Category Archives: Health Issues

Medical Miracle

Transplant

A man woke up in a hospital room.  He didn’t know how he got there, but one leg was in a cast and he had some bandages.  He felt weak and disoriented. A nurse came in.  “Oh, Mr. Thomas, you’re awake.  You have been in a coma for three weeks.  You were in a terrible traffic accident.  How are you feeling?”

“I hurt all over and feel weak, but otherwise I’m OK.”   “I will have the doctor come in to see you.”

Later, the doctor came in and examined him.  “Well, you had quite an ordeal, but you are on the mend.  We had to keep you in a coma for your head injury to heal, and you are doing fine.  There is one thing, though.  Your penis was severed in the car crash and the crew onsite was unable to find it.”

The man looked down, nothing but a bandage with a tube coming out and his testicles.  “Oh, No!  Is this permanent?”

“Well, yes but there is a new transplant procedure that is very successful.  Insurance won’t pay, and the charge for the transplant is five thousand dollars per inch.”

“I have fifty thousand in savings.  When can we do this?”   “You need to talk it over with your wife.  This is a major step and both of you need to sign off on it.”  “She will be in later.  We can let you know tomorrow.”

Next day the doctor came in.  “What have you decided?”

“We are going to remodel the kitchen.”

Getting Older

Really Old

I am 74.  I retired in 2011 at age 68 when I started noticing I wasn’t as sharp in responding to problems.  I also noticed my co-workers giving me the easier jobs when on a project,I was used to wading right in, sometimes literally.  It was a water plant, after all.

Now, other things have manifested. If it doesn’t hurt, it itches. I have arthritis and allergies.  My balance problems keep me off the third step of the ladder.  I was falling off.  I fell on the stairs, broke two ribs.  I gave up motorcycling, given my desire to stay alive (Just go to motorcycle crashes on YouTube.).

People are dying.  Yes, they have  doing it all my life, but now it’s old friends, classmates, a guy I was Best Man for.  Not people I viewed as Old People, but my contemporaries.  Does that mean I am an Old Person?  Yep.  Old people see their friends dying.  You can also tell if you are old by falling down in a public place.  People laugh if you are young.  You are old if they rush over to help.

Then there is CRS.  I have always had a poor memory, but this is getting ridiculous.  When I hear someone’s name on meeting them I tell them I will forget it.  I head downstairs to get something, do two or three things I see need doing, and go up without I went after.  Also, people my age tend to be terrified when they start forgetting.  Is it Alzheimer’s?  Am I going to be a drooling vegetable?  I try to stick to my rule about not worrying about things I have no control over, but it doesn’t always work.

A good thing: after my ADD diagnosis at age 59 with the therapy and medication I have more focus.  I can even manage to focus on stuff I don’t like to do.  I used to put off paying bills until my anxiety level forces me to sit down.  Now, I can plan the time and actually follow the plan some of the time.  I can write.  I don’t have to go to work.  I just spend my four pensions and watch our investments slowly diminish.

Writing is a good thing for an old dude to do.  I can do it most any time, usually mornings.  I go to a coffee shop where I am something of a regular and do some extroverting along with the writing.  I always wanted to write, but could not maintain the focus to write for myself.  With a deadline, the anxiety level activated my prefrontal cortex enough to allow me to get the words down.  In college I wrote papers for Forestry majors and the like for $10.00 per page (long time ago).

Now I write for myself.  I almost always write nonfiction, like most of my reading.  As you can see from this website, I have a wide range of interests.  That’s  probably a function of an ADD shifting his attention all the time.  I need to know.  They say ADD’s occupy an evolutionary niche because their shifting attention enabled them to spot those brutes from the neighboring tribe or the saber-toothed tiger.  Sentinels.  Of course, we are also smart and charming.  Someone has to keep the place stirred up.

I have written a little fiction, some very short stories and a longer short story when taking a class at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver.   Good people there, students and faculty.  Naturally, some English majors, more interesting than engineers, although impoverished.

For me fiction is hard work. You have to create the world of the story and invent the characters.  Good fiction also uses lots of metaphor.  I am not very good in that area, mostly because it takes lots of practice.  I usually write about shifting tectonic plates; not so much need for metaphor there.

I have taken to reading novels aloud to Carol just before bedtime.  She likes mysteries written by women, she calls them novels of manners.  Much of their focus is on character development and scene setting, so they are a good light reading genre.  The reading is fostering an interest in fiction again.  Can I produce a story about geologists?  Maybe a story about 19th Century naturalists and biblical literalists.  Have I mentioned I like history?

I will have to work on producing pieces longer than 550 words, however. I can do the short essays in one coffee shop session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Blues

Winter

As I sit here in the coffee shop it is a gray January day with a light rain falling, promising to turn to snow.  This is an accurate metaphor for my mood of late.  I’m prone to depression, get treatment for it, but this is probably Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  I haven’t been able to do much writing, and what I have written I haven’t posted.  This is unusual. My goal is to put something up every week and I haven’t come close.   

I used to have two of those lights which are supposed to help, but I gave one away and the other is over the bathtub I haven’t been able to use lately.  Why no baths?  Leaks.  The upstairs bathroom sink cold water faucet started leaking as well. 

For me, things happening around me are often related to the state of my psyche.  Water is also a symbol of the unconscious mind, and leaks are about something important trying to come to consciousness.  I am engaged in a struggle to keep things buried.  Thus, leaks I am slow in fixing, and gloom leading to inaction.  It’s easy to guess how my meditation practice is going.  

My meditations are supposed to have the goal of being totally in the moment-no thinking about the pas, the future, or Donald Trump.  I can stay with just observing my breath for maybe five seconds.  I usually am able to stay with my breath or a prayer for several minutes before drifting off to be with Dorothy and Toto.  I come back to the breath, stay there a while and drift off again.  Currently, I obsess.   

I think the real issue for me is aging.  I am 74 years old. Lifting a fifty pound sack of ice melt salt is hard.  I used to throw fifty pound sacks around.  I cannot go above the second step on the ladder for fear of falling off.  I sometimes cheat and go to the third step, no higher.  My balance is not very good.  I have stayed at the same weight for some time but the muscles are shrinking and the belly is growing.   

I forget stuff.  I have always been somewhat forgetful, an ADD-ADHD symptom, but it’s worse lately.  I am going to have to go back to writing reminders down, a habit I have slipped away from.  I also head downstairs to do something, do two or three other things and head upstairs with the task not done. At least I get some exercise going up and down the stairs all day.

I know this too will pass, but I am tired of waiting

 

 

The Hurt, The Itch, and The Joke

It’s raining today, which means it is time for miscellany.  I always have a few short ideas rattling around in my head, and these days writing about them is the best way to get them out of there.  First, the itch. 

For years now, if it doesn’t hurt, it itches.  I have arthritis in several places and it bothers me from time to time.  Currently it is my left knee and my left wrist.  The knee hurts and is weak for the first few steps when I get out of the chair.  I get shots in the knee from time to time, usually good for six months or so.  I am left handed and the wrist is intermittently a real pain, usually when gardening.  I notice that my left hand is weaker than the other one (I won’t say right.)  as I am the official opener and fixer around the house, this is not good.   

Itch

Itch

The itch is the biggie.  I itch every morning until the Allegra kicks in, and every evening until the Benadryl kicks in.  I don’t know what the allergen is, and it is year around.  The worst spots are on my back over my kidneys.  Right now, the inside of my forearm and calf are itching.  The itch doesn’t drive me nuts, I was already there.   

I tried the allergy specialist with no luck.  The only things that help are the antihistamines.  There is a possibility the allergen is one of the medications I take.  Next time I see my doctor I will talk to her about doing an allergy elimination protocol.  I won’t do it myself, I take that stuff for a reason.  I don’t want to have a stroke while tracking the source of the itch. 

I didn’t itch when I was younger.  I even felt a bit smug when others complained about their allergies.  Maybe the whole thing is karma.   

cuironNrgb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, the joke, my favorite of all time.  I see a person wearing a college t-shirt or sweatshirt and ask them if they know why graduates of the school’s big rival keep a copy of their diploma on the dash of their car.  They do it so they can park in the handicapped spot.  Here in Denver it is usually Colorado-Nebraska or Denver University-Colorado College.  Nebraska, of course, is the most appropriate.  That N on their football player’s helmets stands for nowledge.  Most Coloradoans know that joke, but it is fun to see the reaction when in Nebraska. 

I have used it for schools all over the country.  Michigan-Ohio State, Purdue-Indiana, Notre Dame-Penn State, Duke-North Carolina, Auburn-Alabama, USC-UCLA, and especially Texas-Texas A&M, as Aggies are right in there with Nebraska.  I have told this to dozens of people, and only one didn’t like the joke.

Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

When I noticed a little place on my cheek not healing, I made the appointment, but I thought, no big deal.  When I got home from the dermatologist’s and took the band-aid off, it suddenly became a big deal.  She gave me the choice of having a some stitches or just letting it heal with a scar.  The stitches meant another trip to have them out, so I said leave it alone.  I have lots of zit scars, so another scar was, again, no big deal. 

I have a hole in my face.  It is almost the size of a dime and is a deep sucker.  Seeing the crater was a shock.  I saw all the scars on my coworker’s face and didn’t make much of them, but they were on him, not me.  This is a big deal. 

My reaction to having cancer, even though it is relatively less dangerous, is colored by my experience with cancer in my circle of people.  My mother died of mis-diagnosed cancer and took a long time to die.  Other family members have had cancer.  My sister-in-law has just recovered from stage four abdominal cancer with the help of chemo and medical marijuana.  It’s pretty well documented that marijuana kills cancer cells. 

I have lost some high school classmates to cancer.  I was best man for one of them, and another died just a few weeks ago.  The scar on my psyche is from my mother’s death.  I was young, she was just in her late forties, and was an ordeal filled with denial.   

In recent years trips to the dermatologist are regular, every six months or year, depending on those scaly patches on my face.  My own denial is never taking enough precautions in the sun.    I grew up when we didn’t really know better, and sunburn was an annual event.  I drove an open sports car in the mountains, making my face red.  I always had sunscreen around, but hardly ever put it on.  Most of my hats cover my bald head and shade my eyes, but the rest of my face is out there.  No longer. 

Sunscreen and hats with a wide brim are the new cool.  Well, not really, I have never viewed myself as cool.  One of my rationales for not wearing good hats is because I am always losing the damn things.  I take it off and walk away.  Also, what am I supposed to do in winter?  The sun shines here and reflects off snow, but a wide brim hat?  Do I have to start wearing Stetsons? 

Here I am rambling on about hats.  The reality is, I’m scared.  I know squamous cell cancer properly treated is seldom dangerous, but I am still dealing with my mother’s cancer fifty years later, and this little event has triggered it once more.  One of my maxims is to not worry about things I have no control over.  The question is, can I have control over this?  I have a lot of letting go to do.

Declining and Arising

The Quarter Moon

The Quarter Moon

A few years ago Carol, my wife, her sister Judi, and I wrote a blog about caregiving for aging parents.  The aging parents are gone and so is the blog, but one piece I wrote sticks with me.  Watching the decline.  I wrote the piece about Frank, Carol’s and Judi’s dad who went into a serious decline in his ’90s.   

Frank is gone, so now I am watching my own decline.  I had it come home to me when I forgot where I parked the car in downtown Minneapolis and spent three hours searching for the damn thing. By the time I found it I was tired, relieved, and a bit ashamed.  Not finding the car has always been a problem for me, a function of my ADD.  I keep a little yellow ball on the radio antenna of my pickup so I can see it in the parking lot.  Losing the car for three hours is a new one, however.  Yes, I have a GPS in my cell phone. 

Losing the car is only one symptom.  My knee, wrist, shoulder, and back hurt.  I fall down.  I can’t remember names.  Carol and I make a plan every week, and I forget what I am supposed to do.  I go downstairs to get something, do three other things and end up back upstairs without what I went for.  Three times. 

I will be 74 in October.  What do I have left?  Ten, maybe fifteen years?  Aging is reality for me.  Usually I take these things in stride.  After all what is important is the moment, which is almost always pretty good.  The trip to Minneapolis threw me into something of a funk.  I got scared when I couldn’t find the car.  I went to help my brother-in-law, who is facing some aging issues as well.  I still haven’t recovered from the trip. 

My life is good.  We have a nice home and garden, good things to do, travel some, and have fun together.  I can write, which I was unable to do until the last few years after getting diagnosed and treated for ADD.  I have gone places and done things.  I can ( http://www.insightmeditation.org/ )meditate which I could not do for most of my life.  I have found an important role as family caregiver. Caregiving is especially meaningful because it didn’t exist in my family. 

The meditation has opened up a spiritual life I have sought since I first asked “Why?”.  I now  know the answer: Because.  The secret to because is becoming.  The sun is up every morning.  The birds sing, even if I have trouble hearing them.  The new in my life outweighs the difficulties.      Most of the time.  I get myself in trouble when I stare at that unknowable wall out there.  If I stay where I belong, here and now, I’m fine.  Events, however, sometimes present that wall-my brief time on this world and in this body.  I’ll get through it.  Writing this has already helped.

Changes

Equanimity2I retired five years ago.  I waited until I was 68 to pile up some more retirement benefits.  I also waited because I was scared of retiring.  When I retired I took two part time jobs which soon went to one.  I felt like I had to work.  That lasted four years.  Now, I am truly retired.  (Funny thing, I wrote tired instead of retired.).  

Another reason I retired from my career in water treatment was noticing I just was not as sharp as I used to be.  I have always been fairly sharp, except for the ADD brain lapses I have always lived with.  The lapses were more frequent.  One of my part time jobs required constant focus.  Not good.  The other one was working with elementary school kids, and meant unremitting joy.  I gave that job up because I didn’t want to work so many hours, and my bad back was complaining. 

Now my back still complains, but I can pace myself more and take a time out if I need to.  Right now it’s my upper back hurting after yoga and shoveling a pickup load of wood chips.  Today I am going for a walk where it is flat. 

About those lapses.  All older people complain about them.  The other day I made four trips to the basement to get something and never did come up with it.  Yesterday I was in the grocery store and upset because I forgot the list.  When I got home without some things on the list I found it in my pocket.   

Well, there is a reason for this.  As we age, our brains tend to shift from the executive function-running things- to inner processes.  It is certainly true for me.  I want to write, read, meditate, and enjoy happy entertainment.  There is a huge obstacle right now.  Politics.   

Prayer

Prayer

It’s hard to hold on to my equanimity these days.  Usually I deal with negativity by praying for the people creating the mood.  I have even prayed for Newt Gingrich.  I have yet to be able to pray for His Yellowness.  Praying for people doesn’t necessarily change them, although sometimes it does, but it does change me.  The changes I experience make me more able to live with myself.  I am even less of a jackass on the road. 

I have more peace.  My body doesn’t work as well as it used to, but I think my mind may be getting to a place where I can actually experience the inner connectedness of all life.  I can find joy in anyone.  Well, most everyone.  I also have trouble feeling connected with the Japanese Beetles who want to eat stuff in our garden.  I can’t go above the second step on the ladder because I tend to fall off.  Some of the evil critters get away because I can’t get high enough. 

On balance, aging isn’t so bad.  I have lived a life of constant stress from trying to be normal when I am not.  Now, I get to embrace being weird and getting weirder, and love life.  Mostly. 

I will know I am really on the right track when I can pray for THEM.

Rocky Flats

Rocky Flats

Rocky Flats

 What is now is the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge once was the Rocky Flats Plant where triggers for nuclear weapons were manufactured.  The main raw ingredient for the triggers was plutonium, one of the most toxic and radioactive substances known, with a half-life of over 4000 years.  During the forty years the plant operated, there were two major fires in glove boxes where plutonium discs were handled.  In this and other incidents, many pounds of plutonium were released.  The Wikipedia article has an excellent summary and bibliography.   

I was talking to a woman recently about Rocky Flats.  Her father worked there for several years when the plant was in full operation.  He had to deal with a glove box where the plutonium had started to burn.  The gloves were so hot he had to wear other gloves before he could put his hands into the glove box gloves to stop the reaction.  He probably saved some lives.  He died of cancer. 

I became more interested in Rocky Flats after reading Full Body Burden, by Kristin Iverson, an English Professor who grew up in the area.  The book is controversial, disagreeing with the environmental assessments by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Given all I have read, I am skeptical of the official lint that the area is safe, and exposure to the public was and is minimal.  Decide for yourself. 

Iverson writes that a large area of contaminated topsoil was covered with more topsoil and pronounced safe.  Rocky Flats is aptly named, as millions of tons of glacial erosion products have covered the area with gravel.  The surface is called ground armor, mostly rock, as the high winds in the area have blown much of the finer material away.  That continues, and rodents burrowing bring buried soil to the surface where it blows into the Denver Metro area..  

The nearby Standley Lake, a large irrigation reservoir that provides water to Westminster and Broomfield, allows boating and water skiing but bans swimming because the lake bottom is contaminated with plutonium.  Many experts have advocated banning development in the area, but houses are going up. 

I got interested again recently because the NOAA National Weather Radar website is my go-to means of weather monitoring.  The TV weather people are either warning the apocalypse is imminent or it is fine, no rain, just before a major hailstorm.  Over a period of months I noticed a nearly constant radar image indicating precipitation over the NWR.  Day or night, weekends or weekdays, the image is there.  If it really is rain, the refuge would be a major swamp at the base of the Rocky Mountains.   

Many years ago I was a radar repairman in the Army.  One of the radars we maintained put out so much radio frequency energy it would kill birds flying in front.  We had quite a bit of training about ionizing radiation.  Radars emit radiation, so does decaying plutonium.  I could not come up with any explanation for the radar image other than radioactive decay.  This would be  disastrous, as much of the Denver metro area is downwind of Rocky Flats.   

I sent a number of emails to the NWS, TV stations, and the CDPHE.  I guess I stirred things up a bit, because I got a long, thoughtful letter from CDPHE outlining the investigation I generated.  The conclusion reached is that the radar image is from dust coming from a gravel mining and crushing operation just adjacent to the refuge.   Here is the letter:

Begin forwarded message:

From: “Spreng, Carl” <carl.spreng@state.co.us>
Date: July 13, 2016 at 3:56:58 PM MDT
To: levanks@me.com
Cc: Phillip Peterson – CDPHE <phillip.peterson@state.co.us>, Surovchak Scott <Scott.Surovchak@lm.doe.gov>, “Moritz, Vera” <Moritz.Vera@epa.gov>, Lindsay Masters – CDPHE <lindsay.masters@state.co.us>, Darr Bob <Bob.Darr@lm.doe.gov>, Rob Beierle – CDPHE <robert.beierle@state.co.us>, Smith Warren <warren.smith@state.co.us>
Subject: Rocky Flats

William Shanks

Mr. Shanks,

Your message sent to Phill Peterson in our Radiation Control Program was forwarded to me for response. I discussed your observations with a representative of NOAA. NOAA scientists apparently notice a fairly consistent dust cloud in the Rocky Flats area. This is consistent with the adjacent gravel operations — current and historic. You can observe the dust that rises off these operations as you drive by the site.
During remediation, the source areas of radiological risk in the Central Operable Unit (managed by the US Dept. of Energy) were excavated and shipped out of state. The human health risks inside the Central Operable Unit and the remainder of the site (managed as a refuge by the US Fish and Wildlife Service) were assessed following remediation and risks were found to be very low. A final decision for the site declared that any conceivable use would be appropriate in the Refuge area. That decision was based on an enormous amount of data (surface soil, subsurface soil, groundwater, surface water, air). After the remediation was completed, an aerial survey was conducted using a low-flying helicopter with detectors.
Offsite areas in the vicinity of Rocky Flats are also safe for any use. Numerous offsite surveys confirm the conclusion that only a few samples just east of Rocky Flats detected plutonium concentrations above background levels. You can read more information about the sampling on and around Rocky Flats on the Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment’s (CDPHE) web page at:  http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/rf/index.htm.
 
Please contact us again if you have more questions.

 

Carl Spreng
P 303.692.3358  |  F 303.759.5355  |  C 303-328-7289
4300 Cherry Creek Drive S, Denver, CO  80246-1530
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Carol Leavenworth <levanks@me.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 12:39 PM
Subject: Rocky Flats
To: phillip.peterson@state.co.us

 

Sir,
I notice there is a consistent radar image over the Rocky Flats NWR when viewing the NOAA national weather radar website.  I am no physicist, but ionizing radiation is detectable by radar.  Is this the case at Rocky Flats?  Is there a radiation hazard outside the closed zone?  Is there a public health risk for the nearby residential areas?I was a radar repairman in the Army in the 1960’s and remain interested in the field.  There weren’t many RF energy safeguards back then and there were nuclear weapons stored where I was stationed in Germany.
Thanks.
William Shanks
2032 S. Logan St.
Denver CO 80210
303-830-0599

After Cleanup

After Cleanup

I was skeptical, so I drove out there.  I made a couple of circuits around the area, passing through new subdivisions where grading was going on and decided that was not the source.  I then turned off SH 93, the road from Golden to Boulder into what used to be the west gate to the bomb plant.  I went past lots of no trespassing signs to a big gravel mining and crushing operation.  The crusher was producing a significant dust cloud.  There were lots of big gravel trucks, indicating a major operation.    

I left without getting stopped for trespassing and made another lap around the refuge.  The gravel operation is to the southwest of the refuge, and I could see the dust cloud from north of the refuge.  Mystery solved.  it is not ionizing radiation creating the radar image, it is dust.  

There is no radioactive cloud coming off Rocky Flats.  There is, however, still a lot of radioactive and chemical pollution out there.  I suggest you not buy one of the nice new houses being built in the area..  

Knees and Such

Arthritis

Arthritis

Old age happens if things go as planned.  Inside, I feel like the Bill I always have, but the case is starting to wear out.  I get together with my buddy Dan, and we always devote some time to catching up with our health care issues.  I went to the Orthopod this week, got a cortisone shot in my left knee (the other knee is Titanium).  Didn’t do much good.   

Every time Dan plays pickleball (I know, just look it up.), he limps.  He has a bad ticker, I have a bad brain.  I spend time at the VA audiology clinic dealing with hearing aids.  I saw the ENT specialist there about my balance problem that may be from damage to the vestibular nerve that was damaged from the loud noises responsible for my hearing loss.   

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

I itch.  For most of my life I was allergy free.  No more.  There is always something setting my eczema off along with the stuffy nose.  I have almost no sense of smell left.  Springtime is wonderful except for the pollen.  Fall is wonderful except for the pollen.   

I ache.  The knee, my wrist, both shoulders, and my back.  I think all this is a sign of old age.  Most of the time all these symptoms don’t interfere with my life.  I just soldier along not letting all the stuff get to me.  After all, it is just pain and will change tomorrow.  I can usually let it all go.  Yesterday, however, my knee hurt when it was straight.  It also hurt when it was bent.  Today it just barely hurts. 

The trick for me is to not let the pain go to suffering.  After all, we can’t do much about the pain, but suffering about it is a choice.  All this stuff is a reminder about death.  It’s clear by no that I am in the last third of my life, sitting in a coffee shop full of people in the first third of their lives. 

The good thing about getting older is that I know a lot of stuff.  I like thinking and writing about all that stuff.  For example, I am about to make you yawn as you read about the Golden Fault.  There is something for you to look forward to.  In the meantime, health issues. 

Carol has a chronic illness that limits her life, but the last year has been a bad one.  Late last spring she had cataract surgery that went bad.  The little sac the lens lives in tore, so the new lens had to go between her iris and cornea.  She got a little hole poked in her iris to let fluid move around.  The hole is too big, letting in too much light where it doesn’t belong, leading to lots of vision problems.   

Cataract Surgery

Cataract Surgery

She also had five stitches in her cornea, which meant pain for weeks.  Now, with a new Ophthalmologist, she is wearing a tinted contact lens to confirm the hole in her iris is too large.  The lens works, but she is not a contact lens candidate.  More discomfort.  The next step is a minor surgical! procedure to make the hole smaller. 

In the middle of all this, with all the multiple visits to eye doctors, she had hemorrhoid surgery.  It was her last resort and believe me, it should be a last resort.  Pain, lots of it, and a major restriction on activity.  What a year. 

But, through it all, life is good.  We have fun, cooking, snuggling, reading aloud, gardening, fixing the garage where I drove into it (I am always  on her case about her driving.).  And, we are watching NCIS from the first season on.  There is something about murder mysteries that pulls us, and the character development is as good as it was in Seinfeld.  We still call Mark Harmon Dickie, from a role he had as a detective years ago.  The name seems to fit him. 

Aging, health issues, losing old friends, all this comes when you are in your seventies, but life goes,on, and we are wise and skilled at enjoying life.  In addition, we just found out that Carol’s sister, diagnosed with stage four cancer, is now cancer free after an ordeal with treatment.  She had multiple tumors, and they are gone.

My Meditation Practice

The Buddha

The Buddha

As I mentioned in the last post, for years I was unable to meditate.  I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and as soon as my eyes closed my brain would go into high gear.  The idea of meditation is to let those thoughts go so you can be aware in the moment.  For ADD’s, the moment is often chaos, with thoughts leaping from subject to another, or hyper focus, with the thoughts totally engaged on one topic or task. 

After a diagnosis and treatment, I can meditate.  Now meditation is not spending all one’s time in the moment.  At first and often those thoughts arise and with my addictions, they can be compelling.  So, sit, watch my breath, the thoughts arise, I let them go, and they arise again.  It can be excruciating, dealing with all that meaningless thought.  I find a prayer helps me instead of just focusing on the breath.   

Paradoxically, my prayer is Christian.  At its core, Buddhism is essentially atheistic and in my view a psychology, not a religion,  being 2500 years old from a culture soaked in religion, it adopted all the trappings.  I grew up nominally Christian and became a toung-talking holy roller Christian in my forties.  I don’t do that so much any more, but Jesus is in my life to stay. 

I use the Jesus Prayer, an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer dating back to the desert fathers.  “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The most famous book about the prayer, “The Way of a Pilgrim“, suggests starting with 3000 repetitions per day.  I recite the prayer a lot, but never 3000 times.  I sit, start praying, and time the words with my breath.   When those thoughts rise, as they always will, I return to the prayer.  Those times of being in the moment come, and I drop into watching my breath.  Thoughts arise and I gently return to the prayer. 

I find the moments of stillness are slowly growing.  I also find the poisonous thoughts are diminishing.  When poisonous thoughts about pretty girls arise, I pray for them.  “May she be happy, may she be free, may she be safe”.  Then back to the Jesus Prayer until more thoughts arise. 

The thoughts aren’t just about pretty girls, I find myself planning, plotting, reviewing past mistakes, feeling guilt or shame; being angry, sad, sick, hurting, happy, horny, old, tired, loving, lonely, excited, the entire range of feeling and thought.  All that stuff comes from my past or is about the future.  Thus, they are all meaningless.  The past is gone, and the future is unknown.   

All there really is is the moment.  My brain tends to disagree.  I experience all those thoughts and feelings as real because they are wired neural connections.  The task of meditation is to rewrite those connections so I can spend more time in the moment. 

Now, lots of those connections are important.  I need food, shelter, my long baths, some rags on my back, all the stuff of daily living.  I don’t need Donald Trump or the Kardashians.  I mention those because I was in the  doctor’s office yesterday reading those stupid magazines.  Why didn’t I have my book or just pray? 

I find myself wanting to meditate more.  The toxic thinking is diminishing, although lots of people continue to be prayed for.  I have purged the computers, my library, don’t watch the wrong television or movies, and am able to spend more time in the moment (still not much time, alas). 

Next is some retreats.  Retreats last from one day up.  I have done them in a Christian context and found them useful.  I am looking at attending a four day retreat in the mountains.  There are lots of retreats available, mostly led by Dharma teachers who are therapists or in other helping professions.  Retreats allow intensive meditation with little interruption from the outside world.  I need that.

 

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