Monday, May 26, 2014

A Sixth Sense?

Marvellous when it proves right! The phone rings and you just know it's so and so. Or the dream you had just the other night comes true. Or the feeling you had about a situation proves itself in the unfolding. Yet what evidently does not work is picking the right lottery numbers! Ha! Still, some continue to kiss the fist before rolling the dice. That sixth sense of ours, which goes beyond taste, touch, sight, sound, or smell, certainly imbues our lives. But is it to be trusted?

Children learn quite early to cauterize it. Expectations get quashed. Santa and the Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and even Jesus devolve into myth. The parents stop being heroes. Grandpa and Grandma are no longer wise. Uncle Hermie is to be avoided! Innocence is robbed, cheated, and even made a fearful thing. Facts become more important than fiction. Practicality becomes more important than dreams. Imagination is fraught with lies. Creativity breaks rules. Games are no longer about suspended disbelief, but become one-upmanships of competition and validation and affirmation, or not. No amount of wishing will let you win. No amount of praying saves every loved one from dying. No amount of tears will bring back your lost dog. No amount of hoping will relieve you from pain. It is a life that must be led on its own terms. And one learns that it is not fair. Bob and Vera have a jaguar and a penthouse and a (lovely) daughter and (brilliant) son both in university. They have caring and beloved families. They have no uncle Charlie or Aunt Martha who rattles their cages. Their life is bliss (even though their latest adventure involved losing their luggage on their way back from Never-Nevah land.) Yes, life is not fair! I have a twelve year old vehicle; it is showing its wear. No, life is not fair. Maputo does not have enough cows for his labola. Little barefoot Klonkie must go down to the water and fetch a pale-full, though the crocodile ate his sister, just last week. Indeed, life is not fair. Fourteen stories up there is a party, with paper hats, balloons, champagne, and a prize! Fourteen stories down an ambulance wails. Where are we?

Relatively yells at us. It screams. It unveils, uncloaks, and laughs at us. So we give it names like Karma and God and Fate. And we pray for that part of luck and fortune and endowment that we would have apportioned unto ourselves, or if we do not get it, then we go about in vague hopes, in a kind of teleological practicality, not quite understanding the reasons and the wherefores, not caring to look things up or to exert the energy to transform our lives, but putting up, or worse, perpetuating our lot with a decided disinclination to affect change; for surely it is God's will?(?)

That question mark is where the sixth sense lies. It keeps niggling. It has us, however minimally, alert to the possibility that life is not concrete, not predetermined, not ineluctable, not inalterable. It is the sheer panoply of differences that enliven the senses as to choice and measure. Those who own yachts may never experience a kayak. But they could. Yet those who cannot afford a yacht are less likely to experience cocktails on the afterdeck. Vicariously, one gets the drift of the imbalance of prestige and privilege and wherewithal. That a person of great beauty should have great intelligence and many talents and great wealth too seems so palpably unfair. Surely they do not have great wisdom too? Something has to be wrong! Do we not each have our load to bear? Can we ever walk the proverbial mile in someone else's shoes? And surely, my sixth sense tells me, if I were to have the advantages of an Elvis, or a Hemingway, or Anne Morrow Lindbergh I too would sing, write, or know of the gifts of the sea? What sixth sense is there that promotes an allowance of the very differentiations in all of us, yields eventual integration of the particulars that heretofore in all history has divided us, and evokes a sense of wanting to better one's lot? How do we come to know that some significant silvered thread lies between friends who "just get it"? How-come some hardly need words to communicate? How-come accord glues some easily in an instant, while with others it takes a lifetime of learning to love unconditionally?

One word sums up the Sixth Sense. For you, now what would that word be? Hm?

Friday, May 16, 2014

High Fives! (The fifth of Five)

Five senses, five fingers, five points, five reactions; a virtual pentacle of symbolisms. We are indeed meaning-making. Yet the reactions by which we take on things and other's words and contentions and images can rebound before we've taken the reins to respond. Even such a dip as getting the flu, or falling off one's bicycle, or being ditched can create a recognizable pattern of responses. Elizabeth Kubler Ross found Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance to be experienced by those facing death. The five stages seem to appear for other senses of loss too. "(I can't have lost my phone!)(Dammit, someone stole it!)(Oh, please, let me find it in the car. I won't not think where I've put it down again.)(Jeez, I'm lost without my phone; so sad.)(Oh well, I may as well start shopping for a new one.)" Ha! We could say much the same for several other kinds of losses too. But then again, there are some losses that last and last.

We cannot know the damage we do when we call someone stupid. We do not realize the hurt we perpetuate when we betray someone's confidence. We do not realize the magnanimity of the shame and insecurity we put others through when we are dismissive, caustic, or casual to their proclamations of being hurt. We forget how we feel; or even more likely, we ascribe unto others that which we feel, not realizing the possible limitations of our own empathy. Then too, we are not readily given to placating whiners. We are not easily given to feeding takers and fakers and those who are forever 'wanting a slice of you'. After all, one's parents also gave one a hiding, so "get over it!" Yet isn't it remarkable how, in the same family, the different children will respond to the same provocations? (I recall my stepson, at 18, coming home after a very bad fall all cut up and bruised in the leg. He never said a word. He dealt with his ailments himself. An independent soul, he is. Yet he is never insecure about his mother's and my love and care, always.) But this is not to say that such a self-reliance should be our model of reaction. We each needs attend to the hurt and pains in our own ways, conscious of when it is important to include others, or to garner help, or to involve friends and family and others in the journey toward healing. In many measures we can cut off others' intimacy and opportunity to show care and love if we disappear into our cave of isolations when we are hurt, sick, sad, or otherwise beleaguered. So it is. We needs be cautious; internal bleeding is not easily seen.

But some hurts stay deep and perpetual. Unless directly addressed, and all circumstances forgiven, we can carry the insecurity, the invalidation, the judgement, and the disavowal of another's approbations as a circumvention to our progress, a chain on our potential, an anchor to our freedom. After all, "Who do you think you are?" Once a teacher, a formerly treasured other, a parent, a boss, a person whom we give some authority over us has deemed us unfit, or worse, unworthy, it is most difficult to surpass the feeling that one will never again measure up. (In my own experience, despite many awards to the contrary, it was the people I involuntarily hurt or disappointed as a theatre-director that still gnaws at me when I am lauded by others.)

Five points make up a pentacle. Five stages of grief. Five senses. Five stages of Dabrowskian Positive Disintegration. Five elements of sensual/sexual, action/adventure, romance/sentiment, esoteric/intellectual, and our little pinky fingers of spiritual/wisdom, all enlivened by the glue of humour, as divined in the hand at work in art, on the typewriter, tilling the fields, washing the dishes, or tending to others. We make meanings of who and what we are, or not. And the risk of one not seeing an 'other' as deserving of every respect, grace, compassion, integration and care is that some will be called an idiot, stupid, worthless, a whiner, an oxygen stealer. We can be cruel, dismissive, vindictive, vituperative and vicious. Our history makes it so. It is seldom that we see the Action as idiotic, worthless, and paltry; we tend to ascribe the moment to the whole person. And so Billy, for stealing a cookie, is a thief, always. Penelope never knows what it is to come first. Harvey hurts, deeply, because of his face. Mac and Simone never can reunite; neither of them will ever capitulate. It indeed takes two to tango. Forgiveness does not free both.

Five levels of integration, of awareness, of enacting.  It is the health of the whole that we seldom address in our lives; we are too oft concerned with the health of poor little old me. Just me. Ha!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Clod of Clay! (Four of Five)

Given a 50/50 chance at life one may as well laugh. Each new breath is a celebration, let alone a day, a week, a month. But for all of us, some year will ring its bell and then we shall have said our last goodbye. Thing is, we never know when or from what, and there are platitudes aplenty about making each moment valuable. Scriptures, poets, sages, and philosophers hearken on about the necessity of awareness, temperance, forbearance, and preparedness. But few us believe it will be us. And then some event takes place, and the end of the journey is made more clear, and one suddenly is at pains to get all one's ducks in a row. The list of those to contact, those with whom to share the news, and those simply to allow to let things be discovered, or not, is compelling. Proximity is so relevant. There are many new friends we've made in the last two years who have been around to see me, checked up on us altogether more frequently than those at a distance, simply because they're nearby, and they can reach us quickly if needs be. It all is quite natural.  We each want to help, to love, to share, and even to ensure we've said our 'proper' goodbyes. Then again, some fear the prospect of death, and keep away purposefully.

Dying is easy; Living is hard. When the gravestone says R.I.P. it connotes being Resolved In Perpetuity, (though being at Peace, while living, would be nice too). Every good book about life, from ways to fight against pain to learning to integrate it, has as its core the objective of being at peace with one's lot. Being happy is quite a different thing. Happiness is evidently temporary; it easily may be disturbed when someone lets off a smell in the elevator. But being at peace is the acceptance of all, while still exercising the preference to open a window.

Reincarnation may be a proven fact. For me it certainly is not. I find it ego-binding to think that 'my' soul will reinvest in whatever new baby or animal is born reasonably soon after my death. (Given my body type, I may well again start from the ape-like-level, ha!) But I do sense that whatever consciousness of ME there is within my atoms that they will easily disperse upon my cremation, that they shall simply become immersed in all energy, quite different from the clots that individually coagulate and now scrape away at my every breath for life. Yet perhaps some souls do stay concentrated, concomitant with reinvesting themselves as an ongoing identity; how else to explain the myriad people who've such powerful stories of themselves in past lives?

Death is easy. No more pain. No more worries. Just gotta get past St. Pete's Gate, mayhap, and then onto whatever mansion has been prepared for my ignorant and unleavened soul. (I am hopeful it will be the garden shed for me, with some tools with which to continue trying to feed and nurture beauty. For in heaven as on earth I would have beauty of insight, of intuition, of understanding, of compassion, and of appreciation for the very gift of the journey of living. Then again, if one is at peace, even one's stooping to till the earth-garden of life ain't so hard, is it?)

But for those who go on living life is very hard indeed. We steal each other's plots of security, make infirm our sense of stability, and confabulate our ease of connection. We lose the maps to inner peace. We neglect the tools by which we might tend to our gardens of the moment, and some of us do not see weeds as worthy or necessary. The bees die for lack of dandelions. Our needs to control our produce, ourselves, and each other is pandemic. We are making Pangaea sick, broken up, ill. We find it most difficult simply for all to be, and to nurture all at the edges toward a more-better compassion, integration, assimilation, absorption, and acceptance.

Perfection is a myth. Or it is temporary at best. What one person exclaims is perfect the other will claim as insufficient. We find it difficult to let be. And should these be my last words, then I declare each and every one of us free. No 'shoulda, coulda, wish I hadda'. Life is for me and thee. And in the end, forgiveness, care, and being loving is like sunlight to our gardens. Free!  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Freedom's Chimes (Three of Five)

Freedom is a most responsible thing to nurture. We very often give it up to An Other to direct us, such that we may shift the responsibility of our welfare to a dependence on Such Other. As a baby we are utterly reliant, as children we garner a little freedom, as teenagers we attempt to appropriate it, and as adults we relinquish it to the inevitability of cultural adherence, politics, or by way of commitment to An Ideal. Throughout history we have had parents, chiefs, kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, and God Himself to take care of us. To be utterly self-responsible is indeed a most difficult thing. Until we know it is illegal to jay-walk we may do so even with fun against the traffic of danger, but once we've been apprised that it is not our 'right' that self-same jay-walk becomes a guilty thing; if we have a conscience. In many things we tend not easily to be aware of how we might impact others. So we are made to adhere to laws and guidelines. Yes, some things require strict dependence. That a concoction of deliberate drugs be so blended as to interact effectively is the stuff of scientific laws beyond my ken; I have no choice but to relinquish my independent freedom by subscribing to their ministration, or I could simply not ingest them, and thereby take on the inevitable consequences. Yes, lack of freedoms comes in many guises, but to have total freedom is perhaps an anathema, for even nature will exact its toll. We die. En route, no matter what the freedoms, we're responsible for our actions.

Adrift on a sea of drugs and dependent on the buoys demarcating my progress, I am not quite without direction. Though I cannot steer myself, I must give up my mobility to the momentum set by others. And though I may point right or left, or hold my hand up for pause down an aisle of books to be perused, there still is a decided need to give up my former ease of freedoms. My dear wife needs look at every entranceway for ease of access, for ease of parking and the very distance she may have to push my chair. At almost every crack and bump in the pavement she apologizes, for every jostle courses through me as though I were freshly kicked in the shins.

We do not know the freedom we have until we lose it. We run, we play cricket, tackle at rugby, dive from the high-dive, lift our own body weight in the gym, bash at tennis balls, gallop on a horse, dance the waltz and do the twist, but never quite like last summer. Year by year we lose our independence. We lose the ability to play squash, to bicycle, to jog, and even to walk. We lose the ability to put on our own socks. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans everything. But all these things are physical. The theatre becomes but someone else's stage. Guitar playing dwindles to a single song. The easel stands forsook. The typing on this tablet and the books are what remains, as well as the window view and the preferred programs on TV. In inspiring Westerns the values of good and bad are clear; lessons of honour, integrity, and loyalty are delineated; the bad guy gets his come-uppance. But central to characters being human is the essence of being free within oneself to choose one's attitude. Choose! Trouble and hardship and trials attends our passage, and those who voyage with faith, care for others, and with clarity of consciousness do most likely make it into the proverbial sunset, or not. One is left inspired to go forth and do good!

The greater the freedom, the greater the responsibility. It is easier to walk a tightrope of laws and expectations from A to Z than entirely to rely, all alone, on a compass and maps and one's wits. Even then, the directions and aids are thanks to those who went before. In the Alberta and B.C. Rocky Mountain backcountry I once spent over three months hiking alone between Jasper and Assiniboine, back in 1982. And when I came out a very dear friend asked what I'd learned. "Everything is Important and Nothing Really Matters," I replied. Freedom had taught me that much. There is no such thing as nothing; it all is a matter of being fully present to the now. As such, we needs take care of ourselves in order to contribute to the health of the whole. And of that care, physical health is not quite as significant as is the psychic. To remain independent, integrative, and compassionate takes a declaration of ongoing freedom to do so; bells do toll!

Friday, May 9, 2014

In Sync with Sick (Two of Five)

Time is an abstract thing. It slips and slides, makes an appearance in a moment, and can disappear from consciousness even as the clock keeps ticking. Weeks of illness turn into months. And breath for breath the shores of one’s perimeters press closer. Just the immediate is in view. Getting out and about becomes a thing of the past. Like being in a hospital room, tied to the drug lines and dependent on others, the walls confine. Even the curtains get pulled against others in the room for those moments when we are most vulnerable. And the get-well cards and the loving wishes become a one-time thing, for it is what people and friends and family do, but the belaboured breathing exacerbates. It cares not for who you are. It is a viral and pugilistic thing, battering you about from within. The hull of me scrapes raw on rocks, despite a sea of drugs.

'Take nothing personally' is the third agreement of The Sacred Four. No matter what, this is not about you. All compliments, all dismissives, all hurts and broken promises and betrayals and even a kiss on the cheek is not about you; it’s about ‘them’. They want to compliment you; they fear talking openly to you; they arrive at an action with their own agenda. Yet I wonder, which part of the ‘they’ is not me too? Still, it helps to know that disease is not personal. It is not as if God or Karma has singled you out, specifically, to make you pay for the codswallop of iniquities you perpetrated in some past life. If it is, then some deeply atavistic guilt sentence is plucking at the health of my DNA, for I had surgery to my first bone pains just before my 13th birthday, and far from letting up, they have grown incremental decade by decade. So now, as I type this pitch to reason and reality (instead of professing mysticism on the pathway to more enlightenment) I declare my illness simply a matter of chemistry, of genetics, of in many ways my own irresponsibility. As I grew up, knowing my bones were diseased, I kept on pushing the parameters of pain and endurance. I wanted to live! And that meant there were mountains to climb, rugby games to play, and even jumps to jump. Yes, we incur results as a natural consequence of our actions, and they are physiological as well as psychological. We may benefit, or we may find ourselves ill. But none of that is to be taken personally. Such are the pragmatics. So please, do eat your vegetables!

To assume nothing; to do your best with whatever you have at the time; those are the other two agreements. One makes them with oneself. The objective is to be more conscious in the moment, so that-that which one does becomes demonstrative pronouns, coupled with action. (My wife has just smelled her phone. I found a picture of lilacs and sent it to her by email, knowing how much she likes flowers. Now she sits beside me, smiling.) Such braggadocio is not for all of us; some serve others behind the scenes and would have no one know what it is that we’ve given. So forgive me if my example is self-serving. I have to assume that you’ll understand. Ha! What trip ups there are at every turn! It all is a test. But to assume that God is specifically laying down these kajillion tests just for little old me is paradoxical arrogance. Or do I assume too much? 

This is all about you. It is to you, from me. It absolves you from having to worry or fear that you have not done enough, written, or come to see me. It is nothing personal. We love from afar sometimes stronger than we do in proximity. And we all lead lives that are invigorated by the immediate needs of our very existence. I almost abhor phone calls. They jangle out of sync with my sense of time and they capture me when I may not have breathing at my advantage; I do not choose to have people see or hear me at my worst. Yet even so, please take nothing personally; there are some phone callers whose voices I deeply treasure. And they've phoned already.

'Let me be clear.' It's a marvellous phrase. It sets up for the fourth agreement. Impeccability of word choice is a difficult thing. It requires accuracy, integrity, and courage. It helps also to have choice of vocabulary, eh? So let me be clear. Clots in the blood can migrate such that one can discover oneself dead, ha! The paradox is that Time, between life and death, is just a discovery too! Now, ain't that an abstraction enough, eh? Ha!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Jobe's Tests (One of Five)

What is not a test? We see a sunset and it is in itself, fully itself. Yet one often compares it to "the ones you should see on Montserrat!" What moment is not a test? Will the next blood clot end things?

Breathing is taken for granted, until we are stabbed by each breath. And as the moments unfolded over the last week, every move and minute became a test of attitude, acceptance, and flow. When is Everything not so? So much was turgid and convoluted and coagulated. Yet so much was full of grace and love and expertise and considerations and compassion.

What is not a test? Pulmonary Embolisms mount in the lungs like shadow-ninjas lurking until en masse they unexpectedly unsheathe their scythes and jab and stab at each intake of breath. By then the breather has slowly been depleted of energy anyway, so that his days grow leaden with efforts. And in the startling agony of the attacking moment can one be blamed for yelling out (which of itself only exacerbated the condition)? And so this week progressed. Each moment a test. For between the two extremes of absolute anger and absolute acceptance lies not only choices of attitude, but so very many things one simply has to do. We humans have plumbing. We have needs. We are not given to lying hour after hour immobile. And so to move against the tide of sickles that would slice Into my right side became a series of tests of endurances. Even getting to Emergency is a test. The parking. The wheelchair. The being pushed. My wife, Linda, having to ensure that all possibilities had been accounted for. Nausea over new drugs administered into the veins set off a chain load of upchucks, and loving Linda kept cleaning me, fully present as hour after horrible hour dragged by (some for me in stages of doubtable lucidity.) We were there for over twelve hours, under the inspection of a team of experts.

Compassion fatigue lurks in every corner in hospitals. It drapes around the edges of the caregiver's eyes and is like a veil over the face of passers by. Those not directly responsible for you can hardly afford to give energy toward your problem. And the ones who are caring for you are limited, necessarily, to the specifics of the immediate, to the science. Still, some magical chemical is in effect and with a little provoking names and smiles and humanness can transfer. We are tested in every interaction. It is not a matter of being the recipient or the giver; energy is not dependent on mutualities. It is enlivened by the spark of life longing for itself. Everything is!

Gratitude is a living state of grace. It's tendency is to come in bursts. We can say "thank you" at the end of a transaction without meaning (or without meaning at the end of a transaction). Yet to feel it emanating from the soul as one enters into the space of another is an empowering thing, for it brings the other into full presence. Seven doctors have attended to my needs over the last five days. It began with my family doctor rushing to my place on Wednesday night, and ended at the time of this writing with a visiting doctor, a friend from Calgary, having just left last night. Seven doctors and a multiple of nurses. And the ninjas have been in my lungs, quite noticeably, since last Sunday. One week that has tested every one of us, even you too. (Since two other of my dear friends underwent serious surgeries on Monday 28th, I did not want to divert attention to my problem. Besides, when it first began, I did not think it more than a bad rib-muscle pull.)

We do not see the tests. Do we close the door quietly? Put the cap back on? Speak with care? Use the right word? Do we let others know we love them, miss them, think of them? Do we necessarily let them know we fear never seeing them again? If not, and we're waiting for that final moment, then as Tuesdays with Morrie says, "you better have great timing!" So this is written with a certainty that I am being well looked after, with a probability that I shall see very many more sunsets. But I write now to let you know that if I know you, I recall your essence, for what part of Everything is not? To write this took a word at a time. I'm off to hospital. It's a test.