We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Absence makes the heart grow wiser

Spring                                                                            Mountain Moon

Black Mountain white

Black Mountain white

Yes, it arrived. The bad Samsung got hauled away ignominiously with nary a tear of loss or grief. The new Kitchenaid now glares from its Cylon lens, hunting for dirty dishes, pots and pans that need a wash. This morning I walked past it and a single word glowed on the small screen visible from the front: CLEAN. Oh, joy. Oh, bring on the robotic revolution.

interstellar mediumBuddy Bill Schmidt shared a paper sent to him by a friend from JPL, Jet Propulsion Laboratories. It’s title is: Science and Enabling Technologies for Exploration of the Interstellar Medium. Exploring among the stars. I mean, wow. Still an avid reader of science fiction, I thanked Bill and noted in my reply that we live in a time when science fiction and science fact often intersect. One of the delightful realities of living through this particular era.

Since we have a deep freezer drawer filled with ground beef from our quarter we bought last fall, I picked up an important cookbook, The Essentials of Cooking Ground Beef. In it, to both Kate and mine’s delight, is a recipe for the famous Matt’s jucy lucy’s. This recipe is for sliders and last night I divided a pound of hamburger into eight parts, balled them up, dented the ball with my thumb and stuck white cheddar inside. Hmmm. Tasty. Served with frozen Arby’s curly fries, dill pickle slices and haricourt vert. OK, that last dish didn’t really fit, but I always like to have a vegetable and it was available.

jucy-lucy-burger-042

As the photo at the top shows, we did get another round of snow yesterday. Maybe four inches. All of it welcome. Precipitation, especially now, aids to some extent in fire protection and recharges the ground water. When your daily water comes from the ground water, having moisture to replace what’s been used is important. Water is safety as well as life here. Without it we become vulnerable to lightning strikes, visiting campers and the odd animal trying to navigate high voltage power lines.

ch'an

Kabbalah tonight. More about time. Qabbalah is another way to explore the interstellar medium, a matrix of space/time with its deep roots in what I’ve learned the mountain and rivers poets of ancient China called absence. Absence is at the heart of Ch’an Buddhism, that peculiar blend of Taoism and Buddhism that emigrated to Japan to become Zen. Absence is the place of the Tao, the generative force that gives rise to the ten thousand things in all their uniqueness and detail. Learning to penetrate the gauze of sensation and feel your way into the absence behind it leads to enlightenment. In fact, both Ch’an and its child, Zen, believe in instant enlightenment; once you learn this truth in your core, you know what needs knowing. Absence makes the heart grow wiser.

Oh. I did get my cleaning, reorganizing finished. Spiffed up and ready for a return to both writing and sumi-e.

Deepening, Growing Richer

Spring                                                                    New Shoulder Moon

20180119_095931

Dogs, too

Thinking about the previous post I celebrated the move to Colorado. We’re here to support Gabe and Jon. Congregation Beth Evergreen is here to support us, SeoAh and Joe, too. In turn the Woollies are there to support Mark and I retain powerful ties to them, too, and him. It’s so gratifying, at age 71, to find ties of family and friendship and community deepening, growing richer.

The Great Wheel turns, the moon rises and sets, day and night follow each other. And we reach out to each other, fellow travelers through the seasons, months, and days.

Gabe, Kate, Mark

Spring                                                                         New Shoulder Moon

septicemiaBusy Friday the 13th. Jon took Gabe for a follow-up after his bout with septicemia on Thursday. At 12:30 am they called with the result. Infection still present. Immediate hospitalization. The culprit? His port through which he had been given his infusions of factor, a drug that supports his clotting cascade (Gabe’s a hemophiliac.). So. Surgery yesterday at 6 pm to remove the port. No new one will be placed. Instead he will become one of five people receiving subcutaneous injections of a new drug that maintains his clotting ability without the factor. This is his second hospitalization in the last three weeks.

April 4th

April 4th

The national Sjogren’s Foundation annual conference is, ironically, at a Hyatt-Regency in Aurora, directly across Colfax Avenue from Children’s Hospital. Gabe’s in room 716 at Children’s; Kate’s in room 828 at the Hyatt. I’m on Shadow Mountain taking care of the dogs. That means Kate spent yesterday afternoon and night one-handed on her own at the conference. Gives you an idea of how much this conference means to her.

Her spirits are good. She’s gained a bit of weight, following advice from the nutritionist consult. Make every bite count. She’s also managing Sjogren’s, hence the conference and starts physical therapy on Monday. That’s plenty.

I went to visit Gabe yesterday after dropping Kate off at the Hyatt. Easy drive. He was in good spirits, too, tethered to an IV pole pumping antibiotics in through his port, but otherwise engaged with magnets and youtube. Apparently he was watching videos of pic line insertions, a procedure similar to installing a port. Anything that penetrates the skin, especially something that remains in place over time like Gabe’s port, a feeding tube, long term IV compromises the body’s capacity to keep critters on the outside. In this case Gabe’s port has been infected with a bacteria that normal lives on corals. Yes, corals.

A whole team of yellow robed, mask wearing infectious disease docs came into his room while I was there. There are three other patients in the hospital right now with the same infection. They can’t find it at the hospital and can’t figure out any commonalities among the patients. It’s troubling because septicemia can be deadly.

Suicide_cases_from_16_American_states_(2008)As I left Children’s to go home and let the dogs out, I got an e-mail from Paul Strickland. At first I didn’t understand it because the sender was someone I know only very peripherally. About halfway through the lobby, yes impaired walking, I understood it. Mark Odegard’s step-son, Chris, from his marriage to Margaret, shot himself outside his mother’s home. The wound was “not survivable,” though last I heard his body was still alive.

Mark made time for Chris, not only during his marriage to Margaret, but after, too. He wrote yesterday that Chris had become despondent in recent months, hearing voices. I can find no words. Only, so sorry. What a sadness.

Attenshun!

Spring                                                            New Shoulder Moon

uface me

Good conversation yesterday with friend Bill Schmidt. He turned 81 on Friday, a birthday call. He’s deeply involved in a business, UFaceme, (picture above), writing code, doing statistical analysis, using pitch decks to secure investors. May we all be as vital at his age.

My phone call with him took place at the Final Approach, the food court at the cell phone lot for Denver International Airport, while I waited for SeoAh’s text. She flew in from Atlanta yesterday to stay with us until Thursday. Her English has improved significantly and we chatted easily on the way back from the airport.

Been wondering for a while why I’m so damned exhausted. Caretaking seems to demand far more of my psyche than my body. The various chores I do, by themselves, are not physically onerous. Washing dishes. Not hard. Doing the laundry. Not hard. Running the vacuum, picking up. Not hard. Grocery shopping. Not hard. Taking Kate to medical appointments, handling the tasks with her that being one-handed makes difficult. Not hard. Feeding and managing the dogs. Not hard. The sum of them all? Makes me, as evening approaches, short of emotional reserve and wanting to flop in a chair. Why?

decision makingWell, a reason occurred to me. Decision fatigue.* This involves the affective cost of constantly making decisions. The theory suggests that we have a limited amount of attention and choice-making each day. Sleep restores it, but as we make decisions our decision making ability depletes, often quite rapidly, leaving us emotionally drained and less than crisp in whatever we’re doing.

How does this apply to caretaking? All those not hard things each require a certain level of attention and decision making. Do I wash the dishes now or do I wait until after supper? How much laundry soap do I use? Which setting on the machine? Is it time to vacuum again? Does this stuff need to get put away? Where does it go? Why isn’t Rigel eating? What can I do to help her? What’s on the grocery list? Do I need to get gas? You get the idea.

Though none of these things individually are hard, many of them are ones that Kate takes care of in the normal division of labor in our relationship. That means I don’t have settled, habitual ways of handling them that bypass decision making. Over time I would gain those, figure out a way to include all of them in my day without having to find the detergent, measure it, wonder how long the cycle takes. But for now each of them requires a flood of mini-decisions, each of which drains energy.

Just writing about this makes me want to find a chair, flip on the TV and zone out for a while.

*decision fatigue refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.[1][2] It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making.[2] For instance, judges in court have been shown to make less favorable decisions later in the day than early in the day.  wikipedia

 

Friend and Family

Imbolc                                                                New Life Moon

20180121_172506

Remember that deep muscle ache I got during my session for a new workout? Well, it’s not gone. If I didn’t have a collection of good pain meds, it would be interfering with my sleep. On my second visit to On the Move Fitness, their usual pattern to ensure I have the new exercises down, Debbie told me to go easier on my leg work for a couple of weeks. I have, and it’s getting better. But slowly.

Nothing like the pain Kate has in her right shoulder. We’re coming up on her shoulder replacement surgery on the 22nd. What I’ve learned, relearned really, from my leg pain is that pain doesn’t have to be searing, 8 or 9 pain, to screw up sleep. And that lost sleep can exacerbate both physical and psychic pain. Kate’s dealt with this for months, years in the case of her bursa. Yet she persists. I admire that in her. Tough lady.

joy friends (2)

Saw Scott Simpson yesterday at Brook’s Tavern. He spent a week in Carbondale visiting Corey and Todd and was on his way to Pagosa Springs in the southern part of the state to see Heather. Hwy 285 goes almost the whole way, so his route took him through Conifer.

Scott’s a Woolly and a friend of many years. He’s also recently retired, a year in May. We got caught up on family, discussed the unbelievable DJT. Scott’s tinkering with songs, creating them. He’s a first class drummer, but wants to add writing music. He’s in that retirement stage called figuring out what the hell I’m gonna do now. A long process and often with changing results. Fun, though. At least for the most part.

 

 

 

Life opens forward if you let it

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon

Jim

Jim

Friend Jim Johnson had an opening of his work in Aberdeen, South Dakota the other night. His new work is lots of colors, strings, leaves, nice bright colors as Simon and Garfunkel sang. Jim, and his long time friend Mark, have both taken their art with them into the third phase. Mark has written one book, an initiation tale, about his time in Vietnam and is at work on another, a hero’s quest tale of his time in Fiji and on the road. He also had a show of new work a couple of years ago, his bridge series. I admire them, keeping Bridgit’s hearthfire lit. Life opens forward if you let it.

Bridgit is the triple goddess in the auld Celtic faith, patroness of poetry, of song, of craft, of the creative spirit. At the double monastery in Kildare, Ireland (men and women), Christians kept her eternal fire burning even after the church absorbed her as a saint. This is Bridgit’s time. She’s the goddess of Imbolc, the cross quarter holiday when the magic of life in the womb brought hope to ancient Celts after the long fallow season.

bridgit's holy well, Killdare, Ireland

Bridgit’s holy well, Kildare, Ireland

This is my creed outworn (see Wordsworth in the post below). Or, part of it. James Hillman, a very interesting Jungian analyst, said we find the gods in our pathologies. I believe that, too. Jung said we find the gods in our diseases. I believe we find them, too, in passions, in new art, in turning over old life like a furrow in which to plant the divine seeds of a new one.

A while back I talked about doing the work that only I can do. Jim and Mark are doing theirs. Over the last few weeks, reading Emerson and Deng Ming-Dao in daily meditations, I’ve found resonance with this idea. Emerson said, for example, in his essay, Success, “Each (person) has an aptitude born with (them). Do your work…It is rare to find a (person) who believes their own thought or who speaks that which (they were) created to say.” Ming-Dao, in his 365 Days of the Tao, says, in his entry #40, subconscious: “Everything to be understood is within us. All that must be transcended…is within us. All the power of transcendence is within us. Tap into it and you tap into the divine itself.”

Approa39It is axiomatic that each person is unique, a particular example of the human, of life, of the creative process that began at tzimtzum or the big bang, thrown into a particular time and a particular place. It is that particularity that Emerson elevates. It is that particularity which formulates within us, as instantiations of the whole, our own work. When we tap into the sacred, the shard of ohr (divine light) lodged within us, we come to know our work. And, the world needs it because you are the only one with this spark of the divine and the only one in the whole history of the universe who has it. If you don’t express your ancientrail, it will die with you and the world will be poorer.

We need you. As you are. Not as a bearer of tradition. Not as a follower of rules and laws, no matter what their claim to authority. Not as a sycophant to the culture in which you were raised. No, none of these. Instead we need the you that dances among the stars, the you that drinks from the deep holy wells within you. We need the you that only you can be.

Yes, it’s a scary prospect that you might be worthwhile just for what you are. Not for the degrees you’ve earned or the children you’ve had or the job you do, but for the you that carries a singular vision, a once in eternity vantage point on the universe. Tell us what you see. Tell us what you know. Tell us who you are. We need you, all of us need you.

 

 

 

Friends

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

photoR

Left to right, starting in the back: Jim, Bill, Paul, Tom, me, Mark, Warren

Excited about the possibility of four good friends visiting for a Colorado mountains road trip. These friends, Tom, Bill, Mark, and Paul, are as good a friends as any guy has a right to have in his life. Fun, bright, compassionate, engaged, still pushing their own limits. (in age appropriate ways) High times with great altitude just over the pass. As Tom said in a recent birthday card, referring to our 30 plus years with the Woolly Mammoths, “…almost half a life time.” Well, when you put it that way…

The Grail and the Veil

Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

Sumi Brush“The more I have looked into the Quest for the Grail, it is clear it is a Western form of Zen. There is no grail, it is understanding that the veil is the mystery of existence, it is nothing, but our interactions with everyone and everything.” Woolly and friend, Mark Odegard

Mark is an artist, an author, a sweet guy and a friend of 30 years. He’s done many retreats at a Zen Buddhist retreat center in Minnesota and done calligraphy with that giant brush Zen monks use. He has an ability to come at ideas from the side, or behind, seeing what cannot be seen; the Zen work has informed his sight in substantive ways.

He’s asking the Woolly Mammoths this New Year’s question for their next meeting:

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail’? I will write down your answer to this, and ask you again at the end of the year.

The story represents our own encounter with the mystery of life (often occurring in our late teen years). The meaning is veiled for us, what do you need to lift the veil.”

Mark’s question made me start because I’d just written this, only two or three days ago here on Ancientrails:

“Torah study is about loving attentiveness. It is a way of engaging the sacred world which we can know first from within our own person and which permeates that which we encounter throughout our lives…

God lit up for me. Ah, if I do Torah study, if I engage in loving attentiveness to my Self, my own Soul, and those of others and of the broader natural world, then I can find the knowledge which permeates all things, that very same shards of the sacred that shattered just after the tzimtzum to create our universe. That is God being available everywhere. This is far different from the Latinate imponderable of omnipresence, sort of an elf on the shelf deity lurking in every spot, finding you everywhere. And judging.

No. God is another word for the intimate linkage between and among all things, from the smallest gluon to the largest star. God is neither a superparent nor a cosmic Santa Claus writing down your behaviors in the book of deeds; God is a metaphor for the sacred knowledge which permeates the perceivable, and the unperceivable, world.” Ancientrails

I’m not trying to revive the word God here, nor am I trying to reinsert myself into the thought world which includes God. I’m on the same grail quest I started years ago in Alexandria First Methodist sitting beside the huge stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Back then I read the Bible as history, not as mythology. Back then it mattered if there was a Jesus who prayed in that Garden that the burden of crucifixion be lifted.

I pushed those beliefs away long ago, passing through a moment, a long moment of second naivete with them, then moving into the world of the Great Wheel and the cyclical, spiraling time through which all life moves, in fact, all things. Over the last year or so my intense program of Jewish immersion has taken me another big step along this ancientrail, a true Grail quest began when, as a sixteen year old, I began to doubt the stories I’d heard growing up.

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

Frederick J. Waugh, The Knight of the Holy Grail, c. 1912

 

 

My true philosophical (qua religious) home, existentialism, found me in the aftermath of that doubting and my first encounter with philosophy at Wabash College. When I went into my Christian immersion, through seminary and in the Presbyterian years, my faith went mystical, seeing the divine as divinely personal, as a bright light shining within the darkness of my inner world, a light whose purpose was not to dispel the darkness, but to integrate, Taoist style, both of them.

Now, with Rabbi Jamie, I’m studying the kabbalah. Like Zen it insists on not seeing with eyes alone, but with the heart, with a poetic sensibility that understands religious language, I think all religious language, as metaphor, even and especially for the kabbalists, the written Torah.

The veil is a very important metaphor in kabbalistic thought. Like Mark observed above the kabbalists know there is a veil between us and the mystery of existence. The veil underscores the humility necessary for this work and without humility the quest will fail.

canterbury pilgrims

canterbury pilgrims

This idea is ultimately significant. Or not. We cannot penetrate the veil. Ever. Yet we all stand together on the other side of it. To see through the veil, to actually find the Grail, is not given to us, yet that place which we see through a glass darkly is the place where we stand right now. Yes, right now the Grail is in our hands, a cup from which we can drink at any moment.

This ancientrail, the quest for the Grail, the turning of the Great Wheel, the lifting of the burden of our crucifixion, flowing up and down with divine energy through the Tree of Life, is our life, is the life of this world, this cosmic pulsing brilliant reality. Yet we let so many things: work, fear, hope, pride blind us.

winter solstice3The Woolly Mammoths have been my companions, fellow pilgrims, on the way to Canterbury. Or, fellow Tibetan Buddhists inch worming their way around the sacred mountain, Meru. Or, my fellow Torah scholars, davening as we read the sacred texts. Or, fellow Lakotas, our skin pierced and tied to the world tree during the Sun Dance. Or, friends traveling through this life together until it ends.

“What personal tool/skill do I need to refine for my quest for the grail?” Out of far left field, I’m going to answer, “A Sumi brush, rice paper, an ink stone. And the courage to use them.”

 

 

The Rockies, Not Far From Home

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Old Men and the Mountains

Old Men and the Mountains

 

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Downtown Georgetown and Silvery Plume Mtn.

Downtown Georgetown and Silver Plume Mtn.

Kavanah

Fall                                                                         Joe and SeoAh Moon

But the end is not yet

But the end is not yet

2017 Woolly Mammoth Retreat Question. Three Mammoths are not yet 70, a couple at 70, four mid-70’s and two in their 80’s. All, however, firmly in what I call the third phase, the phase of life after career and family building are usually over. That’s the time frame this question referents.

Since I will not be attending this year, I’m going to write my answer here and send it along to the retreat.

What is our intention for this phase (or the remainder) of our life; hopes, truths, fears, losses, sufferings, challenges, inspirations, duties and non-duties?

It is different now, in the third phase of life. With a career and a family we built our lives to a crescendo and this, this is the denouement*:  the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Other words: conclusion, finale, epilogue, coda, final scene, finish, end.

It is not retirement, at least not any more. This is not the finish line, it’s the period before the finish line, after the race has largely been run. But not all the way. The finish line might be a fourth phase, a sort of lingering in the face of medical challenges that end only one way, death. None of us, to my knowledge anyhow, are in that fourth phase and we have at least one who is still flirting with the end of the second phase, but for the most part we’re in life’s epilogue.

One of the reasons I came up with notion of the third phase was that the retirement model of my childhood was more like the fourth phase, a lingering that, though it might include golf, fishing, a grandkid on the knee, was still a lingering that saw death close by. It was a time of not-working, defined by whatever leisure pursuits one chose.

2010 01 19_3454Not for us. As all of you (Woolly Mammoths at least) know, I entered the third phase from a different vantage point, having left the ministry behind as a full-time vocation in 1991. I focused on writing novels though there was a regressive moment in which I moved over to the UU ministry, at least partway.

I have written several. And I’m not done. My 8th, Superior Wolf, has a finished first draft and I’m working on my 9th, Jennie’s Dead. Not to mention the vampire novel I’m plotting in my head right now, one set around a castle hidden away in the Rocky Mountains. So, the not-working, retirement focused third phase is not for me. I’m having too much fun.

The third phase began in earnest for me when we decided to move to Colorado. Why? Because we were leaving behind not only the political and museum work I’d done for years in the Twin Cities, but we sold our garden, our orchards, our woods, our flower beds. We also stored all the bee equipment we’d purchased over the years. Those were the work equivalent activities of my post-ministry years, equal in some ways to novel writing.

So my intention for the third phase had, at the point of the move, at least these components: a focus on Jon, Ruth and Gabe, continued writing, immersion in the West and the Rockies, seeing what new life Kate and I could construct outside our Midwestern home places.

20171016_070053Of course, and I think this is true even if you remain in a familiar place, the unexpected always shapes things, too. How could we know, for example, that our family focus, the proximate reason for the move, would shift dramatically when Jon and Jen headed into fourteen months (and counting) of an acrimonious divorce. How could we know that in my first physical with our new physician, Lisa Gidday, that she would find a hard spot on my prostate? How could we know that Kate would face challenges from rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome?

How could we know, in a more positive vein, that the mountain streams would be so interesting in their seasonal variation, the aspens so wonderful in their monochromatic fall splendor? How could we know that mule deer and elk, mountain lions and bears and fox would become part of our everyday life? How could we know that a small Jewish community, a community of mountain Jews as they call themselves, would become central to our lives?

What is intention? It’s an important idea for Jews. Kavanah**, or intention, can determine the religious efficacy of prayer and ritual. If the intention, the kavanah, is not sincere and focused, the prayer or ritual is considered deficient.  I’m not trying to be theological here, or, maybe I am, but not in a traditional sense. The kavanah of our third phase is critical, I think. It does need to be sincere and focused to prepare and establish an orientation of our heart/mind.

kyudo3_250Intention matters a great deal because, unlike Jewish prayer and ritual, so much of our life is unknown. What can we bring to life as it twists and turns, zigzags its way? A willingness to treat life with love, care, awe, joy will allow us to navigate the planned and the unplanned with grace. That is my intention for this (and, for that matter, any) phase of life, now this third phase. I will be open to the new, approach others with chesed, loving kindness, embrace awe, seek out the joyful and the laugh filled.

Whether I write, spend time with family, hike in the mountains, learn the ancient Jewish ways in their modern clothing, engage in the day to day with Kate and the dogs, or maintain relationships in the far away, I intend to laugh, love and play. After that? Well, there is no after that.

 

 

*1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” (see dis-) + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.” etymology online

**”Kavanah comes from an ancient verbal root also found where the object or subject is the “heart”. It connotes “to direct, to prepare, to establish”, an orientation of mind, heart, intention. According to Moshe Halbertal, it implies concentration and sincerity…” wiki

April 2018
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Breadcrumbs

Trails