Buddha, or Green Tara, or Jesus or Mary, or whatever form of the Holy that inspires you – in front of you.  From their head a white light flows into your head, filling it with white light.  A ruby red light flows from their throat to your throat, filling your words with their wisdom.  Lapis Lazuli blue flows from their heart to fill your heart with their compassion and loving kindness.  And then you rest in this direct connection.  Not as easy as it sounds, but powerful.

Now I have been introduced to a variation of this practice by Christiana, my Tibetan healer here in Portland.  For this variation, I visualize Green Tara (for me, because I have a devotion to her) inside my heart, inside my own body.  Her white light fills my head, her ruby red throat energy fills my throat, and so on.  It’s a little more complex than this, but you get the idea.  Filled with her green light in my heart, I rest with that and at some point, I will ask for guidance and direction, from within my own soul.  It’s promising. And not easy to do.

One easy answer is to simply live in the Now, without any map into the future at all.  Yes, but that really doesn’t answer my dilemma of how to get stronger in a sustainable way.  One of the loudest voices from my family is to override all pain and all obstacles with a force of will.  Just do it.  That mantra.  I did that, and went from a IV to a III.  It worked, I was successful against all odds. However, I also discovered that in so doing, I was draining the energy pool underneath my whole being, the Jing energy, faster than I was replenishing it, if that is even possible at this point.  Some practitioners of Chinese medicine say that Kidney chi cannot be replaced.  When you run out, you die.  Others say that it can be replenished slowly and with great care.  That is what I want to do, or try to do, now.  But who the fuck really knows if it’s possible.   No one really knows.

So, more alternative docs on the horizon as I check out a few, slowly.  I shall see Dr. Nida who is a master Tibetan doctor coming to Portland in a few weeks.  Restorative yoga seems right to me now.  Laying outside on the grass in the sun, check.  Practicing a little chi gung, check.  Eating with mindfulness, a nourishing diet, check.  Walking around the Rose Villa campus when I can, yes.  Meditation, check.  Adrenal support capsules, okay.

A fragment of a new map is forming, one little piece at a time.  I can do this!

Thank you and blessings to all of you who offer me support in such a tapestry of ways, weaving a blanket of love to catch me when I fall.  May you know a deep and abiding wellness, the joy that lies beyond all suffering,  throughout your days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medicine Buddha Improv

Sitting in meditation today with some folks from Rose Villa, I went around my sunstone mala saying to myself the Medicine Buddha mantra on each bead, slowly, still finding my way in the Tibetan language, tasting the lilt of it, the rhythm of it.

When, much to my surprise, I decided to say the mantra for not only myself, but for my niece who is struggling with her cancer again, and then with another bead, another person, sending the Medicine Buddha energy off to them through my heart chakra.

Then, totally to my surprise, I decided to say the mantra for all the beings I love who have died, sending the energy off to them each, one bead per person, one mantra per person, or in a few cases, per dog and cat.

In Die Wise, the book I’m reading by Stephen Jenkinson about  death in the Western Hemisphere, he spends some time talking about the care of our dead, how we don’t have to “lose” them (i.e., “I lost my friend last week…” ) but rather we can continue to care for them after death.  It’s complicated, I’ll post about that later.

So that idea has been percolating along in the back of my mind, and lo! Here comes a new practice, to say the Medicine Buddha mantra for each one of my dead.  My dead.  What a concept.  It brings me to my knees.  Quite literally.

And here’s the thing that caught my attention.  Instead of each mantra for each bead feeling the same internally for each person, each one felt completely different!  The pace was different, the inflection, my memory of the Mantra itself more or less fragile or intact, my ability to focus, my ability to collect and then send the energy through the membrane into the other realm.  And my sense of whether or not that energy was received.

No cannabis involved here, by the way.  I stopped taking the oil for a few days while Eric was out of town, unwilling to be alone and perhaps needed while under the influence, so to speak.

While I’ve never read or heard of such a practice, it seems very powerful to me.  I sincerely hope that I have not overstepped in some way. Perhaps Dr. Tenzin or Christiana will let me know. I am grateful to them both for introducing the mantra to me in their own kind ways.

The Medicine Buddha mantra entices me.  It simply brings me a sense of joy, a fullness in my heart, a sense of plugging in to an ancient thread of enormous healing power.  So these two threads just came together today: care for my dead, our dead, and this mantra.

If you want to learn it yourself, there are multiple versions online if you just google it.

May you be well.  May you be healed.

 

 

The Medicine Buddha shows up

Well, I memorized the Medicine Buddha mantra, after a long effort.  I looked it up online, and figured out what I was actually saying, and then how to say it in Tibetan, using Dr. Tenzin’s song on my cell phone.  Thank God for my voice recording ap.

Even after all that, I’ve only been around my mala once with this mantra.  But here’s the thing: it works.  It really works.  By that I mean that at some point, about half way around the 108 beads of my mala, slogging through the memorization trip, all of a sudden I felt the mantra take on a life of its own.  It began to vibrate throughout my system, kind of like a plane about to take off, but of course very subtle, faint, just discernible to me.

The main word, Bekandze, means essentially healing energy.  It’s repeated three times, indicating the three levels of healing, from a person, to the spiritual realm, to the entire universe.  Buddhists tend to think big.  So, here comes the mantra round again, new bead, and boom!  I could actually feel the healing energy of the Medicine Buddha, coming in to me through my heart center or chakra.  Then flowing out from me into the spiritual realm, and then I pretty much disappeared or became transparent, and the healing energy flowed out into the entire universe.

Now we are talking about me, an often lazy person, a non-striver of sorts, a broken being on many, many levels, so I understand that this was a tiny thimble full of what’s actually possible by someone like the Dalai Lama, for example.  But I felt it, my inner eye could see it, and I trust it.  My experience.  And how is that healing?  Well, my whole being felt clear, because of this mantra.  No cancer cells anywhere.  No toxicity.  No fears.  Just  clear sky like nature of my mind, clearing my body.  For a split second.

The idea is to say an entire mala’s worth of this mantra every day.  I can do about 1/3 of a mala at night, laying in bed, saying it silently so as not to wake my beloveds. (I include our dog in that category.) So I am not there yet, not by a long shot.  But it’s a start.  Thought I’d report.

Christiana came to visit me today, for an interview that she wanted to do.  We talked for over three hours!  Such a patient, kind soul.  She brought me a gift of a rose quartz, which is a healing crystal for kidney disease.  I put it near my chair, and will soak it up over time. She knows a great deal about this type of medicine, and I listen and learn.

In one of my catalogs from Wisdom Publications I discovered a book entitled How to Enjoy Death: Preparing to Meet Life’s Final Challenge without Fear, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.  What a concept, huh?  Christiana knew of the author, so I will order it at some point.  Curious, frankly, about how anyone could hold such a thought, never mind write an entire book on this subject!  Reminds me of how women in the early 70s were talking about birth as an orgasmic experience.  It seems counter intuitive, but we live in a death phobic culture.

Meanwhile, I am pondering hope.  In one book I’m reading, Die Wise, the author has an entire chapter called something like “The Tyranny of Hope”, and another book that shimmered into my awareness is “Mystical Hope” by an Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeauldt.  An amazing little gem.  So what is the role of hope while living with a terminal diagnosis?  An obstacle to dying wise, or a mystical dimension of Life itself?  Or both?

Stay tuned.

Tayata Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Radza Samudgate Soha.

 

 

The Land of Murk

Things are getting murkier and murkier.

Murk one: a year ago, my oncologist urged me to have surgery to remove my left kidney as the “primary” source of Stage IV kidney cancer.  The surgeon, a week later, said “forget it, no point in doing the surgery, you’re fucked, and your oncologist will throw the book at you because all she knows is surgery, radiation and chemo and you can’t do any of that.”  Not exactly a quote, but close enough.

Murk two: Six months later, second CT scan, more murk: no change in any of the tumors in my kidneys, lymph glands, and lungs.  However, the actual detailed report says something like, “Hey guys, maybe the primary isn’t really cancer, maybe it’s a oncocytoma, (just a dense something, not cancerous) but maybe not. Maybe she has endobronchial pneumonia.”  Oh, and one kidney stone in the right kidney.

Murk three: six months still later, a few weeks ago, third CT scan, and now it’s total murk. All of a sudden the radiologist says I have Stage III left renal carcinoma. (No longer Stage IV?!  For real! Joy dance!)  Lungs are stable, still wondering about bronchopneumonia.  No kidney stone, right kidney.  (Where the hell did it go?  I didn’t pass it, I would remember something like that, believe me!) No change in kidney cancers, right or left.  No sign of malignant cancer in abdomen, which means the cancer in my lymph nodes disappeared.  Gone.  (Where the hell did they go?) More dancing and cheering and celebration in my world.

Murk four: My oncologist never told me I was now a Stage III, but did contact another radiologist who said, “Well, I see the malignant lymph nodes.  Yup.”  I have not seen a record of this opinion yet, in writing.  However, in my oncologist’s eyes,  I am back to, or am still at, Stage IV.

So I have no confirmation in writing of what Stage I am in, or on, except the Stage of Life.  There is a difference of opinion between radiologists as to whether or not there is lymph node involvement.  The surgeon we spoke to a year ago, who said I was doomed, said that there was cancer in the right kidney, for sure, “I saw it there when we tried to zap the kidney stone.”  However, he didn’t write that into a report of any kind, so we don’t really know for sure that there is cancer in the right kidney. It’s probably there, but…  On Monday I go see a new surgeon/urologist and will ask to see the CT with my own eyes, and Eric’s.  I want to see those lymph nodes myself.

If the lymph nodes are truly gone, that means that the left kidney, the primary, is not metastasizing.  I think.  All I really know is that there is a formula somewhere in the Western medical canon that says that if the lymph nodes are involved, and there is renal cancer, or cancer in the kidney, then the patient (that’s me) is Stage IV.  It’s an automatic thing, a protocol.  And they believe that the nodules in my lungs are cancer, from the kidney.  I personally think the nodules in my lungs are basalt dust, but what do I know.

A song of Clarity in all of this: I will not have the operation now.  Maybe later on, down the road.  I am looking for a new oncologist who will help me hold open the possibility that I will live through this disease, a tiny door at the end of the bell curve, who will work with my entire integrative medical team including my Tibetan doctor.

My oncologist sees me dying from this, I can see it in her eyes.  Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, I’m actually okay which ever way this goes.  But I want that door open a crack until we can all see that it has closed on its own.  Don’t shut it before we get there!

Meanwhile, I am practicing joy.  Sun, daffodils, daphne, bees, walking.  Life is good, even when it’s murky.  Joy to you all.  May the shimmer be with you.