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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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.

Confusion and a compass gone wild

Did you know that if lightening strikes a compass, it will reverse itself, pointing wildly.  But if its then shocked, placed on iron and struck, “the shock reorganizes the element of the magnet.  And again it points truly, knows itself.”

I’m reading a novel, Ahab’s Wife, by Sena Jeter Naslund, and that little jewel caught my eye.  And this: “Was it not possible instead for a human life to end in a sense of wholeness, of harmony with the universe? And how might a woman live such a life?”

Certainly that is a death, and a life,  to which I aspire.

However, in August, I heard some bad news regarding my cancer, and it threw me off course.  Or, to be more precise, I allowed it to throw me off course.  The news isn’t that awful, really.  One of the five nodules in my lungs had doubled in size, from a year ago.  The problem is that I have been convinced from the very beginning that the nodules in my lungs weren’t cancer at all, but basalt dust from a construction project I lived near for three years.  One grew.  Basalt dust doesn’t grow.  So, this news changes things.

I took a deep dive down into the blues for about two months, fucked up actually to the point of paralysis: not walking, not thinking, not doing… just watching the damn squirrels.  I did some vegetable gardening, that was good.  But I just let everything slide.

On some level I had begun to believe that I was going to survive this disease that I carry around with me.  And maybe I will.  But it looks like I may not.  In a way, I’m back to square one, just dealing with the sudden approach of mortality.  Just more experienced.

Then on September 22, just before a Ceremony of Remembrance began here at Rose Villa, I had a mini stroke and was massively confused for about 5 minutes.  So confused that I didn’t know I was confused: a new experience.

I called for help then, for home health to come, for a dear friend Greg Johanson to come and rescue me, for Eric, for neighbors here who know.  Lots of help poured in.

I think my inner compass had been struck by lightening in August when I accepted about the cancer now in my lung.  That threw me hard, into confusion and grief.  It took the mini stroke and the help I got afterwards, the shock of that, to reorganize internally and resonate with my inner knowing again.  Whew.  Took awhile.

These dark alleys can be scary.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick around much longer.  Now I am open to life and living and death and dying all at once.

Working on that harmony with the universe thing.

 

 

 

Every Little Thing

Here in Terminal Diagnosis Land, things can get pretty weird, pretty quick.  A week or so ago, I was walking a mile or a little more, two days in a row, feeling mighty fine I must say.  Smug, even.  Hey, look at me!  Walking a mile, and I’m supposed to be dead!  Ha, ha, take that, death!

Then on July 7th, I felt my death again.  It’s as if the cells of my body began to separate, and whatever it is that lives inside began to evaporate, or evacuate, to seep out the tiny cellular spaces that were slowly opening up.  Since then, I’ve been weak, holding on to the walls as I move about the cottage, trying not to fall.  Eric watches with some degree of concern, as does Tara, our dog.  “Mom, what are you doing now!” her eyes say.  She follows me from room to room.

Today, I’m doing fine again.  Yesterday, I walked into the village for the Farmers Market here at Rose Villa, and I walked without my stick, holding a large basket of herbs to sell from my little garden.  So go figure.  I have no idea why I got so weak, and I have no idea why I am now “back to normal”, whatever that might be in this realm.

I like it better when I know why this shit happens to me.  When I don’t know, I have no control over it, and I hate that.  Do we really have control over anything, really?  Probably not, but I like that particular illusion.  Meanwhile, life goes on, and I’m still included.  For now, anyway.  If I haven’t given you my attention lately, please do not take it personally.  It’s just how things are.  Very little bandwidth.

One of the hardest things about having terminal cancer, for me anyway, is that when every little thing happens in my body now, I go first to the cancer.  Is it in my ovaries?  Is it in my lungs?  Is it in my pancreas?  Is it getting worse? What now?  Before, mostly I just went on about my business without thinking about things over much.  Not careless, mind you, but not doing the dire trip, either.  Now, dire just happens, I nod, and then practice joy.  When I am able to do so.  It can take awhile to recover my equanimity.  But I do the dire trip, I do.  Cancer sucks.

My next CT scan will be early in August, so I will be able to report from a scientific view then.  My sense?  I’m doing okay.

At the moment, we have an abundance of magnolia blossoms, and so, the scent of heaven is in our cottage and outside, too.  Divine.

 

Loss along the way

Many perks come my way as a person living with a terminal diagnosis, and one of the greatest is getting to know and love others who are also walking this path in their ways.  We laugh together, share resources and experience, talk about dying and what we know and don’t know, piss and moan together at times, and then laugh again at the insane joy of just being alive. Together.  So many things we don’t have to explain to each other, we just know. Because, contrary to what people insist on telling me, living with a terminal diagnosis is NOT THE SAME as knowing that we all are going to die.  It’s a different realm.  And one that I sincerely hope you all never have to enter.

When my best cancer buddy Marcia S died on Thursday, May 18th, I numbed out and am still mostly numb.   Her cancer voraciously ate her alive, and wasn’t gracious about it at all.  She lived in pain for too long.  Her grandson asked her if she was dying and she said yes.  He wanted to know when, and she didn’t know.  “Summer would be nice” he said, beaming in love, a little guy.  Somewhere in my own little brain, what’s left of it, I had thought she would recover somewhat and live through the year.  I thought we would have more time, another visit.  Marcia knew best what she needed.

At her memorial, people talked about her nobility, her courage, her gifts to all of us, her outrageous sense of humor and fun.  Marcia was an ordained minister, and a hospice chaplain.  She knew this territory from many perspectives. She taught me to have more fun.  So I will practice, in her honor.  What a gift!

Dear Marcia, please know that I love you dearly, even though we didn’t have much time together.  I will continue to stumble along, and meanwhile trust that you are finding your new way.  Maybe you found the Pure Lands!  I hope so.  I miss you sorely.

And if prayers help over there, beyond the beyond, I shall send them to you once my heart opens up and pours out again.

 

Coming Clean

Writing this particular post for months.  It’s a tough one, for me and probably for anyone brave enough or bored enough to read it, too.  It’s about meditation and confession and humility and becoming friends with ourselves and vulnerability, just for starters.    I’m willing to bet that there is a common thread, however, for those of us who are on borrowed time, and know that down to our bones.  Here goes.

Almost every cancer patient is given or finds a list of things we can do for ourselves as we make our way through cancer land.  Meditation is often not only on the list but if not at the top, nearly there, for pain control primarily and as a way to deal with anxiety and depression.  Buddhists teach meditation and mindfulness as a way to “make friends with ourselves” and to develop skillful means as a spiritual path.  Quakers know that when we are silent and listen deeply, we can hear the “still, small voice of God” within.  Sounds great, doesn’t it!  Yup.  It is.  Mostly.  Except when it isn’t. Great, that is.  It can be excruciatingly difficult, also.

This starts with a little story.  When I was working full time, providing therapy for others on multiple levels decades ago,  I used to take a silent retreat every 3 months, for at least one week, with a group of Zen Buddhists who were also Catholics.  We sat in complete silence for 8-9 hours a day, not making eye contact, not reading, not speaking, just sitting in meditation with walking meditation every half hour, all day for about 7 to 10 days, with mass in the morning and a zen talk every evening by our roshi who was also a priest.

One day, I was noticing my own mind – because what else was there to do, really?  No TV, just my own mind unrolling movies in front of my awareness, my witness.  I noticed that  day that I was impatient, irritable, judgmental and stubborn.  I could see this as I played out little movies of memory or thoughts, in my mind, and began to name what I saw.   Great.  Next half hour, I noticed I was scheming, anxious, smug and opinionated.  Yup.  The list got a little long, so I went upstairs to my room, and started writing these darling traits down so I could remember, in between our sitting sessions.  It went on that day: domineering, victimized, possessive, suspicious, snide!

Truly, I was horrified!  Shocked.  I’d run upstairs and add more to my growing list, hoping no one would ever know.  Next day, same shit:  self-righteous, angry, pushy, manipulative, aloof, greedy, evasive.  After more of this: insolent, bitter, arrogant, conniving, seductive, snotty… I started to laugh!  It just got so funny!  Maybe you had to “be there”, but it was hilarious!   Still makes me laugh.  Sort of.  Fussy, fearful, murderous impulses (way down, hidden from sight, but I saw it like a flutter of something scary in the dark forest) grandiose, snobbish, rash, self-absorbed… on and on.  To this day, I am still adding more charming aspects of my own being, my own history, when I catch them;  being prejudiced about one thing or another are especially hard to see, elusive.

Some might say, “Hey wait, Susan!  You are much more than all that, what about all your positive traits, too?!”  Wanting to somehow dilute these insights, perhaps, or to make me feel better about myself, to take away the sting.  Maybe this makes some uncomfortable.   I have a page of positive traits, too, not to worry.  But this part of the meditation process doesn’t exactly get a lot of press, as far as I can tell.  Wonder if the doctors really know what they are recommending.  Want to bet? Because this is what eventually happens if you actually meditate.  A lot.  Probably different lists…

But here’s the thing.  I have finally made friends with myself (Did I say sullen, severe, scattered, punitive?)  and in the doing of that, joined the human species, warts and all.   Does all this lower my blood pressure any?  Not so as anyone would notice.  I wonder about AA and their thing about “taking a fearless inventory”.  Perhaps this is what they are referring to.  Certainly this has aspects of the great sacrament in the Catholic church, confession.  If done with mercy and humility, there is wisdom there.

So, if this is such great medicine for cancer patients, how do I transform the internal horror of such a freaky show into something inspiring and useful?  In other words, why in the world would anyone want to become so vulnerable? Why fucking do this!!! (Using bad language, undisciplined, cutting, intolerant) (Rebellious)

That question, dear ones, is why it’s taken so long to write this post.  (lethargic, procrastinating, making excuses) (Judgmental) Here are some answers that have emerged in the past 3-4 months.

William Stafford has a great line in one of his poems:  “If you don’t know the kind of person I am, and I don’t know the kind of person you are, a pattern that others made may prevail in the world.”  Right now, we have others prevailing in the world who are basically insane, so it’s becoming more and more urgent that we not only know who others are, we also know who we are, at the deepest level.  I believe this to be so urgent, I’m willing to share this story.  It is from the very bottom that we are able to create and describe our own internal moral compass.  Handy when there are no maps. Or when our so-called leaders have no morals at all.  Or when our own teachers are no longer around or it just gets too hard to cobble stuff together anymore.  And there is death, lurking.  Time is running out for all sorts of things, not only for me and perhaps for you, but for the planet and all beings.  Developing the capacity for wisdom and compassion is needed.

Pope Francis has a new book out, titled “The Name of God is Mercy“.  Pope Francis is the real deal.  He has this to say:  “Justice on its own is not enough.   With mercy and forgiveness, God goes beyond justice, God subsumes it and exceeds it in a higher event in which we experience love, which is at the root of true justice.”  If we are longing for true justice (not vengeance) and if we cannot accept ourselves with mercy and forgiveness, how can we offer that to anyone else? Or even to conceive of what justice might be?  Or care?

For Francis, the teaching is that we must be involved, we must be moved, we must feel compassion.  “This kind of compassion is needed today to conquer the globalization of indifference. ”  And meditation is a great tool to develop that compassion.  Which leads to wisdom, and developing a moral compass that is trustworthy and sane, a profound equanimity.

I am just learning how to embody this.  Mostly I fuck up and stumble around.  But the thread is strong.  Kidney cancer is riveting and debilitating, but its also a great teacher, keeping me focused and aware.

After decades of meditation and other practices, and getting to know death pretty darn well, at times there is a moment, an opening, and I see through all of this, the whole thing, and see and feel the shimmering grace that’s always there, the supreme joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frangible Murk

In this realm within which I currently reside, this frangible murk, there are no maps.  I can’t tell if I’m trudging towards an early death, as predicted by my Western docs, or clambering along a trail to a new found life as a wise old woman. Or both? It’s murky and I can’t see ahead, and at times can’t even tell up from down.  It’s dark in here.  At times the darkness prevails all the way into my soul and I long for death to end it: the abyss, the uncertainty, the effort of it all.

Light is there, too.  The light.  O the light.  Flashes from moments of kindness, my own and others.  A raindrop on a dogwood bud in the Fall, a globe of red and orange and green, trembling.  My dog Tara’s ear, like satin under my fingers.  The wind making our open windows rattle their storm dance late in the night.  The sound of the rain.  A burst of frail energy that shows me my next step.

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I’m reading voraciously: What Really Matter, by James Hollis, a Jungian, written in his own waning years.  He uses words I’ve never seen before, like “frangible” (that means fragile, or breakable).  Desuetude: I haven’t even looked that one up yet.  Many more. Hollis says feed your soul first.  If not, it will rebel and cause symptoms.  Do not comply with the shoulds of others.   He also writes that when we are dying, we are losing our “management systems” that have carried us through life for so long, and that makes us cranky.  Yup.  I am incredibly cranky lately.  If I’m cranky with you, don’t take it personally.

Just finished reading Mary Oliver’s Upstream, a collection of essays .  If I were rich, I’d send a copy to everyone I know.  Here’s a quote near the end.  “In the winter I am writing about, there was much darkness.  Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of the spirit.  The sprawling darkness of not knowing.” She wonders if the light might be hope or faith; hope “far messier than faith must be.”

Then, last night, late, awakened by the storm, I heard the words as clearly as if someone had whispered them in my ear, “Be here now!”  Ah, Ram Dass.  Bless him.  But it wasn’t he who whispered.  I don’t know who it was.

But what I saw, or felt, in that moment, a moment of light, was a way out of the murk, a flashlight to illuminate my way.  The present moment opens to eternity – the only door, the portal.  I got a glimpse last night, and because it is a frangible murk, it’s already gone.  But the gift remains.

A messy hope, some wordless faith, a dropping away of the darkness that seems to result from a long illness.  As an idea, a platitude to offer someone who is suffering, well, it’s iffy.  “Be in the present moment, my dear.”  Meant well, surely.  But if the present moment, and all the zillions of moments before then, really suck, then it’s not so helpful. If you know me, please don’t give me this advice.  It doesn’t help.  I get cranky.

As a felt experience, elusive and grace driven, sensing the presence of eternal Love, well, that’s another story altogether.

Maybe what we can tell people who are suffering, you and me and all our loved ones, is to seek the portal to timeless joy, and let that joy carry us for a little while.  And that portal can only be found in the present moment.  Hiding in plain sight.

A wise young woman just told me tonight: “Don’t effort now.  Rest. You will recognize your next steps when you see them emerge into your life.  Trust yourself”.

Perhaps that is the map itself.  A frangible map, but a map.