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, November 26, 2023

Pondering and wandering

The season is upon us

Thanksgiving in the country where I live is now behind us, and we are gearing up for the next holiday, Christmas. As I walk to the bus in the morning, each day there are more decorations going up, until the street I walk down will be filled with colored lights and scenes like this one. In this picture, the first light of the day was beginning to decorate the sky, too. The days are short and getting shorter, so we will take the time to bring some light into the darkness. That's sort of what I try to do with these Sunday posts, looking for some light in the darkness, and attempting to spread it around a bit.

It's been hard lately to find joy and happiness in my days, especially if I let myself get pulled down with the news of the world. From burgeoning wars, desperate people trying to stay out of harm's way where nowhere exists for them, people without food, water, clothing and shelter as winter begins. If I let myself, I can get overwhelmed with it all, and that helps no one, particularly myself. So, it's a balancing act between the news and watching escapist TV, or reading an uplifting book to focus my thoughts elsewhere. I also try not to feel guilty for all my good fortune.

As usual, I get my regular exercise to work out the kinks. I always, without fail, feel better after going outdoors and walking in nature for any length of time. Yesterday I walked with my friends Steve and Don to Fairhaven, and we were at first quite cold (below freezing) but since we had full sunshine, it didn't take long before we were shedding hats and coats. Just being able to walk 6+ miles fills me with gratitude. I am losing some of my abilities, but I am still able to walk at a three-mile-an-hour pace for awhile. I cannot be unhappy about that!

My eyesight continues to deteriorate, and I realize now that my right eye can no longer focus well, since the missing vision has almost completely covered its focal point. It means that now I have little depth perception, and although both of my eyes' peripheral vision is good, the left eye has become my better and more dominant one. I don't wish macular degeneration on anybody and am just glad that I can still drive short distances with care. Those days are numbered, though. Thank goodness we have such an extensive public transit system here and, given enough time, I can get anywhere around town I need to go by bus.

Do you have nightmares? I hardly ever do, but the other night I had one that won't go away. It was so real and detailed that I can still, three days later, see scenes in my mind's eye that occurred in it. I had been looking forward to taking a hot bath, and in my dream I had settled into the steamy bathtub when I realized that my mother was in the bath with me, propped against the side of the huge tub. But she didn't seem to be breathing, so I tried to arouse her, with no luck. Then I realized that she had slipped under the water and had drowned. I tried CPR (which I have never given) and kept trying to get some reaction from her. Nothing. So I pulled her out of the water and tried to find help, but when I tried to scream, only a little squeak came out of my mouth. That is when I woke up, realizing it was a dream. Mama has been gone since 1993, so where in the world did that nightmare come from? Perhaps it is from trying to keep my own head above water as I deal with the helplessness I feel.

What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to one's piece of debris? What's the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood? —Buddha

When I look around at the beautiful and peaceful environment that surrounds me, I can only wish that I could somehow give that gift to the suffering world. And I must remember that it helps absolutely no one to allow myself to give up and sink into despair. There is so much to be thankful for in every life, and that should guide my mental wanderings, not to focus on the hard parts, but look for the joy that exists everywhere, even in war zones. Although the world will not be peaceful for many centuries to come, it will always have little pockets of happiness to be uncovered and appreciated. Love is always somewhere to be found and I will do my very best to love as many fellow travelers as I can. When my heart is filled with love and joy, it's like a little candle I have lit and I can look for others to share it with, lighting their own candle from its light. Soon, just like the colored lights on my neighborhood street, the darkness can be pushed back a bit.

Several remarkable things will happen for me this week: I will start a strength training class at the Senior Center that I signed up for months ago. It will continue until December 22 with eight sessions, when I will then have finished the training and can then use the facilities whenever I want. On Wednesday, I will join some other Senior Trailblazers as we make another boat trip on a water taxi to spend the day hiking around Cypress Island. Last month we went to Sucia Island. I've never been on this island before and look forward to a great adventure. Then on Friday, I will celebrate my eighty-first birthday with a massage and another strength training class. 

A full week, and I am so blessed to have such good friends to enjoy it with. And of course, I always look forward to hearing what is going on in the lives of my dear virtual family, of which you are part, hoping that you will be close enough to someone's little candle to light up your days. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Thanksgiving week

Lake Padden on a calm day

Anyone who has lived in Bellingham for awhile, and who also likes to go on some easy to moderate hikes, has discovered this gem: Lake Padden. If you take the loop around the lake, it's 2.6 miles, or twice around for a perfect workout distance. At least it's just right for me. I've taken this exact picture many times over the years, but there is usually at least a little breeze to stir up the water. Not on this lovely calm day, however. The lake is a smooth as glass.

It's Sunday before the big holiday when thousands, if not millions, of turkeys give up their giblets in order for the entire US to indulge in the first of the holiday traditions: overeating and consuming lots and lots of food. This year, if I had just one wish, it would be to transport half of the haul to Gaza to feed those starving and displaced Palestinians. But I cannot, so I will instead send some money to Doctors Without Borders to help them to get something, anything at all to them, along with my heartfelt prayers for better days ahead.

I've never been alive without wars going on in many different places on our beautiful blue globe. However, it's never seemed like we've had so many major conflicts at once, but it could just be because I'm paying closer attention in my waning years. The only thing I can be really positive about is that I will not live to see a harmonious free world during my lifetime. This lifetime, anyway. Maybe if I come back in a hundred years, maybe as a bodhisattva, I'll be able to be more sanguine about things. What is a bodhisattva, you ask? In Buddhist teachings, it's a being who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion for the suffering of others. Until that day comes, if it ever does, I'll be spending my remaining time helping others in whatever way I can.
Our human compassion binds us the one to the other — not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future. —Nelson Mandela

 Nelson Mandela lived a long and fruitful life, even if almost three decades of it were spent behind bars for his work to end apartheid. He was deemed a terrorist and a danger to society. Of course, that was because the ruling party didn't want to give up their power over those they held down. And they were facing a huge disparity in numbers, five to one, and they were scared. But as you know, once Mandela was freed, he ended up being elected to be the President of the country and apartheid in South Africa became obsolete. It must have been a very difficult time to live in South Africa. Yesterday I read the entire Wikipedia entry chronicling the major events of his life. He lived to be 95, and during that long life, he received many accolades, including the Nobel Peace Prize. And he never became bitter or angry, even after all those years locked up behind bars.

Amid growing domestic and international pressure and fears of racial civil war, President F. W. de Klerk released him in 1990. Mandela and de Klerk led efforts to negotiate an end to apartheid, which resulted in the 1994 multiracial general election in which Mandela led the ANC to victory and became president. (Wikipedia)

 I wonder if someone like Mandela might emerge once again to help heal the conflict going on right now with Israel and Hamas. Although it's unlikely, there is no reason not to hope for such an event to occur. Anything is possible, and with enough motivation, perhaps the apartheid existing in Palestine will one day be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Well, I certainly took a swerve away from what I was originally going to talk about, which is all the many reasons I have for being grateful during Thanksgiving week. I have never been directly exposed to conflict and displacement myself, but I can well imagine it. Instead, my decisions will revolve more around how to prepare for the big dinner, and whether or not I'll be able to get in some exercise. No Senior Trailblazer hikes on Thursday, it seems.

This year, I decided to buy the local community food co-op's Thanksgiving feast, all prepared and assembled for me. I don't need to do anything more than pick up the  pre-cooked dinner. I'll make some nice side dishes, maybe, just so I can get into the spirit. I'll arrange everything on separate plates, and SG and I will sit down to a stress-free Thanksgiving meal. It's my idea of a perfect Thanksgiving, although I have so many childhood memories of my mother's wonderful spread, including (of course) pumpkin and apple pies. She also made a wonderful turkey hash out of the leftovers, which for me was my favorite part of the holiday. I've tried, but I never was able to duplicate that delicious dish. Mama's magic ingredient was always missing.

A rainy hike five years ago

In all these years of hiking in the Pacific Northwest (fifteen so far), I've been incredibly fortunate to have so many wonderful places, and wonderful people, to enjoy the outdoors with. It still continues today, although the faces change, the camaraderie and mutual enjoyment of our beautiful environment does not. I will continue on this way for as long as I can, and then when it's finally time to settle into my armchair for good, I will be content. Until then, I wish you, my dear friends, a very happy and fulfilling Thanksgiving. Be well until we meet again.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Thanksgiving just around the corner

Cornucopia of veggies

Yesterday I ended up walking by myself from the coffee shop. Steve had company from out of town, Don had a plumbing problem, and John is back in the hospital again. Not because of Covid this time, but he began to feel really woozy and called his son to take him to the hospital, and they admitted him. He was barely able to walk. They discovered that his potassium level, for one thing, was highly elevated. Last week he started taking a different medication for his heart, and the doctors thought perhaps that might have caused his symptoms. He stopped taking it and feels better, but he'll be there for another day or two to be sure he's out of the woods. Plus they will start him on another medication and will monitor his progress closely.

He is, you know, elderly. He'll be turning 84 in a couple of months, and I remind you what they say about aging: there is only one way to keep it from happening, and hardly anybody is looking forward to dying. It will eventually catch up to all of us, but I, for one, am in no hurry to take that final journey. Sometimes when I'm relaxing quietly in the dark, waiting for sleep, I take stock of my day's activities and look ahead to tomorrow, realizing that my considerable good health makes me happy to be alive. Although I'm not immune to various aches and pains, I seem to be hanging in there for the moment, and for that I am grateful.
Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

I am also working hard to stay positive and not overwhelmed with the awful news of the world. I was very pleased last Tuesday to see how well the Democrats did in the off-year elections, although I was disappointed by some of the local Bellingham races. And by the fact that only 44% of eligible voters participated in Whatcom County was discouraging as well. You could hardly make voting much easier than it is here in Washington State: all you need to do is fill in the ballot that was mailed to us and mail it back. You do need to figure out who and what to vote for, but that is not too hard.

Sorry, I didn't mean to get on my soapbox. It's not what I really want to spend my free time doing. I have stopped watching the news channels in the evening that were once something I wouldn't miss. It seems like it only seems to grow more dire, and there is nothing I can do about it, except distract myself with other activities. And the holidays are right around the corner! Less than two weeks before Thanksgiving, which has already occurred in Canada. This year I once again ordered our Thanksgiving dinners from the local co-op, and on Wednesday I will pick up our dinner rather than fixing it myself. It's a good way to support our local grocery store and not cook. I did it for the first time last year and was quite pleased with the quality and quantity of the Thanksgiving feast.

Red leaves

The beautiful red leaves in the picture above are now fallen, after we had a windstorm that pretty much took the last of the deciduous tree leaves down. But we still have many evergreen trees that never lose their lovely branches, although many bits were strewn across the lawns and streets after the storm. We didn't lose power, so once it was over without much damage, I was feeling quite lucky.

Just watching what is happening in so much of the world is difficult enough, but it sure feels hard to find joy in the day-to-day life I lead. I am figuring that as the years pass and I get older, I look at the world news knowing that many of the situations that dominate the headlines today will not be resolved before I die. So, it behooves me to find ways to increase my own equanimity and stay positive. There are a few tricks I've found that work for me.

  • Perform regular aerobic physical activity. 
  • Dedicate yourself to others. 
  • Connect with your spiritual side. 
  • Discover something new. 
  • Give yourself permission to take a few moments of pleasure, especially when you are feeling low. 
  • Pay attention to the good. 
  • Conversely, limit negativity. 
One of the ways that I limit negativity is by watching uplifting shows on TV and turning off the news. That doesn't mean I don't pay attention to what's happening, but you can let yourself get dragged down, which does no good for anybody. Also, I have found that letting myself have a good cry really helps sometimes. I watched Diane Nyad in the recent Netflix movie about her attempts to swim from Cuba to Key West. She tried five times before finally accomplishing it, and she was 64 years old when she did it, in 2013. That movie really gave me a chance to have a good cry, all right.

And now it's almost time to get up and begin my unusual Sunday morning. John will be having his own breakfast in the hospital (I don't recommend it) and I will find somewhere else to enjoy a solitary breakfast. My dear partner never eats breakfast until around noon, so I will be partaking of a simple breakfast, maybe at the food co-op, maybe somewhere else that catches my eye. But first is my daily routine of exercises and a few moments of meditation on the breath. And then I can really start my day, reading your blogs and commenting, as well as hopefully solving today's wordle.

So, with that, my friends, I am wishing you a wonderful week ahead, and that you will find some joy in your daily life. Until we meet again, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

November is here

Boulevard Park walk yesterday (picture by Steve)

I love these leaves, big leaf maple that lined the trail as Steve and I walked from the coffee shop to the Taylor Dock before turning around and heading back. He got both the flu and Covid shots on Friday and wasn't feeling a hundred percent. I also wasn't anxious to be outdoors in the wind and rain, as we kept having frequent squalls of rain and bouts of wind, but then it would calm down again. We didn't go far, but it made me feel so much better just to get in a little exercise. These pretty leaves won't look so nice once the rain pounds us, as it's forecast to do.

John is back at the coffee shop, too, but he's still recovering from the aftermath of Covid and the treatment he was given. He'll pick me up this morning, however, and we will make our way to Fairhaven for breakfast. It's amazingly warm right now, but that is also expected to change soon. November is famous around here for extremes in weather. When you see that the forecast says to expect "rain with partly sunny skies" you know you need to be ready for anything.

When I got my latest massage on Friday, my therapist scheduled the next session for one month from now, and it turns out that will be on my birthday! How did that happen, where did this past year go? It makes me realize that the older I get, the faster the days, months, and seasons seem to rush by. And there are so many fewer ahead of me than behind. But I cannot complain: I've lived a full and event-filled life, with lots of thrills and chills, with good times and bad times, as every one of us who gets to become an octogenarian can attest to. 

I woke this morning at the usual time, according to my sleep cycle, but the clock says I got up an hour earlier. During the night, the time changed on all our clocks (except for the microwave); our devices and electronics didn't even seem to notice. It will take me a week to get adjusted to the time change, but it gives me an extra hour to write this post, just for today. For whatever reason, I slept well and feel quite serene and happy with life for the moment. The news of the day hasn't been dealt with yet, and I might just keep it that way for awhile. Nothing is making me anxious to find out and spoil my mood. The only thing that changes when I read the news is me.

People who are kind and good hearted all feel the same right now, I suspect: wishing there was something that can be could to make things better. My technique is simple and effective, which is to spend some time in following my breath and then making a gratitude list. Who would have thought that paying attention to something we do unconsciously most of the time could be helpful? But it is. We breathe from the moment we are born until we take our last breath when we die. Most of the time we are completely unaware of that essential element in life, and paying attention to it is rather calming. It also makes me aware of those times when I have difficulty concentrating, but bringing my mind back to my breath without judgment is also a gentle way to train my "monkey mind," the ever-present mental processes, into serenity.
Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens. —Khalil Gibran
And then there is gratitude, such a wonderful addition to anybody's life. I am grateful for the ability to think, to contemplate, to move through my days with the ability to grow. Even as an elder, the expansion of one's horizons never really stops, unless you choose to allow it. All around every one of us are myriad possibilities for growth. Today I'm going to see if I can infect others with the benign virus of love. Why not? It seems like just the thing for a windy, rainy November day.

Well, will you look at that? The hour that I gained last night has just been spent in happy contemplation of the day ahead. It's now time to think about getting out of bed and starting my usual activities. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I can hear the wind moving through the trees outside my window. John will be here soon, and we will climb inside his chariot and transport ourselves to Fairhaven for breakfast. I do hope you will have a truly wonderful week ahead, with plenty of company in whatever form suits you best. Two-legged, four-legged, winged, wild or domestic, I wish you and your world all good things until we meet again. Be well, dear friends.