Hark, The Herald Angels Sang…

Winter                                                                                    Stent Moon

20161203_083509

Happily in pain.    2016

ChristmasNot long after my December 1st, 2016, knee surgery, I had an odd moment. It was Hanukkah. Gabe and Ruth were plowing through their presents, and I sat on the couch, my leg up and some combination of pain meds circulating, morphine and oxycontin, I think. Ruth lit the menorah. A sudden, overwhelming (undoubtedly drug accelerated) sense of dislocation came over me. Sadness, too. What was I doing in this house? No Christmas tree. No decorations. This exotic holiday had pushed all that away and left me on the outside.

It was true nostalgia.* And it was painful. I swirled down, feeling a deep longing to get back to the seasons with which I was familiar. To push away this foreign intervention. To put myself under the Christmas tree on 419 N. Canal Street. All the way back. Not Colorado. Not Minnesota. Not Wisconsin. Indiana. An old fashioned, true to my culture Christmas.

Meanwhile Gabe was click-clacking a Rubik’s cube. Ruth held a money jar Kate had made for her. A fire crackled in the fire place and the menorah burned quietly on the dining table. No one knew I was somewhere else, sometime else. Here’s something from that day’s post:

                                                   2016

The Christmas spirit that still flows around this secular, pagan heart saw them. (Hanukkah presents) And rejected the moment. What followed was a period of dislocation, the closest analogy I can give is culture shock.

What was I doing in this house with this holiday underway? Mom, Dad, Mary and Mark rose up. I missed them all, a lot. Further the friends from Minnesota. Why was I here in cold Colorado, in the mountains, when my family and friends were dead or far away?

Having experience with the not so subtle influence of drugs on the mind, I knew this was both a false response and a true one. It was false in that I loved these kids, Kate, Jews all, and had begun to get more involved at Congregation Beth Evergreen. It was true in that Christmas spirit is a real thing, a tangible and mostly positive emotional state engendered by the church, by family, by memories of Christmas past, and, of course, by your favorite retail establishments. And at that moment I missed it.

Two years later the knee is fine, better than fine actually. I’m not using any drugs. (except at bedtime) And I’m much further along in the assimilation process I mentioned a few posts ago. My peri-Jewish identity has congealed around my membership at CBE. I’m part of a community I love, surrounded by people who love us and have shown that over and over again in the last few months. Love is a verb, after all.

Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

               Angelic host proclaiming the wonder of your birth

Last night was the night before Christmas. Today is Christmas day. The festive part of the day will be the big meal at noon and seeing Jon, Ruth, and Gabe at 2 pm. I’m ok with that. It feels like the right amount of celebration for us.

So. Christmas now has two components. One is much more tempered nostalgia than I felt in December, 2016, a warm spot from days now gone by. The second, and more important to me, is as a festival of incarnation, a celebration of the divine and human mixed inextricably together. As the bells ring out this Christmas day and churches the old familiar carols play, I’ll recall the folks I love, the animals I love. I’ll see past the mundane and look into their souls. There is the ohr. There is the divine. There is the sacred. And guess what? When I look in the mirror, I see the same thing.

*”…the term was coined by a 17th-century Swiss army physician who attributed the fragile mental and physical health of some troops to their longing to return home — nostos in Greek, and algos, the pain that attended thoughts of it.” The Guardian, Nov. 9, 2014

The Sacred Marriage

Winter                                                                            Stent Moon

ohrOn the drive over to Tony’s Market to pick up Christmas dinner I got to thinking about ohr, the shards of divine light kabbalists believe actually make up the known universe. When I bow to the divine light in you and you bow to the divine light in me, we say that makes sense in that framework. So there can be the ohr, the light of the divine blasted apart at the moment of creation; but, I thought, there’s also the more immediate light, that of the sun.

It’s correct in every important way to say our life spark comes from and looks back to the sun. Photosynthesis creates the food we eat, whether at its primary source in plants or in a secondary source like meat. So the divine light could also be solar, the power of the fusion engine that is our star.

More and more I see the divine sun in sacred marriage with the holy goddess, mother earth. It is through the constant and intimate play between these two that all life emerges. In this sense then the celebration of the incarnation observed tomorrow can be seen as a holiday created to honor us as children of the sun and the earth. Of course, not just us, but all of the animate creations here.

We differ from the rest of the animate world, as far we know, primarily in our capacity to know our creators, the creature knowing the creator, or, said another way, the creators looking on themselves through their creation.

sacredIt is this dance, the days of the dancing star, that we are thrown into this world to execute. Sure, you could take this and conclude a scientistic flat-earth humanism, minus the divinity, but it seems to me you end up in the same place with a reductionistic refusal to see the simcha, the joy, of life as part of, not separate from. It is the bondedness we have with our star and our planet which is divinity, we are part of a dialectic between power and fertile elements, a fruit, in fact, of its creative tension.

Sure, you could also take this perspective and place a whole pantheon in and around it. Aurora. Shiva. Mithras. Yahweh. Even baby Jesus. But I believe it is this pair, this vital union of star and planet that both makes us and teaches us about our sacred relationship to the whole universe through the example of their intimacy. I see no need to add more deities though I don’t think it hurts. Not exactly. As long as we keep our hearts on the source, we can names its elements as we wish. That creative and destructive nature both sun and earth have. Sure, Shiva. The still point, the apparent stability of the earth below, the mountain above, the ocean spread out. Vishnu. The sun appearing as the earth turns on its axis. Aurora. The dangerous interplay among humans and among humans and the rest of the creation. Yahweh. Your presence as a manifestation of this sacred marriage? Jesus.

I come back now to the Great Wheel, that cyclical turning of mother earth around her sol, how it reflects our lives as they grow and change. It is the great scripture in which we can read of our gods, know their moods, and how we can celebrate their deep meaning in our lives. Blessed be.

Sol Invictus

Winter                                                                                 Stent Moon

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

Sol Invictus by Jake Baddeley

The long night began to fall as I drove home from Swedish Hospital. It was only 4:30 or so, but the darkness had already come calling. It is not over yet, still dark here on Shadow Mountain. Black Mountain, out the window, is visible through a very gradual lightening of the sky.

The Winter Solstice marks the deepest immersion we mid-latitude folks have in the night and that’s the reason I love it, embracing the long slow slide into short days. It also marks another important moment, the victory of the light. Like the Summer Solstice which marks the shortest night, but also the point where darkness begins its gradual, yet inevitable return, so the Winter Solstice marks the point when light becomes the victor, again gradually, yet inevitably headed toward Summer.

In this case, not usual for me, but apt right now, I’m celebrating both the long nights and the return of the light. I want Kate’s long journey into misery to have seen it’s demise over the long Solstice night. I want the gradual return of light and lightness to her being and her becoming. I want to see, over the next six months, as light progresses toward Beltane and the start of the growing season, Kate’s health and weight follow a similar path.

Whatever lessons this illness had to teach were learned long ago. It’s time now to move forward. Appropriately, as I write this sentence the sky behind Black Mountain has gone from dark gray to a slightly rosy hue. May Kate’s recovery be the same.

Winter

Winter                                                                          Stent Moon

Christmas, 2014

Christmas, 2014

4 years ago today we moved to Colorado. Yes, we moved in on the Winter Solstice, my favorite holiday of the whole year. It was snowy and cold, well below zero. We thought, oh, this is familiar. Seemed just like what we’d left. And, for four years now it has never been that cold again. Strange.

As readers of this blog know, it’s been an eventful four years. We both hope that events will stop whipping by like Randy Johnson heaters. A nice, calm boring 2019 would be a good thing. Let us catch our breath before Johnson switches to curve balls. If not. Well. It’s been growth inducing. Still. I’m ready to stop growing for a bit.

urukIn ancient Uruk residents opened all city gates, lit bonfires and sang hymns timed to the rising and the setting of certain stars in the sky. This all night vigil honored many Sumerian deities, but most of all Anu, king of the gods, and special protector of the city. In the Congo the Mbuti hunters clap, sing, and dance around a fire at night, the Molimo Ceremony. This is not only a solstice observation, but for significant events. If there has been a death, they sing to the forest: “If darkness is, and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good.” from the Lapham Quarterly, Winter 2019

Today, four years after the move, Kate gets a stent placed in her superior mesenteric artery, hopefully ending the reign of terror instigated by its stenosis. The placement, done by catheter inserted into her femoral artery, is not without risks. The probe can dissect the artery (open it), letting blood flow out, possibly causing death. The probe can dislodge plaque (causing the stenosis) causing a stroke. A thrombosis can form at the stent placement site, a blood clot that also cause a stroke or bleeding. We both agree that the risks are worth the chance to return her to a normal diet and life.

The guys who’s doing it, Dr. Mulden, has the praises of all those who work with him and know him well. Dr. Kooy, whom we saw at the interventional radiologists, said if anyone in his family, wife or kids or parents, needed a stent placement, he would choose Mulden. May his hands be steady, his eye clear, and his knowledge adequate to the task.

winter solstice 10Then Kate can heal over the longest night of the year. Fecund darkness, calm and quiet night, holy night, sacred night. A 98% full moon. With all the energy of a still waxing moon, one very near fullness, she will receive the best energy this long night can offer. If you have a moment once the darkness falls, feel your way into it, perhaps in the moonlight, and remember Kate.

It will be the most significant solstice for me in a long time, perhaps ever. Candles and silence. A walk outside, here on Shadow Mountain, to view the moon. I will remember the darkness, the emptiness which precedes our birth and the darkness, the emptiness which follows our death. Life grows from the night and flourishes under the sun. We need light and dark, cold and warm, life and death. Blessed be.

I like this guy

Samain                                                               Thanksgiving Moon

5002011 09 10_1164Happy to have some good news to report about Jon. Went to his court date yesterday. His inner attitude seems to be shifting away from anger about the divorce (understandable, but not helpful) toward getting on with his life, accepting the constraints of the restraining order (unreasonable, but legally enforceable, as he just discovered). He wants to get his art in a gallery or up for sale. This is big because it’s a key part of his identity that lay fallow during the twelve years of his marriage. He needs positive reinforcement and he’s had more than his share of negatives over the last few years.

artistHe’s a very talented, smart guy who can handle all the work necessary to remodel his home, replace an axle in his car, ski a great line down an A-basin bowl, teach elementary age kids how to express themselves. I hope he can organize his life so these thing line up, move him forward, and make him feel good about himself.

Kate had a nausea free day yesterday. She took the ativan and that seemed to help. A day without nausea is like a day with sunshine. It makes her feel good and makes me feel good. May it continue.

breathe thich-nhat-hanh-calligraphyI’m feeling a bit stressed, a lot going on. Religious school tonight. I’m taking pizza makings and teaching a unit on holidays, especially winter holidays. The kids will reimagine, reconstruct a new winter holiday. Tomorrow morning Kate has two imaging studies, looking for zebras. Tomorrow evening is Gabe’s winter concert in Stapleton. A sequelae of the hearing yesterday is that Jon can’t, for the moment, attend. The old protection order carved out an exception to the 100 yards rule for events with the kids, things like parent-teacher conferences, concerts, doctor visits, but the law is a blunt instrument.  Yesterday by default it eliminated those exceptions. Jon wants me to go to represent our side of the family. Important for Gabe. I’ll go.

Stressed, yes, but not anxious. Still. Amazing myself right now. Following the water course way, going with the many changes, leveraging their energy, keeping my feet while wading in a fast flowing river. Not trying to dam it up, divert it, slow it. Finding the chi, aligning mine, taking each day on its own. Most of the time, and this is the part that amazes me, little of this is conscious. Means I’ve integrated something at a soul level, some amalgam of mindfulness, wu wei, and love of life.

tao laoGot reinforced shortly after the move out here when I had to deal with prostate cancer. That shook me. I worked hard to keep myself upright and maybe, in the process, began to consolidate a lot of learning. A major part of that consolidation came from the support I got from family and friends. Oh. Life can be good, even when it’s bad. Weird. Since the move, it’s been one damned thing after another, or it feels that way right now. Those things forced a going deep, being honest, being grateful a lot. Now, four years later, our move anniversary is the Winter Solstice, my Colorado Self, the one born in the alembic of all those insults, has asserted itself.

And I like this guy. This mountain man, man of the West, embedded in family and friends and Congregation Beth Evergreen. Doing ok. Thanks to all of you and some random acts of life.

 

The Day After

Samain                                                                     Thanksgiving Moon

holiday black-friday-vintage2Black Friday. Should be a dark observance like so-called Good Friday. But, no. It’s a flood the needy capitalists with your money by pretending to save money on deals that still allow them make even more  money sorta day. I mean, geez, I guess it is a dark observance after all. Yeah. Black Friday.

Anyhow today’s transparent Saturday. On this day we pretend we need our money more than the president of Best Buy or Target or Walmart or Mar-a-Lago. Yes, it’s don’t spend it, save it Saturday. Enjoy.

Black Friday does catch a nuance about holidays though. When, after the build up, the preparations, the all morning cooking or present wrapping or driving to grandma’s, the big day finally arrives, and ends. Just like that. Imagine buying a paper turkey today to hang on your front door. Ewww. Right? The day after the holiday is its shadow. In the instance of Black Friday it shifts all those thank-you’s said round the table to the board rooms of hand-wringing, slightly leering, folks discussing profit margins and the effectiveness of neuroscience based social media advertising. No, that’s not a nightmare, it’s real.

Holidays are key inflection points in a year. They encourage us, remind us to go deep, to re-member, to re-joice, to re-construct, even re-imagine historical or mythological or religious or tribal events that hold deep significance. In some instances, like Pesach, Easter, Hungry Ghost, Yom Kippur, Eid, they commemorate matters so important, so resonant that we call them Holy. On Holy Days we often take the rituals out of the hands of the priests, the rabbis, the elders and plunge into them on our own. Yes, that means that the rituals can be trivialized, but more often it means that we for a time, a day, a short season, reorient our daily life toward such fundamental notions as thanksgiving, liberation, resurrection, ancestral influence, atonement, sacrifice.

We rise from the tomb. Break out of captivity. Care for the memories of our dead. Do penance and reorient, return to our best selves. Celebrate a month of fasting and giving.

The let down, then. A return to, as the Catholics call it, ordinary time. Waking as from a dream. Taking these huge ideas and stuffing back them into the shirts and pants and shoes of daily life. Like the air going out of a tire. The gift-giving is over. Boxing Day remains.

I suppose you could choose to fill that moment when the ideal and the real merge again with numbing. Really, I know you can. Liquor. Gorging. TV. Shopping sprees. Arguments.

What if, though, we chose to take those days after Christmas, after New Years, after dia de los muertos, and spent some time, maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe all day, to meditate, reflect, to intentionally incorporate the idea of Beltane into our life, searching for those places where we can nurture the seedlings. Or  how our commitment to family might be strengthened. Can we find a spot in our days for atonement and return to our best selves? What if we said no to Black Friday and instead decided on a practice that would encourage gratitude. Holy Days give us the chance to course correct, to remember that our lives are anything but ordinary, that they are brief, but luminous. They can teach us if we let them.

 

 

A Permeable Self

Samain                                                                  Thanksgiving Moon

Our house in the early morning, light on Shadow Mountain

Our house in the early morning, light on Shadow Mountain

Tarnas uses Jung to make a bridge to astrology. First, he credits depth psychology, especially Freud and Jung, with moving Enlightenment rationality into the realm of a neo-primal worldview. The collective unconscious is a vast sea in which we all swim, our inner life effected by and effecting this outer context. That makes the modern self at least a semi-permeable membrane. Synchronicity, a Jungian notion, encourages us to look to how the outside may be speaking to our inside and vice versa.

I was with him on this line of thinking. It was synchronicity that brought the three mountain spirits, mule deer bucks, to our backyard here on Shadow Mountain the afternoon I closed on the purchase. We spent time together, present to each other, maybe thirty feet apart, seeing each other and being seen. It was clear to me that the mountains welcomed us, had given us their blessing for moving here.

Kate and I saw a stand of aspen that leafed out before all the others. Yes, I wondered about it from an arbor culture perspective, what made them favored over the many other groves? But, I also saw it as an affirmation of growth at different rates, even among members of the same species.

253_Body_Mind_SpiritWhen Orion rises, as he does each year, and I see him for the first time, it is the same feeling as seeing an old friend again. The same feeling. Orion has been with me and I with him since the guard shack in Muncie, Indiana where he graced my night shift attention. Orion is not merely starry objects far away, arranged in a distinctive pattern, though he is that. He is a part of the universe with which I have a personal relation. Is that relationship reciprocated? I don’t know. But, it feels like it.

There is more. Long ago, after reading the Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, I saw the perniciousness of transcendence, a move that diminishes the human by placing our ultimate validation outside the Self. Tarnas critiques this, too, as a transcendent god emptied out the cosmos, disenchanting the universe by creating a special creature, humans. Thus, the locii of significance, of vitality, of meaning was either in the godhead, up and away from creaturely existence, or in his creation, humankind. All else was an object created for the pleasure or sustenance of one or the other.

By choosing to locate my spirituality in the garden, its plants, in the animals who were our neighbors, in the community of other humans that I experience and deep within my own self, going in and down into the collective pool of archetypes and symbols Jung called the collective unconscious, I pushed at the boundaries of my Self as an isolate, beginning to break down the formidable, even hermetic, seal around it banged into place by Enlightenment reason.

Bee-guyThe current signature line on my e-mails is from John Muir, “You are not in the mountains, the mountains are in you.” Yes. In this discussion that includes depth psychology it’s appropriate to notice the synchronicity of living on Shadow Mountain, that massif within the psyche that contains all that we fear, that we reject, that we push away. How bout that? And beyond my study window is Black Mountain.

When I got a cancer diagnosis back in 2015, I wrote about the Consolation of Deer Creek Canyon and during Kate’s recent crisis, about the Laramide Consolation. In both cases the mountains spoke to me. I imagined their rootedness, their difficult and wrenching time as they were pushed up, up, up by the tectonic motion of our planet’s crust, the deep geological time that they represent, lives millions of years long already, with millions more before they become low ranges like the much older Appalachians. Our mayfly life compared to these stolid eminences. The particulars of our mortality vanish in the mountains. We are water running down from the peak, coursing through Maxwell Creek, emptying into Bear Creek, then the Platte, onto the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. We join the vast ocean of the dead.

images (6)As we try, some of us intuitively like me, some of us more systematically like Tarnas, to heal the rupture between the human and the living universe, we find a drag chute attached to our thought: 500 or so years of human autonomy, freedom, even liberation, 500 years of human probing, learning, knowing about the world seemingly disconnected from our Selves. The more classically educated you are, the more broad your learning, the more likely you are to feel something wrong with this line of thinking. It doesn’t add up. How can the universe have intention, consciousness? It’s the objective reality we probe with minds like Einstein, Bohr, Sagan, Darwin, Pasteur, Curie. We’ve found its regularities, its laws, its patterns, and we can use them to predict natural behavior and therefore exploit it.

How’s that going? Our hubris is killing us. We can find oil, so we do. We can refine oil for many different uses, so we do. We burn oil and let its byproducts drift off into our atmosphere. You know the end of this tale. An earth too hot for most human life. Would a sensibility that places us in the cosmos AND of it, do something so stupid? Or, perhaps better, once we discovered the implications of what we were doing, would we continue? No.

Tarnas, in the last pages of the second section of his book, suggests astrology as a means of expressing the intricate dance between our selves and the cosmos into which we were thrown at birth. Just how this works in his understanding I don’t know yet; but, I do know that his analysis of the crippling anomie occasioned by our Selves walled off from the rest of the place we inhabit has compelled me to give this idea a fair hearing.

 

Our Place

Samain                                                                       Thanksgiving Moon

20181111_1718577 degrees this morning on Shadow Mountain. About 10 inches of fluffy powder since Saturday night. Fell yesterday clearing snow off our temporary decking, the palettes and stall mats I’ve shown before. Not hurt. Reminded, again, pay attention.

Cosmos and Psyche, by Richard Tarnas. Recommended by friend Tom Crane. I mentioned it a few posts back when I talked about skepticism as a tool, not a lifeway. This is an important work of intellectual history. I’ve finished the first section and, as I told Tom in an e-mail yesterday, my head is spinning. Tarnas points out, accurately I believe, the fundamental problem of our modern, Enlightenment inflected era. The application of reason and the scientific method created the Copernican revolution. Since that radical shift in humanity’s thousands of years old world view the ongoing advance of reason, buttressed, oddly, by monotheism, has in Max Weber’s wonderful phrase, disenchanted the world.

The primal world view, the one held before Copernicus showed the earth and the other planets orbited the sun rather than the reverse, believed in a permeable barrier between human experience and the experience of an ensouled universe. Our inner world and the outer world, the whole vast outer world, shared vitality, intention, consciousness. Gods. Faeries. Cyclops. Shiva and Krishna and Brahma. The pervasive sense that trees and bears and moose and squirrels and the grasses and buffalo were as alive, in a spiritual sense, as humans. The weather, the climate, the shifting seasons, the phases of the moon.

astrology2But, as the human mind, using its sharpest tools, reason and skepticism, saw through this primitive perspective, and, as monotheistic religions posited a creator who made a special creature, humankind, in their God’s own image, a gap grew between the human and the universe. Now, in the modern era, we look out from within to a morally neutral cosmos, devoid of soul or spirit, moving with randomness according to physical laws that, since we have discerned them, reveal the trapped, the determined nature of, well, nature.

This disenchanted cosmos holds us, God’s special creation, categorically different and detached from the barren vastness that surrounds us. We are, in effect, alone, small, aware of our isolation, but with no purchase on anything outside the Cartesian split between spirit and matter. We have spirit and all the rest, matter, does not.

This disenchantment and isolation, this sense of uniqueness, is, when viewed from above (not from within) a simulacrum of Lucifer Morningstar’s fall from heaven. With our hubris we have challenged the creation and in turn been ejected from it, living our short lives with no sense of our place in the universe. We gradually fought a war against anthropomorphism of the physical world, pulling back first from the notion of the earth as the center of the universe, then from the ensouled moon and the spirits of the our forests and streams and oceans, finally we separated ourselves from the evolutionary process by positing ourselves as conscious and all other living things as mere automatons. We pushed ourselves out of the garden, left ourselves to wander the earth, having to toil under the heat of the faraway sun for our food.

The interesting turn comes next when Tarnas tries for a synthesis between the modern view and the primal view. Not sure where he’s going, but he has convinced me of the necessity to try. In another post I’ll talk about how, in an incoherent way, I’m already some ways down the path toward such a synthesis.

Stop the Squirrel Cage

Fall                                                                     Healing Moon

stressWent to mussar yesterday for the first time in three weeks. Lots of hugs. Lots of obvious caring for Kate.  One of the ironies of this whole situation is that three weeks ago yesterday Kate and I co-taught a mussar session on compassion, rachamim. The next morning at 6 a.m. she was in the E.R. at Swedish. She’s been gone from home ever since.

Yesterday’s mussar was a sort of going away party for Rabbi Jamie who starts a three-month sabbatical on Sunday. Lot of folks brought sweet thangs. My first buffet in memory with snickers bars on the table.

Since I’d had a tough day at CBE on Wednesday, I wondered how I’d react in this setting. At first I was uncomfortable, both with the attention and with the fact that it was Kate who was ailing, not me, yet I was the focus. That lasted awhile. Roughly until we got into the discussion about emet, truth.

emet-truthIt was not the content of the discussion, but its nature that finally lifted my stress. Considering the meaning of truth, identifying the Jewish take on it, relating the search for truth to loving-kindness all stimulated my thinking, made me go deep. And that was the solace. Leaving the squirrel-in-a-cage stressors behind for a while, I went into that realm of memory and creativity where old ideas and new conditions meet, changing each other.

Rabbi Jamie is a great interlocutor. I learn from him, but mostly with him.

talmudThere is, I’m coming to understand, a unique Jewish epistemology, one which places a possible truth on the table and passes it around to the many gathered in its presence. Each one comments, shares the part of the elephant that they can see. The process iterates since commentators will comment on others reactions. It does not mean that there is no truth, this is the key move, but that truth itself is multi-perspectival. It takes a village to know a truth.

This has similarities to pragmatism which recognizes that truth with a capital T is not within our grasp, but that our search for it can identify useful approximations, their usefulness identifying their degree of truth.

So now I know a great stress reducer for me. Challenge the mind. Make it work. Let go of the present troubles in a search for new ideas, new ways of grasping what it means to be human.

Follow the WaterCourse Way

Fall                                                                              New (Healing) Moon

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate’s improved a lot. Bleeding stopped. Pain mostly gone. She’s getting some nutrition though a nasal tube and has eaten a bit. But, the nausea returned with eating. Damn. That’s so fucking disappointing. And, she’s been in bed so long that she may have to go to a rehab center after all. Not what either of us want, but if she’s too weak, then that’s what we’ll do.

After a visit to Kate last night, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie and I went to G.B. Fish and Chips on Broadway, a Ruth and Gabe favorite. Family’s bond in many ways, but attending to a sick or injured member of the family is a strong one. And, it doesn’t stop with visits and care for the patient, but happens, too, in these after visit moments. G.B.’s motto is “In Cod We Trust.” Works for me.

Spent time yesterday in cyberspace, about an hour, with Paul in Maine, Bill and Mark in Minnesota, and, briefly, Tom in Santa Fe. Kate was an important part of our conversation since these guys have known her, and me, for 30 years.

taoismThere was some talk of how Zen my approach to all this has been. Thought about that. Really, wu wei. Often translated, inaccurately, as inaction. It’s a Taoist idea better expressed by Alan Watt’s book title, The Watercourse Way. Taoism and Buddhism in China created Chan Buddhism, the immediate influence on what Japanese Buddhist monks came to call Zen. Wu wei is a critical idea in that mix.

Going with the flow is not far off in understanding it, a direct link with the Watercourse Way notion. Essentially it means not trying to bend situations or force them in ways they won’t naturally go. Said positively it means following situations as they progress, trying to move with them, stay present. It does not mean there is no intervention, rather wu wei acknowledges the givenness of so much of what we encounter. Perhaps judo is a good example, where using the strength of the opponent against them is a main idea.

It doesn’t sound very Manifest Destiny, make the world free for democracy. We Americans, especially white male Americans, have this fantasy that we can bend the world to our will. Taoism is a direct counter to this, a way of revealing the fantasy nature of such impulses.

taoism wu weiInstead with wu wei I try to follow the path of the chi, where vital energy is flowing. If Kate needs medical care now, I take her to the emergency room. If she needs diagnostic procedures or interventionary procedures, I learn what I can about them to help make decisions, to help both of us understand the implications. I interact with and try to make all of this happen as easily and effectively as possible. I’m not trying to force her medical care in a direction in which I think it should go.

A good example right now is the rehab facility decision. I want her to come home. She wants to come home. We could be obstinate, try to bend the physicians to our will, but would that serve Kate? No. We need to know what they believe is best for her healing and to act on that as quickly and fully as we can.

I don’t know whether I’m saying this clearly, and much of it is retrospective, not conscious at the time, but an attitude cultivated over many, many years. Part of the inner posture is also a product of existentialism. That is, take the world as it comes, as it is, not as you might wish it be. See clearly. Listen well. Only then can we make decisions that are human, not dogmatic or blinkered by personal bias.

tao ma linWhat I can observe from this last week plus is that these attitudes, these ways of approaching Kate and mine’s current reality, has allowed me to sleep, not despair, not become anxious. In turn it means I’ve been able to show up in each instance where I was needed. To show up to what is actually going on, not what I wish was going on or what I think should be going on. Much, much simpler to follow the chi.

71 years have taught me somethings. This way of being, this wu wei, this following the chi has proved itself in the battle between my wilfulness and a difficult situation. And I’m grateful for that.