I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, February 26, 2023

A long week is over

Beautiful clouds

 We've had some interesting weather this week: incredible cold and an unremitting frigid blast from the Canadian Frasier Gap, where often in the winter we get this long period of strong northwesterly winds that just keep howling, until some of us feel like we're ready to move away, to anywhere that isn't blowing like this. 

And then, like magic, it stops. One day it all stops and we return to placid days with sunshine and I tend to forget pretty quickly how much I hated the wind. By and large, I am very fortunate to live somewhere that the weather takes care of itself, and I can begin to think of spring, not too far away now. But what do we have coming, after a lovely day with high overcast skies?

Front porch watering can (with a previous year's snow)

Snow is forecast for the entire area, pretty much, but we might luck out and have temperatures warm enough to give us rain instead. We, however, have not seen anything approaching freezing for well over a week. (That did change overnight.) Even with plentiful sunshine, it was still very cold. It has helped me to develop a grumpy attitude. I decided midweek that I needed to do something about it.

I called my acupuncturist for an emergency session, since he can help get me back on track more quickly than anything else I have found. And sure enough, it did help a great deal. Then on Friday, I had a pre-scheduled massage session, and that was enough to help me over the edge of my ill temper towards a little bit of cheerfulness, even feeling a smile spread across my face as I drove home from her studio.

Two good things happened this week: first of all, we got our taxes prepared and mailed off to the IRS, with help from the Senior Center's AARP volunteers. For the first time, we won't get anything back and had to pay a small amount. I've been withholding a small percentage from my annuities, and it always has given us a couple hundred dollars in return. But this year, with the Social Security increase, we had to pay. So I'll make sure that next year's amount to be withheld will be sufficient to give us a small return. It's amazing what a psychological difference it makes to get something back instead of having to pay.

The other good thing is that I went to my hearing provider's office to be fitted with hearing aids. I had the results from the tests, and all I had to do was decide whether I wanted to order the "advanced" version or the "premium" ones. My co-pay ended up being $2000, for two top of the line devices. I asked what the difference is between them, and she told me mostly is how much she, the professional, could tweak them to mimic natural hearing. They are bluetooth enabled, meaning I will be able to control them with my iPhone and listen to phone calls, TV programs, music or podcasts through my hearing aids. I know that is what John has, because sometimes he begins to talk to nobody (it seems to me) when he answers a phone call (which I never heard) with a quick tap on his ear. I also learned that if I had to buy them myself, I would have had to pay $6000 for them. You can rest assured that I wouldn't have gotten them at that price!

I don't know if I will have them yet when I write this post next week, but you will know exactly what I think of this investment. I have a 60-day return window and a three-year warranty. I also chose to pay a little more for rechargeable batteries. Once these are paid for, my next purchase will be a new laptop. I've grown accustomed to the one I have and know there is always a learning curve when I get a new one. So that is in the future, after I have grown accustomed to my new ears.

Once you appreciate one of your blessings, one of your senses, your sense of hearing, then you begin to respect the sense of seeing and touching and tasting, you learn to respect all the senses. —Maya Angelou

Christine, my hearing specialist, carefully entered all the information she got from my hearing evaluation into a spreadsheet showing my own particular pattern of hearing loss. She told me she thought I would be very happy with my hearing aids, once I get used to them. I am a little ambivalent; I really hoped she would tell me my hearing was not that bad. But trying to differentiate the words deft, death, deck, or debt from each other is impossible. I realize I often use context to determine words, and that should all change once my new ears are familiar to me.

On my other blog I asked the question of whether most people think of Sunday as the last day of the week, or the first. I asked because I am confused by how I feel about this day, but finally with help, I decided to think of it as the last day of the week, with Monday being the first. Even long into retirement, I need to remember what day of the week it is, since I do have appointments and classes to attend. 

I've decided to take up knitting again, starting with making a warm hat for my friend Melanie. It came to me as something I need to do while I was soaking in the ministrations from my massage therapist. Realizing that there was a time when I enjoyed creating things from yarn, and that I need to move away from constantly being tied to my computer, it seems like just the perfect thing to take up as I begin my journey into becoming an octogenarian. Long ago, I made sweaters, socks (I didn't like making those at all), hats, and vests. I remember learning how to make complicated cable stitches, and I figure it will all come back to me fairly quickly. 

And then, as the spring flowers begin to emerge from the ground, I will once again enjoy the beautiful environment that surrounds me. I also enjoy seeing what others who have grown old along with me find to do with their time. And I will again pick up my Kindle and finish the book I started about quantum mechanics. Who ever thought that would be such an interesting concept? Not exactly a page-turner, but it stimulates my thoughts about what is real, who we are, gives my mind something interesting to contemplate, and helps to expand my sense of the universe. Moving from the esoteric to digging in the dirt should help me to regain some balance in my life, don't you think?

Pretty primroses

My dear partner still sleeps quietly next to me as I compose this, and I can feel myself beginning to emerge from the cocoon of my bed and think of how much I will enjoy the day ahead. I do truly hope that the coming week will surround you with lots of love and joy, and I wish the same for myself. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, be well.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Worrying worldwide trends

Eagle's eye view

Where we live here in the Pacific Northwest, we see a great number of eagles, like this one keeping an eye on the hikers below. I just finished reading a disturbing article in The Atlantic, entitled "Eagles are Falling, Bears are Going Blind," about a strain of avian virus that has become much more virulent than any known heretofore, and it has jumped from birds to other animals, and some of them are mammals, like bears. We have known about the avian flu virus for a long time.

The largest outbreak of bird flu in American history was an H5N2 virus, which led to the deaths of 17 million domestic birds and cost the nation more than $400 million during an outbreak in Pennsylvania that started in 1983. —Michael Greger

What we have going on worldwide right now is, in the words of an avian immunologist:  "I would use one word to describe it: unprecedented. We have never seen anything like this before" (Shayan Sharif). We have already lost more than 58 million avian animals, and now it's spread to new and very scary hosts, like seals, minks, foxes, bears, and whales. We will be hearing more about this virus in days, months, and years to come, I fear.

So far, humans who have been infected by this virus work closely with fowl and other birds, but it has only made them sick; they recovered and have not passed the virus from human to human. However, after we have recently (and not completely) dealt with the suspected bat virus, Covid-19, which ended up killing millions of humans and is still not done with us, it doesn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy to think of what might lie ahead.

However. It doesn't do any good to stress about possible virus epidemics in our future. We have plenty to worry about already, with climate change causing incredible numbers of unprecedented events, such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and major climate catastrophes around the world. What should a person who is aware of the trends and wanting to do something positive about the situation, do?

The only thing we have that we can actually do something about, is our own mental attitude. I've tried to avoid the news, but I keep coming back to hear what the current situation is with all this, and I read many opinion articles daily, because it just doesn't seem right to stick my head in the sand and pretend it's not happening. It does help to get some perspective on current events, by reading positive as well as negative news.

I also must remind myself, often, that we are all in this together. Nobody is alive right now who is not affected by what is happening worldwide. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor (other than one's personal comfort), we cannot escape the difficulties we face every day. Some people choose to ignore it and put on a brave face, but I can't do that anymore. I wake with the heaviness of grief, not because of any personal loss, but because life itself has become a reminder that we are not being good stewards of our planet. 

So, obviously, I am in need of an attitude adjustment. I'd like it to be a permanent fix, but since I can't have that, I'll muddle through, looking for those little anodynes that help relieve pain. One very positive method is to look it straight in the face and acknowledge what is going on inside of my head. How is it possible that one day I wake feeling filled with optimism for the day ahead, and the next I wake like this, fearful of what's to come? What is different, really?

My mental state. That's the only difference. And that state is as ephemeral and changeable as the weather, the wind shifts and I'm happy, then sad. But the good thing is that it's under my control.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world. —Jack Layton

I choose to be loving, hopeful and optimistic. Although I may need to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and repeat those words to myself over and over, I can change what I think and the way that I respond. People have been finding ways to do this since, well, since we came into the world. I went online and found an interesting article, "How to Be Optimistic When the World Around You Isn't." It gives some tips on how to become more positive, which obviously I need right now. It's not a panacea, the world is still going to be a dangerous place to visit, but it's my home, and it's where I can make the tiniest bit of difference by changing my own mind.

Just the smallest little push towards happiness, just thinking about it all, has made me feel better. It's better that I am able to think about it and write it down than letting it fester like a wound inside my head. I have applied the balm of love and respect for my state and acknowledging it, and it's already better. I feel the lines in my face soften and the barest hint of a smile tug at my lips. 

I think of my mantra, the one I repeat many times a day, "May all sentient beings be free from pain and suffering and enjoy robust good health." I sometimes forget to include myself when I say it, so today my goal is to give this dear person, me, some loving kindness and compassion. And I know for a fact that it works, when I change my own mind from looking into the darkness to looking upwards toward the light.

I suspect I'll be in a much better frame of mind when we meet again next week. I will be here, and I hope you will be, too. I feel love spilling up and out of my body, and it's a much nicer place to live in. Yep, it's already better. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things and lots of love and compassion surrounding you.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Love and loss

Bellingham Bay at Marine Park

On the calendar, this coming week is one where we celebrate love, with Valentine's Day, and seeing the bare beginnings of spring on its way. It was partly cloudy when we went out for our five-mile-long walk yesterday, Melanie and me.
You get older. In the end, you end up accepting everything in your life — suffering, horror, love, loss, hate — all of it. —Harry Dean Stanton

Today I'm thinking of what I've gained and lost during the long years of my life. I don't believe that most would consider my life as one they might want to have, instead of their own, unless perhaps they are in Turkey or Syria right now and have lost everything: family, home, safety. The loss of loved ones can be borne with enough time and space from the event, but living through an apocalypse like the earthquake that has killed a minimum of 28,000 people, with probably many more bodies to be unearthed before it's all over, is horrific. Anyone who has lost even a modicum of what these people are enduring can identify and relate to their suffering.

When I was growing up, I was incredibly fortunate in my early life, well fed and taken care of, with no idea what my life would be as I matured. I gave birth to my firstborn just before my nineteenth birthday, just a kid myself, but I loved so much being a mother and caring for my infant son. I gave him what I experienced in my own early life: safety, comfort, food, shelter. By his third birthday, all that had changed. I had given birth to another son, but Stephen died just after his first birthday, of spinal meningitis. Chris not only lost his brother, but his mother as well. I was a basket case for many years and did not give him the love he deserved. And it was the beginning of many years of strife in my own world. 

But that was then. Nobody continues to go through such painful periods forever; you eventually pull yourself together and pick up the threads of life and do the best you can. I suppose that is also true when enduring natural disasters: eventually life morphs into a new normal. Although I have had my share of loss, and then some, I have also been blessed to experience much love from my wonderful family and friends.

Most of us have the same sort of lives: a lot of good times and bad times, hard moments and delightful ones. I have noticed that sometimes an event will stand out in my memory and can be remembered again and again. Not only happy ones, but awful ones as well. With each remembering, the event subtly changes, as memory is not very dependable. But there are moments that stand out, hardly change when I recall them, such as those moments when my two sons came into the world. Both times I was ecstatic and felt incredibly lucky. On the other side, I also remember the moment I hit the ground when I broke my pelvis in six places during a botched parachute landing. I remember that moment very well, although it was almost a quarter century back in time. My life took a serious turn into injury, followed by many months of recovery.

These days, I am busy enjoying the later years of my life, with a wonderful partner who helps me navigate every day, sometimes with laughter and sometimes with tears. We love each other, more today than when we first got together, which is such a bonus, and one we could not have imagined as we gazed into our future life together. Marriage always has its ups and downs, but after I had experienced three failed marriages before we got together, it was in no way guaranteed. But here we are, proving that love and affection can rise above all the tribulations that we have faced together.

Today we also face the loss of our faculties, as we move into our eighties. I finally got my hearing test, through the local university which has a training program for new audiologists. I had two trainees and one experienced teacher who put me through extensive tests before showing me the results. I had hoped that my hearing loss would be minimal, but I learned that I definitely have lost my high-frequency hearing, and cannot distinguish many consonants from one other. It was not a surprise, but I held out hope that I wouldn't need hearing aids. Not so. In a week or so, I have an appointment to receive them, and although my medicare advantage plan pays for some of the expense, I will also have to fork over $2,000. I will receive a 60-day trial period, a three-year warranty, and 150 batteries, each of which only last about a week, as I understand it. Plus I get an advocate who will work with me for several months; I don't want to make such an investment and then end up with them living in a dresser drawer rather than being used.

We have five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight. Three of those five are compromised in my case (everything but touch and taste), and I could be very discouraged if I decided to let myself go there. But what good would that do? Growing older is a gift, not one without thorns, but a gift nonetheless. I am still able to take a brisk walk for up to seven or eight miles, thanks to my trekking poles, and I can still manage most of the postures in yoga, even now. I have plenty of friends who are in the same boat as me, and we commiserate with one another and give each other useful tips for navigating the choppy waters of The Eighties.

I cannot expressing adequately how much I appreciate having this other community, the virtual one that puts me in touch with so many others around the world who have joined me on this journey. Some live nearby, in my state and many in Canada, and some on the other side of the world. As we live our lives and blog about our adventures, as well as our trials and tribulations, I realize that I would be lost without your kindness and love. I hope you will be surrounded with lots of love today, tomorrow, and far into the future.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Moving into February

John T. Rus capture

I am again snagging a photo from the Seeing Bellingham group on Facebook, since the pictures I've taken recently just aren't as beautiful or inspiring. John Rus has lately been taking and posting lots of pictures of owls, which we have so many of around these parts. I often hear one hooting from the trees on my walks, not sure what kind it is, but I know the call very well. In this shot, I love the intense bead of the owl's laser-like focus on capturing its next meal.

We have such incredible birds around here, not just owls, but eagles, hawks, crows and ravens, sparrows, hummingbirds, and more. Just yesterday morning I saw my first-of-the-season robin! There were four of us ladies walking yesterday, and although we only covered around four miles, we had a really good time together. The bitter cold has receded for awhile at least, and in just a short time I was able to take off my gloves. And for a few moments, we actually had some sunshine! It left quickly, but it was sure pleasant to enjoy while we had it. 

What to write about this morning? Well, I've recently started to read another book on quantum mechanics, published just last month, by Heinrich Päs: The One: How an Ancient Idea Holds the Future of Physics. I read an article about the recent release of this book, which holds many fascinating ideas to ponder. It's interesting to consider that what Päs is postulating is exactly what the Ancients have been teaching for thousands of years: that all is one, everything that makes us think otherwise is an illusion. And I do think that, even though I'm only part way through the book, I am beginning to have more of an understanding of the concept of quantum entanglement a little better than before I began to read it. 
Since everything is an illusion, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, One may burst into laughter. —Longchenpa, Zen Master, 1350 AD

Heinrich explains the relation between the quantum world and our classical world by using the example of the film projector: is reality the film seen on the screen or is this simply derived from the roll of film in the projector? If everything really is just One Thing, and we are creating all the rest of reality through projection, we're doing a pretty good job of making it all look fantastic and mind-blowing. The concept of monism has been around for as long as human have been. It's the idea that All is One.

I don't know why I've become so fascinated with quantum physics, but everything I have learned tends to bring me a sense of hope that perhaps we can consider another and better reality than the one we wake up to every day. That perhaps even time and space are illusions. Even so, we need to find a alternate way of thinking about life and our place in the Universe that makes more sense than what we accept as reality today.

Heinrich is a mere youth who was born in 1971 and garnered many different degrees at prestigious universities before starting to write books about what he has learned as a particle physicist. He spent years learning to surf in Hawaii, with his first book being called "The Perfect Wave,"about neutrinos, which he says are some of the most puzzling particles in the universe. Not to mention his passion for surfing being part of his story. 

In this new book he says that, once quantum mechanics is applied to the entire cosmos, it uncovers a three-thousand-year-old idea: that underlying everything we experience there is only one single, all-encompassing thing —that everything else we see around us is some kind of illusion. I found an excellent article about all this on a website called "The Big Think," interviewing people in the news. Check this out, written by Heinrich:

The One is the story of both a serious crisis in physics and the half-forgotten concept that has the potential to resolve it. It explores the idea that “all is One,” that matter, space, time, and mind are all just artifacts of our coarse-grained perspective onto the universe. Along the way it narrates how the concept evolved and shaped the course of history, from ancient times to modern physics. Not only did monism inspire the art of Botticelli, Mozart, and Goethe, but it also informed the science of Newton, Faraday, and Einstein. Even now, monism is becoming a tacit assumption underlying our most advanced theories about space and time. This is a story full of love and devotion, fear and violence—and cutting-edge science. In no small way, this is the story of how humanity became what it is.

He writes about stuff in ways that pull me right in, and as I'm immersed in his book, his worldview, I am feeling quite happy to be alive in this moment, when we have people like Heinrich discovering new avenues to discover in quantum physics, and when the James Webb telescope is showing us what the universe was like at its beginning, and much, much more. How can anybody take a look around and not be excited about what we have already uncovered?

With all that, I think I will need to bring myself back down to earth and consider that you might not be all that interested in what I'm learning. But I'll bet that you, along with many of us, want to find a way to appreciate the natural world and enjoy some peace and serenity in your everyday life. It might seem unproductive to sit and follow one's breath for a few minutes every day, but I have to tell you that it seems to be working for me. I have carved out a small amount of time from my morning routine to include it, and now I think I am beginning to reap the benefits. I feel more centered and am often filled with awe when I look at the world around me.

Of course that thought sent me to the internet to discover ways to have more awe in my life, and I'll share these tips with you. These are taken from another interesting website. Here are six ways to incorporate awe into your daily life:

Linger. When you catch yourself in awe, sit with that feeling for as long as possible. Though you may be tempted to move quickly onto the next thing, such as taking a photo or responding to a notification, try pausing first to soak in the surroundings for a bit longer.

Slow down. Create space for awe to emerge in the mundane. While you water your plants, tenderly check for new leaves and buds. While eating, consider the time and energy that went into the food in front of you.

Appreciate your senses. Tune in deeply to your awareness of color, texture, scent, and sound. What do you hear? What do you see? While on a walk, stretching, or taking deep breaths, allow yourself to sink into the senses that connect us to the world, and be in awe of what we find.

Unplug. While many of us are dependent on technology for work or for communicating with others, it’s good to intentionally step away from the screen and give yourself the opportunity to connect with yourself. 

Awe walks. Numerous studies have shown that spending time in nature lowers stress and improves our physical and mental health by decreasing blood pressure, enhancing focus, and strengthening our immune system. 

Awe journaling. Think back to our most awe-inspiring vacations, events, and moments, and take the time to document them. Where were you? Who was there? How did you feel? This simple practice may decrease your sense of time pressure, and make you more generous, as well.

Well, I'd better start wrapping up this long post, and find my way into the rest of my day. My sweet partner still sleeps next to me, my tea is gone, and I've spent altogether too much time in my head! Time to jump out of bed and get ready for what's next in my day. John will be here soon to take me to breakfast, so I'd better get started. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I hope you will find a way to spend part of your day awestruck! Until then, I wish you all good things.