I am sitting in my living room, my laptop wide open in front of me and anxious to swallow my words. But none are coming. I can’t focus. My mind is scattered like mist over my head, and none of it wants to flow onto the page. I recognize this madness; I’ve been here before. It’s just another week-in-hell, of waiting for test results that will decide my life. I have zero ways of knowing which direction it will go – life or death.
There is no relief from under this pile of uncertainty. I constantly scan my body for signs of disease, aches and pains. Suddenly, I get this feeling in my legs – like there are steel rods running inside each of them, so they feel simultaneously completely stiff and completely paralyzed. Bitter fear fills my mouth. It swells until I am gagging.
I can’t do this. I can’t live with my fearful heart in my mouth all the time. I can’t. No. The answer is no. There must be another way. My way.
See, I used to be fearless. Bold. To have a sense of adventure in life, a need to explore and discover, things large and small. In a deep sense of “this-may-be-now-or-never”.
I am lying flat in the passenger seat of my car, being driven down La Cienega Blvd right after my latest radiation treatment. I am letting out primal screams as I am reliving the earlier moments in the machine. High-energy particle beams spinning around my body and shooting at me, while I am immobilized in a position that causes me excruciating pain. I cannot move. I am in agony but trapped in this contraption. My heart rate goes up. I break out in cold sweat. It is terrifying. And the terror repeats, day after day, same time, in a relentless pattern of planned prison torture, like having your nails pulled out, or your tongue snipped daily.
In a rare moment out of the mental fog, it occurs to me to question: What is happening to me? Why am I having this reaction? After all, it is not my first time in pain! But this is different. I feel like my entire body is in violent shock, is revolting against it. Why?
If you are a bit odd (like me), where do you find role models that are a good fit for your oddness? I never did. Until now.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice. I suddenly grasped the immensity of her existence. Not just her impact, but her entire reality. Unique. Focused. Intense. Aware that she saw the world differently from most and convinced she had it right. With striking clarity of mind. (What’s not to like?)
She is honored for many things. For winning cases. For arguing cases. For dissenting her losing cases.
Oh, the dissents! The legacy of RBG. She made dissent hip and famous. To me, that is a life-affirming boost. Because I dissent a lot: Traditions are beautiful and wonderful? I dissent. Mindfulness will save your life? I dissent. The ‘new normal’? I dissent. (more…)
Oh, yes! The election we just went through. 74 million. It’s the number of people who voted for Donald Trump.
And if you know I am not in the Trump fan club, I am guessing what you’re thinking now: 74 million problems must be the 74 million people who voted for him. Hmmm… No. Not quite. It’s complicated. (more…)
His most famous quote is this: “I hope nothing. I fear nothing. I am free”.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Dispassion. No desires. No hopes, no fears, no emotions. Freedom??
I have my own version of this quote: “I hope nothing. I fear nothing. I am dead.”
It’s been a ride on the arrow of ancient time, and all space on the planet, and deep into the passions of mind and heart, all wrapped in bows of raptures and disasters. And here I am, bruised, broken, and patched together, still craving more.
It was just when I thought the chaos in my life would finally give way to sanity when it happened. My younger son had just graduated from Berkeley physics, and I was driving home on the 5 Fwy when I got the call. I had cancer – really bad cancer. It was stage 4 aggressive, with awfully bad statistics. It recurred two years later and now, after all the chemo, my hair has grown back, but so much of me has changed.
I resisted making cancer the center of my life, but there is no helping it anymore. I was not supposed to have survived – even this little much. And I may not. It changed everything. And it’s time to share the lessons. I’ll start you at the top. (more…)
From the moment my recent chemo treatment began, months ago, I had one thought in mind: Once this is done, I want to travel. I had my sights on Tashkent, and Samarkand, and Amritsar. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know, it’s like something is waiting there for me. No matter, it won’t happen: The virus happened, and I am grounded. I know, my timing sucks!
When will it end? No one knows. I no longer consume virus news. And while I do not mean to litter our collective mindscape with more virus food, I will. Because if I don’t speak out now, it may be too late.
Our response to the virus worries me. Not for our 3-6 month future, because we know that will be painful. But for how life will be in 3-5 years and beyond.
There are unrecognizable lives ahead of us: a healthcare disaster; economic collapse; retail, and airlines, and hotel industries going down; geopolitical games with China; the environmental rebound that nature engineered, that we have incapable of designing in over 30 years.
But I will focus on only one:
There was that summer, many years ago, when my travels through the rough seas of mental pain hit a category 5 hurricane. My heart grieved losses so catastrophic, so life-crushing, that I lost all anchors. It felt like my brain had detached from my skull, that is was swirling and shifting inside my head. I was in depression severe enough to have me dissolve into rivers of tears, so sudden, that I had to bolt from the dinner table and go hide until the storm passed. I needed to do something to not drown.
Know when you need help
And I did: I explored everything. The magic of therapists, and of mind-bending gurus; Medications; And meditations, kirtans, retreats, temples in Indian valley villages, I needed help. I did everything by the book: Sat through deep breathing exercises, trying to let my thoughts come and go without engaging them, without judging, passively staying in the one breath.
“You can do anything for one breath”, they said. “Your mind will be constantly buzzing, just let it be”; “try slow-eating a raisin for 5 minutes”. The problem was the mind, the mind, the mind. “We need to silence the mind”. Everybody was convinced that therein laid the root of human suffering.
I was a just little girl.
That evening, I was playing on the floor next to my father’s armchair, when I accidentally knocked over his cigarette holder. His cigarettes all spilled out. He got fuming mad. He demanded that I pick them up and replace them in the holder. He yelled at me to apologize. I refused to do either. I froze as this went on for a couple of hours. I cried, but never apologized.
It was downhill from there. As a teenager, he imposed a 9 pm curfew. If I showed up at 9:05, there would be punishment. Delivered with a belt with a buckle, on the front steps of the house, no discussion. I remember the day that the rage in me became a distinct object that lived in my throat: I had just gotten t my hands on my first Beatles record, when he pulled it from the player and smashed it on his knee — because he did not like the lyrics. I was devastated.
For decades, I carried that fury around. It seeped into everything in my life. I remained stubborn, I couldn’t trust anyone, I had authority issues.
No one teaches us how to ask Questions. Everyone is constantly focused on our answers.