Dad + the next step

Friday morning.

Dad celebrates his 80th birthday tomorrow.

I just got off the phone with my mom She’s tired, emotionally and crying. Dad is being moved to a nursing home at 4:00 PM because he cannot transition on his own from bed to wheelchair.

Twice in two days, mom had to call 911 to have EMT’s come to the house because he had fallen out of his chair.

My dad remains eerily quiet. If you catch him deep in thought a smile, however, forced will replace the previous countenance. I know he is concerned. I know he is scared. He does not wish to die but has also accepted this fact as inevitable.

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He like me is constantly thinking but we have a tendency to not show the rest of the world how we are feeling and of what we are thinking. Some people find this frustrating, I find solace in not wearing my feelings on my sleeve. My father and I have discussed before how we manage our feelings. We don’t believe we are stronger than others, we just don’t believe in what has become, as I call it, the “Art of Complaining.” If I need help with something, you had better believe I will be the first person to ask for help. If I cannot see an immediate way out, then I’ll keep chewing on it until I do. When I say “fuck it” and decided to let it go, it doesn’t mean I don’t care nor does it mean I have given up. It means there is nothing else which can be done or as I like to say, “It is what it is.” Thanks, dad for teaching me this statement. It has saved my ass more than once from becoming overly involved in something over which I have no control. I have signs in both of my offices which hang ominously projecting this belief to all who want to hear.

This morning I called my mom and the upset tone which was in her voice yesterday morning was now replaced by worry and fear, her words muddled by her tears. I will pick her up and we will go, together to the hospital to be with my dad and ensure he has loved ones around him as he readies for what will ultimately be the next steps in his life.

Memento Mori. This term was one which I saw scrawled in spray paint on an overpass under which I have driven God only knows how many times in my 54 years on this planet. I saw it and frankly never gave it much thought. Several months ago after being introduced to Stoicism, I was reintroduced to this phrase.

Memento Mori, when translated from Latin means “Remember Death.” We are all going to die…this is inevitable. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives thinking, believing we will magically live forever. We race throughout our day focusing on what we believe or have been told is important while leaving those things which, in the larger picture are often nothing more than a means to an end. The day after my father was hospitalized, my sister’s father-in-law, the proverbial picture of life and success and the same age as my father, was sidelined by a stroke. His fate remains in the hands of God as a prognosis is too early to formulate. He appears, at this time to be stable. This too is a reminder that our lives can be over in the blink of an eye.

Memento Mori

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Are you Living or just Surviving?

What follows is a letter written in 1958 by a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter wrote this letter to his friend Hume logan after Hume had asked him how one can find meaning and purpose in life.

I hear complaints frequently in my work as a therapist. People come to me complaining they feel ‘burned out’, stressed; that they cannot ‘find the time” to do the things they want to do, that their time is taken up by the things they ‘need to do.’

The majority of my clients do not want to hear my response. They want medication or another ‘quick fix.’ As Hunter says in his letter to Hume, there is no quick fix. Hunter talks about the importance of identifying a goal. This is another issue that the majority of my clients struggle to understand. They come to therapy with a vague goal of ‘wanting to feel better.’ Trying to ferret out a more in-depth response is often a difficult proposition which is precisely why so many of us struggle to find our way. We remain adrift throughout life like a sailboat lacking a rudder. Wind can fill our sails but lacking a rudder to ensure we are traveling in the right direction will get us nowhere.

I am going to let Hunter take it from here and share his thoughts on this question.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles …” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors.WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter

I hope Hunter’s advice helps you find your way..

Namaste

How to Feel Happier During an Unhappy Time

This is republished from Gretchen Rubin.

Sometimes, it’s not possible — or at least not easy — to feel happy. However, it’s sometimes possible to feel happier. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Remind yourself of reasons to be grateful. When things look really dark, it’s hard to feel grateful, but remembering what’s good in your life can help put problems into perspective. I have a friend who recently suffered a big disappointment at work. She said to me, “As long as my family is healthy, I can’t get too upset about anything.”

2. Remember your body. Take a twenty-minute walk outside to boost your energy and dissolve stress. Don’t let yourself get too hungryGet enough sleep. Manage pain. It’s very tempting to run yourself ragged trying to deal with a crisis, but in the long run, you just wear yourself out.

3. Do something fun. Temporarily distract yourself from the stress, and re-charge your battery, with an enjoyable activity. Watching a funny movie is a reliable way to give yourself a pleasant break, and listening to your favorite music is one of the quickest ways to change your mood. When my older daughter was in the intensive-care unit as a newborn, my husband dragged me off to a movie one afternoon — and that few hours of distraction made me much better able to cope with the situation. Be careful, however, not to “treat” yourself by doing something that’s eventually going to make you feel worse (taking up smoking again, drinking too much, indulging in retail therapy). My comfort-food activity is reading children’s literature.

4. Take action. If you’re in a bad situation, take steps to bring about change. If you’re having trouble with your new boss, you could decide to try to transfer. Or you could change your behavior. Or you could find ways to pay less attention to your boss. Ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem?” It’s astounding to me that often, when I take time to identify a problem exactly, a possible solution presents itself.

5. Look for meaning. Re-frame an event to see the positive along with the negative. Maybe getting fired will give you the push you need to move to the city where you’ve always wanted to live. Maybe your illness has strengthened your relationships with your family. You don’t need to be thankful that something bad has happened, but you can try to find positive consequences even in a catastrophic event. Here are some examples.

6. Connect with friends and family. Strong relationships are a KEY to happiness, so fight the impulse to isolate yourself. Show up. Make plans. Ask for help, offer your help to others.

7. Make something better. If something in your life has gotten worse, try to make something else better – and it doesn’t have to be something important. Clean a closet. Organize your photographs. Work in the yard.

8. Act toward other people the way you wish they’d act toward you. If you wish your friends would help you find someone to date, see if you can fix up a friend. If you wish people would help you find a job, see if you can help someone else find a job. If you can’t think of a way to help someone you know, do something generous in a more impersonal way. For instance: commit to being an organ donor! When you’re feeling very low, it can be hard to muster the energy to help someone else, but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Do good, feel good; it really works.

By taking whatever steps you can, you give yourself a deeper reservoir to deal with your happiness challenge. What other strategies have you used to make yourself happier during an unhappy time?

Entitlement is Optional

This has been reposted from Seth Godin’s blog published on 1/10/2017.

It’s not forced on us, it’s something we choose.

And we rarely benefit from that choice.

That emergency surgery, the one that saved your life, when the ruptured appendix was removed—the doctor left a scar.

We can choose to be grateful for our next breath.

Or we can find a way to be enraged, to point out that given how much it costs and how much training the doctor had, that scar really ought to be a lot smaller. And on top of that, he wasn’t very nice. We’re entitled to a nice doctor!

Or we can choose to be grateful.

Marketers have spent trillions of dollars persuading us that we can have it all, that we deserve it, and that right around the corner is something even better.

Politicians have told us that they’ll handle everything, that our pain is real and that an even better world is imminent.

And we believe it. We buy into our privilege as well as the expectation that our privilege entitles us to even more. It’s not based on status or reality. It’s a cultural choice.

And you’re entitled to your entitlement if you want it.

But why would you?

Entitlement gets us nothing but heartache. It blinds us to what’s possible. It insulates us from the magic of gratitude. And most of all, it lets us off the hook, pushing us away from taking responsibility (and action) and toward apportioning blame and anger instead.

Gratitude, on the other hand, is just as valid a choice. Except that gratitude makes us open to possibility. It brings us closer to others. And it makes us happier.

There’s a simple hack at work here: We’re not grateful because we’re happy. We’re happy because we’re grateful.

Everything could be better.

Not because we deserve it (we don’t, not really).

But because if we work at it, invest in it and connect with others around it, we can make it better. It’s on us.

It’s difficult work, counter-instinctual work that never ends.

But we keep trying. Because it’s worth it.

Life in Transformation

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude for this beautiful day.

Life is transformation. I can think of several individuals in my life who would disagree with this notion. Then again, those same individuals would disagree with just about any notion which identifies the personal responsibility with which we need to take to transform our lives.

I am coming up to the first scheduled day off since May. It’s been a long time I know. I’ll be heading back to the Adirondacks for some quiet time which will include a lot of reading, a lot of writing as I work toward completion of my book. This time will be punctuated with several sips of bourbon and some Puterkos Pizza.

Fall is upon us. The light of each day grows progressively shorter. We inch closer to the Winter Solstice. It’s that time of year when we begin to once again regain precious minutes of daylight. The calendar, at the same time, inching closer to the new arrival of Spring.

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I woke this morning to rays of beautiful sunshine peeking through the slats of the blinds. One of my joys is having an opportunity to wake without an alarm. Another joy are the beautiful sounds coming from the birds at the freshly filled feeder and the smell of freshly brewed coffee. It is these simple things which bring me the most joy. The joy I find in such simplicity reminds me not to take life too seriously, to not worry about the things which I cannot control and to live each day to its fullest.

“When you go out into the woods and you look at the trees, you see all these different trees and some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are green and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it, you see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans you lose all that. And you’re constantly saying “you are too this,” or “I am to this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees, which means appreciating them just the way they are.” ~Ram Dass

If you think that life is a journey to some sort of destination you could not be more wrong. I understand your thoughts right now because we have all heard the sayings on the t-shirts and bumper stickers which remind us that “life is a journey.” If we think of life as a journey then we keep going faster and faster to reach this unknown destination. Life is transformation. Life is a transformation. We are reminded of this every day while also being reminded of the opposite. We are constantly changing, evolving, and improving. Our growth has nothing to do with speed. In fact it often this need for speed, the need to reach a believed destination which causes us to stumble and make decisions which may not be in our best interest. We need to slow down and assess our direction. We need to ask ourselves what we are transforming into. Every Sunday I receive a text message that asks, “Slow down and ask what you have learned this past week?” What have I learned that can impede my transformation and which can help my transformation excel? Am I a better person today than I was yesterday? Better than last week, last month, last year?

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I use photography to help better understand the path on which I am on. I look at my photographs, camera in hand to see how I can see my life and its surroundings differently.

How do you see yourself? When you look at yourself, do yourself a favor and don’t blame others for the condition of your life. Your decisions are just that, your decisions. If you look to blame others, you will find the hole in which you are in become ever deepening. Accept responsibility for your actions. Ask for help from honest individuals and develop a plan that will help you achieve the goals which you have set.

Namaste

A Beautiful Day

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude. Gratitude for this beautiful day and this beautiful life.

This past Sunday, I was awarded with two exceptional items in my day. The first, my grandson’s presence at our home for the entire day. As sick as he was feeling and as unenergetic as he was, it remains a pleasure to have him grace our home with his presence. The other was the beautiful weather which accompanied Chase.

My Sunday morning went as smooth as it normally does. I take a few minutes to ask the question,”What good can I do this day?” This question is a daily question. It is a challenge to myself to be a better person every minute of every day. I am not perfect and I catch myself falling back into old ways; old behaviors. Difficulties only arise when I do not catch myself lingering in the past and do not acknowledge the work which remains. As I grow older, I am acutely aware my time on this plant is set. Like everyone else, I am unaware of my expiration date. There is no fear for me in death, there is however fear that I will not accomplish everything which I have set out to accomplish.

I digress as I desire to keep this post brief and to remain on point.

I rocked Chase to sleep, that beautiful feeling of contentment in my arms. I am having difficulty deciding if I want to continue to sit, holding him or put him down. I decide on the latter and decide to retreat outdoors. Before I do so, I gathered my journal, my newest addition to the fountain pen family which has been freshly inked, my journal, a favorite cigar, my lighter and a two fingers of one of my favorite whiskeys.

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I am immediately caught by the stunning scene as I exit my home. The sun, still high in the sky, its rays piercing through the still covered canopy of the maple tree in my backyard.

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The sweet smell of fall immediately strikes my nose; leaves which have recently fallen from their perch, the decay of the pumpkins being chewed upon by the neighborhood squirrels and the dew remaining on the grass. Yesterday, Stephen and I had raked all of the leaves and the grass was cut. Today, it was as if the grass was never touched; carpeted by a new covering of colorful leaves. A smile crosses my face and I retreat from the porch to my favorite Adirondack chair. I softly brush the leaves from the seat and place myself in the comfort of this chair. I clipped my cigar and touched the flame to the end and begin to puff. The smell of this exquisite smoke curls upward and eventually dissolves into nothingness. It is at this moment which I am reminded again of the briefness of life.

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I reach for my pen, a Visconti Homosapien freshly inked with a beautiful blue ink. The ink, I notice is the same blue as that of the sky.

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I open to the last page written and this beautiful nib glides effortlessly across the page, my thoughts flowing with the same ease. The pen, recapped, returns to it’s leather home and now I sit. I sit and simply take in the beauty that is this day.

Namaste

Writing, Depression & Other Things

With hands grasped in gratitude, I greet you on this beautiful day.

It’s a long weekend for me and I am happy to be enjoying an extra free day off this weekend. As I sat, my soul warmed with another cup of coffee and my Kindle, my mind began, as it often does to wander. I began to think about writing. It has been three months since my last post and almost three months since I have worked on my book.

It has also been almost three months since my last consistent run. This “streak” was interrupted just once by an attempt to test my knee. This “test” failed miserably and caused additional pain. I have had x-rays completed but the physician refused to discuss them with me when she believed this injury had been caused at work. This despite the numerous pages of information which I completed explaining the injury took place as a result of running. I find this to be an indictment of the current state of our medical profession and one, which within my own practice I work terribly hard to avoid. Regardless, I will reschedule with another physician and secure an accurate diagnosis.

Each week which goes by offers me increasing hope as the pain and discomfort continues to decrease. For this I am thankful for it offers some hope the injury will not require a surgical intervention.

I was frightened by the notion that I did not miss running, especially those runs which allowed me to start my day with some modicum of balance.

I have been reflecting on the last year and in some cases wish I could call a mulligan and have remained at the job which I had prior to the start of the last year. Since this is not a possibility, I have reflected on what I have learned in this last year.

Not to be cliché but I have learned the grass is not always greener on the other side. I have also learned it is not a bad thing to be happy with the status quo, to not wish for more, of anything but to be happy or to find happiness in what I already have.

I was reminded balance can be found in such things, that to not see the balance which I already have and to seek something for which the definition is unclear causes one to experience greater imbalance in one’s life. I stepped from the frying pan into the fire. I saw my physical health be called into question and I saw my love for running also being called into question. It culminated in me experiencing a panic attack while out for a very early run. The panic attack saw me sitting by the side of the road in tears with passersby wondering what was going on for me at 4:30 AM. Shortly thereafter I saw my physician and began a course of medication to help me manage these symptoms. I began the search for alternate employment. Finally this goal was reached but emotionally I still felt empty; like a ship bobbing on the waves in the open ocean sails flapping loosely in the breeze with not enough force to provide the energy necessary to move forward. My meditation practice faltered and finally halted and also became nonexistent. I had hung my hat on one decision, one belief, that a new place of employment would provide all the stress relief which I would need. This solved a small portion of my problem, the remainder lied in my belief that there was nothing else to question. Depression set in followed by anhedonia and a general feeling of malaise. I continued to run but even these were forced. The love which I had previously had for waking early in the morning now became a chore instead of a salvation. I still enjoyed the solitude I felt but I also felt myself withdrawing into myself; feeling sorry for myself. Everything became a chore. I functioned on autopilot and left unchecked ends up causing an accident. This “accident” was my knee injury. Even my journaling which provided as much solace as did my daily runs and something with which I found respite, waned and became almost nonexistent. Daily writing fell off to one or two days each week, then once each week. There were weeks where I was lucky if I even inked a fountain pen let alone knew the whereabouts of my journal. I retreated more and more into my head and found reading to be my one remaining constant.

Slowly but surely my energy began to return. I am not fully there but I feel my hope, my desire to return to enjoying the run beginning to increase. It was at first difficult for me to accept the fact that I could not run, despite knowing further pain and injury would certainly follow. This summer, one of our warmest on record and a time of year I look forward to running as it affords me the ability to run in only shorts and running shoes caused additional strain on my mood. Alas, it is what it is.

My own diagnosis is one which places a possible return to running around the turn of the year. Hopefully, with the advice of a doctor and the possibility of physical therapy I can at least comfortably return to some form of physical activity which will help ease my depression.

As I said in an earlier post, one of the greatest abilities we have, if we choose to accept it is our ability to be introspective.

Namaste