Right here, right now…

Restless night. Aches and pains. Constant dreams. Irritable before bed, had to work hard to stay even with kids. Wasn’t so measured with Brooke and let my irritation show. Such a cruel irony that we are often most comfortable with the people closest to us. And in this case that meant I didn’t work so hard to not let my irritability show through.

Life is full of those weird dualities. One that I find most poignant, and have heard from men and women alike, men want physical connection to open emotionally and women want emotional connection to open physically. As in many areas of life I think the challenge is to walk the narrow line between both polarities, to satisfy the yin and the yang so that both parties can feel met in their needs and then find union to create a greater whole. I have found that it is intellectually easy to frame up, practically hard to consistently deliver.

A challenge in so many aspects of human existence. The reality of gestalt, that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts…true for the individual, relationship, team, community, and society. Yet it requires so much trust. Trust that if we give before receiving that we will bring together the parts to create a greater whole and thereby receive so much more than if we just take what we request, or demand, of others. And we are required as a matter of course to give out of faith that our efforts will be received and reciprocated. And often it is not so, at least not immediately. And for me, I must remind myself that my true intent is to give without attachment, without expectation of return. And even still I struggle with wanting what I want and expecting, even emotionally demanding, that I receive some compensation for what I give.

Our culture is structured to encourage this. My, our, expectation of a Return on Investment permeates the fabric of our society. I spent two years in graduate school getting a masters degree to train me in the art of maximizing my return on investment. If I give then I expect, demand, that I receive a return. In fact I expect a return, added compensation, that rewards me for giving and adds to what I gave. While this makes good sense in economic terms, and is the basis of encouraging commerce and the exchange of goods, it seems to me that it fails us on the personal and spiritual level. When is our need for return satisfied? When do we have enough to give freely without expectation of return?

I find myself reflecting on this often. Can I truly give freely to myself, my loved ones, and in service to others without expecting a return? Some form of compensation? Be it an embrace, an achievement, a title or role?

I was raised and oriented towards achievement. My brother quips that it is the “Ivy League briefcase culture”. To derive my sense of self worth from attaining a goal. To feel content by accomplishing something that allows me to derive status and to be acknowledged for that achievement and status externally. To derive worth from external recognition.

So along comes cancer…turns my world upside down. I am starkly and quickly confronted with my own mortality. By my own choice I took a 3 month medical leave from my professional pursuits, a big source of stimulus supporting my need to achieve, in order to focus on health and family. As I have written in previous posts I immediately observed the many gifts that flowed from this new focus. A “return” not of material advantage or external praise, rather a return on the investment of love. And this evolution has continued, over the last few weeks as I am recovering from surgery I have had all of my external manifestations stripped away. Professional stimulus, exercise, physical vitality and energy, social stimulus. I have been spending my days in the close proximity of my house, and I am just recently starting to take walks around the neighborhood.

In this context I have found myself re-examining my perspective on many aspects of my life. I have spent more time in quiet reflection and meditation than I have in many years. And although many people have graciously offered to stop by and visit, I  have not felt that social and mostly declined for now. Having the external stimulus and activities stripped away has forced me to look deeper into myself. To delve into my own nature, sense of self, and spiritual grounding. And while I am searching for answers I am uncovering more questions. The counsel I am receiving is one of patience. Itself a practice from which can be derived significant reward. And although I have previously thought of myself as reasonably patient I am not sure I have ever had to really sit with it in the manner I now find myself. A new lesson offered up as I follow this evolving path in my life’s journey…

“withdraw into stillness and meditation, quietness and truth are the best refuge…quietly accept the way things are and do not resist them.”

– I-Ching

Life…and Death

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your

one wild and precious life?”

     – The Summer day, Mary Oliver

I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Not because I think I have any serious risk of dying anytime soon. I don’t think that is the case. Instead I have been thinking of death in a slightly different context. Cancer is scary and potentially deadly stuff. Fortunately for me it appears I am going to be one of the lucky ones, I had an incidental finding, early detection, and given a good surgical outcome I should be cancer free.

It has been 4 weeks today since my positive diagnosis for lung cancer. These past 4 weeks have been a time warp. Part of my evolving perspective over this time, as I have been working thorough my shock and denial, is that there are many gifts emerging from this bout with cancer. And these gifts are coming in all sorts of ways; time with family, friends, gratitude, perspective, etc. First and foremost among these gifts is that the tumor was found 4-5 years before I would have had my first symptoms. But “what if” this had not been found? What if 4 years hence I were fighting for my life with a 1 in 7 chance of survival?

I have won the life lottery. And like any lottery winner everything changes in an instant. What am I going to do with my winnings?  My experience has not been any different. It has forced me to contemplate the obvious question; what do I do with my gift of life? How do I give back, have an impact, and honor the fact that I am getting an opportunity that many lung cancer patients don’t get? How do I open my heart wide to life?

You would know the secret of death.

But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?

If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

     – The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

As a society do we deal with death in a healthy manner? Are we real and authentic? Or do we keep it hidden? In the shadows and only acknowledging it when it is necessary? From my limited world perspective, we don’t really deal with it. Or at least as little as possible.  To me the discussion of death seems once removed and separate from our daily lives. That was certainly the case for me until this diagnosis. I have experienced the death of my Dad and Mom, 13 and 3 years ago respectively. And I feel I tried very hard to be real and present through each of those experiences. Yet it was still a brief moment in time, and “they both lived long and productive lives”. And then, after a period of mourning and grief, life slowly went back to the normal routine, with that untidy business still hopefully many decades away.

The reality, I think, is that death is much closer at hand to all of us than we either realize or have the capacity to acknowledge. For me I can intellectually grasp the concept, but It did not have any material impact on my daily life, until recently. I have had brushes with death before, car or bike accidents, yet this time seems very different. This was not a choice, but rather a random lottery.

So what to do with this gift? How am I going to have an impact going forward? How am I going to serve others in need? How do my actions honor those who did not receive this gift? I don’t have the answers, yet I am increasingly clear on the importance of the questions.

It is only when

we have the courage

to face things

exactly as they are,

without any

self deception or illusion,

that a light

will develop out

of events

by which the path

to success

may be recognized.

I-Ching