Change

We are taught in Zen that even change changes, but we never really believe it. Even in the midst of change we expect to be able to extract moments of stability. Even in the midst of a disease like cancer, which is always changing, I have become lulled to the idea that I will have a period during which things remain more or less the same. I guess, depending on the scale one applies, this is more or less true; but at bottom there is no standing still.

All this was brought home to me this evening by a new pain in my pelvic bones, this time on the right center rather than the left. That is, I have been confronted by the possibility that my disease is spreading away from its site of origin. Actually, it has already done this, way up into my sternum, but there has been little or no pain associated with that spread. Without the pain, that change has seemed unreal.

But this pain has the potential to make walking even more difficult than it is now, which would amount to a major degradation of my condition. Now, a bit of rest seems to have diminished the problem, but it has caused me an evening of distress. I’m going to take it easy & chart the changers tomorrow & over the weekend then make a decision about whether or not to see the oncologist sooner than my regularly scheduled check-up in two weeks.

Am I Fooling Myself?

Sometimes, writing posts here, or sending emails to friends, I feel like a fraud. Am I not just about the perfect Zen student facing a terminal illness? Writing about the birds & moon. I am sometimes afraid, I am sometimes  angry & resentful, but not much of it shows up here. It’s not that those observations are false, but isn’t this all supposed to be messier, more shapeless? Meaner. No doubt those states of mind are coming sometime–but there is no harm in trying to live clearly in the meantime. Nevertheless, I need to be very careful of this Perfect Zen Student persona. So call me out if you see me getting into my robe here on the blog–or anywhere, for that matter.

Boyhood Weather

I was nodding off just now (see previous post) when I was awakened by a low rumble of thunder. Yesterday we had sunshine & mild air in South Colton, today rain. This rainy weather puts me in mind of certain mornings from my boyhood. My family lived in Santa Cruz, California, which one ordinarily associates with sunshine & surfing, but which I recall as green & foggy, with redwoods & live oaks. My family lived six or seven miles inland, in foothills. I liked the rain, it made things quiet. Or it made the long, labored silences of my mother & father (& myself) seem natural. A crashing psychological silence muffled by the wholly natural silence of the weather. My family’s silences sometimes found voice in shouts & smashed household objects; the weather too, in winter storms, would howl & break the furniture of the woods. My bedroom was in the tower, which gave me a 300 degree panorama of the weather.

Santa Cruz house
The house where I watched the rain when I was a child.

As this sickness I have has become real to me, I have found myself recalling odd images from my boyhood. Not surprising, I suppose. The mind seeks comfort. But my boyhood was not particularly comforting, so that’s not exactly right. It’s more subtle. Even when I was very young I managed to find a way to create mitigating spots of safety. Most of these had to do with the natural–that is, the non-human–world. I was reminded of this the other day when I came across one of the few books I have managed to keep with me since childhood.

This book possesses a talismanic status for me. It must have been given to me when I was five or six years old, long before the text, elegantly written for a smart twelve-year-old, would have been fully available to me. But there was so much information folded into the paintings & charts, that I could spend hours shifting between staring out my bedroom windows & flipping through the pages of the large, satisfyingly heavy book. At a time when some of the uglier parts of the Bible were being driven into my consciousness, this Golden Treasury became an alternative sacred text.

And I could then put the book down, go downstairs & outside the big house pictured above. Walking toward the trees at the bottom of the photograph, I could go down into a ravine cut by Branceforte Creek & wander for hours, though to be truthful, the woods, raw nature, usually produced a kind of anxiety that would send me back to the house (with its own anxieties) & to my books & rock collections & (a little later) my weather instruments. My relation to these things was always more alchemical than scientific, more poetic than analytical. Poetry is always more about the weather than whatever might be happening underneath the weather.

On the cusp of retirement I had already been looking forward to returning to some of my armchair naturalist activities & with this illness I find myself drawn back to the pleasure I take in the weather, the woods & the words used to describe & evoke them. Poetry, to which I have not always been so faithful, has remained faithful to me & now I humbly return to it.

 

Self-Portraits with Objects (VI)

I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light1

 

Show 1 footnote

  1. Leonard Cohen, “A Street.” From Popular Problems.