Tag Archive | Choices

Excited, Sort Of

Tomorrow, I am going to my realtor’s office to accept the offer of $15k for my house.

I am getting less annoyed at the loss and more excited about moving. I just have to find us a place to live. That’s all.

But my goals are getting clearer. The place I am looking for needs to be affordable and as barrier-free as possible. I’m thinking of checking out senior housing. Barry will be 65 at the end of September. He may not last more than a few years, so I need to know how long I can stay after he passes because I am not a senior.

It’s starting to become real. We will close by September 1. I will be extremely gone by November 1. I am getting out of Michigan before shoveling season starts! That is my dream come true. Tomorrow is supposed to be in the low 90s. My thought is that it will be the hottest day I will ever spend in Michigan again.

And meditating has been giving me insights. I never get to the point of stopping all thoughts. It feels like thoughts leak upward into my consciousness. The insights seem real obvious, but if they were, I would have had them already. I am extremely logical and I have conscientiously prepared for as many eventualities as I have thought of.

I can’t say with a straight face the things are “falling into place.” Instead, I feel like I have been slowly removing every imaginable obstacle (financial, social, emotional, you name it). I have been clearing the tracks and now I can hear the train in the distance.

Needless Arguments

I had a big argument with Barry a couple nights ago. I was trying to get him to acknowledge that the cancer was back and that there was a tumor growing on his neck. I told him how frustrated I was that I had to deal with the outside real world by myself while he sat in his chair and pretended everything was fine.

Then Barry says, “Why are you continuing this useless argument?”

I agreed and said, “You’re right. There is no point trying to communicate with you. You win. Good night.” I went to bed, alone.

An argument is only useless if the person is not listening. By telling me that we were having a useless argument, he was admitting that he was not listening nor did he intend to at any point. No listening equals no communication. No communication equals no relationship. It really is that simple.

I want the world to understand this: an argument is an attempt to communicate. Maybe not the best or most mature, but an attempt nonetheless. If you are sitting at the kitchen table arguing with someone, in a twisted way, that is actually a good sign. That person sees themselves as having a relationship with you and is making the effort to communicate with you. When they quietly push their chair away from the table, get up, walk out the door, and lock it behind them, you are in deep trouble. Because they are done with you. The relationship is over. It is probably beyond repair.

Think of a business situation. The person the boss needs to worry about is not the one in his/her office screaming in his/her face. No. The person the boss needs to worry about is the person they blew off last week, refusing to talk to. When the good employee suddenly gets reaaaaalllllll quiet, they have probably given up on you and your organization. Their resume is now likely on every job-hunting website they can find. They are done with you.

Silence is not agreement! That is a top-of-the-food-chain mistake to make. Only people with unearned privilege seriously believe that silence is assent. The rest of us know better.

I have almost nothing left to say to Barry. I’m sure he just thinks I have an attitude problem. I am forced to live in the real world and handle all the responsibilities. My confrontation was a last-ditch effort to get him on the same page as myself. You see, I do not have the option of living in his delusional world. I have to function. When I lose my mind and end up putting him in a nursing home, maybe, just maybe he will get it. Or maybe not. Either way, real communication with him is clearly a useless effort. He said so.

Unmet Needs and Irrelevance

“None of us can know much about second-half-of-life spirituality as long as we are still trying to create the family, the parenting the security, the order, the pride that we were not given in the first half.” Falling Upward by Richard Rohr, p. 42

I have many unmet needs from the first half of life: pride, parenting, role modeling, career success, order, you name it.

And then Barry got cancer and everything changed. Suddenly life was all about wills, advance directives, final arrangements, and that kind of thing. I figured I would need an education for after Barry died…and then got a questionable mammogram myself. My assumption that I would outlive Barry was gone. Eventually, I got a normal mammogram, but it didn’t have the power to reinstate the old assumption.

I feel humiliated by life. Few of my goals or hopes have come to pass and now it feels too late. Right now, nothing is even about me.

Even after Barry dies (if he goes before me), how do I care about a career? How do I pretend it matters to me anymore? The unmet needs go nowhere, following me around with no promise of eventual fulfillment. I can try acting like these needs don’t matter, but I suspect my lack of aggression getting these needs met is precisely why they never got met in the first place. I didn’t place enough emphasis on what I wanted or cared about when I was younger and now it may be too late. I do not have the satisfaction of a life well-lived.

I told Barry yesterday about the lump on his neck. I’ve been watching it for a few months and it is not shrinking. I thought, “Maybe it’s not cancer. Maybe it’s just enlarged lymph nodes.” A few days ago, I remembered what the surgeon said after the tumorectomy: he removed the tumor, sliced a large nerve on that side of the neck, and removed a bunch of lymph nodes. I am uncertain Barry has lymph nodes on the right side of his neck anymore. Even if he has one or two nodes, having permanently swollen nodes is not a good sign. But it’s not like we would treat anyhow. I told Barry because I got tired of wondering if he noticed and of carrying the burden of this alone.

I may be becoming the angry, bitter type of person Rohr warns about. Being conscious of my unmet needs (from the sheer grief I feel regarding my life) doesn’t magically fix things. The downside of awareness is that it is not necessarily empowering to address the issues. The upside of awareness is that I no longer waste time and energy on people, relationships, and organizations that make promises they have zero ability to keep. To not waste time is always a good thing.

Intentionality Speeds Things Up

“A circle of trust may lack size, scope, and continuity as compared to a traditional community. But it makes up for what it lacks by being intentional about its life—about why we are together, about where we want to go, and about how we must relate to each other if we are to reach our destination….[I]n a circle of trust, I often hear participants say, ‘What goes on here is what I had hoped my religious community would be like.’” A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer, pages 74-75

This past week, I mentioned to someone that, in my early twenties, I probably would have done drugs had I ever found any that actually made me feel better. Someone present said, “I was into spirituality back then.” She always has to one-up me, not very flattering. But she had a point and what she did (pursue spirituality), I basically attempted to do through religion.

I saw my brothers do drugs and alcohol and didn’t want to deal with the legal and physical consequences they were seeing. I craved security and predictability. I “found Jesus.” I now see that my religious experiences were invariably about my emotional needs. It was entirely narcissistic, but subconsciously so. I had needs my family did not meet (who doesn’t?) and church fulfilled those needs for years.

Today I am pushing 50 and value authenticity and honesty more than legality and even physical health. My brothers were idiots. No question. But they were honest idiots. Their legal issues and physical problems were come by honestly. Today, I would rather be a horrible, evil, and honest person than be the nice person I tried to be so long ago. To be thrown in jail for expressing my authenticity would be far more real than the life I have been living.

What hurts me today is the time I wasted trying to be “good” and survive emotionally. My life is more than half over (I really don’t want to live to be 96) and my true self, if it exists, has never seen the light of day.

What consciousness and intentionality do is to compress and make infinitely more efficient the learning process. All the niceties are history. All that’s left is what has to happen to meet people’s needs. When the hierarchical stupidity and bureaucratic nonsense is removed from the equation, humans can genuinely get their needs met! What a concept!

I’ve seen this concept at work in other areas of my life, too. Just ten minutes of deliberate, conscious, intentional action trumps a decade of thinking about maybe doing something at a later date.

The challenge is to make those unmet needs conscious, which I will address in probably my next post.

Clarity, Clarity

Just to establish a baseline of my health before I leave Michigan, I got a mammogram two days ago. Yesterday morning, bright and early (before 9 am), the diagnostic center calls me to set up a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound. I set them up for about 2 or 3 weeks from now. These appointments have to fit in with everything else I am handling.

I’ve been wanting to be out of this never-ending position of taking care of the two of us for a long time. I may have my way out now. Who knows? It may be nothing.

I am now looking at my life and what is (and is not) worth fighting for. I am absolutely physically and emotionally exhausted. Am I willing to fight so I can continue functioning for two? Uh…no. I am going to continue paring down the possessions and fixing the house. Regardless of who lives (or not), doing these things will make things easier for the survivor down the road.

Also, I can start reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead for myself (and not just in relation to Barry) and start preparing myself accordingly.

I don’t know what comes next, but I feel clear as to what I am (un)willing to invest my time and energy in. Clarity is a precious thing.

Right Midfulness

“When Milarepa was young he killed thirty-five people. That’s a serious karmic load that would guarantee a difficult time in the bardo and almost certain rebirth into a lower realm. When he realized the karmic implications of his actions, he practiced as if there was no tomorrow. After twelve years of legendary hardship, Milarepa purified his karma and attained liberation….It was Milarepa’s fear of death that led him to conquer death….We should instill a similar level of wholesome anxiety….With Milarepa as our inspiration and guide, the uncompromising truths of Buddhism can speak for themselves. Let’s not dilute them for Western consumption…. Buddhism is an elegant but raw description of reality. It’s our job, as practitioners of the truth, to align ourselves with reality—not our versions of it.” [Italics added by Cindy Hoag] Preparing to Die by Andrew Holecek, p. 40-41

The Eightfold Path is composed of “Right”: View, Intention, Speech, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness, and Concentration. If there is a “right” something, then that creates its dualistic opposite, the “wrong” something.

Wrong mindfulness is all about the present moment without context, as if our actions now affect nothing later—if “later” even exists. This is pop spirituality at its most pernicious. People will pay lots of money to be told that their actions now have no consequences ever.

What draws me to Buddhism has always been its unflinching examination of the mind, life, and death. Living in a culture in denial regarding death has left me feeling alone and adrift. Birth and death are the bookends of this physical existence. Pretending we will never die is delusional. Life has limits. One of my favorite quotes from Shunryu Suzuki comes from his dying process. “If you had a limitless life it would be a real problem for you.” What an understatement.

I am trying to give meaning and purpose to my actions, to give myself good karma. Given that I could easily live another few decades, I need to be functional in this life. Death is the default, like gravity. Life requires effort, like pulling oneself out of a hole. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for death and now I’m trying to build a reality-based life. Post-modern America is not a great place to do that.

Practice for Death

I realized a few weeks ago that sitting and watching TV in no way constituted “having a life.” As I look, I see more and more similarities between watching TV and death.

There is the altered state of consciousness. Did you know that most people are in an alpha brain state within two minutes of watching TV? I got that from Eldon Taylor’s Mind Programming. The alpha state is a more relaxed state than our normal beta state. It is more susceptible (gullible) because the internal censors of rational thinking and logic have been turned off. That’s why it feels so good. One has ditched the burden of independent, rational thought. This should frighten anyone aware that the average American watches 6-8 hours of TV every day, 365 days a year.

Then there is the sedentariness factor. Sit down. Relax. Take a load off. Stop trying so hard. It seems like almost weekly a new study comes out warning about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Right now, it is hard for me to imagine living a more sedentary life. The weather does not help. Some days, it is so cold I don’t even want to open my front door. The TV cannot be blamed for Michigan’s weather in February, but it doesn’t help, either.

I also consider falling asleep to be practice for death. Lie down. Exhale.  Relax. Enter into another dimension in your mind.

I have been reading a book about the death of Hindu and Zen masters. It is fascinating. I would love to be counted among them.

There is nothing wrong with any of this. We will all die. That much we can be sure of.

But let us practice consciously.

Let us not pretend that killing ourselves with TV is a substitute for living a meaningful life.

Honesty in Life and Death

The latest issue of Shambhala Sun has an interesting article by Rachel Neumann about a woman getting married. It was her husband’s idea. Her father even asked if he could use the word “marriage.” The couple grudgingly, but only at the end of the ceremony. The couple made no promises and then ran into the Pacific Ocean—“taking the plunge after taking the plunge.” The author/bride wanted the ceremony to acknowledge the impermanence of everything. “Marriage, from the little I’d seen, seemed a strange and false ritual: a public display of certainty about something that was by its nature private and transitory.” (p. 27, March 2015) Amen, sister.

This may sound stupid, but I’ll say it anyway. I am struggling with two things right now: life and death. Can anyone say, “Duuuuuuuh”? These are the universal concerns of all humanity. And I am struggling in particular with people’s/society’s total denial regarding them both.

For example, I need to call the long-term-care insurance people to see what I can get in terms of respite care. I want to work (or at least get out of the house) regularly during the week and I am not comfortable leaving Barry alone for extended regular periods of time. This is due to the fact that, first, he had cancer and was terminally ill and that, second, he lived through all of that and is still here. He will not be happy with me being gone, but I have put my life on hold for years now and I am getting beyond stir crazy.

Another example. I have a god sister that is turning sixty this year and is going back to school. So far, so good, right?  Not so fast. When I mentioned that she might be working for the next umpteen years, she kid of chuckled like, “Uh. I don’t think so.” She has no husband, children, or pension. Social Security was never designed to be an elderly person’s sole income, let alone help that person pay off their mortgage. When it was invented, during the depression, many assumptions were in place. The elderly were expected to live with their children, men were assumed to have pensions, women were assumed to have husbands, and the property of the elderly was supposed to have been paid off, providing the receiving family of the elderly parents with some financial assistance to help take care of mom and dad. Veronica violates every single assumption. Will Social Security be sufficient for her to pay her mortgage, keep up with utilities, and feed her? I certainly do not assume so—but she clearly does. She needs to go to the Social Security Administration office and find out exactly what she will receive, not just assume that everything will be fine. It will break my heart if I find out, years from now after I have left Michigan, that she ended up homeless. Needless to say, she hasn’t purchased a cemetery plot for herself or anything like that. She is prepared for neither death nor life.

Rachel Neumann is wise. She understands the transitoriness of everything. She is also not 21 years old. She has already spent many years with the “man on the bus” that she recently married. She is honest with herself. Compare that with, say, myself. I was clueless in my early twenties, not to mention in a great deal of self-deception. I had no idea what I wanted, needed, or felt. I am only discovering these things now. What I do know is that if I had had even a shred of self-confidence back then, there is zero possibility I would have gotten married back then.

I think many young women (but not as many) today feel their options constrained today for similar reasons. Also, I believe that raging hormones encourage us to make commitments that we have no genuine way of knowing if they are even worth keeping. And then internalized religious/social oppression keeps us in these relationships (again, not as frequently as in the past). When cooler bodies prevail, fewer commitments are made, oddly enough.

Being honest with oneself is tough. Many people never are. I am still struggling to deal with the consequences of choices I made twenty-some years ago. I am in the process of purchasing my own (and Barry’s) grave marker. I am way more prepared for death than for life. Am I alone or in good company? I may never know.

Stupid Spontaneity

I have been wrestling lately with “the present moment” versus planning for the future, or maybe it is “spontaneity” versus “discipline.”

My stumbling block is McMindfulness, where the focus is incessantly on the present and the pretense (perhaps “pretense” comes from the same root as “present”, just as “shrub” and “bush” and “brush” seem to have the same letters rearranged to give a final similar result) that this moment is all there really is. I understand that if you don’t use the present moment well, odds are that your future won’t be that great, either. I see that every day in the people I know. To some degree, the focus needs to be on what you can accomplish today with the resources currently at your disposal.

However, our sensory-overloaded culture keeps saying, “Relax. Enjoy the moment. What’s all the fuss about?” There is a word for that: ignorance. It is rightly called a “poison” by Buddhists everywhere.

Ironies abound here. I was looking at an article on Buddhism Now regarding the Dalai Lama focusing on the present moment, saying that there is no future or past without the present. It seems that the people pushing this “present moment living” are also the people who have consciously, deliberately developed vast reservoirs of spiritual discipline. Another example is the Taoists out there, memorizing vast quantities of their scriptures so that they can “spontaneously” respond to a given situation properly. That’s not “spontaneity.” That’s called “training.” Any HR manager will tell you that. All HR professionals know, through experience, that people do not rise to the level of expectations placed on them. Rather, people fall to the level of their training. Martial arts are also built upon the same unfathomable depths of discipline to enable their practitioners to respond properly in stressful situations. The only way to behave harmoniously in a variety of circumstances is to have already made a strong, conscious choice to behave according to previously-chosen principles. This is hardly my definition of “spontaneity.”

I have some of the same misgivings relating to spiritual experiences that people attribute to The Universe, God, or whatever. Let’s just be honest. Most spiritual environments are designed to invoke certain feelings, such as beauty, clarity, holiness, warmth, community, peace, etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Who wouldn’t rather be in a clean, beautiful, warm room/building/whatever (as opposed to a dirty, cold, ugly place)? I, for one, am always trying to declutter my house and clean it better to make it more inviting. I am only advocating truth-in-advertising. As an Orthodox Christian, I could look up whatever Sunday it was (such as the fourth Sunday of John, e.g.) and know precisely what scriptures would be read and what the hymns of the day would be. It was no secret, and there you go. However, in the Protestant world, there was a huge pretense of spontaneity and everything being a “move of God”—even as absolutely every detail was orchestrated and choreographed within an inch of its life. All details were manipulated and canned. The artificiality was palpable. I actually found the in-your-face predictability of orthodoxy refreshing and, uh, unpretentious.

My point is that I feel a certain confusion when I hear about how primary this moment is, as compared to all other moments, and then turn around to find my current choices being constrained by prior, poor choices I made years ago. My future choices are, likewise, being constrained by the quality of my current decisions. Maybe my issue is simply the fact that I am middle-aged now and routinely live with the good and bad consequences of previous choices. I want to take young people by the collars and try to communicate somehow to them that they will eventually have to live with the consequences of their choices from today. I have seen, personally, how a time comes to us all when we can no longer make choices. We have to accept the fallout or fruits of previous attitudes and actions. Our ability to make new choices has passed and we are left with what we did or didn’t do years ago.

There is a very steep price to be paid for stupid spontaneity. My friends and I are all paying it. This is the amount due for living a life with the attitude of Alfred E. Neumann: “What? Me worry?”

Living Five Minutes at a Time

“The Fifth Remembrance is “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.” In the sutra we see clearly that living in the present moment does not preclude our thinking about the past or the future, but we must dwell in the present moment so that whenever we look deeply into the past or the future, we are free and we are able to overcome our fears and our sadness concerning these things.” “The Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone” © Thich Nhat Hanh
I like Thich Nhat Hanh because his way of speaking is full of common sense and compassion, things this world cannot do without. “Living in the present moment” doesn’t mean that no planning can occur. This quote says to me, “You need to make plans and start implementing them now because you will have to live with the consequences of your (in)actions later.”
Barry lives five minutes at a time. Part of that is the Huntington’s. Part of it, I suspect, is being retired. He doesn’t want the responsibility of planning and executing. That is fine—as long as you have someone else taking up the slack and handling all the responsibilities.
I was asking him about preparing an Advance Directive and making his desires official and on paper. His response? “I thought you already had Power of Attorney.” In other words, “You handle it, Cindy. I want nothing to do with any of it.”
Also, I realized I needed a printer. I had gotten rid of my previous printers due to toner issues and knew I would need one someday, but was in no hurry to get another one. I became aware that I would want to print out an Advance Directive eventually, not to mention resumes for job hunting. I told Barry that I was a little overwhelmed with going out and buying a printer. His solution? “Then don’t buy one.” Problem solved, but only in his mind. For someone that spends all his time watching TV, this is a perfectly appropriate resolution.
I’ve been trying to figure out what “living in the present” means when saddled with all the responsibilities. This helps a little. Thanks to a Vietnamese monk.