Day Nine of Forty

It’s Day Nine of Forty Days, Forty Nights, and I realize I was a too impulsive to think I could commit to writing something every day, 40 days straight, for this blog. So, I’m going to taper off. I’ll still be posting toward writing through the divide. I have a lot to say, but work-work, health-related work and spiritual-related work all compete for my time and energy.

We live in tough times, and whatever we need to do to minimize our stress, we should do. Stress kills. This has been proven time and again in research. Stress shows up as inflammation in the body, seen on various test metrics, such as cholesterol, which indicates not necessarily the need for a drug, but to focus our attention on where we need to work (i.e., minimizing stress, eating right, integrating movement into our daily lives). Diabetes, cancer, autoimmune illnesses, digestive conditions like Crohn’s all have stress and its mismanagement in common. And yet, we often seem wired to crave stress, even if that results in negative moods, actions and outcomes.

Were anyone asking, I’d share what I do in my own life, not as frequently as I’d like, but I do try: Get silent, even if just for five or 10 minutes, follow the breath, see the thoughts arise and watch them go. Pray— a lot. Do things that bring joy.

320px-marshallrosenberg1990_etan-tal

Nonviolent Communication pioneer Marshall Rosenberg, pictured here with his jackal and giraffe puppets, in Israel in 1990. Photo by Etan J. Tal.

I also keep envisioning the world I’d like to live in—one where all people have what they need to reach their full potential. A world steeped in peace and in people who are integrated with the land-, water and airscapes in, on and near which they live (not atop these places). Where more people have the ability and thought processes that allow them to step back and see what glorious times we live in—at the juncture between what we want and what we don’t want and to be able to push more and more toward the former as well as from the former, that is, to learn increasingly through the positive, not the negative, which our ancient biology dictates.

For every person, I desire peace, inner and outer. I imagine there are many people who might judge me for living in some kind of “fantasy land.” To which, I’d reply: Oh, yeah? You like the world you’re living in—how’s that working out for you? And your family? And your friends, neighbors and coworkers?

We have got to get this right. Even though I believe we live in a benevolent—and very patient—universe, why not act now in the interests of what we desire?

I admit that I don’t “get” apocalyptic visions or thinking. They lead to no place good and, to me, they feel false. Manipulative. Dishonest. And distracting. I have travelled that path in this lifetime, and it led me into some bad situations. That kind of thinking, most likely, is evidence of some unmet need.

Speaking of needs, in the months ahead, I’ll refocus on Nonviolent Communication, a method pioneered by the late Marshall Rosenberg, who had a way of pinpointing feelings and getting to the underlying needs that gave rise to those feelings. (I really, truly wish every politician, and every member of a corporation or nonprofit could take NVC training; it would make a cosmos of difference on this planet.) If you watch, listen to or read about Rosenberg’s techniques, what becomes quickly clear is the man was filled with compassion, even when he himself felt vulnerable, and was able to listen and really hear what people were saying.

So, in that vein, I’d add another aspect to the world I want to live in: It’s one in which every person is heard, in which we listen and try to understand one another. I don’t like to stop at “try,” but because each person is unique, I know I’m not likely to be able to walk a million miles in another’s shoes in exactly the way that person would. But I will try.

We live in a post-“Second Coming” era and would do well to recognize both the reverberations that have come from the disintegration of the family unit, limited thinking and ideologies that all too easily crust over and become dogma, the totalizing effects much of our 20th Century technologies have had on us (e.g., inescapable nuclear radiation) as well as our own place in what’s really a spiral, not a linear, history. We need to do this, if we are to step into full responsibility for ourselves—responsibility for our thoughts and our need to shift those thoughts when they are unproductive or harmful. This process must thoroughly infused with compassion, for ourselves, first and foremost, and others, and rather than slouching, we need to be deliberate in our actions, mindful in our words and deeds.

Please stick with me as I post some interviews in the days and weeks ahead, from people who are trying to bridge the gaps we see all around us.

Health: The Journey of a Lifetime, A Story in Four Parts

This is the second of a four-part blog post, describing my own health journey.

Jim survived, only to have the metastases show up over the next seven years in the liver, then behind the lower ribs, then the lungs, then the brain.

Most of this occurred after we split up, but Jim kept in touch, calling occasionally, right up to the end. In the end, with the chemo drugs, he couldn’t keep anything down. He had been dehydrated the last time I saw him, when I picked him up from the house we had shared and brought him to a different hospital for treatment. I was able to take him home very early the next morning, but he was back there the next day and into the Monday of a holiday weekend.

He made it to an appointment in D.C. on his own later that week, but when I spoke with him afterward, he said something about the “Chinese CIA” telling him he needed to drink more water. It was time to call his brother, who lived about 10 hours away. I did not have power of attorney and someone needed to help Jim.

Within a month, Hospice was on-site, and a few weeks later—in one of those odd sweeps of irony—he entered the same hospital where the seven-year saga began.

The last time I saw him, in that hospital, I helped them transfer him to a different room. He was not coherent, and I wondered whether he could understand me. In that room, I sang to him, a song by Susan Werner to whom he’d introduced me. I told him it was OK to let go.

(Watch and listen: “Susan Werner’s Time Between Trains”)

He died about 2 the next morning.

Perhaps I’ve not entirely let go of all that surrounds this period of my life and Jim, because I often find myself thinking, “If I’d only known then what I know now…” in terms of diet, herbs and the like. But there’s no guarantee that he’d have taken to it.

Certainly, what the hospital provided did more harm than good: Ensure and Boost drinks, with their quickly oxidizing vegetable oils that inflame the body.

Jim and I didn’t eat the best stuff, either, while we were married. I’d go to the farmers market and get lots of fresh food, but one of our Saturday morning rituals was a long pastry from Giant—back before Ahold took over. Or a pastry at a little coffeehouse in our small town, a short walk from the farmers market. Pastries and coffee—the breakfast of people who don’t necessarily know any better.

Five months into Jim’s illness, I knew I needed to return to work. He’d used up most of his leave and one of us needed to carry health insurance. I’d taken time off to write a book, but it didn’t work out for me. The subject was too massive for me to break down and research and write effectively. And there was too much going on personally. Jim spotted an ad for a place I’d be freelancing for for years; they were looking for an associate editor. I got the job, began commuting again.

On the days he could go into D.C., I’d drop him at Vienna and head up to Tysons, stopping by Whole Foods for a soy latte. Lunch would be a Caesar salad, with croutons, from the Corner Bakery. Suppers, I do not recall, though I think I still ate some fast “food” at the time. On Fridays, Jim and I would go to a Greek restaurant we had long frequented. It helped to minimize some of the stress from the Friday night commute out I-66.

Jim had an ileostomy he needed help with. He could empty the bag, but not change it, nor could he care for the stoma. One of the nurses—she was really the only light in the whole process—shared ostomy-care information, even coming to the house. She was a big help.

When September rolled around, Jim went to D.C. to have the ileostomy reversed. After I visited him there one night, I stopped at a Taco Bell on the way home. It was the last time I ate there.

Everything since then has been progressive steps to change, up to a point.

Friends encouraged me to join the “raw milk underground”—and the Weston A. Price Foundation, which advocates for a return to non-processed, whole foods that are properly prepared. Virginia allows cowshares—you buy part of a cow and pay the farmer for boarding and vet care and that allows you to share in the cow’s products.

From Wikipedia

I avoided unfermented soy (good-bye soy lattes!), even picking tofu out of the pad Thai I sometimes ate at lunch. Years earlier, I had begun to consciously choose non-genetically modified foods, but I became even more cognizant about those kinds of choices. By 2003, I was drinking raw milk, making farmer’s cheese, butter and kefir and loving it.