"It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubborness of the inorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed." - Albert Einstein

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I aspire to a stubbornly incorrigible nonconformity. The degree to which I have achieved my aspiration I leave in the capable hands of those whose wisdom and humilty exceed my own.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Remember to breathe, but be careful out there.

It is really smokey here in Wenatchee and the air quality is hazardous to people with normal lungs and more so to people, like me, with compromised lungs (I have COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease]). I have been staying in the house a lot and only rarely go outside to empty the trash or get in a car to go someplace. And when I do go out I am wearing my face mask. This is really inconvenient.

We are just back one week from our vacation to Las Vegas and Southern California. We had a wonderful time. We were in Las Vegas primarily to fulfill a promise and in California for a family reunion, especially with my new grand-nephew.

The promise necessitating a stop in Las Vegas was to have supper at Mario Battali's restaurant, "Otto." When I had cancer and was so sick one of my really dear friends, Kathy, was also going through Non-Hodgekin's Lymphoma in Oceanside, California. Kathy helped me a lot with reglar emails and occasional phone calls. We promised each other that when we were well, we would meet up at Otto for a meal, since we couldn't get to any of Mario's other restaurants in New York City. Kathy died and for a long time it felt like kind of a betrayal to go on this trip without her. With the perspective that only time can provide I came to see this trip as something I needed to do for Kathy.

We had supper at Otto; well Alice and Becca had supper and I had two glasses of very expensive wine. One for me and one for Kathy. This meal would really have been a lot better if I had had the sense to do it when I could still eat. Now that I can't eat I just get to sit and watch Alice and Becca enjoy the food and I will restrict my celebrations to coffee; beer; and wine - probably in that order too.

We then traveled to Oceanside, California. We belong to a vacation time share and we got the place in Oceanside, right on the ocean, for just our points, no money. While there we went to both the zoo and the Wild Animal Safari; had the family reunion; and took a tour of Warner Brothers Studios. A good friend of our's middle daughter is a tour guide at Warner Brothers and she arranged the tour for us. fortunately, we were the only people on the tour so she just concentrated on the things in which we were interested.

I fully intended to update my blog from Alice's iPad but was having too much fun and just didn't do it. Then when I got home I had stuff piled up to do. This is the first occasion I have had to write another post.

I am finding retirement easier than I thought it would be. I was actually afraid of retirement, especially on disability. I was afraid that I would be stuck home with nothing to do and bored out of my mind from reading and/or watching daytime television. What I have discovered is that for a guy with no job I am pretty busy. I am in two Toastmasters Clubs - I am coach for one of the clubs. I am on two committees at church, co-chairing one of them. I have random doctor's and dental appointments. I actually do some housework and laundry. And, especially lately, I get plenty or rest, which I need - that hasn't changed.

The new development is that my doctor no longer allows me to drive, so I have to get rides everywhere I want to go. I have been getting dizzy at random and unpredictable times and sometimes even feel like I am going to pass out. Apparently, this is enough to rescind your driving privileges.

Alice and Becca have been great about driving me around and when they can't there are people from my church who are helping.

Becca finally got a job! Yeah! Yeah especially for Becca's self-esteem and attitude. She got a job at Target, her favorite store. I just hope that she doesn't exhaust her paycheck on her employee discount and actually brings some of that money home. It is really good to see her so excited about going to work. Target was great about hiring her. They let her go on the vacation we had been planning for over a year and start when she got back; very considerate for a corporate entity. I understand that Target treats their employees well. I hope that is Becca's experience. Becca had her first day of orientation yesterday and she starts work on Monday.

All of this reminds me of my Buddhist teaching - everything is impermenant and "mu" or not being, not doing. Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans and everything will be what it will be. I find my life is a lot easier when I can implement that truth into daily practice. Just be still; and listen; and breathe - except not outside without an N-95 mask!

PS - I got a message, I don't remember if it was on Facebook or by email, from someone who was in French class with me at Bonita High School in La Verne. I briefly looked at and scanned the message but really didn't read it closely or reply to it, which I fully intended to do. Now I can't find it. It looks like I probably accidentally deleted it. I hope that whoever wrote that to me is reading this and will resend the message to me and I promise to try and be a lot more careful this time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Go Fly A Kite

My birthday was Monday August 13. I am fifty-six. I can remember a time when I thought that fifty-six was really old, like almost dead old. Now I think fifty-six is just about right. My body feels like I’m fifty-six but often my mind and attitudes are more like a six year old; in all the positive and negative manifestations you might imagine.

My wife and daughter asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday. I have spent a disproportionate amount of my time the last few months thinking about what I can’t do. I try not to but it has been a struggle. There has been so much that my cancer has forced me to give up.

I also have a hard time asking for what I want. I find that I readily agree to do things I do not really want to do, don’t ask for what I really want, and then feel resentful about it; just like a six year old.

When my wife and daughter asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday I thought it might be a perfect opportunity to try something different – think about all the things I can do. It really just took my intention to make this happen. I actually found it much easier than I had expected.

I narrowed the options to two; play Frisbee golf or fly a kite. We decided that we would fly kites, since Frisbee golf is tied to a specific place and kites can be flown in a great variety of places. Of course, we had no kites on hand so it necessitated a kite shopping trip. We decided that we would go kite shopping and celebrate my birthday on the Saturday before the actual date.

On the Friday before my birthday celebration my wife reminded me that the people who are going to house sit for us while we are vacation are coming by on Saturday and perhaps we should go to a baseball game to celebrate my birthday instead. My first reaction was to revert to six year old mode. I was disappointed and a little petulant. My wife seemed a little too ready to abandon my birthday plans; I was resentful and on the verge of becoming unpleasant.

Then I remembered my Buddhist teacher’s instructions for dealing with my anger and frustrations, which have seemed to dominate my emotions for a while. I took a deep inhalation and I exhaled all of my anger and frustration. And it worked. I had another opportunity to do something different. I had an opportunity to problem solve and ask for what I wanted.

I suggested that we go kite shopping on Saturday morning, meet our house sitters in the afternoon, and since it is staying light out so late, fly kites on Saturday evening. Problem solved. I was free from petulant six year old mode and asked for what I wanted.

We went kite shopping on Saturday morning. I had previously notices a sandwich board out on Cascade Ave. advertising that a specialty bike and hobby store sold kites. We decided to go there first. I was a little shocked. The kites they sold were in the $300.00 to $400.00 range. I don’t know who spends $400.00 on a kite but not me.

Then we went to what has become my favorite toy and hobby store, where we probably should have gone first, Hooked On Toys. They had a nice selection of kites ranging from $3.00 to $30.00. At that price we got three kites, one for each of us.

Later that evening we went to a local elementary school with a large open field to fly our kites. Now you need to understand that we typically have breezy evenings. But this evening there wasn’t any wind at all, not a breath. I tried and tried but I couldn’t get my kite to fly. A six year old’s petulant temper tantrum was threatening; but I remembered to breathe.

“Oh well, we will take our kites on our vacation. We are going to be right by the beach and we’re sure to have wind there.”

I can still surprise myself. Even at fifty-six I can learn to do some things differently. I am proud of myself. And I will be flying my kite on my vacation.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Remember To Live

Saturday August 4, 2012 was a special day for our family. Alice, Becca, and I all got tattoos of the same phrase,"Ricordati Di Vivere," which is Italian for "Remember To Live." we all got the tattoo on different parts of our bodies. I got mine on my right forearm.

This was all initiated by Becca. Becca told me that she chose this phrase after looking for something suitable on the Internet. Becca said that she had been thinking of "Remember To Breathe" because Alice and Becca both periodically remind me to breathe. Then she came up with "Remember To Live." Becca was insistent that the phrase be tattooed in my handwriting so that she would always have a part of me with her.

I like to believe that I had at least a small part in the choice of phrase. Becca and I have had conversations about deeper and more spiritual issues over the last few months. We have had several conversations with me defending my desire to stay involved and active in my different things like Toastmasters or church committees even when I am not feeling so well. I have often said that I don't want to get to the end of my life and find out I haven't lived. What I mean is that I don't want to give up things that give my life meaning and purpose.

So much has been taken from me including, and especially, my own free will in so many decisions. I have lost my career as a social worker, which also means I lost my identity as a professional who was respected; I have lost the ability to eat or drink though I sometimes indulge myself with coffee; I have lost my ability to tell stories, at least the oral tradition of telling stories; I have lost the ability to speak forcefully and clearly; I even lost the ability to play golf. I really don't want to surrender my involvement and engagement with the different activities that make my life worth living.

Alice and Becca are quick to remind me that I am not going through this alone - every time I have to be hospitalized they have to go through it too. I am sensitive to that and I don't know how to resolve this dynamic tension. I don't think that I can satisfy my need for a meaningful and rich life with their desire to keep me safe and healthy.

But when I can stop and think, without all of the anger I have, without all of my anger and frustration at the unfairness of it all I can see that the only time I have is now and that it will be what it will be. I may intellectually understand and agree with that but I have not fully integrated that knowledge into my life and practice.

Just today for example my doctor put me back on antibiotics for yet another pneumonia and advised me not to participate in my Toastmasters meetings tonight and tomorrow morning or my committee meetings tomorrow. I came home with a lot of frustration and anger. My Buddhist teacher has given me a simple exercise to deal with my anger and when I tried it today it worked, for a while anyway, until I started thinking again. It's always that thinking that gets me. 

At least now I have a permanent and unmistakable reminder on my right forearm, remember to live. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It Just Is

This morning I posted another story on my other blog, Whispering Circles (http://whisperingcircles.blogspot.com/). It is a favorite story that got me thinking some. It is a folk story about the aging process.

I've been thinking about getting older a lot lately. I am getting older, which frankly I think may be preferable to the alternative. But I'm not sure.

A couple of weeks ago my daughter asked me if I was afraid to die. I know my health issues weigh heavily on her mind and in a strange way it makes me feel good to know she worries about me. I told Becca that I am not afraid of death.

Becca was horrified. "How can you want to die?" I explained that it is not that I want to die. She asked if I was afraid to die and I'm not. Whenever it comes, I will not be afraid to die. She seemed comforted a little bit by this. Not a lot; but a little anyway.

I really am not afraid to die. Apparently, I've been closer to it than not on a couple of occasions, though I don't remember any of them. That must be another survival adaptation; not storing memories of unpleasant things over which we have virtually no control.

Control is an important thing in my life. I have been aware for a long time that I have control issues. I like things to be nice and tidy and put away. I like my tools put away, the hose rolled up when it's not being used; dishes in the sink either washed or put in the dishwasher. I rarely get what I want in regards to control and I have been trying for a number of years to let stuff go. I am getting better, but I'm not really there yet.

When I think about dying now I think of a transition to a different experience. I am not sure what to expect but I do believe that there is something there. I believe that we are all energetic people and that our souls are really concentrations of that energy. I think when we die that soul energy joins the cosmic energy and is recycled into new people.

I am a practicing Buddhist and I have come to a more complete and sophisticated understanding of karma and reincarnation. I think my soul energy idea works for both. Our soul energy attracts other soul energy based on ... well, I haven't worked out all the details. I also think that our soul energy moves progressively from a state of chaos to a state of sublime mindfulness and that this occurs at different rates for different souls but for most over a few lifetimes at least.

That explains my cancer to me as well. I got a cancer that 95% of the people who get is are either heavy smokers or heavy drinkers or both. I was and have never been either. I got someone else's cancer? This was a real cosmic screw up! Or, in a previous life I earned some karma that I am paying off now. In a strange way that also comforts me. I think that I can understand and accept that.

What I don't believe is that there is some omipotent deity who is intimately interested in and tinkers with our day to day lives. The universe is a random place, stuff happens, and a lot of times there is no good reason. I didn't get cancer so that I could learn some important life lesson. No God had a divine plan for me to get a potentially fatal disease so that I could fulfill some divine scheme. I just got cancer. Maybe there was some karma involved.

The other thing that I thought about today is ownership of folk stories. The story I posted on Whispering Circles is a folk story. A woman tells me that she has copyrighted the story and that I cannot tell it without giving her a royalty. I think she is delusional. Folk stories and folklore by definition cannot be owned. And in any case, no one ever tells the same story as some one else.

As soon as I tell a story it is unique to me. If you listen to my story, recite the story word for word, memorize my facial expressions and gestrues and voice inflection; strive to recreate my telling of it; it will still be a story that is unique to you. We shape our folklore; we cannot stop that or prevent it; it is just a fact. Folklore evolves. As do stories.

So, if you ever want to tell one of my stories feel free. Actually, I tend not to call them "my stories" in the first place. The stories belong to the universe; where random stuff happens; like stories get told and retold and evolve and become different and people sometimes get a cancer they don't deserve.

It just is.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I had a very interesting experience one day last week that made me feel older and yet energized and excited and inspired me at the same time.

I had a doctor's appointment and after the nurse was done taking my vital signs she told me that the doctor had a medical student working with him and asked if it would be all right for the medical student to come in. I remember getting my clinical hours and I gladly said yet.

It was a few minutes before the student came in. I have to confess that when she came in I did not recognize her. She introduced herself as Shelly and said, "I think I know you." In my work I got to know so many people in the community that I often have trouble remembering people with whom I may have had limited contact, especially if I see them in an unfamiliar environment.

My puzzled expression must have been obvious. Shelly explained that her younger sister, Whitney, and my daughter, Becca, had been friends. It was only then that I recognized Shelly. I had not seen her in several years, but I had known her since she was about seven years old. It was only then that I recognized Shelly.

My face just lit up. A routine doctor's appointment had just gotten a lot more enjoyable. We embraced. I had known that Shelly was studying to become a physician's assistant. Her lab coat indicated that she was a student at USC (University of Southern California), a great medical school and teaching hospital.

We talked a little about family and Shelly went about her examination of me. She took a detailed history of my specific complain and listened to my heart and lungs. It was so wonderful to see Shelly.

It made me feel a little older seeing this young woman blossom into a caring, compassionate, and competent professional. I still remember the seven year old. On the other hand it was exciting and inspiring and reassuring to see a new generation of young people start to take their place in the world.

After the appointment I was so exciting to tell my wife Alice and my daughter Becca about seeing Shelly. I told Becca as soon as I got home and told Alice when she got home. Just yesterday I asked Becca if I had mentioned to her that I had seen Shelly. Becca looked surprised and asked me if I was serious. Becca told me that over the past few days I had asked her that question four or five times.

That really made me feel older.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

I'm Alright Even If I Am Lazy And Undisciplined

I haven't posted a blog in a while and I keep thinking that there must be something interesting about which I can write; but for the life of me I can't think of what it might be. Of course, I may have forgotten it too.

Actually, it has been a pretty exciting week here at Whispering Circles 1/4 acre organic farm cooperative and artists colony, or what we call home. On Monday I started to see the signs of an impending pneumonia again: dropping oxygen saturation; that classic productive cough; and a low grade fever. I took care of myself at first and then on Wednesday went to see the doctor. That early intervention has, I am convinced, kept me out of the hospital. My own doctor is on vacation so I saw one of his partners, and she put me on antibiotics. I am doing so much better today. I just took my oxygen saturation and it is at 98%.

I've been up this morning doing some yard work and work on the computer. I helped load a bunch of stuff for our church yard sale and I am going to do some shopping at Home Depot and then a little more yard work. I love feeling like I'm productive.

I sat in zazen (sitting meditation) this morning and it was exquisitely beautiful. On Tuesday and Wednesday I skipped meditation due to my feeling junky and I really felt the effects. I could have done my meditation - I just decided to be lazy and abandom my disciplined spiritual practice, which is never really a good idea.

I was going to take my in-laws, who are visiting for a few weeks, up to an historical old west town, Winthrop, on Friday, but my wife refused to give us permission to go since I was still recovering from whatever it was that I had that wasn't and never had a chance of becoming, due to our early and aggressive intervention, a pneumonia.

So now I've written something. I feel like there is one more thing I can check off my to do list. And even though this is far from profound, it does make me feel good to be writing. The discipline of writing regularly is, like my meditation, an important spiritual discipline that cultivates a deep and meaningful life - physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

How often have I decided to abandon or ignore my disciplined practices because it just wasn't the right time or I didn't feel it or aliens don't wear purple hats or some other equally vacuous excuse to be lazy. I think we all probably do this. I sometimes conjure images of the Dalai Lama deciding to sleep a half hour longer before getting up and sitting in meditation. It could happen! At least it makes me feel like I'm alright anyway.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Standing On The Side Of Love

On Sunday June 24, 2012 I was a part of the Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship contingent in the Seattle Gay Pride Parade. It was unbelievable, in a good way. I had so much fun.

There were just eleven of us with the church banner and signs promoting marriage equality, standing on the side of love, and acceptance of all people including LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people. We were so welcomed into the crowd in the several hours before we actually started marching in the parade. People thanked us for coming all the way from Wenatchee for the parade.

Along the parade route we passed out beads, temporary tattoos, and candy to the crowd and we got more positive comments and expressions of appreciation for coming all the way from Wenatchee.

On Saturday evening before the parade I was thinking how nice it would be to be able to have a Gay Pride Parade in Wenatchee. And then I thought how difficult and potentially dangerous that would actually be. I see so much around me changing and know that the day is coming, and soon, when my LGBT brothers and sisters will be fully accepted, allowed to marry the person of their choice, and any discrimination will be socially unacceptable. Just like what has happened for African Americans or people in mixed race relationships. But we are not there yet.

That got me thinking about what needs to happen so that in my lifetime we will have a Gay Pride Parade in Wenatchee. The first thing is for people of conscious to speak up, publicly, loudly, and passionately. And I think that the first institutions to do this should be, at least in my mind, religious and/or spiritual institutions that celebrate, in word if not in deed, the inherent worth and dignity of all people.

It has become a passion of mine to help shepherd this into reality in my own church home, the Cascade Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (CUUF). We are starting the process and we are on our way. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a formal program for recognizing congregations that fully welcome and include LGBT people in the life of the church. There is a process to being able to have that designation awarded to a congregation. It will be a time consuming process and one that may, at times, be challenging or difficult. I have already run into a few people who question the need, since they already feel that LGBT people are welcomed at CUUF.

It is not enough to say to each other how tolerant and welcoming and inviting we are. It is a hollow gesture if it is not public and proud. That is one of my primary focuses for the coming year, to shepherd this process into reality.

Perhaps it is fortuitous that I am recently retired and have a little more time on my hands. Perhaps it is the universe affirming my calling to this ministry. Maybe it is just random good luck. In any case, I have a mission and tasks that I understand and appreciate.