Internet issues tonight. A rest for the weary after a full day in garden and kitchen. Off to bed full of gratitude for so much.
Internet issues tonight. A rest for the weary after a full day in garden and kitchen. Off to bed full of gratitude for so much.
Thinking about time, today, in the context of “the rest of your life.” No matter how long that is, such a short time! How long did it take for this little canyon to take its present shape? Many many human lifetimes. How long has this Ancient One been growing on the canyon rim? Seventeen human generations at least, especially since in the first dozen or more of those generations human life expectancy was more or less forty years (mostly less). I’m grateful for this perspective, which helps me to appreciate the precious insignificance of my own uncertain lifetime. I’ve already lived longer than most humans for most of human history. I’ll be grateful for all the ups and downs, the gives and takes, that landed me here, in this old arid land, for the rest of my life. I’m grateful to be able to share this place with good companions along the way.
It’s hard to explain a non-conceptual experience of being in conceptual terms. I’ve heard this from various sources for several years, and I realize I’ve been hearing it all my life in some form, but not quite comprehending it until the past few months.
I mentioned to a friend the other night that my practice recently has been ‘observing my thoughts.’ She asked for clarification, and I found it difficult to explain. Today, I continued my practice of the skill of relaxation, and observed the experience of simply being, unentwined with thought or expectation for most of the day. Time both slowed and quickened. I’m grateful for a flexible perspective.
It’s sheer happenstance that this existence seems to me the way it does. From what I understand, there’s a better chance that there is an infinite number of me’s living different lives in parallel universes than that there is just this one me in this singular life. It’s a comfort to settle into this possibility: anything I can think of to desire or to do I can rest assured is happening somewhere else at the same time as I’m lying reading on the patio chaise, strafed by hummingbirds, still, quiet, present, quite aware of this moment, here.
Tonight I’m grateful for science. I’m grateful for science all the time. Can you imagine the quality of our lives without science? You wouldn’t be reading this blog, for one thing. You wouldn’t be pulling a cold beer out of the fridge or a pint of Häagen-Dazs from the freezer without science. Without science, we’d all have died of Covid by now, OR the pandemic wouldn’t have even happened because there wouldn’t have been air travel from China. Wait, I’ve just given myself an argument against science. But aside from all the down sides of science and technology, we do live a pretty good life because of science, and I didn’t die of scarlet fever in third grade because of science. So, I’m grateful for science. And I’m especially grateful for science when I look to the night sky and grasp an inkling of perspective that is brought home with a big bang as I marvel at the stunning first images from the James Webb Telescope. I am always grateful to be reminded that in the grand scheme of things I’m nothing, in a good way.
Another evening walk to the west fence, on top of a full and restful day. I’m grateful for this sunset, and hope to savor many more with my little friend. What a dazzling array of clouds and colors. I’m grateful for the support expressed by several readers in response to my post yesterday, one of whom shared a lead to this column about BA.5, the latest Covid variant sweeping the nation. Feeling less alone in my cautious solitude today, thank you! I’m grateful for other ways to connect than in person, and grateful for the vast, magnificent sky and its reassuring perspective.
All I knew was potatoes and feta, and all I had to do was show up with the ingredients. Amy talked me through the recipe. How thick to slice the potatoes, how long to boil them, how much of which herbs to toss in with onions and potatoes to roast…
…how much feta and yogurt, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper to blitz in the food processor for the delicious sauce… to line the bowl with the sauce, spoon the roasted vegetables on top, sprinkle with nuts and scallions, and drizzle with honey. We sipped our cocktails and talked of many things as we cooked and ate, as we always do. I can hardly recall a single one of them. I’m grateful for the easy, long friendship (is it 50 years? 51?) that we get to continue across the continent with zoom cooking, and grateful for all the great dishes we’ve made together in person and apart. I’m grateful for locally grown, organic potatoes from Farm Runners, and for custom grocery delivery from P&P. I’m grateful for perennial scallions in my garden from early spring through late fall.
In the midst of cooking I paused to split the bread dough in two and set it on the warm stove to rise in loaf pans. I’m grateful for the sourdough starter that Ruth gave me oh so many years ago still going strong, for the new standard loaf pans I bought from King Arthur to finally replace the oversize pans I inherited from my mother oh so many years ago, for the persistence to try this recipe again and again learning a little more each time how to bake at high altitude.
I’m grateful that this time, I think I finally got it right. I won’t quite know til I slice the loaves tomorrow. They just came out of the oven and need to cool completely before I take the serrated bread knife to them, but they look and sound just right.
I’m grateful for a slow, quiet morning in the garden, and the gorgeous snapdragons I grew from seed which are just now starting to bloom. I’m grateful for connections with friends and cousins here and afar throughout the day, and grateful that as far as I know everyone I love woke up alive this morning. Not everyone did, and that stark reminder highlights the value of each precious day and every act of kindness, compassion, and connection it holds. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice, and the healthier perspective it’s brought to all aspects of life, from the personal to the political and the planetary. I’m grateful.
Thanks for suggestions of ways I can get music! Several people mentioned Pandora. I did have Pandora for years, but found Spotify’s music management features more helpful and convenient. Pandora also repeated songs annoyingly frequently at that time years ago, maybe they’ve expanded their capacity since then. I paid for each of those services because I can’t stand ads for so many reasons, from the aggressive sound of their voices to the manipulation of desires and emotions, to the presumption that I am a “consumer.” I bristle at that word: Consuming is not my primary motivation nor my identity.
As I write this evening, I’m listening to Turn It Up on KVNF with my dear friend DJ Honey Badger playing a lot of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Like me, she appreciates the stand they’ve taken against Covid misinformation (and probably so much more). As I mentioned, though, KVNF doesn’t always play music I like, and also offers a lot of news, which I don’t want.
I don’t want it! I understand what’s happening, and take it in, in little bites, when I feel resilient enough each day to check the headlines. I understand that human nature is violent, greedy, power-hungry, rabid, narrow-minded and stupid, as well as kind, generous, loving, compassionate, expansive, creative and beautiful. I do not need to dwell in the negative aspects of our species, I spent most of my life fretting about those. Life is too short!
Mindfulness allows me to hold both the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, juggling them from hand to heart to hand to mind to hand. Mindfulness allows me to choose where I place my attention, so aside from supporting my local Indivisible chapter, making calls, signing petitions, and writing to my ‘representatives’ (I use the term loosely, living in CO District 3); and ascertaining whether nuclear war has broken out; I choose to focus my attention on things I can actually control, such as what I eat for lunch, whether or not I walk Topaz in mud season, and if I should get her a kitten; how much time I spend on ‘entertainment’ and how much on learning, working, exercising, home maintenance, correspondence; living in alignment with my core values, and trying to be skillful and virtuous in thought, word, and deed; et cetera… there is so much that I can control, that life is too short to dwell on and make myself suffer from things I cannot control.
One of the things I can control is where I get my music, the background soundtrack for my days, the energy and joy that moves me. I tried I ♥️ Radio back in my traveling days but couldn’t quite figure it out and didn’t get much from it; also, I think there were too many ads on there. Kim recommended Radio Garden, which has captivated me. I could spend hours playing in Radio Garden! It concerns me that the website shows up as ‘Not Secure’ — I don’t really know what that means — but I’ve solved that worry by using it only on my old laptop where I no longer have any confidential or important information stored. I spent the afternoon listening to KOKO, old-school Hawaiian, as I worked upstairs. Commercial-free radio from Hana, Hawaii. I spun around the globe from Ukraine to Cape Verde and many points between, fascinated, but settled on KOKO for a peaceful, easy feeling this afternoon.
Kim also recommended Bandcamp, to hear music from unsigned artists around the world. She offers her edgy ethereal sound free on this wonderful platform. Coincidentally, or synchronistically, a new friend sent the link to her bandcamp profile, where her unique songwriting shines. What a world! Technology fosters a whole new level of interconnection among humans. I’m grateful I have lived to see the day. I’ve got all the music of the world at my fingertips without Spotify, Pandora, Apple, or Amazon Music.
Anyway, in this moment, I’ve turned up my “very own community radio station” on my actual radio, and I am hearting this community. Honey Badger has played my most favorite song ever (“I think I can make it now the pain is gone“), and a few other top ten, and my inner drag queen has gotten up to lipsync and dance around the living room. It’s easier without the giant dog bed taking up half the ballroom floor. I let loose as I haven’t in a long while, moving this body, feeling alive in this moment, and interconnected on many levels, despite this excruciating solitude. Most of the time it feels pretty good (solitude) but recently, Stellar’s absence, a somatic lack, has swelled into heartache again.
This diffident cat stimulates very little oxytocin. Even though I’ve known her since the day she was born, and have loved her within days of her existence, she remains mysterious: she is a consummate CAT. She’s been through traumas, suffered losses and unknown physical distresses in her madcap life, and so as Honey Badger points out, “Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like her.”
My deepest soundtrack, in my story of this archival entity I call me. Listening to Honey Badger’s playlist brings alive my past, what first connected me with this community, dancing in a mob in Memorial Hall as Laura Love rocks “What if God Smoked Cannabis?” in this historical pot capital of Colorado. And decades earlier, that rock climber who introduced me to Neil Young, his perfect body, climbing with him at Seneca Rocks… Now, I dance alone at home, decades later, essentially content. Grateful for every living moment of every day, when I remember to attend to it.
Now, iconic DJ Fettucine takes over, HB is driving home through falling snow, and Neil Young sings on, on these community airwaves. This sonic nostalgia: another state, another love, another life altogether. I’m reminded of two questions I asked frequently when I first arrived in this place half a lifetime ago: Who Am I? and How Did I Come to Be Here?
How is a fun question to ask, but not essential. What now, what next, are the crucial questions moment to moment. I’m grateful for every step that led me here. Music tonight, and a felt sense of belonging, have restored my joy. For the moment. Everything changes, all the time. Let me remember to be grateful, every living moment of every day. I think I may have mentioned this mission before. I understand that self-cherishing is the root of all suffering, yet I am never happier than when I wallow without reservation in gratitude. Perspective is everything.
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.
Yesterday was interesting. I was too tired to write about it last night, and probably won’t do it justice tonight, but want to express my gratitude to the imaging technicians at Delta Hospital. Everyone was so kind, from the receptionists on. There were some little glitches, at intake and with the MRIs, that would once have really frustrated me, but my growing capacity for accepting things as they are instead of thinking that they should be different served me well.
I may have never met a more tender, compassionate, and sweet tech than Toni, the woman who did the bone density scan. We were practically in tears of loving-kindness by the time she led me back to the waiting room. The MRI tech was very business-like, though also considerate and kind. I remembered Deb’s encouragement to ask for what I needed, so asked for extra pillows to support my knees to reduce sciatic strain; and when the classical music station wouldn’t play, I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb. Remarkably, the only stations that would play were country, and something called ‘soft rock,’ which was horrible. I experienced extreme aversion during the first MRI as the DJ blithered on and on, and when there was ‘music’ its beat clashed with the machine noises inside my head until, despite a concerted effort to remain focused on my breath, I was completely rattled. I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb again when anxiety rose to unbearable-verging-on-panic, and fortunately that was the end of the first session. I continued in blessed internal silence for the next three tests. It was a lengthy exercise in conscious relaxation, first my face, then abdomen, then shoulders, back to abdomen, back to face–as one area relaxed another tensed up, and I cycled through one after the other, consistently returning attention to the breath. Nothing like a long MRI to strengthen meditation practice.
During the whole second scan, there was a little lump in the pillow, which bored into my head. I breathed through that, but it got worse and worse. It was fascinating to watch my mind deal with all these sensational challenges. She wanted me to keep my head perfectly still when she pulled me out to inject the contrast dye, but I had to insist that she smooth the pillow. It wasn’t really a pillow, just a folded cloth. She was exasperated, and in a hurry. I said calmly, as she prepared my arm to stick a needle into it, “I need to not feel anxious, and I need to feel that you’re not in a hurry.” She softened instantly, apologized, and explained that there were two emergencies waiting and there was only this one machine, and one of her. This put things in a different perspective for me, and we both calmed way down. She thought to put a little lavender patch on my chest, which actually helped a lot. This experience, which was stressful and could have been really horrible, was transformed by my ability to accept things as they were each step of the way, do what I could to change them, and then accept again. And again, there was much tenderness and well-wishing between us as she walked me out.
I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I left the hospital, for the emotional skill with which I’d navigated the morning, and decided to treat myself to a deli sandwich. But there’s no deli near the hospital, so I stopped at Sonic to see what I could find. At the drive-up menu, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to order factory-farmed chicken or beef, so I left; but circled back and ordered three fried sides. I was glowing with acceptance when the little girl brought my limeade and a small bag, and was only mildly disappointed to find inside the bag just one little wrapped burger. I accepted the error with good cheer, and she said she’d be right back with my order. Way too long later, two more “Welcome to Sonic, may I take your order” queries, and finally my bag of sides, I almost lost it when I opened the bag to find they were small instead of medium, and there was no mayo. Acceptance out the window! Attachment in high gear: I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it NOW! But still, I managed not to be too grumpy. When the manager brought a double handful of condiments and apologized, she said “It’s just the two of us, people didn’t show up…” My perspective adjusted itself instantaneously, all frustration melted, and I assured her it was no problem. We smiled and laughed and wished each other happy holidays.
The food was a big disappointment. But I accepted that easily. Fast food is what it is. I drove home filled with compassion for the people who worked at the hospital, the patients who needed emergency MRIs, the harried staff at Sonic, and deeply grateful for the skill of acceptance.
I’m grateful for the ability to stretch enough to shift a perspective now and then. “The Power of the Dog” turned out to be more fascinating than fearful. Based on the horse punching, and a few reviews that seemed to emphasize intimidation and manipulation (all three emotional triggers for me) I was turned off. If it had been promoted differently, I’d have probably not resisted as much. If, say, it had been advertised as a sensitive LGBTQ period New Zealand western with a twist, I’d have been all over it. I’m grateful that Michele’s analysis and Deborah’s reassurance gave me the resolve to finish watching it, and it turns out the horse punching was actually the hardest scene for me. Yeah, he drove poor Rose to drink, but he didn’t really torment her all that much. Who among us hasn’t been bullied? Why did the buzz focus on his mean behavior instead of his vulnerability? The film was so much more than that.
We get entrenched in our views about things, people, points of view, and often it’s hard to let go: of preconceptions, resentments, grudges, judgements, personal emotional wounds. I’m grateful my heart cracked open a little more today, though it wasn’t easy to face my own intransigence. I’m grateful for shifting perspectives.