Friday, August 11, 2017

Leaving the Past Behind

Abandoned by the Contoocook
CC Jean Stimmell:5/30/16
Undergoing ER visits and two hospital admissions fighting multiple infections, over the last six weeks, split me open like an overripe tomato. The result has been, unexpectedly, a spiritual awakening.

Suffering in pain from a total knee transplant, combined with volatile fevers resulting in alternating chills and burning up from ongoing infections put me in limbo land: totally dependent on doctors and staff who, in turn, could provide me no answers, no lasting respite from my illness – because I was proving to be allergic to most antibiotics.

Floating in what, at times, seemed like an endless la-la land, all possibilities became real, even death, but not with a sense of fear but weary resignation. This is how people die, I thought – even me–slowly taken down peg by peg by escalating medical procedures and repeated allergic reactions, until, one day, I slip seamlessly to the other side, a void that seemed to me, little different than the feverish hallucinations of daily hospital life.

Then, suddenly, my world shifted: I transcended from terminal weariness to sublime peace and calm: Worldly cares and material concerns evaporated. I found myself floating on a forgiving cushion, resting totally in the here-and-now, a cloud without beginning or end.

My world reduced to the size of my hospital bed,  my bum exposed in my hospital johnny, having control over hardly anything, dependent on others for everything, yet how can it be: I felt totally free – and sublimely happy to be alive in this moment of time.


Whatever happened, I don’t want to lose that feeling.

According to spiritual gurus, experiences like mine can, indeed, lead to revelations and epiphanies: “Often times, extreme suffering is the portal to spiritual awakening. Great pain and desperation can make a person willing to die. And spiritual awakening is a death, a death of mistaken identity and a realization of who we truly are.”⁠1

Thankfully, my ordeal that started June 27th, suddenly ended this week: A genius, infectious disease doctor burst into my room like an angel and diagnosed my malady in less than 5 minutes. Following her treatment plan, I made immediate progress, enough to be discharged from the hospital Wednesday, August 9th. I am now on a trajectory toward full recovery.

I feel like a sailor in a lifeboat, long adrift on the open sea who, suddenly wakes up to find his boat has washed up on an island: not any island, but a rich tropical paradise.

I am writing this all down because I do not want to forget or make-light-of the importance of my experience. I intend to meditate on my fragile awakening daily. There are important lessons to be learned.
xxx


P.S. My most sincere thanks for my superb support: Russet, my son, my friends, and, in particular all the caring doctors, nurses, VNA, tech people and staff who hung in there and didn’t give up on me.


1 http://www.personaltransformation.com/awakening.html

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Wanting vs. Being in the age of Trump

Published in the Concord Monitor, August 2, 2017
My son Ian, cc 1983, pondering the Winter Solstice

Wanting versus Being in the Age of the Celebrity (769 words)

I know I’m older than dirt but when I was growing up in the aftermath of WWII, 7 decades ago, good character and honesty were important. Someone could be a person of modest means, holding a humble station in life, yet be looked up to by the entire community because of her or his exemplary values. We praised such people knowing their word was as good as their bond.

This respect was a fundamental element in what it meant to be an American. We looked up to those role models who had high moral values, like the legendary account of Abraham Lincoln walking six miles to return a three-cent overcharge to a customer.

But sadly, over time we have lost sight of those perennial virtues, and forgotten the people who represented them.

We’ve regressed from a state of being where we were able to rest on our own laurels, feeling worthwhile and secure, knowing we were honest and capable of doing the right thing, to a state of wanting: wanting to be slim, beautiful, and have a trophy mate; wanting a big house, three cars, two boats and an ATV; wanting to have an advanced degree, fine clothes, and collect expensive wine; wanting to win the lottery and be the envy of all our friends.

We’ve slid from an authentic state of being based on timeless values to a pathological state of wanting without end. Buddhists would these insatiable cravings the realm of hungry ghosts.

The more secular, materialistic, and instrumental we have become, the more our cravings have increased until we now worship a different kind of god: those favored few who satisfy their larger-than-life cravings by any means necessary, walking rough-shown over all who cross their path. We call them celebrities.

In the long run, what we wish for, we were bound to get. It was only a matter of time before one of these celebrities would claw himself to the top, eviscerating all rivals with taunts, threats, and bald-faced lies, to become our president.

Congratulations Donald Trump! You are the first celebrity ruthless enough and immoral enough to successfully render our democratic traditions null and void.

Funny thing, though… Now Trump has become president, rather than fulfilling his campaign promises, he is acting like an escaped balloon pumped too full of air, chaotically spinning out of control, without purpose or direction, losing air and altitude as he goes.

How could it be otherwise. He has no inner compass to guide him, no empathy, values, or spirituality to help him distinguish right from wrong. He isn’t governing a spreadsheet of widgets to maximize profits but real, flesh-and-blood human beings who need his help.

He is an addict to his cravings like a heroin addict willing to steal from his mother. But don’t think we are all that different.

We are all addicts to our cravings and that is why we can’t muster the gumption to reform ourselves or our government. That’s not just my opinion.

It coincides with the view of Gabor Mate, Canadian physician, writing in the current issue of Psychotherapy Networker. [1] He takes issue with the widespread view that an addition is either an individual choice or an inherited disease.


Mate makes the case that “addictive patterns of behavior are rooted in the alienation and emotional suffering that are inseparable from Western capitalist cultures, which, by favoring striving and acquiring over noticing and caring for one another, end up short-changing– and too often traumatizing– children and families.”

I think Mate makes a legitimate argument. Rather than government being the enemy, it is time for government to step up, as it did with the New Deal during the 1930s, to nurture the connections between members of every family, especially those in need, understanding that family and community are the glue which holds our society together.

I’m not advocating the overthrow of capitalism. That would be impossible right now. But I am advocating a return to civility and honoring the values that did make us great, along with a larger role for government in reducing the historically high, yet still rising, level of income inequality between the rich and the rest of us.

We can start work to begin leveling the playing field by providing all Americans with universal health care, a livable wage, a dignified retirement, and affordable but excellent education for all.

If we don’t nurture the connective tissue that unites us, our remarkable American experiment in democracy and self-government will slip away and we will find ourselves hostages in a living, collective nightmare, eaten alive by hungry ghosts.
xxx



[1] Psychotherapy Networker, July/August 2017, page 33-35