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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
[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.”
…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!”
I swear I’m not trying to make a habit of posting about books I haven’t read yet. But I feel compelled to post about Chris Arnade and his searching.
Some of this may be apocryphal but I find that telling stories in your own words (as opposed to citing and footnoting the daylights out of a document) can add flavor.
Chris Arnade is a former Wall Street trader who reached his limit and decided to walk away from it all. Like Forrest Gump, he decided to just start walking. But he chose to walk in the places that people had advised him not to go to. Neighborhoods where “people like him” shouldn’t walk around. He sought out those places. He walked them, and then he started to talk to the people there.
Preface: In this post I refer to some music styles and their designed appeal to the troops. This is not a commentary on people in military service or their music preferences. As I’ll say in the post, troops (or members of military services) are not a monolith. They are complex and cannot be grouped or labeled. For a more insightful analysis of military service members, veterans, and their treatment in our society I recommend Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.
Americana music. What is it? The word “roots” seems to come up a lot. Is it something still involving singing and guitars but not Nashville country and not alternative rock? Is it folk music with an edge? I don’t know. I’m not a music blogger (I think that requires a lot of work and energy), but I would like to dive into 3 songs from 3 different artists that have resonated with me.
Josh Ritter. How can you not love this guy? He is so happy at every show he plays. He’s got so much on-stage energy. His songwriting is deep and reflective, sometimes even dark. His band, The Royal City Band, plays as if they’re the successors to Bob Dylan’s backing band, The Band.