Tag Archive | equanimity

Queer Eye

One vestige of my darker days, the framed photo of James Van Der Zee’s Prohibition Era poster, top left. But see how she is surrounded by light?

I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.

“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.

On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”

And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.

Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.

This came in a text just now, synchronistically articulating my perspective. See more satire from Brittlestar.

So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.

Grateful for cheesos, a simple, delicious hot lunch after arduous maintenance shoveling and brushing…

And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)

The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.

Diagnostic Imaging

Amy reminded me that I may not have mentioned popcorn yet: I’m grateful for popcorn!

I’m so grateful for all the X-rays, sonograms, mammograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging I’ve had in my life; grateful for the technicians who performed them, the radiologists who interpreted them, the medical schools and personnel who taught these people how to make these images and read them; the doctors and nurse practitioners who’ve shared my results with me. I’m grateful for the various machines, and all their tiny, complicated components, and the decades, centuries, of scientific investigation by thousands of humans whose names I’ll never know, that led to these machines being invented and improved.

And I’m grateful for the nameless lives of various creatures, maybe humans, lost ‘in the interest of science’ as these inventions evolved. This doesn’t mean that I condone testing on animals; simply that I accept that it has been done in the past (and there may be occasions when it’s still necessary, but certainly we’ve come far enough that most of it can be avoided), and I appreciate the sacrifices, willing or unwilling, that test ‘subjects’ have made through centuries. I can feel sorry that some things have happened, and still be grateful for the ramifications of the outcomes.

Anyway, back to the list: I’m grateful for the specific people that work in the Delta Hospital radiology department (and I know I’m not the only one) who consistently show such professionalism, efficiency, and compassion in their work. I’m grateful that my recent brain MRIs show only average signs of ‘aging.’ And I’m grateful that my cervical spine MRIs don’t show anything imminently life-threatening. I could whinge about the catastrophic evidence of: degeneration in the vertebral facets, “reversal of the normal cervical lordosis,” “moderate to severe left foraminal narrowing due to left-sided arthropathy and hypertrophy,” and “central canal stenosis with ventral cord flattening.” It doesn’t sound good, and certainly is enough words to explain this ongoing, worsening neck pain.

Oh well. It is what it is. Accepting this, now I can move forward taking into consideration options, making informed choices on the best ways to minimize physical and mental suffering, adapting my lifestyle with diet, appropriate postural adjustments, exercises, and therapies to improve my health. Yeah, it wasn’t great news, but it was more information than I had before, and reassuring in some respects: I don’t need surgery right now, for example, and there’s no cancer. While my brain may be a little older than the years allotted me so far, my spine might be fifty years older than that. One thing, though: my heart keeps getting lighter and younger every step of the way. Too bad they don’t yet have diagnostic imaging to evaluate consciousness; mine would show I’m getting better every day.

Meditation

Monkey mind had me in its grip tonight but meditation quickly calmed the screaming beast inside. (photo from Unsplash)

I found myself ruminating about an upcoming stressful event, and getting more and more physically uncomfortable, feeling flushed and short of breath, anxious, shaky, even angry–all from my thoughts alone. I am grateful I’ve been practicing meditation for years, and recognized a good opportunity to use this skill to calm myself. I lay down and played a 24-minute recorded meditation by B. Alan Wallace called “A Tour of Shamatha Practices,” which focuses the mind on the breath. In no time, my breath calmed, my mind calmed, and I let go of unskillful thoughts and projections. I certainly don’t know what the future will bring: why waste precious time fretting over it? It could as easily go well as poorly, and the attitude I bring to it will largely determine how stressful, unpleasant, or comfortable it will be for me. I’m grateful meditation restored mental balance tonight, and grateful I had the presence of mind to turn to it instead of letting monkey mind ruin my evening.

Dead Dogs

Stellar enjoying his nose on our short walk this evening, after a long few days.

Tonight, as I reflect on them, I’m grateful for all the dogs who’ve died on my watch. There was Sam, the pregnant stray I picked up in college; Knobby, who picked me up at a campground; Mocha, renowned for her sweetness; serious Mr. Brick, the golden bobtail, my first puppy; mischievous Raven, who died in my arms. Each of them died a different way.

I see growth over the course of this progression in my understandings of life and death. Karmically speaking, I can only hope that by the time dear Stellar dies, I’ve been able to purify the negative karma I incurred when I had Sam put down. The memories still traumatize: She won’t feel a thing, they assured me. She bucked and fought on the table, the whole time glaring at me in wide-eyed terror. It was the most horrible thing I’d experienced thus far in my young life. And the reason I did it? I’m ashamed to admit it, because now, knowing about no-kill shelters like Best Friends, I would never have even considered it. I rationalized it as the most compassionate thing to do, and it was the most compassionate way I knew at the time.

The object of my thoughts for days has been whether or not I could ever euthanize Stellar. During his seizure Sunday night, I was perhaps too willing to let him go, prematurely welcoming relief of my own suffering (and inconvenience, I have to admit). All this morning I perused online Buddhist perspectives on euthanasia. I spoke to his vet around noon, and she thinks he may have a bladder infection that’s exacerbating ‘everything else.’ So I drove to town this afternoon to pick up antibiotics.

I’ve had a couple of dreams in the past six weeks after which I vowed I would not have him put down. It’s never gone really well. The best deaths have been those rare affairs when a beloved dies on their own. A local vet came out after staving off Knobbydog’s time for a week; I ended up sleeping outside on the patio with him his last two nights before she came with the shots. A friend had helped me dig a grave down near the canyon rim: I’d never have had the courage to buy this land without the security of Knobbydog. He had a fast-growing cancer in his mouth, and was half dead by the time we took that last walk. As the vet strode briskly ahead down the trail, chatting, Knobby stopped to sniff the base of a juniper. After what seemed to me sufficient time (for his last long sniff, really?), I hurried him along. To his death.

We stood on the lookout rock together, the three of us, the vet chatting, Knobby sniffing the breeze and looking his last look into the canyon, I so sad. She gave him a sedative. After a few minutes she suggested we should walk to the graveside before he fell asleep. There under the Ancient One, I sat on the ground and held his knobby head in my lap, my arms around him, while she gave the lethal injection, chatting all the while about people I neither knew nor cared about. ‘Just shut UP!’ I kept screaming in my head. I have always regretted that I let myself feel rushed, and rushed him along. Also, I vowed to never have that vet come kill another pet for me.

So I had Doc Vincent come put down Mocha, when she could no longer rise for walk or food due to kidney failure. He was the exact opposite. He strode through the gate while I explained to Brick and Raven, and by the time I got inside he’d already wrapped the rubber around her leg. She, objecting, had crab-walked across the living room to get away from him. I gathered her into my lap on the couch and held her, cooing, while he finished the process. We had a communal funeral for her and Michael’s cat Luna, burying them both in the hole I’d dug to plant a peach tree the following spring. While that death went more smoothly, it still unsettled me. I happened too fast, and she was frightened. She didn’t understand.

Mr. Brick… I tried to let him die on his own. It was in the low twenties night after night, and he wouldn’t come inside. Paradoxically I both feared and hoped he would freeze to death, but he just hung on day after day. After days of pacing, he chose a favorite spot down by the pond and didn’t get up. But he didn’t die. Raven required a midnight run to the ER vet in Grand Junction. Stellar was a puppy and needed a lot of attention. I was exhausted. By then I’d come to believe that if I was going to do it, I should do it myself. So I consulted with another vet, gathered up my mom’s leftover morphine, some sleeping pills a friend kicked in, and my own Lorazepam prescription, and mixed up a brew, which I fed him with a syringe. But still I was impatient. It felt like hours and still he didn’t die. I feared then that he might wake up and keep living like a vegetable. I can’t write what I did next, but again, my intention was pure. Though again, tinged with concerns about convenience. Anyway, it worked, and I felt like he never woke up, though his head thrashed. Ack.

How much negative karmic imprint have I incurred so far? This is why Raven’s death was such a gift.

Some of the things I read this morning suggested that we listen to our pet; some argued that euthanasia is the compassionate option, others that it is the easy way out. Some raised the question of whose suffering are we trying to relieve? Many referred to the Buddhist precept of ‘no killing, not ever,’ and also used karma as a basis for ruling out euthanasia, both the pet’s karma and the person’s. Karma aside, since I’m still not clear in my understanding of nor faith in it, there was one argument that has stuck with me all day: The sense of betrayal and confusion a pet might feel when the loving hands that cuddled become the hands that kill. I thought of Sam, of course.

As I lay beside Stellar tonight, my forehead against his, stroking his soft ears, his thick ruff, his thin legs, it came clear to me. Just thinking about euthanasia had thrown a wall between us, was robbing my attention from whatever life remains to him. I chose to reaffirm my dream-inspired vow not to kill. There was an immediate sense of relief, a letting go, a flood of love released. We both relaxed. I reassured him as I did during the seizure that I will do whatever it takes to make sure he’s comfortable, and be fully present with him until his journey’s natural end. I committed to attend him with boundless patience. I felt deeply the true value of his precious life; understood viscerally for a moment the meaning of sentient being.

Maybe the antibiotics will slow down his inevitable demise, give him a few more walks in the woods, slow down the flow of pee and make him more comfortable; maybe not. He’s in doggie hospice now either way. Between the seizures and his deteriorating hind end it’s clear his neural pathways are failing. My mission is simply to ease his transition. I’m grateful for all the dead dogs that led me to this realization, and for the mindfulness practice that enables me to receive it with equanimity.

Obstacles in Stride

Morning smoke haze, the new normal in the gathering storm. Visually beautiful in its own way. One obstacle to joy can be an overarching awareness of the planet’s dire state; and yet, to me, that makes experiencing joy in all the tenuous elements of being alive all the more urgent.

An unforeseen obstacle on the path this morning threw me for a few seconds: wait, where’s the path? Did I get off the trail? No, just a down dead piñon tree. With equanimity, I stepped around it, knowing I’ll return and remove it when I have the right tools for the job, gloves and a rope. And maybe wait a bit til my hand is better. No hurry! Sometimes simply avoiding an obstacle for awhile is the wise choice.

I’m grateful for our long, leisurely walk this morning, a holiday stroll. Stellar is feeling good these days, which inspires him to bark for me in the morning and bounce on his front legs, eager for his walk; and makes him move faster, a bit too fast. His back feet trip over each other more when he’s feeling good, but he has strength to correct and doesn’t stumble as much as when he moves slower, when he’s weaker, and falls down. Fingers crossed for a long streak of this mobility and his obvious joy in his morning walks.

After a self-satisfied shelving of the first preserved jars, I turned my attention to today’s major obstacle, the plugged drain that is causing kitchen sink water to burble up from the sunroom pond drain. I was optimistic. I’d borrowed a drain snake, and started to work after morning coffee. I had the right tool for the job, which I’m always grateful for having, and a spirit of joyful effort.

Three hours later, I had seemingly cleared the clog, dismantled and thoroughly cleaned out all the pieces of undersink pipe, perhaps irrevocably kinked the snake, and managed one load of dishes, before the pond gurgled full again and I surrendered to whatever tomorrow brings: effective enzyme action, or a call to the plumber. I went on with the day, detouring around the obstacle after giving it my best shot, practicing patience, and grateful that it isn’t worse: the toilet and bathroom sink still drain, and the shower flows straight outside. Fresh water, for which I’m always grateful, still runs from the faucets, I’ve got a bucket to wash dishes in, and a yarden right outside the front door that will welcome the dishwater.

I served up a leftover burrito with chopped tomato and the last half of avocado, ate a late lunch outside on the patio, took Stellar for another stroll, and enjoyed the rest of my Labor Day holiday. I’m grateful for the mindfulness skills and practice that have enabled me to take obstacles in stride, with patience and equanimity, knowing these are not big deals in the grand scheme of things. Trees in the trail, clogs in the drain, smoke in the sky, and even Stellar’s lameness are all simply transient conditions, while gratitude, contentment, compassion and calm are states I can cultivate and come to depend upon.

Late in his full day of adventures, naps, dreams, and watchdog duties, Stellar’s stand resembled a half-sit, but that doesn’t dampen his lust for life as he sniffs the wind currents. I aspire to live like this dog, so completely present in each moment.

This Peaceful Day

I’m grateful for hanging out this evening on the patio with a relaxed cat and dog, in relative silence, punctuated by the scrub jays’ racket in the trees.

Here, between the inferno to the west and the deluge to the southeast, weather extremes swirling in ever more intense waves through the atmosphere, here in this little yarden on this high, dry mesa, it’s a calm, balmy day. I dwell in a near-constant state of overwhelm when awareness extends from coast to coast, monitoring weather. So much is happening all the time; so many lives changing, souls suffering, not only humans but other beings: insects, trees, bears and fawns, predators, prey; birds of all feathers fleeing fire. Snakes, rodents, roaches, great floating orbs of fire ants, all uprooted by rain, and mammals drowned; alligators climbing to higher ground, and houses washed away, some with people in them. Hurricanes today stay twice as strong for twice as long after landfall as they did fifty years ago.

I am grateful for this one peaceful day that I got to experience here in this one little yard in this vast plateau between extremes. I’m grateful for contentment and equanimity.

I’m grateful for this peach, the sum total of this year’s peach crop. The single peach and the robust greenery speak to the resilience of this little tree whose prognosis in spring wasn’t promising. I’m grateful the peach tree survived last autumn’s killing frost, and practically thrived with some extra TLC.

I’m grateful for this recipe, Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil. I spiralized the first garden zucchini and tossed it in the pan instead of pasta. The sauce involves blended corn, scallions, parmesan, and oodles of fresh basil. So simple, so delicious! Grateful for homegrown food, and the conditions of this life at this moment that allow for all the luxuries of this peaceful day, this spot of stillness here, amidst the uncontrollable atmosphere.

Allowing

I woke feeling sad, after yesterday’s descent into the stark reality of climate chaos. I thought I might feel sad forever. I’m grateful I’ve learned to accept sadness, and impermanence: I’m grateful for allowing things to be as they are in each moment, and for the reassuring knowledge that everything changes, nothing remains the same for long.

Nothing external has changed, of course: insects are still in decline worldwide. But I trudged out on this crisp, damp morning with Stellar and Topaz by my side, and strolled to visit this split tree. I felt better already, just letting myself be sad, and finding beauty at the same time, balancing grief and gratitude within equanimity.

Despite the poignance of seeing this western tiger swallowtail, I felt profound gratitude and tenderness that it chose to feed on zinnias I grew from seed. Every little offering we can give back to the planet seems essential.

And then there’s the cheese sandwich, cookout edition. I’ve been thinking about this for days. I had frozen a hot dog leftover from Michael’s memorial, which I thawed and sliced. All the hot dog condiments slathered on wheat bread, sliced cheddar, and potato chips completed the assemblage: a whole cookout in a single sandwich. Yes, it’s a temporary pleasure, lasting only as long as the sandwich itself; but, the making of it, the thinking it up, and definitely the eating of it, all while remembering Michael and last week’s party, lifted my spirits. Life’s simple pleasures. I’m grateful that my life includes the conditions to have on hand all the ingredients of a cheese sandwich, the technology to keep them fresh, the leisure to dream about then make one, the awareness to savor the process and every bite, and the reasonable expectation that I will eat again tomorrow.

Saved by a cheese sandwich.
I am always grateful for the infinite possibilities of the cheese sandwich. The extra slice of hot dog of course went to Stellar for last bite. I’m grateful for another sweet day with my dear old catahoula leopard dog.

Change

I’m

Though it isn’t always comfortable, I’m grateful for change; and more importantly, I’m grateful for my increasing capacity to handle it with equanimity. I’m really not crazy about random technical changes that show up unexpectedly on websites like this one, where now I can’t seem to add a caption to an image. But if I could, I’d write under the first picture, above, that where once there stood a lush almond tree, which froze to death last fall, there is now a blank corner for me to design a new planting; change provides unlimited opportunity. I am sad to lose the almond tree, but there was nothing to be done for it. I’m grateful I had helpers come this morning, who cut the rest of it down, and dug out the stump, which was sending up vigorous sprouts from the rootstock, which was wild plum, not almond. I dug up the very first sprout from that rootstock over a decade ago, and planted it: it grew into a beautiful, hardy shade tree (below) that fills with bees every spring while flowering, and even provided half a dozen plums last year.

Now

Where once there was a patch of weeds in the lowly, forgotten dog pen, there is now a beautiful wooden raised bed built by Mr. Wilson, eagerly awaiting the little tomato and pepper plants I started hardening off today, gradually increasing their time outside in real sun incrementally over the next five or six days. And below, where once there were empty beds and tubs (not all that long ago), garden riches are growing. Without change, there would be no growth.

But Still…

Today I’m tired, and I’m sad about Stellar, and I’m disappointed in myself for not finishing an assignment. But still, I’m grateful. Grateful for another day with my dear old wobbly dog, grateful for the red tulips and the white grape hyacinths, and the rare conditions of my life that allow me to have time to meditate; grateful for the teachers who inspire me in every sense of the word, literally reminding me to be grateful for each breath.

I’m grateful that yesterday was not the last time we got to walk to the canyon together. We both hobbled down there this afternoon, and he did pretty well considering how weak he was last evening. He seems pretty strong in the morning, but as the day wears on his back legs seem to wear out. Each day is another opportunity to practice equanimity, to release attachment to the inevitable outcome.

Letting Go

Letting Go. This is who I am. This is what I do. I let go. I’ve spent a lifetime resisting, yet learning to let go, and it is time now to put to the test the letting go lessons. I’m grateful for letting go of so many things, tangible and intangible, in the past year; my letting go accelerates this year. 

I let go of any expectation or even hope for perfection in material things a long time ago, while I was building this house. With an emotional punch as from a sudden death, I let go of perfect walls one morning after I worked in Grand Junction overnight, and returned to find that an unexpected rainstorm had washed away parts of several walls under a fresh bond beam. I’ll fix it later, I told myself, some day. Imperfections piled on after that, and I had to let go: Nothing in this house is plum, level, or square.

Letting go of noticing mismatched caulk proved to be a lot easier than letting go of “No Trust.”

A professional finish? Forget it. The caulk around the window frames, among other things, reflects my letting go of that ideal. This was the best fix for the conditions at the time, when we discovered that blowing perlite insulation into the 4” space between the double walls was a bad idea. Before we got close to filling it up, perlite aspirated out of every minute gap between blocks and window bucks, into the house. We bought the closest caulk to adobe color; but I had to let go of noticing the difference, and call it close enough.

I’m grateful for letting go on days like this, when the internet I pay too much for is down most of the day, the new computer I paid too much for is in the shop for repair after only three weeks, four years of photo libraries are lost from a backup disc that the new computer fried, along with who knows what else. I’m grateful for letting go on other days, too; letting go of little things all along helps cultivate equanimity for when I have to let go of big things.