We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Leaning in

Midsommar                                                                  Most Heat Moon

Strange times in the inner world of Mr. Ellis. Feeling peaceful. Leaning into life rather than pushing against it, struggling. Feels. Weird.

The move from Minnesota, which we did for love of Jon, the grandkids, adventure and the mountains has had a more drastic effect than I could have imagined. I thought the chief task here on Shadow Mountain would be becoming native to this place, instead it was becoming native to myself.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We move, then I have prostate cancer in a place where I know almost no one, with a doctor known from one or two visits. Not the best setup for entering a new place. But I got good care, came to know Lisa much better and have prostate cancer in the rearview so far.

Sometime after that Kate read an article about a study of King David at a local synagogue, Beth Evergreen. We went on a cold winter night and had a challenge finding our way, but we got there. Bonnie, who would become a friend, led the session and we met many others that night, including Marilyn and Tara Saltzman, who would also become friends.

Kate’s long ago conversion to Judaism, when she was in her early 30’s, had been dormant for the most part though firm. Here we were in a new place and Beth Evergreen had people who seemed friendly, the synagogue greeted us warmly. Both of us. I decided to attend further events to support Kate and, besides, I’d always enjoyed my relationship with Jewish folks over the years.

Since then Kate has deepened and lived her Jewish life, taking Hebrew classes, getting to know more members of the congregation through mussar (Jewish ethics). Joan Nathan has become her culinary heroine and she’s made many recipes from King Solomon’s Table including a seven-species salad for a holiday whose name I don’t recall.

Meanwhile I’ve been taking it all in, an experience I’ve taken to calling Jewish immersion. Each faith tradition has its own culture, its own way of being for those who participate. The whole, the gestalt of this, can be seen as a language, a language unfamiliar, even foreign, to outsiders. Without intending to I’ve been learning the language.

I think about conversion, about becoming a member of the tribe in the way Kate did, but somehow it doesn’t feel right for me. I keep myself open, however, not closing either heart or mind. The study of kabbalah has cracked open a door, a door I thought I had closed, the door of a faith reaching beyond the sensible world.

We’ll see where that goes.

 

 

An Earthquake

Midsommar                                                                 Most Heat Moon

Kabbalistic_creatorKabbalah. It’s trying to pry off the empiricist covering I’ve put on my world. I say trying because I’m a skeptic at heart, a doubter, a critic, an analyst yet also, and just as deeply, a poet, a lover of myth and fantasy, a dreamer.

Last night’s conversation at Beth Evergreen was on miracles. As is my wont, I looked up miracle in the OED. The first definition, considered most important and most normative,  says a miracle is an event that defies nature and is therefore the act of God or another supernatural being. Its root though is the Latin miraculum which simply defines miracle as something amazing, wondrous. The Hebrew word for miracle, nes, means banner, flag, trial, test, as well as miracle.

Rabbi Jamie, and kabbalah, pushes us to broaden our definition of miracle, or perhaps, deepen it. What is a miracle? Several budding kabbalists offered answers. The human body, animal bodies. Anshel, who has an identical twin, says their relationship is a miracle, “I can feel her pain. And she lives in Florida. We pick out identical birthday cards.” I said life, the ineffable animation of the inanimate.

plate_tectonicsRabbi Akiva says that nothing in nature is less miraculous than the rarest exception. This means, for example, that the water in the Red Sea (or, Reed Sea) is as miraculous as its parting. Or, for that matter, the Hebrew slaves pouring across it are, too.

It’s hard for me to articulate how this changes me. There’s a stubborn I will not be moved part of my psyche (I know. You know this already.) that keeps me from changing my perspective without a lot of thought. Good and bad. Makes me resolute in the face of adversity, but also mulish in terms of new ways of thinking. Reason can take me up to the wall, but will not push me past it. So I entertain a lot of new ideas happily, but absorb few of them There has to be an emotional component, a combination of reason and feeling.

The emotional/psychological element involved here is big.  And, it’s not only about an attitude toward miracles, nor even toward kabbalah itself, but about an inner tectonic plate, one that needs subducting but that I have not been able to move for decades. This core substrata of my Self supports a continent and that continent is my productivity, purposefulness, agency. Messing around with it scares me.

caveIt is anxiety. I believe it infested my life in two early stages. The first was polio, a young boy’s physical experience of our human finitude. It happened once; it could happen again. The second was the death of my mother when I was 17. It happened once, to Mom. It will happen to me and could happen quickly.

Now, I believe anxiety has its purpose. It makes us attend to matters that might harm us in some way and it encourages us to resolve them by poking us psychically until we do. A good thing, in my opinion. Yet, when everything or many things seem harmful-like life itself-then anxiety becomes crippling, closing down joy, play, eagerness, and yes, the miraculous, too.

I can feel that plate beginning to grind its way under more positive parts of my inner world, kabbalah is one of the forces impelling it. So is, oddly, Kate’s health issues and my own, coupled with increasing age.

Seems contradictory, right, at least these last two? Yes, but here’s how that works. Both polio and my mother’s death have left me with a sense of impending catastrophe, not immediate, not right now, but…soon. And, of course, that’s both wrong and right. The sense of finitude that both put into bold face type on my inner sign board is real. I will die, there will be some final illness even more destructive to me than polio. That’s the right part.

timeThe wrong part is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to worry about it, fear it, be anxious about it. It is. Or, rather, will be. Maybe in the next ten minutes, maybe in the next ten years, maybe longer. I know this by reason, have known it for a long, long time, but I have not been able to displace the irrational fear in spite of that knowledge. That’s why I say reason can take me up to the wall, but not past it.

The shuddering that’s affecting my innerworld, a sort of psychic earthquake, is accepting the finitude, leaning into mortality, even embracing it. The wall that keeps this from happening is built of tangled vines. Will I work? Will I care about my projects? Will I just relax, sink into the hammock and never roll out of it? Cutting a gate through this wall to whatever lies on the other side feels like indulging myself, separating myself from the motivator/motivation that keeps me moving forward. That’s the resistance that anxiety has constructed in my soul.

the-secret-garden-kewYet, increasingly I find myself wanting a way through this. I can sense, and here kabbalah is playing a critical alchemical role, a different world, a better world now hidden from me. I can peek through the vines at times, can see the secret garden beyond. It’s this wall that holds up the substrata, keeps it from being ground other parts of my Self. This wall has its roots sunk deep into this tectonic plate, is a barrier to its movement. But I can feel the vines withering, their complicity in the substrata’s effect on my psyche weakening.

What lies on the other side? I really don’t know. That’s sort of the point, but it feels like a healthier, happier place. Perhaps soon I’ll find out.

 

 

Sluuump

Midsommar                                                                Most Heat Moon

slumpBack to exercising yesterday. Yeah! Still a bit foggy in the am and my energy level remains subdued. Might be a summer slump occasioned by the heat or I might need a vacation. It’s been a stressful time period since December 1st, when I had the total knee replacement. That in itself was plenty but Jon’s divorce and Kate’s health tripled down on our resilience. It’s pretty good, I think, but the challenges this last few months were severe.

The summer slump notion may explain it all. As with Sundays, I have a conditioned response to the summer. It’s a time for relaxing, for kicking back with a good book or going on a road trip. Oddly, I no longer believe this, preferring the fall for travel and I read all year round, but my body and my mind carry this memory, ingrained by years of education where the main business went on from September to May. A learned part of me wants to slow down, smell the pines and the fresh running streams, but the rest, the conscious and choiceful part, wants to continue working, getting things done. The frisson between these two states is contradictory, conflictual.

Today is a Sunday and a summer Sunday at that so my strong inclination is to watch sports, go to a movie, read the Sunday paper. Which is funny since I don’t watch sports and rarely make it to a movie. I don’t even read the Sunday paper in the thorough way I used to. Yet at 70 the past remains, lodged in subtle cues which call up attitudes shaped by the culture, by happenstance, really. I’m not a slave to them, hardly, but their pull, their unconscious rightness does affect me.

Today, this summer Sunday day, Kate and I will have a business meeting and attend a birthday party, a 70th birthday party, for Marilyn Saltzman, a friend from Beth Evergreen.

I’ve got that I have to rethink, repurpose my time and energy feeling. It usually comes over me when things get muddy. Sometime in the next few days I’m going to seriously rearrange my week, reassert priorities I’ve chosen like Reimagining, kabbalah, getting some projects done around the house. But I’ll be thinking of myself as lying in a hammock, sipping mint tea and reading Faulkner.

Continuation

Beltane                                                                               Moon of the Summer Solstice

20170601_183426On Thursday night Jon and I drove into Stapleton. Ruth’s 5th grade class had presentations and exhibitions for class projects, then there was the oddly named “continuation” ceremony in which each 5th grader got a diploma. This was their last event at Schweigert elementary because next year each of them will be in middle school.

Ruth’s outfit and her posture speak for her in this fuzzy cell phone photo. Other girls had on white dresses with fancy shoes; but, not our Ruth, a girl in the fifth grade with fashion sensibilities I didn’t develop until college. She was one of two girls dressed down for the occasion. The other one had on t-shirt that said, “I like to fart at night.” The rest were in some version of fancy.

These occasions are fraught for Jon, and I suspect for Jen too. The hostility, shame, guilt and resulting tension from the marriage has not yet dissipated, but events important to the kids naturally bring them in proximity to each other. The day after this time at Schweigert Jen went to the police complaining about harassment from Jon, trying to trigger a violation of the restraining order. I don’t know why she did it, but I imagine inner turmoil from Ruth’s event contributed to the timing.

20170601_174005Ruth is a gifted student, a rebel and a usually sweet kid. She has a depressive side which can make her angry, sulky. She also resists, stubbornly, talking about her feelings, refusing to open up to counselors in the aftermath of the divorce. Her 5th grade teacher referred to her as a “little spitfire” whom she would remember forever. That’s Ruth in a phrase.

Being a grandparent of troubled kids, both Ruth and Gabe, is difficult. We can see what’s happening, have an idea about what would be helpful, but possess little true leverage, especially in these months so soon after the final orders for the divorce. What we can do is show up, love them, and offer, with some delicacy, our ideas.

I ache for Ruth, seeing all the potential, all the possibility in her, yet watching her forced to deal with emotional currents far too complex for her current level of emotional maturity. She does have her own reading chair in the loft and she sometimes retreats here with her kindle.

 

Kabbalah and Son

Beltane                                                                   Moon of the Summer Solstice

maxresdefaultA whirlwind. Left home at 6:15 pm last night for kabbalah at Beth Evergreen. First class in this esoteric Jewish mystical tradition. A lot of it unexpected. More as it comes into focus. It’s sort of blurry right now.

Decided to skip going to Boulder for a long Shavuot evening on holiness. Joseph unexpectedly had a trip to Colorado Springs and there was an opportunity to see him for breakfast this morning.  I drove down there from Evergreen, spent the night and saw him at the Black Bear Diner on Academy Avenue.

Turned around and drove back home, through the mountains this time, passing through Manitou Springs, Woodland Park, Decker and Pine Junction on my way to Hwy. 285, coming out about 7 miles southwest of Conifer. Got home around 11:30 am this morning.

At 2:30 Kate and I leave for Beth Evergreen today for its Shavuot celebration. I have to help set up.

More later, but kabbalah left my heart and my epistemology spinning. In a good way, but it was decentering. Seeing Joseph filled my heart, then left me sad when he had to go for a day learning about future Air Force tech. On my home my inner world kept insisting on its presence, pushing its way into the drive. Feelings tumbled all over the place. Guess you could say I was alive.

Mother’s Day

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Mother’s Mothers dayday. It’s hard to write about Mother’s day. My mother’s death in 1964, when I was 17, drained the day of meaning. I suppose it didn’t have to be that way. I might have taken the opportunity to celebrate her on this day, but somehow it’s never felt right.

Even though I know it’s a Hallmark holiday, a clever way to sell cards and flowers and candy, it has a sneaky power that comes from the Judaeo-Christian admonition to honor thy mother and thy father. This is a simple phrase, easy to remember and oft repeated, but often difficult to fulfill. This sentiment is not unique to the West, of course. Asian cultures often have an exalted view of parents, extending even past death to care and grooming of graves.

Mom was a 50’s mom. She never learned to drive. She stayed at home, raising Mary, Mark and me though at the time of her death she was updating her teacher’s license so she could work again full-time. It was her plan to use her income to pay for our college costs.

cards-mothers-day-ad-1952She was not, however, fond of the typical duties of a housewife. That’s not to say she neither cleaned, nor cooked, nor did laundry. She did all these things, but only as necessities.

Mom’s been dead 53 years and my memory of her has faded, but the presence of her has not. That is, I can still feel the love she had for me, the countless hours she spent bringing me back from literal paralysis during my long bout of polio. In fact, in what is surely an apocryphal memory, I can recall being in her arms at the Madison County Fair surrounded by bare light bulbs strung through the trees, a cotton candy machine whirring pink spun sugar, and suddenly feeling sick with what would become that disease. But I felt safe with her. The memory may be a later construct, but the feelings behind it are genuine.

Since my relationship with my father soured during the Vietnam War, in 1968 to be exact, I have felt parentless, sort of adrift in the world without close family support. That’s a long time. And, yes, much of that experience was reinforced and maintained by my own actions. Nonetheless it has never changed. My analyst once described my family as atomized rather than nuclear. It was apt.

So, mom, today I want to say thanks for your love and your caring. Thanks for all the energy and attention you put into all of us. Thanks for the gift of recovery. Thanks for the vision of me as a capable person. Thanks for all the meals, the clean laundry, the clean house, especially since I know these things were not what you really wanted to be doing. Thanks for giving me life. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I can celebrate mother’s day now. For you.

 

 

Two Masks

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Due to the mechanics of posting the post below precedes this one conceptually. Just sayin.

1012718_3234944448291_1047543642_n

first row, second from the right

I’ve discovered two more masks: the unhappy 10 year old bucket schlepper and the 17 year old grieving his dead mother and trying to manage his fear of the future.

Here’s how I discovered the first mask. As I’m trying to go to sleep, my mind serves up memories and feelings designed (I think.) to prevent sleep’s arrival, a habit of some years. No notion as to why. Anyhow the other night a stream of memories crossed my going to sleep threshold and tightened my gut, gave me a small ping in the lower left abdomen and tensed up my legs. I’m familiar, very familiar, with this particular sequence of muscle contractions, but this time I decided to suss out the mask I wear when they appear.

It didn’t take me long to find it. This was the 17 year old boy who lost his mother suddenly over a period of 7 days. A stroke. After her death, with no real help in grasping what it meant and how it could be coped with in a healthy way, he began to scan the future, to look for other catastrophes. Perhaps if he was very, very careful he could spot them in advance and prevent them. After developing fully, this defensive strategy would become a generalized anxiety disorder. Not hard to see why.

second row, second from the right. 17

second row, second from the right. 17 note the hair

Now I know that the onset of anxiety symptoms, even the jaw muscles that grip harder than they need to on occasion, carry that 17 year old’s deep uncertainties and fears right into the present. If I looked in a mirror, I’d probably see a kid with deep brown eyes, a full head of hair and a queasy look on his face. Perhaps now I can take off this mask, give the 17 year old back to his own time and put on the mask of the experienced adult who knows this, whatever it is, will not last, the experienced adult who knows death is not the enemy, but our friend, a part of every life.

What’s behind mask number two? Yesterday afternoon I sat down in my leather chair and realized I was tired, real tired. Exhausted. Yet the exhaustion seemed far out of proportion to the demands of the day. Was I wearing a mask that might explain the exhaustion? I felt my way inside and there it was.

Grandpa mask

Grandpa mask

Mask number two is the face of a twelve year old boy carrying buckets of water up from a basement, tossing them out the backdoor, and going back down for another one. When we moved to Canal Street in Alexandria, a bigger house, one we owned, Dad didn’t know that the basement flooded. Indiana is in the humid east, not the arid west. Big storms and heavy rains were common. When they came, our basement would fill up with water and I had to help Dad bail it out. This was often late at night. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but no. I had to carry buckets.

Dad was not happy about it either and took it out on me, grousing about my unwillingness, my reluctance. I know this sounds like whining, but I’ve long ago moved past this in almost all aspects of my life though it did occur to me later that Dad could have invested in a sump pump.

Copper piping here had sprung another leak. My exhaustion was not from finding a plumber, or from diagnosing the leak, not even from the hassle all this entails up here in the mountains. No, the exhaustion was my body revisiting those nights of carrying water up from the basement and throwing it out the backdoor while I was sleepy.

This was a leak. It involved water and our basement. The result? A twelve year old’s frustration and powerlessness returned for a visit. Once I realized this, named it, saw the mask for what it was, my exhaustion lifted.

Journeys

Imbolc                                                                           Anniversary Moon

20170310_174900The full anniversary moon lit up our way home from Bistro Colorado. It was the 27th time we’ve celebrated our wedding day and it was peaceful, funny, thoughtful. With flowers and chocolate.

I’ve been moving and reorganizing stuff in my loft. A favorite activity. This time though I can see the end. After Jon installed the walnut shelving, it was possible to replace and rearrange stuff I’d had lying around on the floor. Now that’s done and the art cart has been cleared. That means I can put the bankers boxes on it and sort through the files in them, putting them in translucent plastic file bins. Part of my idea with them is to have my files easily accessible and readable. The other is to unify the look of the file holders.

On Thursday I stayed after mussar to attend the adult education meeting at Beth Evergreen. After the meeting both Tara Saltzman, director of life-long learning, and Marilyn Saltzman (not related as far as I know), chair of the committee, made it clear that I was part of the Beth Evergreen community. Just how I can’t quite articulate, but it was an immediate, warm feeling of acceptance. And I felt very good about it. Another mile marker on the ancientrail of becoming Coloradan, of supporting Kate in her journey further into Judaism and of my own spiritual journey.

 

Serious Art

Imbolc                                                                    Anniversary Moon

Anxiety a bit better. Feet on the floor, no ache in my gut. Teeth still clenching and legs still tensing, but easing up. Still not sure what the source of all this is. Might be concerns about Kate’s health, things flaring up with her. Might be the Judaism/Beth Evergreen immersion. Might be the divorce and its aftermath. Might be the knee and getting its strength back. Could be all of the above, probably is all of the above. Whatever it is, I’d like to say, “Message received. Go back to sleep.”

chicken noodleWe had our business meeting yesterday at the New York Deli, which I’ve mentioned before. It has a sign at the door which says, Leaving Denver, entering New York City. Kate had her favorite chicken noodle soup with a huge matzo ball. Mine was eggs and corned beef with a poppy seed bagel. Plus four of the kosher dill slices that are always on the table in a small dish. A Joe DiMaggio jersey hangs on a back wall. The crowd is remarkably diverse, heavily Jewish of course, but including a large contingent of African-Americans, Asians and Italian, wiseguy looking types. I really like this place.

After the Deli, we drove up Havana into Aurora. Jon and Jen both work in the Aurora school district. It’s the third largest city in the state after Denver and Colorado Springs. Our destination was the annual art show for the Aurora School District’s art teachers. Jon has several pieces in this year’s exhibition, all mono prints. His work was the most serious art in the show by quite a margin. He uses found objects, often crushed metal, but also plastic and cardboard, that he retrieves from streets and highways. After making sure they’re flat enough to work under the printing drum (most are right away), he inks them up and makes prints.

His muted colors emphasize the shape and the form of the objects, respecting their presence as discarded and unwanted. Transforming them into often beautiful, but always striking, prints, he’s making, whether intentionally or not, a statement about how we perceive things thrown away, things lost, things flattened, things almost invisible, things destined for the landfill.

Then it was back home, away from the 60+ degrees of “down the hill”, and back up into the Front Range where life is cooler and slower.

Still

Imbolc                                                                     Anniversary Moon

Black Mountain has emerged from the night. The rising sun has chased the dark away and its lodgepole pine, granite outcroppings and private ski runs are in clear relief. Since I get up here at 5 am or so, I witness this unveiling each morning.

generalized-anxiety-disorderInner conflict continues, pushing me toward something, something undefined. Anxiety is an attempt to manage fear, to consider options to too many things. It reaches out tentatively to a world not yet born, scanning for threats, anticipating. In a long ago day I imagine the anxious folks lived longer (aka, passed down more of their genes), always seeking out the predator that might be behind the next curve in the path, wanting to get to the berries just as they ripened so they wouldn’t be gone, obsessively keeping tabs on water. In this world of grocery stores and police, water from the tap? Not so necessary.

I would prefer not to live like this. I don’t like it. But right now I don’t see the path out. Not sure if my take on causes are right, either. How you define is how you solve and my definition of the problem doesn’t seem to be alleviating my angst.

I’ve had times in my life when anxiety crippled me, leading to depression, not there now, at least not yet. Do you see the insidiousness here? I know where anxiety can lead, so I begin to worry about the trajectory of my current bout. That, in turn, creates more anxiety. Not a virtuous cycle.

 

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