Wrecked and returned…
Back from the desert again, in more ways than one. Scheduled for the spinal MRIs tomorrow, LB will be taking me on our first errand outing together. After agency care had come and gone for the day today he and I grabbed a couple of hours to first get him acclimated to driving the electric car, but then also to get a bit of fresh air and nature in our day.
After driving a bit through the local neighborhoods and finding a few stretches to let it out, we pointed our direction east and up into the mountains to find the desert chaparral, pine valleys, and open roads through oak trees and rock faces winding through our local natural wilderness.
We returned home to the afternoon feel and the sparkling smiles and grace of Miss Cassandra who greeted us just moments after our landing in the garage.
As we dropped down one of the mountain roads through desert vistas into a small rural town with tall old pine trees and a quiet shady feel, LB commented on his sense of the stark contrast between the spacecraft quality of the electric car and the quaintness and closeness to the earth of our surroundings.
Now home and writing and organizing and listing to do items, some country sounding Led Zeppelin rattling through in the background, mouth harp whining into the afternoon air. The waterfall sounds pouring through the open entryway mixing musically with the old rock.
I still feel like I’m picking myself up after the last few weeks. Yesterday was my first “full” day back out of bed. Also Faith’s last day in the formal role of care. In an act of loving generosity she brought tacos for lunch… I should’ve known better.
I’ve always loved fish tacos, at least I’ve always loved them since coming to San Diego in the mid-90s. That was the offer yesterday, and although it’s been well over a year since my last meal of meat of any kind, I somehow conflated the occasional nibble – and I do mean small nimble – of high-quality salmon with a couple of fat breaded and deep-fried Cal-Mex take out fish tacos with white sauce.
“That was easy, and delicious.” I thought having finished the first. I let that sit for a while before devouring the second with a little refried beans and rice, standard fare for this kind of meal.
That was probably about 1:30 PM. 5:30 PM told a much different story.
I was settled in with 80 of my close compatriots to the now bimonthly meditation improv class with Dr. Daniel P Brown. The emerging topic of the day, based on the questions that were rising from the community, was that of “emptiness.”
“Emptiness,” Dan always says is a poor translation from the Tibetan of what is being referred to is not nothing. “Nothingness doesn’t exist.” Dan says, his wife Gretchen, chuckling in the background, repeating the absurd statement with mirth in her heart, voice, and eyes.
Rather what is being pointed out is that the object of our attention, some strong emotion of attraction or repulsion, the pain we might be experiencing, even our very self is at most in our rational observation, merely a construct of mind. A painting of the brush, substance, and canvas of awareness itself.
I had raised the question, based on my experience of the previous weeks, of what to do when physical sensation of discomfort overwhelms our attention to meditative awareness. Responding to a similar question moments before, Dan had said, “you’re either working with the mind, or you’re not.”
The instructions were to look into the discomfort and discern the distinction between the pure sensation, and the stories I might be habitually creating like “oh this really hurts; or oh that’s really intense; or this means that or the other thing…”
As my afternoon discomfort – I assumed from being up in the chair – was continuing to grow, I thought this was a lovely opportunity to Work with the Mind.
Meditation Improv is structured to open with questions from anyone in the audience about their meditation practice, taking it into the world, or life in the world itself. This leads to discourse and lecture on the subject’s raised followed by a 10 minute break and then a guided meditation addressing the themes that have been raised.
At 5:30 PM we were just a few minutes away from the break and I noticed I was getting a bit flemmy in the throat. I clicked my video to off and wheeled myself just into the opening between this room and the next. I needed to spit.
It’s hard to convey this need for me, particularly with a mouthful of effluent, to another whom I must petition for some receptacle to receive the discharge. Mostly it’s with my eyes, grunting, humming, gesturing – though without the dexterity to actually point.
As I leaned into the effort, managing to speak a few words past a mouthful, and a clear sense of nausea and something making its way up from deeper within the, August brought, just in time the metal mixing bowl we all know too well from those moments when things are going just this particular brand of poorly.
In the background I heard Dan announcing the break, and a little while later reconvening the session and beginning to speak the guidance on different approaches and aspects to the “emptiness” practices.
By now I was in a fulltilt process, drawing constantly on the rotation from Mr. August, bowl for barf, napkin for clearing my lips, tissues for capturing the excessive fluid coming from my nose.
In my paralyzed body, the diaphragm muscle so crucial to the heaving exercise is of little use. The ejecta lingers, not able to benefit from a forceful push, until the stomach itself so wrought from the experience begins to contract, pushing much more gradually the expulsion from within.
Gone is the satisfying feeling of letting go and freeing oneself from the effluent. The paralyzed experience is much more gradual, more a marathon of misery than a simple getting rid of the offending substance.
My practice at least tends to separate the suffering from the experience, and while my body was rather fully occupied in the exercise, I was able to move closer back again to the videoconference and at least listen in to if not follow particularly closely the unfolding meditations being instructed.
It was with some amusement then that I found, during the section post meditation where Dan was inviting reflections on the experience, that he called me out directly by name to ask how the experience had been for me! I laughed as I scrambled towards the computer, Dan asking “is Kabir still here?” Noel, our host, replying that I was, but my video is down…
I managed to pull myself together enough to get my finger on the button and reopen my audio and video channel to the room. “I think I took Emptiness a bit too seriously today” I said, “I’ve been emptying myself for the past hour.” With a smile.
That created a nice interlude for a few more moments while Dan reflected on that and offered some guidance for my practice going forward. A few minutes later the call was over and Mr. Augusto and I were back to the routine, trying to find some opening in the pattern.
I was definitely in some discomfort from sitting up for so long without a change of position, but going to lay down felt threatening as there was still much breaded fish making its way up my gullet. Now was the time of looking for a window to transition.
Gradually, slowly, we made our way through the kitchen, assembling supplies, fresh bowl, fresh napkin, extra bowl… Through the house, closing doors and settling things as we went, then to the bedroom, to prepare the bed, puke a little more, stage…, Ready…, Jump to bed…
Just a few hours to go…
LB had been out the afternoon, arrived home to find our little scene and stepped in helpfully where he could. Friendly smiles are always just that, friendly smiles, nourishing as can be.
Eventually I had exhausted the effluent, and myself in the process, and fell into darkness, leaning on the meditation to continue to allow my body and nervous system to relax and let go of the efforts to let go. Darkness, and sleep came quickly, though this morning I woke with the clear feeling of weakness and some fish left to find its way out the other end…
A charming LVN arrived at seven, Natasha whose cheerfulness was just infectious enough that I found myself rising and making it through the morning routine in spite of the thought moments before that I would simply welcome her in per the schedule and go back to sleep.
While she was here, two more RNs appeared, Johanna my regular friend from the service, and a woman she was training, and LB popped in to see how I was doing. Grand Central bedroom, laughter, and life, and that it all returns to quiet.
Mostly dressed I had decided to rest a little longer before the agency caregiver would arrive an hour after Natasha’s departure.
Slowly but surely I put myself back together today, just as probably I was put back together with the aid of loving hands and hearts and those friendly smiles I mentioned before.
Stumbling, stepping, piece by piece, I keep finding this path of gratitude, open heart, and the reflection of many hands joining together to make lighter this work of our world’s transformation.
In the hours of trial last evening, I couldn’t help but to notice the magic of four close friends, each in their own way distant in space and time, who happened to choose just that time to think of me and to text or call. In those hours of desolation I was so very clearly not alone.
Forests, friends, teachers, gifts and good food, affluence and possibility, the list of things to be grateful for, like moments in time, unbounded in eternity.
God gets to know things, we just get to ask questions…