Pockets of rage and the love of Cat

Recently, I’ve discovered that I have little pockets of rage here and there, and I stumble upon them unexpectedly from time to time.  Generally, I am a pretty peaceful soul, non-violent and practicing awareness.  But then I suddenly find myself raising my voice, and the level of emotion is shocking to me, and probably to others.  I’m enraged!

Gentrification is one trigger.  I hate to see the homeless, the income disparity, and suffering that is coming with all of this, even though as a white middle class woman, gentrification does not affect me directly.  But indirectly, I see it everywhere, looking so innocent.  O look, a nice new park.  O look, a lovely new set of apartments.  O look, a whole section of Portland that used to be poor is now a vibrant section with all sorts of amenities, stores, places for food and concerts and art.  Isn’t this great?

And people who lived there for generations can no longer afford to live there.  Where do they go?  Often, onto the streets.  Or further away from the services and community that they need and depend upon. That they cannot afford.  So yeah, gentrification sucks, big time, in my mind.  And my rage just rears up and explodes.  I see gentrification as a symptom of our economic cruelty, slipping into place with very little push back.  An invisible attack that looks so nice, so good.

Because I am ill, I have very little energy available.  Rage takes a large chunk.  So I am trying to identify the triggers to these pockets and bring the power of mindfulness to bear, for self protection.    Trump of course is one, but I have stepped back from all that.  All the destruction of our country, the treason, the betrayals, drowning democracy itself…  all the killings… of course I feel it all.  We all do.  How could you not?  I refuse to let him kill me, however.

What I have found, recently, is to counteract that rage with the power of love.  I know, I know, that sounds useless, considering the situation we are all in now.  But it works.  I think love is up to the task.  Maybe just one person at a time, one village, one town.

Remember Cat Stevens, the pop star?  From the 70s?  He walked away from his music about 30 years ago, quite literally.  Just walked off stage one day.  Sold his instruments.  He is back now, singing his heart out as a 70 year old man with 5 kids, a whole passel of grandchildren, living in Dubai, his heart still overflowing with love itself.  I have immersed myself in his music via YouTube, and for the past 5 days I have not felt any of the godawful fatigue that I live with.  I feel happy, enlivened, joyful.  Replenished.  He is not naive, he sees the horrors, and he still opens his heart wide and lets the light shine through him.  I want to do that, too.  He builds schools around the world, provides relief services, steps up.  He is living in harmony with the universe, doing his best.

I believe that his soul, his music, might actually be healing me.  It’s the joy.  And the love.

Sort of odd to find myself falling in love again.  Yeah, he is a muslim, but I don’t care about that.  I am responding to the love light.  Thank you, Yusuf Islam Cat Stevens.   God bless and keep you.

And thank God for those little ear buds, so I can crank up the sound!

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Teetering on the Edge

As a person living with a terminal diagnosis of cancer, I often lose my balance when something goes wrong in my body.  Because maybe it is the cancer making itself known in new and unexpected ways, and how do I know?  That question comes up over and over again.   Before cancer, it didn’t occur to me that I might be in real trouble.

Today in my Zen Buddhist Sangha here at Rose Villa, we talked about not knowing, having an open mind, beginner’s mind.  It helps us to stay soft and receptive.  But I have to say, I do not like to not know what is going on now in my body.  I do not like it one bit.  I have an active aversion to this.  I want to know.  Once I know, I’m good with it.

A few days ago, I found myself covered in a very itchy rash, mostly on my arms and legs, but also around my neck and back.  My skin is tight and swollen and the rash reminds me of when I was a little kid and got poison ivy to the point of going to the hospital.  It’s not that bad, actually, but holds that memory for me.  I’m up at 3 AM writing this, because the itching is driving me crazy.

I called an advice nurse last night who was fantastic, really listened to me, and then told me, among other things, that when someone’s kidney function goes haywire, people can get a rash all over their bodies before death occurs, and that can happen quickly.  Terrific.  Back to the edge.  I didn’t know this rash piece, and now I do.  Previews of coming attractions.  Is this it, my time is up?

Today I got a blood test and just read the lab report online that indicates that my kidney function is doing fine, so the rash is about something else.  Yippee!  I shall see a dermatologist shortly, to see what might be causing this, and what might treat it.  I was only teetering on this particular edge for about two days.  A memorable two days, looking into the abyss.

We learned some more about my blessed kidneys, and other forms of suffering yet to come.  Another scare released.  Seems to me that I get to die in slow motion, which is both pretty darn wonderful, a great teaching, and not exactly fun.

Meanwhile, a report from the strategic wisdom front:  I have put together the beginning of a draft of my obituary, with Holly’s immense help.  We are planning to print out my blog and make little booklets for people who might like to have a copy.  I don’t seem to be having a temper tantrum for now, always a good sign.

Over all, I am doing well, just itching, but not dying anytime soon.  Whew!

 

A Little Story of Two Boxes

When I was a very little girl, around 4 years old, we lived in a place called Fort Washington, outside of Washington DC in Maryland.  I have no idea why we were there, I was too little.  A parade ground arced around the front of our house, one of several Officers’ Quarters, with a large screened- in front porch.  A Civil War Fort?  Not sure, but old.

On my first day of school, probably Kindergarden or Nursery School, I received a small box all my own: papers, scissors, tape, crayons, a single hole punch that I have to this day, pencils, and I don’t remember the rest.  Heaven!  My love affair with office supplies and offices in general bloomed that day!  I wish every single child in America could receive such a bounty! Great way to start my life as a small being.

Fast forward about 70 years, and once again, I have a small box in my life, only this time it’s full of files, getting ready for my death.  Wills, Life Insurance, Vigil Plan, Memorial ideas, obituary draft, cemetery details, a list of my little treasures and who shall receive them as gift after I die, and so on.  My death box!  I am inordinately proud of this little box, a result of both my own work and the help that I have been getting from Holly, who knows about this stuff.  I thank god for her daily.

Meanwhile, in a little basket, I have been putting stickies with names of people who have harmed me in various ways, and names of people or animals whom I have harmed, one way or another.  Events that wake me up at night, in a long time rage or grief, as they keep washing over me.  By writing them down on a sticky, and putting them into my basket, I no longer have to hold them, and at some point Holly and I and perhaps Eric will burn them all in a ritual of release and healing.  So far, this seems to be helping.  Part of my strategic wisdom efforts, that does seem to be spreading out into my life, one barely noticeable step at a time.

And finally, my life does seem to be coming full circle in amazing ways.  Not only the little boxes, but I am now in contact with friends from elementary school in DC whom I have wondered about all my life.  Now I know some of their stories and hope to hear more.  I have heard their voices on my phone, and seen photos of themselves and their families.  What a gift to me.  One dear friend is dead now, but others are alive and thriving.  It feels complete somehow: Delight, Diane, Patty, Jane, Nancy, Carol, Jim, Sharon, and others.  Even Tuxie, a neighborhood dog whom I adored.

I told Eric today “I am happy!”, and realized later on that even better, I am content.  Precarious, but content.

Strategic Wisdom

Here is how the Buddha measured wisdom: you are wise if you can get yourself to do things you don’t like doing, but know will result in happiness; and prevent yourself from doing things you like doing but know will result in unhappiness or harm.  Pretty simple, practical.  Doesn’t mean it’s easy.

One of my many struggles lately is the “poor me” black hole: ” Poor me, I can’t eat cheese.  Poor me, I can’t eat sourdough bread.  Poor me, I can’t eat any sugar or caffeine or dairy or processed meat like bacon.  Poor me, I can’t enjoy eating out with friends.  I get overwhelmed easily if I am in a room with more than 4-5 other people.  Poor me, I have to sleep over 12 hours a day or I start to shake.  If I take a shower, it takes a few hours to recover.  Poor me, I seem to have a hole in my brain lately, I get confused easily and forget things, like water just flowing over me.  Poor me, I’m dying soon. ”

So my unwise reaction these past few months in the black hole is to eat cheese, bread, have sugar and caffeine, eat bacon, go to large gatherings, and act like a so called normal person.  It’s a little like throwing a tantrum.  Knowing that I will get sick, have migraines, sleep for days to overcome these assaults.  Knowing that the cancer in my body may be waking up and thriving.  I know all that, and I do it anyway.  So the defiant, harming part of my self has had the upper hand.  Unwise.  Understandable, but unwise.  I feel sorry for myself.  And I’m angry, too.  I fucking hate this disease and how my body is disintegrating.  I’ve been really sick now for at least 6 years, maybe even longer.

Christmas day I realized that I need help.  Beside from the huge help I recently got from my friend Greg on a spiritual and emotional level, I need practical assistance in dealing with life chores, and in my case, death chores.  I have piles of paperwork on the floor around my desk, and piles on my desk.  One sobering reality was to realize that not only was I not doing some of this paperwork as part of my tantrum, but also that I can no longer actually take care of all this paperwork.  My brain isn’t working well enough to do it.  I need help.

So I asked for help, and have found the very best person for this job anyone could ever want.  Another angel in my life.  We shall make our way slowly through these piles until there is order.  Asking for help in this instance is wise.

My  unwise reactions are killing me, slowly.   And so I am looking forward to seeing how this applied wisdom might affect the rest of my life.  A strategic wisdom.  Maybe it could spread, instead of the cancer.  I like that idea.  And the idea that wisdom itself could be such a profound spiritual practice.

I still want to die in harmony with the universe.