We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Figuring Things Out

Winter                                                                          Imbolc Moon

20180119_095931 Rigel. We took her to the VRCC, the Veterinary Referral Center in Englewood. This place is the equivalent of the University of Minnesota’s Vet Hospital for the Denver Metro Area. The Vet school here is in Colorado Springs, at an hour and half away too far for most folks to travel.

We had a consultation with Dr. Danielle Bayliss, an internist. She reviewed the blood work Rigel has had, all the notes from Sano Vet Clinic, asked about her ultra-sound and went over Rigel’s recent history of weight loss and neediness. Plus her insistent dining on Jewish texts.

Dr. Bayliss’s mind was a pleasure to watch work. She was compassionate, unhurried and thorough. She began by explaining that she thought we needed to redo Rigel’s blood work and do what she called biologic tests. Her reasoning was that the major presenting problem was weight loss. “That could point to some GI tract problems with nutrition absorption. We don’t want to do a liver biopsy (our Vet’s recommendation), then find out she’s still losing weight.”

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

The biologic test involves drawing blood, getting a baseline, then feeding her and two hours later, drawing blood again. I’m not sure exactly what it measures, but it tells Dr. Bayliss something important about the bowels. We’ll get some of the results today, the rest, the biologic tests, sometime next week.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bayliss prescribed a new dog food, one with rabbit as its primary protein, not the chicken in her Blue Diamond Senior diet. Prescribed in this instance means expensive, like $84 for a 25 pound bag. In addition, since she’s supposed to have only this diet, her treats will have to be canned dog food with the same ingredients. Another $82. Yowzer. She also received a prescription for metronidazole.

All this, however, gave both Kate and me at least a momentary reprieve from the liver cancer we thought they would find. It could be there’s still something dire going on, but it’s also possible she’s becoming unable to absorb chicken proteins and that the diet will be at least a partial fix.

Rigel

Rigel

We’re never ready to lose a dog and Rigel has been our healthiest dog ever. Which is saying something after seventeen dogs. She’s a sweetheart, except for digesting texts and flashcards on Hebrew and several patterns from Kate’s sewing room collection.

Since Vega died in April of 2016, she has come out from under Vega’s big personality to claim her own space. In particular she has found her voice and comments on many things, not always intelligibly to us, but usually so.

This summer she dug after and caught a vole. The shallow hole she dug was about three feet long, this is in spite of the amputation of one toe on her right front foot a year or so ago. Catching that vole, and eating it, reawakened her predator spirit and has found her since then spending a lot of time looking for critters under the shed, something she and her sister Vega did for hours in Andover. She’s retained that vigor, the eagerness, I suppose you could say zerizut. She runs out with her long, loping stride, tail up and ready for what she might find.

May she still.

Siyum

Winter                                                                      Imbolc Moon

Siyum_on_kesubosAn interesting mussar session yesterday. We had a siyum, a new favorite thing. In the rabbinic tradition whenever a group of learners would finish a book or a large section of, say, Talmud, they’d throw a party. This picture of a hasidic or orthodox siyum is exactly like our group except we’re almost all women, don’t wear hats and had much better food.

In this instance we finished a year plus study of the “Messilat Yesharim: the path of the upright” by Rabbi Moses Luzzato. As part of the siyum we each offered a verse from the text that we would carry forward, a sort of summary of the work’s significance to us. I chose a verse which contained the English word omniscience. I replaced it with what I then thought was the Hebrew, permeated knowledge. I also replaced the word God each time it appeared. This was a hermeneutical act both of reimagining and reconstructing.

20180111_143011

Our mussar class under Joseph’s dream and the burning bush

As an example of encountering the knowledge, the sacred knowledge, that permeates the universe, I spoke about the three mule deer bucks who visited me in our backyard, October 31st, 2014 when I came up for the closing on the Shadow Mountain house. We watched each other. I moved a little closer to them, they watched with those large round brown eyes. I moved a little closer, then stopped, not wanting to spook them or reinforce any habituation they might have. They were the spirit of the mountains come to say it was all right for me to be here.

This August, our yard

This August, our yard

But here’s the really interesting part. There were also three mule deer bucks in the grass outside the windows where we studied. Jamie pointed them out, we all looked. Then, several, maybe a quarter of the 20 or so people in the class, recounted their own stories, right around the time they moved to or were considering moving to the Evergreen/Conifer area. There had been welcoming deer, elk and even a bear. All of these accounts were reverential. Each recalled incident added a goose bump or two.

I felt so affirmed in my odd pagan journey, my pilgrimage on this ancientrail I chose so long ago; not because of the response to my choice of verse, but because of the obvious pagan sensibility commonly shared. This sort of shamanic seeing is a part of our human tool kit if we’re not summarily dismissive of it.

Beat the drum slowly friend.

We Die

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

Been thinking about dying recently. No, really. In a good way. I try to imagine myself dead at least 5 times a day, my body lying on a small tilted table awaiting cremation. Kate and I saw her mother, Rebecca, just like that.

When I get done with that imaging, usually brief, this song keeps coming up from the far away days of the early 70’s. And it still works for me. In fact, it has an existential content now that’s far more profound than when I first heard it.

When I received the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon shortly after my cancer diagnosis, the mountains forming the Deer Creek valley accepted my short life, my mayfly life against their millions of years.

This song reminds me of something many of us notice when someone close dies, one child is born to carry on. By implication, of course, that means you were that child for someone dying around the time you were born. Living and dying. Beltane to Samain, Samain to Beltane. We are part of the Great Wheel, rolling with it as it goes, in living and in dying.

And When I Die
And when I die
and when I’m dead, dead and gone,
There’ll be one child born and
a world to carry on, to carry on
I’m not scared of dying
and I don’t really care
If it’s peace you find in dying,
well, then let the time be near
If it’s peace you find in dying,
when dying time is here,
Just bundle up my coffin cause
it’s cold way down there,
I hear that’s it’s cold way down there,
yeah, crazy cold way down there
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and
a world to carry on, to carry on
My troubles are many, they’re as deep as a well
I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell
Swear there ain’t no heaven and pray there ain’t no hell,
But I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell,
Only my dying will tell, yeah, only my dying will tell
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on
Give me my freedom for as long as I be
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me
All I ask of living is to have no chains on me,
And all I ask of dying is to go naturally, only want to go naturally
Don’t want to go by the devil, don’t want to go by the demon,
Don’t want to go by Satan, don’t want to die uneasy,
Just let me go naturally
And when I die and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
When I die, there’ll be one child born
Songwriters: Laura Nyro

Zerizut. Mother letters.

Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

mother letters

mother letters

Oh, my. Two nights out again. Bedtime missed by an hour, two last night. Resilience is not what it used to be and hasn’t been for a long time. Even so. Tuesday night was kabbalah, an exciting evening with Allen Rubin and Jamie investigating the mother letters, mem and shin, which appear on the horizontal linkages above and below aleph on the tree of life. (see previous post about aleph)

zerizutLast night Kate and I had adult Hebrew, then, an hour later, tikkun middot havurah. This is the third of three mussar related times during the month, a once a month gathering for those who’d like to study mussar but can’t make the Thursday afternoon class. The topic was zerizut, or the middot (character trait) of enthusiasm.

January has been tough throughout the nation, I believe, with H3N2 devastating many and a general malaise allowing other less severe illnesses to gain a foothold, too. The energy level for our discussion of zerizut was ironically low because of this, I think. A lot of folks seem to have their heads down, shoulders hunched, moving slow and hoping nothing bad happens. Many are waiting for the sun.

Mountain_jewLogoMe, I was just tired. So, the question is, is it worth upsetting my normal rhythms? Yes. Yes, it is. No, not because I’m converting, still not interested. But, I have come to believe that Judaism, at least as practiced in this small mountain synagogue, is about helping humans be better in this life and to use this life to make things better for the other, be the other human or animal or a planet. Synchs up pretty well with my own journey, this ancientrail that has wound from Oklahoma to Indiana, Indiana to Wisconsin, Wisconsin to Minnesota and now, Minnesota to Colorado.

The result of this approach to the religious life is a community where people care about each other, are willing to challenge each other to grow and to support each other in various concrete ways. These long evenings are the energy sources for that work and I’m proud and glad to be part of it. Even if it makes me weary.

 

Life is like an hourglass

Winter                                                                             Imbolc Moon

hourglass

This is a short piece from a book, 365 Tao: Daily Meditations. It’s day 350. It fits so well with kabbalah, as I’m finding Taoism often does.

Life is like an hourglass

Consciousness is the sand

Imagine an hourglass.

Its shape is like the symbol for infinity. Its form recalls the double helix of DNA. Its two sections represent polarity. The material on one side, the immaterial on the other. The male on one side, the female on the other. Hot and cold, positive and negative, or any duality. (dialectic)

The sand runs in a stream, the same stream as the course of energy that runs up your spine, the same stream that is the road of life.

The movement of that sand is what we call Tao. Our consciousness alternates between the various states represented by the hourglass. It is as difficult to grasp as a stream of sand. Therefore, it is foolish to examine things minutely. It is unwise to focus on the material. It is wisdom to understand the movement.

 

The World Without Us

Winter                                                                             New Imbolc Moon

Video from a neighbor, couple of days ago.

And, this one, too.

mountain lion2

Big Guys Do Cry

Winter                                                                  New Imbolc Moon

Being sick, even mildly sick as I’ve been for four or five days now, takes me into strange territory. Mortality flits across the mind. All the obituaries that include the phrase, “after a brief illness.” Labile. When I saw this video about Ronnie the Donkey, I cried. And, too, when I read about this special organization, Cayleb’s Senior Dog Rescue. Kate and I donated.

Donkey And His Mom Celebrate Their Emotional Journey    This donkey was so depressed after he lost his baby boy. But the woman who adopted him knew exactly what he was going through and figured out the sweetest way to make him feel at home. Today on Party Animals, Ronnie’s mom is throwing him a very emotional 5th rescue-versary party to celebrate their amazing journey 😍

Posted by Party Animals on Saturday, January 6, 2018

Got to wondering about being labile. Why is that part of illness?

I asked Kate. Less energy to maintain your defenses, she said, in essence.

Castle Dinas Bran, Llangollen, North Wales

Castle Dinas Bran, Llangollen, North Wales

Which raises a second question. Why the defenses? Why would I need to place a barrier between my feelings and my expression of them, especially feelings of tenderness? Is it too difficult for my sanity to rock my inner world? Somehow I don’t think so. It seems more likely that big boys don’t cry. As our president might say, Sad. Why not recognize when the heart softens, when it takes in a moment of love and responds? Why not just go ahead and cry? Tear up.

Maybe one of the functions of illness is to remind us of our heart truth. When the body feels threatened, insulted, perhaps the mind takes the opportunity to reexamine our spot in this world. Perhaps it allows the cultural constructions, the moats and castle walls we put up, to crumble a bit, so we can know they exist. We do tend to forget about those fortifications, the ones built by stereotype, by social convention.

dinas bran. I visited these ruins in 1995.

dinas bran. I visited these ruins in 1995.

We northern Europeans seem to have well-built walls. Perhaps that’s why we can be gulled too easily by ideologues who have burnished their fear of the other, who take their fear and embarrassment as cues for violence rather than compassion. It is a danger we could altogether eliminate, if we let the right feelings in.

As for me, I’m going to try. The moat drained, the walls down. Good. Let them stay that way.

Electric Dreams

Winter                                                                     Moon of the Long Nights

the little bugger

the little bugger

The new year is 15 days underway. Kate and I have been sick now for a fifth of that. Campylobacter she says. Not life threatening. Not the flu. But damned inconvenient. Big fun.

Last night was a Tony’s Market meal, scallops and salmon patties with twice baked potatoes and Italian roasted vegetables. We’ve decided to cook our own fancy meals, saving literally hundreds of dollars each time. My scallop recipe, which I printed out, was in tiny, tiny print and I had to squint the whole time. Why I did that to myself, I don’t know.

phillip k. dickIf you have Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, I can recommend three shows: Black Mirror on Netflix, Humans and Phillip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams on Amazon Prime. All three are science fiction, all dystopian to one degree or another, but each is wonderful.

Of the three, Humans is one I would recommend even to someone who doesn’t like science fiction. It’s powerful. A U.K. version of a Swedish original, it chronicles the gradual integration of synthetic humans into society. Though it could take a single perspective, say the Skynet notion from the Robocop series where the synths (the shorthand used in the series) are evil or at least tend that way, it does not.

Some synths are domestic help, often loved by their owners. Others are industrial models. Some work in restaurants. In some instances synths have begun movement up the occupational ladder, taking more and more responsible jobs, putting mid-level managers out of work. A few, a handful at first, are conscious.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

As more synths become self-aware, a struggle begins between synths who simply want to integrate into human society and live their lives and those who believe humans will never accept them and must be fought. There is no one attitude among the synths just as their is no one attitude among humans toward synths.

The second season built on a strong first season, expanding the complexity and emotional conflicts developed in season one. I don’t want to describe it more, spoilers are poor form; but, it’s worth your time.

 

No Neutral Ground

Winter                                                                        Moon of the Long Nights

mlkToday Richard Spence, DJT and their shithole ilk wake up to a holiday honoring Martin Luther King. I can only hope their blood boils, their teeth clench and their testicles shrink. Here’s a link to a poem titled “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black” which should go out as an earworm to them all.

I can’t even.

 

The Grail and the Veil

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

Sumi Brush“The more I have looked into the Quest for the Grail, it is clear it is a Western form of Zen. There is no grail, it is understanding that the veil is the mystery of existence, it is nothing, but our interactions with everyone and everything.” Woolly and friend, Mark Odegard

Mark is an artist, an author, a sweet guy and a friend of 30 years. He’s done many retreats at a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Minnesota and done calligraphy with that giant brush Zen monks use. He has an ability to come at ideas from the side, or behind, seeing what cannot be seen; the Zen work has informed his sight in substantive ways.

He’s asking the Woolly Mammoths this New Year’s question for their next meeting:

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail’? I will write down your answer to this, and ask you again at the end of the year.

The story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life (often occurring in our late teen years). The meaning is veiled for us, what do you need to lift the veil.”

Mark’s question made me start because I’d just written this, only two or three days ago here on Ancientrails:

“Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives…

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

No. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.” Ancientrails

I’m not trying to revive the word God here, nor am I trying to reinsert myself into the thought world which includes God. I’m on the same grail quest I started years ago in Alexandria First Methodist sitting beside the huge stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Back then I read the Bible as history, not as mythology. Back then it mattered if there was a Jesus who prayed in that Garden that the burden of crucifixion be lifted.

I pushed those beliefs away long ago, passing through a moment, a long moment of second naivete with them, then moving into the world of the Great Wheel and the cyclical, spiraling time through which all life moves, in fact, all things. Over the last year or so my intense program of Jewish immersion has taken me another big step along this ancientrail, a true Grail quest began when, as a sixteen year old, I began to doubt the stories I’d heard growing up.

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

 

 

My true philosophical (qua religious) home, existentialism, found me in the aftermath of that doubting and my first encounter with philosophy at Wabash College. When I went into my Christian immersion, through seminary and in the Presbyterian years, my faith went mystical, seeing the divine as divinely personal, as a bright light shining within the darkness of my inner world, a light whose purpose was not to dispel the darkness, but to integrate, Taoist style, both of them.

Now, with Rabbi Jamie, I’m studying the kabbalah. Like Zen it insists on not seeing with eyes alone, but with the heart, with a poetic sensibility that understands religious language, I think all religious language, as metaphor, even and especially for the kabbalists, the written Torah.

The veil is a very important metaphor in kabbalistic thought. Like Mark observed above the kabbalists know there is a veil between us and the mystery of existence. The veil underscores the humility necessary for this work and without humility the quest will fail.

canterbury pilgrims

canterbury pilgrims

This idea is ultimately significant. Or not. We cannot penetrate the veil. Ever. Yet we all stand together on the other side of it. To see through the veil, to actually find the Grail, is not given to us, yet that place which we see through a glass darkly is the place where we stand right now. Yes, right now the Grail is in our hands, a cup from which we can drink at any moment.

This ancientrail, the quest for the Grail, the turning of the Great Wheel, the lifting of the burden of our crucifixion, flowing up and down with divine energy through the Tree of Life, is our life, is the life of this world, this cosmic pulsing brilliant reality. Yet we let so many things: work, fear, hope, pride blind us.

winter solstice3The Woolly Mammoths have been my companions, fellow pilgrims, on the way to Canterbury. Or, fellow Tibetan Buddhists inch worming their way around the sacred mountain, Meru. Or, my fellow Torah scholars, davening as we read the sacred texts. Or, fellow Lakotas, our skin pierced and tied to the world tree during the Sun Dance. Or, friends traveling through this life together until it ends.

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail?” Out of far left field, I’m going to answer, “A Sumi brush, rice paper, an ink stone. And the courage to use them.”

 

 

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