Sunday, February 8, 2015

Busy, busy, busy

Two jets eastbound, morning sky
Saturday. I tune into “deep sleep” music on YouTube as I write this in an effort to quiet my mind, which runs off in all directions, determined to be busy, busy, busy. An hour of meditation goes by in its own kind of hurry this morning, while my attention was drawn to the refrigerator running in the kitchen and birds singing their morning tunes outside, slowing the mental race down a little, but hardly enough it seems to make a difference. 

The lesson of meditation is that it is so hard for an ordinary human to simply be still, not constantly and intensely on alert to every passing thought and distraction. Someone once defined information as “any difference that makes a difference.” That’s my brain on autopilot.

Thursday my neighbor Annette drove me to LA and home again for a check-in with the drug trial nurse, lab work, and a 30-minute infusion of Avastin. It was my first time in an infusion center, where maybe 20 or more patients in various conditions of “functionality” sat in chairs or lay on beds, hooked up to IVs. Not exactly oppressively institutional and hospital like, but close to it. Patients were distributed two to a cubical in a long room hardly wider than a corridor in a suburban high school, while across from them were the nurses’ stations at what could have been an airline ticket counter.

Infusion Center
My nurse was a peach, with a cheerful London accent. A dark, shrunken man lay under a blanket next to me, wearing a facemask (common here with the risk of flu), mostly asleep while a noisy Jerry Springer show played on a personal TV beside him. I read my Kindle and got cans of cold juice and, just before I left, a free lunch of a chicken salad sandwich, corn chips, and a chocolate chip cookie. Then it was back into traffic and the slow freeway crawl out of the city.

Got home in time to say goodbye to my daughter Anne who was on her way to the airport for the redeye that would take her back to New Jersey after about 10 days with us. She is a great cook and during her time here I gained 5 pounds. I’ll not forget the chocolate mousse she made, which was, to use a phrase we don’t use around here anymore, “to die for.” Oatmeal cookies were also made. 

Most of all, I will miss her presence in the house and her laughter. Her last night here we watched a favorite movie of hers, Bread and Tulips, about a married woman who gets separated from her family while on vacation and decides to spend some time in Venice before returning home to be a housewife again. It’s a great feel-good movie.

Desert walk 
This is a jump in topic. But an achievement of mine this week was to unfriend a couple on Facebook who have been annoying me. Actually, I’d like to say there are some I’d like to “unfamily” if I could. But before I do, I have to acknowledge my several cousins, aunts, and an honorary sister, whose occasional e-mail and texts have been just what I needed—news of their lives in all their wonderful variety, with their good wishes and heartfelt thoughtfulness. 

The news is not always good; cancer, and other illnesses lurk in the shadows. A cousin I grew up with swaps texts with me about the ups and downs of our health. Just this week another cousin wrote to tell me that her husband, another cancer patient, has died. Even bad news can sometimes have the effect of good news when it draws us together in a meeting of hearts, while the alternative, being alone with our losses and burdens, would be too much to bear. 

So, yeah, I hereby let go of the few who, despite their God-fearing best intentions, don’t or can’t grasp that or put it into practice. I don’t have the time, patience, or goodwill anymore to wait for them to figure out what a pain they make of themselves.

Meanwhile (get ready for the irony), I struggle with this shortcoming in myself, as I find it difficult to respond in kind to the lengthy and deeply personal e-mails from an Internet acquaintance who found me through my blog and reads these Sunday posts. He tells me of the challenges in his own life as he struggles almost single-handedly with a debilitating physical condition. I would like to be more than I am for him, but (and this is no excuse), I am humbled and chastened instead by my own limits.

San Jacinto, view over the wall
Sunday. It’s the meds, I think, that make me tired and crabby. With dawn’s early light, I can mouth the words “Thank you for another day,” but my heart isn’t in it. Gratitude has to catch me by surprise, as when walking the dog this morning, we are greeted by a small fluttering butterfly that darts from the cassia bushes, now in full bloom, and lights near us on the ground, folding its wings together in slow-motion, demonstrating nicely how to find and relax into stillness. I would love to be able to do that.

I realize how tense and grim I’ve been this morning as I sit at the table reading a funny piece in a magazine about a man in midlife learning to drive a car in New York City. My wife says she so liked hearing my laughter that I should write a thank you to the author. 

Rain and snow on the mountains
Meanwhile, I have acquired a blue handicapped badge to hang on the mirror inside our car. Since I’m able to walk, although a bit erratically at times, I don’t really need it for myself, but it lets me out of the UCLA Medical Center garage for $5 instead of $12. A drawback, however, is a new awareness of the world as it’s inhabited by other drivers, many of them without blue badges or plates, who leave their cars in handicapped parking anyway.

I’ll wrap up with a Zen koan for the week. I’ve been mulling over it for a while and have not yet settled on its meaning for me:

I burn the books in my bag. But verses written in my guts cannot be forgotten.

Someone also once said, commenting on a biblical passage, that we are born with the law of love written on our hearts. I believe both are saying something about learning to trust one’s intuition, the unconscious working mind that expresses our nature and deserves our trust.

I can say that I know what it is to live a life of self-distrust, thanks to my religious upbringing and its doctrine of Original Sin. This notion is meant to account for our resistance to being governed by Divine Law, which is written for our guidance, edification, and I would say mystification in the so-called Good Book. 

Exactly good for what you might ask when you see its effect on some people’s uncharitable behavior. How radically defiant to burn all those spiritual self-help books, including the ones we are taught to hold sacred, and to be guided instead by what is written within. At this late date it’s been too many years of self-imposed darkness for me to read what’s there. I may have to just shut up and listen.

And so it goes.

I’m closing again with a jazz video, this time by a favorite pianist, Oscar Peterson and his quartet, with guitarist Joe Pass. This one from a concert in Tokyo in 1987. Listen for the music of the spheres.

Anyone with another favorite, let me know.

Previously: One Year


  1. Drive on friend. Oscar Peterson is always appreciated. Two for you -- The Jim Hall Trio and--recommended by Johnny Boggs--The Hot Sardines --bluesy old "liquor drinkin' music."

  2. Your photo "San Jacinto Over the Wall" is beautiful and balanced. Rather zen in and of itself, if you use meditation to quiet your mind, maybe just staring at that photo of yours will do it.

  3. Another beautiful and thoughtful post. Enjoy the flights of butterflies and the the mornings with the dog in the desert.

  4. gratitude has to surprise me. Indeed. I understand that completely. I once had an argument with my mom over that topic, when in the midst of my first wife's health crisis she told me I should be grateful and I said I didn't know what to feel grateful for at the moment. Her response of anger said more to me about her state of mind than about mind. At least later when I had a chance to think about it

  5. Beautiful post, Ron. I can understand your frustration with the inane crap that goes on on Facebook. People should think twice before posting their garbage, even though they are a minority in my case. Very nice photos there too.Take all the enjoyment you can from each day.

  6. I love reading these, and many times it's the only reason I look through my blog list. Good news that you gained 5 pounds.

  7. Hi, Laurie,

    With the amount of steroids I've been taking, I'm not exactly wasting away...

  8. Ron, I find the practice of meditation hard too and I'm unable to sit still for more than ten minutes. I'm still trying to figure out how to be a spectator of my thoughts, to merely watch them come and go, instead of getting caught up in them and getting flustered. Those who have mastered it insist that even five minutes of meditation twice a day can work wonders. It requires discipline and I don't have much of it. Keep at it, is what I'm told.