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.




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.


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.



Smoke Signals from Medical Marijuana Land

I promised smoke signals along the way with medical marijuana, so here goes.

What “the word on the street” recommends for cancer is what is called Rick Simpson Oil (or RSO) oil, the resin that I described awhile ago.  I’ve found, after some trial and error, an organic cannabis RSO oil, extracted using certified organic cane alcohol, from the Siskiyou Mountains of Southern Oregon.  No pesticide residue and no mold or mildew of note.

It has 185 mg of THC (which is the stuff that makes you high) and 451 mg of CBD which is the stuff that helps get rid of tumors.  It comes in a syringe type thingy of 1 ml, that lasts quite a long time for me.  I only take a tiny drop every night before I go to bed.

Here’s what I have noticed.  This oil no longer gets me high like the first time I tried it.  I take a tiny drop about an hour before I go to bed, and once I lay down to sleep, I only notice that my mind is traveling down some old roads, or strange new roads, somewhat.  I can easily separate from these thoughts by calling on the witness, calling in mindfulness.  Couch lock is not an issue, since I’m in bed, sleeping.  Dr. Allderdice called that one correctly.

I sleep 10 hours a night now, pretty deeply, and do not wake in the middle of the night agitated as I did before I started this.  Waking in the morning, I don’t seem to have any muddled thinking, or foggy brain like with melatonin. Sometimes I am tired, but I’m always tired and it’s hard to sort out one kind of tired from another type.

Overall, I seem to be happier in this strange new land I inhabit.

Just for fun, I also bought some cannabis infused chocolate the other day…  because I can!

Once cannabis is legal around the country and clinics can start doing good research, we’ll begin to know what is true and what is street myth.  People in Europe, who have been doing research for decades, are also indicating the medicinal qualities of marijuana, and the folks in Tibet, for example, have been using it for eons, safely and with good results.

Stay tuned.





Quick marijuana follow up

I met with a Tibetan healer a few weeks ago who said “Cannabis, take cannabis, every day, do not miss a day!” (Among other things.  That’s another story!)

So, after consulting with my oncology naturopath Dr. Dave Allderdice, I have been taking a smidge of the cannabis resin every night before I go to bed.  About the size of the head of a pin.  Maybe a hat pin if I’m feeling adventurous.

I sleep quickly and easily, and sleep all through the night.  And awake happy and peaceful.

It works!  I am thrilled.  And who knows, maybe it is also slowly eroding the tumors, which is why we’re doing this.

My next CT scan, or PET scan, is due in late January.  Perhaps we’ll see then if the tumors are shrinking.


How could I not know I was this sick?!

IMG_0551How could I not know I was this sick?  Looking back, it’s pretty obvious to me.  This image of a person dragging himself through an ice field on his arms and legs, crawling for miles…I picked up this image in 2009 (!) during a collage prayer card day. My subconscious knew something was wrong, that I had burned out somehow.

Docs had told me back then that I had chronic fatigue syndrome.  It got worse and worse, year after year, until I could barely get through my day as a retired woman.  Finally had to hire some help cleaning our house, I couldn’t do it myself.  Mostly I felt embarrassed and tried to hide it, even from myself.  My world got smaller and smaller, as one beloved activity after another got dropped into the “I can’t do this anymore” bin.  My lower legs and feet began to swell and it hurt to walk even down to our mailbox at the end of our driveway.  No more walking our dog, Tara, on a regular basis.  Why didn’t I demand more assistance from Kaiser?  At a certain point, I was too sick. And before that? With chronic fatigue, there is nothing to do.  I accepted that diagnosis as being accurate.

In my journal from June well over a year ago, I reported “I think I am dying.”  By then, dying did not seem like a very long step.  However, I have a tendency to brush aside things like this report from myself, either by not listening or choosing not to respond.  I have learned not to entirely trust my conclusions. I saw all that fatigue as a deficiency in my own character.  This is a very old childhood pattern.  So, that report did not show up on my radar, internally, beyond those few written words.  It’s a little like a Facebook meme that you see one moment on your site and then it’s gone as new ones take it place.  It faded from view.  I kept crawling through life, slower and slower.

Deeper underneath there is a voice that explains, “You were so tired and depleted that you simply could not gather up the strength to try to deal with that other part that warned you might die.”  A deep shattering kept occurring, evaporating my will to live. Dying seemed like a good thing.   A frail voice would pipe up: “Who cares? You’re not worth the effort. Why bother.  I won’t try and then lose.” It’s a voice that sucks me down fast. Very old voice. Depression is one of the key symptoms of kidney cancer.

Sometimes I ask myself: how does this cancer thing work?  There is a place where the will to live connects (lightly, in my case) with the evaporating part.  It reminds me of when the tidal waters come up the Willamette, and meet the waters coming off the Cascades – there is a moment when the waters stop, and the surface is like a mirror. They embrace with a million little silvery arms. Then tiny little wavelets appear, the water turns to mercury, and then the river turns back the other way, back upstream.  The master ebb and flow, twice a day around here – a potent, magical, fleeting moment.

I wonder if within us, we each have a tidal effect of the will to live and the longing to die.  As long as they are in balance, we have health.  Several times I recall my wanting to die, the evaporating part, showing up in my awareness. This cancer has been growing for at least the past six years or more.  The cancer, to some extent, feeds on me feeling despair of ever being well again. It is a lethal feedback loop. I have been out of balance.

Is it possible to simply turn that imbalance back to balance, and let the body slowly readjust?  Would the cancer either slow down or better yet, go away?  Turning the tide of cancer. I like it as a metaphor for healing.  I can’t seem to relate to the more common ones of war… I am seeking a natural key to this process, one that is non-violent, that I can watch with mindfulness, knowing that the mind and the body affect each other intimately, profoundly.

This doesn’t yet solve my underlying question: did my feeling like dying come after living with the cancer for awhile and is therefore a symptom, or did that feeling actually cause the cancer. Or both.

Reading The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, he reports that Claudius Galan, a Greek doctor from AD 160, wrote about the black bile that is cancer.  Galen links the word Melas (black) with Khole (bile), hence melancholia.   For him, depression and cancer, psychic and physical diseases of black bile, are intertwined.  He proposed “that cancer was trapped black bile, static bile unable to escape, and thus congealed into a matted mass”,  just what I studied in Chinese Medicine: stagnation can cause disease. This feels accurate to me.  And is nothing that my oncologist can affirm or acknowledge or do anything about.

I’ll be watching to see what is stagnate around me and within me.  What needs to be freshened up, turned inside out, removed from my life, embraced differently? How can I let the depression energy escape and/or stop forming?  Selling our house, downsizing and moving to Rose Villa, an unusual retirement community, has started things moving.

Looking for the shimmering, too, and letting in that awareness as often as possible.  I tell friends “I am swimming in a sea of shimmering grace.”  I just have to remember that, dial it in.  Remember the View.

I’ll be asking myself these questions for awhile yet.