John rambles about his health, Ram Dass, and 2020

I don’t have anything distilled to impart to you today. No book, no music, no movie. This time it’s just me, typing away about a few things I’ve been thinking about. Hopefully, one of them holds your attention.

My health has been relatively stable since passing out before Christmas. Nobody is really sure what happened to me. I think they threw the kitchen sink at me to get me healthy for Christmas, and it worked. (Kitchen sink = IV fluids, IV steroids, and 7 days of antibiotics.) I took a trip to Tampa with my daughter after Christmas and was there until New Year’s Eve. I started noticing something strange about my stomach and felt some slight head pain.

When I came back home I noticed the head pain was made worse by the cold weather. After some experimentation, I found that keeping my head nice and warm staves off this pain. So sometimes I’m now sporting unseasonably bulky head covers. Wool beanies are my favorite. At a December appointment I found out that there is an small open space between my skull and the titanium plate in my head. The plate is attached to the skull by 16 different screws. But my theory is that the space between my skull and the plate is especially sensitive to the cold and can cause some pain. So hats provide some nice coverage.

The stomach pains lasted for another week and I’m still dealing with them in a small way. It’s tough not to jump to the worst possible conclusion for what’s behind the pain. For me, there’s not much space between “This is nothing, it’ll pass,” and “The sky is falling!” In talking about this with Paige she captured it perfectly, “Ever since immunotherapy, your body is a question mark. So much of immunotherapy isn’t even understood yet, who knows what’s going on in there.” Yep. Today my stomach is feeling pretty good, strangely. Human bodies are weird.

I found out through Paige that Ram Dass passed away before Christmas. I’ve written about Ram Dass on this blog before. I have some of his books and have listened to a collection of his lectures (Experiments in Truth). I think he is a fascinating spiritual figure, drawn to different understandings of suffering, God, being and non-being. One of the anecdotes he tells in Experiments in Truth really sticks with me. He was talking about being on a speaking tour (I think) and checking into a hotel room, feeling exhausted and wishing he was home. In his hotel room, he stopped, and starting to think of himself and his surroundings in a cosmic sense. He started to zoom out from his point of view. The hotel room, the city, the state, the country, the continent, the world, the solar system, the galaxy, the entirety of space. Given the vastness of space, he realized there’s not too much difference between his hotel room and his actual home. This universe and everywhere in it was his home. If I can’t be at home in this universe, what’s the point? he thought. Then he decided to be home, there in the hotel room. He opened the hotel door and shouted into the hallway, “I’m home!” He learned to be home everywhere. That’s a lesson that sticks with me. Be home everywhere. On delayed flights, in doctor waiting rooms, in traffic, at parties when you don’t know anyone. Be home. And you know what? It freaks people out. Next time you’re at a party and you don’t know anyone, try to be home. You’ll see other people become uncomfortable on your behalf– it’s crazy. They’ll say or think, “Why isn’t he talking to anyone? Why isn’t he checking his phone? Why isn’t he anxious?” And suddenly they’ll start talking to you. They’ll leave quickly because you’re not buying into the dominant culture. But you can just continue to be home.

I like the way that Pete Holmes said it on his podcast. He doesn’t say Ram Dass died, but that he “left his body.” It’s like ice melting into water or a wave disappearing into the ocean. As a Harvard professor from a Jewish family, I think he distinquished himself from attention-obsessed pyschedelic drug adovcates like his one-time colleague Timothy Leary. Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) actually went to India to seek deeper spirituality. The appeal of the pyschedelic drugs were gone because they were superficial to begin with. He did not shy away from talking about Christ as someone who transcended all material things.

I do agree with Pete Homles that if you’re interested in his stuff, listen to his speaking as opposed to reading his books (at least, at first). He has stuff on youtube, and two collections of lectures: Experiments in Truth, and Love, Service, Devotion. There is a short Netflix documentary with him called Going Home. I need to see that.

And 2020 is here. I kept seeing all of these lists about the end of the decade. It didn’t feel like the end of a decade to me. But when I read stuff like Kotaku’s The Cost of Being a Woman Who Covers Video Games it’s a reminder of both how far things have come and how deep things have decended. Social change seems glacierly slow but I suppose when you can look back at a decade you can notice some positive advances.


Essentialism

A little health update to start. I passed out last Friday. I was rushing to get out of bed, get the kids to school, and get to work. I woke up feeling awful- I knew I had a high temperature and my throat felt like sandpaper, but I wanted to get moving in a hurry. I went to the bathroom to get the day started and began to take my temperature. That’s when I passed out.

When I came to, Paige was telling me to move. I had passed out in a perfect sitting position (no falling injury) and was blocking the door. She got me a cold washcloth and ordered me back to bed, wisely. I would not be taking the kids to school or going to work.

Paige and I were both fearing a Christmas at the hospital and potentially cancelling a lot of holiday plans. And even worse portents.

I ended up at the Cancer Center later that day. They got me on an IV with fluids. The labs didn’t say much so they gave me some more steroids (through the IV) and a prescription for an antiboitic. Those IV fluids were freezing! I spent the rest of the day recovering and resting. I was ordered to return Sunday morning for more lab work to ensure that I was okay.

Fortunately, I woke up feeling very good Saturday. When I started to get out of bed, Paige wisely advised me, “Sit straight up in bed for 2 minutes before you stand up.” I did, and everything went fine. I was evening driving Saturday, which surprised both of us. We were driving to lunch, per our usual Saturday routine, and I mentioned, “Oh, look. I’m driving.” “Oh yeah, you are. Good thing you’re feeling better.”

My labs Sunday came back with good results. I’m not sure what is was, maybe something viral. It wasn’t the flu. But it was a strange way to slide into the week of Christmas.

Thankfully, as long as things keep going smoothly, I’ll be spending it close to family.


In a way it’s fitting that I’m writing about this book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Instead of focusing on my health and well-being (something critical, essential) I was chasing down a daily routine and checklist (non-essential).

I came by this book sometime last year, before my surgery, diagnosis, and treatment. But it’s really stuck with me. The book speaks for itself, and if you’re not grabbed by the excerpt I’m posting then move on, I suppose. But one thing McKeown does emphasize as important to essentialism is something highly underrated in our adult culture and society, creative play.

This can take different forms for everybody. In Stillness is the Key, Ryan Holiday talks about Winston Churchill being a “mediocre painter and a worse bricklayer”, but those leisure activities helped restore his energy and give much needed respite in the most tumultuous times of his political career. It helps explain why ambitious people have (unrelated) hobbies. It supports McKeown’s assertion that creative play is critical to essentialism.

For me, it’s video games. I like to get lost in them. But I don’t get carried away, and being a father doesn’t allow me. I also am a big LEGO enthuiast. I believe that a $50 LEGO set put together by an adult in solitude can perhaps be the most inexpensive form of therapy available. I’m also known to get a bit too into coloring sheets or painting pottery at kids’ parties sometimes. I think someday I’ll graduate from video games into gardening. Maybe.

Once I was talking about video games with a friend (who also plays) and someone in our group exclaimed, “I don’t have time for games!” Well, if it’s not games then I hope it’s some form of creative play like painting or bricklaying.

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Walk with Me

Image from Walk with Me.

There is a documentary currently on Netflix called Walk with Me. It’s about a commune in Plum Village, France when Thich Nhat Hanh (author of Living Buddha, Living Christ) resided there. (Hanh has since moved back to his home country of Vietnam.)

The pace of the documentary is slow and deliberate. There is seldom any dialogue. Occasionally, there will be a scene depicting something in nature with a voice over from Benedict Cumberbatch. He is reading from Hanh’s collection of early journals, Fragrant Palm Leaves. I read somewhere that Cumberbatch took on this work as part of his preparation for the Dr. Strange movie he was cast in.

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The Darkness

Photo by icon0.com from Pexels

[Preface: I received my PET scan results this week. It looks all good. I still have a small nodule in my bottom right lung but it continues to shrink. Otherwise, no spread of the disease. So the healing continues to go well. Thank you all for your thoughts, prayers, and positive energy.]

I think I’m inadvertently starting a series of posts on a topic. Last week I wrote about Addiction and Recovery. Today I’m writing about darkness.

Some people suffer seasonal depression around this time of year. I never understood that before, but I am feeling it acutely this year. I’m also feeling a bit of survivor’s guilt. Which, for me, is wrongly named. It should be squander’s guilt. I don’t feel bad about surviving– I feel bad about looking back and thinking I should have accomplished more with this time that I didn’t even know I would have back in April.

Writing it out, I can see that I’m putting the intention in the wrong place with that feeling. It shouldn’t be about accomplishment, it should be about practice and love– which I try my best to engage in daily. But somehow, especially this time of year, it doesn’t feel like enough.

I heard something last year that put a radical spin on my understanding of this dark time of year, the season that the church refers to as Advent. The following text is from the Rob Bell (a spiritual writer) podcast, called the RobCast. This episode is called Darkness and Hope but I’m focusing on the darkness here. If you’d like to listen to it in its entirety, it can be found here. The podcast is an interview with Alexander Shaia, who has a background in anthropology, studied under Joseph Campbell, and is from Birmingham, Alabama. After listening to this, and finding this again this year, I need to read more of this guy.

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Addiction, Recovery, and Transformation

Image from Pixabay.com.

The subjects of this blog might seem oddly timed, but I’ve been focusing on addiction and recovery in the past few weeks. I think that the seasonal depression that some of us might be experiencing (whether it’s from the holiday blues or the early darkness) call for this exploration.

I have a family member struggling with addiction. I pray for recovery and transformation for this family member. It’s hard to hear about, hard to accept the powerlessness, and hard not to become cynical about all of it. In the book An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture, one of the writers tells about his ex-wife who was an alcoholic and eventually died from it. While she was still struggling, the writer had a breakfast with Ivan Illich and the writer went over all of the measures he and the family had taken to try to get her conquer her alcoholism. Exasperated, he finished with, “I just don’t know what else to do.” Ivan Illich responded: “Grieve.” Indeed, I am grieving for this family member.

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A poem and a prayer

Something different for this week. I’d like to share a poem and a prayer. Both have meant a great deal to me and have helped me in even the lowest parts of my journey.

The poem is by Jellaludin Rumi (a 13th century Sufi mystic) and it’s called The Guest House. The prayer is the St. Francis Peace Prayer or sometimes called the St. Francis Prayer. This prayer is used by Alcoholic Anonymous in their 12 step recovery process. I’d like to write more on addiction and recovery and am working on a large piece on exploring the spiritual side of that. Have a good weekend, everyone. And have a good Thanksgiving week!


The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing, and invite
them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jellaludin Rumi

The Saint Francis Peace Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

St. Francis of Assisi

Kintsugi

I learned my MRI results this week. My brain is clear of any lesions (tumors). Except for the resection (the cavity from my brain surgery), my MRI looks like a typical brain. In doctor-speak, this is a complete response. In August, my MRI was a partial complete response. I’ve been upgraded. There was little else to talk about for my appointment. We set the next scan for 4 months out.

I took my last steroid pill this morning. Tomorrow will be my first day in 8 weeks with no steroids. I’m already feeling very good. I think by the end of the weekend I’ll be feeling even better.

I have a PET scan at the end of the month and I find out the results in the first week of December. I’m going to hold off on the weekly updates until then. Things have calmed down considerably. It feels forced to give weekly updates during long periods of inactivity. No news is good news.

I’ll still keep the main blog going and write weekly. Initially, I set the goal writing once a week for 1 year. I’m still aiming for that.

All of this good feeling has me basking in the awe of feeling put back together again. I feel like I was broken, and broken for a long time. It’s only through the love and grace of my family, friends, and professionals (medical and otherwise) that I became functional first, and now exceptional. I am not worse for the wear- my past has become wisdom, and the scars I bear show the power of love and community. I find the Japanese art of kintsugi tells a small part of the journey I’ve gone through in becoming a New Man.

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Westerns over Science Fiction: A Look at a Limitless World Through Songs

When I was little I never liked westerns. I thought they were boring. They didn’t have spaceships or new planets, and worst of all, they took place in the past. Yuck. I always went for more Star Wars replays over watching a dated Western. Even the combination of western and sci-fi, the 3rd Back to the Future movie, was a bummer for me as a kid (and still is, sort of). And now, as I age, I realize westerns might be more dear to me– because they take place here, on Earth. I think the magic of westerns comes from the “anything is possible” framwork of the chaotic Old West. But it’s an “anything is possible” within boundaries– there are still deeds, and laws, and justice. And only a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of beaucracy (which is always vilified). I think we’re attracted to westerns on an unconscious level because they take place in nature, and in a version of America hasn’t yet turned into Pavement-Land. It certainly appears that living in the present was a whole lot easier when adventuring in frontier territory.

I grew to love westerns as I came into adulthood. I’m realizing now, it was thanks to music, and not TV or movies. I’m still not completely taken with western movies or TV shows. HBO’s Deadwood is the closest I’ve come to really being taken by show set in the West (the show is essentially Game of Thrones without the dragons and it’s set in an Old West frontier town. Also explicit like Game of Thrones).

Now I can recognize that I have Bob Dylan to thank for my love of the Old West. And Josh Ritter, too.

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Tabletop Games and Play-Acting force you into the present

Happy Halloween, everyone!

This past weekend my hometown buddies gathered together at a friend’s beach house and celebrated my latest PET scan. It was an opportunity to see me, hang out, give me a high-five and some hummus, and for a bunch of guys to see friends they rarely see, and engage in….dare I say, “guy things.”

Well, maybe it’s our age but “guy things” turns out to be pretty tame, but really really fun. I had to be the first to bed both nights because of my steroid / head pain issues but I wish that I had been able to stay awake and chat with those fellows until the early morn.

[I did wake up early on Saturday and watch the sunrise for an hour. That was a powerful way to start a morning. Picture below.]

Sunrise at 7:50am, St. Augustine, Florida

The type of crew assembled that weekend really enjoys games- video and table top. (Tabletop gaming is just another way of saying board games. Blame the “kids these days”.) We all had brought an assortment of video game consoles and contemporary tabletop games (no monopoly, or yahtzee to be found there).

The game that stole the weekend was a tabletop game called Red Dragon Inn.

Red Dragon Inn, series 5
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Freedom: On the Edge of the Inside

[Check out the new menu on the home page. In case you didn’t see I post weekly health / well-being updates on the “My Journey” section. Fixed for mobile, too.

Thanks to the WordPress helper who assisted me to fix this. I recommend WordPress with all the accolades I have as a blogging platform.]

When I was in the hospital I signed up for a weekly email summary of daily devotionals from Richard Rohr. (I’ve already written about how I gobbled up Falling Upward by him while in the hospital and at home during my recovery.) I enjoy many of them, but this one stuck out enough that I feel moved to write more about it.

In it he discusses Inner and Outer Freedom, and uses the phrase “on the edge of the inside.”

Photo by Min An from Pexels

…On the edge of the inside. I like it. It’s got a certain ring, doesn’t it? If someone said Warren Buffett described himself that way, everyone would say, “Of course! Such a folksy genius!”

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