Saturday, June 4, 2016

BREATHING DEEPLY


April and May were a fast ride over a rough road with a load of fear, hope and friendship.  Our friend in Cottonwood Arizona invited us to housesit and that was water in the desert. Yet, we were only back in Taos for a weekend when we set off again, this time to Denver. PQ had an appointment with the National Jewish Center in Denver; the premiere medical center in the country for lung diseases in order to update his medical status with the intention of getting him on an active lung transplant list as soon as possible. It was a very productive trip and we stayed with our friend Rachel. It was a delicious treat to spend time with her. We hadn’t been to Denver for several years and it was good to renew the connection. Yet, PQ wasn’t up to exploring Denver because our time at National Jewish was an exhausting regimen of tests and interviews.  

This medical facility is impressive and incredibly well organized. However, we soon realized we should have done this sooner. Dr. Cosgrove put PQ on Ofev, one of two new drugs that slow down further lung scaring and also prescribed a more powerful concentrator that is able to produce up to nine liters of oxygen. Except for the scaring in the lungs and some enlargement of the right side of his heart caused by the heart’s increased effort to get oxygen from the lungs, he is in good health. However, he won’t be on the active list for a transplant until he loses 15 more pounds.  This time he is taking weight loss seriously.  I went on a diet with him because I’d like to lose weight as well. 

Three days after we returned from Denver, PQ’s friend Dr. Gary Arthur came to visit from Laguna Beach California. He came for well-needed R&R for himself, but immediately began working on a plan to raise money for PQ’s treatment and relocation to a lower altitude. He also helped plan a diet and some supplements that would help to reduce muscle spasms from coughing and improve general health. 

All this contact with our old friends was the greatest healing event we’ve had for some time. Our friends
Happy Iris
have been incredibly helpful and have been working together to make the necessary changes happen.Thank you, dear friends for your practical help, and thank you for boosting our spirit with your support. There are results.  PQ’s general well being has improved mightily in the past two weeks. He is still short of breath but his color, positive attitude and life force is reviving. I can now assure all of you beautiful supportive friends that he has reconnected with his combative self. The new drug, Ofev is not a cure but is supposed to slow the rate of lung scarring. Nevertheless, it has a reputation of being hard on the digestive system. Yet so far, it hasn’t caused him any discomfort. We regret now that we didn’t ask for this new drug when it first came out. We discussed it but his digestive system is sensitive and we thought it better to avoid making it worse. However, it might have seriously slowed the progress of the disease at an earlier stage.

While I’m writing this, I’m also feeling guilty and disoriented about having signed up to be a docent for the Mabel Dodge Lujan and Company
exhibit at the Harwood Museum. I’ve missed several orientations due either to their juxtaposition with PQ’s appointments or general confusion about dates due to the constant busyness since we returned to Taos. One of the things I’ve noticed is how insulated our life has become. I just don’t follow what is happening in this town anymore. Sometimes I fantasize living in a monastery where all I have to do is meditate, pray, write, and garden. Otherwise, I’ve almost become reclusive enough to be a monk.

I’ll admit that the stress of hanging on the edge of the financial cliff as a regular lifestyle is wearing on my nerves and yet it is amazing how every time we fall to the bottom, a situation arises where we sell a painting, someone wants a healing from PQ or we otherwise come into just enough cash to get through the rough patch. However, there is never extra for unexpected situations. Something is always waiting in the shadows to leap out and pounce on anything extra. Now it is the roof of the Pueblo House that needs refurbishing as water leaks are beginning to destroy the earthen walls. There are also a number of things that this house in town needs. I must say that home ownership is overrated.

 On the positive side, summer is awesome. It came so suddenly after winter’s gray monotony. Gorgeous summer clouds (New Mexico has some of the most spectacular clouds). I find the skyscape just as amazing as the landscape. On the ground all this green, purple and yellow seems a preview of heaven. Not quite heaven yet however, this morning I noticed hundreds of baby grasshoppers ready to eat the new greens.  Again, I remind myself of the Maybe Story and take note that the flowers in my garden are multiplying just as fast as the weeds. It gives me the courage to put my attention back into some life enhancing order. 

My 74th birthday is coming up soon. I remember doing the heavy work around this house such as shoveling dirt, laying out the sandstone patio and planting trees as soon as possible after moving in with the thought that I would be too old to do that kind of physical work before long. That was 10 years ago and I keep putting off getting too old to do that sort of work because well, somebody has to do it. I’ve been lucky with my health and stamina but now I wish there was time to do more painting, writing and supporting the ideas and events that are always on my mind. As I get older, I truly appreciate the importance of eldership. It is not a time to disappear into the comfort of escapist entertainment, pursuing age defying surgery, or yielding to illness, but to put the crowning touch on a lifetime’s experience and thought. Like a rose, when the petals wither we should prepare to be seed bearing fruit for the future. 

The age thing is a consciousness I’m working on. Inside I feel unceremoniously yanked out of adolescence into now. I find myself imagining a career after years of tedious survival jobs. Nevertheless, I’m very grateful not to be doing those anymore and there is something magical about looking in the mirror at my white hair and lines and then having that image turn around and say “just follow me, I have another world to show you.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress)




Our renter at the rez house, moved out this month. Half of our income went with her; PQ’s younger son was planning to move in and then changed his mind without telling us until it was too late to find another renter for this month and possibly longer. Then I forgot to transfer PQ’s SSI to our checking account in the amped up speed and activity of two out of state trips and a visitor this past three weeks, and now we have a huge overdraft charge, (I will go to the bank this afternoon and see to if they will have some mercy) thus our income this month will be considerably less than our bills and there will be nothing left for groceries or gas. I was feeling tortured by the universe this morning. Despite the good will and generosity of our friends, everything about our finances blew up instantly. I had crazy dreams all night and then woke up to a world I didn’t want to face, so I went outside to pray and meditate. 

A vision popped up immediately of my pale grey heart, tight, sad, choked with worry and fear and also very tired of beating fruitlessly. I started feeling only desperation with the thought that I can’t do anything right anymore and we are slipping down lower and lower each month even when I don’t make mistakes. The harder I try to keep all the details together, manage our finances better and try new approaches to this chronic problem the more trickster surprises me just to make it clear who is really in charge.  Ideas of what I might do race through my mind but none of them is new or even practical. A few years ago, I could have taken on work like my job at Six Directions although that job had become pure torture. Then I realize with one car, a husband that needs me to be available 24/7, housekeeping, cooking, yard work managing medical appointments and running errands, I’m feeling the limitations of my age, not to mention that there is no time to paint anymore, and I feel a bit guilty stealing this writing time, all the while Coyote nips at my ankles while I run in circles. 

Finally, a light began to leak into this dark cave of defeat and remorse.  I saw how my tiresome self-image blocked the flow of energy into my life. We seldom change our life patterns as long as they function even marginally. Well mine has gone over every margin and I’m in free fall. Then my spiritual helpers began showing me what I really do to myself.

I have very small expectations for my life. All of my hopes are for the barest necessities. I live in a very small house and use my imagination to explore the problem of how to live in even a smaller house to reduce the danger of further failure and disappointment. I grew up feeling that the universe doesn’t want me around and am always working toward making myself less. Less is exactly what I’m getting. Well it doesn’t work! It looks like Trickster is not going to tolerate any more attempts to disappear. In a flash, I saw that my whole life plan is absurd. The Monkey Mind has been controlling my life too long. I see the Buddhist idea of Monkey Mind to be a wonderful description of the human predicament but in addition to confusion, restlessness, agitation, curiosity, and mimicry, I would add narrow and habitual vision. 
 
Stripped to the bone, the skin torn away, my Monkey Mind solutions are laying in ragged pieces. I don’t know the cure, but I do know that all change requires courage to open up to an entirely different approach whatever it turns out to be. I can write, paint and think and I believe that somewhere among my abilities, even the ones I don’t remember to list, there must be a way of earning enough to live on and none of these abilities requires me to go away every day to an 8:00 to 5:00 cage or function beyond my physical capacity. Whatever I do in the future must engage my heart, mind and spirit as well as my physical occupancy. 

Sometimes, I forget that life is an ongoing journey. It starts before our birth and continues beyond our physical death. I came in to life with the problems and limitations my family believed in but I hope to go out having transmuted some of these limitations into a resource.  I’m launching into the unknown. After all, the known hasn’t been working.

I often use the Russian Gypsy Cards to get a succinct description of my current situation. They have never failed me unless the request was absurd. Here is what they said this morning.

BOUQUET:  You will find a means to earn money. Leave doubt behind and use the potential you haven’t used. I added (rejoice in an end to scraping by in fear and humiliation.

MICE:  A theft. (We have lost our income and I pray for a transformation of faith, purpose and resources)

FIRE: Danger: from the frying pan into the fire. (Immediate action is required.  But, what is the needed action)

HEART: Love will ignite your heart. (Love is the opposite of fear.)

HOUSE: The right step will bring you success. (Don’t trust the rational mind. The heart will be infused with love and faith.)
To be continued!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

PLANTING SPRING MEMORIES



We are in Cottonwood, Arizona for the first time in almost a year. When we left Taos it was snowing, by the time we reached Albuquerque the sun was shining and in Sedona, it had become summer. We were so overdue for our Cottonwood medicine that it seemed unreal, like finding oneself in heaven.  This is an alternate reality for us, one that we seem to need for balance. 

Here in Cottonwood, the leaves are full on the trees and only the aged mesquite on the other side of our friend Carol’s wall is still unleafed. Every year it waits till mid-May to come out, which is already summer here in central Arizona. I imagine spring will have sprung when we get back to Taos. Four days of rain alternating with snow left the earth well prepared for greening.  I think of my garden when I’m away.  The plants are always in my heart when I’m not at home. The outside of my home is possibly more important than the inside, even though there is not enough space for a significant vegetable garden.

We buy all of our food at the supermarket. That is far from the way I grew up. It is hard to believe that my reality has changed so drastically and I barely noticed it happening, always believing each change was temporary.  When I was young, meaning the time between three and twenty-nine, we always had a vegetable garden along with fruit trees and flowers. It was as normal as clothes in the closet. The home I shared with my parents was on almost half an acre of what was recently farmland.
PQ in Merlin's chair Sedona


The life of my childhood now seems from another era; surely more than one lifetime. However, I can still smell the damp earth; feel the harsh sun that made weeding torture and the soft joy of sitting under the apple tree with a book as I supervised the water flowing down each row of strawberries.  I almost remember the depth of the rows, spacing of the seeds and number of days in the earth each vegetable species needed to sprout. It is so ingrained that it only recently occurred to me that many people have no exposure to this life style.   

We lived on the edge of the city and our neighbors also had gardens. We had chickens early on, and some folks had rabbits. The people at the end of the block had several goats. My parents both had a rural beginning, thus gardens and chickens were expected, and four legged livestock was a recent memory. For a while, I had a pony and later a horse. I would come home from school and immediately go to my horse to ride for miles around the countryside. I couldn’t imagine a life worth living without some wildness to explore.  The availability of non-human creatures and plants saved my otherwise unhappy life.  I was completely miserable in both school and church, as well as with my dreary depressed parents, but I could put bad experiences aside when I was on a horse or even shoveling manure. Yes, that’s right, I would much rather shovel manure than be in school.  I know now that my school was the absolute bottom of the system and the teachers and administrators that couldn’t get into the good schools fell down the system’s laundry shoot into ours. It all seemed a completely futile use of precious time and to survive I learned not to feel anything. I am still peeling off layers of emotional armor. 

Cut into squares and chopped into bits and bytes, our lives are taken apart, analyzed, and redirected into commercial functions. To survive, we need to conceptualize differently, organically rather than mechanistically. The form of thought is not separate from the outcome it is the outcome. Science has taught us that we are mechanisms within a mechanistic system, and yet it is the other way around. Machines mimic the functions of nature. Do you really want to be a robot?

It is easy to see the absurdity of many social values but the engine of exploitation is running away with us and no one seems to know how to get off. The Apostle Paul said to the young apostle Timothy in 1, Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. It was a problem 2000 years ago and now it dominates our relationship with our planet and its natural systems as well as our unnatural systems. Yet, it will end because we live in a limited space within the infinite, and if we develop the technology to move our insanity to Mars, it will be with the limited resources of Earth onto severely limited resources. Yet, there is a good side to limit. Nothing could exist without limits, you have to have a canvas of a certain size to paint a picture or there is no place to begin or end. 

Feeling is the key to meaning. Very simple, isn’t it? However, this is another reality hiding in plain sight.  Nothing is more organic than feeling and I’m naturally suspicious of the word “organic” being used to sell things that don’t feed the body with heart. All good things should taste good to the heart or they are false and are in danger of creating addiction rather than satisfaction. I believe that is why our relationship with our animals reaches into us so deeply. There is nothing false there and if there is, it comes from our side of the relationship.
Being a Tourist: Tlaquepaque this afternoon.

Guilt is no substitute for love. There are so many good causes out in the world. Usually they appeal to our outrage and guilt and in a smaller amount to compassion. The same is true of politics except that politics also feeds on fear. If humans were motivated from love and compassion, guilt and all forms of self-righteous anger would be obsolete. Surely, the release and cultivation of the heart chakra is the next stage of evolution. If we don’t get there we won’t survive.

 This mini-vacation in Cottonwood/Sedona certainly soothed our bodies and hearts. Not complicated just the joy of green leaves, red earth, lizards and birds. Intelligent feeling is what keeps life flowing. By feeling, I’m not thinking emotion but the ability to absorb and identify with the processes of life. The kind of thing a garden can teach us, if we want to know.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Disguises


Our George is sick.  Today I made an appointment with the Vet after putting it off for a month hoping he would get over whatever is ailing him on his own. My fear is that he has feline leukemia. It is treatable if caught early enough but the thought of another major expense has caused us to try denial as our first option. I know PQ regards pets as an unnecessary luxury so I haven’t said much about it. This morning he asked me to go ahead and call the vet. He also misses George being his friendly high spirited, curious quirky self. 
George in Repose. He steals my chair
if I leave even for a minute.

It has really been a remarkable year for things going wrong. I won’t say everything has gone wrong that can go wrong because I’m disturbingly aware more could go wrong and that we are vulnerable and fragile beings in a big world always a heartbeat away from being obliterated like a mouse in an elephant’s cage. Thus, I’m sending my imagination elsewhere. I certainly don’t want to manifest any more crises. I used to smash bugs without a thought. I’m more aware these days of our kinship with everything small, vulnerable and alive.

Time has been moving as slow as an hour hand, while life is running too fast to catch.  The hardest part is having little control over our lifestyle. Yesterday was a good example of crazy busy starting with delivering the grand kids to their three different schools followed by a call from the eye clinic rescheduling an eye appointment for PQ to "as soon as you can get here". It seems the eye doctor had to leave early due to a family emergency. Then a call came from the oldest grand daughter saying they had to be picked up at noon for Pueblo religious reasons associated with this time of year. I'm not allowed to share any details which is one of many contrasts between the doings of the outside modern world and Pueblo traditions, one of the unique aspects of living in Taos.

A few days ago, I found myself blessed with a free day for cleaning house. After a winter of mud, wind and many feet moving in and out, both two legged and four legged, it raised my spirits at last to seize the opportunity. At present, any control over life is delicious and empowering. 

Along with distractions and tired evenings when I have time to answer emails and pay bills, I’ve made some mistakes that are not easy to live with. I accidentally paid the Water and Sewage bill the amount of our mortgage and when I discovered the error, it was too late to cancel. Even a frantic visit to the utility company didn’t help since they are as unprepared for such mistakes as I am, and so we had some overdraft charges at the bank but our utilities are payed ahead for the next four months and we have little to live on for the rest of this month. A trickster spirit has been stalking me for some time. Maybe I’m supposed to quit trying so hard to cope and just let whatever happens happen. I accept that Life is uncertain but I’d love to eat desert first to paraphrase a famous Groucho Marks saying. 

Here is a quote from Lao Tzu that is remarkably apropos. However, it’s discouraging to realize so little has advanced since he wrote it over 2,000 years ago:

Would you like to save the world from the degradation and destruction it seems destined for?  Then step away from shallow mass movements and quietly go unto work on your own self-awareness.  If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.  If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.  Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation."
~Lao Tzu

After my recent glitch with online bill payment, (I began using this option when we lived in Arizona) I am more sensitive to the true impact of technology in our lives. I believe the propaganda about how technology makes our lives easier disguises a trap. Is life really easier, safer and more efficient, while wondering through the electronic jungle than it was in the ancestral days in a green jungle? Could it be that the hoopla about how technology makes life better and all of us more intelligent is only marketing, and has marketing become the meaning of life? It seems that there are some very clever predators out there disguised as service providers.  Once the system has you hooked, it runs your life and you must step in time to it's demands. It has no mercy.

Taos is one of the more primitive locations in the United States and yet, the electronic jungle despite its wide-open spaces and semi-arid landscape taints it. Physical remoteness is no longer a protection from this takeover. Even money is about moving electronic data from one database to another.  PQ doesn’t feel the reality of money unless it is in his pocket. Although he spends a lot of time in front of the TV, he gets confused when the TV behaves like the computer it is. One generation from the takeover and it may be as incomprehensible as flying machines to the South Sea islanders who made a cult out of alien aircraft during World War II.  

PQ’s grandchildren and their dad walk through the door and immediately there are three tablets, two laptops, four smart phones and a TV sucking up bandwidth, and for the rest of the day or evening our house is a cyber cafĂ©. Except for the occasional sit down meal, there is no person-to-person contact until they say goodbye and are out the door. Frequently I’m watching what PQ is watching or writing on this computer. Alas, I am one of the addicts. However, I am old enough to remember how it used to be and am a product of an earlier time. I like to believe that I’m not totally mesmerized.  I have returned to writing on a paper journal to record dreams and insights with morning coffee. There is something about physically holding a pen and paper that is both stimulating and relaxing. I like to write in the margins of my books and holding a physical book and pencil is far more satisfying.

Lao Tzu

Long ago and far away, I once went to libraries and bookstores. I carefully selected each book by intuition as much as information and if it was pre-owned, and had a mysterious past, even better. Feeding the senses with the smell and texture was important. Each book had the ability to change my life and open a door to a new reality. The same was true for traveling. I didn’t travel very much, but when I did, it was a feast of ambrosia from the gods, a magical lifechanging soul food.

The constant bombardment of noise, color, movement and information creates over stimulation and then numbness. Finally, there is sensory indigestion and then paradoxically sensory malnutrition.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Writing Down the Bones



It is 2:50 PM and I’m enjoying my first cup of coffee this Saturday afternoon. Actually, it tastes better than it does first thing in the morning. Why, you may wonder would this be? Gratitude I suppose. The alarm rang at 5:50 this morning so that we could get to the hospital in Espanola at 7:30 am leaving no time for coffee. PQ is having sleep tests to determine if he has sleep apnea. 

 I had hoped to attend a free event celebrating the 30th anniversary of famous homey Natalie Goldberg’s first bestseller, “Writing Down the Bones”, but PQ’s appointment had been changed from 12:30 to this earlier time. We rushed down to Espanola Presbyterian, didn’t know where the Sleep Center was and couldn’t ask because the front desk wasn’t open. Finally, a janitor offered to walk us there. A quarter of a mile later we walked through the door. PQ was exhausted from the rapid sprint so we sat down. A young nurse came out with a puzzled expression and looked at our papers. “Oh, that is 7:30 pm tonight, she said. Then I walked rapidly in the cool morning air back to the main parking lot, because my honey couldn’t have survived another four block run, picked him up and drove us back to Taos. We have to go back this evening.

PQ slept while I drove. It sounds obvious in hindsight but since neither of us had any idea what a sleep test involved we just went along with what we thought was an odd plan. The truth is PQ could have taken the test this morning. He has no trouble falling asleep that early in the morning. I however, was wide-awake. 

When we got home, I realized there actually was time to attend the celebration of Writing Down the 
Bones, before delivering Corey to his cooking job in Arroyo Seco.  Of course, I will have to take PQ back to Espanola this evening, drive back to Taos and then to Seco to pick Corey up at the restaurant.  In the morning, it’s back to Seco to deliver Corey to the restaurant for Sunday morning brunch and then on to Espanola to retrieve PQ.  Are you confused yet? I’m hoping that I won’t be.
Natalie (center) in the Dining Room of Mabel's House

The Mabel Dodge Lujan House was the location of “Writing Down the Bones” event and it turns out it was the first event held in that New Building at the base of those antique stairs leading to the main building.  I felt like a stranger at a family reunion but that was OK, because I knew that I should have been part of the Taos writing family a long time ago. It is my own undoing that I’m just an appreciative stranger. 

It was definitely a family event and I enjoyed some brilliant and funny stories going back to the Lama Foundation and outer edge of the old hippy days. Some of these people are now famous writers and all of them figurative siblings in this family. Every time I yield to disenchantment with the Taos chi, something comes along to shame me into taking back my negative grumblings.   

My personal connection to this event goes back to my days at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. I remember placing Writing Down the Bones on the shelf when it was just published. I read the brief bio of Natalie and noted that she lived in Taos, which is where I wanted to be. I had a warm rush each time I fetched that book for a customer. Yes, Natalie was one of us and I secretly hoped to meet her someday. But I didn’t read the book.

I’ve kept a journal since I was 25, but never considered myself a writer. The journal was personal history and self-psychotherapy. I always received excellent grades for papers and once in a while wrote an  article with complementary responses but I was not a writer. I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be a Jungian therapist, an anthropologist or maybe a mythologist like Joseph Campbell.  For one thing, I was too shy to be a writer. I was almost too shy to be a painter. Earlier I wanted to be a dancer so that I could express myself without saying a word.

I uploaded my first blog entry with trembling hands. We had recently returned to Taos from Cottonwood Arizona and all my painting supplies were in boxes here and there. However, the real reason was that I knew I needed to do this. It was time to quit hiding in the shadow of more outgoing people. It was time to avoid exposing myself to possible criticism; it was time to come out. Yet, this morning I realized I have to take another step into the world of words, even though I haven’t quite arrived at that trailhead.

I noticed that Natalie’s audience this morning was 80% well educated, over 50 white women. Yes, there were a few Hispanic women, and half a dozen men but everyone represented the feeling intellect and a politically liberal outlook. As I looked around, I wondered, “how come I’m usually to be found among this demographic?” I have no degrees, and economically I don’t qualify as middle class.  Then I realized that these women and a few men are swimming in the same stream as Mabel Dodge Lujan and her Movers and Shakers. They represent the visionaries that can re-balance this out of balance world with the consciousness of the heart.  The stream is rising again and I need to get off the bank and jump on the canoe.