My Ancient Spiritual Trail

Summer and the Radiation Moon

My friend Rich sees mussar as a metaphysical, not a psychological discipline. It’s soul work, deeper and more consequential than therapy.

Over the last year and a half my skeptical view of soul has begun to break up, fade away. First, from the Cosmos and Psyche (thanks, Tom) insight: Skepticism is a tool, not a lifestyle. Second, from a spiritual realization that despite its implication in the arguments over, say, original sin, soul nonetheless points to a felt reality for me, a phenomenological knowing. Not a dogmatic or doctrinal one.

Big deal, right? You always knew this? Or, no way, dude. Either way, so what?

And, of course, you’re right if you follow this often used, little understood idea back to its sources in Judaeo-Christian thought. Its use either assumed-you always knew this, or, so mean and inhuman, eternal hell for a few years on earth-no way, dude.

The Judaeo-Christian understanding incorporated the Greek notion of psyche, “…the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking” with a notion of immortality connected to behavior in this life.

I want to push back, back beyond this narrow conception of soul. There was an assumption among the ancient Greeks that soul had to have a logical faculty, and, that it was the most divine attribute of a human soul. ( The current scientific consensus across all fields is that there is no evidence for the existence of any kind of soul in the traditional sense. Wiki.)

First I want to speak for the trees. Let’s call it the Loraxian understanding of the soul. The lodgepoles in our yard, crawling up Black Mountain, growing along Brook Forest Drive as it winds down the mountain. They have souls. They are both alive and animate, creatures with a telos, or end goal. They interact with their environment and grow strong or weak, tall or short, but they remain lodgpole pines, trees with a particular role in a montane ecosystem, a role which they give all they have to fulfill.

The same is true for the mule deer, the mountain lion, the marsh marigold, the elk, the bear, the fox, the squirrel, the dandelion, the cheatgrass, the Indian paintbrush, the mountain trout, the raven and the magpie. Are their souls more or less than ours? Wrong question. Are their souls more like ours or more unlike? Don’t know. I just know that living things on the planet share the wonder of life, an independent spark. That spark gives us organic matter that moves and does so with intention.

Holy Well, Wales, St Dynfog

I’ve felt this way about the world for a long, long time. Taoism, Emerson, the Romantics, gardening, the Celtic Great Wheel. The mystical moment on the quad at Ball State. Oneness. With it all. I’m even willing to entertain faeries, elves, duendes, daiads, Gods and Goddesses. OK, I know I lost a lot of you with that one, but I’m going with my gut, my revelation to me rather than the dry dusty bones of theirs.

But. I want to push one step further. I believe in the spirits of the mountains. They have visited me here on Shadow Mountain, the mule deer on Samain, 2014, and the elk on my first day of radiation. The mule deer and the elk were angels, that is, messengers of the mountain gods, dispatched by the careful, slow, deliberate entities that are the Rocky Mountains.

I believe in the vitality of rushing water in Maxwell Creek, Cub Creek, Blue Creek, Bear Creek, the North Fork of the South Platte. I believe in the entity that is Lake Superior, that is the great deposit of ores on the Minnesota Iron Range, the ebb and flow of the Oglalla Aquifer.

I believe in Mother Earth, the great Gaia, a living system of ecosystems, biomes watered by rains and the snows, irrigated by streams and rivers, planted by Boreas and Zephryus, and given power to change by the true god, Sol.

Neither animals nor plants can grow without the sun’s energy or the food locked in minerals and vitamin: “Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years. They filter our water. They are one of our most cost-effective reservoirs for sequestering carbon. They are our foundation for biodiversity. And they are vibrantly alive, teeming with 10,000 pounds of biological life in every acre. Yet in the last 150 years, we’ve lost half of the basic building block that makes soil productive.” Living Soil film

As it appears, I am an animist, a pagan, a person who has found his spot in the great scheme. I’m a moving instance of matter formed in the great fusion furnaces of stars. I’m a temporary instance, holding together a few atoms for a human lifetime. I’m a significant instance of meaning created by the universe observing itself, throughout my short path, as the dynamic, interlocked, soulful reality that it is.

I need no human word to guide me. I need no idea, no rule. I am and I am within all this. The Arapaho National Forest. The Rocky Mountains. Our nuclear family. Our extended family. The community of folks at CBE. The United States. The Mind of God.

My soul and that of Kepler, Rigel, and Gertie dance with each other. In Andover Kate and I danced with bees, fruit trees, perennial flowers, vegetables, raspberry canes. Here we dance with the mountain spirits.

Long ago I set out on a spiritual journey that went down and in rather than up and out. That is, I would not find validation somewhere outside of myself whether Torah, Gospel, Constitution, or political ideology. I would not privilege the idea of transcendence, or a three-story universe. No god is in heaven, and yet all’s right with the world. My ancient spiritual trail has been to turn within for the source of my revelation. And, I have not turned back.

Not Its Purpose

Summer and the Radiation Moon

“We’re a pair.” A phrase often on our lips. Kate loads up her feeding tube with Jevity, tapes it to the bed, and gets most of her calories overnight while sleeping. I go to bed two or three times a day trying to quiet my stomach, hoping it will be up for food later. My muscles ache as I go up the stairs to the loft. We’re trying to sort out now whether between the two of us we have one functional adult. A bit of a stretch right now, I think.

Yeah, we’re beyond waiting for the side effects. The Lupron’s expressing itself in multiple ways: nausea, gut pain, diarrhea, fatigue. Lassitude. None of this is too awful. So far. On the other hand it’s not great either. The walls of the tunnel have narrowed even further for me, though Kate’s tunnel has gotten wider.

2014

Gratitude here for her recovery. She takes off for the grocery store, the liquor store just like old times. Sorta. By that I mean those trips usually are the peak activity of the day. Way more than she could have done even two months ago, however.

In sickness and in health is a dominant theme of our marriage. I’ll be happy for that to recede, but we’ve both been able to be there for each other. Wonderful.

We’re at a point where we need some help with meals. At least until the radiation is done and a week or so after that. I usually don’t have the energy to cook and Kate’s stamina gets a challenge from standing for a long time. This is temporary.

I’m still ok to drive since the “good” part of my day comes around midday when I travel out to Lone Tree.

Instead of Travels with Charlie this blog has become the Travails of Charlie. I know that. But, it’s my reality right now. A Woolly friend wrote to me and said three of his friends have prostate cancer. As we get older, that number will go up. Maybe somebody can get some solace or ideas from reading these post. I hope so.

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Yesterday. Sleepy, stomach upset, et alia. Stayed in bed, got up, had some cereal while Kate and Ruth were at the grocery store. Back to bed.

At the Rockies

Afternoon. Ruth and I spent a good time in the loft talking about haiku, wondering when we’d each get back to oil painting, her upcoming trip to NY with Jon and Gabe. Week After next.

She and Gabe are at Hemophilia family camp this week. Something they’ve done together for several years. Then, on August 8th, back to school. Ruth is an 8th grader. She volunteered to help with orientation for entering 6th graders like Gabe. So, soon.

Ruth mowed the fuel yesterday; Gabe reorganized Rigel’s destruction of my improvised guard wall. Brick pavers in 5 gallon Home Depot buckets placed where she likes to burrow under our back deck.

Ruth and Kate, then Gabe and Kate, made trips to the grocery store. That Kate. She’s going. When she asked me later if I could cook. I said, no. Just too weary. Was hard to say to her. Ruth helped. Cedar Plank salmon, buttered egg noodles, and peas. Most excellent.

Well, hungry and tired. Not late, though. Or, Angry. Gonna go take care of both of those.

Half Way

Summer and the Radiation Moon

You can see the orienting lasers on my right hand

18 fractions absorbed. 180 minutes, exactly three hours under the watchful iris of the Cyber Knife. Roughly 3500 cGys of the total 7000 cGy* prescription. This is over half-way. 18/35ths.

Hard to separate out causality. Does my occasional fatigue come from the radiation? The Lupron? Indolence? What’s causing my crampy stomach, over eager bowels? Are those prickly hot feelings transient hot flashes trying to break through? Or, are all of these some crummy bug that came along at a time when there were multiple possible causes? Not sure.

This weekend respite is very, very welcome. I need some time to relax. Decompress. Gather myself again. Three weeks plus a couple of days before all 7000 cGys are in place. A marathon, not a sprint.

Ruth and Gabe are here. Ruth mowed the fuel yesterday. Gabe picked up the detritus of Rigel’s bunny lust fueled attack on our back deck. They picked flowers for us among them Columbines and Daisies. Kate cut two of our blooming iris. Maroon bearded. Have not bloomed the last couple of years.

Another Great Wheel consolation. The iris will bloom. The daisy’s, too. Lodgepole pines will release their pollen in June. The mountain streams will race as soon as the snowpack melts. The elk rut will send the strangled bugling of the bull’s out into the fall air. Snow will fall in December. Rain will come on July afternoons. The altitude on Shadow Mountain will keep a cool gap open between temperatures down the hill and those up here. Long after we’re all dead. Oh, yes, over a long time even these things will change in some way, but the cycle of the natural world to which death belongs will continue.

* ( a unit of absorbed radiation dose equal to one hundredth (10−2) of a gray, or 1 rad FreeDictionary)

Wobbly

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Something’s making me wobble. I thought it was a too eager use of bowel prep. When I got back from picking up our groceries, I came in the door with three plastic bags in hand, rushed past Kate, “I think I’m going to be sick.” I retched. Then, went to bed. Sunday.

Monday am was ok, even my treatment was ok, but when I got home, I felt off. A little nauseated, a little fatigued, generally uncomfortable. My body wanted food; but, my stomach said, go slow, so I stuck to ramen. Kate made me ginger tea, which helped, and some chicken flavored ramen. Felt better afterwards.

This morning I’m sleepy, tired. Stomach not quite right. I have a team meeting today, I think, with a nurse and Dr. Gilroy. Will check if these seem like side effects to them. Hope not, but they never promised a smooth experience.

Kate’s new choppers

Kate went to a Bailey Patchworkers meeting in the white Toyota. And, she has Needleworkers on Wednesday morning. She’s venturing out on her own, not carrying much, but at least showing up. Big, big advances. CBE’s annual meeting is Thursday night.

There’s progress here. Kate’s stamina has improved over an already big leap. Her weight is in the zone she wants. Perhaps not quite as much as she would like, but ok. We’re kidding and joking. She had enough energy even after a long day to make me some food last night.

Today is day 15 for me. When I get to day 17/18 (Th/Fr), I’ll be halfway done. Beatles yesterday. Stones today?

We’re getting afternoon rains, the monsoons. They help keep the wildfire threat down. Very grateful about that.

That Damned Tunnel

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Thought more about the tunnel I mentioned in the post below. For a long while, especially from February through mid-May or so, I thought the light at the end of the tunnel was the ironic oncoming train. Seemed like the tunnel had shrunken and passing through it was a unit train headed in our direction.

Once Kate began to gain weight, smile, the tunnel expanded a bit. A small path opened up that we could jump onto and wait out the train. When the cancer diagnosis went from psa to imaging studies, and the imaging studies showed no mets, the small path widened up enough for both of us to stand next to each other.

The exit from the tunnel is still far off. I’m estimating September, late September, as the time when we see if the track outside the tunnel runs through a pleasant valley or back into another mountainside.

When I did the Progoff workshop in May I thought mostly about the time since Kate’s bleed. On the way to radiation today I turned this over again and decided that the move to Colorado was the key moment. Since then four aspects of our new life came to dominate.

supervised trip, A-Basin, 2016

Family. Since we moved here on the Winter Solstice of 2014, Jon has gone through a bitter divorce, lived with us for a year and purchased his own home. The grandkids have gone from traumatized to tween and teenager. In 2016 we went to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding. Since then, SeoAh has become an important part of our family, too.

Colorado. We live in this remarkable state, close to many things people spend thousands of dollars to visit. We’ve seen few of them. The tunnel has contained us. Perhaps as we emerge from the tunnel, we’ll be able to plan trips. 5280, a magazine, has an insert this month, 10 classic Colorado road trips. A good place to start.

We live in the mountains among the lodgepole pines, aspens, craggy cliffs and fast flowing streams. Mule deer, elk, fox, bears, and mountain lions are our neighbors. Making our life here on Shadow Mountain has given us great joy, the beauty and the changing seasons

Kate at the CBE board’s oneg, Rosh Hashanah, 2018

Judaism. Congregation Beth Evergreen has been a refuge, a joy. The folks there have shown us what community means, what mitzvah means, that life together is better than life apart. Friends, intellectual sustenance, spiritual growth.

October 8, 2018

Healthspan. It was the diagnosis in 2015 that started it. Oh. Cancer? Really? Let’s get it out and move on. Tried to do that. Next up. Arthritic knee. Get a new, titanium one. Yes. Good choice. Kate needed a new right shoulder. Also a good choice. Sjogren’s began to eat into Kate’s well-being, dragging her weight down, causing fatigue, nausea. The bleed made it all more problematic for her. Second bleed. Pneumothorax. Each meant time in the hospital, starting in the E.R. at Swedish. Flu. Pneumonia. Me. Rising psa. Oh? Really? Later here we are in week 3 of the radiation. Hopeful for the near term future. How our lifespan has been affected? Probably shortened.

First day of radiation

It is my feeling that emergence from the tunnel will call on us to interact more fully with all of these four. I’m excited and ready.

Round 3

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Yesterday

Under the warmth of nuclear fusion’s endless possibilities my body takes in fractions of photon radiation, breaking the DNA of cancer cells and friendlies alike. Outside it was 83 degrees, the sun hitting us with more direct beams. Inside it was all Cyber Knife and its accelerator hitting me. Different nuclear generative processes, but both powerful in their own way.

This is a three day radiation week. The long July 4th weekend is time off, then back at it five days a week until done on August 6th. Yesterday I listened to Bach’s well-tempered clavier. Today, Berlioz. Night on Bald Mountain.

After I said I still had no side effects, Dr. Gilroy, in our weekly management meeting yesterday, said, “Well, you might slide through the whole time. In the last week there’s often an increase in urinary frequency.” Of course that’s just the radiation. The Lupron’s an agent all of its own. Still no side effects from it either.

Kate on the porch on Pontiac Street, 2015

Trying to feel my way toward the life after radiation. Kate’s feeling better, not all the way back, but much, much better. At first I was thinking about 7 weeks in the Cyber Knife tunnel. What it will be like when all the fractions have been given?

I realized though that we entered the true tunnel when Kate’s Sjogren’s began to effect her eating. A couple of years ago. The tunnel narrowed on September 28th, 2018, now nine months past. The bleed and its subsequent hospitalizations, imaging studies, doctor’s visits, and surgeries took more and more of both our energies.

Fortunately, Kate’s long ordeal began to have positive notes as cancer returned for me. If we’re lucky, and I think we will be, we’ll reach a point in September, after the second Lupron shot and a surveillance psa, when we can catch our breath, assess where we’ve been and where we’re going.

One of the tricks of living is to stay in the moment as much as possible without losing sight of life’s context. Not easy. The context includes the past and the future, yet we never inhabit either one. Only the present. Right now I’m living life fraction by fraction. One trip to Lone Tree at a time. One meal at a time. One workout at a time.

In September are the High Holidays, Sukkoth, Simchat Torah. The month of Elul precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and as such is considered a time of repentance and preparation. Perfect for us this year. Too, on September 29th is Michaelmas, the springtime of the soul. In this instance Michaelmas falls on erev Rosh Hashanah.

And, in my own inner calendar, daylight’s change from 14 hours and 54 minutes on June 21, the summer solstice, to 11 hours and 53 minutes on Michaelmas, means that I’ll be moving further into the deep parts of my soul.

Looking gently forward to Elul, to Michaelmas, to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year Rosh Hashanah could be a true new year for us, the start of a healthier time. May it be so.

Little we see in nature that is ours…

Summer and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Yellow stains even on my keyboard. The stuff is everywhere, though the rain yesterday knocked yet more of it down, out of the air. I imagine that’s why my Lodgepole pollen allergy has been calmer this year.

A lot of intellectual heavy breathing going on right now. Examples: “The 2020 issue that matters is democracy itself” E.J.Dionne, Washington Post, July 1, 2019. “Do the Republicans Even Believe in Democracy Anymore?” Michael Tomasky, NYT, July 1, 2019. “Climate Change Is a Public Health Emergency, Medical Groups Warn“, Dana Najjar, Medscape, July 1, 2019. And so on.

There has been, over the last year, a rise in climate nihilists, ones that look at the data, especially the still rapidly rising carbon load in the atmosphere, and conclude that we have neither the tools, nor, most importantly, the will, to modulate carbon emissions.

Articles question the future of democracy. They point to Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Kim, and Viktor Orban of Hungary. They also point to the rise of the alt-right, Brexit and Boorish Johnson, the success of China’s centralized rule. The Washington Post had an article titled, “We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers.” WP, June 21, 2019.*

Instead of Fukuyama’s The End of History, we have the end of democracy and the possible end of human civilization. A heady turn around from his credulous opinion that liberalism and capitalism had finished off the conflicts of the past.

While I have sympathy with the naysayers, even agree with some of their main conclusions, I’m reminded of those folks who’ve predicted the end of the world over the centuries. Always wrong. Why? Because the apocalypse is not monocausal. If this is the relative death of democracy, we can look back at history and know that even that reality will change. If the climate nihilists are right, adaptive technologies and now unknown human responses to an overheated environment ensure some will survive and thrive.

The black outlook surfacing in so many news sources, from so many intelligent people, reflects instead a general feeling that, as Wordsworth said,

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away…

“The World is Too Much With Us” William Wordsworth

I’ve quoted some from the Washington Post article below because I believe it offers a solid anti-dote to despair. It underlines liberalism’s promise of a life lived with creative freedom, a sort of life that should be available to all. It also admits that liberalism has gotten too cozy with capitalism, evidenced by the so-true political cliche that both Republicans and Democratics are parties of and for corporate America.

As we near the fourth of July, I’m going with Emma Lazarus, with Scott Nearing, with Ram Dass, with Mary Oliver. Thomas Berry. Emma Goldman and Joe Hill. With Ruth and Gabe as they project our family into the maw of both strongman politics and radical climate change. None of this changes how much I love my family, how much I believe in human inventiveness, how much I care about politics and the Great Work.

*” …liberals in recent decades have spent most of their time focusing on the coexistence of different outlooks — promoting interdenominational peace, a public square in which religious and secular voices can both speak, and above all an emphasis on groups asserting their special identities — and forgetting to foster a sense of life well lived. Liberals have promoted group tolerance at the expense of self-cultivation. In the face of increasing criticism, however, liberals need to answer that they already champion a highest good: creative freedom…”

Liberalism’s main problem is that its vision of a life well lived has been corrupted — not by too much license and self-expression, but by an overemphasis on economic freedom that has undercut its own promise.We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers. Washington Post, June 21, 2019

Recovery

Summer and the Recovery Moon

March, 2019

Kate’s recovery sped up during the Recovery Moon. Yesterday she went with me to the grocery store to pick up a few items. First time in a year or so. She’s doing all the clean up after I cook, a big assist. She’s laughing, smiling, joking. She folds the laundry, does the dog’s second feeding on days I need to get my workout in before radiation. Picture me jumping up and down, grinning. Her, too, for that matter.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

As for me. Itchy eyes. Check. Sneezing. Check. Clogged sinuses. Check. Pine pollen season, unveiled now by the recent dry weather, has come to my head. Not as bad this year as last, at least so far. Thankful for that.

Got out the old Rommertopf clay pot yesterday. Plopped a 5 pound chicken in it with some potatoes, carrots, pearl onions, oyster mushrooms, red wine, and home made chicken stock. Cook from a cold oven for sixty minutes at 480 degrees. Remove lid. Cook fifteen minutes more.

Hadn’t used this handy kitchen tool since we moved here, but I will again soon. The chicken was so moist. A real treat.

No Beano yesterday, drank carbonated water. Enjoying the day off from the radiation protocol.

Wild. Wildness. Wilderness.

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Wild Man on a coat of arms, Albrecht Durer, 1499

Jimmy Johnson. Woolly, artist, designer, wayfinder, South Dakotan. He emphasizes an old men’s movement idea, the wild man. Find your inner wildness. Keep it alive. Present. That way our vitality remains.

OK. But. Cancer. Is wild. Exhibits a form of wildness that has no care for its environment. Only about replication at the expense of whatever can feed it. Sorta like capitalism. Especially fossil fuel companies.

A certain form of inner wildness has found me and I don’t like it. It’s the opposite of the wild man’s inner wildness. Instead of bringing vitality it feeds on life until it is no more. Again, like capitalism, especially fossil fuel companies.

In another sense though cancer’s wildness is no different from any wildness. It’s red in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest it’s prime directive. This vast forest, the Arapaho National Forest, in which we live is like that. Wherever there are deer and elk, there are mountain lions. A Rocky Mountain truism.

The mountain lion feeds from its environment, is ruthless and opportunistic. As an apex predator, the mountain lion may have no enemies here, but after the mountain lion dies, the forest will absorb their essence, put it back into the plant world. Which feeds the deer and the elk. The circle of life.

Cancer is part of this. It’s an element of the natural world just like decomposition, photosynthesis, a mountain lion attacking a mule deer. This wildness within me lives by the laws of natural selection. It doesn’t care who I am anymore than the mountain lion cares which mule deer they can catch. Cancer is predator and I’m its prey.

Luckily I have a means of fighting back. Even so, cancer is wily, persistent. It’s an open question whether this prey can take out so formidable an adversary. TBD