Discovering Play and Pleasure And Yet Accepting impermanence

Pat’s and Gary’s coffee time Tuesday, 1/14/14

Pat: I am reflecting on health, age, and dying today. You are 71 and I am going on 68. We have relatives and acquaintances in their 90s. Some have died and held on tightly to life toward the end. But I find myself asking, “What is their quality of life in their last five years?” And as a nation we are facing out-of-control health costs – beyond what is sustainable. We have to embrace our impermanence! And yet I see my sisters and Mom with their knee replacements and ask – will I need this as well? And we have this small condo, but with all these stairs. Am I healthily facing my own impermanence?

Gary:  On this topic, two recent New York Times articles struck me.  The first appeared on December 1, 2013 and is titled: On Dying After Your Time and was written by Daniel Callahan. Daniel is 83 and fits the situation he is describing – living with oxygen nearby and having survived extensive heart surgery. He notes that 65% of our country’s medical expenses are consumed by just 10% of the population, mostly the elderly. He challenges whether or not longevity should be our goal and concludes that perhaps, “We are not obliged to help the old become indefinitely older. Indeed, our duty may be just the reverse: to let death have its day.” He is making the same point you are: facing our impermanence consciously.

The second article appeared January 4, 2014 and is titled: Why Everyone Seems to Have Cancerby George Johnson. His last paragraph makes his point: as other diseases are overcome by modern medicine, by its very nature (coming about by mutations over time) cancer will get us in the end. His article concludes: “Maybe someday some of us will live to be 200. But barring an elixir for immortality, a body will come to a point where it has outwitted every peril life has thrown at it. And for each added year, more mutations will have accumulated. If the heart holds out, then waiting at the end will be cancer.” Both of these articles relate to facing impermanence and our inevitable death.

And of course I have become a statistic in this cancer arena as well, having been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) nearly 2 years ago. Had this surfaced 8 years ago I would not have survived but a few months. But thanks to the pharmaceutical industry I am now on a side-effects-free chemo treatment through which my oncologist says I will die with CML but not from CML. But the cost of the one pill that I take each morning I am told is $300 – making the monthly cost for this chemo $9,000 or its annual cost over $100,000. Fortunately, up until now insurance and the pharmaceutical’s assistance foundation have made my costs but a tiny fraction of this. But each year this assistance is reevaluated and tomorrow, Wednesday, I am to hear what level of assistance I will get or won’t get for 2014. I am of course quite thankful that there is such a pill, but I ask myself, “Gary, if you had to pay full price for this treatment, what would you do?” This is a good question to sit with as I await their decision. It puts my life – and death – into perspective on a very pragmatic level.

The past two years made possible by my chemo have been very rich and fulfilling, years I would have missed without this chemo treatment. And the next few years seem to hold even more richness. But what if part of this richness turned out to be experiencing my dying process?  I notice that I am not panicked about the limbo I am in; rather, I am just taking one day at a time. I do stay by my phone, however, awaiting the foundation’s call.

Pat: Thich Nhat Hanh speaks wisdom to this state. He says we should be with what is here – each moment birth’s the next. As Sage and Anthony, our couples counselors, tell us in our sessions, here we are as two scared rabbits. So much of my life I have been scared – either about what I have done or have not done, or about what is yet to come. Thich Nhat Hanh and other spiritual teachers tell us to live in the NOW – face that “We just don’t know” what lies ahead. But it is sobering to face these issues and the decisions they will require either way.

Gary: Of late we have seen a broad range of deaths around us. We have seen the hero fighting death courageously to the end. We have seen those who have not fought but have courageously surrendered to their malady, leaving this world in serenity. Pat: I am reminded once again of Wallace’s Introduction in his The Seven-Point Mind Training book where he says that the meaning of life is not presented to us, but is something that we create ourselves. (open Wallace Quote) I am reminded of the preciousness of our time. Gary: Live each moment – be present in each moment.

Pat: In this spirit I want to share that these past two days I find myself changed. I am able to hold a different understanding of your studying so much and your endless blogging. How am I changed in this regard? I am able to appreciate your studying and blogging so much more than earlier. Where was I earlier? I knew that you were different from me, that men are different from women – and assumed your studying and blogging came out of your just being different from me. But I held a mindset: Men in general and Gary in particular look at life this particular way, but my way, women’s ways, are better!

Pat (continued): Now instead of this rigid stance I’m noticing that I have an evolving sense of holding the vision for you, the other. I feel more freedom for the other, free from my conditions and blocks. I want the other to manifest in Truth, in Mystery. This is so different from wanting to define the other narrowly, or to restrict, contract, and control the other. I now see that the differences between us are more than OK, they are essential! Ah Ha! We are in a world where the feminine in both men and women is not considered essential. From my AIP training I remember that when the feminine is suppressed then control, bitterness, and resentment come forth!

Pat (continued): Mind Training points out that all experience is vividness and comes from emptiness and both lead to heightened awareness. I notice that when I am not aware my mind floats unconsciously into a space of judgmentalness, criticalness, and narrowness. I see that I start planning, for example – and planning is far from emptiness. Gary: Just now as we return from our bathroom break I am aware that I left all we were talking about and picked up a photo magazine to read. In seconds I was engaged with what was being described. While these days I am no longer interested in Photoshop software and refinements of what can be done – as I was 30 years ago – yet today I found that in skimming this article I was finding pleasure. Was this arising out of emptiness, setting aside the subject you and I were so intensely into earlier and filling my now-solitary mind with exciting but new ideas? A part of me is critical about this behavior – judging myself for being so easily distracted. Yet what also comes to mind is the playfulness of my temporary distraction and finding pleasure in my playfulness.

Pat: Pleasure and playfulness – this is interesting to notice. Gary: Yes, to experience my pleasure and playfulness that I enjoy when working with new big ideas, nature, hobbies, and so many other topics and doing so with without judging my joy as being wrong, wasteful, unproductive, and dangerous. Pat: Your excitement arising here sounds very young – so much interests you and intrigues you. You can be endlessly self-entertained. Reminds me of your childhood when you would go down the basement and play with your electric train, chemistry set, or tools or run off to your room and construct model airplanes, build crystal set radios, read books, and play endlessly with your erector sets. Gary: Young is good! I was free when doing all these things alone.

Pat: And look at all that you have brought to us these recent days – the breadth of your interests, the depth that you brought – full of awe and wonder, all from following your heart. The possibilities seem endless if your mind does not get caught in fear and judgment but can stay in a spacious place. We say emptiness, but it’s really VASTNESS out of which all phenomena arise. This is a truly co-creative place. Gary: I can feel it. Being free to play, to follow my curiosity. I’m in an endless sandbox. Learning and exploring are my favorite hobbies!

Pat: And where is “intimate relating to me and to others” in all of this playing in your private sandbox? The way you describe all of this is as the boy who went down to the basement and learned to entertain himself. Yet that wonder and innocence – actually endless wonder – was also there in relating intimately to others if and when you had the opportunity. Gary: Being so captivated by the Pathwork book Creating Union back in 2000 gives evidence to the profoundness of that relating energy in me and to the fact that this relating energy was actually my deepest longing. Ditto for Pathwork per se as it related to all of my spiritual life. I held huge curiosity for both intimate relating with a woman and for Pathwork in general as informing my spiritual path – all coming out of my alignment with my Life Force.

Pat: In a way your playful curiosity had avenues where it had free rein and avenues where it did not at all – these latter including avenues of relating intimately, love, sexuality, and spirituality. As you dared to explore these new areas, not having the grounded experience needed for truly developing them, you became a loose canon – both sexually and spiritually. Your intensity, however, found a way out, “right” or “wrong.” And in coming out these two areas – intimate relating and spirituality –  became life giving for you. Feeling the energies, noticing where they come from, we are seeing that they can be directed in a way that allows our living to be so much richer and fuller. This is what Wallace means when he says we have endless opportunity for creating meaning and value.

Gary (laughing): As we have so often discussed, you had several experiences as a young girl where your Life Force was coming out fully only to have it shockingly and suddenly crushed by Dad and Mom. Maybe this traumatized and frozen young girl fell in love with this crazy full-of-life loose-canon man! Pat: Yes, the playful curiosity part of you is attractive. Some see you as so serious, but I see your playful curiosity. I’m jealous but I truly want that and get frustrated when you don’t bring it to our relationship.

Gary: I get frightened to bring forth my spontaneous playful side with you. Pat: Yes, I get that. I have a dampening energy that I bring in response. Having been traumatized as a young girl, when this playful energy comes out of you I’ll kill it! Gary: The killer energy comes at me in both my intimate relationship with you and from the churches to which I have belonged. Regarding the latter, when I wanted to expand my highly energetic spiritual wings the church I grew up in  would just shut me down with their narrow fundamentalist dogmas. There was no encouragement for true spiritual growth and awakening.  … We’ll unfortunately we’ll have to end here – off to coffee with brother Paul. Pat: Yes, so much more here to explore regarding releasing our play and pleasure side!

Shared in love, Gary