A x-post from Da Fatman...
To look upon the world with these dead, glass eyes,
And listen intently with these old, wooden ears,
Is the gift of all gifts.
Like hunting for sand-dollars on the beach,
Only to find a gold coin.
Like looking for a whore,
But instead finding a wife.
Like trying to count smoke.
Like trying to see the center of the sun.
Is it even there?
It's here! Here! HERE!
The smell of bones
The air of pain
The bubbling of blood.
Not to be shunned
but bathed in
as a hot-spring
for an aching body.
Karma to Karma.
Lips to lips.
The kiss of death;
To heal me
of my ignorance.
The world works
Just this way,
And I shouldn't hide
from the truth
Like I once did
When I was so
Full of myself.
Thank you, Great Teacher,
for the taste of wisdom
you give me,
and the way your
fills my nose
with the smell
A brief update from the health front:
I'm a lot better than I was. I'd say 95%. The lingering 5% is a result of fatigue brought on by 10-or-so days of iffy sleep due to the massive amount of antibiotics I'm still on. Taking them alone is tiring. They make me feel lethargic due to their body-load. But they also cause a pretty severe insomnia. I think I'll only be on them a few more days. They were a life-saver, to be sure, but we're getting to the point where the cure is worse than the symptoms. The 5am nose-bleeds are getting sorta old as well. That's because the anti-b's kill off a lot of the gut flora needed to process dietary potassium, and a lack of Vit. K means easy hemorrhages.
But enough whinging. I'm spending my time being grateful for all the friends who've expressed concern, love, compassion and metta for me, grateful for all the medical professionals whose skills helped save me, and my daughter and fiancée for being so strong for me in what for them must have been a very scary situation.
I'm headed back to the Zen Temple to get some work in. I'm looking forward to seeing it 10 days after I left it suddenly. Part of me feels a bit robbed that things I was working on were finished by others' hands. But at the same time, I'm more grateful that things I was working on were finished by others' hands.
Sangha: my supreme support.
A bell peels, ringing out a call to the faithful, yet I remain, still and motionless; a faithless apostle of this moment...
I am of the nature to have ill health; there s no way to escape having ill health...So as I said in the last post, I wound up in hospital last week for a few days with a rather nasty case of cellulitis. I've had this before, a few years back shortly after I sprained my right knee. It was bad, but after a huge shot of antibiotics in the ass, and a week or so of oral treatment, it was managed.
-The Five Remembrances
This time? Not so much.
I'd been working on the rehab/reno of my sangha's new Zen temple in north Portland. We recently purchased a 100-year-old church for our new home, and there was much work to do. One of the things that I struggle with through this extended unemployment is a sense of malaise; a general feeling of purposelessness. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. One of the things I've been focusing great energy on lately is weightloss (you can follow that story over at my other blog) and I'd been having some really satisfying success. Part of that success is directly a result of all the physically hard work I'd been doing the three-and-some weeks prior.
Working hard, sweating, crawling around in the crap, using my skills and knowledge all felt so good. I'd come home exhausted, sure, but it was that satisfying kind of tired that comes from real ardent effort at something that really matters. I felt energized, strong, and vital. I haven't felt that way in quite a while. I was feeling really good about things.
I was working with a friend planing wainscoting. I was "catching," or receiving the thin boards after the machine milled off the face of each piece, removing a hundred years of paint and dirt, then stacking them neatly. In that process, the closed room we were working in grew rather warm, and I was sweating pretty good. I was also getting completely covered in ancient sawdust and old paint. It caked on my arms. It got in my eyes. I was wearing a respirator, but I'm sure I breathed some of it in, too. As we wrapped up, I could feel myself itch nearly everywhere. I was sweating more than I thought I should be. I'd run out of my allergy pills that day, so I hadn't taken one, and thought I may be having an allergic reaction. It made the most sense to me at the time.
I had to leave to get home and see my partner. I started to feel rather lousy. One of my friends noticed this and offered me a ride to the bus stop, which I accepted. On the way back into SE Portland, I started to feel absolutely awful. A few miles away from my street, I knew that something significant was happening to me, and that if I got off at my stop, I wouldn't likely be able to walk up the hill to my flat, so I called a taxi from the bus, and told them to meet me in the parking lot of a Walgreens next to a bus stop. When I got home, my fiancee was there and had an extra allergy pill, which I chewed, then took a hot shower to wash off all the caked-on crap. It seemed to work. I felt better, with the only major thing now being a roaring headache, and sent her home telling her that I didn't want to snap at her unfairly due to the headache, and what I really needed was rest.
I slept like crap that night. I couldn't get comfortable, couldn't stay asleep, and kept being either too hot or too cold, with the headache still in place.
The next day, I thought I felt a bit improved. My step-daughter stopped by in the early afternoon, and we hung out a bit. I was getting ready to make us something to eat when the same shivers and cold feeling crept over me again. I told her to make herself something to eat while I went to try and warm myself up in the shower. If that didn't work, she said she could run me to urgent care.
I had the shower set to "poach", I'm sure. I sat under the scalding water, freezing and shaking almost uncontrollably. Is this blowing up into anaphylaxis? I wondered. It was a moot point; I knew I was in trouble. I called to her from the shower, and said something I hoped I'd never have to say to her on my own behalf: call 911. I was starting to feel like I was going into shock. I knew that I had to get to a hospital, and fast, and that the chances of me physically being capable of getting into her tiny CRX were slim-to-none. I was to the point that I didn't even know if I could get out of the shower. EMS arrived quickly, assessed me, got a temp of 102.8, and took me to a nearby hospital.
My daughter had run into downtown and picked up my fiancee. They were both there, both worried, and both doing their best to be strong. When I got into ER, I was examined, and given IV fluids, a big fat pile of acetaminophen and a dose of Tramadol. It all seemed to help, and within three hours, I was feeling vastly improved to the point that I was able to eat, and they were considering discharging me, willing to write it off to a nasty virus. The ER doctor said "If your vitals show stable, we'll send you home."
For as well as I may have felt, my blood-pressure was screwed up. I have mild hypertension, or high blood-pressure, but the problem was in the opposite direction. I was showing consistent hypotension, or low blood-pressure. The BP readings for me should have been 130/80 or so, but I was consistently showing 90/45. The doctor looked at me and said "I'm really sorry, but I just don't feel good about sending you home like this, so I'm going to admit you overnight for observation." As bummed as I may have been by this, I had to agree with her. I sent my fiancee home, assuring her that all would be well, that there was nothing to do, and that I was exactly where I should be.
Shortly thereafter, not even an hour later, I was moved to a different room. I started to feel terrible again. Sweating, but cold. Uncontrollable tremors. The acetaminophen they'd given me in the ER was wearing off. They gave me more, and one of the nurses took a Sharpie marker and traced the area on my left leg that was going red and radiating hot. It was cellulitis for sure, and it was very angry. They started me on two kinds of IV antibiotics. I knew I was going to be in hospital for at least a few days.
The next day, my step-daughter came and hung out in my room with me, bringing me a few more things from home. Later that day, my teacher—who'd recently found out that I was in the hospital—came and visited me. It was a comfort, and I appreciated it deeply. "How are you practicing with this?" he asked. I told him that I would simply repeat the Five Remembrances whenever it occurred to me, and that I was trying to concentrate on my breath, which was still there, still vital, and still under my control. I remember him saying to me just before he left "Do not make the mistake of minimizing the size of this challenge."
I was discharged the morning after that visit, on Friday. Things looked rather good. I was told to make a follow-up appointment with my personal physician as soon as I could. He was available the next day—Saturday—but I figured that Monday was good enough. The hospital doctor thought so back when we were talking about it, so I scheduled an appointment for Monday.
The weekend was generally uneventful, with the only major addition to my routine being the swallowing of two antibiotic pills a day the size of baby shoes. I felt better, looked better, but was still having trouble sleeping, and waking up hot at 4am. Monday morning, I noticed that a larger patch of redness was showing on my leg. When I got to my doctor, I could see the concern on his face. Is this being resistant? I told him I was tolerating the antibiotic well, and asked if he thought we should double it. He agreed. He also put me on half my normal dosage of diuretic to help get the excess fluid out of the leg. The swelling and edema would only make it harder to heal. That was yesterday. Anyway, that's where I am now: four baby shoes and half a water pill a day, plus acetaminophen as needed.
The double dose of anti-b's make me very photosensitive, and give me a crashing headache, but appear to be working. The red patch is cooler, less diffuse and more defined, which is good. The swelling is down overall. I'm still a bit nervous, but that's not really going to accomplish anything helpful.
This has been, and continues to be, a rather significant challenge. I went from feeling so good, so vital, and my lowest weight since high-school, to completely helpless and dependent, shivering in misery in a hospital bed hooked into IV's, or laying on my couch with my leg in the air, watching the Hysteria Channel about 10lbs heavier than this time last week. It seemed so instantaneous.
All that is dear to me, and everyone I love are of the nature of change; There is no way to keep being separated from them.All that is dear, including my own health.
"...it's always the image of change that really makes the poem..."
A close friend and dharma brother recently asked me about a term we bandy about in our community/shanga: "practice edge". "What the hell is an 'edge' of practice?" he asked. I used cutting metaphors, cliff metaphors, etc. It worked, but I left the conversation feeling like I gave a thimble full of water to a thirsty man asking for a drink. Not short-shrift, but by no means quenching.
I wound up in hospital for a few very miserable days this past week. I'm healing well, but my sleep schedule is completely out of whack, so I was up at 4am. I did zazen for about a half an hour lying down in the dark, then got my phone to watch something while laying there, hoping to fall back asleep for a bit. That didn't work at all, because I made the grave mistake of watching something so utterly engrossing that I woke right up.
If you look at life like a perfect, flat, uniform sheet of paper, it has four edges. If you consider or assume that those edges define its scope in any direction, and beyond those edges is nothing (and by definition, beyond that life) you have a pretty interesting and generally useful model for the human life, or human experience.
Now, if there are no imperfections in that sheet of paper—no dimples, tears, creases or folds—you have a rather homogeneous existence. Everything just flows evenly from edge to edge, even if that plane is twisted. It all just goes along smoothly until it suddenly stops.
I think that would be a very boring life.
But put a crease in there, and suddenly, without affecting the contiguousity (yes, I just made that up) of the experience, you've now got more definition. You have difference, you have realm, you have texture, you have shape.
We all think that we want a smooth life. Wrinkles, crinkles, tears or messy bits in the flow of our existence tend to upset us, make us change course, or do something in a manner not of our original or current desire. But to quote (with minor modification) Billy Bragg; "...all (life) is strange, and you have to learn to take the crunchy with the smooth, I suppose."
As I said, I wound up in hospital recently, and at one point, I was laying in my bed, soaked in misery, watching a stunningly beautiful full moon arc across the slightly cloudy skies through the huge windows of my room, and I remembered a favorite audio bit from Alan Watts I stumbled upon a year or so ago...
"So we are living—as it were—on many levels of rhythm. This is the nature of change. If you resist it, you have dukka, you have frustration and suffering. But, on the other hand, if you understand change—you don't cling to it, and you let it flow—then it's no problem. It becomes positively beautiful, which is why in poetry the theme of the evanescence of the world is beautiful. When Shelly says:Change gives us dynamism. Difference gives us definition. Choice gives us opportunity. Smoothness gives us rest. The dimples, tears, creases and folds in the fabric of our lives—those places and points where direction changes without our consent, where the shape morphs into something we're not expecting or even wanting, where roughness pushes us out of a comfortable flow—these are the edges of practice.
The One remains, the many change and pass;Now what's beautiful in that? Is it heaven's light that shines forever, or is it rather the dome of many colored glass that shatters? See, it's always the image of change that really makes the poem..."
Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death [shatters] it to fragments.
Space and time themselves are not smooth, we now understand. We perceive them as so, but they're not at the most basic and fundamental level. Quantum particles pop in and out of existence, creating a seething foam of ever-changing texture. Time is bent by the laws of physics, slowing the closer you get to the speed of light. As I said, we perceive them as so, but in reality, they're anything but. The error in perception is, as always, a matter of scale.
But I'm all about texture...