Sunday, July 6, 2014

Radio Ron

Blue skies, smilin' at me...
I’ll admit, my meditation style may be unconventional. For one thing, I sit in a chair, my old joints past bending otherwise and my need for lumbar support also making its demands. I have a cup of coffee with me, and a small dog may jump into my lap now and again.

Radio Ron is sometimes playing in my head, though my inner remote can get it back to mute when I notice I’m tuning into stuff from the past (old news) or the future (imagined and unreal) therefore of little relevance to here and now—on the cusp of which I’m making an effort to perch.

Some days, I notice an inclination to mentally pick fights, activating a fight/flight stress-inducing response, like wanting to fine-tune a withering comment for someone I disagree with on Facebook. And I note with relief how returning to the awareness of the next breath is like coming home to a welcome solace. Sounds like a lot of mental activity for what anyone might think of as meditation, but I’m learning as I go, and this seems to be part of the deal.

4 p.m., 107 degrees
The past week saw the arrival of what I call the desert dog days of summer: humidity and three-digit temperatures, as a high-pressure system settles over the Four Corners and the usual weather pattern reverses, “monsoony” skies driven westward from Arizona with afternoon storm clouds and the sound of distant thunder rolling off the mountains. This morning, for the first time in many days, we did not go out for even a short walk at 7:00.

I had another session with the Cancer Center psychologist this week, who reminds me how everyone has to find their own way through cancer to whatever waits on the other side. We talk about how serious illness awakens feelings of vulnerability, which may come in the form of intensely felt loss or sorrow (e.g., the inability to sleep for lack of relief from grieving). Or it may come, as in my case, watching movies that trigger troubling memories. Like The Butler, which we saw this week, with its emotionally charged portrayal of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Of the movies, Ingmar Bergman once said that they bypass our ability to reason about what we see and hear from the screen and go straight to the subconscious. That is why they can be so powerful, especially when our normal defenses are too weak to shield us from an assault on our sensibilities. In my case, they seem to cry out for acts of kindness and compassion. Show me a scene of that in a movie, and I can feel my heart almost burst with gratitude.

Newcomer on the patio, French lavender
Compassion these days seems in such short supply, as the political climate and public discourse encourage a meanness of spirit that seems to know no shame. So it’s a bad time to be both physically and emotionally vulnerable. Just as I can’t do hill climbing in the desert nowadays, if ever again, I need to steer clear of the more emotionally bruising forms of what passes for entertainment today.

While I remain seemingly unable to follow advice I’ve been given to open up to more creative mental activity—less verbal, more visual—my nighttime dreaming apparently has taken the hint. Once this week I woke from an amusing and delightful dream about traveling with a group of saxophonists playing at movie houses for silent movies in what I believe was the 1920s. For $15, I could travel with them all the way to Miami. Coming out of nowhere, that one put a smile on my face.

Old music also resonates more than usual for me. The other day, I played a cassette tape I had recorded in part from a public radio station when I lived in a small college town in Pennsylvania 30+ years ago. The sweetly lyrical jazz piano (from Walter Norris, Drifting)...

...brought back the pre-dawn hours when I would get up to write and take advantage of the quiet before a day of teaching and other responsibilities. And I felt the suddenly vivid memory of that time like a blow to my whole nervous system. I’m not sure I want to spend time now dwelling in memory, but after that experience I can better understand its seductive power.

The days this week have been blending together, and not so “productive” as I wish. Weary at times, I read old novels and nap, often plugged in with ear buds to Tibetan bell videos at YouTube. Work on vol. 2 of my book on frontier fiction moves along slowly as I have only short bursts of energy for it. Same goes for blog reviews. Meanwhile, I have to persuade myself to get up and move around every hour or so, half-heartedly doing at-home physical therapy routines. Otherwise, if I had my way, I’d be totally sedentary. Gotta do something to correct that, or I’ll turn into a potted plant.

Previously: Model Behavior


  1. There was a segment on CBS This Morning about how people are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts. They must always be talking to someone, tapping on the phone, checking for messages, or something to keep them from being unoccupied and alone with their own minds. According to all the physical therapists and medical doctors you must exercise - exercise - exercise. Winston Churchill says he never exercised a day in his life and it was a long life. I'm in between, I don't dislike exercising, but I can't find time for it.

    1. I grew up an only child and had nothing but my own thoughts. Seemed to be enough. There's also a difference between aloneness and loneliness, the latter being more of an affliction.

  2. Ron, I sit in meditation any way I like, as I cannot sit cross-legged. My preferred asana or posture is the Vajrasana ("vajra" means diamond or thunderbolt in Sanskrit). In this pose, also known as the kneeling pose, adamantine pose, diamond pose or thunderbolt pose, one sits with both one's legs tucked under, the heels and calves below the thigh and the soles of the feet pointing out and upward. I like this pose because it is easy to keep the spine erect without much effort. I think most people are forever in a fight or flight mode. I know I am.

    1. Thanks. I could probably do that one for short periods of time.

  3. If ever I am sitting in a chair or even standing at the window, not doing anything for more than a few minutes and Phil sees me, it bothers him. He is never without a book or a project. And yet he has written 14 books. But maybe since they are all scholarly books, he doesn't need to think like I do. I am a dreamer but not a meditator.

    1. My wife gets the same thing from me when she plays solitaire on her iPad. But I'm a lifetime workaholic. I have to remind myself that solitaire is probably more conducive to mental and emotional health.

  4. You're so right about the current state of political debate in this country. Or political rants, rather. I find that Bergman quote about the movies interesting and wonder if this is why movies mean so little to me. Maybe my defenses are too high.