Sunday, June 29, 2014

Model behavior

Morning clouds
To be honest, there are days when I don’t feel like being a model cancer patient. This is one of them. The cause may be the meds I take or have taken. It may be lack of exercise or lack of sleep. Lately, evening movies from Netflix seem to have had a disturbing effect on sleep and dreams. Two, about people serving prison terms for crimes they did not commit, had me waking the next morning in a dark and troubled mood—one time with the weight of a heavy sadness in my chest. No arguing with that. Something was up.

Meanwhile, our doctors encourage both of us in the practice of mindfulness meditation. Sitting in the patio of a morning, I’m surprised how 30 minutes of it pass so quickly, when there was a time that a half hour of just paying attention to my breathing would have seemed interminable.

My internist turns out to be well versed in the subject.  He can talk at great length about various Eastern practices and will sometimes start a sentence with “When I was in Nepal…” Current theory is that meditation helps hold one’s mental-emotional state in a sustainable range that does not jump into the flight-or-fight response under stress, which produces unwanted effects for one’s treatment.

Flowers in bloom at the Cactus Mart
My doctor has also pointed me to a meditation group in Palm Springs, which meets weekly and sponsors retreats and workshops. I have to check them out, but I hope I’ll be able to to connect with and meet others there to extend a needed social network that has been hard to form in the relative isolation of the desert town where I live. It has become clear to me that two people (my wife and I), despite our love and caring for each other, are not enough to fill that need all by ourselves.

Another bit of advice from my doctor and the Cancer Center psychologist is to devote more of my time to creative activities, specifically visual rather than verbal. The idea is to give my mind a rest from all the focused analytical mental activity that tends to block intuition and crowd out awareness of what spiritual traditions have called the transcendent. This will sound like more magical thinking to some, but when I hit the mute button on the noisy chatter in my head and pay attention to what at first sounds like silence, there’s a difference that makes a difference.  

Sunrise sky
For instance, I noticed when a hummingbird “joined” my meditation for a while the other day. I heard a whirring sound and opened my eyes to discover him hovering over me, studying me—or maybe only what he could see of the red T-shirt I was wearing. But I became aware that I had awakened from a state that had seemed normal enough, but was more like sleep.

And it was a moment that called out for more than the words I’m using to describe it here. They do little to capture the sensation of discovering myself an object of interest in this tiny creature’s world. Besides my visual memory of his darting flight and the flutter inside me echoing the buzzing flutter of his wings, I realize that with my limited creative ability I’m not anywhere near translating that experience into a visual image right now—but there’s a poem, or a haiku in there somewhere.

Instead of lazily reaching for the kindle to start into a new novel today, I’m thinking maybe I’ll give it a go.

Previously: Convergences


  1. Sometimes it is tough trying to be a model anything. It is always nice to be surrounded by others, my wife and I often need others to keep us up and going. Hang in there.
    I will be patiently checking your blog for the haiku.

  2. Verbal work really does tax the mind. It seems weird to me when I write for three or four hours and am really exhausted. Just unable to keep going.

  3. Ron, have you considered a light anti-depressant? My husband and I have taken Celexa for seven years or so - what a difference in our outlook and relationship. Not for everyone, of course. Thinking of you. Songcatcher with Aiden Quinn about Appalachia at turn of 20th century and their folk music is a nice film, factually based.

  4. I meant Appalachia and its folk music, professor.

  5. Ron, I could relate to your views on meditation. Your mention of a hummingbird joining you in meditation reminds me of what my yoga teacher once said—that pets, like cats and dogs, are often attracted to people who sit in deep meditation because they can detect calmness in the person more easily than humans. She said it was not uncommon for pets to sit close to the one meditating. Maybe, they have an extra sense that tells them when people are at peace. I'm glad you're benefiting from meditation and its attendant principles.

  6. I would imagine photography would suit your state and your State very well.
    we have lots of fun sharing photos on Instragram in our family.