Previews of Coming Attractions

One of my biggest fears, psychologically speaking, is to be accused of being the little boy who cried wolf.  In other words, becoming so focused on this dying business that I holler for help or a warning to my loved ones, when it isn’t really necessary.  It’s just so darned hard to know now, and I don’t want people who love me to be taken by surprise if possible.

This rash is an example.  Turns out it is both/and.  Another koan, of sorts.  My skin is dry because I am old, because it is winter, and because, when one is dying of kidney cancer, one’s skin is exceptionally dry and bingo, a rash.  Not a sign, this time, of imminent demise, but the cancer has a role in it.

I learned some new details about what this death might look like.  Of course, we might all go up in a radioactive blast, if the news has any validity at all.  But I mean, if I end up dying from this cancer.  For those who are squeamish, stop reading.  But here it is:  my feet and ankles will swell up so badly that I won’t be able to put my shoes on.  I will be nauseous and throw up, a lot.  (Already do this, several times a week.  Not a good sign.) I will become so confused that I will not know that I am confused.  (This happened in September of 2017; I thought I had a small stroke. Lately, my mind is cloudy and uncertain.) I will be covered with another obnoxious rash.  So, I get to itch to death?  That makes me laugh.  Sort of.

The things that I already know about include lots of pain, blood in my urine, swollen kidneys, people asking me to do kidney dialysis.  None of that sounds like much fun.  However, this is what it might look like.

What I do know, myself, is that nothing so far has gone like my oncologist predicted.  Because, in my experience, doctors do not factor in spiritual practice, intentions, missions, and the impact of love itself.  One’s community.  And the presence of all the angels and saints and spiritual guides and ancestors watching over us from who knows where.  Prayers, both received and sent.  Blessings, both received and sent.  And always joy, the immense healing power of joy.  And nature, which holds it all, for me.

So this is what I pledge to you:  I will not sound the alarm unless I am freaked out and need help.  I will continue my spiritual practices and continue to hold on to not knowing, and stay open to help from all sides, this one and the one up ahead.  I will work to help others dealing with dying and grief, and I will make sure that my book on transforming the fear of death gets finished and published, one way or another.

Bless you, each and every one.  And, as my old friend Annie used to say, so far, so good!




Wilderness, or Being Wilder

The Shimmering Grace thing popped up again a few days ago, and as always, has left me totally amazed.  It’s a little story.

In our library here at Rose Villa where I now live, I “just happened” to see a book entitled The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature  by Gerald May.  Except I only saw the title, picked up the book, and brought it back to our cottage.  Because, drum roll, I am planning to go to Sitka, Alaska next week for 6 days, together with a group of friends who also live here.  We are all attending Sitka’s Summer Arts and Science Festival.  I jumped in because One, I promised myself that I would see Alaska before I die, a promise I made several decades ago.  And Two, I am longing for wilderness, for old growth and water and rivers and wildlife and silence.  For the healing power of nature.  Yup.  I crave it and need it, and can no longer get there by myself.  This seems doable to me.  Mostly.  Aside from my terror.

Here’s May’s first paragraph.  “I am sick now.  The prospect of my death is continually before me.  My body is frail, my energy always at the edge of exhaustion.  At the same time, I am wilder than I’ve ever been before.  My soul basks in wilderness, and I am grateful.”  O my.  He is speaking my language.

He goes on.  “Wilderness is not just a place; it is also a state of being.  If happiness means being happy and sadness means being sad, then wilderness means being wilder.”  Well, okay then!  “This inner wilderness is the untamed truth of who you really are.”

And here’s the shimmering story.  I suddenly figured out who the author is.  OMG, as the kids say now on Twitter.  Gerald May was one of my greatest teachers.  He wrote a number of books, two of which are classics now: “Will and Spirit”, and “Simply Sane”.  Gerald May is now dead, but was a psychiatrist and a spiritual director, one of the very best.  Eloquent, creative and willing to see through all the jargon into the soul of our work.  And share. He was my guide and my companion for years in my own practice.

I had no idea that he had written another book, before he died.  And a book about wilderness at that.  What a gift.  Thanks, Shimmering One.

About the terror.  You see, it’s a group of 11 people, all elders mostly able, and one sweet young staff person who will herd us where we need to go.  The trip on Friday will be 8 hours, including 3 airports, countless people, and lots of noise.  I am so frail now and so sensitive to all inputs that just the idea of this is overwhelming.  Solutions are unfolding, much like climbing Mt. Hood.  Instead of crampons and ice axe,  I will be using a Bose noise canceling headset, and also an old iPod that I can plug in to my brain.  I’ll bring my own food.  And so on.  I have a long list.  Nothing is really simple anymore.

Once at Sitka, there are other nightmare logistics.  Breakfast is from 7 to 8 AM.  That just makes me laugh.  I don’t do anything at all much before 9 AM, and generally don’t plan to get anywhere before 11.  I can’t.  So I’m bringing my own breakfast and teas and pray for a kind kitchen person.  My writing/poetry workshop is from 8:30 to noonish or so.  Again, not going to happen.  I hate to disrupt groups and teachers, really hate that.  So I may have to forgo the workshop completely.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’d be happy, actually, to be on my own the entire time.  Lots of forests, trails, totem poles, river walks, the ocean, boats, a little village with shops.  I could happily just be there and hope people leave me alone.  Talking exhausts me now.  And then I collapse, and the idea of collapsing there, without Eric, is beyond terrifying.  You have no idea.  I’d rather face a grizzly bear.

Every waking moment now I am battling the voices that tell me to stay home, and forget about this venture, with long lists of all the shit that could go down.  Voices that are both wise and also crippling, which makes it hard to discern.  What keeps me going is just the felt sense of being there, in nature, and letting the healing happen.  I need it.  It’s calling me, like the mountains used to do, a visceral pull.

Please pray for me.  I am so frightened.