Tag Archives: Family History

Addiction

I am an addict. At various times they have been tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, food, the internet, and sex, to name a few.  Currently they are food and the internet via the iPad.  Addiction runs in the family.  My mother and her brother were alcoholics.  I have managed to leave some behind, namely tobacco and pot.

I started smoking in 1960 at the University of Colorado when the tobacco companies were giving cigarettes away in order to get people hooked.  I quit smoking in 1965, three packs a day of Camel straights.  I quit pot in 1982 when I noticed I was having trouble remembering what I did yesterday.

Sex.  What adolescent male isn’t a sex addict to some degree?  I just kept it up too long.

I have left alcohol behind several times, but after a period I would start drinking again.  I controlled the drinking for a while then slowly ramp up until I scared myself and quit again, only to repeat the cycle.  I have been sober for almost two years, and I think I have left booze behind.  I realized alcohol was going to kill me if I kept it up.  I think of George Thorogood  singing “When I drink alone, I want to be by myself.”  Scotch or bourbon, vodka when money was tight.

I started when I was fifteen, drinking 3.2% Coors.  Those were the binge years.  I remember four of us in a line outside a Grand Junction beer joint vomiting in unison.  One time we drank some beer after a field trip and went to football practice.  We would hold our breath when the coach came into the huddle.  In the army my buddies and I drank steadily.  Fridays in the enlisted men’s club beer was a nickel and mixed drinks were a dime.  That’s when I developed a taste for scotch.  The well bourbon was Ten High, which isn’t fit for cleaning floors.  See? I have discerning taste in choosing my poison.

I think I realized the danger of booze for me when I saw “Leaving Las Vegas.”  Nic Cages character had sold everything and was in Vegas deliberately drinking himself to death.  I saw myself.  It took years, however, to give the stuff up.

Food.  Chocolate and ice cream.  Ice cream craving came from my father.  He had a big bowl every evening.  Chocolate? Who doesn’t like chocolate?  In grade school, a friend and I came across a box of Hershey bars that fell off a delivery truck.  We snuck around and ate the entire box in one afternoon.  A few years ago, it was the ice cream sandwich summer.  I would buy a box of them, eat four or so, and ditch the rest.  It was cheaper than buying singles.  I gained fifteen pounds.

I have a gastric condition resulting from a lifetime of acid reflux.  Chocolate tends to cause reflux.  Alcohol, of course is the worst, especially straight whisky.  I am a lot better after quitting drinking and drastically reducing the chocolate intake.  Now I just pick Ice cream flavors that don’t have any chocolate.

The iPad.  Currently it is Words With Friends, Facebook, and You Tube.  I hate boxing, so of course I watched a lot of boxing and mixed martial arts.  I then went to car crashes.  There are lots of dash cams in Russia, and they are terrible drivers.  I like to watch Jeeps get mangled in the Utah red rock country.  Currently it is firefighting.  Urban fires, wild land fires, even car fires.  I was a volunteer firefighter for a while.  There is nothing more exciting than going into a burning building with a fire hose.  No better way to waste time.

Quite a list, isn’t it?  I have taken up Buddhism, and a major tenet is that craving is a root of suffering.  I guess suffering has been a big part of my life for a long time.

Sexual Abuse

A hot topic these days, sexual abuse and harassment can cut both ways.  Men can be sexual abuse survivors as well.  I am.  As a child, my mother gave me enemas I did not need.  I remember my helplessness as she draped me over her lap and stuck the tip up my butt.

The act itself was bad enough, but what has stuck with me the most about the experience was the seductive tone of her voice.  I never heard that voice in any other context.  My physical sensation was somewhat erotic but was overshadowed by my feelings as I felt the water entering me.

I felt fear, revulsion, humiliation, helplessness, and an inability to move.  I was paralyzed by my feelings.  The fear was most powerful.  I couldn’t stop her, but I wanted to have anything happen to me other than what she was doing.   My fear was constantly rekindled by seeing that red rubber enema bag hanging from the towel rack in the bathroom.  We had only one bathroom, so I could not avoid encountering the thing every time I went there.

The most revolting object in the universe for me is a red rubber enema bag.  I just looked, they still sell the things.  The enema bag was a constant reminder of my helplessness.  Mother was the most powerful person in my world and what she was doing to me was something I could not avoid.  I didn’t feel I had the right to hate what she was doing.  I just had to endure.

As I grew bigger, the enemas stopped.  I felt no sense of relief, I was doing my best to block the experience out.  I actually never thought about the enemas, but my body remembered.  From that time on I have had difficulty with anal fissures, probably from holding myself closed all the time.  I eventually had surgery to deal with the abscess that developed in my rectal canal.

I grew, there were no more enemas.  At puberty, my sexuality awakened, and like almost every young male I turned to masturbation.  I was afraid of girls and their potential power.  Masturbation was my outlet.  Safe.  Then, one day I was in my bed masturbating and my mother walked into the room.  As the door opened I stopped, yanked up the covers, and just laid there.  She came over and her hand went under the covers and then retreated.

She turned and walked out of the room.  As she walked out she said something in that seductive tone I had not heard since the enemas stopped.  Not long after she got ovarian cancer and died after wasting away for more than a year.  She died around the time of my sixteenth birthday.

The entire experience has dramatically affected my sexuality.  I am mostly incapable of sustaining a truly relational sexual relationship.  My recurring fantasies of being in total control almost always surface.  Sexual partners can sense my disconnect with them.  As I mentioned, I remain afraid of women where there is a potential for sexual attraction.  I am most comfortable with lesbians. As I have aged, the problem has diminished, but never left me despite years of therapy.

I was in a men’s therapy group for a while.  We were all sexual abuse survivors.  One evening a new member of the group mentioned he had the same enema experience as a child.  He wasn’t sure whether he needed the enemas or not.  Several of us simultaneously said “Have you ever had enemas since?”  Well, no.

I am an Evangelical

Augustine

Well, not really.  But I was one.  I was raised a Methodist, and had a profound conversion experience into a Pentecostal denomination.

Yes, they were evangelical.  Evangelicals tend to take the Bible literally and have traditional beliefs about sexuality, marriage, abortion, and politics.  I hold none of those views.  I’m a liberal of the kind vilified on Fox News.  I retain some Christian beliefs, but am a practicing Buddhist.

I have an extensive library on Christianity.  Most of the books are about the relatively new thinking about Jesus and the Bible, most of them anathema to an evangelical.  I do accept the historical reality of Jesus, but that is about as far as it goes.  I tend to view it all from an historical perspective.

Regarding God, nobody knows for sure.  Most every culture deals with God in some fashion, but my view is he was extrapolated from the spirit world, entities who exist, but in my view are no more deities than we are.  Like us they would like to be gods, but only Donald Trump has made it.

I am from a milieu steeped in the old time religion.  It is ironic that the concept of original sin came from Augustine, a Catholic Scholastic.  His idea about the event in the garden leading to human depravity rather than free will leads directly to the idea Jesus assumed our sinful nature to release us from God’s curse.  John said God loved us and freed us from sin on the cross, but Augustine said God let Jesus atone for our depravity.

John Calvin

American evangelical Protestantism adopted Augustine.  Conservatives: we’re bad.   Liberals: we’re good, but need help because the event in the Garden gave us free will.  We can choose, a coyote can’t.  But, we sometimes make bad choices.

For several reasons, deep down I believe I’m bad.  I am engaged in overcoming that belief, with limited and intermittent success.  Sometimes I feel good about myself, sometimes I don’t.

I really don’t like Augustine, Calvin, and their wrathful God.  My father and grandfather had that Scots Presbyterian Calvinist outlook even though they were not religious.  I caught it from them.  The underlying attitude was nobody could ever measure up, including me and them.  There, ladies, and gentlemen, is a prescription for an unhappy life.  My mother was raised Congregationalist, another Calvinist denomination (no longer, however).

Grandfather, Father, and Mother were pretty nice people, which revealed their true natures, but under it all they thought they were lost souls.  As our current self-appointed deity would say, “Sad.”.   I’m afraid some part of me will always believe I am really a bad dude, which I caught from them.

Our culture remains contaminated with the evangelical attitude.  I sit here in the coffee shop next to Denver University, started in 1864 as a Methodist school.  The Methodists have never been quite as infected by Calvinism, coming from Anglican roots, but that need for redemption is still there.  The idea behind DU was to bring the gospel to the wilderness.  That was fine, but there was an underlying belief those naked heathen Indians were beyond redemption.  John Evans, the Methodist territorial governor in 1864 and a co-founder of DU, and John Chivington, a Methodist minister and Colonel of the Third Volunteer Cavalry Regiment decided those murdering heathens had to go.  Thus, the Sand Creek Massacre.

The streets at DU are Methodist, starting with Wesley, the Anglican who founded Methodism.  Looking west from Evans Avenue one sees Mt. Evans, both named after an Indian killer.  I live between Evans and Asbury Avenues.  Asbury is named for the first Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop in the United States.  I don’t seem to be able to get away from it.  The current DU students, however, don’t seem to be as infected with that stuff as I am.  The architects designing buildings at DU don’t seem to have gotten the message.  Even the big athletic field House has a bell tower. The old part of the campus has several spires and bell towers.

The University of Denver has, to its credit, recognized the tragedy of Sand Creek and the role of the Methodist founder of DU in the act of genocide.  DU is no longer evangelical, but has the history.  I am no longer evangelical, but I carry the history.

Leadville

Leadville

Leadville

As part of our week in Breckenridge, we did a day trip to Leadville over Fremont Pass.  This country figures in my life.  My father grew up in Leadville, and I worked at the Climax Molybdenum mine one summer when in college.  Breckenridge is low country, around 9600 feet.  Leadville is over 10,000 feet in elevation, the highest incorporated city in the U.S. Climax is at the summit of Fremont Pass, 11,360 feet in elevation.  Some years, it doesn’t snow in July.   

Climax, Elevation 11,300 Feet

Climax, Elevation 11,300 Feet

Climax is at the foot of Bartlett Mountain, once one of the largest bodies of Molybdenum in the world.  Moly is used in alloying steel and as a lubricant.  Moly alloyed in steel makes it tougher, useful in high stress applications.  It’s first big use was in gun barrels during WWI.  Much of Bartlett Mountain is gone, hollowed out, crushed, had the metals removed, and the tailings dumped into a once beautiful glaciated valley.  Common with most mining operations, Climax has gone through several boom-bust cycles, and is currently just limping along.  Leadville is limping as well, still dependent on mining. 

I worked at the Storke level, 300 feet down the mountain from the original portal and mill.  I lived in a company hotel there. There was once a company town, but it went away as the milling operation took the land.  The store and the beer joint were still there in the mid-1960’s.    

I worked as a miner.  Drill, shoot, and muck.  That’s mining.  The drill was a jack leg, a pneumatic rock drill with a leg attached to be extended as the drill hole got deeper.  It was powered by compressed air, and had a water feed to keep dust down.  Drill holes in the face, load them with explosive, shoot, then remove the broken rock (muck).  I plan to go into the whole operation some time.  I did it for the money, and I can now say I was a miner. 

Leadville is down the pass.  What a place.  First gold, then a lot of silver, then bust as the silver market collapsed.  Mining has always gone on, from small independent operations to massive developments supporting a fairly large town.  My grandfather lived there for about twenty years as a railroader, a good Union job.  Born in 1903, my dad grew up there until 1918 when the railroad went broke and the family moved to Grand Junction.  Growing up, I heard lots of Leadville stories.  I will tell some more sometime.  If you go down the hill from the hotel on Harrison Avenue, the house at the bottom on the right is where my father grew up. 

Mining Hall of Fame

Mining Hall of Fame

When we visited, we drove around and I bored everyone with Leadville stories.  We ate at the Golden Burro, where I ate in the 1960’s, and went to the mining museum.  If you have any interest in mining, that’s the place.  Mostly, mining is taking metals and fuel from the earth and leaving a mess.  Leadville has lots of messes.  The worst ongoing mess is the water.  As it comes out of the mines it is highly acidic and loaded with toxic metals in solution.  It will have to be treated forever, at least in human terms.  Mining built Colorado, and we will always deal with the legacy.  Oh, what a mess we made.

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.

Minneapolis Road Trip

Corn and Soybeans

Corn and Soybeans

I am back from a road trip to Minneapolis on family business. I will tell the family story later, this is about the road. People say I am a bit weird. I like road trips and enjoy not listening to anything but the sound of Diesel engines as I pass the trucks. I watch, listen, and as much as possible these days, think.

This time I was in a hurry to get there, so it was I-76, I-80, and I-35 to Minneapolis. I have done I-80 for you, and I-35 is more of the same-corn and soybeans. Some of the time it is soybeans and corn. The highway through Dezz Monezz is a bit dodgy, lots of turns and traffic.

The return trip a week later was more fun. I have known various people from Mankato over the years, but had never been there. I have always liked the name. The Native Americans were screwed in southern Minnesota more than many other places, being hauled off to Fort Snelling and imprisoned. We need to keep the memory of what happened to those people, here in the land of the free.

The drive from Minneapolis (I like writing that word, much better than MPLS.) to Mankato follows the Minnesota River for much of the way. The country is hilly and wooded, with farms on every available flat spot. Beautiful. Those of us from the West are a bit snobby about the Midwest, but there is beauty most everywhere you look. Except for the monotonous corn and soybeans. That country must be spectacular in the fall.

Close to Minneapolis, the Minnesota River is navigable. I like seeing ports in the middle of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine,_Nebraskathe country. West of Mankato, one finds corn and soybeans. My next goal was the Nebraska Sand Hill country and the Niobrara River. I followed the River from Niobrara to Valentine. It is farm country, but that River is always right over there.

Niobrara River

Niobrara River

The River is a national treasure. Designated a Wild and Scenic River, it winds through hilly country and is bordered by woodlands. There aren’t many people in that area, another benefit. One can get a sense of what it must have been like before the European Invasion. I am sure it was better then than it is now.

Valentine has 2700 people, but is the commercial center for a wide area. It goes on my list of nice small towns. There are several River outfitters based around there for people doing canoe trips on the Niobrara. I still want to do that in the next few years before I am too decrepit for that sort of thing.

 

The Sand Hills

The Sand Hills

The Sand Hills. So beautiful I almost ran off the road while taking it all in. It is truly hilly there. The northern Sand Hills get quite a bit of moisture and there is water. Like western South Dakota there is a sense of space. You are in the West, not the corn and soybean Midwest. Do I seem a bit biased?

Cow country. U.S. Highway 83 from Valentine to North Platte is 115 miles of ranch country. Thedford is 58 miles south of Valentine with no towns. There is a school about halfway. There are ranches all along the way, every mile or half mile or so, and lakes. There is a national wildlife refuge there. Sandhill Cranes and a lot of other wildlife. No antelope. There should be, but there are probably too many fences.
As you drive south it dries out. In late August it is green around Valentine, but fairly brown closer to North Platte. We are talking about a huge area of northwest Nebraska, and as good cattle country as anywhere. We should be eating grass fed beef from there rather than corn fed feedlot beef from along the Platte. There would be less corn across the Midwest.

The wind blows out there. I saw five or six huge wind farms making power in Nebraska. There was one in southwest Minnesota. I saw none in South Dakota or Colorado. The sun doesn’t always shine out there, but the wind almost always blows, even at night. All that wind from Wyoming has to go somewhere. I saw a number of trucks hauling those long wind vanes, so the wind power business is growing. Wind makes more sense than solar in more northern parts of the country. Home rooftop solar is good, you can’t have too many wind turbines in town. More wind power, less coal trains rattling through Alliance.

Back in Colorado, along the South Platte, there is lots of history. Gold rush wagon trains, Indian wars, farming and cattle. One of the small towns is Iliff, named for an early rancher who got rich raising beef for the miners. He was another of those Methodists who had a big role in early Colorado. Evans, Chivington. Iliff founded the Methodist seminary at Denver University.

I have to get out to Julesburg and poke around the history there then go up to Scotts Bluff on the North Platte, with a stop at Fort Laramie on the way home. Another road trip.

Insight Meditation

Meditation

Meditation

I recently wrote about my struggle with addictions.  Yes, multiple addictions.  It is just now coming out that the root cause of addiction is abuse at some time in the addict’s life.  It is true for me.  I turned to addictive behavior to get a feel good in a life that incorporated pain or suffering stemming from the abuse.  

The mental pain or suffering arises, and I seek to eliminate or blunt the pain with the feel good.  It can be alcohol, food, exercise, sex, tobacco, work, drugs, shopping, gambling, music, or other obsessive behaviors.  I tried most of them, and they worked-briefly.  The pain returns.  Another round starts, but it takes a bit more to drive the pain away as the guilt and shame grow.  The wheel turns. 

The result? I have had a lifetime of suffering with futile attempts to escape.  The addictions have not been all-consuming.  I have a good marriage, a comfortable retirement, many interests to keep me occupied and engaged, and a family I am close with.  I have had years of therapy that helped in some areas, but the addictions remained.  The addictions have consumed a tremendous amount of time and energy.  All this stems from events in my childhood continuing to haunt me. 

Well, that was then, and it is now.  So, why addictive behavior when the abuse happened so long ago?  We store the feelings from abuse in our minds.  Those feelings and sensations stay with us and arise later as suffering.  They exist as neural connections in our brains.  Those connections and stored memories and feelings are not permanent or hard wired.  The brain is plastic and those old demons can be dealt with, the connections altered or eliminated.  

There are a number of techniques, including 12 step programs, cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis, immersion in a religious organization, and other therapies.  Some work, some don’t or are just mental band-aids.

Recent neuroscience research indicates that insight meditation is an effective means of altering or eliminating those old neural pathways.  In many cases, ten or fifteen minutes per day seem to be effective.  In deeply entrenched addictions, fifteen minutes is not enough.  I try to do a forty minute meditation along with the morning fifteen minute session every day.  I also attend two formal insight meditation meetings per week. 

Insight meditation is fairly simple.  Find a comfortable position where you are not likely to fall asleep.  Observe your breath.  It may be your nostrils or your abdomen or chest rising and falling. Just focus on the breath.  Thoughts will arise.  Just note and name them.  Hungry, hungry.  You will find the thought changes or fades, leaving you a moment without thoughts arising.  When they do, note them name them, and observe them changing.     

You will find yourself drifting away, planning, worrying, most anything.  When you notice this, gently return to the breath.  I find it useful to say a short prayer several times until I am able to return to the breath.  At times, it seems like all I am doing is praying, with no stillness.  Other times I can return to the breath right away. 

The process is frustrating at first, because it seems like there is almost no time just watching the breath.  No big. Deal, just keep it up.  You will find those thoughts arising with less frequency and intensity.  You are reprogramming your brain. 

Insight meditation is used in schools, some workplaces, in prisons, and in psychotherapy.  It sometime seems it is the next big thing.  Well, no.  It is a Buddhist practice in use for twenty five hundred years.  It is not really a religious practice.  It is a practice used to get rid of all the mental clutter so one can lead a life free of the suffering all that clutter causes. 

Next time I will illustrate the process with my own experience.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

The Dentists

At the Dentist

At the Dentist

I have trouble with the dentist’s office.  It all goes back to my high school days.  My parents were bad at taking care of their teeth and I did not get good habits from them. In high school my teeth were riddled with cavities.  So, off to the dentist’s office in Grand Junction.

It was the 1950’s, so the dental arts were not like today.  The dentist was probably well into his 60’s, and his art was behind even those times.  He did orthodontics as well as general dentistry, and  he liked to show off his work.

He had a number of display cases filled with plaster casts of deformed mouths he had worked on for the last 50 years or so.  They belonged in a circus sideshow. They were horrible and fascinating, with crooked teeth, missing teeth, teeth that had grown the wrong direction, and deformed jaws.  A few skulls and skeletons would have completed the collection.

He had an old fashioned dentist’s chair that had a porcelain basin with swirling water for you to spit the blood into.  The worst part was the drill.  It was a large apparatus with the motor at the base.  From the motor a series of leather belts and pulleys ran up the arms to the drill.  I am surprised it was not operated by a treadle.

That drill was slow and noisy.  Today, the drill has a high pitched whine.  His drill vibrated, made a grinding sound, and those leather belts turned on their wheels making the clumsy drill turn.  He did a lot of drilling, or torture.  I can still hear the noise and feel the pressure and the pain.  No anesthetic, ever.  That went on for several visits with gutta percha temporary fillings between appointments that always fell out, exposing sensitive places.

After the interminable drilling came the gold fillings.  The lower molars had the largest cavities, so he cast gold inlays. He then cleaned out the holes with that damned drill, applied an adhesive and installed the fillings.  He used a punch and mallet and hammered them in.

The upper molars had smaller cavities so he used gold foil.  He would pack some foil into the cavity, then use some kind of tool that was like a manual impact driver.  Click, wham.  Click, wham.  Click, wham.  That repeated what seemed like thousands of times.  When he got enough foil in the cavity, out came the punch and mallet to really pack that gold in.  This lasted for weeks.  The good part?  Most of those fillings are still there.

I tended to avoid dentists after that experience until I had to.  In my middle thirties my impacted wisdom teeth had to come out.  There was anesthetic along with the cutting, prying, hammering,  pain, and wrenching.  I developed a dry socket that had to be packed and tended until it finally healed.  I had more dental trauma with that process.

I did start getting intermittent dental care, but not enough brushing, flossing, and cleanings.  Every time I opened my mouth to brush it reminded me of all that time in the chair back in High School.  I developed gum disease and was referred to an oral surgeon.  I made the appointment, drove into the parking lot, turned off the ignition, sat there, turned the ignition on, and drove away.

Now I go to get my teeth cleaned and have work done at Metropolitan Dental in downtown Denver.  The dentists are good, I know them, they know me and my phobias,so we get along.  Barb, my hygienist, is just the best.  I get chided, told to use a Sonicare or a Water Pic, but the sounds and the feelings I get from them bring all the old trauma back.  I brush and floss irregularly, and get along.  I have lost one tooth.

At my last visit I found I need to have a crown replaced and went into a tailspin, hardly able to brush at all.  I still have not made an appointment.  I have post traumatic stress disorder from dentists.  I think it is time for some PTSD therapy.

The Meaning of Life

meaningoflife

Sitting in the coffee shop I see that the meaning of life for the two year old running around the room is love, connection, and the joy of moving.  That little boy, expressing sheer joy, has managed to communicate that feeling to everyone in the room.  That is as it should be, and is probably as far as we really need to go.

As we get older, it gets more complicated.  Pain, loss, death, and suffering come into our lives.  Finding Meaning in the midst of suffering is difficult for many of us.  Many people find their meaning in following.  They follow gods, rulers, gurus, preachers, the girl next door, teachers, or their family and tribe.

Some of us, however, refuse to follow.  One of my mottoes is “Don’t trust anyone who says he knows the will of God.”  I prefer to think for myself.  I search for answers and have for as long as I can remember.    I am 72 years old and I am still searching.  I have had a number of peak experiences.  These experiences have come in several contexts, Christian, Buddhist, chemical, and in nature.

Every experience was life changing, giving me a new way of seeing and being.  Sometimes they are brief, fleeting.  Other times I have dwelled in the grasp of divine love for as long as a year.  I have prayed without ceasing, done mindfulness meditation, spoken in tongues, laughed in ecstasy, cried with joy, and had years of no spiritual connection at all.

I know that a spiritual connection does not have to come in any specific religious context.  I do not, however, know how to maintain that connection all the time.  It is just not “After enlightenment, the laundry.”  It is not being able to sustain a practice for a sustained period.

Do I lack discipline?  No.  I have maintained a discipline for an extended time and had an event that broke the connection.  Am I a spiritual dilettante?  It seems so.  Most of the time,however, I am a spiritual nobody.

It’s a mystery.  I know without any doubt that there is more to life and being than this round rock we ride through space.  I have seen the eternal web of universal connection and oneness.  I have been wrapped, enveloped in God’s love.  I have received spiritual gifts.  I have shared those gifts.

Now it seems that my task is to live in the world as a householder and writer.  I do a ten minute meditation every morning and that’s it.  Most of the time the meditation is clutter.  Sometimes I get an experience of complete peace.  That, for now, is enough.

I am not called to lead, to take action in the world.  I learn, reflect, write a little, try my best to be a good husband and friend.  I have family, which is saying a lot, as I come from a family with weak ties.  Today the ties are strong and growing.  Love.

Another task before me is to smooth out the bumps in my brain.  I get angry, irritable.  I obsess about meaningless things.  I get depressed.  I forget and procrastinate.  I eat too much and don’t exercise.  Lots to do.  It is time to be in the world and find meaning here, not out there.

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