Sunday, October 5, 2014

Mood swings


San Jacinto, Palm Springs
A week after the last five-day round of chemo and the four days of fatigue that routinely follow, my energy levels are mostly back to the new normal. I am not sleeping away the afternoons with an unread Kindle somewhere beside me, or the dog on top of me.

So I scheduled two appointments, long postponed, one with an ophthalmologist; another with a dentist and oral hygienist. My mood had been fluctuating like the stock market, hitting some bruising lows, and I enjoyed meeting new people and giving my usual reply to “How are you?” with my usual “Happy as a clam.” 

No doubt it’s an act, my playing the cheerful cancer patient, but it fools me, too, and that’s more than enough excuse for the duplicity. My dark mood lifted and was gone. The stock market could sink like the Titanic.

In the meantime, I am reminding myself of what I have learned from the practice of meditation: moods are only passing mental weather, transient, not real, and not me. So I try to suspend disbelief in them. Call it denial; call it magical thinking; I prefer to think of it as having a calming effect on brain chemistry.

View from dentist's chair
Another high point this week was dropping off 35 books for the book sale at the Palm Springs Public Library, where the two of us got library cards and roamed around the spacious, air-conditioned interior, at home with stacks upon stacks of books which look like they contain nearly anything we might ever look for or hope to find. 

Standing at the end of one shelf, my eyes fell on a copy of The Last Angry Man, which I remember reading back in the 1950s. It was nicely preserved and still in its original dust jacket. We didn’t have time to stay long, but I’m eager to find out whether the place has a well stocked western section.

While I’m reading Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark, I’m also looking for books by or about Albert Camus, the next stop on this journey. It’s time to reread The Myth of Sisyphus. Just about anyone’s attempts to wrestle with ultimate questions (Who am I? Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life?) get my attention these days. So far I have found a variety of answers, enough to persuade me that no one really knows. But as they get mashed up together, they make some interesting connections.

Red arrow on Gene Autry Trail, Palm Springs
I continue to begin each morning with thanks for another day to discover what it is to be human, and I marvel that such a thought has taken so long to really register with me. I am reminded that I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But better late than never.

Today the answers have something to do with the little ego one presents to the vastness and the eternity of the universe. Sam Harris thinks of it as the illusion of self with its ongoing internal commentary and its moods, that attaches itself to consciousness. One can with meditation switch it off for moments at a time, but the novelty of a blank mind quickly wears off for me. 

We are here, I think, to notice, to pay attention—not necessarily to dwell on the past or anticipate the future, but just to be here now—to be human here now—for whatever that means for each of us. Cancer, alas, has a way of reminding a person that we don’t have forever to figure that out.

My thanks today are for the readers who stop by here to leave their own thoughts on what ultimately matters for them. I take truckloads of encouragement and strength from these words. You remind me that we are all finding our way and that having company on this journey is reason for heartfelt gratitude.

Jazz remains a source of revelation for me, and I’m closing today with a video of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, sent by a friend and former colleague. Listen especially for trumpeter Lee Morgan on the left below.


Any other readers here with jazz favorites of their own, links to them are welcome.


Previously: As if

14 comments:

  1. Ron, the one question the great Indian spiritual preceptor, Ramana Maharshi, repeatedly asked his followers to inquire of themselves was "Who am I?" He said the answer to that one question would answer all our questions including who we are and why we are here, ultimately leading to realisation of the Self. To quote the sage, "Every living being longs always to be happy, untainted by sorrow; and everyone has the greatest love for himself, which is solely due to the fact that happiness is his real nature. Hence, in order to realize that inherent and untainted happiness, which indeed he daily experiences when the mind is subdued in deep sleep, it is essential that he should know himself. For obtaining such knowledge the inquiry 'Who am I?' in quest of the Self is the best means." He also said famously, "Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”

    Paul Brunton, the renowned British philosopher, spent a lot of time with Maharshi and wrote of his experience in two books titled IN SEARCH OF SECRET INDIA and MAHARSHI AND HIS MESSAGE. Lots of food for the soul.

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  2. Thinking about you, Ron and hoping you both are finding moments of peace and pleasure amidst this ordeal. Seems like you know where to look for them.

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    1. Some days more than others, Patti. Thanks for dropping by.

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  3. Lee Morgan, one of the great jazz trumpet players. A big favorite. I still remember the shock I felt in the early 1970's when he was gunned down by his girlfriend. Only in his early 30's.

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    1. I knew he died very young, but did not know until now how. I'd assumed it was an OD

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  4. One of my favorite Lee Morgan songs is The Sidewinder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJi03NqXfk8

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    1. On my personal list, too. And coming up here.

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  5. "Everything is coming up roses" is the only way to look at life.

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    1. Another one I like: Everything is working out beautifully.

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  6. Gee, you got an appointment with your dentist fast. I like the view from the window. I always read your blog late at night while my husband Jay is sleeping beside me, and then I can't turn on the audio to listen to the jazz you've picked. I always go to our CDs of cool guitar jazz when given a choice.

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    1. You need a pair of earbuds. Fond of jazz guitar, too. Earl Klugh is a favorite. Send me one of yours.

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  7. Ron, here's a favorite from my collection --on the light side, Bob James (he of "Angela's Theme" from TAXI), an album called simply "H"
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnQVELy5J5M

    Some purists aren't hip to the more popsy rhythms of smooth jazz, but it's worth exploring.

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    1. Bob James is fine. He can do MOR and still honor a song's jazz roots.

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