Worst Practices

Worst Practices

by Philip Siddons

Joseph still hasn’t shown up.

a-jpg“Of course” says the pageant director flippantly. “Gabriel? Where’s Gabriel?” she calls to the back of the church over her shoulder. “Gabriel” she musically calls again as if she’s calling her child for only the second time for dinner.

“Oh” Gabriel says from the back of the church as he stumbles hurriedly down the aisle.

“I was showing her how to keep her ribbon on” he explains with more earnestness than the task would normally command.

The director comically tilts her head sideways and says “Ya? . . . ya?” as if to mock him for his failure to be up with the other angels who are, at this point, rolling on the stage floor with the shepherds who are supposed to be asleep on the hillside but have somehow missed their morning dose of Ritalin

As speakers number 4 and 5 rapidly mumble through their lines, it’s clear that once again, nobody in the church will hear anyone say anything from the front. The fact is, they’ll be cute and it won’t matter. It’s the doing of the pageant that makes Christmas.

bJoseph is still not here and a couple of the angels are missing in action. How many had to show for the original nativity scene? Did God have to have a last minute rehearsal and sit them all down, barking out, “Now during this scene, you can’t talk to the person next to you. And don’t pick your nose. And if see any Gameboys® I’m going to take them away from you and you won’t get them back. So take that back to your parents or you’ll never see it again.”

The director rattles through the order of events once again, obviously confident that their photographic little minds will methodologically and nimbly string the coming sequences of pageant segments together with the precision of Microsoft’s latest video editing program.

The mid-teen Joseph slowly waltzes down the aisle. “Joseph is finally here” the director says with some relief. “We’re glad you made it” she says, softening even more. Perhaps her real life experience of the male absence or unreliability has taught her to work with what she’s got.

Suppose the original Joseph hadn’t shown up and Mary would have to go through the birth alone in the stable? Who would have wiped off the cow drool? Would she have screamed at the weird little drummer boy to go practice anywhere but in the stable – “like go play in the DMZ of the West Bank or something!” she could have blurted out.

OK, so no little drummer preadolescent or any a-rump-pa-pa-dums in the original production.

g-jpg

They should really make this last-minute pageant rehearsal THE pageant. Most of the parents are here anyway and the director’s expectation that this production will be anything other than what it is now (only without her prompting everything and everyone across and off the stage at the right time) is the most spectacular act of faith in the history of Christendom. “Come see a faith that can move mountains” the bulletin board outside of the church should say. People ought to get out of their beds and come here to see the futility of this rehearsal.

cThe children are herded back to the Sunday School classrooms to change. We expect more of the same to happen only back out of sight. But we know that with the addition of costumes, the in-the-wings nervousness of their peers and a sanctuary packed with their family clan and a host of unknown adults grinning, the volume of their spoken lines will dive down to zero, the prompters’ shouted whispers will be even more embarrassing and the pauses before the hoped-for movements of groups of bathrobed or haloed children will seem painfully strained.

So when central characters didn’t enter stage right in the original production, what did the Almighty do? Whisper little prompts in their hearts? Did Joseph suddenly snap to attention out of a distracted moment and say “Oh yea” after hearing an inner prompt just before lurching over to stand by his wife who had creatively used the cow’s manger for a cradle?

How much stage whispering did the Cosmic Producer of this first nativity have to do to remind Joe and Mary that these overworked and rambunctious contracted sheepherders are supposed to be crashing their barn encampment in the middle of the night and just after the baby finally got to sleep?

“Mary, stop breast-feeding – there’s a bunch of guys coming in here!” Joe probably said.

And later on, not long after their boy would ace His bar mitzvah at the temple and be offered an internship as the youngest teaching assistant in the history of the temple’s education department – why did Joseph disappear?


Did all the pressures of being the parent of a icon drive him to drink?

Maybe Joe had a gambling problem and when the young Jesus started turning angry bully’s thrown rocks into birds before they hit their victim, Joe started making bets.

“I bet you my boy can out-argue a member of the Supreme Court” he’d wager and win several hundred shekels. Maybe Joe, one day, got a little cocky and bet the whole wad and lost to some pretty heavy hitters and ended up at the bottom of Lake Galilee wearing clay overshoes.

Whatever happened to Joe must have been a major embarrassment to the Apostolic Fathers for them not to even mention him after a certain point. Maybe Joe got Alzheimer’s and the gospel writers couldn’t figure out why Jesus, Who could raise the dead, couldn’t or wouldn’t bring clarity of mind to His mom’s husband.

But with all the botched lines, absences, miscues and frankly inappropriate behaviors, there was a first nativity scene with inattentive and clueless characters.

e“You work with what you’ve got” the Almighty must have mumbled to Self after every scene in the Messiah’s life.

Just before the pageant starts, the Reverend comes to the podium and announces to the congregants that “whoever has come in a blue Ford with a license plate that starts with NAZ has left their lights on.

This brings predictable and comfortable laughter among the assembly. With all of our life’s struggles and our obvious failure to be the next Dali Lama of our own faith expression, church is the one place where we can forget to turn off our car lights. Perhaps all of life is like one large Christmas pageant through which we stumble, forgetful of our parts or relevance to some unknown overriding theme.

The pastor flees the podium, just after expressing gratitude to all the children and the beleaguered director for what they are about to present.

As narrator number 1 begins to mumble through her hurried description of the scene where Joe is turned down by the inn keeper, (who has the Gameboy® in his bathrobe pocket), I think I hear something. It’s a voice but is it behind me? Perhaps a child speaking to their parent?

No, it’s internal. It’s within me. It’s like a quiet thought that suddenly comes to you like an almost forgotten matter that comes to you in a special and profound moment.

And the voice within me says, as if it’s my clue to the meaning of my life today and forever, “… and don’t pick your nose.”

f

Transitions in Community

sold-sign

When a “For Sale” goes up in the neighborhood, it’s a little startling. When the home belongs to folks you have come to know, it is a little more unsettling. But when the “Sold” sign goes up ten days later, now there’s a bit of a tremor in the force.

That’s because we seem to spend most of our lives holding on to the “normal” images, sounds, shapes, people and places we  often experience. We cling to what we feel is “normal” – the usual people and things we’ve come accustomed to having in our lives. Tradition. The familiar.

C.S. Lewis, the great religious writer of pieces like The Narnia Series and other books also wrote The Four Loves. In it, he described 4 kinds of love, most of which we all experience throughout our lives.

The first kind of love is the love of familiarity. We love our pet dog and its friendly smiling and slobbering face and wagging tail. The innocent look of confusion or incessant desire to play. We love the big lug falling asleep in the recliner with his hands firmly controlling the television remote. We love the same old streets, stores and places that we are used to seeing for years at a time. We love and we cling to the familiarity of it all.

The “For Sale” and “Sold” signs emit tremors. Someone is moving out – someone we frequently see day in and day out. We don’t like change. We don’t like to think that someday we will have to make changes ourselves. We like all our “stuff” and it is ours and we’ve always had it and not only do we not want to move it, (and have to set it all up again somewhere else) – we don’t ever want to get rid of some of it – make that ANY of it. We want things just the way they are!

The fact that some “older people” have gotten rid of their home and moved into some kind of subsidized, small, geriatric ghetto with other well-aged people: “that just will never happen to me!” we quickly tell ourselves (without saying it out loud.) “I’m going to stay in my house forever, not change ANYTHING, and if I die, either my kids will just take care of it or the town will come along and handle it.” We all seem to be change resistant and living with a hardened denial about transitions surely coming ahead of us.

Sometimes we have become familiar with folks on our block and neighborhood and it feels comfortable to see these same people walking by on their daily stroll. The familiar friendly greetings and exchanges through the years bring friendliness to the neighborhood.

The second kind of love Lewis discusses is that of friendship. It’s the sort of relationship where we have become close to another. This is where we find that we are accepted, forgiven and we find enjoyment in common values, activities and commitments.

Friendships we make in the neighborhood are forged from shared acts of concern. The natural and gentle laughter that flows from shared experiences. The casual times and the genuinely wonderful help we receive when we have a need when a neighboring friend has reached out to us.

There certainly have been times when we were overcome with sadness, the death of a friend or relative, the loss of a career, the frightening health diagnosis.

All these things add up, through the years, to yield the simple friendships that bind us together and give our lives stability and joy. We are indeed fortunate when we have found friendships in our neighborhood.

A more rare and meaningful form of love Lewis mentions is “Agapae.” It is the sort of love that one gives to another that is unconditional. No strings attached. Sometimes, a loving of the unlovable.

Perhaps it is the simple act of opening your home to welcome new or departing neighbors. It could extend to responding to a need (and sometimes to a very needy person) who is decidedly unlike you. Perhaps the kind of person whom you would never be like. But you give of yourself to them unconditionally. You are kind. You sacrifice to somehow quietly make their life better in some way. And you do it not expecting thanks or recognition. You just tough it out and do it because it is part of your DNA and you know that no matter what this person has done or where they have been, they are your neighbor. A fellow human being. A kindred spirit.

If you do this to the least of these, you’re doing it unto Me.”

In our neighborhood, there have been quiet acts of unconditional love and they haven’t made the 6 o’clock news. They happened without fanfare. Yet they quietly soothed the heart of someone on your street.

The fourth kind of love Lewis mentions is the erotic. This is the wonderful stuff that Bruce Springsteen sings about being “the best time in my life.” Each of us know that some of us have been blessed to have some “best times in our lives” and yet others have not been so lucky. Yet we have come to trust our neighbors and most everyone seems have a genuine respect for the intimate, modest and cherished relationships that are part of the fabric of our lives.

So the “For Sale” and the “Sold” signs are a reminder that everything WILL change. No matter how much we live in denial of it, everything changes. The houses around us change. The people in the houses will change. The people in the rest of our lives change. We will change. Without noticing it, we are changing.

But the first three loves that CS Lewis talks about are the very things that enable us to weather these constantly changing lives of ours. While it always feels good to get back to the familiar, it’s the deepening friendships that carry us through the heartbreak and celebrate the joys of the small successes. It’s the unconditional love and acceptance and the random acts of kindness that give us a centering, right when we’ve felt we have hit bottom and there seems no way back.

These kinds of love are the very things that create a sense of community. They are the brick and mortar of our feelings that we are all connected. I think these diverse acts of love are subtle reminders of the presence of God. The genuine, compassionate, friendly presence that we have experienced in our neighborhood which have enriched the lives of each member of our family.

As our household makes a transition from our neighborhood here, we carry with us what we have learned from you. As we leave this neighborhood, we will seek to be a similarly compassionate and caring presence ourselves in the lives of others in our new community.

But we will have to work at it. There is a lot of joy and sorrow in life. Because of your presence in our lives in this neighborhood, we will try to be the same healing presence for others in our new community.

Thank you for all the kinds of love you have bestowed on us. You have and are making life better for all of us.

… Philip

transitions-in-community

How Much Space Do You Need . . . To Be Happy?

How Much Space Do You Need . . . To Be Happy?

It seems that we don’t think much about our space requirements unless we see the inside of a multi-million dollar mansion in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills or we’re in a Zillow research for an apartment in New York City, Boston, Atlanta or Chicago. Or a nursing home where they aim to plant us in a tiny room with another disabled person so we don’t stray and cause more work than we already do for their staff.

Personal space. How much do we really need? And how does that need relate to our happiness?
Initially, when we fantasize about winning a mega lottery, we’d go for one of those Beverly Hills mansions with three-story vaulted ceilings and every opulent room looking like it came out of a coffee table magazine. The long walks from any one of the several living rooms all the way back through a kitchen large enough to park several cars and eight walk-in refrigerator-freezers. The exercise in going from one end of the house back past the indoor pool, the six- bedroom suite for guests and the polo field beyond the outdoor tennis courts would get us half way to our Fitbit step goal for the day. “Now THAT would make me happy!” we tell ourselves.

But throughout life, we’ve already heard “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (The Beatles) or “You can’t take it with you” (a comedic play in three acts by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart; film with Jimmy Stewart; album by As Tall as Lions or “This World Is Not My Home I’m just a-passin’ through” (by Albert E. Brumley 1952).

Our mansion fantasy fades with our first real pay check. Our dram of having an extravagant and luxurious living space is left to live out its short existence on the rectangular television screen. And even though those video actresses and actors are raking in a million dollars an episode, have you ever noticed the apartments and hallways just outside of their studio set living spaces? Think “Friends.” Think “The Big Bang Theory.” Even these hallway studio props are plan, small, drab and a little dingy – nothing memorable. They’re just like what we end up with when we have to rent.

I have loved ones living in apartments in LA. Neither they, nor anyone they know, could ever afford
to purchase housing there without direct and committed involvement with the criminal elements of society. If you move to the convenience and stimulation of urban living, downsizing is a way of life.

You know that you end up with less as change comes. You figure that what you lose in living space, perhaps, you’ll gain in career and social stimulation. Otherwise, why would we sell our mostly owned houses and move to a lifestyle we can’t afford with dramatically less space?

Increased happiness?
Observation #1.

We will not achieve happiness by getting more space in which to live.
Then there’s the life-long commitment to the idea that we want to stay in one place while we are aging. I’m not talking about wobbling geriatrics who live in constant fear of teetering down to the ground to break a hip or pelvis, followed by 6 months in a tiny rehabilitation room for five grand a week and no bandwidth.

I mean young and agile yoga-sculpted twenty-somethings who finally get their own apartment but quickly embrace the familiarity of the new surroundings, making it their new “home.” “Home” being defined by accumulating familiarity with the friendly coffee shop server; the drug store pharmacist who seems to know your name; the organic grocery market manager who smiles at you when answering your question; the clothing shop sales person who shared her story of her scare with breast cancer or our postal carrier who made small talk by jokingly apologizing about delivering only bills.
The familiarity of all of these things and people seem to be the fabric which gives substance to our sense of “home” and happiness.

Observation #2
We interpret our happiness by the level of our familiarity with things and people.
We are thinking that it isn’t the amount of space we have that brings us happiness. We may be thinking that familiarity is supposed to make us happy. That’s why, in every poll of the aging population, we all say that we want to “age in place.” To stay where we are. Avoid moving. Keep everything as it is, the way we know it is (and should be) simply because we are used to it being that way. But a parakeet in a cage lives that way!

But familiarity breeds contempt. “Long experience of someone or something can make one so aware of the faults as to be scornful. For example, Ten years at the same job and now he hates it – familiarity breeds contempt. The idea is much older but the first recorded use of this expression was in Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee (c. 1386).” (From the Free Dictionary.com)

But when we’ve been striving for something new and different, we are grasping, looking for something else. But then, “Nothing lasts forever!” Consider: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, …” (Matthew 6:19). From the wings of the stage come the Buddhists dancing in their red robed kick line chorus, singing: “Everything is temporary!”

‘Ok, we get that’ you say. ‘But you can’t live that way! Shouldn’t we try to live in happiness? What is this ‘circling the drain’ theme you have for a title of your blog? Are you some sort of manic depressive?

One of our problems with clinging to keeping everything the same as we’ve always had it is that everything changes, no matter what we or anyone else does. The changing world is totally independent of our preferences, our desires, our plans and our investments. Change is out of our control. We can only manage our response to it.

Yet we live as if we can control what happens in our lives. We are all a little schizophrenic in that way. We think or pretend that we can actually control most of the world around us. The folks who think they can (and should be able to control the world around them) are incapable of growing intellectually, socially and spiritually.

  • Put another way, people who frequently say, judgmentally, ‘We’ve never done it that way before!” are, sooner or later, abandoned by people around them.
  • People who continually treat those who are different from them as “The Other” are living examples of a “Wacky Plaks” post card I saw in the 1950’s: “People who are wrapped up in themselves make a pretty small package.”
  • The people who try to control spirituality and religious inquiry by imposing their dogma and creedal formulations on others – are, sadly, needy and boring control freaks who quickly drain all the joy, human compassion and creative beauty out of any moment in the atmosphere. They justify their social and intellectual death spiral judgmental behavior by claiming that they are earnestly trying to do “the right thing” while they lacerate to shreds the self-worth of the unfortunate others whom they lambast. Avoid watching FOX (so-called) ‘News!’

Observation #3
We don’t get our happiness through having more space or stuff. Neither do we attain happiness through familiarity or knowing, in a predictive and controlling way, how everything is going to turn out – as if we can know and control everything. Therefore, it must have to do with being content with what is and bestowing compassion.

This isn’t being complacent with what is. If that is all it amounts to, then we should just take our “Soma” pills, as in Huxley’s 1931 Brave New World dystopian work. “What about social justice? … Are you suggesting that we tacitly sit back and let bad and evil continue to oppress and ravage humanity?”

Contentment has to do with a complex presence of a number of things in our own head.
For one, it is the understanding that everything changes.
For another, it is the awareness that we don’t have the resources or the influence to change or even have an impact on most things or people.

The most power we have is over ourselves, our thinking, our feeling and our own behavior.
But we can’t skip off singing: “Que sera, sera; whatever will be, will be; the future’s not ours to see; que sera, sera; what will be, will be” (Roy Evans, 1956). We are not isolated robots, sputtering off in our unique programmed behavior, doomed to run out of our battery power and cease viability at some random end point before our parts are relegated to the scrap yard.

We find contentment, and therefore meaning, as we approach each moment of our lives with what Andy Puddicombe (of Headspace.com) explains as “beginner’s mind.” It is that space or openness within our consciousness that approaches everything with wonder and acceptance. It is that mindfulness and awareness that no matter what physical spaciousness or material opulence that may or may not be around us, we can find delight, contentment and breath-taking creativity in any moment as we approach whatever it is that is our next thing.

Some think of this as spontaneity. Some call it intellectual curiosity. Some see it in looking for outlets of compassion for anyone we meet. It’s all the opposite of living a life where you’re trying to control, compete, judge, frantically escape or hoard in order to vainly try to find happiness.

That’s the “Space” in which we will find happiness or contentment. It is the space that possesses an unlimited amount of compassion. That compassion, by the way, is what will change the world and transform people and things that have gone awry. That is the space we need to ‘be happy’ but each of us already have that space within us. We just need to be present in it, from moment to moment.

Aquarius, Please Bear With Us

How To Manage Hydration During Prostate Cancer Radiation Therapy

“Are you ready?” every one of us hears in the waiting room of the prostate radiation treatment center. “Do you feel the urge?” the nurses frequently ask, trying to sound sympathetic but within earshot of everyone in the waiting room. And when these guys are older and their hearing is failing, these beleaguered medical professionals have to repeat themselves even louder. Then it sounds like an exasperated parent dealing with their three year old who is in-between meltdowns with an eminent bladder accident.

“Are you ready?” even the receptionist asks the guy standing before her who is leaning against her sign-in counter, with his eyes nervously darting back and forth from her face to the therapy room door beyond.

That’s what we are all reduced to in the mandatory task of keeping our bladder filled with water in order to tighten it up with water in order to keep it from sagging down over the prostate during the radiation delivery.

We never saw that coming and there aren’t even Cliff’s Notes or “Hydration Preparation for Dummies.” Since grade school when we were frantically waiving our hand, trying to get our teacher’s attention for permission to pee, it has always been the same. Through the years, we’ve rarely got caught short, having to urinate but having no place to go. Whenever we felt the call, we just went to the nearest restroom. Like our ‘videos on demand,’ we are used to urination upon demand.

Now, having been told to drink one-and-a-half 25 ounce plastic containers of water one hour before your therapy, it seems like a setup for failure. Through the years, we have had no practice in ‘holding it.’ We’ve always just gone when we’ve had to go. That’s why every building structure in our society invests in ample restroom facilities. ‘When ya got da go, you’ve got da go.’

So suddenly, within one week’s time of being told that you’ve got a diagnosis of prostate cancer, you’ve got to learn how, for the first time in your life, to make yourself have a full bladder and not urinate through your pants and look like a complete idiot. Every guy going through radiation therapy for prostate cancer finds himself in this predicament. You’ve got to do this for the initial cat scan and MRI alignment of the radiation equipment. You’ve got to do this every day for each of the ensuing 45 days of treatment. Every day! Rain or shine, snow or hail.

So this is a new experience for us with no prior training. We essentially have one week from the diagnosis to the initial equipment setup to get this right.

On the day of diagnosis, we’re told, by a cheerful and well-experienced nurse practitioner, that “my guys drink one-and-a-half these containers one hour before treatment; . . . you want to feel the urge before you go into treatment.”

As you hear her refer to “my guys” it sounds endearing. It sounds somewhat comforting, like a nurturing hen gently but confidently gathering her chicks under her protective wings. And when you’re getting used to your new cancer diagnosis, perhaps even “intermediate” or “advanced” cancer diagnosis, you’ll take all the nurturing that’s available.

But that’s essentially it in terms of instruction. Having heard the level of fluid you’re supposed to down, you want to be like the rest of “her guys” so you put that in your daily check list. But you have no idea what it means “feel the urge” other than feeling the need to urinate.

The first time you try it, you discover there is a range of “feeling the urge” from ‘Oh my gosh, I better be near a bathroom’ to ‘Holy shit, how am I supposed to not wet myself in front of all these people?’

This is totally new ground. You wonder if they did this to prisoners of war to break them down. No matter accomplished you’ve been in your career; no matter how close you are and have been to your friends and loved ones, you are now forced to be in a miserable and potentially socially embarrassing circumstance seemingly beyond your control. Make your self have to pee but you can’t and you’ll have to wait!

One thing that lurks in the back of your mind is if you don’t have enough water suspending your bladder up away from your prostate, the radiation could burn your bladder if it didn’t have enough water and sagged down in the way of the radiation beams aimed at your prostate.

Actually, this fear is unfounded, I’m told by Christ, the radiation technician. “We can see how full your bladder is as we begin and we simply wouldn’t do it if you were not amply hydrated. We’d make you go out and drink some water in the waiting room so you’re always safe.” (Which happened to me at my 3rd treatment.) But more on that in a minute.

Having to drink more water before therapy begins apparently happens so frequently, that they’ve got a water cooler in every waiting area. We are the water bearers – this is the age of Aquarius – at least for next several weeks.

This, of course, is better this than a slow and miserable death, some years later, by prostate cancer that has metastasized to your vital organs – right when you were starting to enjoy your relationships, your life, dance at your kid’s weddings and attend your grandchildren’s graduations.

So what are the tricks to “mastering” your bladder control for the sake of your radiation therapy?

If you ever participated in a competitive sport, you’re in luck. You had to do a lot of things to make the team and thrive on the team. You had to:

  1. Get in shape and exercise
  2. Pay attention to your diet
  3. Practice, practice, practice
  4. Keep it constantly in your head that you can’t do it alone but are on a team that functions interdependently

Here are some straight-forward bits of advice that embody the above four tips.

Whatever shape you are in is what you’ve got. Remember, you have a matter of days from the time you’re diagnosed until you’ve got to get used to having enough water in your bladder to push it up out of the way of the instrumentation. But regardless of your physical condition, at least start walking. Get your muscles and body, in general, to the point of having oxygen and blood going through it to get as good a circulation as possible. You already know you should have been doing this for years but start now if you haven’t already. It makes a difference on a number of levels. Our bodies are complex chemical and nutritional exchanges, all of which helps every bodily, emotional and intellectual function that makes up who we are.

You already know what irritates your bladder – coffee and any drink that has caffeine. There’s caffeine in chocolate. Immediately eliminate all of them from your diet (at least until after you’re cancer-free). Get a grip and take aspirin if you get caffeine-withdrawal headaches but discipline yourself to do it. It makes a huge difference in helping you go through this therapy.

The practice part of it has to start immediately. Being told to drink 1.5 bottles of water one hour before therapy is almost no help unless you put yourself on a timed schedule and record how many oz. you drink; what time you drank it, what time you first realized you felt you have to urinate and at what time you could no longer hold it. That’s three points in time.

You almost have to do this once a day as an experiment because you can’t really do this two or three times in one day. You’ll be hydrated from your first try and any time you try it later that day will not be helpful in your calculations. It will probably take you 4 or 5 days to figure out how long it takes you to feel your bladder full, how many ounces it takes and how long you can hold it until you must relieve yourself.

This obviously takes a disciplined focus and commitment to learning how your body handles water. Each of us are different and it has to do with our level of exercise, when we drink the water, our weight and our level of anxiety.

For my particular body weighing in at around 170, it took me 7 days to find out that if I drank 28 ounces of water, in 40 minutes it would trickle down and my bladder would feel full and I could hold it for another 30 minutes.

The Breakthrough Fact About Hydration

Once time early in my therapy, I was waiting for my turn and I absolutely couldn’t hold it any longer and went into the restroom and let out what I thought was most all of my bladder. I fully expected they’d tell me to go back out to the waiting room and drink 3 cups of water and wait for about 15 minutes. But they didn’t.

They had me come in and get on the table and they could see how much water was in me with their imagery equipment. It was enough, even though I thought I had urinated out everything that was in my bladder.

“It’s because you were hydrated enough. And don’t forget, it takes a while for what you drink to make its way down to your bladder.”

“You were hydrated enough” was the pivotal phrase that turned everything around for me. This is because at the beginning, all I thought was involved was drinking a certain number of ounces of water so many minutes before the therapy. Instead, it’s about hydration. It’s about having getting your body hydrated, having enough fluid running throughout your system so that when you begin drinking your water at a certain time (before the therapy), you will not be starting from zero hydration.

That’s why they say that most of the time, guys come in there on Mondays, after a weekend of not drinking their usual daily fluid for therapy, they are less hydrated than the rest of week when they’ve been consciously drinking for their therapy sessions. Mondays see the most incidences of patients being sent back out to the waiting room to drink more water.

So how to you maintain hydration? In your experimentation, drink other fluids earlier in the day before you drink your water before therapy. You might ordinarily have a protein-blueberry shake at breakfast. You might have a glass of water or green tea with you your eggs or cereal. Whatever you drink at the start of the day, keep doing it and also practice drinking your pre-therapy container of water.

Ideally, by the time you go in for your first session where they calibrate the radiation machine, you should have a pretty decent sense that when they do it, you will be in the zone where your bladder has a lot of water in it but you’re not going crazy trying to hold it. You should be hydrated and that you could hold it another ten minutes or so.

And suppose you can’t? Suppose you have to urinate and you just do?

No problem. If you’ve been drinking fluids throughout the day, you’re already hydrated. IT ALL DOESN’T ONLY DEPEND ON THE WATER YOU DRANK IN THE LAST HOUR TO FILL YOUR BLADDER.

This was startling new information to me that I didn’t get when I was initially told to drink so many ounces of water so minutes before the therapy. After a while, I confidently urinated right before my therapy time and because I was hydrated enough, it was usually determined that I had enough water in my bladder for the treatments.

But I got to this point only with help from the radiation technology team. If you are not hydrated enough, they’ll send you out for a few drinks of water and a few minutes wait. But in the process of experimenting, perhaps by the 2nd or third treatment, you’ll learn exactly how much water (or liquid) before treatment you’ll need and the timing. Learning to fine-tune this process truly takes a team effort. It is a training task that you, primarily, have to do yourself but you have to have the radiation technicians helping you make those final adjustments.

That’s why I’ve used the sports analogy. Most all of it is on you to get in shape and discipline and do what you have to do in order to get hydrated and be in touch with your own bladder. But you need the team around you to make it happen.

As I Transition Out of Your Care …

Dear staff members,

Today is the last of my 45 treatments for prostate cancer. The Maker should have recalled these defective parts centuries ago but a successful class-action suit has yet to be achieved. One out of six males – one out of four on African American models.

Then there’s the design flaws. The main fluid draining conduit runs right through the middle of this walnut-shaped little part but integral to one of the higher orders of human experience. Location, location, location. If you get any swelling or irritation in this flawed part, you’re stuck with the ridiculous drama of having  to know the location of every public drainage facility for miles around. Clearly Google and all of silicone valley partners should have resolved this problem by now.

The same should be said of breast cancer and those who blithely and casually dismiss the worthiness of 99% of the rest of humanity who don’t measure up, in their judgment, to their station in life. Didn’t society move beyond the 19th century classism portrayed in PBS’s Upstairs Downstairs?

But you work at Cancer Care of Western New York and you are doing significant things to resolve these parts of the problems. You serve on a team of gifted individuals who are successfully battling cancer.

Now all of us are compensated for what we do in our careers. No matter where we go, they’ve got to pay us to work there. What is different about what you do is that you are called to be present in healing encounters. Those of us who come through your doors come with some brokenness. We are in transition, having learned that something in our bodies is in need of repair. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of them all.

We come into your office, as you well know, with a the waterfront of fears, unknowns, anxieties and sometimes depression being expressed by all the personality types of humanity.

The cancer, with which we’ve been diagnosed, lingers on like a giant outdoor billboard plopped down on our front yard. It says YOU HAVE CANCER! To our dismay, the giant billboard also appears in our living rooms, kitchens, certainly our restrooms, our cars and at work. CANCER no less. . . . Me, for cripes sake.

So your patients are jumping in and out of all of Kubler-Ross’ s stages of On Death and Dying. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Regardless of our grasp on reality, everything is temporary. No matter how many years we’ve enjoyed the comfort of our personal lifestyle and all of its familiar coffee shops, dollar stores, local pubs, favorite shopping malls and TV shows, ‘we’re just a passin’ through.’ Everything changes.

As patients, we also carry into your office a real sense of loss. As we are jolted into realizing that we are in the ever-shortening last stage of our lifetimes, we sense that our lives are going to change. Our lives will never be the same as before.

What we all don’t immediately realize, after our biopsies, is that while you provide care and services for us, we become part of the Cancer Care of WNY team. The closer we follow the play book (the protocol advice of each module’s specialist), the smoother and more effective the results will be in bringing about our healing. But we’ve got to become team players ourselves.

In any spoken or printed words of what would help us, we are not quickly seeing all the work that has produced it. Unless we have benefitted from medical training, we don’t see the thousands of research and practice hours behind each aspect of treatment. We don’t know about the published and collegial-scrutinized research papers, the doctoral dissertations, the measured and evaluated clinical trials, the blind and double blind tests that thousands, before us, have undergone to determine the best courses of treatments. We don’t hear any of that but in a way, we trust that all of those things are behind everything we experience.

Trust. That’s something all of us patients cling to with a lot of motivation. Your white coats are actually not necessary. You’ve got 5 million dollar IMRT machines buzzing their merry way around our bodies like R2D2 on steroids. So we know your competence must precede your responsibilities amidst the mammoth financial investment in this life-sustaining infrastructure around you.

Hope is the holy grail of the healing process. Every one of us is looking for hooks on which to hang our hope for our futures.

By now, we know life will not be the same from this point on. Our frantic but unrealistic hope for lack of change always must yield to reality. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Reality always trumps and holds all winning cards. With whatever cards we hold, we optimistically call the other side of our transitions “the new normal.”

At Cancer Care of WNY, you are essentially working in a battle zone. You see a lot of suffering and pain. You see, on our faces, the fear, the pain, the depression. Sometimes the brokenness. You see some of us shuffling in and wonder how it is that we are still ambulatory. In nanoseconds, you can sadly see other eminent medical problems that will necessitate care in other clinics.

The other day, in the waiting area, an elderly woman was brought in for therapy in a wheelchair. Shortly after arriving, she began to cry. She was weeping from her unbearable pain. Whatever was the cause, the enormity of her internal pain could not remain silently contained in her frail body.

Fortunately, your staff colleagues rushed to her side and helped her into an examination room for immediate pain support.

Despite all the suffering you see in your patients, you stay focused and resilient. Your energy and fortitude in the midst of the suffering is remarkable. You are thoroughly professional and somehow you remain personable and caring.

But here is where you shine, not only here at the Cancer Care Center of WNY but on into your future.

Not only are your patients in the midst of transitions themselves, all of us experience transitions throughout life. You already have and will definitely undergo changes of your own. You’ll experience transitions in your relationships, in your careers. You’ll change your thinking on some of the things you once valued above all else. Some of the things you pursued will be left behind for other matters you will come to value as more important. As the old Simon and Garfunkel song said, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

As much as we like to embrace our seemingly unchanging world, it changes and we simply can’t control most of it. As do those of us who are patients, you, will go through transitions in your life.

Most of us already have migrated through changes, however old we may be. But when you think back through your transitions, you know there were some difficult ones. But who were the people who helped you most during those transitions?

Significant others. It was a friend or relative who was particularly present in your life when things got out of hand and were most scary. They listened to you when you made no sense. They stayed with you to help you get more information. They were there for you to take in and absorb your frustration, your denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately your acceptance of the way things landed. They were “your person” as the Christina and Meredith characters portray in ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.

As the same time, that’s not what your job is at work. You have a very medical, technical or clinical responsibility. Certainly the pain and uncertainty you witness on a daily basis causes you to sometimes leave work with your batteries totally drained. You’ve undoubtedly experienced burnout. You may have seriously wondered if there is another line of work that would call forth from you yet untapped yearnings and dreams without leaving you emotionally shredded and run through the wringer.

I was a Protestant minister for fifteen years. I loved the work. The teaching, the counseling, the writing and the many opportunities to be creative were at the center of my academic, intellectual and emotional career life for 60 to 80 hours a week. But I was burned out. I had to get away from the endless hours amidst funerals, crisis counseling and the usual petty skirmishes over which color to paint the lavatories or whether investments on the youth groups should triumph over architectural repairs.

One year, I changed careers. I went into marketing, advertising, writing, technology and videography.

At first, people were utterly shocked that I’d make such a change. Early on, though, I discovered nothing had changed in me. I found the obvious truth that customers (seeking my marketing or technological support) needed the same focus and caring as those who were once my  parishioners. Obviously different contexts and delivery of services but the same focused listening and human caring is needed.

So how is that relevant to your truly brief daily interactions with those of us who are your patients?

It’s clear that your patient encounters are not lengthy sessions on helping us sort through the problems and hardships of our lives. Your job is to empower the therapy and to teach how how to make adjustments that support the therapeutic protocols for our healing.

Your presence in the tasks at hand is the same as how you and I relate to a neighbor when we’re handing them a poorly aimed newspaper. It is the same when we exchange a few words with our mail carrier or a clerk at the store. We’re looking them in the eye and relating to them in an unconditionally accepting and open way. We are taking them fully in, in the moment, however brief the exchange may be.

Your patient encounters all seem to transpire in brief moments. It’s not the duration of the exchange. It’s about how present you are in those moments, even though there are many moments and many of us patients who interact with you throughout the day.

It can, and should, become routine because of the limitations on time and the narrow focus of your work. But the magic ingredient in every one of your patient encounters is you.

The magic that is taking place is in your extending of yourself. Your non-verbal communication. Your tone. Your full presence in those moments, as short as they may be.

In each of these moments, you have been genuine and friendly. It’s when you are being kind and patient with the guy who feels woefully inadequate because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to retain the water he consumed in order to suspend his bladder up out of the way of the soon-to-be radiated prostate. It has been years since he was frantically waiving his hand in second grade to get the teacher’s permission to go to the rest room. The feelings are still the same.

In each of your patient encounter moments, you are being flexible and open for any question that might come your way. When you use your energy and focus beyond your job task to be responsive in these moments, you are being truly present in the moments in this transition period of your patients. You’re putting your personality and humanness into the mundane acts. That makes our experience here, with your team, transformative and healing.

The way you are responding in these moments makes us feel that we are not just in a drive-through medical center, ordering up a cancer cure to go.

Instead, we feel that we are fortunate to be a part of a greater team that is committed to our personal healing. It makes us feel more whole, even though the hand we were dealt is not optimal. You make us remember that however brief the moments we are with you, we are part of something that is much bigger and more embracing than the smaller concerns that are just contained in ourselves. You are making us feel, and reminding us always, that we are all intricately connected to and part of the wonderful human race. You are doing this with your presence.

That’s what I want to thank you for. For what you do, I am grateful. But for who you are and have been, in the 45 days of treatments, for your personal presence in this segment of this transition for me, thank you.

Cherish the abilities you possess and are using in this current career. They are embodied in in your DNA. And nobody, no transition, no circumstance, can ever take away from you the unique aspects of who you are.

Thank you for your presence. I’m sure that many others will feel the same gratitude from your presence in the years to come – wherever you choose to live and work. It is in being mindful of this sense of presence, that you possess, that you will find the meaning of your life. Cherish it.

 

 

Holy Moments

Link

I work for an organization which enables seniors to remain in their homes or apartments as long as possible. We help them thrive and remain relatively independent – preventing them from having to go into an assisted-living institution.

It’s called Canopy of Neighbors. (See http://canopyofnieghbord.org ) We do this through a network of volunteers and groups which give their time to do the kinds of things you and I already do to help well-aged friends and loved ones. We give them rides to doctor’s or therapist appointments. Help them get their prescriptions. Sometimes we help them with confusing bank-account or bill-paying tasks. We flip their mattresses or set their clocks ahead or behind twice a year. We change a light bulb that is out of reach – anything to prevent them from stacking kitchen chairs and making a perilous climb and risking a fall.

We also enable them to come to free yoga classes and coffee gatherings where there are featured speakers on health and aging topics. There’s even a monthly luncheon at a local restaurant which offers a low-cost fee for everyone.

I spent a couple of hours this week talking with a couple in their 90s, answering their questions about joining the membership. They are impressed with Canopy. They live in a grand old home in a neighborhood where, in time, only the wealthiest could afford. Homes of doctors, senators and CEOs. Their home was full of life. Paintings filled their home, his paintings. Their furnishings reflected world travels and a lifelong engagement with their children, their careers and themselves. They even have a beautiful Australian border collie who has been part of their household for years.

As I summarized my organization’s services and patiently answered their questions, in my peripheral vision, I could see their daughter. She was in from out-of-town, looking a little frustrated. She’s been here before with them, I suspect. Their hesitancy. Their resistance to get involve with anyone outside of their family for their personal needs. And yet they knew they could use some assistance here and there.

I couldn’t help but think that they only reason they were a little hesitant to join is that it might imply an inability to be independent. Perhaps some giving up of control. Having ‘outsiders’ involved in potentially unknown changes in their lifestyle.

They are truly dear people. Talented and very intelligent. But my heart goes out to them because they seem so frail. He’s a retired but working artist, still holding an office with studio privileges in the local university. But his Parkinson’s is already affecting his mind-to-speech abilities. He drools as he tries to construct his sentences.
In another room, he’s got an unplugged collection of turntable, amp, radio, tuner unplugged and he hasn’t been able to reconnect them. It would take me or another volunteer probably half a day to rewire it. In other rooms, they say their computers are giving them problems and they claim not able to get back into using them. They can’t get their email working.

Her physical condition has left her barely able to move. She has had some disfiguring strokes and yet she is fully engaged in conversations. Reflective, insightful and empathetic toward others. But she says ‘I know we are vulnerable.’

I already know that whatever my organization can offer them, they will need more. Much more. They’ll soon have to contract with outside healthcare organizations for in-home nursing and home-care aids. How much longer can they remain in their lovely home? Who will take care of their dog?

They will be thinking their membership over and will let me know in their own time.

They both have had me thinking, today, of how frail we humans are and temporariness of life. We can get to the point in life where we are blessed with good minds, more-than-adequate resources and all the time we need to pursue anything we’d like. Yet our bodies wear out, out of our control. There is no Toyota to replace parts, even beyond their usual warranty. Our bodies die out from under us. They slip away from us, as do many of our component parts. ‘Moth and rust doth corrupt.

So today, I’m mindful that being present with others, in the moment, is the only place where the meaning and authenticity in life resides for any of us. When I left them, I touched their shoulders and genuinely told them it was a pleasure being with them.

When I got home, I embraced my wife as if it was our anniversary and said I had a great day at work because there were holy moments. ♦

Being Present in the Transitions

We do a lot of grasping throughout our lives. We like our stuff. We want to hold on to our things. We want to keep our activities and surroundings the same. We maintain the way we do things, the way we think and what we value. We go from day to day as if we will always have and control our life’s experiences. ‘To have and to hold to cherish’ suggest our wedding vows. My Precious said J. R. R. Tolkien’s character Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

But what is it that we hold on to? Pretty much everything. We prefer things around us to stay the way they are. We’re often ‘change-resistant.’ The way things are have become the way we do things around here. That goes for how we stack dishes in the cupboard, where we store things in the closet, the people we strangely judge as not as equal to us because of their differences. My gosh, we’ve put our socks in the same place in our dresser for years.

It’s probably why couples, at least in the first couple of years of marriage, fight over the way toothpaste tubes are squeezed, cars are parked in the garage and the lopsidedness of perception of household chore responsibilities. It is a miracle that two people can amiably negotiate the ordering of their household. Then there is the use of how we handle power. The extent that we can create an environment of fair and consensus-based decisions. If nobody ever modeled it or taught us or we never learned how to use our power and influence in decisions in an egalitarian way, we are doomed to a life of loneliness.

Not to mention that all this grasping and controlling, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how we measure our self-worth. We mysteriously think that if we have a lot of things or financial power, we are doing pretty well. House. Car. Gadgets. Job. Things, you know, my drill, my lawnmower, my position in the company. Keeping up with the Jones. Maintaining a lifestyle that approximates the TV and movie characters with whom we seem to identify.

This is immediately fertile ground for the topics related to personal growth and fulfillment. If we relentlessly strive to hold on to the way we do things and what we now possess, we don’t grow or mature. We wall ourselves into a nice little box. A person wrapped up in themselves makes for a pretty small package.

But our lives are full of transitions. Everything changes. This is why we cry at marker events like weddings, births, graduations and funerals. Things keep changing and the ceremonies frame the transitions to new changes.

There are few circumstances that bring us to face the temporariness of life more obvious than the first day of retirement or walking out of the courtroom after the divorce is finalized. This is because we’ve programmed ourselves to define who we are in our introductions. Like, Hello, my name is Bill and I am the Vice President at BigBox Corporation. Or Hi, I’m Sharon and I’m married to Bill and we have 2.3 children, we own a house in the burbs and I’m a member of the PTA and work as an investment broker for Too Big To Fail Bank, LLC.

We broadcast who we are by defining ourselves by what we do and with whom we are in relationship. Somehow, just us and our own interests, likes, passions and allergies and phobias aren’t enough. We even tend hold on to the things we don’t have but aspire to have or do. We spend years holding on to our careers (and roles) because we think that if we keep doing the same thing with ourselves, things won’t change. We won’t have to give up anything.

Career wise, we pursue excellence in what we do. We pursue further training. We try to meet company goals. We seek to excel and win the approval and admiration of those who are higher up on the corporate latter. Throughout our lives, we seek to hold on to our position, our title, our salary level. We pursue tenure as if craving for oxygen.

Frankly, there isn’t much in life that we don’t strive to keep the same. So unless we are creative artists and musicians seeking new venues and textures in our work or performances, we strive to keep things as they already are. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This brings us to transitions. There are changes foisted upon us or self-chosen migrations to different experiences we feel we must make. We resist change and frankly haven’t cultivated pursuing change in our lives in order to grow.

If we define our sense of who we are by what we do and with whom we are in relationship, when those things change, our life can seem to unravel – at least in our mind. Like it or not, despite our overwhelming predisposition to prefer things to stay the same, they don’t.

But what happens when the people who once related to us only by our position in the company are not there. The social circumstances, once resulting from relationships we had, may disappear. We’re now looking at different visual imagery throughout our day. Our daily communication with others has remarkably changed – maybe stopped in several ways. The phone. The emails. The conversations, the meetings, the written reports. Say, presentations, deadlines, calendar management. Social obligations.

1. Who we are in the company has no significance (although who we are as a person is huge).

2. What we do for an external group is no longer a valid means of weighing our self-worth.

The fact is, a corporate position, salary and power doesn’t add anything to our worth. (But note that nobody in America thinks this. That’s why we seem to be obsessed with holding on and adding to what we have and can control.)

The absolutely transforming thing you get when you are beyond your full-time career years or are experiencing less of a socially connected life is that you can come home to yourself.

Come home? you ask as you fiddle through your now empty calendar on your smart phone in vain. Come home as if I’ve been away? you continue to muse. But where I have I been that I would come home?

Well, that’s the point. Where have we been all these years? Chances are that we’ve not been real present with our spouse or significant other. That’s because we’ve put so much more of ourselves in our careers because we thought that would bring ups more or ensure that we keep the level of money we needed to maintain control of our lives. More of what we like – what we’re used to. ‘Keeping things the way we like them.’

But sometimes at transitions, we find that we haven’t been very present in our lives to begin with. Some of us couldn’t be present in the moment with our spouse for the time it takes to eat a meal. We’d feel uncomfortable with moments of silence (as if is mandatory that one or the other of us has to be laying down a bed of words to dispel the silence).

Check this out. When you are in the room with your significant other for ten minutes, do you know how they feel? At the end of the day, if you were magically transported to a college classroom and you were asked to write an essay on what is most important to your spouse, how many sentences would you be able to scribble out?

Complicating almost any transition is our lives is that we haven’t been very present with ourselves, those closest people to us or even the transitions and changes themselves. How present are you with yourself, those around you and what is happening in your life in this very moment?

Riley, do you love me? Peg asked.

Riley responded Well I live here, don’t it?

Do you feel that who you are, without any career position or social relationship, is just as it (you) should be? Do you feel that if you suddenly found yourself living in a totally new context, that whoever you’d meet would find a good and worthwhile person in you? Do you feel that in whatever context you’d find yourself in, others would find you to be a worthwhile human being who positively contributes to their existence?

This is a far cry, another planet or cosmos if you will, from the daily striving to get, hold on to and protect what we have and have been for all our previous years. It’s an entirely different orientation to life.

It’s not the money. It’s not the investments that may or may not be working for us while we’re sleeping. It’s not the house, the car, the boat, the property, the career. That’s because when all of the ownerships and responsibilities into which we’ve placed our energies are gone, all we have left is ourselves. To whatever extent we’ve been able to be present in the lives of our most significant others, it comes down to now. What we’re left with is just us. Can we even be present, in a comfortable and loving way, with ourselves?

You see, it comes down to this moment. Be present in the transitions. Our lives are full of them. The good news is that you’ve got a wonderful and noble person along with you in all of these transitions and change – you.

It’s a Wonder We Can Think at All

“When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall”
[ from the Simon And Garfunkel 1973 song “Kodachrome”]

Remember our priorities back in high school? The things we did to achieve recognition or our own self-worth? We’ve forgotten the very people we tried to please in order to fit in and be accepted.

By our thirties, we had grown out of our myopic high-school view of the world around us. It was like a now too-small suit that our parents had given us, in which we wouldn’t be caught dead. Those adolescent world views and judgments on large swaths of humanity. All these opinions and pronouncements are now gone – vanishing like someone else’s overheard burp from another room. It’s like the vicious radio talk show host who is forced into retirement after society, and all his former show’s sponsors, have moved on with other, more enlightened value systems.

What caused us to disregard what had once been at the center of our values?

Certainly it was exposure to new people and their broader perspectives in life. Likely, it was the pain of suffering – ours and theirs. The test of time ground down the inadequacies of oversimplified religion and ideologies. It was, as Simon and Garfunkel’s song suggested, a transition of our minds from black and white to ‘those nice bright colors and their greens of summers, that make us think all the world’s a sunny day.’ Most of us emerged from a childhood where we are shown the world through a black and white lens. Perhaps out of our parent’s exhaustion and inadequate teacher credentialing, they did the best they could but wanted to keep it simple. They wanted to control things, or at least appear to be in control. To them, there were the good and the bad; the angels and the demons – “them” and “us.”

By the time we found ourselves in college, we were truly embarrassed to discover that we had actually believed what we had been told. Those millions of people, labeled as “Communists” by our parental units, turned out to just like us – only with a different political system. We discovered that everyone who is poor had not brought it upon themselves (from their lack of adapting, in a Social Darwinist scheme of ‘making it’). To our dismay, the people and institutions, in whom and in which we were taught to trust for our religion and spirituality, were sometimes false idols themselves. They actually believed that they were the only ones right and everyone else was wrong and headed toward hell in a hand basket. We discovered, in time, that the values we have been carrying around, as if precious and holy, were woefully threadbare – contradictory to the core teachings of all of the world’s wisdom traditions.

“Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is”
[Pebby Lee, 1969 ‘Is That All There Is’]

“Seargeant O’Leary is walking the beat.
At night, he becomes a bartender.
He works at Mr. Cacciatorre’s down on Sullivant Street,
Across from the medical center,
And he’s trading in his Chevy for a Cadillac, lac, lac, lac;
You oughtta know by now,
If he can’t drive with a broken back,
At least he can polish the fenders.
And it seems such a waste of time,
If that’s what it’s all about…
Momma, if that’s moving up, then I’m moving out.”
[Billy Joel, 1977 ‘Movin’ Out’]

“Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred
” [Bob Dylan’s 1965 It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)]

When we did begin to pull ourselves away from “all that crap we learned in high school,” we probably spent a number of years proclaiming what we don’t want for our lives. We expressed our dissatisfaction with the bigotry, prejudice and the painful social injustice. We did it with the clothing we wore, the language we used and our lifestyles. For some of us, we are lucky to be alive from risking drugs, alcohol and Californication. We were hell-bent on stating, with the canvas of our lives, that we were not our parents. We did this with our lifestyle, language and how we spend our time. We were defiantly not what we were raised to be. Or so we thought.

But we were busted. In the course of every day conversation, work-place exchanges and patterns of how we actually did things, we ended up becoming not that different than our parents. We found ourselves riddled and driven by the same fears as our parents. We overused the personal strengths that served us in the past in compensating for our fears. Tara Bennett Goleman (Emotional Alchemy) provided us, and our therapists, our task list of schemas which get us caught up in some of the same unhealthy over-compensations as those who raised us. This is not your father’s Buick but it’s a Toyota .- so what?

Genetics? Probably not, except for our body types. But fear drives us to it. We write off people by the millions who approach life differently than us. We fear them and we fear change. We fear the kind of learning that forces us to set aside the old and pick up the new.

Consider how they used to catch monkeys for zoos. They carved out a coconut, attached a chain to one end of the coconut and the other end to a tree. Next, they put fruit in the coconut. When monkeys come along, they’d grab the fruit inside the coconut but refuse to unclench their fist that is holding the fruit inside. Unwilling to let go, they remained stuck to the coconut, chained to the tree.

In potential teaching moments, we are somewhat like the monkeys. We won’t let go of what we know and believe. That’s because it requires us to do the work of stopping and reflecting outside of our usual patterns of interpreting and compensating for our fears. It requires the work and energy to empathize with others – embracing their experiences and perspectives. We aggressively surround ourselves with people who look, act, dress, think and speak just like us. It’s fortunate we all don’t become hermits and wall ourselves away from society – refusing to talk with or read about anyone else. Some people, we guess, actually die of stubbornness and ignorance. We all have bouts with it.

If you enjoy developmental psychology, reflect on what we did with ourselves during our twenties. The school degrees. The striving for certifications. We climbed up rungs up the corporate ladder. The PTA meetings and how we drove our children to “succeed.” Like lemmings, we flocked along, trying to get our self-worth out of our careers or who we are married to, our money or power. We insured everything in sight so that we can replace anything.

But when do we stop talking about what we don’t want for our lives and pursue what we want? At what point, in the short linear path of our lives, do we get down to the business of pursuing what is truly most important to the core of our being? What is most important to our life? What is the meaning of our life and where are we headed? Who and where is our source of learning how to pursue a life of greater meaning? Is there an app for that?

Maybe you’re in the process of discovering that now?

About

Not counting the criminally insane psychopaths, each one of us has at least one thing in common. We go through much of our lives firmly believing and living as if everything we have and do will continue forever. We can’t picture losing anything we have or not always doing things the way we are. That’s exactly why we are so quick so say, in a judging way, “But we’ve never done it that way before.”

Paradoxically, we are fascinated – if not mystified – in reading stories of “famous” or “wealthy” or “powerful” people meeting some sort of demise. They lose their careers. They lose their fortunes. Eventually they can’t hit the high notes they once did when they were at the top of the charts. They lose their spouses or lovers. They lose their lives.

No matter how much we believe in ultimately “making it” in life and eventually getting and doing whatever we want for as long as we want, that ain’t reality. We should know this every time we read about a change of fortunes – but we don’t seem to get it. No matter how many times we read the headlines, there’s this recording going on in our heads that says “it only happens to others, not me.” “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end!” (Closing Time, written by Dan Wilson) But we live, from day to day, as if there will always be a new beginning – whatever it is that needs a new one after it ends.

This writing space is about learning to let go. Yea, I know, this is America where we’re supposed to maximize our potential. Where ‘if we’re not pulling ahead, we’re falling behind.’ America, the land of milk and honey and iPhones, gated communities and tour buses regularly passing the mansions of the rich and famous. The land where we can dance with the stars in some enchanted evening. The band “The Tubes” got it right with their “What Do You Want Out of Life” song:

“What do you want from life
To kidnap an heiress
or threaten her with a knife
What do you want from life
To get cable TV
and watch it every night

There you sit
a lump in your chair
Where do you sleep
and what do you wear
when you’re sleeping

What do you want from life
An Indian guru
to show you the inner light
What do you want from life
a meaningless love affair
with a girl that you met tonight

How can you tell when you’re doin’ alright
Does your bank account swell
While you’re dreaming at night
How do know when you’re really in love
Do violins play when you’re touching the one
That you’re loving

What do you want from life
Someone to love
and somebody that you can trust
What do you want from life
To try and be happy
while you do the nasty things you must

Well, you can’t have that, but if you’re an American citizen you are entitled to:
a heated kidney shaped pool,
a microwave oven–don’t watch the food cook,
a Dyna-Gym–I’ll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home,
a king-size Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum,
a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi,
real simulated Indian jewelry,
a Gucci shoetree,
a year’s supply of antibiotics,
a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth
and Bob Dylan’s new unlisted phone number,
a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick,
Rosemary’s baby,
a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams,
a new Matador, a new mastodon,
a Maverick, a Mustang, a Montego,
a Merc Montclair, a Mark IV, a meteor,
a Mercedes, an MG, or a Malibu,
a Mort Moriarty, a Maserati, a Mac truck,
a Mazda, a new Monza, or a moped,
a Winnebago–Hell, a herd of Winnebago’s we’re giving ’em away,
or how about a McCulloch chainsaw,
a Las Vegas wedding,
a Mexican divorce,
a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot,
or a baby’s arm holding an apple?”

If we stop and reflect, for even a nanosecond, while we are multitasking ourselves from one productive activity to another, we have to admit it. Our ever-consuming, polluting and hoarding dominance on this planet is not sustainable. And, although they’ve come up with some pretty great manuals for this model of human body we are indwelling, it is headed for the scrap yard with all the others. We are all circling the drain. [Term used in medical circles to describe a patient for whom death is impending and yet continues to cling to life” (Urban Dictionary) or A rather grim and morbid term for people, generally elderly, who are living out their last few weeks of life, generally in a painful and sad state. (Jargon Database.com]

Now as soon as you get that out there, the Norman Vincent Peal devotees of the powerful positive thinking start grabbing their hats and heading for the door. Sooner or later, though, whether it takes a near death or significant emotional experience, even they have to face the music. Sooner or later, we all must deal with the temporariness of life. But why wait until near death to learn about these crucially important aspects of meaning?

The redemptive and enriching thing about being mindful of life’s temporary nature is that it quickly changes our values. The brevity of life makes us more appreciative of the present. We can stop getting caught up in the past. We can stop leaking energy over worrying about the future. If anything, we can become more alive to what is in our lives now. We can become more alive to everything we are taking in through all of our senses.

If the Dalai Lama were reading this, I suspect he might laugh and say ‘Of course. Because when you are focused on the present moment, you are less distracted and this moment becomes richer for all that is embodied in it.’

The thousands of years of the wisdom of the Eastern philosophies and all the major world religions are saturated with the teachings about true contentment. The compendium of wisdom teachings suggest that happiness in life has to do with less striving, grasping and longing and more about fully living in the moment. (“Excuse me but give me a minute so I can move my avatar up to the next level so that I can get an extra 500 points.” See what I mean.

This writing space deals with letting go of a lot of the temporary things in our lives. It also has to do with embracing the present. It’s going to be dealing with what we all must face: the temporariness of almost everything in our lives. It will try to ask the questions we all must face about the meaning of our lives. Our sense of worth. The worth of all others. About how you and I spend our energies and talents and for what end. It will be, in a way, a collaborative quest where we can hopefully learn from one another.

It’s not going to be about creating a moral or spiritual manual for life. Rather, it will hopefully be a place where you and I can be more present with how we are doing with the temporary aspects of our lives. Perhaps, from what transpires here, we will be able to be of support and encouragement in times of suffering. I hope we can make one another laugh.

This will be a moderated Blog but do jump in here. We are all circling together but even though we forget this so often, we have so much in common. We are in this together, for a while, anyway.