Lead into Gold: contradiction to despair #10

I made it around the little lake as dusk fell. My old legs wanted to give in, but then a piano started up a familiar intro on shuffle. What was this song? I knew it would play me home – Van Morrison Philosopher’s Stone. (See end note)

Years before, recovering from major surgery, I sat in the Starbucks across from Culver City Studio in L.A., listening to this song. The Harry Potter movie of that name had just been released from Sony, just down Washington Blvd. I still hadn’t emerged from pain and weakness of the operation and, it must be said, the terror of a second cancer diagnosis.

Was it really possible to be an alchemist and turn this lead of suffering into gold, I wondered.

Morrison sings that even his best friends they don’t know that he’s searching for the philosopher’s stone. He’s out on the highway and the byways in the cold and snow, alone and relentlessly searching.

In the years that followed, I caught glimpses of that magical mineral, but foolish me, I had no idea that, when it came to lead,  I was ignorant – I knew nothing.

A decade later, I got a crash course. It involved emergency rooms, sudden trans-continental flights, first responders on multiple occasions, several hospitals, many, many doctors and pharmaceuticals, bureaucracy enough to break your heart, intense fear and terrible despair.

It’s a hard road/It’s a hard road, Daddyo/ When my job is turning lead into gold.

Then this week nearly six years later, we raised our heads at last. That the patient would survive the ongoing disease, we had known for a while, That the patient had relearned how to function in the everyday world despite catastrophic losses, we also knew, What we recently discovered is altogether more wonderful. The person we almost lost, through the agency of this enormous suffering, has become the person she always wanted to be.

Concise Oxford Dictionary: The philosopher’s stone – supreme object of alchemy, substance supposed to turn other metals to gold or silver

One of a series of contradictions to despair 115journals.com




The Cure For Pain Is in the Pain

In one of  Rumi’s poems, “There’s Nothing Ahead” (Coleman Bark’s translation on p. 205 of The Essential Rumi), the 13th century Sufi poet tells us that “The cure for pain is in the pain”.

This is a very enigmatic poem that begins:
Lovers think they’re looking for each other,
but there’s only one search: wandering this world is wandering that, both inside one
transparent sky. In here
there is no dogma and no heresy.

This idea echoes another poem where he says
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere
They’re in each other all along. (Essential Rumi, p. 106)
By now we are beginning to get the idea that the ‘one search’ is not an outward one or a search for other.

After asserting that
The miracle of Jesus is himself, Rumi goes on to say that “if you can say, There’s nothing ahead, there will be nothing.” Then as though the reader is not confused enough, he adds
Stretch your arms and take hold of your clothes
with both hands. The cure for pain is in the pain.
Good and bad are mixed. If you don’t have both,
you don’t belong with us.

Faced with excruciating pain, I am more than glad to retreat to the coziness of a morphine drip, but it’s hard to come by. Lesser painkillers don’t impress me. Sure they can keep me quieter, but that’s about all. And over the counter pain remedies mess up my digestion and leave the pain the way they found it. So I am driven every so often to test this hypothesis.

I sat down earlier this week to get acquainted with the pain du jour. I made myself as comfortable as possible. No full lotus posture for me. If I’m going to look into the heart of darkness, I need pillows.

Whoa! It is bad. Really, really bad. Pull out of this dive. Just fear. Letting go never works for me. I have to own it. Hold it. Feel its center. Stay there. Stay there. Don’t fight it. This is not an alien force. This is me.

Forty minutes later, I seem to have sailed onto a clear sea.

The residual pain is bearable. I have no idea if that is what Rumi had in mind, but great poetry works that way. It is suggestive. What we make of it is up to us.

Rumi ends the poem:
When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
There’s no place like that anywhere in the world.

The Meaning of Life -in three phone calls

Sara was inspecting the garbage when she shrieked, “Who put this in here?” She was flourishing a dirty tissue which she had fished out of the black garbage bin and was now flinging into the green compost bin. At lunch she announced to me and our mutual friend Robin that she no longer gave to ‘people’ charities. People were a blight on the planet, she said. She gave to animal charities and  environmental causes only now.

A few days later, I was talking to Robin on the phone. “The world is not going to be saved by recycling,” Robin said. We agreed that it might be saved by empathy, by caring for others and by extension for Earth.

“But if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter because God is already perfect,” said Robin.

“And God is within us?” I asked, just to make sure she wasn’t talking about that remote, supernatural fellow, the church used to tell me about.

“Of course,” she said.

“So, in fact, we are already perfect,” I concluded. And we  changed the subject to family.

But it began to get to me, that February week. I had shingles. Again! Economic recovery still hadn’t kicked in. I had seen one too many shows about terrorism and torture. And I had shingles.

“What the fudge, is it all about?” I asked my sister, Georgia. “Why are we here, working hard like you, hurting hard like me? What does it mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” she replied. “It’s what Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’. It’s when we go off stage, we find our real life. But then, I’m a simple soul.” She didn’t add, “Unlike you who make everything complicated”. Then she did say, “We just do our best. It’s just practical.”

And that is how she lives. She devotes herself to making life better for others.

But she was right in her unspoken assessment of me. I couldn’t drop it.

My osteopath explained to me that the herpes or chicken pox virus that had been lying dormant in my body for these many years was doing its job and attacking the nerves. That was why I had had what I called the achey flu since mid-January, but now that it had surfaced in the form of a rash, I would begin to recover. The aching had already diminished as the itching increased. Recovery would come through rest and relaxation, not through yet more exercise and effort, he said, thus dismissing my default methods.

More time to think. Just what I wanted.

Maybe I hypothesized, we are trying to perfect the material world, to raise its consciousness. Okay, but the maple tree outside my window seems pretty perfect as it is. And the sheba innu I am going to dog-sit next week, ditto. Hum!

How about this? Out of the One came the many. Are we just trying to get back to the One, trying to remember that we are not isolated, victimized, powerless individuals but part of the powerful Whole?

So I posed the question to Julia in a long, long-distance phone call.

She said, “We are God experiencing Itself.”

“Well, why does it have to be so painful?” I demanded.

“That’s the nature of perception,” she said. “The nerves are part of the mind.”

I had a fleeting thought that as soon as there is mind, there is pain. That brought my mind back to torture.

“Someone like Thomas More,” I mused -I was thinking about how he was portrayed in A Man for All Seasons– “is invulnerable to torture because he is at one with God’s perfection.”

Perhaps during my relaxed and restful recovery, I could take short excursions there.

Isn’t there a liturgical blessing, “May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God…”?

January, Muscle Spasms, and All That Good Stuff

The first 3 weeks of January went swimmingly. A molar had to have its cap removed, be re-drilled and re-covered with a brand-new $800 crown. Then I had a colonoscopy. Mention that and someone is sure to intone -‘It’s the prep that’s the worst!’  These people evidently skipped the actual procedure. Meanwhile the pump on the washer quit and the Sears man had to come back 3 -count ’em ladies and gentlemen 3- times. Each visit required a generous window of time and no one in the house could devote 6 hours every Wednesday to this pursuit except me. By the time the washer doctor pronounced the 2 year-old front loader healed, I didn’t remember what clean clothes smelled like.

Then things got rough.

I wake up at 3 o’clock to a terrible racket and stumble to a window. Outside large tree limbs writhe in the wind, the rain flies horizontally, lightning flares and thunder crashes. In January!! As I turn back, my right leg begins howling in pain. By 5 a.m. I have written a long journal entry, downloaded Michael Connelly’s, Black Box on my kindle and got well into the story. Only then does the leg let me go back to sleep.

Painkillers? I would lament the fact that I can’t take any of them (tender stomach), but since they don’t seem to kill my pain anyway, I won’t bother. Actually I lie, liquid morphine works very well, but as I’ve said before, it’s so hard to come by.

As for the leg, nothing a little exercise won’t cure, so I go for walks. I take up the rug and do tai chi in the living room as I wait for Sears. The right hip gets stiff and sore. As I take myself off to a tai chi class, the agony has spread to my lower back. But I am still working on the theory that it’s nothing I can’t work through.

By the time tea break arrives, I have been disabused of that notion. My right hip is beginning to set like cement. A minute too long and I won’t be able to bend to sit down to drive home. I turn the heat on in the Obus Form car seat. I crank up its massage feature to high. I resort to prayer.  In my driveway, I sit studying how best to get out of the car. I discover there is no best. There’s only pain.

Okay, no problem. I have ways to deal with pain. First the castor oil pack, lots of castor oil on a flannel and a heating pad. An hour later, look at that! I can walk. Only problem is I need a derrick or a crane to get me out of bed. Right, let’s try patches, lots of those patches embedded in this case with Chinese herbs, guaranteed to relieve pain, or so my past experience says. But no, not so much and, apparently, not wise to apply them on oily skin. Why not just pass out and sleep it off. An hour later, the pain wakes me up. Let’s try the tennis ball. First lie on the floor, wedge the tennis ball under the tight spot and relax into it.OMG!!!! Does the CIA know about this? It could be way more effective than water boarding! But I keep at it and a few minutes after I get up, a blessed relief floods over me. The spasm has eased.

I am so happy! And blissfully unaware that this will be the pattern of my life for the foreseeable future with one surprising twist. The spasm travels. While it seems most at home in the right hip, it is content to visit the right calf, the right knee and the right thigh, especially as I try to go to sleep. (How is that fair, I ask you.) Just for a change of venue, it zips up to the right shoulder blade, flashes along the neck and zooms down the backbone. At the moment, it has wandered right out of home territory and is visiting my upper left back.

The only time I leave the house for the first 2 weeks is to see the massage therapist and the acupuncturist. The treatments work wonders – for about 24 hours.

I get hysterical. Well, of course I do. I whine on the phone. I up my already high dose of calcium and magnesium. I meditate. I examine my soul to see what darkness lurks there.

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the pain diminishes. I still have the travelling spasm, but I can head it off, so that it doesn’t become full blown.  I go back to tai chi class, only half of it at first. I find that one move, Creeping Low Like Snake, if done very, very gently, opens my back and softens it.

Instead of a marauding tiger tearing at my flesh, it’s more of a domestic cat now. Trouble is, I’m not much of a cat person.