Hokusai Says

Lughnasa and the full Harvest Moon

“Hokusai says Look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says Look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more of who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it’s interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient,
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive –
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees. Wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your verandah
or the shadows or the trees
and grasses in our garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives
through you.
Contentment is Life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.”

~ “Hokusai Says” by Roger Keys

Waiting

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Hard to lean into life right now. My ikigai is faint, a shadow flickering from the last log on the fire. Whether it’s lingering effects of the radiation, the Lupron, or the dismal psychic space of too much stress for too long, my motivation level looks like the bathtub ring on Lake Mead. I can see where it used to be and can’t imagine what will fill up the lake again.

The feeling is not despair or depression, rather it’s like I’m witnessing my own life right now. Not a full participant.

October, 2016, Mitigation round 1

Fire mitigation entails a lot of manual labor. Which I like. Work with the chain saw. The peavey. Wheel barrows. Lifting, pushing. Moving rock. The heat we’ve had and the weakness I feel in spite of continuing my workouts has made it seem too hard. I can feel the pressure of fall turning into winter pushing back at me, reminding me that this work is seasonal and that season is now.

Ancientrails, two million words worth, sits in year stacks on a long desk/table. I got that far, but haven’t done more. The years need to get drilled and put into binders. Superior Wolf, too. I want to revise it, take it apart and put it back together, but when do I do that? I just turn away from the task.

Cooking is fun again. I’ve done some painting. My bagel table prep work has gone well. I’m ready. This blog gets written, every morning. I read. Finished Second Empire, the fourth in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. Listening to books on my phone, through blue tooth in the car. I have meals with friends.

Even with these though I feel like I’m waiting for something. Something else. Something more. A new pattern of life, a new enthusiasm.

The trick is, waiting is wu wei. Sitting beside myself as my life flows on around me. At some point my ikigai will resurface or reform. I know it will. But waiting? Still hard.

Pupating

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Work out yesterday. Wore myself out. Guess that’s the point. I made a promise to myself that I would hit all of my workouts during the radiation treatments. I did that. Ready for the new set of exercises. See Deb on Tuesday at 10 am.

Made spaghetti bolognese last night. Tony’s bolognese sauce and an Italian durum pasta. Vegetables. Easy. I’m enjoying cooking again. It’s not the slog it was during the early weeks of radiation.

The post below outlines my current dilemma. Hanging from the yardarm, neither on the boat nor in the sky. The ocean beneath both. Won’t last. Just like my current, I’m a TV critic level of watching won’t either.

Serious illness spins a chrysalis around us, a secluded darkness in which matters of previous importance drop away. All energy focuses on transformation, altering the sick person and his past, imaginal cells bending and twisting, changing. What will he become?

Zhuangzi

I’m impatient for my wings. Guess this is a good opportunity to practice the middah of the month, equanimity. Back off the accelerator. Lean in to the healing, transformative moment, even if the moment lasts months. Practice wu wei. Yes.

I’m not impatient for angel wings. So, yes, the chrysalis moment is necessary. The caterpillar can’t envision the butterfly.

Ikigai

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

Radiation done. Lupron still on board. At least one more injection. Oct. 1st. If that’s it, three months after January 1, I’ll have a PSA that tells the tale of the radiation. Did it work?

Hot flushes, the occasional flash. One drastic mood swing. All I have to show for the forces of life vs. the forces of mortality. Leaves me in this in-between place. Cured? Maybe. Can’t know until I’m off the Lupron. Cancer still stalking me? Can’t know until I’m off the Lupron. So. Caught between knowing I have a reemergence and not knowing what my oncologist’s treatments have accomplished. In the quickest scenario it will be a year from the diagnostic PSA in March of this year.

Though I feel calm, not agitated or anxious about this, that’s not to say there’s no effect. The chief of which is a floaty, not grounded sensation. Am I living or am I dying? To be sure both are always true, but in this instance I’m not sure whether the dying has gotten the upper hand. Leaves me unmoored. The dirigible of my Self has broken loose from its tie down on the Empire State Building and has drifted out to sea.

Result. Not sure what comes next. Motivation hollowed out. Sense of purpose broken up like ragged clouds in a high wind.

Ikigai (生き甲斐) – Reason for Being “Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self-discovery and reflection… The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile… In the culture of Okinawa, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life.” from Creative by Nature.

Right now the reason I get up is to feed Rigel, Gertie, and Kepler. After that I write Ancientrails. On three days I follow breakfast with a workout. After that my day begins to wander, to pull away from my choosing. Not used to that. At least not for any length of time. I don’t want to be at this in March of next year.

Maybe my ikigai right now involves finding my ikigai for a place between life and death. So the search is the thing. Not the destination? I don’t know. Wish I did.

A Birthday Wish

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Another Yankee Doodle birthday. SeoAh turned 41. The U.S.A. 243. SeoAh’s birth culture is thousands of years old, as is Joe’s.

A Chinese
classical novel

We’re such a baby from a historical perspective. Our relative youth is on display in every interaction we have with China, an ancient civilization like Korea and India that has lasted into the time of nation-states. One commentator I read a while back refers to China as a civilization state, rather than a nation state for that reason.

China engages the world as a regional hegemon, a role its held for most of its long history. It abuts so many different cultures, unlike the U.S. Vietnam, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, the Himalayan kingdoms, the Stans, Russia, North Korea, even Japan if you see the South China Sea from China’s perspective. It does not share the great geopolitical advantage of the U.S., world ocean moats on both eastern and western borders.

The dynastic period of China, begun during the mostly lost in the mists Xia dynasty, only ended in the 20th century with the Qing ending in 1912. Thus, there are patterns and assumptions built into even the Chinese Communist party that reach far, far back in the Middle Kingdom’s political experience.

Among them is strategic patience, a trait sorely missing from U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century. The Chinese waited until its 99 year lease on Hong Kong was up, then reabsorbed this city-state. Not without difficulty, yes, but even the one country-two systems policy has Hong Kong, like Tibet, as an administrative district of the larger nation. They are also waiting to absorb Taiwan, sometimes patiently, sometimes not.

The world is big enough for China and the U.S. as regional hegemons, not big enough for either of us to dominate. China knows that. I’m not sure we do.

If I could have a birthday wish for the U.S.A., it would be a leavening of our foreign policy with the wisdom of history. Hard to pull off when our supreme leader doesn’t read, I know. We, as a citizenry, may have to exercise strategic patience with him and his followers. Trump and his base are not the vanguard of a revolution, rather they are equivalent of the village peasant in traditional societies.

By James 4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61859662

They are defensive in posture, that’s what America First means. You only wish for America First if you believe we’re already somehow less than others. I don’t.

DJT and his cult hold onto economic givens long out of date. Manufacturing and its supply chain, though still crucial to our economy, we’re #2 in the world after, guess who, China, has been in steady decline as an employer since the 1990’s, continuing a long slide begun in the 1940’s. see this Wikipedia article. Tariff man reflects a belief that the U.S. is somehow getting screwed on a regular basis.

They hold onto social givens like fear of the other, affecting immigration, race, and gender identity. The unearned privilege of the white American male is still regarded among them, and their leader, as a privilege given by hard work and innovation, rather than a teetering social contract based on patriarchy and ruthless oppression of minorities.

This is a passing phase, often at its strongest when its proponents sense their weakness, perhaps for the first time. Strategic patience involves doing everything possible to align their national political influence with their actual minority status. It means working against the Proud Boy in the White House and for politicians existing in today’s world, not yesterday’s. It also means not succumbing to despair or nihilism.

That’s tough, I know, especially with the climate crisis literally breathing hot air on our necks. But one way to not succumb is to do what is possible politically while focusing on those local and state level initiatives that will position us later for strong climate action.

Standing with you all in this, our 243rd year of a grand national experiment: Can a nation be built on political values rather than culture?

Kudos to Mary

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Kate at Biker Jim’s on Father’s Day

Kate’s recovery continues to go well. She drove the half hour to PetSmart and picked up Kep yesterday. I took him in on my way to the Cyber Knife. She’ll also drive Mary to the Federal Center RTD stop. Mary tried to find a shuttle or taxi and experienced the mountain way. Either not possible or folks didn’t answer the phone. Wish I could take her, but the Cyber Knife beckons.

Mary’s working on school libraries in Singapore. They’re surprised when I tell them I have Masters Degree in Library Science. Libraries are under a lot of pressure these days and are rethinking how they fit into colleges, universities, communities. Mary has helped the nation with her knowledge of how students actually use libraries. She’s so successful that she’s working well past the usual retirement age. Unusual. Kudos to Mary and her internationally acclaimed work.

Brother Mark likes to comment on the Vietnamese currency, the dong. He says it’s drooping right now. What kind of stimulus might make it rise, he wonders. LOL. He’s on vacation, plenty of time to consider the world around him.

With nine treatments my inner glow has increased. I may be a beacon on Shadow Mountain for aircraft trying to orient themselves. Listened to the Cream yesterday. Nicky was not familiar with them, but she knew Eric Clapton. The Cream was one of the first super groups: Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. I saw them in a weed smoke filled theatre in Chicago’s old stockyard district, maybe 1968. Got stoned just sitting there.

No side effects so far. But. Every ache, like the hip ouching me as I fed the dogs, or some shortness of breath, or general weariness makes me wonder. Is this it? Are the side effects commencing? No. No. No.

Well, at least I think no on that last one. It’s hard to separate the fatigue from driving back and forth, the treatments, pushing myself to get all my exercise in, and any that might be the result of either the radiation or the Lupron.

goes over the faded Baby’s On Board

A strange place to be. Waiting. Not wanting to invite trouble. The runup to both treatments had a lot of focus on the side effects. Cancer care is like that. Here, take this. It’ll help kill your cancer. And, oh, by the way, your hair and teeth will fall out. But that’s only temporary. Oh. Good.

Most important of all: remember why radiation, why lupron. Kill cancer. Go for a cure.

Been focusing on simplicity of the heart as I drive back and forth, reminding myself to stay in the moment, to not let other drivers, current circumstances drag me out of my inner calm. Tough for me, but really good practice. I failed yesterday when a peloton rode up narrow, no shoulder Shadow Mountain Drive. “Ride single file!” I yelled out the window.

Simplicity is about navigating the churn, the “blooming, buzzing confusion” that is our mind, as William James put it. I’ve taken to using advice for people experiencing panic attacks. Find five things you can see. Five things you can hear. Five things you can feel. I like this because it echoes techniques I learned long ago from the existential psychologists like Carl Rogers. Grounding. It helps.

All is Well

Summer (at 33 degrees and a prediction of snow?) and the Recovery Moon

King Ramkamhaeng stele at Sukkothai

“There is fruit in the forest, there is rice in the field, there are fish in the river. All is well.” King Ramkamhaeng, of Thailand. Brother Mark sent this quote from a 13th century king of Thailand. When we discussed simplicity at the Mussar Vaad Practice group, we noticed that abundance does not contradict simplicity. And, that complexity doesn’t either. Chaos and ingratitude contradict simplicity.

In the book Simple Abundance, there is a line that Rabbi Jamie quoted: “First comes Gratitude which leads to Simplicity that gives us Order that brings us Harmony that shows us the Beauty which opens us up to Joy – and we live happily ever after.” I just ordered the book so I can’t say where she goes with this, but I like the thought.

It’s tough in ‘Murica to take in this thought. He who dies with the most toys wins. Winning, you’re gonna get tired of so much winning. Success is achievement is money is power is life. What else is there?

Only the important stuff. Like love, justice, compassion. The definition of leadership ginned up by the rebel Leadership Minneapolis class Paul Strickland, Sarah Strickland, and Lonnie Helgeson were a part of. The whole volunteer board got fired after trying to integrate this idea of leadership back into the organization. Back in the 1980’s.

A friend who’s just coming out of her cancer journey observed that being sick had forced her to pare away commitments because she couldn’t rely on herself to keep them. I made the same decision when I resigned from teaching at CBE in February though the decision related more to Kate’s illness than mine at the time. She went on to say that now that she had begun to recover she could choose how to complicate her life.

Illness, serious illness, can have the unintended, but salutary consequence of driving us toward simplicity. I’m taking in this lesson right now. Kate and I had one life before Sjogren’s, before the bleed, before cancer. We’re still in it, that paring away of commitments and even domestic responsibilities. It’s an opportunity. What kind of life do we want post-illness? (if we are fortunate enough to recover, and I believe we will.)

Joe and SeoAh

We’re both grateful for the way friends and family have shown up for us. SeoAh’s coming to stay. CBE dinners and constant offerings of help. Tom and Mark coming out in January. Then, joining Paul and Bill in our monthly meetings on Zoom. Jon and Joe have picked up tasks around the house. Jon was just out to try and unclog a stubborn sink drain.

We’ve had to consider which household tasks are necessary and which can be set aside for a time. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, doing the bills, buying groceries, key maintenance tasks, yes. All the rest can wait.

By September, lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, Kate may be over a hundred pounds and back to sewing. Probable. I’ll finish radiation on August 6th and Dr. Gilroy said it usually takes about a month to get back to feeling normal. September might be the time for us to reemerge, out of this illness chrysalis.

The Lupron is a wild card. I get my second injection of September 24th. Not sure what I’ll be like, but I’m hopeful I’ll feel well enough to get back to those aspects of life Kate and I choose to emphasize. September 28th, four days after my second Lupron injection, will be the anniversary of Kate’s bleed. 9 months ago this week.

But, even now, to paraphrase the King, “There’s meat in the freezer, vegetables in the fridge, and bread in the bread box. All is well.”

The Mountains Are Calling

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Yamabushi monk

Not sure exactly what’s going on here. They mention Shugendo. It’s a fourteen hundred year old tradition that has esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto roots. They refer to themselves as Yamabushi, those who prostrate themselves on the mountain.

Master Hashino

It seems like they’re dedicated to reducing the distance between humans and mother earth. Or, perhaps better, creating awareness of that already existing intimacy, now obfuscated by so much.

Fellow travelers with me, I think.

Ikigai

Beltane Cancer Moon

This Morning

It’s been this kind of May. And it looks as if June will be cooler and wet, too, according to Weather5280. Good news for us, not so much for those lower down when the huge snowpack starts to melt.

Got further along on print Ancientrails. Am now in late 2017, quite a ways in. Then, print spool error. Again. Well. Gotta go back to whatever I did that solved it once. Tried so many things I’m not sure which one worked. Something did. For a while. Soon though. Then, I’ll take everything for three hole punching and decide what kind of binders I’m going to buy. Each folder with month tabs.

Also figured a way to unzip Superior Wolf and focus on Lycaon’s story. Don’t know whether I’ll follow up later on Christopher and Diana. The hunt for immortality is almost a cliche these days. And the central conceit of their story, a hedgefund group that funds Diana’s research, is not fiction anymore. Geez.

That means I’ve got months of work ahead, maybe years. My ikigai. A Japanese word that means reason to live. This article talks about ikigai in more depth as an explanation for Japanese longevity. Squares with my own intuition. Purpose keeps you alive and flourishing.

The Japanese have a lot about life figured out. Ichi-go, ichi-e is another favorite of mine. It comes from the Japanese tea ceremony and means each moment is once in a lifetime. No such thing as an insignificant experience with another person.

Sekkyakushi, 15th century, Muromachi period, Metropolitan Museum of art

Reading a book right now by the wonderful travel writer, Pico Iyer: Autumn Light, Season of Fire and Farewells. It’s a follow-up to his The Lady and the Monk, which I have not read, in which he recounts meeting Hiroko, the Japanese woman who would become his wife. He had moved to Kyoto to immerse himself in Japanese culture, sensing, as I do, that their approach to life is worth learning, perhaps adopting. Twenty-three years later he lives in Japan with Hiroko six months out of the year and six months in the U.S., caring for his mother and working for the New York Times. Recommended.

Each time I dip into some aspect of Japanese culture I find I want to know more. The MIA’s Japanese collection gave me a chance to interact with tea bowls, tatami mats, sumi-e, Buddhist and Shinto sculpture, put me deeper into my own Asian pivot.

Zen itself has not intrigued me, but I did follow Zen back to its roots in Chinese Chan Buddhism, a melding of Taoism and Buddhism. The Taoist aspect of Zen, and Chan. Yes.

Tomorrow. The CT scan. Probably the last of the imaging work. It will either show metastatic disease or a localized recurrence in the prostate fossa. If the former, one kind of treatment. And, prognosis. If the latter, 35 days of radiation and a possible cure. Hopeful, of course, that it will be localized, but aware that it might not be. In either case I’ll know. That’s been the hardest part of this time (well, no, that’s not right. The hardest part has been dealing with insurance and the hospital’s “benefits” office.), knowing the cancer has reasserted itself, but not knowing what that means for my life.

Will be glad to have this work done so I can move onto what’s next.

Are you going to be o.k.?

Mortality signals. Coming through loud and strong. A frisson of the world without me. “Are you going to be ok,” Kate asked, “Psychologically?” “Yeah, I think so. I’ll tell you if I’m not.”

Yamantaka

Hard to avoid running the recent news all the way out to the literal end. (see post below) I’m neither a pessimist nor an optimist, I’m a realist. The indicators are not good. But. At this point that’s all they are. Indicators. As Kate also said, “We need more data.” Yes, an axumin scan would have helped, but a ct and an mri will get us started.

Yamantaka and I have been friends for a long time now. I’ve imagined my death, my corpse. Meditated on it. When my mind insists on following the bread crumbs, I let it. I end up the same place Yamantaka has taken me. The same place we all come to. The question isn’t whether, but when.

Yes, this is morbid. And, yes, even if all the signs are negative, nothing’s happening soon. But I can’t be other than where I am. Right now, on this chilly May Saturday, I’m still absorbing.

I do feel I’ll be ok. Psychologically. Which doesn’t mean I won’t be scared. The unknown is the landscape between here and death. Will treatments be able to slow down the cancer? Is there still a chance for a cure? Unknown.

There a couple of mantras I’ve said over and over for quite a while. Live until you die. I intend to do that. Live in the present. I’m doing that except for those pesky moments when the blood hound of logic starts baying at the trail. I still have books to write, paintings to finish, friends and family. Dogs. Those will not change. Books to read. Places to go. Mountains and nearby states to explore.

On that last. I will see the National Gallery of Art in Taipei. This is the museum which contains the Qing emperors collection, all the best of Chinese art over its long history. Chiang Kai-Shek gathered the collection and took it with him to Taiwan after a losing fight against Mao and the Red Army.

Here is a large copy of one piece I most want to see:

Fan Kuan, Travelers with Mountains and Streams, Song Dynasty