Slow Leak

Is the glass half full or half empty? 

Wait, maybe I should rephrase the question. 

Is the glass half empty or half full? 

Wait… Do you know this is a trick question?  Do you realize the game is rigged?!

The glass is broken.   There is tiny crack. A manufacturer’s defect.  

If you fill it and drink quickly, you won’t ever notice.  But if you leave it sitting on the counter, the contents will seep out very slowly.  You probably still won’t realize there’s a crack.  You’ll wipe up the counter, rinse the glass, use it again and again. 

Maybe one day while you’re sipping, you’ll catch a glimpse of the crack.  But you’ll keep drinking and just put it out of your mind. 

Then some day, probably when it’s in the dishwasher, the glass will break once and for all. You will have to let it go. 

If you realize now that the glass will be gone one day, you can be mindful of the crack.  You can take better care of the glass, wash it by hand in lukewarm water. Perhaps you can extend its life. 

But even if you take great care, don’t get too attached. Know that it can get knocked off the shelf and shatter to pieces at any given moment. 

It’s half full. It’s half empty. It’s an impermanent and flawed vessel.  

These earthly vessels of ours, these bodies are as flawed and impermanent as that glass. 

Born with a factory defect. Destined for impermanence.  Most of the time we move through our days unaware of the slow leak. 

Every once in a while something happens, and we catch a glimpse of that crack, usually right in the middle of a big, delicious sip.  

We can ignore it and keep on sipping.   We can focus on the crack and get wrapped up in the tragedy of it all. 

Or we can become more mindful, take better care, and grow even more grateful for the precious nature of it all.  

Drink in every moment. Enjoy it while it lasts. 

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Shadow and Lightness 

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Right thoughts, right words, right action by Franz Ferdinand. 
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Got a Pebble in My Shoe

I got the biopsy results today. The thing in my breast is the mother-fuckin-goddamned-bullshit cancer.   The doctor said it’s ‘not the scary kind though’.

Oh, all righty then.  Not the scary kind. But it’s still the mother-fuckin-goddamned-bullshit kind. 

As long as it’s not the scary kind, there’s still no reason to worry.  It will be taken care of.  It will be taken out of me.

It’ll probably just be a huge inconvenience. There will be phone calls. Doctor visits. Consultations. Rescheduling of life. Calendar juggling. Surgery. Treatment plans. It may take up a lot of my time.

There will be moments of anxiety, frustration, depression. Probably a few moments of sheer terror.  It may take up a lot of my energy.

But like everything else that has happened in my life, it will pass.  So I will embrace the journey with all of the courage and conviction and comedy I can muster.

And soon enough, I will add cancer to the long list of things I have survived.

My path may have been altered, this is definitely not the road I would have chosen, but it’s still my road to travel. This moment is still my dharma.

And this moment still feels like a pretty good one.

 

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Let’s listen to Ella. She knows how to deal with adversity.

Ella sings Got a Pebble in my Shoe 

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Worry, Worry, Super Scurry

I haven’t been worrying, but I’ve been thinking a lot about worry. 

A few weeks ago, something happened in the world, I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was terrible.  Someone posted about it on Facebook, and someone else responded “Oh jeez, now we have to worry about this!”

And I thought “No. We don’t.We don’t have to. I certainly don’t have to.

Then the other night someone said in conversation “I asked the doctor if I should worry yet, and she said no.”
And I said “Shouldn’t the doctor always say no to that question?” 

Imagine if the doctor said “Yes, now is the time to worry. We want to tackle this thing head on, so our course of action will be surgery, radiation and lots of worrying. Worry as soon as you wake up for 30 minutes, and then 10 minutes every two hours for the rest of the day.  Let me write you a prescription for some Worry-Like-Hell.  If you find it’s not helping, just double up the dosage.”

“Ummm, okay Doc.”

Last week, I went for some diagnostic tests. Afterwards I was on the phone with a dear friend who called to ask how it had gone. I told her I have to go for a biopsy. She immediately sprung into action.   ‘Do you like your doctor? Are you comfortable with your level of care? Do you need a breast specialist? My mother’s oncologist was…’      

She was coming from a place of love.  We have a long history that hangs in the background of every conversation we ever have.  We’ve known each other forever.  She knew and loved my father, who was only 38 when he was diagnosed with cancer. And I adored her mother, who was also taken way too soon. I answered her questions, I listened.

When she finished I asked her how her son, who was traveling, was doing.  ‘So, how’s Matt doing?’

‘Are you trying to shut down the conversation?’ she asked in a very sisterly way.

‘No I’m not shutting it down. I just know it’s not time for this conversation yet. When it’s time, then we can have it.’

Maybe she thought I should be worrying. I guess worrying is the expected reaction.

Years ago if I had an impending biopsy, I would have been a nervous wreck. I would most certainly have not been able to write about it like this. I would have been having panic attacks on the daily, just thinking about the possibilities.

I could do that now, if I let my monkey mind go wild.  And that monkey is a drama queen, believe me. He throws things at me in my quiet moments. He conjures up the most ridiculous scenarios.  It’s not that the worry doesn’t try to creep in.  It does, but I choose to shut that monkey down. I don’t indulge him any more. I breathe deeply, and I shut him down. I breathe deeply, and I take control of my own mind.

If we let the monkey go wild, we can make worry a full-time hobby. I know a lot of people who do. They fret all day about what might happen or what they should’ve done . They carry on long dramatic conversations,  based on non-reality.  They let their imaginations get the best of them,  indulge fantasies of doom and gloom, and include everyone around them in those fantasies.

Some people glorify worry like they glorify being overworked and overbooked. They use it as a reason for their actions and an excuse for their non-action.  But the fact is, worry is a choice. It is not beyond your control.  (Just to be clear, I’m talking about worry. Not panic or anxiety disorders.)

The definition of worry is “to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts; fret”. It comes  from the Old English word wyrgan which means to strangle.   When you worry, you strangle yourself with tormenting thoughts.   Strangling means cutting off the breath. So worry is actually a bunch of tormenting thoughts that cut off your breath.

It all comes back to the breath.  That is the reason I haven’t had a panic attack. Because of my breathing practice I am less stressed, less worried, less strangled.   Learning to control my thoughts and my breath in calm situations has allowed me to continue the practice in stressful situations.
So, start breathing, and stop worrying.
That’s it. Just stop worrying.  You can do it, with practice. You can train yourself not to worry.

 

Sit with your breath and focus.  When you try to sit, other things will happen.  A horn honks outside. Go back to your breath. The dog starts barking. Go back to your breath.  The phone rings. Go back to your breath.  You start thinking about groceries.  Go back to your breath.   Your brain replays a past argument. Go back to your breath.

Then get up and go live your life. When you get aggravated, you go back to your breath. When you get angry, you go back to your breath. When you start to worry, you go back to breath.

 

Worry is a choice. You never have to worry.  You do have to think about things, and figure out whether or not they are within your control.  If they are, then take action, and hope for the best.

 

If the situation is not within your control, you don’t have to think of it again. Ever. You just don’t. So don’t. Take control of your breath and take responsibility for your thoughts.

I don’t have to think about the biopsy until the day I get the results. It’s very simple. I took the test and now I wait. Either it is or it isn’t. That’s all. All other thoughts are unnecessary right now. All other conversations, inconsequential.

All of the worrying in the world will not change a single thing, except for how much I enjoy this moment. 

And this feels like a pretty good moment.

  

 

 
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We’ll See

I got some test results today.  I need to have more tests.  What will they tell me?  We’ll see…

I know I’ve  written about this story before, but it bears repeating. 

A farmer’s plow horse fell and broke his leg.  All of the neighbor’s said ‘How unfortunate!’  The farmer shrugged his shoulders and said ‘We’ll see.’ 

He went about plowing the field on his own.  The people were so impressed with his attitude they pitched in and bought him a new horse.  ‘Isn’t this wonderful! A new horse!’  To which he replied, ‘We’ll see.’  

The horse ran away a few days later and the neighbors were so upset ‘This is terrible!’ they lamented.  And the farmer said ‘We’ll see.’  

His son went out and found the horse and rode it back home 2 days later, and the neighbors cheered ‘Fantastic news!’  ‘We’ll see’ the farmer replied.   

The next day his son fell of the horse and broke both of his legs. ‘How awful! Such a terrible tragedy!’  they all cried. ‘We’ll see.’ said the farmer.

A soldier came and took all of the young men off to fight in the war, except for the farmer’s son with his broken legs.  ‘What an amazing blessing’ the neighbor’s celebrated.   ‘We’ll see’ the farmer said. 

Wait, and see.  

We can’t really judge the results of any situation immediately.  Can we? 
I know people who have landed their dream jobs. They took everyone out for dinner and drinks! They bought new cars! They celebrated! Then they discovered that they hated what they were doing for a living.  They dreaded going to work every day.

I know people who have felt ecstatically blessed on their wedding day. Everyone could see the love in their eyes! They celebrated! They danced! They bought houses! Only to be divorced a few months later. 

I also know people who have suffered through terrible tragedies, been traumatized, hit rock bottom.  But then they found their dharma in their disasters and diseases. They dedicated their lives to helping others in similar situations. They took something seemingly tragic and turned it into a blessing for themselves and for others. 

Whether it seems joyful or tragic, whatever the situation, there is no need for us to judge it as good or bad.  There is really no need to judge any of it. 

As long as you are here, something else is always going to follow. There will be something else after this thing that you are going through. And something else after that thing. And another. And another.

 You’ll see.

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This Moment

Two weeks ago I went for a routine mammogram. And because I have dense breast tissue my doctor also scheduled a sonogram.

I chatted with the sonogram technician about where she went to school, and whether or not she liked her job, and how cool I thought it was to use sound waves to see inside of people. It was as if I was trying to distract her in order to make her comfortable with the situation.

She zipped through the left breast in a flash, but she lingered on the right side for quite some time. Then I realized that she had started to make conversation to keep me comfortable and distracted. What did I do for a living? Did I live close by? Small talk, while she lingered on my right breast. I knew she saw something in there.

When we were through I offhandedly asked her if she saw anything interesting, knowing full well that she couldn’t answer me. I did assume that if there were nothing at all, she would tell me that there was nothing to worry about. She only told me the doctor would call me within 48 hours.

48 hours came and went. Then 72.

I had a busy weekend planned, so I was mostly distracted from the idea that there were results out there waiting to be seen.   In the quiet moments, thoughts of the doctor calling would creep in. I reined in every thought of ‘what if’ and stopped it dead in its tracks.  I did my best to stay present, in the moment, continually in this moment.

Sitting in meditation has taught me how to be more fully in this moment. It has also taught me that I am in control of my thoughts. They no longer go crazy, running away, wreaking havoc all over the place, unless I let them. (Sometimes I still let them.  It can be fun.)

When I do sit, I usually focus on the feeling of my breath in my nostrils, and if my mind wanders I just bring it back to the breath. Sometimes I repeat words in my head, and if I find myself thinking other thoughts, I come back to those words. On the days where I find concentration almost impossible, I count my breaths. I count down from a chosen number, and come back to that number whenever my mind wanders. Some days it really wants to wander.   But I can always bring it back.

I can always bring it back because I am in complete control of my thoughts. I am not actually in control of anything else in this world besides my thoughts. I have only recently realized the true gravity of that situation. I am all-powerful in my mind, and I am completely and solely responsible for every thought I choose to entertain or extinguish.

After a week went by I got the phone call. There was something in there. A few somethings, actually. There is a cyst (no big deal) and some calcifications (probably no big deal, but let’s do another test to be sure). So I have to go back for a different diagnostic test.

It has been another week of doing my very best to stay in the present moment.   Soon, I will go for that test. Until then, there are no thoughts of ‘what if’.  There is no ‘I can’t wait til it’s over’.  There is no ‘it’s bad, I know it’s bad’ or even ‘it will all be fine’.

Until then, there is only this moment, and this moment, and this moment, and this moment… Just as there always is, and just as there always has been.

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Dusty Old Discs 

John is in the basement listening to a bunch of old records he recently acquired. Every time the needle is placed down on another song, memories flood my mind.  

Tom Petty. Pink Floyd. ELO. Rainbow. The Godspell Soundtrack.

 I’m spending the day time-traveling, visiting old friends in my mind. I’m there, with them, and they have no idea I’m thinking of them today. 

I’m upstairs cleaning the house with the windows open, singing along to songs I haven’t heard in years. The memories and the music inexorably tied together. 

The vacuum drowns out the sound for a while, but the visions keep coming.

When Shannon was in the second or third grade she had a friend over. They were working on a project together. 

When the friend’s mom came to pick her up, the girls were very involved in a Barbie drama, and they didn’t want to end their story in media res. 

So I invited the mom in for a while. We sat at the dining room table, drinking coffee while the girls wrapped up their epic. 

As we were sitting there I noticed that there was a cobweb under the pantry cabinet. There were some sort of crumbs in it. I guess I had forgotten to make a pass under the kick-plate when I vacuumed. 

As we sat and sipped, my eyes kept traveling back to the cobweb. How long had it been there? Was it a spiderweb? Or just dust? I’ll have to clean it up when she leaves.

That girl is no longer in any of Shannon’s classes.  They never spend time together, and I never see her mom. But every time I pass the broom or the vacuum under the kick-plate I think of that day. And I think of her. She has no idea.

I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember that the conversation was easy and free, and we laughed and sighed.  And I remember that dusty clump of cobweb.  

It’s funny what the dust stirs up. And Tom Petty. And Rainbow. And Godspell.

The memories sit in the corner like cobwebs, just waiting to be noticed, stirred up like dusty old discs.
  

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