Back to the Inner Glow

Summer and the Recovery Moon

And, summer. A warm week ahead. Of course. Mountain weather. Great sleeping.

My first weekend respite from the radiation is over. It’s off to Lone Tree and Anova around 11:10 or so. Have to get gas. Burn through a lot of the fossil fuel with an hour commute. But, it is in a nice car. Back on the Beano, only drinking tap water. No seltzer. Bubbles.

The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet

Sunday is my rest day from working out. I read. An essay on charity and justice in the Torah parshah for Kate and mine’s bagel table on September 14th. These suckers are long. In this instance Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. It contains the most laws of any parshah in the Torah. The charity and justice essay is a reflection on the laws concerning gleaning.

Then, some art criticism in a book Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light. Peter Schjeldahl. This guy is a genius. Wonderful, short essays on contemporary artists and their work.

Finally, a couple of articles on what conservatives are up to intellectually right now. It seems Trump has unveiled cracks in a conservative consensus begun around the time of William Buckley: a corporate oriented focus on the economy, a robust military with a kickass foreign policy, and conservative social values. Simpler times, man. Simpler times.

A CBE friend brought over a blueberry lemon pound cake and a large plastic container of serious vanilla ice cream. She’s in cancer treatment right now, too. We talked for an hour or so until Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up to take another run at the serious clog in our bathroom sink.

He knows a lot about houses and their inner workings. I don’t. With Ruth and Gabe’s help the three of them spent a lot of time in our crawl space first with a snake, then with Drano, then with the snake again. It was a stubborn clog, mostly hair, I think. They persevered and got it. Yeah!

I made mashed potatoes with cut up steak from yesterday’s left overs. Broccoli florets. Ice cream, as you might imagine, for dessert.

Getting a plumber up here to come by for such a small task is difficult. Only a few good ones up here and they spend most of their time on remodels and new construction. They work in small jobs when they can. Good thing Jon could help.

Ruth decided to stay all night so she can help us today. I hope she and Kate can get back to sewing.

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.

The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion.

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.

Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.

As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.

In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.

My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.

In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.

Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.

It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.

What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.

Hug. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Plant. Harvest. Compost. Be grateful. That’s enough.

The Mountains Called Me

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

After I wrote about the one-antlered elk, another buck jumped our fence. He had two antlers, both velveted, as you can see. These two large animals are the Rocky Mountain subspecies of Cervus elaphus, one of six in the U.S., and the subspecies with the largest racks. In the 700 pound range. They’re big.

These guys stayed all night, lying down from time to time, then getting up to continue snacking on grass, dandelions, our backyard aspen, a Colorado Blue Spruce. When I woke up yesterday morning, they were dining right outside our bedroom window.

The dogs have to go out in the morning and when they did, they chased the elk to the corner of our property. One-antlered guy jumped the fence while I watched. He walked over to it and jumped. Right over. Our fence is five feet high. Dr. Gilroy, who’s from Wyoming, said to keep elk out there, they have to put ten foot fences. I believe it after seeing this one clear ours with grace and ease.

The two-antlered buck stayed a while, but he eventually left, too.

Another instance of synchronicity. I mentioned the three mule deer bucks I saw on Samhain when I came for the closing on our property in 2014. In the intervening four and a half years we’ve had neither mule deer nor elk in the back, fenced in portion of our property. In the front, yes, but not in the back.

We say this to prostate cancer

These two spirits of the mountain came the day I started my radiation treatment. And they stayed the night. No wonder our ancient ancestors painted these creatures in soot and ochre on cave walls. No wonder cultures around the world find spirit animals to guide them. When big animals show up in your life voluntarily, your life shifts. You have to consider their presence.

Some have said that Colorado has not been kind to us. I get it, too. Prostate cancer diagnosed four months after we got here. A new knee. Jon’s divorce. Kate’s shoulder, Sjogren’s, bleed, lung disease. All since we got here.

It’s not Colorado though. AA has a saying, wherever you go, there you are. This comes from the notion of the geographic escape. If I just leave this town where all my trouble started, I’ll start over fresh. Nope. Wherever you go, there you, the alcoholic, are.

We brought aging with us. My PSA was 4.0 the last physical I had in Minnesota. I’m 72, Kate’s 75 this August. Stuff begins to catch up with us at these ages. Genetics plays a large role as do dietary choices, exercise. Even with those all good, it’s still: eat right, exercise, die anyway. Not blaming Colorado. The contrary.

I have what I consider solid evidence that we not only belong here, but that we are welcome. Congregation Beth Evergreen. The frequent visits with Jon and the grandkids. The everchanging, but always wonderful beauty of the mountains.

And, for me, the grace note of these animals. Yes, Charlie, we know this is a difficult time. We know too that you are, like us, an animal. You can worry and fret or you can stop, eat the dandelions, the grass. Lie down among the lodgepole pines and the aspen. Jump the fence into another world. You did just that when you and Kate moved to Shadow Mountain and we’re glad you came. Amen. Blessed be.

Resilience

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Late April

Kate’s stamina has improved so much. Thursday. Mussar in the afternoon and a board meeting in the evening. Last night we went to the Gospel Shabbat. The Beth Evergreen singers, supplemented by members of the Evergreen Chorale, were led by Val, a committed choir director with a lot of energy, plus a fine pianist added to the CBE band.

It was high, good energy and Kate stayed the whole time, including for a bit of the oneg. (oneg is snacks and goodies provided after a service.) Her hip bothered her a bit, but she walked and stood, clapped and sang. A real simcha.

Rabbi Jamie came by yesterday around lunch time to see how I was doing. We fed him chicken pot pie (mine) and watermelon, then he and I retired to my loft. He’s a good guy. A dog person. His first dog was a wolf hybrid, 105 pounds, that lived an astonishing 18 years.

He lost a dog recently to a porcupine. Awful way to die. But natural. We agreed it was a good death, both animals doing what evolution had taught them.

Tomorrow, for father’s day, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Kate and I are going, at my request, to Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs. No less a foody than Anthony Bourdain recommended Biker Jim’s. Apparently he soaks his onions in Coca-Cola. After Biker Jim’s hot dogs will become a special occasion treat for me, no longer in my diet. Other processed meats, too. Gonna miss’em.

Bagel Table

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Torah

As Kate feels better, we’re gradually getting back to CBE. We both went to mussar yesterday afternoon and Kate went to her board meeting last night.

We also agreed to lead the discussion for a bagel table. A bagel table is a Saturday morning discussion held in lieu of a service on Friday night. This one will be on September 14th, after radiation is done and the Lupron is in full swing.

Here’s the description:

Wonderful! Thank you SO much – what a huge help!
Basically, you prepare a discussion on the week’s reading (which for that week is Ki Teitzei / Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19). If there are enough people you can say kaddish, but you don’t have to. We will have bagels and goodies present for noshing; you may need to set them out but you won’t be responsible for buying anything.
I think that’s it! If you come up with a theme for the discussion before mid-August, I can put it in the Shofar, but that’s not necessary either. Overall it should be a pretty easy gig. Thank you so much for agreeing to lead it!

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.

A Cloud of Unknowing

Dante Luca Signorelli (Own-work-Georges-Jansoone-JoJan-Taken-on-30-April-2008)

Another big medical week. But they all seem to be right now. Minor: had my teeth cleaned yesterday. “Your teeth are so clean.” Hygienist. So one part of my body’s in good shape.

Kate and I visit Ed Smith today. He’s the surgeon who will, we’ve been hoping for several months now, implant the j-tube. The pulmonologist has cleared her, the last remaining hurdle. I’m expecting (hoping?) that we will schedule a date.

On Thursday I have the standard of care imaging studies for prostate cancer reemergence, a ct and an mri. The axumin scan is a pet-scan. In a followup visit to Dr. Gilroy, the radiation oncologist, we’ll see what these tests have to say and revisit the axumin scan if it seems like it would increase the accuracy and efficacy of treatment.

William Blake

Each step on this journey makes things a bit more real. A bit more sphincter tightening. Right now, I have no idea where I am, except that I’m in a place I’d rather not be. No diagnosis except a rising PSA. No treatment plan. Just the knowledge that somewhere in my body are cells working against my survival.

Death Hendrick Andriessen 1607–1655

It’s a strange place to be, ethereal, filled with fantasy. They’ll find distant metastases and I’m doomed. They’ll find a small, localized tumor, zap it with a Buck Roger’s ray gun. I return to a new life free of cancer. The disease is slow, but not fully treatable. I’ll have to live for years with an invader slowly gaining more and more territory. A losing game of go.

I’m sleeping well, not overly distracted or anxious. Yet this is a moment of existential angst, the sort of moment that defines existential angst. Dante helps me see it more clearly. Here are the famous first lines from Canto One, modified just a bit.

Two thirds through the journey of my life
  I find myself within a forest dark,
  For the straightforward pathway has been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
  What is this forest savage, rough, and stern,
  Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more...

But, since it came to good, I will recount all that happened there.” This is v. 4 of the Canto and my hope. We’ll see.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Just to show you I’m not only about death and cancer. Here’s a response I wrote to Bill Schmidt after reading this article, “Modernity, Faith, and Martin Buber,” from the New Yorker. He passed it along from his friend Nancy.

Bill, it took me a while, but I did get around to the Buber article yesterday. Interesting. I’d not read a synopsis like this before.

He was a contemporary of Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism and the only rabbi excommunicated by the Orthodox rabbinate in the U.S. My kinda guy.

Martin Buber


I would put Buber, Dewey, Kaplan, and Emerson together. They all questioned received wisdom, hankered to get below the surface of thought to find the substrata. Dewey (and William James) as a pragmatist might be the outlier here, but the pragmatists were a unique American contribution to Western philosophy and as such took issue with the philosophical tradition they had been given from European thinkers. Buber, of course, is the only one of the three that is not an American, but he took Jewish thought in a direction I think is very congenial with Kaplan.

In a quick search I couldn’t find any evidence that Kaplan used Buber’s work, but their mutual insistence on a human centered approach to religion, perhaps even in Buber a human/pagan approach: “When something does emerge from among things, something living, and becomes a being for me… It is for me nothing but You!” and on Judaism’s culture, as opposed to dogma, makes them simpatico. “Buber exhorted his listeners…not to abandon their Judaism but to reinvent it.” Reconstruct it.

This is congruent, too, with Emerson who wanted a book of revelation to us, not the dry bones of revelation to them. Emerson I know had a lot of Taoist influence, don’t know about Buber.

Mordecai Kaplan

We might find a distinctly American twist on religious sensibility by looking at all of these thinkers, even though Buber was German. I’d say my project about reimagining or reinventing faith is in this tradition. That tradition seems to say, take nothing from books as true. Test their ideas against reality, test them against reality at its deepest in your Self and at its broadest in the world beyond the Self. Be ready for the sacred to surprise you in the petals of a flower, the flow of an avalanche, the innocence of a puppy. Find the divine within your Self and bow to the divine within the other, be it rock, animal, fungus, or human.

The gooseberries and me

In my work I’ve found the soil, the power of plants, perfect examples. When we consider our reliance on the first six inches of top soil, on the mystery of photosynthesis, on the divine miracle that is life whether green or furry or pink or barked, then, we don’t need to go to Luke or the Torah. My scripture and its most profound secrets exist in the wonder of rootlets reaching into the dark for the nutrients held for them in living soil.

Oh, I see

So. Saw Dr. Gilroy, the radiation oncologist. His office, appropriately, is close to Skyridge Hospital where I left my prostate 4 years ago. Gilroy is a man in his 50’s, a friendly broad face, short cut but curly hair, a thick, but not fat body, and a kind demeanor.

Still hoping to dodge the bullet

All the folks at Anova have been kind. Which helps. Kate was there, sitting second chair this time, as I’ve done for her appointments over the last year. These patient rooms are the same. An exam table, two chairs for the patient and support person, a stool and a small desk projecting from the wall, a computer. Sometimes drug company posters on the wall: Pulmonary Hypertension and You, How to rate your bowel movements, Glaucoma and the eye. Bland wall colors. Sensible carpet. A sense of depersonalization. The focus is on you, the sick one. Or, the maybe sick one.

The news so far is sobering. The rise from .1 in January of 2018 to 1.3 in February of this year is rapid according to Gilroy. The velocity of the rise can be an indicator of the severity of the reemergence.

“Have you had a digital exam since your prostatectomy?” In this case of course digital means, with a digit. “No.” “I need to do one.” “Oh.” “Drop your trousers and bend over the exam table.” And so I did.

He could find no nodules. Had he found one he said it would have indicated the likelihood of a localized reemergence. Rapid velocity. No digitally findable nodules. Could mean metastases.

Next up are the traditional imaging techniques. CT and MRI. The MRI scans bones for mets and the CT looks for what I’m not sure. Next week sometime.

I’m not afraid to die. But. I’m not eager either. The gap between those two does produce a quickening, a stomach drop, but I’m not experiencing, nor do I expect to experience, dread. Into each life a little death must fall.